What does the Bible say about dating or courtship? It can be difficult to know how to date in a godly way. After all, you won’t find the word “dating” in the Bible. Much of the Bible was written at times and in cultures where arranged marriages were the norm. But if dating is on your mind, don’t rule out the Bible. Scripture provides a plethora of wisdom for followers of Jesus who want to date happily to the glory of God—even in cultures where our parents do not choose whom we marry. How can we use Scripture as a guide in our dating? One of the best ways to mine the wisdom of God’s Word for dating is to explore what the Bible says about marriage. Then, work back from marriage to dating. Using biblical marriage as our lens, we’ll be able to answer some key questions about dating.
As an aside, you can use this “working backward” approach to mine the wisdom of Scripture for all of your relationships. While the Bible may not have a specific instruction for your exact relational situation, it does have plenty to say about how God’s people should live in community. Even if you’re not dating someone right now, read through this article with an eye to apply this method for your own relationships. You’ll find that when you prayerfully turn to God for real-life wisdom, God will give it to you through his Word.
Now, before we delve into dating and marriage, it’s important to remember from the outset that the point of your life is not marriage. The Westminster Shorter Catechism says that as humans our purpose is to “glorify God, and enjoy him forever.” Dating and marriage are gifts through which we can glorify and enjoy God.
What is dating?
The Old Testament provides a simple, yet profound definition for marriage: one flesh. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). As Pastor Ray Ortlund says, marriage is two “selfish-me’s” learning to live as one unified “us.”1 Marriage is complete oneness, total vulnerability, without any hiding. That was marriage in the Garden of Eden. No wonder the Bible says that the first husband and wife were naked and unashamed (Genesis 2:25). The New Testament provides a cosmic addition to the Old Testament definition of marriage. “‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:31-32). Marriage is oneness between a man and a woman, and that oneness reflects the marriage between Christ and his people, the church.
If we work backward from our biblical definition of marriage, then we might define dating as a season of discerning potential oneness with each other. Dating is a season: it’s a means to an end, not an end in itself, and it shouldn’t last any longer than it needs to. Dating is a season of discerning: it’s a time to get to know and enjoy someone while figuring out whether they are the kind of person with whom you’d like to pursue life-long oneness.
Whom should I date?
One of the most important questions when it comes to dating is, “Whom should I date?” Let’s revisit our working definition of marriage: Marriage is oneness between a man and a woman that reflects the marriage between Christ and his people, the church. Considering our definition, we should date people who both share our understanding of the nature of marriage and love the One that marriage points to. Since the oneness between a husband and wife reflects the love between Christ and his people, we should only date people who love the Lord Jesus Christ. We should want only the type of marriage that will reflect his love.
One common biblical metaphor for the Christian life is a long-distance race, and to run well we should keep our eyes fixed on Jesus (see Hebrews 12:1,2). In doing so, we may prayerfully discern whom to date. Look left and right and see who is running at your pace in the same direction. If you see someone that you’re attracted to, ask if they’d like to run with you in a season of discerning potential oneness.
How should I date?
To answer this question, we have to shift our method a little bit. Instead of looking through the lens of what the Bible says about marriage, we should look through the lens of what the Bible says about how people in the church should relate to each other. There are two passages that will be particularly helpful for us as we try to answer, “How should I date?”
Timothy was a young man who was a leader in his church. His mentor, Paul, advised him how to treat women in the church: “younger women as sisters, in all purity” (1 Timothy 5:2). The term translated purity here refers to sexual purity, but the term is not exclusively sexual. Young men should treat young women with total purity, which includes being honest, straightforward, and honorable—in what they say and what they do. In short, Christian dating should be done in all integrity: intentions and relational status should always be clear and physical/emotional boundaries should always be respected. Dating should be an enjoyable experience! Integrity provides the foundation for fun in dating. One way to ensure dating integrity is to include your Christian community in your dating relationships. Ask trusted, godly people to provide both accountability and wisdom as your dating relationships unfold.
This community will encourage you not only to have integrity, but to also love well. And one of the trademarks of loving Christian relationships is selflessness. “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:4-5). How we date other followers of Jesus should be shaped by the way Scripture calls us to relate to one another in general. Therefore, dating is a season of discerning potential oneness, where we practice putting the interests of others above our own.
Why should we date?
The ultimate end of dating is marriage. We date in order to find a spouse—a spouse with whom we can reflect the love of Jesus Christ. That raises at least two practical questions that we should consider when dating or looking to date. First, do I desire marriage? Dating really only makes sense and (is only fair to the person you’re dating) if you genuinely desire to be married. Second, is the way I’m currently dating going to help me find someone who shares my desire to glorify God?
If you want to learn more about dating and marriage, I recommend reading Genesis 1-3 and Ephesians 5:18-33. Genesis 1-3 helps us understand what marriage is and why all marriages, even great marriages, are so challenging. Ephesians 5:18-33 helps us understand marriage in the larger story of God’s redemption through Jesus. As you explore these passages together, consider how they ought to shape who, how, when, and why you date. Enjoy the journey.
 Ortlund, Raymond C. Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016.
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