Relationships and Dating in the Bible
Does the Bible say anything about dating?
No, but it does describe relationships.
If "dating" is defined as two single friends of the opposite sex doing things together for fun without any attraction or romantic desire or intimacy involved at all, there is no issue to discuss regarding dating. They are spending time as friends. The Bible describes and gives directions concerning friendship. But for most, the issue of dating involves "romantic attraction and desire." Therefore "dating" must be approached by what the Scripture says regarding romantic desire and marriage, the only relationship in which romantic desire is to be fully expressed. Also, in our culture, through "dating" people will often find a life partner and marry. How men and women view a "date" and "dating" can have a profound effect on their future. "Dating" is not a relationship, it is a method people employ in our culture to get to know others of the opposite sex that was not employed in Biblical times. The Bible does not talk about "dating," but it does talk about relationships. However, the Bible does describe three kinds of relationships with the opposite sex and gives certain characteristics of each relationship (there are others such as parent/child and sibling, but they don't clarify the issues of dating).
One kind of relationship the Bible describes is friendship.
Proverbs gives several characteristics of friends and friendships. Prov.17: 17 says, “A friend loves at all times.” Prov.18: 24 says, “There is a friend that sticks closer than a brother.” Prov.27: 6 says, “When a friend rebukes you, that rebuke can be trusted.” Prov.27: 9 says, “The pleasantness of having a friend springs from his earnest counsel.” Prov.27: 10 says, “Do not forsake your friend.” These verses bring out the fact that the Lord blesses friendship and encourages us to develop them. Friendship involves three foundational elements, commitment to fulfill the responsibility of a friend, care and concern for the welfare of your friend, and affection. The word "friend" means someone you like who also likes you. This liking involves a "friendship kind of" affection based often on personality and common likes and interests.
A second kind of relationship is “brother-sister in Christ.”
If we have accepted Christ as our Savior we have become children of God. God is our Father and other Christians are our brothers and sisters in Christ. We should treat other Christians as such. Our Father deeply loves and desires that we show love to each other, that is seek each other's highest spiritual good. 1 Jn.3: 1 says, "How great is the love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!" Gal.5: 13 says, “Rather serve one another in love.” Heb.10: 24 says, “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” God desires that we serve one another in love by giving of ourselves to help each other grow in Christ as fellow-believers. This love is based on our relationship with Christ and is not dependent on feelings we may or may not have for a fellow-believer. Brother-sister relationships in Christ involve two foundational elements, commitment to fulfill the responsibility of a fellow-believer in Christ and care and concern a believer is to have toward other believers. It can involve affection as we work together in Christ, but affection is not a necessary element. We are commanded in the Scriptures to show love to all believers, but we are not commanded to make all believers our friends.
A third relationship God describes in the Bible is marriage.
Marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman that binds them together for life. Gen.2:24 says, "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh." This verse tells us that marriage involves the husband and wife severing ties of intimate relationships with parents to cleave to each other. It involves coming together into a permanent bond of unity. It means becoming physically intimate with each other as one flesh. Marriage involves three elements, commitment, care and concern, and emotion. When a Christian marries he or she is making a commitment to fulfill the responsibility God ordains for the husband or wife to fulfill. He or she is making a commitment to have care and concern for the spiritual, emotional, physical, and mental welfare of his or her marriage partner. It also involves the joy of romantic desire/attraction and intimacy and sexual desire/attraction and intimacy. The Song of Songs, the dialogue between King Solomon and his bride, is a celebration of the romantic and physical love between a husband and wife. It shows that God desires that they enjoy the blessings of the union He created. Song of Songs 1:2 says “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth, for your love is more delightful than wine.” Husbands and wives are to rejoice in each other’s love both romantically and sexually.
Each of these three relationships have two common characteristics, a commitment to the responsibilities of that particular kind of relationship and a genuine care and concern for the other person in a particular kind of relationship. Friendship and marriage have a third characteristic - affection and attraction, although the nature of the affection and attraction is different. Of these three relationships, the Scriptures only speak of romantic attraction and desire being expressed in marriage. Song of Songs gives a beautiful picture of the feelings and expression of romantic desire and attraction. Song of Songs 4:10-11 says "How delightful is your love my sister, my bride! How much more pleasing is your love than wine, and the fragrance of your perfume than any spice." Only in marriage may a man and woman enjoy expressing their romantic and sexual desires toward each other.
What about a romantic relationship without moving toward marriage?
Isn't there another kind of relationship described in Scripture where a man and woman can share romantic intimacy with some physical intimacy without moving toward marriage? No. This kind of relationship does not exist in the Scriptures. What is the difference between romantic desire and romantic intimacy? Romantic desire and attraction is the feeling and desire one has when he or she is attracted to someone of the opposite sex. Romantic intimacy is when those desires are expressed and shared with someone else with the same desires through dating experiences that develop a romantic closeness usually with some physical intimacy expressed. Where does romantic intimacy fit into these relationships God has described? The purpose for romantic intimacy and romantic expression is for marriage and that is where it is to come into full bloom. It is like a flower bud that exists before marriage and is only opened up in a full way when it is time for it to bloom (in marriage). Why? Romantic intimacy involves the most fragile part of our being - our hearts. Once our feelings are expressed and shared, the deepest part of us becomes vulnerable to another.
