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ADD TO YOUR LEARNING - The Philippine Teaching Ministry


Dave Eastman August 22, 2003

The Cultural Milieu of the Bible

In this era of 'freedom in Christ,' many have questioned some of the dating guidelines and practices within our fellowship. The common practice among ancient peoples (and in many areas of contemporary society outside of the West even today) was that the parents would arrange marriages for their children (some of us with older children prefer this pattern). It would have been considered shameful for a young man to be with a woman in private prior to marriage. Since, in Jewish practice and 1st century culture, dating as we know it was not practiced; the Bible does not specifically address it. However, as in virtually every area of life, the Bible does give us basic guidelines that have direct application to this practice in our generation.

For the purpose of this paper, we will define dating as "a committed relationship between two unmarried people of the opposite sex," what we often call 'going steady'. We are not addressing two co-workers going to lunch together or two friends hanging out at a coffee shop.

Old Testament Principles

We see very early God's desire for his people in Abraham, the father of the Jewish faith. Consider these thoughts from Genesis 24, a conversation between the elderly Abraham and the manager of his household.

Gen 24:2-4
3 I want you to swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you will not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I am living, 4 but will go to my country and my own relatives and get a wife for my son Isaac."

Following this same pattern, Isaac commands his son Jacob not to marry outside of his people.

Gen 28:1-9
28:1 So Isaac called for Jacob and blessed him and commanded him: "Do not marry a Canaanite woman. 2 Go at once to Paddan Aram, to the house of your mother's father Bethuel. Take a wife for yourself there, from among the daughters of Laban, your mother's brother. 3 May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and increase your numbers until you become a community of peoples. 4 May he give you and your descendants the blessing given to Abraham, so that you may take possession of the land where you now live as an alien, the land God gave to Abraham." 5 Then Isaac sent Jacob on his way, and he went to Paddan Aram, to Laban son of Bethuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebekah, who was the mother of Jacob and Esau.

6 Now Esau learned that Isaac had blessed Jacob and had sent him to Paddan Aram to take a wife from there, and that when he blessed him he commanded him, "Do not marry a Canaanite woman," 7 and that Jacob had obeyed his father and mother and had gone to Paddan Aram. 8 Esau then realized how displeasing the Canaanite women were to his father Isaac; 9 so he went to Ishmael and married Mahalath, the sister of Nebaioth and daughter of Ishmael son of Abraham, in addition to the wives he already had.

Esau, who had despised his birthright, had also gone on to displease his father by marrying from among the Canaanites. This brought untold grief to his parents, and was also a source of significant conflict in his own life (Genesis 27:46).

Progressing through the history of God's people, we see the same principle during the rebuilding of Jerusalem under the leadership of both Ezra and Nehemiah. In confessing their sins before the Lord and Ezra, Shecaniah said this:

Ezra 10:2-4
"We have been unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women from the peoples around us. But in spite of this, there is still hope for Israel. 3 Now let us make a covenant before our God to send away all these women and their children, in accordance with the counsel of my lord and of those who fear the commands of our God. Let it be done according to the Law. 4 Rise up; this matter is in your hands. We will support you, so take courage and do it."

Ezra 10:10-11
10 Then Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, "You have been unfaithful; you have married foreign women, adding to Israel's guilt. 11 Now make confession to the LORD, the God of your fathers, and do his will. Separate yourselves from the peoples around you and from your foreign wives."

Consider the human agony in this proclamation - men being separated from their wives and children! Yet that was how serious God was about the need for his people to be holy - separate from the world! Ezra 10 is testimony to the convictions of the Lord!

Fourteen years after Artaxerxes authorized Ezra to lead a 2nd group of exiles back to Jerusalem, Nehemiah hears a report about the tragic conditions in Jerusalem, and Artaxerxes appoints him to go to Jerusalem as temporary governor, sending him to help Ezra. He rebuilds the wall and remains in Jerusalem for about 11 years, afterwards returning to the King. After some time, he returns to Jerusalem and finds that the people, once again, have fallen into sin - neglecting the temple, violating the Sabbath, neglecting the temple offerings, and marrying foreign wives.

Among Nehemiah's various reforms, the Israelites set this down as a binding agreement:
"We promise not to give our daughters in marriage to the peoples around us or take their daughters for our sons."

Later in the rebuilding, when Nehemiah became aware of specific cases of intermarriage, he had this to say:

Neh 13:23-27 Moreover, in those days I saw men of Judah who had married women from Ashdod, Ammon and Moab. 24 Half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod or the language of one of the other peoples, and did not know how to speak the language of Judah. 25 I rebuked them and called curses down on them. I beat some of the men and pulled out their hair. I made them take an oath in God's name and said: "You are not to give your daughters in marriage to their sons, nor are you to take their daughters in marriage for your sons or for yourselves. 26 Was it not because of marriages like these that Solomon king of Israel sinned? Among the many nations there was no king like him. He was loved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel, but even he was led into sin by foreign women. 27 Must we hear now that you too are doing all this terrible wickedness and are being unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women?"

28 One of the sons of Joiada son of Eliashib the high priest was son-in-law to Sanballat the Horonite. And I drove him away from me.

