One of the things we are taught in Christian culture or at least the evangelical/protestant version of it, is that in every area of life we should ask what does the bible say about it? In other words if I have a question in a certain context, I can look to the bible to find the answer to that question. This is because not only is the bible inspired, inerrant, and authoritative, it is also sufficient.
This is supposed to work on all moral issues obviously, but the idea here is that it also works for everything else. The bible is the “road map” that we are to follow. It is God’s instruction to us. In it is everything we need. Some will go so far to say that not only is a way to hear God’s voice, but it is the only way.
Now this works pretty well on a lot of moral issues. It can even work when you think about how we as people are supposed to treat each other. However, we can sort of start to run into some problems in certain contexts of life.
Now before you all think I’m about to commit heresy here in the blog, let me assure you that I believe the bible as written is indeed inspired and inerrant. It is also authoritative, although I’ll qualify that in a minute. Being solely sufficient is a bit tougher to back up and it is for sure not the only way God speaks to us (which the bible itself never claims and in fact itself gives us example after example of that not being true).
The Bible is not God. We don’t worship a book, we worship who the book points to.
In the context of our subject matter here at the blog, that is singleness in the church today, it does not offer a step by step road map.
Now to be sure, it does give us a lot to work with. Because it is indeed authoritative, we need to understand that anything that is given as instructional in the bible is authoritative for the single life. This includes things like sexual immorality, how to treat our brothers and sisters in Christ, as well as if we get married how to set that relationship up as well.
But even when it comes to sexual ethics, the bible is more authoritative as a whole than it is a verse by verse instruction manual. For example, while you can’t find the verse that says premarital sex is wrong (go ahead and look for that verse) you can be sure that it is wrong because of what the bible teaches as a whole about what sex is, what it is created for as well as example after example of how that goes wrong. In the bible there are only two example of sexual desire being fulfilled. In marriage as good and outside of marriage as bad. Again the bible as a whole is authoritative.
But in our current Christian culture, we want the verse by verse answers. This desire comes from a limited rather than an exhaustive view of biblical theology.
When we get trapped in this we run into two big problems in the singleness context (as well as many others). The first is that who gets to interpret what it says? In other words one person (pastor, denomination, etc) teaches, using this or that verse, that the biblical truth in the area of singleness says this. But another person (pastor, denomination, etc) teaches, using this or that verse, that it doesn’t mean this, it actually means that.
No where is this more apparent than in the area of dating. Is there biblical instruction for dating? Is the bible alone sufficient for finding a spouse? The short answer is: it’s complicated. Here’s a better question: What, if anything, does the bible offer us as singles about singleness, dating and finding a spouse?
So let me try to break it down simply and honestly – again assuming that the bible is inspired, inerrant, and authoritative.
The bible as a whole does tell us at the least the following:
- Celibacy and marriage are both options for the temporal life.
- Celibacy and marriage are both pictures of the Kingdom.
- Sex is created for the context of heterosexual marriage
- We are all called, regardless of context to sexual purity
- If I’m not called to celibacy then I should seek marriage – not a bunch of relationships
- If I get married what the basic parameters, relational dynamics and commitments should be. In other words what the covenantal relationship looks like. What marriage itself is.
- To some degree what I am looking for in the other person and what person I need to be in the marriage.
- That we do not have a soulmate or perfect person that God has ordained for us to marry
- How to in general think of and treat my brothers and sisters in Christ
What the bible as a whole does not tell us is the following:
- The exact person that I should marry or for that matter that God has predestined a person for me to marry
- How to get married
- The step by step process that I need to follow to get married
- How to attract a potential spouse
- The proper dating (or courting or whatever) system for me to follow in the pursuit of a spouse
- What exact role the man and woman play in the process of getting married
- The exact role that the family, church or community plays in helping people get married
Now there are obviously those who disagree with the second list. Those people are wrong. Ha!! It’s funny but true. While I can point to both verses as well as the scripture as whole to support the first list, I don’t think anyone can point to scripture as a whole to show me how the second list is wrong. You’re welcome to try in the comment section. I have no doubt that one can massage a verse here or there to answer those questions (I’ve seen it done) it’s just not really in the bible any sort of consistent way.
For example you might be able to prove that modern dating is not in the bible but you can’t show that “courting” is THE biblical path to marriage. You can certainly show that many modern sexual practices are un-bilical but you can’t prove that your plan is THE biblical way find a spouse.
Why does this matter? It matters because we live in the real world right now. It matters because the bible is indeed inerrant and authoritative in what it does say. When we make it say things that it doesn’t we mess up both our expectations and we cheapen the very inerrancy and authority that we are seeking to preserve and follow. In other words it confuses the whole concept and creates a bunch of false dichotomies and platitudes.
On the other hand, when we recognize what it does say, and put those things into practice, we then have the freedom, within those parameters, to work in the current temporal context that we find ourselves in.