Song of Songs 4:9 describes the vulnerability of expressing romantic desire to another when it says "You have stolen my heart, my sister, my bride; you have stolen my heart with one glance of your eyes..." When romantic desire and attraction are expressed and reciprocated it "steals the heart" and makes it vulnerable. Without the commitment and resultant security of marriage, our hearts can easily be crushed.
The bride of Solomon in the Song of Songs celebrates the unity of romantic and physical intimacy as she proclaims in 1:2 "Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth - for your love is more delightful than wine." The Hebrew word translated "love" in that verse is literally "lovemaking," showing love sexually.
In God's beautiful plan for man and woman, romantic intimacy and physical intimacy come to full expression together only within the protective bond of marriage. Based on the Scriptures we have seen thus far, we can draw some important conclusions that can give you guidance regarding dating. The first is that God desires for you to experience friendships with others before marriage. And it is a friendship-type relationship (with romantic desire, but not romantic intimacy) with a believer of the opposite sex that moves directly into engagement (preparation for marriage). Second, in the Scriptures, no relationships are moved to the engagement/marriage stage unless the person is mature enough to be married. In Gen.28: 1-3 Isaac calls for his son Jacob when he is mature enough to fulfill his responsibilities as a husband and commands him to seek a wife. Third, romantic intimacy should not be experienced without the commitment of marriage to go with it. Romantic and physical intimacy is to be expressed only in marriage between a husband and wife. The Song of Songs shows us that romantic intimacy and physical intimacy are expressed together in marriage. This brings us to how "dating" fits into God's Word. It all depends on one's definition and purpose of a "date."
What is a "date"?
I have chosen to use the term "dating" and redefine it rather than not using the term and using a phrase such as "spending time together" because the term "dating" is such a powerful one in our culture which needs to be dealt with. I define dating in two ways depending on the purpose and focus of the time together. The first is “relationship dating” where two people of the opposite sex who are attracted to each other (romantic desire) get together with the focus on getting to know each other to build a solid relationship without involvement in romantic intimacy. The second is romantic dating where two people of the opposite sex who are attracted to each other (romantic desire) get together with the focus on building romantic intimacy with each other and also getting to know each other.
Which of these two fits within the Biblical Guidelines? The kind of relationship where you focus on getting to know each other as you would in a friendship, which I call “Relationship Dating.” Two people who are attracted to each other (romantic desire) should develop and maintain a friendship-type relationship and be careful at first not to focus on their attraction and romantic desire and allow it to drive their relationship. They should focus on getting to know each other and relating together in a healthy way, giving their relationship time to develop and themselves time to grow in their care and concern for each other. They should spend time together in activities that promote them getting to know each other and enjoying each other as friends rather than activities that fuel their romantic desires and/or express them. They drive their relationship by their mutual care and concern for each other rather than their romantic feelings for each other.
If I “relationship date” not focus our relationship on romantic intimacy, will I be able to build a solid foundation for marriage if we grow to love each other and want to get married? Absolutely yes. How does “relationship dating” establish a Biblical foundation for marriage? It allows you the time and opportunity to develop the kind of love that God desires in marriage if that is where the relationship leads.
Loving one’s spouse according to the Scriptures involves four elements: 1. A genuine care and concern resulting in self-sacrificial attitudes and actions to meet the needs of your spouse 2. A commitment to fulfill your God-ordained marriage responsibility to your wife or husband 3. A romantic and sexual desire and attraction 4. A commitment to separate oneself from others of the opposite sex for exclusive and permanent romantic and physical intimacy
"Being in love" is a phrase our culture uses for the romantic and sexual attraction that a man can feel for a woman (or a woman for a man) mixed in with care and concern which drives him or her to want to marry the other person. True Biblical love is much more balanced and focused on genuine care and concern and faithful fulfillment of marriage responsibility. A key question for those wondering if they have real "love" (as God defines it) that will last a lifetime in marriage is "Am I ready to commit myself to this person to sacrifice myself for this person, to care for and be concerned about this person, to be exclusive with and united to this person, and fulfill my God-ordained responsibility to this person for life?
If a couple is ready to do this, then they are ready to love each other for a lifetime. To come to this commitment, a couple needs to focus their energy on developing this kind of love for each other based of a strong care and concern for each other and a commitment to fulfill their responsibilities in marriage rather than on strong passionate romantic feelings which eventually calm down and change after marriage. Often a couple will make a marriage commitment based on very powerful romantic feelings fueled by romantic intimacy experienced in dating (with or without sex), rather than a strong and healthy loving relationship based upon a solid knowledge of each other. If they have built a foundation of genuine care and concern, they will have a solid foundation on which to build a marriage and drive their changing feelings.
How one views "dating" and how one "dates" a potential marriage partner establishes either a weak foundation or a strong foundation for a relationship that one wants to last for a lifetime. Our focus is on "how do a Christian man and woman develop the kind of love relationship which will lead to and make a strong marriage and thus last a lifetime?" If they are going to use "dating" as a method, then they need to "relationship date." The other articles in this section on our website "Dating and the Bible" give many principles on relationship dating that will build a foundation that can lead to a marriage that will last for a lifetime.
These principles are for those who are in their college years and beyond.