Is dating a sin according to the Bible? The difference between modern and biblical dating

by Michael Penn
December 29, 2021

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In this post, we’ll look at the question: Is dating a sin according to the Bible? as well as any contrasts between modern dating and biblical dating (if any).

What you’ll come to see is that it seems that a major distinction between biblical dating and modern dating is that biblical dating appears to entail a significant commitment and a singular vision for the future, whereas modern dating appears to be more about exploring choices or even keeping one’s options open.

Before diving in, please keep in mind that these are merely my own thoughts and do not necessarily reflect the views of this website.

This piece is also neither a theological exposé nor a PhD dissertation attempting to address the many themes in depth because it is simply not the place for it.

This piece also does not go into great detail into the many translations and contextual issues of all the Scripture texts given, but rather uses them as a starting point.

For the non-Biblical and non-Christian reader, it’s also crucial to remember that the Bible is divided into two parts: the Old Testament and the New Testament, each having its own history of development, emphases, languages of origin, and cultural reach.

This piece just does not go into detail about any of these.

If you’re interested, there are many excellent posts on the topic of interpreting Scripture and applying it to various situations.

What Does the Bible Actually Say About Dating and Relationships?

There are a handful of areas in the Biblical understanding of dating someone before marriage that I believe are really significant, even if they are not always simple to put into practice.

For example, what does the Bible actually say about dating? Is having a boyfriend a sin in Christianity? Is dating at a young age a sin? What does the bible say about teenage dating? What does the bible say about dating someone with a child?

Is dating a sin according to the Bible

Though I could give a full exegesis of every passage that is relevant to these topics in some way, it is not the aim of this piece.

Instead, I’ve gone with a basic Biblical review (from my perspective) of how dating is perceived in the Bible, with examples where needed.

To begin with, it is necessary to highlight that, while this is a general topic on which many Christians agree, there are significant variances in how many Christians approach this matter, for example around biblical dating boundaries.

For example, there are those who practise “abstinence-only” dating and see sexual purity as one of the most important characteristics in a relationship.

Some, however, do not.

is dating a sin according to the bible

There are also some who only date Christians, despite the fact that I know Christians who have dated and even married non-Christians.

As a result, this is not always a black and white issue, and dating and marriage are frequently tricky, even for Christians.

However, the Bible does not expressly describe dating as a concept, but it does present principles that might guide us as we navigate this vital relationship stage.

The Bible makes no mention of dating, just as it makes no mention of cars, planes, or the internet.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use them or try to figure out how the ideas of the Bible might be applied to them.

Similarly, while some have taken the Bible’s lack of mention of dating as implying that we should not date, I disagree.

Yes, dating in its modern form did not exist in biblical times.

People were married in their early adolescence in biblical times, and weddings were mainly contracted inside the tight circle of the clan and the family.

It was frowned upon to marry a woman from a different clan for fear of introducing foreign ideas and traditions.

However, while the Bible doesn’t say much about dating in particular, it does teach a lot about what love is and what a healthy relationship should look like.

For these reasons, we can still use it as a model for approaching dating today.

According to some biblical interpretations, the goal is to remember that God desires for people to be holy and to honour Him in their relationships (for example, see 1 Thessalonians 4:3 NIV: “It is God’s will that you be sanctified: that you avoid sexual immorality…”).

This concept is best represented in the book of Proverbs, where God states, “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it arise life’s difficulties” (Proverbs 4:23, The Message).

The world would have us believe that dating (including internet dating) is a wholly new phenomenon with no precedents and that premarital sex is a given and the typical.

Nothing could be further from the truth, though.

For example, the 1970s were a time in history when people’s ideas on being hooked up were shifting and those looking for love were looking for new ways to do it.

As a result, personal advertising in newspapers became a more popular way of meeting people (forerunner of online dating sites).

is dating a sin according to the bible

So, if you’re serious about knowing whether dating is a sin or not, you need to be aware of what the Bible actually says in order to make sensible judgments about your dating relationships.

Dating has long been a part of the human experience, according to history, for example, the Old Testament prophets and Bible books that follow and chronicle the lives of people who were previously married or in partnerships (like Hosea).

