Does the Bible say anything about dating? This is a good question for young people who are dating and who desire to date. The answer to this question is what parents should be discussing with their young people.

There are two answers to this question. The first answer is, “No.” If you search in your Bible app or concordance you will not find the words, “date,” “dating,” “boyfriend,” or “girlfriend.” Paul did not write about what to do on a first date. He does not tell us how long to date before marrying. Dating is the recent practice that men and women in our culture use to find a spouse. In other cultures and at different times a spouse was found by parental arrangement. Abraham found a wife for Isaac by sending his servant who prayed that the woman who gave a drink to him and his camels would be the woman God wanted for Isaac. This does not mean that God requires we find a spouse in this same way (which many of you are probably relieved to hear).

But there is a second answer to our question, “Does the Bible say anything about dating?” Yes it does. Although the Bible does not give all kinds of rules for dating, God’s Word does give important principles that apply directly to dating. The Bible makes clear parents must oversee dating. Because marriage must be in the Lord, dating should be in the Lord as well.

What should govern our dating practices more than anything else is the truth of marriage, because dating is for marriage. If we are going to date in a right way, we must know where we are headed. The goal is that we would be godly and loving in dating, so that one of these dating relationships will develop into a godly and loving marriage.

In this article and subsequent articles we will consider how the biblical truth of marriage applies to dating. To understand what godly, healthy dating is we need to understand what a godly, healthy marriage is. When we understand what a godly, healthy marriage is, we will strive to establish godly patterns and foundations in a dating relationship. If we do not have the goal of marriage in mind, this will lead to a weak foundation and ungodly patterns in dating.

God’s Word informs young men and young women that seeking a relationship that will blossom into marriage is a good thing, for example, in Genesis 2:18, where we read that it was not good for man to be alone. Although many of you young people are not ready for marriage right now, you probably picture yourself being married at some point. This is a good desire to have. God revealed to Adam his need for a wife by bringing the animals before Adam two-by-two so that he could name them. Adam saw that he was alone, which was not good. Still today, this Word of God teaches that it is not good for man to be alone, normally. Our culture sends a very different message to young men especially, but also to young women. The world says that if you marry too soon, you will miss out on a good time. But the real danger is that young men and young women develop sinful, selfish attitudes and behaviors that will make marriage difficult. In addition, there is the danger of sexual desires young men and women succumb to while single.

Because dating is for marriage, we face this fundamental question: why did God ordain marriage? God has ordained marriage not for our own personal happiness, but for His glory, as He uses marriage to teach us about His covenant established with His people in Jesus Christ. Because this is true, the focus of dating must be the glory of God, as we seek a relationship to reflect and learn more about God’s covenant with His people in Jesus Christ. For those of you who are dating, is this the focus of your heart? For those who desire to date, do you want to date for the glory of God in Christ?

God’s goal for marriage is not our personal happiness, fulfillment, or meaning. Expecting this from marriage is like expecting my 2001 Yukon XL to get 40 miles-per-gallon on a road trip. It was not designed to get that kind of gas mileage. It was designed to carry my large family and to get 17 miles-per-gallon, at best. If we expect that marriage is all romance, bliss, and happiness, we will be sorely disappointed because the reality is that a sinner marries a sinner. Because there is sin in marriage, there can be periods of sadness, struggle, conflict, and disappointment. This is why our Marriage Form begins (not pessimistically, but realistically) “Whereas married persons are generally, by reason of sin, subject to many troubles and afflictions….”

God has ordained marriage to be a covenant to teach us about His covenant with us in Jesus Christ. We know this from the many passages in Scripture that use marriage language to describe our relationship with God. In Hosea 2:19, 20, we find this language when God speaks to His people and says, “I will betroth thee unto me forever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in lovingkindness, and in mercies. I will even betroth thee unto me in faithfulness: and thou shalt know the Lord.” This same idea is found in the outstanding New Testament passage on marriage (Eph. 5). In verse 32, Paul says, “This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.” The mystery revealed here is that God has ordained marriage to teach us about our relationship to Christ.

Marriage is a covenant through which we learn about the highest and best relationship we have, in this life and the next. This is not a relationship with a man or woman, but our relationship with God. As close and wonderful as marriage is, or as cold and difficult as some marriages can be, we have a better, closer, and longer-lasting relationship with God. In this relationship God delights in us and draws us close to Himself although we sin and commit spiritual adultery against Him. In this relationship we are called to live to glorify and please Him.