Nehemiah calls this practice a "terrible wickedness" and "unfaithful to God."
In his righteous anger, he even resorts to physical violence to show these men the sinfulness of their practices.

As with every other command of God, He gives it not to restrict us, but to protect us from a life-ruining decision. When we marry, we make a lifetime commitment. He makes that clear in his feelings about divorce in Malachi 2:16:
"I hate divorce," says the LORD God of Israel.

The Old Testament is crystal clear in its principles regarding marriage.

New Testament Principles

Over and over in the New Testament, we are enjoined to "be holy." Holiness in this context means separation from the world. We have a different standard that governs all of our relationships, but especially that of marriage. Consider Paul's direction to widows in 1 Cor 7:39:
"A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord."

This is neither encouragement nor suggestion; it is a clear command of God: "…he must belong to the Lord." Disciples marry disciples. Period. And since the most common purpose of dating is to find a lifelong soul mate, it only follows that Christians date Christians only.

Consider these passages as well.

Eph 5:3-11
But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people. 4 Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. 5 For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person-such a man is an idolater-has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God's wrath comes on those who are disobedient. 7 Therefore do not be partners with them.

8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9(for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord.

This is a very well-known passage about our need to be morally distinct from the world. In our dating as disciples, there must not even be a 'hint of sexual immorality.' There is no quarrel about that. But consider verse 7: "Therefore do not be partners with them." The Greek word for 'partner' has been variously translated. Consider these alternatives:
" " Do not co-partner with them
" " Don't even associate with such people
" " Therefore do not be partakers with them
The Greek word is summetochos, which means a companion or 'joint-partaker.' This would apply to anyone living in the darkness - even a religious non-disciple: "Do not be their companions." Certainly other passages make it clear that we are not to leave the world; however, there needs to be a distinction in our closest relationships. And it absolutely would pertain to our most intimate non-marital relationship, that of a man and woman in an exclusive dating relationship. Our challenge here is to "find out what pleases the Lord."

Then, certainly, we need to consider 2 Cor 6:14-18

14 Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? 15 What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: "I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people."

17 "Therefore come out from them
and be separate,
says the Lord.

Touch no unclean thing,
and I will receive you."
18 "I will be a Father to you,
and you will be my sons and daughters,
says the Lord Almighty."

Consider some other translations of verse 14:
" " Do not enter into inconsistent relations with those who reject the faith
" " Avoid unsuitable connections with unbelievers
" " Keep out of all incongruous ties with unbelievers
" " Do not be mis-mated with unbelievers
" " Stop forming intimate and inconsistent relations with unbelievers

We can all agree that this condemns intermarriage with non-disciples. But what is a more intimate - and therefore - unsuitable, incongruous, inconsistent relationship than that of a non-Christian man and a Christian woman (or vice-versa) in a dating relationship? Further, what does a Christian man we have in common with a non-Christian woman? What does a Christian woman have in common with a non-Christian man? What basis of agreement is there? How are we to act when God desires to live with us, walk among us and be our God? How do we reconcile an incongruous dating relationship with the command to "come out from them and be separate"? We cannot. Clearly, Christians date Christians. Christians marry Christians.

Consider some other 'do not' passages found in the New Testament.

Matt 4:7 - Jesus answered him, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'

Matt 6:2 - "So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets…"

Matt 6:25 - "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear."

Matt 7:1-2 - "Do not judge, or you too will be judged."

Rom 6:11-13 - "Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness…"

Let's answer a few questions. Is it OK to put the Lord to the test? Is it OK to announce our giving with trumpets? Is it OK to worry about our life? Is it OK to judge? Is it OK to let sin reign in our mortal body? The unequivocal answer to all of these questions is a resounding NO! Why then would we believe it is OK to be unequally yoked to an unbeliever? It is not. We do ourselves a grave disservice when we kick against the goads, when we contravene a direct command of the scriptures. Many who have may well ultimately pay the price of their souls.


To go back to where we began, the whole question regarding these things started with what some have called "Freedom in Christ." There is no question that, in the past, some of our dating rules (what we called "guidelines") have been imposed by many as if they had been commands of God. Indeed, most of these guidelines continue to be good advice for many situations. However, as in all of our relationships, we need to speak to one another heart-to-heart, with love and respect, rather than expecting "obedience" to our advice. People need to be treated as mature adults. However, I believe that any compromise regarding Christians dating Christians only needs to be rejected as unbiblical and foolish. This has nothing to do with freedom in Christ. Is it sin? My personal conviction, based on Ephesians 5 and 2 Corinthians 6, is that it is. But even if one does not agree that it is inherently sinful, why would we do it? Why walk a tightrope that, historically, almost always leads to disaster? Why dance on the very edge of the precipice?

What is God's desire for you, single brother? And what is God's desire for you, single sister? Simply this: that you and one very special person develop a great friendship, experience a pure relationship, enter marriage enjoying the full blessing of God, take pleasure in the greatest possible sexual relationship, and walk through life as soul-mates, helping one another to make it all the way to heaven. That's the fairy tale. And thousand of couples in our fellowship worldwide have lived it to this day. Don't allow your hormonal fantasies, the fables of Hollywood, and the myths of Satan to rob you of that fairy tale in your own life.

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