Despite the fact that the Bible does not expressly use the term “dating” for a variety of linguistic and cultural reasons, the Bible has much to say that provides practical recommendations to help someone date wisely.

The majority of these lessons are directly from the Bible, however, there are some significant biblical concepts that we must learn via observation and experience.

Even common sense.

For example, one of the most significant principles taught by the Bible with implications for dating is that we should “guard our hearts above all else” (Proverbs 4:23, KJV).

These are the words of Solomon, king of Israel and a wise man in his day.

This verse is also from Proverbs, one of the Bible’s most well-known wisdom books.

It contains a lot of information about how we should approach dating (as part of the life experience) and how we should act.

This book teaches us a plethora of other vital principles, for example, “A wife of noble character is her husband’s crown,” Proverbs 12:4 says, “but a disgraceful wife is like decay in his bones.”

Consider the ramifications for dating from this standpoint.

How would it affect your choice of dating partners, especially if you believe that dating is a means to an end, such as marriage? 

How might that change how you date and with whom you spend your time?

Furthermore, another biblical perspective is that dating should be done in accordance with God’s commandments and in the proper environment.

God’s laws are perhaps not applicable to dating in the same way that His moral code is.

God’s moral rule instructs us for our benefit, not to punish or make us feel bad.

In reality, when we follow God’s moral principles, we often achieve greater results.

Dating is an area where we can learn a lot from God’s manner of doing things.

We can expect to learn how He works through us, even if we aren’t entirely sure how He will influence the eventual result.

In the end, the biblical perspective on dating can be summed as simply as follows:

(The Bible) has a positive attitude towards dating. It isn’t about getting in and out as quickly as possible. It suggests the possibility of a happy marriage but never guarantees it. The Bible takes dating seriously and has a profound, respectful attitude towards it. Yet, we should be careful about who we date and how they will affect our lives. We are to be concerned with being holy, which in this context implies doing what is right.

Michael Penn

Now, this goal may seem high, but you don’t have to be very good at anything from the beginning to start practising it.

The Bible provides us with practical direction as well as a basic way of behaving that we can use to manage our relationships.

Where In The Bible Does it Talk About Dating?

As previously stated, there are no specific passages in the Bible that utilize the term “dating,” but there are multiple passages in the Bible that discuss romantic relationships and situations that are distinctive to dating.

There may appear to be no overlap between the Bible and dating as we know it now.

Despite the fact that the Bible has been around for thousands of years, it is still highly relevant to our sexual relationships today.

For one thing, God never meant for His people to live as single people with one another.

According to the biblical understanding, He designed marriage as a lifelong bond between two people.

is dating a sin according to the bible

God established marriage as an institution to provide a place for individuals to live together and raise their children in the hopes that they will grow into healthy people themselves.

In that sense, the Bible distinguishes between dating and marriage.

Also, on that basis, one could make a case that unless you intend to be open to the possibility of marrying someone, dating is fine, but it should not be a long-term commitment, especially if it becomes clear early on that the relationship isn’t serious, heading anywhere, or outright the wrong one.

Throughout the Bible, there are various themes that repeat themselves that we can use to determine whether a relationship is good for us or not, including trust, commitment, responsibility, honesty, forgiveness, respect, and love.

One of the most significant qualities of biblical relationships is that they are founded on trust.

Trust is in essence a sense and belief that someone or something is dependable, good, honest, effective, and so on.

Biblical relationships are also built on a continuous commitment and shared accountability, in addition to a trusting relationship.

A couple must be dedicated to one other and the relationship if they want to establish a God-honoring relationship.

In other words, commitment entails making a deliberate decision to undertake something and making it your top priority.

Commitment is more than just a want or a concept; it demands putting that wish or idea into action.

Communication is the most vital part of a couple’s commitment.

The purpose of communication is to teach your spouse what you feel, need, and desire rather than simply telling them what you think.

Furthermore, both parties in a biblical relationship are entirely honest with each other and are always eager to forgive each other for their mistakes.

