Dating and the Father’s Headship

Christian Living | Culture | Personal Blog

Published on September 06, 2022

You can listen to an audio version of this article here.

This article is intended for Christian singles and in particular Christian men who are seeking to date or court a young lady without first seeking her father’s consent and blessing.

Now note – what I am NOT arguing is that you go ask her father for her hand in marriage before she even knows who you are or that you’re interested. You’d rightly receive some very strange looks and if you’re in the South, perhaps be staring down the wrong end of a shotgun. You should at least know that you’re interested in the young lady and that she’s also interested. So this is relating to some point at which you both have figured that much out – that you’re interested in seeing where this could lead and want to move from just checking things out to formally pursuing a dating relationship. What I’m arguing is that before you make that move, there’s a necessary step before that – which is to seek her father’s consent and blessing to pursue his daughter, especially if he is a godly man.

And don’t worry, I’m not arguing that you “kiss dating good-bye”…

I have a feeling that this content may upset some Christians who have taken for granted our culture’s approach to dating which tends to be non-committal and loose.

Yet we must strive to let the Bible speak to every area of our lives, even this one. And while dating is not in the Bible, nor does it prescribe one particular way of finding a mate (e.g. arranged marriages or courting, etc), it does give us principles from which we can glean wisdom. Much of the pushback on these thoughts will be of the sort that considers it old-fashioned and outdated. However, this sort of chronological snobbery is no real argument, and we must ask – how’s our culture’s secular approach to dating been working out? With high rates of divorce, compromise and relational disaster – Christians who have uncritically adopted our culture’s approach look no different from the world’s standards. Biblical Wisdom is never old-fashioned or outdated. But, it is often counter-cultural.

So, here’s my proposal: consider these passages, and if you should disagree – why? We need wisdom that is based on the bible, and if you disagree, then what better, wiser and more biblical way are you seeking to proceed?

So, here are some of my thoughts according to the scripture on this matter:

Numbers 30:3-5

“If a woman vows a vow to the Lord and binds herself by a pledge, while within her father’s house in her youth, and her father hears of her vow and of her pledge by which she has bound herself and says nothing to her, then all her vows shall stand, and every pledge by which she has bound herself shall stand. But if her father opposes her on the day that he hears of it, no vow of hers, no pledge by which she has bound herself shall stand. And the Lord will forgive her, because her father opposed her.”

This passage in Number 30 is about vows with respect to women.

From the text 2 principles are seen:

  • Firstly, that an unmarried woman is under the headship of her father (v3-6) so that any vows/pledges she would make come under his authority. He is to care for her and be responsible for her in regard to what she vows/pledges herself toward.
  • Secondly, later in the passage, when she marries, her husband is now her head (see verses 6-16).

Thus, from this we can see why respecting the headship of her father is important as he is given headship over his daughter for as long as she is unmarried and is the one who should give guidance to her in regards to vowing/pledging herself to things. I’d categorize dating within that sphere – as it is a sort of pledge, where two people pledge themselves to each other.

While it is not a covenant, there are expectations of faithfulness, mutual respect, reciprocity, affections, etc – which are very closely related to a pledge. To say that something like dating is not included within this is to put it in a category of lesser importance than, say, paying back a loan (a pledge of repaying money lent) which I think most boyfriends/girlfriends would say is not a very satisfying outlook on godly dating since it implies a level of non-commitment that would be unacceptable to most.

Therefore, if a father is to be involved in the making of commitments in his daughter’s life, would it not also be logical that he should be involved in the making of a commitment such as dating? Furthermore, to disregard this because ‘that’s Old Testament law’ is a bad hermeneutic. The sections of the law which are not binding on us are because Christ has fulfilled them (sacrificial & temple laws). However, the rest of the law still remains binding on the Christian conscience. We are not Marcionites – an old heresy which has invaded the modern Christian church again trying to “unhitch” the Old Testament.

Paul asked the question in Romans 3:31, “Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.” While we know that we are not justified by the law, the OT law still has an abiding function of teaching us what pleases God and aiding in our sanctification. Christians are not antinomians (anti = against, nomos = law). Paul affirms the goodness of God’s law in 1 Timothy 1:8, saying, “Now we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully.”

We should assume continuity between the Testaments, not discontinuity. The parts of the law which we see as fulfilled in Christ, it is because the New Testament tells us so. Thus, if you are going to make an argument that this was just a cultural thing or something done away with in the OT, you have to have some sort of NT grounding for thinking that – which there doesn’t seem to be since the NT seems to continue this line of thought as will be shown below.

