Q: #347. Can I date a non-Christian?
By: Steve Shirley
A: A pretty clear case can be made from the Bible that it is unwise to date a non-Christian. However, when the subject turns to marriage, the Bible is very clear that a Christian should not marry a non-Christian. While the Bible doesn't specifically address the subject of dating (dating is not really a Biblical concept in the first place), it does tell us a number of things that should be kept in mind for those considering dating a non-Christian.
First off, we have a clear warning in 2nd Corinthians that a believer (Christian) is not to be "yoked" with an unbeliever:
(2 Cor 6:14-18) Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers, for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? (15) And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? (16) And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (17) Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, (18) And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty. (Also see: Eph 5:6-8,11)
Several things can be taken from this: we (Christians) are declared "righteous" and unbelievers "unrighteous." Christians are "light," and unbelievers are "darkness." Christian's bodies are the "temple" of God, unbelievers bodies are not. Unbelievers are called "infidels" and "unclean."
This concept of being "unequally yoked" goes back to the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, God told His chosen people to separate from the nations and people around them, so that their heathen ways would not affect them and cause them to stray from God.
(Deut 7:2-4) ...thou shalt make no covenant with them... (3) Neither shalt thou make marriages with them: thy daughter shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son. (4) For they will turn away thy son from following me, that they may serve other gods...
(Ezra 10:11) Now therefore make confession unto the Lord God of your fathers, and do his pleasure; and separate yourselves from the people of the land, and from the strange wives. (Also see: Ex 34:12-16, Josh 23:11-13, Neh 9:2, Ezra 6:21, Mal 2:11)
In (Deut 22:10), God tells the Israelites not to "plow with an ox and donkey yoked together." This is a picture of a Christian (an ox, which was a "clean" animal: Deut 14:4) and non-Christian (a donkey, which was an "unclean" animal: Deut 14:7) being "yoked" together. I think we can all envision the problems with an ox and donkey being yoked together to plow a field. Each has different characteristics and traits which would make it very difficult to "plow together" (just as a Christian and non-Christian cannot "plow together").
Some consider this concept of being "unequally yoked" to apply only to "marriage" or "close partnerships," however, I would apply it to dating as well. The primary reason is this: Why are you dating the person you are dating? Isn't it because you are looking for that special person you hope to marry in the future? If it isn't..., I would certainly suggest that you check your motives for dating.
This leads me to address what some call "missionary dating." Are you dating a non-believer with the hope of "converting" that person to Christ? This is extremely dangerous, and unwise. First off, there is an old saying, "it is easier to pull someone down than to pull someone up." The Christian and the non-Christian are coming from two different world views. The Christian (hopefully) is striving to live his/her life for Christ, and to please Him. The non-Christian does not have that desire. The Christian desires to follow the teachings of the Bible, the non-Christian does not. As a Christian dating a non-Christian, you will almost certainly be tempted to compromise your faith at times, especially in the area of physical intimacy. And, I can tell you, nearly every time the Christian will eventually fall (or be "pulled down"). A good quote regarding this from Matthew Henry says, "for there is more likelihood that the good will be perverted, than that the bad will be converted."
I should also add that there is the danger of the "non-Christian" person you are dating making a profession of faith simply to please YOU. Is this really the right reason to give one's life to Christ? Will that profession hold up in the future? Is that even fair to the non-Christian to put them in that position? And, in the end, isn't your evangelism ultimately self-serving rather than selfless? In other words, aren't you evangelizing BECAUSE you are attracted to him/her and want a Christian partner? If they commit, aren't YOU getting something out of the deal too...? Shouldn't evangelism be selfless instead?
There are also those who ignore the Bible's warnings and carry this "missionary dating" through to "missionary marriage." The Bible speaks against this in (1 Cor 7:39) when it says: "A wife is bound as long as her husband lives; but if her husband is dead, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, ONLY IN THE LORD" (NASB)(caps emphasis mine). "Only in the Lord" means she may marry a fellow believer or Christian ONLY. This verse is in addition to the verses above about not being "unequally yoked."
I can also tell you this: If you are expecting to convert someone after marriage, and you also intend to live for Christ after marriage, you are almost certainly in for a miserable life ahead. I have seen this over and over and over again.... In probably 90% of marriages where this has happened, the non-believing spouse does not convert, and the believer is miserable. Plus, when you throw in children, and how to raise them, it becomes even worse. PLEASE do not fall into this trap! Also, keep in mind that once you ARE married, divorce is not an option. A believer is not to leave an unbeliever (although an unbeliever can leave) (1 Cor 7:12-16).
Let me close with one more BIG point for you to consider.
What is "idolatry?" A good definition of idolatry is: anything or anyone that we love or worship more than God, place ahead of God, or put in place of God. For the Christian, God is (or should be) first. NOTHING should ever be ahead of God. We are warned to "Flee from idolatry" (1 Cor 10:14)! Anything that might come ahead of God we are to avoid. So... if a person is a non-Christian, God is obviously not first in his/her life, right? This being the case, doesn't that make EVERYTHING in the non-Christian's life an idol? In other words, they are practicing idolatry! Do you really want to enter into a relationship with an idolater?
There are a number of examples in the Bible of God's people entering into a relationship with idolaters and it going badly. Perhaps, Solomon is the best example. (1 Kin 11:1-10) talks about how Solomon had married many pagan (unbelieving) wives, and as a result, "when Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart away after other gods; and his heart was not wholly devoted to the Lord his God..." (1 Kin 11:4)(Also see: Neh 13:25-27). Another example is found in (Num 25:1-3), which talks about how when some of the men of Israel (God's people) became involved with the pagan women of Moab, they fell into idol worship. (See Judg 3:5-6 for another example)
As we showed in the verses above, God warned His people in the Old Testament to separate from the godless cultures around them. This was for their protection, so that they would not fall into sin and turn from living totally for God. I believe it very wise to follow these warnings as well today. As Christians, we are warned in the New Testament not to be a part of this world (Rom 12:2)(1 Jn 2:15-17)(Jas 1:27)(Jas 4:4). The "world" is anything that is against God. Non-Christians are a part of "the world." We are to love, help, be friendly with, and share the Gospel with non-Christians, but we are NOT to enter into close relationships with them. Jesus should be at the center of any CLOSE relationships you have with others. You want close relationships with people who will push you towards God, and not away from God. Your Godly relationships are a part of your testimony, make it a GOOD testimony!