In a relationship, forgiveness is vital because it allows you to move on from the past and focus on the present.

The best way to obtain forgiveness is to talk about what happened with your partner.

According to the Bible, “As a result, whoever forgives another for a transgression will be forgiven. But if anybody has a complaint against another, let it be brought before the God of that person in the presence of two or three witnesses” (Matthew 18:15-16).

Every couple wants to have a relationship in which they can trust and care for one another.

However, even in the best of marriages, there are some things we should caution ourselves to easily forgive our partner for or just overlook.

For example, abuse, physical or emotional cheating, and having an affair are some of the most prevalent faults that one should be careful to simply forgive and forget.

Physical abuse.

Any attack on your partner that causes bodily discomfort, impairment, or other serious injury is considered physical abuse.

Emotional abuse.

Yelling at your partner, ignoring your relationship, threatening to leave your partner, or having an affair with someone else are all examples of emotional abuse.

Having an affair.

The Bible is clear about the consequences of adultery. “Thou shalt not commit adultery” is one of the Ten Commandments.

Affairs can devastate families, ruin marriages, and tear apart communities.

They are a sin against God and against one’s spouse.

It is also a very serious sin from a biblical perspective.

In fact, the Bible mentions adultery as one of the few grounds for ending a marriage.

Furthermore, couples in biblical relationships have mutual regard for one another and are always there for one another when required.

A good relationship, according to the Bible, is one in which you and your partner are always there for one other.

This is because the Bible says, “God loves a happy giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7) and, “therefore, be imitators of God as dear children” (Ephesians 5:1).

Finally, biblical partnerships are founded on love, which means that both partners are constantly willing to prioritise the needs of the other person over their own.

This is the most important factor to grow in a relationship.

is dating a sin according to the bible

The essential issue here is that, from a biblical standpoint, dating should not be viewed as a singular occurrence.

Dating is the first and most important stage in the married process, and it represents the most sacred type of relationship between two people from a biblical perspective, and it should be regarded as such.

Otherwise, you risk ending up in a relationship that is a waste of time or, worse, with the wrong future spouse.

The Biblical Context of Dating in Scripture

While we can discuss the specific passages of Scripture that address dating as an idea, there are also other passages that provide a context for understanding these passages.

My experience with the Bible has taught me that looking at passages through the lense of overarching and repeating themes are quite helpful, also in this case.

For example, looking at the notion of dating not as a standalone but through the lens of marriage.

Marriage was one of the most important things that God created, and we see this reflected in the fact that there are both positive and negative consequences that come with marriage.

For instance, in the Biblical New Testament, marriage was a type of Christ-centered relationship (in which Christ is the Head and we are His body) in which the man and woman become one flesh.

Marriage is a picture of the relationship that Christ has with His people.

The most important aspect of marriage, however, is not the fact that the woman is “under” the man and therefore cannot have an independent or personal identity.

The most important aspect of marriage is that the man and woman become one flesh, and because they are now one flesh, they no longer have any basis to cast judgment on one another.

Thus, the man is able to fully submit to his wife and follow her lead in an unhindered way.

Another aspect of the centrality of marriage to God’s plan for mankind is reflected in the fact that God Himself will ultimately be the great Bridegroom.

Thus, we can see that the act of marriage was the first one of all God’s creations, and it was something that He specifically created so that He could have a personal relationship with mankind (this is why the man, Adam, was given the role of “king” in that his as the progenitor of all humankind was connected to his role as king.).

Therefore, the first thing that the man and woman do after they are born of God is to get married.

God’s plan is the true fulfilment of marriage.

This is not to say that other “types” of relationships don’t have their place, because they do – but they are not the ultimate.

The ultimate purpose of the relationship between two people is for each to become a spouse to each other in the image of God.

Dating in that sense, therefore, is a pathway to the ultimate relationship and purpose of the relationship, which is marriage.

But what is the point of marriage in the Bible?

The purpose of marriage in the Bible is to unite a man and a woman in holy matrimony so that they may live together in harmony and raise children in the fear and admonition of God.