Matthew 19:4-6

Responding to a question the Pharisees asked regarding divorce, Jesus answered,

“Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

Jesus says in Matthew 19:5, quoting Gen 2:24, that a man should leave his father and mother’s household to be joined to his wife. The implication is that she does the same since the two coming together in marriage form a new ‘one flesh’ union – a new household. Thus, the woman, until she is married is under her father’s household.

Therefore, as she is not one flesh with you until marriage, then she is under her father’s household. So, it’s logical that you’d owe it to her dad to inform him and seek his blessing. She doesn’t belong to you until you’ve made a covenant and there’s been the “leaving and cleaving” spoken of in scripture upon marriage. Thus, you should not act as if she’s yours. Note also that this implies a knowledge of the above point of the father’s headship over his children. Jesus affirms the abiding validity of the OT law (Matt. 5:17; Luke 17:17) and the creational order for families.

Too many young men seeking to woo a young lady act as if they have no obligation to the young lady’s father – to whom God has tasked him with the protection and care of his daughter. Even further, some young men want to act as if they already have become one flesh with the young lady when no covenant has yet been made. Then later in life, if he should have daughters of his own, would feel wronged and slighted if they were to go behind his back and shirk his headship. This should not be so. Respect his headship and recognize that she belongs to his household until you should make her your wife.

Jeremiah 29:6

The Lord commands his people to,

“Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.”

Specifically, the phrase: “give your daughters in marriage” is important here… It implies that daughters were to be given in marriage by their fathers. Thus, daughters are under their father’s care and it is the role of the father to give his daughter away. They didn’t give themselves away.

How can the father do that if he is not involved in the dating relationship? How is it honouring the father if the couple only decides to involve him after they’ve already hooked up and made heart attachments and pledges to one another? That is not respecting him as an authority figure, that’s treating him like a younger brother who you just inform of what you’re doing but are not too concerned with getting his approval or permission. This “giving away” process happens way before the wedding day. By not involving her dad upfront, what are you saying? Doesn’t it imply that you don’t see him as the one to “give away” his little girl?

Many young men shoot themselves in the foot and wonder why they have such a terrible relationship with their in-laws. Put yourself in the father’s shoes – how can you give away your daughter joyfully to a boy who has no respect for your headship and authority?

To date where there is no approval from the father, especially in the case where there is a godly Christian father, is akin to poaching. You’re hunting where you don’t have a license. Don’t be a poacher.

Now, there are some exceptions for situations where there is a broken family or an ungodly father in the home. In such cases, the young man should still try his best to respect the spiritual authority figures in the young lady’s life – whether that be an uncle, pastor, small group leader, etc. She is still under authority, and you should respect and honour that if you expect her to respect your authority and headship, should you get married later. Contrary to our woke culture these days, authority structures are not inherently oppressive and evil. They are established by God, even though they may be corrupted by sin. The structures themselves are part of His good ordering of society for our good. The more you can seek to honour the godly authority structures God has put in place, the more you’ll set yourself up well for when you become the head of your own household one day.

Additionally, many young men avoid interacting with the young lady’s father (even if he is a godly one) because they want to avoid being accountable to him or having to deal with things he may differ with them on. However, when one becomes a husband, and your wife has to submit to your authority, even if she may disagree with some things (as long as they are not leading her into sin) – a man who has never had to submit to an authority that he disagreed with will not know how to be compassionate to his wife who has to submit to and respect his while disagreeing. This is why it is important for young men to not be lone wolves and to be submitting to godly authority in their own lives – such as elders, parents and spiritual mentors.

My story

Lest you should think that I don’t practice what I preach, let me tell you a little about my own story and experience.

I dated for a while according to the principles of our culture and without trying to think biblically about it. It always ended up in disaster. There was no clarity, no wisdom or accountability, there was very minimal family involvement and godly voices around who were close enough to warn me of dangers. I made a lot of mistakes as a young foolish single man which I wish I could have done differently.

Luckily, I met my now wife after I had gained a little wisdom the hard way. I definitely didn’t have everything figured out, but I knew enough that doing it the way I had been in the past was not working out.

When I met the young lady who is now my beautiful wife, we were not interested in each other at first… mainly because we knew nothing of each other. But, as we got to know each other in more casual group settings, I started to see qualities that attracted me to her. However, I was not yet convinced I wanted to pursue her – especially since that year I was heading back to Brazil to a mission organization I had been volunteering at every summer for a few years to figure out if God was calling me to move there permanently. So, I thought it was not wise to pursue a romantic relationship at that point. As providence would have it though, I came back and was not yet convinced God was calling me to Brazil, but also found my interest in Kylie peaked.

