The short answer is this: nothing.
Dating is a modern practice that was not a part of the cultural fabric of Jesus’ day—or King David’s, or the Apostle Paul’s.
Marriages were typically arranged in ancient Eastern cultures, and opportunities for social interaction between young, unmarried men and women were limited. For these reasons, we can’t look to the Bible for explicit how-to advice on a contemporary practice like dating.
However, the Bible has much to say about integrity, respect for others, sexual morality, and a vast array of interpersonal relationships—including marriage. So for the Christian who is curious about how his or her faith should shape a dating relationship, some general principles found in Scripture can apply.
What Is a Date?
The accepted Western dating protocol of the late twentieth century—that is, a man initiates; a woman accepts; the man pays; and the community (parents, friends, and neighbors) approves—is no longer the norm.
Among high schoolers and on college campuses, texting, sexting, hanging out, hooking up, group activities, and NCMO-ing (non-committed making out)1 may be more common than one-on-one dating. But for our purposes, let’s consider dating to mean spending time with a person of the opposite sex with the intention of forming a romantic partnership.
Should Christians Date?
Some recent books written by young evangelicals have discouraged the practice of dating for Christians;2 others have endorsed it.3 So which is it? Should Christians date or not?
If you hope to marry (and don’t plan to have an arranged marriage), dating provides a reasonable way to get to know someone with whom you might establish a marriage relationship. And since most of us do marry, you’ll probably do at least some dating. The more important question is: How should you, as a follower of Christ, go about dating?
How Should Christians Date?
Christians should date as they live—and Christians should live by following the example of Christ. Author Gary Thomas writes that Jesus “modeled [for us] that the highest bond of friendship is personal discipline.”4 In other words, in his relationships with others, Jesus submitted to God’s plan for the greater good of that person, not his own desires.
“Jesus,” says Thomas, “lived first and foremost for the glory of God, above every human friendship, and that made Him the truest friend any man or woman could ever have.”5 Jesus selflessly sacrificed his own needs and desires for the good of those he loved.6
In every relationship—including romantic relationships—we should follow his example. After all, as the Apostle John wrote, “We love because he first loved us.”7
Dating Christians should show respect to one another. A man respects a woman he dates by clearly pursuing her, planning their time together, considering her likes and dislikes, listening to her, and regarding her as a fellow child of God. A woman respects a man she dates in much the same way: by responding to his pursuit, listening to him, considering his likes and dislikes, and dealing honestly with him.
Always remember that you date a whole person, “not a face, a balance sheet, an image, or a title. Your date is someone created with eternity in mind and who is completely unique. Respect that. Even better, honor it.”8
Relationships not built on honesty will not last. Period. It is impossible to love someone you don’t truly know. If you’re not being honest with your dating partner, they aren’t dating you—they’re dating a picture of someone you’d like to be (but aren’t).
The same is true if your dating partner is not honest with you. “The only way to know and be known by another person,” writes Joshua Harris, “is to communicate—openly, honestly, sincerely, humbly.”9
If and when feelings change, they should be acknowledged, discussed, and dealt with. Conflicts should be explored, not ignored. If your goals are different than your dating partner’s ambitions, you should say so. Together you can determine whether or not to continue dating.
Most importantly, Christians should “speak the truth in love” in dating, as in all relationships.10
Date without having sex and the world will think you’re weird. Even in the evangelical subculture, the majority of unmarried young adults report that they are sexually active by their early 20s.11 In fact, “it’s considered more odd today to be an unmarried, celibate person than to move from sexual partner to sexual partner with no thought of a permanent, lifelong commitment.”12
But the Bible states that sex is intended for the lifelong commitment of marriage.13 God designed sex to be pleasurable and satisfying. He also designed it to be emotionally and spiritually meaningful—to cement a permanent marriage relationship.
Unfortunately for those who engage in sex outside of marriage, “what proves immensely helpful to cement a relationship proves equally unhelpful to test a relationship.”14 In fact, sex clouds rational decision-making—it doesn’t make it clearer.
Before the Community
Regardless of age, the wise Christian dates “in community.” He or she seeks and heeds the perspective of others as they “think about who to date, how to date, and when to wed.”15
The Bible states that there is safety in an abundance of counselors.16 As you build a relationship, invite others in. “Spend time together with other people, couples and singles, who are willing to point out the good, the bad, and the ugly.”17
Within “The Family”
If a Christian intends to marry a Christian, then he or she should date a Christian. The Bible warns believers about being “yoked” to unbelievers.18 The idea of being “yoked” implies a joining together for a common purpose.
If your purpose is to follow Christ and live a life that honors him but your mate’s primary loyalties lie elsewhere, then you can expect chronic conflict. You can also expect to be pulled in two directions with regard to many life decisions: where to live, how to use money, what to teach your children, how to love and serve others, and what value to place upon careers.
Date as You Live
If you’ve decided to follow Christ and live like a believer, then date like a Christ-follower. Treat your dating partners with respect. Honor them. Tell them the truth. Open your life (including your dating life) to those in your community whom you love and trust. Listen to their counsel. Heed their warnings. Ask for their prayers. Resolve to reserve sex for its proper home: marriage. To avoid heartache, decide to marry another believer—and date with that decision in mind.
“Biblical dating” is nothing less than biblical living.
- Donna Freitas, Sex and the Soul: Juggling Sexuality, Spirituality, Romance, and Religion of America’s College Campuses (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 119.
- See, for example, Joshua Harris, I Kissed Dating Goodbye (Colorado Springs, CO: WaterBrook Multnomah Books, 2003).
- See, for example, Jeramy Clark, I Gave Dating a Chance: A Biblical Perspective to Balance the Extremes (Colorado Springs, CO: WaterBrook Multnomah Books, 2000).
- Gary Thomas, The Sacred Search: What If It’s Not about Who You Marry, But Why? (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2013), 225.
- The Holy Bible, New International Version © 2011, Romans 5:8.
- Ibid., 1 John 4:19.
- Leigh McLeroy, Moments for Singles (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2004), 143.
- Joshua Harris, Boy Meets Girl (Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah, 2005), 102.
- The Holy Bible, Ephesians 4:15.
- Freitas, 161–163.
- McLeroy, 147.
- The Holy Bible, 1 Thessalonians 4:3–6.
- Marshall Segal, “When the Not-Yet-Married Meet: Dating to Display Jesus,” Desiring God, June 6, 2013.
- The Holy Bible, Proverbs 11:14.
- Segal, “When the Not-Yet-Married Meet.”
- The Holy Bible, 2 Corinthians 6:14.
- Photo Credit: Daniel Davis / Lightstock.com.