Christians have a ton to say about relationships.
A quick search returns thousands of articles and books guiding young Christians on how to date right—from the classic I Kissed Dating Goodbye to my personal favorite… Texting Mr. Right.
And if you’ve been around church for any amount of time, you’ve heard them. Popular sermons, blogs, podcasts, and conversations span a full range of practicality and scriptural foundation.
We’re taught things like:
- If you’ve been dating for a year and don’t know whether you want to marry, something is wrong.
- You should marry before you’re 25. Or 23. Or 21. (Typically whatever age the advice-giver happened to be when they got married.)
- Girls should never tell guys they’re interested.
- “Courtship” is God’s plan for relationships.
- Don’t say “I love you” before you propose.
- Say “I love you” way before you propose..
- Discuss marriage on your first date.
- Don’t discuss marriage until after you propose.
- Married people are automatically wiser than single people.
(Okay, nobody has said the last one to me, but it’s too often implied.)
For this single guy, the range of advice is exhausting and rather confusing when I look for scriptural foundation to support the claims. Things like courtship (whatever that means) and marrying by 21 aren’t Biblical, they’re cultural relics.
Most writings on traditional Christian dating assert that “proper” relationships ended with the sexual revolution of the 1960’s. The Beatles, Woodstock, flower children, LSD, and the rise of widespread promiscuity drove the nail in the coffin of the days when Grandpa’s family offered Grandma’s family a few goats in return for her hand in holy matrimony.
Relationships haven’t been the same since and we must all return to the old days, they say.
Give me a break.
Sure, major moral issues are rampant in the world today, and weak relationships abound because of the broken societal norms we’ve embraced. 39% of marriages today end in divorce. Pre-marital sex and cohabitation—which I believe are not only unbiblical but also correlate to higher divorce rates—are the norm for my generation.
Still, going back to the old days is not the answer.
Pre-1960’s America had plenty of moral issues, too. As did 13th century England and 1st century Jerusalem. There has never been a generation with significantly superior values to the last because people have been broken since the beginning of time. No society has ever fully embraced the message of Jesus to “Love one another as I have loved you.”
Without moral superiority, we can assume that no generation has perfected the path to marriage, either. Instead, we must approach relationships today different than ever, accepting both the realities of the world we live in and the unchanging nature of God’s Word.
What does that mean?
From how I read it, scripture approaches relationships by teaching people to act like Jesus in their marriage. That’s it. Dating isn’t discussed because dating wasn’t a thing yet. Most people had little choice in their spouse, so they were taught to love and commit to one another within their own cultural norms.
That’s what is most important today, too.
So, what does the Bible have to say for dating couples? Nothing directly, but we can take some of its wisdom and incorporate it into the modern system.
Here are a few things that apply:
- Marriage is good. (Genesis 2:21-25)
- Sometimes being single is better than marriage. (1 Corinthians 7:7-8, 38)
- If you’re a Christian, marry another Christian. (2 Corinthians 6:14)
- Don’t have sex before you’re married. (1 Corinthians 7:1)
- Focus on the Kingdom above your marriage (1 Corinthians 7:29-31. Matthew 6:33)
- Treat other men and women as brothers and sisters, with all purity. (1 Timothy 5:2)
- Be humble and value others as highly as yourself. (Philippians 2:3-4)
No age requirement, steps to follow, or time limit on how long to date somebody before you commit. Instead, I see God calling us to become the type of people who will build His Kingdom and use our status as married or single people towards that end.
When two people choose to honor each other, yoke themselves to God first, and listen to the wise counsel of trusted friends and mentors, the specific model of dating becomes irrelevant.
They will figure out how to date.
They’ll have a strong idea of when to get married or whether to break up.
They’ll learn how to treat one another well, and how to apologize when they screw up.
Things won’t be perfect, but perfection isn’t the goal.
A majority of the advice I’ve heard from Christians fails to distinguish these real Biblical truths from their own opinions. In turn, their advice on Biblical dating becomes less about the Bible and more about themselves.
Here’s my take:
If you’re working inside the boundaries of a scripturally healthy relationship, you should follow whatever dating path works for you, without imposing the same requirements on everybody else.
Into the whole courtship thing? Great for you! Live it up, Chief.
But don’t expect the rest of us to follow the same plan. Relationships are hard enough without constant judgement from pastors, bloggers, and friends who mask their personal opinions of dating as Biblical fact. I’ve watched skewed opinions from the peanut gallery strain far too many of my friends’ lives.
So yes, it’s okay if you’ve been dating for two years and you’re not ready to marry.
It’s okay for a girl to ask a guy out.
It’s totally cool to be 42 and single.
And you can say, “I love you” whenever you decide.
Because none of that is in the Bible.
Honor one another.
Seek the Kingdom of God above all else.
Put their interests before your own.
Do those things well, and you’re in a Biblical relationship.