I started to intentionally observe her in the groups we’d be together in from our church – looking for qualities I valued. And yes, I had a list… you should have a list. You can’t know what to look for if you don’t know what you’re looking for. By the end of that summer, I decided that I wanted to pursue her – so I asked her out for breakfast to DTR (define the relationship). After a pleasant meal and some chit-chat, I told her directly and clearly that I was interested in pursuing her romantically and asked her if she was interested in that also. She reciprocated that she was, to which I said, “OK, then I’m going to need your dad’s phone number.” To which she responded, “Good. Cause you were going to get it if you didn’t ask!”

About a week or so later, I met with her father for coffee for 3 hours. He came prepared with a folder of 25 questions on everything from my intentions for his daughter, my plans for my life, my spiritual walk, some theological questions, my understanding of gender roles and marriage and my purity. I was delighted. This told me a lot about the calibre of man that her dad was, and I could safely assume that he had invested a lot in bringing up his daughter well also. At the end of our meeting, we embraced and he gave me his and her mom’s blessing to pursue Kylie.

Our period of dating/courting involved our families – particularly her family (since mine were in Trinidad), and I am so glad that I did it that way. I enjoy a warm and great relationship with my in-laws, and they provided a lot of wisdom and insight for us as we dated and were figuring out if this would lead to marriage. On our wedding day, my father-in-law was asked if he was sad at all about giving away his only baby girl. His reply was a confident no, and that he was delighted to be gaining a son-in-law. He was able to give away his daughter with joy and confidence because I had respected his headship.

Don’t rob your future father-in-law of that joy – especially if he’s a godly man. So many young Christian men make their future fathers-in-law suspicious of them during dating for no good reason.

Deuteronomy 22:13-19

“If any man takes a wife and goes in to her and then hates her and accuses her of misconduct and brings a bad name upon her, saying, ‘I took this woman, and when I came near her, I did not find in her evidence of virginity,’ then the father of the young woman and her mother shall take and bring out the evidence of her virginity to the elders of the city in the gate. And the father of the young woman shall say to the elders, ‘I gave my daughter to this man to marry, and he hates her; and behold, he has accused her of misconduct, saying, “I did not find in your daughter evidence of virginity.” And yet this is the evidence of my daughter’s virginity.’ And they shall spread the cloak before the elders of the city. Then the elders of that city shall take the man and whip him, and they shall fine him a hundred shekels of silver and give them to the father of the young woman, because he has brought a bad name upon a virgin of Israel. And she shall be his wife. He may not divorce her all his days.”

In the Laws concerning sexual immorality – note that in a charge against a virgin daughter, the father is the one who must bring evidence to defend her because he is given charge over her for her protection by God. The father’s headship implies that he is given charge over his children (in this case specifically a daughter) for their well-being, protection and defence against threats. This includes the threat of unacceptable male suitors. Hence why, especially in cases where there is a godly father or father figure present, he must be respected and brought into the dating relationship. The father is given the task by God of defending his daughter’s honour.

One of the questions my father-in-law asked me when I came to seek his blessing to date Kylie was, “what rules or boundaries do you have in place to keep yourselves pure during dating?” It was an excellent question – and one which many young men would stumble at because they have never actually thought it through biblically. They may stammer out some half-baked intentions of boundaries that might sound like COVID restrictions – something about keeping 6 feet apart and wearing a face covering or something like that… but it is rare today that they would have thought it through with any intentionality. That would have been me also in my earlier years. Thankfully, I was prepared.

I told him, “I don’t have an exhaustive set list of do’s and dont’s. I have a biblical conviction based on the concept of covenants. That means that until I marry your daughter, I am not in covenant with her, therefore I will not act like I am. What that looks like is simple… the only covenant we share before marriage is that we are brother and sister in the Lord. Thus, whatever I am unwilling to do with my own sister, I will not do with your daughter. So rather than try to memorize a list of do’s and don’ts, I use this principle as a filter.” What that looked like practically is that we went on dates in public, never privately to give room for our flesh or the Devil. We went over to other couple’s houses for dinner, spent time with her family, and did other things like that for some of our dates. We held hands, but not more. Eventually, as our relationship progressed and we were engaged, we’d give a peck on the cheek, but decided to leave the kiss on the lips for the marriage day – because again, my filter – I would never kiss my sister that way. That filter proved to be very helpful in navigating dating boundaries. It also seemed to please my father-in-law, who I think appreciated that I had given some thought to the matter biblically. Perhaps it’ll help you.

