What Does the Bible Say About Dancing?
By Randy Blackaby

Many times, when there’s a Bible class or a small group discussion on dancing, someone asks, “Does the Bible directly forbid all dancing?” It may surprise you to learn that the answer is “No.” Not only does the Bible not forbid dancing, it actually gives some examples of approved dancing.

But before you conclude that your parents, teachers, and a few preachers were just old-fashioned where this subject is concerned, look at the Bible examples of dancing, and at some general principles of righteousness that need to be applied. Such principles would include godliness, upright character, setting the proper example, and moral purity.

Let’s examine this subject in the following order:

  • What the Bible does and does not say about dancing.
  • What the Bible says about related issues.
  • Foundations for making righteous decisions about whether or not to dance.
What is dancing?
Webster’s Dictionary defines dancing as "to move the body, especially the feet, in rhythm, ordinarily to music. The Hebrew word used in the Old Testament carried with it the idea of whirling and turning. Greek words used in the New Testament have to do with lifting up the feet or leaping with regularity of motion.

Dancing in the Old Testament
Some Bible students may be surprised to learn that certain forms of dancing were a part of Old Testament worship.

  • In Exodus 32:19, the record states that the children of Israel danced around and worshipped the golden calf they asked Aaron to make while Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments and God’s covenant. That, of course, was not approved.
  • Judges 11:34 presents an example of the daughter of one of the Israelite judges (Jephthah) dancing alone.
  • Exodus 15:20-21 gives an account of women dancing to celebrate God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt after the Red Sea crossing. There is no mention of men dancing with them.
  • Again, in Judges 21:19 we have an example of women dancing alone—without men.
  • In 1 Samuel 18:6, women danced to celebrate one of King David’s victories.
  • In 2 Samuel 6:14-16, in what was apparently an act of worship to God, David himself danced before the ark of the covenant.
  • And Psalms 149:3 and 150:4 speak of praising God through dance.
  • Turning to 1 Samuel 30:16, we read of soldiers (men only) dancing.
  • In Ecclesiastes 3:4, Solomon wrote that there is a time for almost everything. He includes a “time for dancing,” in contrast to a “time for mourning.”
  • And the prophet Jeremiah (31:13) foretold a time when dancing would be the joyous result of God’s work.

So, you see, the Bible doesn’t condemn all dancing. But, please observe carefully the types of dancing it sanctions.

  • Women dancing with women in celebration.
  • Men dancing with men in celebration.
  • Dances designed to reflect joy.
  • Dances designed for worship.

Furthermore, the Hebrew word used for dancing in the Old Testament refers simply to whirling and turning. The present-day concept of sexually provocative holding of the opposite sex, or of mimicking human sexual acts while dancing, are a far cry from what these biblical passages illustrate.

Nowhere does the New Testament authorize dancing as an act of church worship. Therefore, we can conclude that it is as inappropriate today as animal sacrifices, incense burning, and tithing—even though all of these worship forms were acceptable under the Law of Moses.

That leaves us with celebration dances where the sexes do not mingle. Can we today jump and whirl in joy or excitement when something good happens? The answer is probably “yes,” if our movements are decent.

Dancing in the New Testament
As mentioned above, there are no New Testament examples of dancing in worship. Matthew 14:6 records the dancing of Herodias’ daughter before Herod. It so affected the old monarch that he offered her anything she wanted—up to half his kingdom. That dance cost John the Baptist his head.

In Matthew 11:17 and Luke 7:32, dancing is mentioned in the illustration of the Jews’ unresponsiveness. And Luke 15:25 mentions dancing at the celebration of the prodigal son’s return.

Notice again that there are no New Testament examples of men and women dancing with one another as they do today. It is worth mentioning that there are no examples of Jesus, the apostles, or Christians dancing.

Comparing Bible Dancing with Modern-Day Dancing
Today’s dances have men and women either in close bodily contact or gyrating themselves in each other’s presence in sexually provocative ways. Virtually all dances today are specifically designed to arouse sexual feelings. Some dances actually imitate some of the intimacies of the marriage bed.

