5 Ways Dating Is Legalistic

If I were to say, “Courtship is legalistic,” would you be shocked by such a claim? Probably not.Dating is Legalistic

We’ve all heard people say that courtship, and/or courtship advocates, are legalistic. To some extent, this is true. While I haven’t met any legalistic courtship believers, I have heard plenty of stories about them. Additionally, anything can become a form of legalism. Any belief, any idea, any thing can become an idol or source of legalism.

However, there is a “system” which is far more legalistic, in general, than courtship: recreational dating. Yes, recreational dating is legalistic.

Now, perhaps, you may be shocked. You don’t hear people claim dating is legalistic very often, if at all. Before I go into just how dating has become a form of legalism, first we need to define terms. What is legalism after all?

There seem to be three forms of legalism today:

  1. Good works and/or obeying the Law must be done to attain salvation
  2. Good works and/or obeying the Law must be done tomaintain salvation
  3. Looking down on other Christians who do not hold to an individual’s standard of holiness.

This third form of legalism is the sort of legalism most commonly thrown around today. I have never heard of anyone claiming that you must court in order to achieve or maintain salvation, but if they exist, that is pretty peculiar. However, we do have courtship/betrothal advocates being labelled legalistic because it is believed many of them look down on Christians who do not court.

As I said above, this is possible. Courtship and/or betrothal can become idols. They can become legalistic. That being said, Dating, and it’s loyal supporters, are far more guilty of this form of legalism. While courtship opponents are quick to point out that courtship is not a system to be found in the Bible, they forget that dating is nowhere to be found. In fact, the dating practices of today would have been considered scandalous during biblical times.

While I think courtship advocates do need to be careful, I think it is the courtship opponents, and supporters of dating, who really need to look themselves in the mirror.

While I personally believe that courtship can look very different from person to person, many dating activists religiously cling on to certain aspects of dating, and believe that you must do things their way, or else you’re a weird, legalistic buffoon doomed to never marry or “marry the wrong person.”

5 Ways Dating is legalistic:

1. You must have feelings first

Dating is vehemently opposed to the idea that we should guard our hearts during courtship. Wrapped up in the fairy tale romances of Hollywood, dating claims that you must be head-over-heels “in love” with someone before you enter a “relationship”. This isn’t biblical, yet Christian dating die-hards cling to emotional love like scripture.

Certainly, attraction is important, and to some extent, feelings can’t be controlled; however, the foundation of love is sacrifice, not romance. You have to put the needs of your spouse above your own needs or wants, and this is very hard to do if you are not attracted to someone. Attraction helps, and is definitely important. Attraction will allow the feelings to come. However, to claim that you must be “love drunk” first is dogmatic, and closes the door on other possibilities.

The mockery and dating dogma surrounding the idea that you can or should guard your heart is evidence of legalism, of looking down on those who don’t meet certain, unbiblical standards. Other people have had God-honoring courtships and marriages without starting out deeply “in love”. There is no formula.

2. You must pick your own spouse

Dating believes that you absolutely must pick your own spouse. While this is what I would prefer to do, this isn’t necessarily Biblical. In the case of Isaac and Rebecca, they didn’t meet, fall in love, and then decide to marry. It was decided for them. Apparently there are other ways to find a spouse that are just as legitimate.

While I don’t believe the example of Isaac and Rebecca is ideal, I don’t think we can say that this is wrong. I know other people, living today, who have gotten happily married through betrothal or arranged marriage. It has worked in the past, and it can and does still work today.

Yet, we are so quick to mock and look down on those who forsake the recently formed tradition of dating. According to our third definition mentioned above, this is legalism.

3. You must “try on” the other person first

Here is another blatant example of dating legalism, the idea that you have to “try on” someone before you know if they are the right one for you. You must interact with your boyfriend or girlfriend as if you were actually married to them to see if marriage would actually work. This makes sense if you were considering buying a new tool or piece of equipment. However, people are bit more valuable and complicated than mere machines.

Yet, dating proponents claim that we must “experience all the thrills and chills” of the dating world. Date often, and for whatever reason you would like so you can figure out what it is you’re looking for in a person. You must engage in romance, including physical affection such as kissing, to see if they have what it takes to please you. All these things, and more, I have been advised to do by those who esteem dating. To do otherwise, they claim, is ridiculous, foolish, and even legalistic.

