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So to take one of my examples above, the story of Jacob and Rachel is found in Genesis, a historical narrative.The author's main point in that part of Genesis is to describe the story of Jacob and Rachel as part of a larger narrative about God and His plan of redemption, not to "prescribe" (to endorse or instruct) anything about their conduct. It means that even though Jacob ended up taking two wives, that fact in a historical narrative does not override Paul's direct teaching on marriage in Ephesians, 1 Corinthians and elsewhere that marriage is to be between one man and one woman.(For instance, the story of Jacob and Rachel doesn't stand for the idea that seven years is the right length of time for a dating relationship — or that polygamy is OK!And the story of Ruth and Boaz is not an example of a woman "initiating" the equivalent of a modern dating relationship.) So where does all that leave us?If you read Scripture and are unsure about a particular passage's genre or context or application to a certain topic, a good study Bible can be helpful (the is the best I've ever seen). So, keeping things like genre and context in mind, what are some of the broad biblical principles that can guide us in the more specific question of how to date in a way that glorifies God? As you'll see, they tend to build on and reinforce one another.I realize that not everyone in evangelicalism would necessarily agree with some of the specific implications I've drawn from these principles over the years, but among reputable, conservative biblical scholars, the basic ideas themselves are well established.In a dating relationship don't be exclusive—care about others too. "Next, learn to put aside your own desires so that you will become patient and godly, gladly letting God have his way with you. Don't keep looking at my sins—erase them from Your sight.This will make possible the next step, which is for you to enjoy other people and to like them, and finally you will grow to love them deeply." What to avoid on dates. "Be decent and true in everything you do so that all can approve your behavior. Create in me a new, clean heart, O God, filled with clean thoughts and right desires.
The orthodox, uncontroversial interpretation of this language is that it instructs men and women not to relate in ways that arouse or encourage sexual desire or a high, unique level of intimacy until it is appropriate (i.e., within the context of marriage illustrated in the book).Similarly, 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 warns us that we are to abstain from sexual immorality and to use our bodies in holiness and honor rather than lust, and that we should not "transgress or wrong" one another in these matters.Other translations render that word "wrong" as "defraud" (see the old RSV, among others).If you are single and keep reading this piece, you may be tempted to think of what follows as principles that limit or restrict the way you act while dating.There may be some truth in that in some sense, but they are even more fundamentally about marriage relationship — and about positively loving our single brothers and sisters in Christ in a way that prioritizes one another's spiritual good (an ethic with which Scripture is deeply concerned).