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