First of all, we need to have an understanding of what “submission” is biblically. Our culture has twisted this word beyond recognition to mean awful things like:
- sexual slavery
- Fifty Shades of Gray (BDSM kinds of things)
- Domestic Discipline/Christian Domestic Discipline (DD/CDD)
These things are NOT at all what the Bible is talking about. I have a number of posts on www.peacefulwife.com that explain what biblical submission is and what it isn’t. You are welcome to search there for things like:
- biblical submission
- spiritual authority
- a husband’s and a wife’s authority in marriage
- when would I not submit to my husband
- submission is not passivity
- submission does not = the husband is always right
- BDSM and CDD
How Does Biblical Submission Relate to Dating?
It is important that we understand that there was no such relationship as “dating’ in biblical times. There were mostly just arranged marriages. Parents often chose a spouse for their children and worked out the details with the prospective spouse’s parents. People would be “betrothed” to each other, sometimes from early childhood. That meant they were committed to each other for the future in marriage.
It was a legally binding time, and if one person had sex with someone else during that time, it was considered to be “adultery” against the other person. They had to get a divorce legally after that. That is what Joseph was considering doing to Mary when he found out she was pregnant with Jesus. Of course, he could also have asked for her to be stoned to death. That was the punishment in the Old Testament for adultery. But “he didn’t want to expose her to public disgrace, so he had in mind to put her away privately” (Matt. 1:19).
Our culture’s concept of dating and choosing our own spouses is completely different from how things were done in Bible times. We don’t have any legal obligations to someone we date or even to someone to whom we are engaged.
It gets a bit dicey to try to apply biblical commands for marriage to dating. Because dating is definitely not marriage.
A young woman, in biblical times, would be under the authority of her parents until she left to get married and then would be under the authority (leadership, protection, and provision) of her husband. Daughters who are still at home under their parents’ protection and provision are still under their authority today. Here is a post that explains a daughter being under her father’s authority and how that is supposed to work.
It is also extremely important to remember that all believers’ primary submission is to be to the direct authority of the Lord. (That goes for men, women, and children.)
SUBMISSION TO PARENTS
When a daughter grows up learning to properly submit to her parents, especially her father, this helps to prepare her for a godly marriage. A godly dad would want to protect his daughter and would help to “vet” potential boyfriends/husbands to determine their character, their faith in Christ, their motives, and to look for red flags. If you don’t have a dad (or mom) who can or will do this for you, it may be wise to pray about a godly mentoring couple (or trusted pastor) who may be willing to help you navigate prospective husbands and help evaluate these men.
(Note – Sons had to submit to the authority of their parents, as well, when they were underage. The command for children to obey their parents is for all children who are still under their parents’ authority – Eph. 6:1.)
SUBMISSION BEFORE MARRIAGE?
In dating, courtship, or engagement in our culture today, a godly woman will want to show a willingness to seek to honor her potential husband’s leadership. But she is not bound to submit to his leadership until marriage. She is free not to follow him. It is not a sin if she chooses not to cooperate with his leadership at that point.
If she is still under the authority of her parents, she is to submit to them as her primary human God-given authorities. We all have many God-given authorities in our lives to whom we are to submit, as believers: government officials, police officers, managers at work, teachers in school, pastors, church leaders, etc… God counts the way we honor those in positions of God-given authority in our lives as the way we honor His authority (Rom. 13:3).
There are no limits to my submission to God’s direct authority. My submission to Him is to be absolute. However, any time a Christian submits to a person in a position of God-given authority, there are appropriate limits to any kind of submission to human authorities because humans are not perfect like God is. Even in marriage, a godly wife is not to follow her husband into clear sin.
(And for a godly man or woman, I am assuming they would only “date” in order to determine if a person would be a suitable spouse. There also should not be any sexual relationship or hint of sexual immorality in the time of dating, courtship, or engagement. That is a direct violation of God’s commands for us, and it makes a whole lot of things much more difficult to navigate before and after marriage. If you want to know how you can be right with God after committing sexual sin, please check out this post.)
If a woman finds that she can’t bear the thought of trusting or honoring the leadership of a potential future-husband, that could certainly mean that it would be unwise for her to consider marrying him.
At the very least, I would want to certainly understand why I didn’t trust him or why I didn’t want to follow a man I was considering marrying. Is it because of issues on his end? Or is it due to fears, insecurities, or misunderstandings on my end? Are there certain issues where I don’t want to do what he thinks is best? Why? Are these deal-breakers or could I learn to live with these things even if we don’t do them my way?
I wouldn’t want to marry a man I couldn’t respect either. But it would be important to prayerfully consider why I don’t respect him. Is it something about his character? Or is it a matter of me not understanding the concept of respect? Is it about my character?
If the problems are on my end, these may be things I can prayerfully work through with godly counseling and prayer. If there are glaring things on his end – character issues, red flags he won’t address, or I have concerns about the validity of his faith and submission to Christ – I would want to talk with my parents, ideally, or a godly pastor, or mentoring couple I trust. I don’t want to charge ahead into marriage with a man who has unrepentant sin issues in his life or deep wounds that have not been addressed. I would also want to be sure that I understand his personality and am willing to accept him as he is, that I am not going into marriage expecting to change him.
- What are my expectations for marriage?
- Do they match his?
- Are my expectations realistic and biblical?
- Do I accept the calling he has on his life?
- Am I willing to support whatever he believes God desires him to do?
- Do I understand what it is going to mean for me to be willing to honor his leadership as my husband in God’s sight?
- Do I understand the limits of biblical submission in marriage clearly?
IF I MARRY HIM
I will need to be prepared to honor his leadership, unless he is clearly asking me to sin or to condone sin. (Or there are some other things going on as explained in this post.) So, sometime before you get married, and maybe even before you date a godly man, take the time to study what biblical submission means and what it doesn’t. Know what God asks of a wife ahead of time so that you can be prepared spiritually and emotionally. This will radically impact the way you view dating and who you are willing to date. Only date someone you would consider marrying and working together with that man to build a godly marriage according to God’s Word and His commands and design for marriage.
Don’t date a guy who doesn’t know Christ. Don’t date a guy who says he knows Christ but the fruit in his life is all from the flesh. Only date a guy who is serious about living for Jesus and who wants to seek Him far above anything or anyone else. You need a Spirit-filled, Spirit-led man who understands what it means to submit to the Lordship of Jesus. And that is the kind of women we are all to be, as well.
Yes, these kinds of men are rare. Even in church. And yes, these kinds of women are rare, even in church. So go slowly. Watch his character. Be sure you are becoming a godly woman by Jesus’ power working in you. Be sure to seek God first in everything. Be willing to hold anything else and anyone else loosely.
Much love to each of you!