Michael Penn

It is a life-long commitment, not an excuse to run around from one fling to the next.

When two people get married, they are covenanted together for life.

In biblical marriages, partners agree to love and respect each other even through the roughest of times.

They vow to be faithful to one another.

They vow to take care of each other and to care for children together.

They promise not to cheat on each other or neglect the needs of their marriage, no matter what.

They promise to live in the presence of God and in His grace, and thus always remain true to Him.

Dating, therefore, just for the sake of dating, in the Biblical context has no inherent point.

From a biblical perspective, one could argue that whole the point of dating is to discover if you are compatible enough with someone to pursue a serious relationship that could lead to a covenant marriage.

If it isn’t leading to something more serious in the future, then you are wasting your time and theirs by pursuing a relationship that is going nowhere.

Of course, if you’re only in it to enjoy casual sexual intimacy that’s fine, but that one can argue that that is not the biblical intent behind dating.

Biblically speaking, it’s important to be intentional about your relationship.

If you have no intention of pursuing a romantic relationship beyond friendship, then don’t waste your and their time pretending otherwise.

Call it for what it is and continue on that basis, as friends only.

The Purpose of Dating According to the Bible

As previously stated, the goal of dating, according to the Bible, is to find a life partner.

is dating a sin according to the bible

According to the Bible, it is not good for a man to remain alone and that he should find a wife to assist him fulfil his life’s purpose.

Marriage is the ideal way to meet a spouse, but dating can also lead to the discovery of friends and companions.

You can, however, have a better time if you grasp the goal of dating and marriage from a biblical perspective.

Dating is an opportunity to spend time with a possible life partner and discover what you truly have in common.

If you are single, you will want to put a lot of work into the connection and really get to know someone so that you can share all of their wonderful qualities.

However, it also provides clear boundaries from the start, which can serve as clear standards for moral behaviour and sound decision-making.

Finally, marriage is a significant commitment and a big sacrifice, so it should not be done lightly.

The best approach to find out how compatible you and the other person are is to spend time with each other.

Dating is one approach to find out if this individual is truly right for you.

Guidelines for Biblical Dating (if that’s your thing)

The Bible emphasises the importance of loving God and loving our neighbours as we love ourselves.

This notion, I believe, also applies to dating.

For example, Christian men do not want to act in any way that makes their partners feel uneasy, which includes limiting physical contact or until the two of you are ready.

Not as a sign of virginity or tradition, but as a sign of respect for yourself and the person you’re dating.

Keep in mind that physical affection may appear to be quite natural, and it is, but it may also easily turn into sexual behaviour.

The Bible is fairly serious about respecting our bodies (and those of others) and the seriousness of sexual immorality.

Some Christian teachers say that “sexual immorality” in the Bible refers to any sexual conduct that occurs outside of marriage.

Adultery (infidelity) and fornication are examples of this (premarital or extramarital sex).

They contend that the Bible teaches that both are forbidden to Christians (see I Corinthians 6:9; Acts 15:29; Hebrews 13:4).

Furthermore, I Thessalonians 4:3-5 states that it is God’s wish that we “avoid sexual immorality” and that each of us learn to regulate our own bodies “in a way that is holy and honourable, not in passionate lust as many who live ignorant of trusting in God.”

Following that logic, in this context, one should not allow physical intimacy to become the only significant aspect of a relationship and should also avoid crossing certain physically intimate borders while dating.

However, one should not be frightened to explore a physical relationship and physical affection with one’s partner because it is a normal thing to do.

One only needs to read Solomon’s classic poetry, Song of Songs, to see how intimately beautiful a romantic connection between lovers can be.

For example,

“My beloved thrust his hand through the latch-opening; my heart began to pound for him. I arose to open for my beloved, and my hands dripped with myrrh, my fingers with flowing myrrh, on the handles of the bolt” (Song Of Songs 5:4-5 NIV).

Or,

I am a wall, and my breasts are like towers. Thus I have become in his eyes like one bringing contentment” (Song Of Songs 8:10 NIV).

is dating a sin according to the bible

However, in order for the relationship to grow, it is necessary to focus on other aspects of it.

