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By 14. October 2020January 27th, 2023Brazen conduct


The book for elders “Shepherd The flock Of God” views dating or pursuing a romantic relationship when one is not free to remarry as brazen conduct, which means that it is a disfellowshipping offense. This is a human commandment that is not based on the Bible. To understand the commandment we first need to define what is dating and a romantic relationship and know when a person is free to remarry.

The word “dating” is defined in different ways in different countries. The common denominator seems to be to go out with a certain member of the opposite sex with the purpose of getting to know him or her in order to see if they can unite as a couple. Dating may lead to a romantic relationship where two persons meet each other regularly because they are in love with each other. However, because the word “dating” can take on various connotations in the minds of different people, Witnesses may be treated differently in different congregations.

Christians follow both the laws of the Bible and the laws of the country. When one mate has committed adultery (porneia) the innocent mate may choose to divorce on valid scriptural grounds. When the authorities have granted the divorce, the Christian is free to remarry.

Getting  a divorce in some countries is very expensive and in other countries it may take a long time. From the viewpoint of God, the marriage is terminated when the innocent mate decides to divorce the guilty one. However, the words of the Shepherd book indicate that even if a Witness must wait two years for a secular divorce, no dating is possible during this period. Refusing to follow the counsel not to date during this period, will be viewed as “brazen conduct” and will lead to disfellowshipping.

As mentioned, dating and romantic relationships, that do not include sexual relations, when a person is not free to remarry are not mentioned in the Bible as disfellowshipping offenses. And even if they were, to disfellowship someone for dating in the period after the marriage is terminated in God’s eyes but before divorce is granted by the authorities, would be extreme actions comparable to the way the Pharisees practiced the Law of Moses.


The book for elders, Shepherd The Flock Of God, 12.17 (2) says:

Dating Though Not Scripturally Free to Remarry: Continuing to date or pursue a romantic relationship with a person though one or both are not legally or Scripturally free to remarry. Doing so despite repeated counsel and generally after a warning talk to the congregation, would warrant judicial action.—Gal. 5:19; 2 Thess. 3:6, 14, 15.

There are three issues in connection with the quotation above, 1) What is “dating”? 2) What is “a romantic relationship”? and 3) What does it mean to be “Scripturally free to remarry”?

The Wikipedia gives the following definition:

Dating is a stage of romantic relationships in humans whereby two people meet socially with the aim of each assessing the other’s suitability as a prospective partner in an intimate relationship. It is a form of courtship, consisting of social activities done by the couple, either alone or with others. The protocols and practices of dating, and the terms used to describe it, vary considerably from country to country and over time. While the term has several meanings, the most frequent usage refers to two people exploring whether they are romantically or sexually compatible by participating in dates with the other. With the use of modern technology, people can date via telephone or computer or just meet in person.[1]

We note that the article says that the definition of dating may be different from country to country. But the common denominator seems to be that two persons meet with the motive of getting to know one another. One definition of a romantic relationship follows:

A romantic relationship is one in which you feel very strongly attracted to the other person, both to their personality and, often, also physically. This is reciprocated by the other person in the relationship. A romantic relationship is that which exists between a boyfriend and girlfriend (in a heterosexual relationship) or a boyfriend and boyfriend or girlfriend and girlfriend (in a homosexual relationship) or spouses (in a marriage) or life partners (in a civil partnership or long-term unmarried relationship). People in a romantic relationship will see each other very often and when apart my frequently stay in contact, for example by phone. Some people in romantic relationships live together. A romantic relationship is the closest form of relationship and the two people involved will often describe themselves as being attracted to each other and/or “in love”. They feel an incredibly strong connection and bond to each other that they do not feel with anyone else, even close friends, and the bond is also exclusive and monogamous.[2]

The definitions indicate that dating can be different from a romantic relationship. When two persons are dating, they meet one or more times, or regularly, to get to know each other. At the beginning, and possibly for a long time, the two have no romantic feelings for each other. A romantic relationship indicates close and regularly contact, where both have romantic feelings for each other. Dating can be the first stage that leads to a romantic relationship.




The point about being free to remarry is easy to define, but there are some grey areas. If the husband or wife dies, the living mate is free to remarry. When a married man or woman engages in sexual intercourse outside of his or her marriage, which is defined as porneia, the innocent mate can require that the marriage be dissolved. The next step is to get a divorce that is accepted by the authorities in the country. Therefore, when both the biblical and the secular law sanctioning the dissolving of the marriage are fulfilled, a Christian is then free to remarry.