On the contrary, the dogmatic belief that you must “try on” the other person is legalistic. I don’t want to do any of those things. I don’t really want to marry someone who wants to do all of those things either, since much of that advice contradicts scripture, and the idea of loving others.

4. You must have a long relationship to make sure they are the “right one.” 

Similar to the above, many who support dating believe that you must have a long romantic “relationship” prior to marriage. Short relationships are looked down on, and are assumed to be inferior to longer relationships. Our culture of dating and divorce has caused us to believe that the longer the relationship, the safer you will be. The longer you get to know someone, the better you know them, the better your odds of choosing the right person.

While this seems intuitive, reality is less so. The reality is less experience is actually a benefit when it comes to making marriages last. Yet, the judgment still continues.

5. The dating “formula” is seen as the only way to achieve a healthy marriage

As all of these examples have shown, dating champions a formula that must be adhered to…or else. While critics of courtship often claim it is courtship which puts forth a formula, it is really dating which has become a formula.

It is expected that you will date. It is expected that you will fall in and out of love until you meet “the one.” If you don’t date, that must mean something is wrong with you. Either you are undesirable, or you are anti-social, or have been emotionally scarred.

To be fair, this makes sense since dating is so prevalent and assumed in our culture. When someone deviates from something so culturally foundational as dating, it’s easy to think there might be something wrong with them.

However, dating is not the only way to get married, and not even the best way to get married in my opinion. I personally have described several different methods which have shown to lead to healthy marriages, and also uphold the biblical principles of faithfulness and love.Dating, on the other-hand, often takes the stance that all other ways of finding a spouse are wrong, and that dating is superior. While merely believing dating to be the best would be fine (if it were true), such a belief falls into legalism when those who stand for dating look down on those who do not agree with them, which seems to be common.

All of that said, it definitely is possible to believe in dating without being legalistic, just as it is possible to believe in courtship without being legalistic. It is even possible to disagree with courtship and betrothal without being legalistic, just as it is possible to disagree with dating without being legalistic.

I think dating is wrong and harmful, but that doesn’t mean I think I’m better than those who do date. You may think what I believe is wrong and harmful, that is fine. You don’t need to feel superior either. It’s okay to disagree. There is no need to throw derogatory names around or believe yourself to be above a brother or sister in Christ. Someone disagreeing with you doesn’t make them a legalist.

If you believe in dating, okay, you can do that, but don’t make it a formula that everyone else has to follow. We already know all about how courtship can become legalistic. Don’t continue to make dating a form of legalism—it has enough issues already.


  1. Hey, I really like this post. It is really helpful but I do have a question for you. I have been struggling with this for the past two weeks. I met a guy who is an Indian, who is a born again Christian, and he’s a really cool guy. We are not dating right now, but we were planning on it. But then I read this post and I am interested in what you are saying. Even though the guy is extremely cool, my parents are not okay with me dating him because they do not know him good enough. The guy is not comfortable with meeting my parents quite often before the relationship becomes really serious. He wants me to give him a biblical reference regarding my parent’s wishes. Is there something you could point out to me that I could read and study? I’m really looking forward to hearing from you. Thank you so much!

  2. Hello Molly!

    This post was more of a critique of those who say courtship is legalistic. It was meant to point out how both dating and courtship can become legalistic when we make them “formulas” everyone has to follow.

    That said, I’m not really much of a fan of courtship, and Dating certainly is not Biblical for a number of reasons.

    That said, to answer your question, I would be wary of guys that encourage you to go against your parents’ wishes, and there are many verses in the Bible that talk about obeying your parents. Just one example: “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.” – Colossians 3:20

    If you want more advice on dating/courting specifically, I think the key thing to keep in mind is that the Bible tells us to treat one another as brothers and sisters in Christ with all purity. It is not until a covenant is entered into (marriage) that this relationship changes. There is no in between stage. No romance period without commitment.

    There are a lot of different viewpoints on this topic. One book I enjoyed was “Her Hand In Marriage,” by Doug Wilson. But as I said above, I don’t really like courtship, and dating is not God honoring, so I’ve been considering another method which I believe I will try and follow myself one day. Here is a link if you want to know more about that:


    I hope this helps, and if I had to give you one piece of advice, I’d say to seek God and your parents for help and wisdom. Emotions can be misleading. Even if he is the right guy, letting your emotions direct you can lead to regrets.

    God bless!

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