This teaches young people to approach dating and marriage from a God-centered perspective instead of a man-centered perspective. What is the difference?

Because God has not designed marriage for our personal happiness, dating must not be for that either. I wish I understood this when I was in high school. It would have radically changed the way I viewed dating. A man-centered perspective on dating and marriage will cause one to approach dating from the perspective of personal happiness. This is the as-long-as-this-person-makes- me-happy-I-will-date-this-person attitude. If not, then the relationship must end. Maybe it should end, because the other person is not godly or is self-centered. Our dating (and marriages) should have the perspective that is so much higher than personal happiness.

How much has this emphasis of our culture affected us? The world says to do what feels good and makes you happy. If dating makes you happy and it feels good, then do it. Date for fun. Enjoy the romance of a young man trying to win you with gifts, appearance, kindness, and making you feel special. Enjoy the happiness this brings. Embrace, the world says, sensual caresses, kissing, and even sexual intimacy in dating. But understand what the Bible says about this. If we date for these reasons, we are not dating for God’s glory, but for what we get out of it. We date because it makes us feel good and happy.

To guard our hearts from this kind of dating that feels so good and so right, we must understand God’s purpose for marriage. A God-centered perspective on dating sees God’s glory in His covenant as the ultimate end. The ultimate goal of all things is to serve and glorify God. Marriage is for the purpose of growing in our relationship with God. What does this mean for dating? It means a couple dating with the goal of God’s glory seeks to prepare for marriage with all seriousness for that sacred bond. Through a dating relationship, we should want to please God and grow in our knowledge of Him. The relationship should aid my growth in sanctification. This is the driving force of a good dating relationship. If the relationship is not focused on this, it is not a good relationship.

Through marriage we learn about God’s love and we learn to love God. God uses marriage as a tool to deliver us from our self-centeredness. Marriage is the instrument of God for our sanctification. God uses many other instruments for our sanctification—the single life, friendships, His Word, and prayer—but He also uses marriage. Our greatest need is to be delivered from our selfishness. He joins us to a spouse who is different than we are and who will sin against us. As we struggle to love because of our own sin and the sin of the spouse God has given, we learn of the wonder of God’s perfect love for sinners. This is the purpose of marriage.

Marriage is a relationship of friendship and love that teaches us about God’s unconditional and undeserved love in Jesus Christ. Love is not merely a feeling. It is an activity of self-sacrifice that desires the good of the other person although that person does not deserve it. This is God’s love for us in Jesus Christ ( John 3:16). God gave His only begotten Son to save us from our sins. This amazing love of God is not based on anything we do. This is what love in marriage should look like. It should reflect the love of God for us. This love must be focused on God first and then the spouse.

This is important to understand for dating. I am afraid many couples are expressing their feelings by saying to each other, “I love you,” without understanding what this really means. Does anything feel better than to be told, “I love you”? But do we understand these three words? We should be sure to understand them before we say them. Dating with a view to marriage is a time to learn what love is, and whether or not you will make the commitment to love this person until death with the love of Christ. Love in marriage is a life-long commitment. Before these words are spoken in a dating relationship, this must be understood. How many couples say these words to each other ignorantly and later break up and don’t marry? That shows the couple did not fully understand the impact of those words. I would caution dating couples not to speak these three intimate words until they are ready to make a commitment to each other.

Another way a dating couple focuses on God’s glory is by dating within the boundaries of sexual purity. God’s Word clearly reveals that sex is only good and right within marriage. God says to you in dating, “Flee fornication and be pure!” (I Cor. 6:18). Part of dating in preparation for marriage includes not practicing physical intimacy. Instead, God calls us to purity. A couple who loves God and is learning to love the other will set clear and definite physical boundaries for the relationship. This is especially true for young men, since statistics have shown that young men think about sex every ten seconds! All the more reason to set boundaries.

I would encourage couples to think about this and talk about this under the guidance and accountability of parents. Here are some suggested boundaries. Set the boundary of not being alone in a place where sexual sin would be a temptation—for example down in the basement on the couch all alone. Set the boundary of no sensual kissing or caressing, because this is part of foreplay that leads to sex. Dating should not be the time to arouse each other sensually, but to learn to love with a view to determining if this is the person you should love for a lifetime.

The Bible has so much to say about dating. Date to the glory of God with an eye on marriage!