If you solely focus on physical intimacy, all other aspects of your relationship will most likely suffer as a result.

In saying that however, it’s also to be expected that physical intimacy will play a central role for the first portion of your relationship while dating, which is normal and to be expected.

In fact, one could probably argue that it’s concerning when it’s not the case, even with religious folk.

Yet, there are many other important aspects of dating someone biblically, but some of the most important would include: showing your respect for one another and not violating the boundaries set between you.

You want to make sure that you’re always being honest with your partner, and you don’t want to feel like you are being taken advantage of.

Respect is key in any relationship.

It should be shown through words and actions, for example, respect can be shown through controlling physical touch.

Many new couples with biblical beliefs avoid physical intimacy because they are frightened of infringing on the boundaries they have established with their partner. This is something you’ll notice a lot in more strict religious dating relationships.

How you both relate to one another is very important as well.

The Bible tells us that if you know your brother, you have a friend for life, and this should go for every other relationship in your life (1 John 3:11).

Knowing each other is crucial, therefore.

Dating is also supposed to be a fun and enjoyable experience, and should not just be viewed as an obligation to serve a higher purpose.

But that doesn’t mean that Christians shouldn’t be looking for dates that are biblically responsible.

You want to make sure that you’re meeting people who are going to be compatible with you both as an individual and as a couple.

Also, avoid potential temptation or problems before they occur by being “a watchman for your own heart,” as well as for others, especially your potential spouse.

Additionally, make choices to strengthen your relationship.

This can be done by spending time with one another, getting to know one another’s likes and dislikes, and being willing to talk about things.

There are times that your personal relationships may need to take a back seat, but don’t let this stop you from knowing and spending time with each other.

If a relationship does not live up to all of these requirements, it’s better to end it than to continue the superficial relationships that can hurt you in the long run (see 1 Corinthians 15:33 ESV: ‘Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.”’).

And this is not just for dating, but for every other relationship in your life as well.

But how will you do this?

  • First, you need to ask God for His help.
  • Second, you should pray for the other person and let God put a guard on your heart so that you don’t give in to every temptation or thought that comes along.
  • Third, you should make sure that there is no strife between you.
  • Fourth, you should make sure that you are having fun and enjoying each other’s company.

More crucial, though, is your capacity to form and sustain a deep emotional bond as a couple.

When you’re connected with your spouse on a deep emotional, mental, and spiritual level, it’s simpler to obtain more physical closeness in a relationship and have a lasting partnership.

And when you’re devoted to things like caring for and loving your partner, it’s also simpler to create more connection and intimacy in your relationship.

These are all biblical principles to the core.

Summary

In this post, we looked at the question: Is dating a sin according to the Bible? as well as any contrasts between modern dating and biblical dating (if any) Biblical dating involves significant commitment and vision for the future.

We saw that the Bible does not expressly describe dating as a concept, but it does present principles that can guide people as they navigate this stage in their lives.

Some have taken the Bible’s lack of mention of dating as implying we should not date.

However, dating (as an idea) has long been a part of the human experience, according to history.

The Bible might not use the term “dating” for a variety of linguistic and cultural reasons, but it still has much to say that provides practical recommendations to help someone date wisely today.

In essence, the Bible takes dating seriously and has a profound, respectful attitude towards it.

Moreover, dating, just for the sake of dating, in the Biblical context has no inherent purpose.

Biblically speaking, it’s important to be intentional about your dating life and romantic relationships.

Dating is an opportunity to spend time with a possible life partner and discover what you truly have in common.

At the heart of it all is the fact that the Bible emphasises the importance of loving God and loving our neighbours as we love ourselves.

When we do that in our dating lives, dating itself takes on a completely different purpose and approach.

Therein lies the big contrast between true biblical dating and modern dating in my view.

If you have any questions or would like to share your thoughts on the subject, please do so in the comments section below.

About the author 

Michael Penn

Michael is a writer, researcher and entrepreneur. He has been known to be a bit of a romantic as he explores the complexities of love relationships from all angles. He has been married for 15 years and his wife is his biggest fan!

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