It is the nature, purpose, and results of most present-day dancing that the Bible addresses indirectly, but strongly.

Galatians 5:19-21, in its listing of the “works of the flesh,” condemns what is variously translated “lewdness” or “lasciviousness” or “licentiousness.” These words connote excess, absence of restraint, indecency, and unchaste, shameless behavior. Thayer’s lexicon says these words carry the idea of “indecent bodily movements, unchaste handling of male and female.” That pretty much describes most of the modern-day dances.

These verses also condemn “revelry,” or partying accompanied by drinking. Many, though not all, dances today are in this atmosphere.

A number of scriptures (James 1:27, 4:4) urge sexual purity and holiness. The very purpose of dancing often runs counter to this goal. The intent of most dancing is generally evil. Dances are designed, by and large, as an art form to express lovemaking. For this reason, the steps and positions are designed to bring into physical contact those parts of a man and woman which are sexually most sensitive. Movements are designed to be visually stimulating sexually. (See “World History of Dance,” by Curt Sachs)

The scriptures teach us to fulfill our sexual desires within marriage. Fornication (sexual impurity) is condemned (Galatians 5:19). If a man and his wife want to dance in the privacy of their home, where their actions sexually stimulate no one but themselves, no sin occurs.

But lusting is sinful, even if fornication doesn’t occur (Matthew 5:28). So, even going to a dance, and not dancing, can introduce a Christian to great temptation. Watching sexually provocative dancing can easily stir lustful thoughts. Many dances are characterized by scantily or seductively clad participants.

How do we decide?
Dancing is an issue that must be decided according to biblical principles. We determine its rightness or wrongness in the same way we decide about smoking, playing the lottery, and determining which movies we watch. The Bible doesn’t always address each specific form of sin; it sets forth principles for use in measuring human behavior.

To illustrate, consider that the scriptures nowhere specifically address suicide. However, they do condemn murder, and they emphasize the value of human life. So, by applying these principles, we conclude that self-murder is sinful.

With dancing, we must examine the behavior and determine whether it is morally healthy, whether it helps or harms our Christian influence.

Is all dancing sinful? We have shown that it is not. Celebration dances that don’t mix the sexes, husbands and wives dancing privately, and innocent children’s dances (for example, holding hands and dancing in a circle) produce no illicit thoughts or behavior. But such dancing is not the norm. Most dancing, as even the experts in the field will tell you, is designed to produce sinful passions. And sinful passions lead to sin.

Brother Blackaby has written a very good article about a subject that is difficult for many of God’s children. I remember discussing this subject with an elder of a Las Vegas church. He wanted me to watch a tape of different people--the President and First Lady, square dancers, a couple dancing to a waltz, Mexican hat dancers, etc.--dancing. The question with which he presented me—“at what point does sin occur.” He offered to stop the tape at the point where sin was being committed. My answer—don’t start the tape! How can anyone control the mind of the other person involved in the dance, or the minds of those who are watching the couple dance? God’s people should reject anything that could cause another’s mind to lust and become guilty of sin. Why? “Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.” {Romans 14:13}

Why do Christians wish to participate in conduct that is risky, not only to their own souls, but to the souls of others? In our society, most dancing occurs in bars, on disco floors, at proms, dance clubs, social parties, weddings, etc. Unfortunately, alcohol is usually served at these functions, including many wedding receptions! Why would we wish to encourage sexual desire that cannot be satisfied without sinning? Another case in point: why would parents send their teenagers to the prom and subject their bodies to feelings they are not yet equipped to handle responsibly? Parents today need to attend a prom as observers. Why do they have chaperones? There’s soft music, dim lights, slow dancing, and no one to chaperone their minds? A prom is an accident looking for a place to happen. Sinful passions and sexual desires that are fanned lead to untold pain and misery! Parents, please listen. (KMG)

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