Sometimes a mate disappears and conducted searches for him or her do not turn up anything. In such cases, the court may declare the person to be dead. In that case, the secular law is fulfilled, but it is uncertain whether the biblical law is fulfilled. If this situation arises, the elders of the congregation will accept that the living person is free to remarry.[1]

Another situation may be one where a  husband or wife tells the elders that he or she has caught their mate having sexual intercourse with another person, but there were no other witnesses. The Bible requires at least two witnesses to sexual immorality in order for a marriage to be dissolved.[2] If the person signs a written declaration of what he or she has seen, the elders will accept that he or she is free to remarry. They will tell the person that he or she has the responsibility for the situation, and Jehovah knows what has taken place. I have no objection to this procedure.

[1]. See The Watchtower of  July 15, 1969, page 447.

[2]. The Shepherd book, 12.7,  lists one exception to the requirement of two witnesses. Strong circumstantial evidence of sexual immorality can be accepted. In this case, the Governing Body has introduced a rule that contradicts the Bible, which is unacceptable. See my study “Strong circumstantial evidence for porneia” in the category “Different actions.”


The most important takeaway from this article is that dating when one is scripturally, but not legally free to remarry, is not a disfellowshipping offense according to the Bible. The Governing Body claims that it is a disfellowshipping offense because it is the same as “brazen conduct,” and brazen conduct is a disfellowshipping offense. But this also is not true![1]

 [1]. For a discussion of the Greek word aselgeia that NWT13 renders as “brazen conduct,” see my book, My Beloved Religion — And The Governing Body, pages 224-234.

An important point for elders to consider is what dating really is. As the  definition of dating quoted above shows, dating has different meanings in different lands. For example, I remember one sister’s life history in The Watchtower some years ago where a sister told that she did not want to marry but to use all her time and energy as a full-time preacher. She also mentioned that there was a spiritual brother who had made the same decision. These two had a close personal relationship, and they did many things together. Was this “dating”? Most elders would probably say no, but some hardliners would say Yes, using the argument that unmarried persons should not regularly spend time together alone.

The most problematic issue, however, is the time period between the betrayal of sexual immorality that was the basis for the innocent mate’s decision to dissolve the marriage and the secular authorities’ permit for the divorce. In some countries, it takes a long time to get a divorce, and in other countries, it is very expensive. However, from God’s point of view, the marriage is terminated when the innocent mate chooses to leave his or her mate because of sexual immorality. The words from the Shepherd book allow for no exception, and this means that if the divorce takes one or two years,  the innocent mate cannot date anyone during that time, even though the marriage is dissolved in finality from God’s viewpoint.

While I agree that a person who is married should not seek contact with one of the other sex, I am not aware of any biblical principle that is violated if a person whose marriage is terminated from God’s viewpoint starts dating while he or she is waiting for the secular authorities to certify it. As I have stated several times, the Service Department has a much bigger role in judicial cases than was the case in the 20th century. It has many written rules of which the members of the congregation and the elders do not know. I do not know if the Service Department would make the concession not to disfellowship a Witness who was dating while waiting for a pending but delayed, secular divorce. However, according to the Shepherd book, a Witness who refuses to stop dating while waiting for a divorce, would be disfellowshipped.

In the discussions above, I have only discussed dating, because  I do not see any significant difference between dating and a romantic relationship from the viewpoint of the principles of the Bible. If a chaste romantic relationship, i.e., with no sexual relations, develops during the one or two intervening years an innocent mate is waiting for a secular divorce to come through, and the two marry shortly after the secular divorce is granted, this is not a violation of any biblical principles.

Based on the Shepherd book, elders may disfellowship a brother and a sister who is dating while he or she is waiting for the secular authorities to grant the divorce. This is contrary to the Bible because the very concept of “brazen conduct” is a questionable translation of the Greek word aselgeia, and aselgeia does not represent a disfellowshipping offense. Moreover, there is no law or principle in the Bible that forbids a brother and a sister to date after the marriage of one or both is terminated because of sexual intercourse.


Having sexual intercourse with a person to whom one is not married may justifiably lead to disfellowshipping, according to the Bible. But dating or starting a chaste romantic relationship when one is biblically free to remarry but before one is legally free is not mentioned as a disfellowshipping offense.

Rolf Furuli

Author Rolf Furuli

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