Just know this: if you fail to lead her in purity in dating, she will have no confidence that you will be faithful and pure to her in marriage. For those who are believers and already dating and have failed in this area, there is enough grace and forgiveness at the Cross for even that. Do not condemn yourselves but bring it to the Lord and repent. But know that repentance is also turning away… turn away from what you were doing and the patterns that led to compromise, and turn to what will help you be faithful. It’s never too late to build trust and integrity with your potential future spouse.

Honouring Parents

Ephesians 6:1 & Colossians 3:20 – command children to obey their parents and Exodus 20:12 & Ephesians 6:2 command children to honour their parents. Consider:

  • How is it honouring to parents for the child to enter into a committed relationship which is potentially leading towards a change of their covenant status and involves both families, yet not tell the parents or seek their advice?
  • How is it honouring to say, in effect, I am willing to take your daughter’s safety, affections, attention, emotions and time, but not willing to seek your counsel or blessing in doing so?
  • Does not honouring her father imply that you seek his consent and blessing as he is the one charged by God to be her protector and head (see above passages)?

Yet many young Christian men fail to do this and then wonder why they have such terrible relationships with their in-laws in marriage. Oftentimes that starts before the wedding day. While this is not the be-all and end-all of in-law relationship building – it definitely makes for an important start! The 5th commandment is still binding – honour your and her parents so that it may go well with you.

Managing His Household Well

1 Timothy 3:4 & Titus 1:6 say that an elder must be able to manage his household well and keep his children submissive, and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination (Likewise for deacons – 1 Tim 3:12). However, these qualifications are not only for elders… elders are not in some super-category of godly men – this is in fact just the requirements for being a godly man, and that is the type of men that should be appointed as elders.

Elders then serve as examples for godly manhood (cf. 1 Tim. 4:12 – Timothy, an elder, is commanded to be an example and in Titus 2:7, Titus is to set an example in everything). Thus, a godly man should be seeking to manage his household well, keep his kids submissive and free from the charge of misconduct and insubordination – following the example of biblical elders. Therefore, is the father able to do this if he’s kept out of the dating process?

Concluding Thoughts

Now, I know that this concept of asking the father’s permission and blessing sounds old-fashioned and outdated to our modern secularized culture that is increasingly antagonistic to anything vaguely Christian. But I don’t care about what our secularized culture thinks. I’m not interested in pleasing the culture, pleasing the flesh or seeking approval from anyone else. Our highest aim should be to please the Lord – especially in our holiness. We are to do all things to the glory of God, even dating. Far too many Christians fail to think covenantally about anything – yet this is the primary way that God relates to people (through covenant) and how he has established His people to be assembled as a covenant community of faith in the church. Covenants govern our relationships with God and each other. Marriage is a covenant, and the quicker you can get practice thinking covenantally, the better. So, applying biblical concepts and covenantal thinking to how you approach dating should be the way Christians seek to find a mate.

For those who are still opposed to this counsel to seek the father’s permission and blessing before officially entering into dating, I’d challenge you to go over the passages, think and pray about it, and check your heart’s motives. Why are you opposed to it? Is it because you are convinced from scripture that it is not wise? Has your heart become idolatrous in holding on to a relationship (or the prospect of a relationship) with the woman you want to pursue? Is it because you are more interested in the chase than the goal of Christian dating – i.e. marriage? Do you have a better and more biblical alternative? If you do – then great… go for it. But I hope that this episode has at least given some fruitful food for thought on the topic.

True manhood and leadership involve doing what is right, even if it is difficult or scary. So not doing this just because you’re nervous to talk to her dad is not an excuse. Man up. Manhood involves making decisions which are biblically informed, and sometimes… oftentimes not always popular and many times difficult. It involves conviction from scripture and resolves to be faithful and honour God in all that we do. We have not been given a spirit of fear brothers, but of power, love and a sound mind so that we might make decisions and lead in a way that is honourable.

Modern dating is so influenced by the world and culture. It takes a lot to go counter to that. Many people in the church don’t think about dating deeply or scripturally. And sadly much of Christian dating is just like the world. I believe we are to be set apart and stand different from the world and not just uncritically adopt its norms if we are to be distinct as God’s people.

I pray that this short article would have given you some food for thought and challenged you on how to begin to think biblically about dating. You can read the next article which covers 7 tips for Christians dating.

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