In studying a subject like this, it is a good idea to put aside all preconceived ideas and let the Scriptures speak for themselves. We are not trying to promote personal opinions. We are not trying to advance our own cultural traditions or heritage. We want to let God speak in His Word on the subject.
In I Thess. 5:21-22 we are commanded to PROVE all things – to hold fast to that which is good, and to abstain from all appearance of evil. Increasingly dance is being brought into the churches. As Bible believers, it is our responsibility to “prove” from the Scriptures whether this is pleasing to the Lord or not. It must be put to the test. Hence, the purpose of this study is to put dancing to the test of God’s inspired Word.
The English word dance (in various forms) appears in the KJV Bible in 26 verses. For the most part, this practice is NOT frowned upon in the Scriptures. It usually appears in a positive context – in a good light. I have tried to organize the 26 occurrences of the word “dance” in the Bibles into three categories: good, evil, neutral. We should also recognize that not every example will neatly fit into one of these categories. Some of the usages of the term dancing in the Bible may be best described a gray area.
Three Categories of Dancing in the Scriptures
Some dancing was an exuberant expression of thanksgiving (Ex.15:20). Miriam and the women danced as an expression of thanksgiving to God for His marvelous work in rescuing the children of Israel at the Red Sea and defeating the nation that had enslaved them for so many years.
Some dancing was a natural expression of joy (Ps.30:11; Jer.31:4). In Psalm 30:2, the psalmist prayed to God and the Lord healed him. David then states that in doing so, God turned his mourning and sorrow into joy, which was expressed by dancing.
Some dancing was incorporated into the worship of God (Ps. 149:3; 150:4). In these two psalms, the psalmist commands his Jewish readers to praise and worship God in dance.
Whatever type of dancing is mentioned here, it is certainly mentioned in a good light as a heart felt expression of thanksgiving, joy, worship, and praise. This is a good type of dancing.
However, not all dancing in the Bible is of the good variety. Other types were clearly evil in nature.
Some dancing was designed to incite lust (Matt.14:6). Herodias danced for the sensual pleasure of Herod (and presumably though not stated) others. This certainly was not a dance inspired by the Spirit of God, for after her dance, Herodias asked for the head of John the Baptist, and her father gave it to her.
Some dancing led to lewd behavior (Ex.32:19, cf. 25). In this section, the children of Israel became involved in lewd dancing and idolatry. In this dance the people “made themselves naked unto their shame.” This angered the Lord greatly (Ex. 32:9-10). Moses too was angered (vs.19) and broke the tablets containing the ten commandments.
Some dancing was viewed as inappropriate by onlookers (II Sam.6:14-16). David’s dance in this context was not evil in itself (the dance was good!), but it had an evil effect on some of the onlookers, namely Michal.
Some dancing was of a civil and non religious nature. For example, there was the custom of women greeting the return of victorious soldiers with music and dance (1 Sam. 18:6). It is likely that this was closer in nature to cheer-leading than what we would call dancing today.
Some dancing was evidently part of a celebration festivity (Luke 15:25). It was probably roughly equivalent to a folk dance. The Bible simply mentions that it occurred. It is neither condoned nor forbidden in the passage.
Of course these dances could be categorized as either good or evil, depending upon what actually took place at the celebrations. We simply do not have enough information to judge properly.
Hebrew & Greek Terms for DANCE:
The following definitions of various terms relating to dancing were taken from Strong’s Concordance. Examples of their usage are included as well. What we want to see through these definitions is that our modern concept of dance may be quite different from the concept of dance found in the Bible.
Eight occurrences; AV translates as “dance” five times, “dancing” twice, and “company” once. 1 dancing, dance.
This term says nothing about what KIND of dance it was. Do NOT assume that the way men and women dance today was the same as the ancients.
v. 1 to twist, whirl, dance, writhe, fear, tremble, travail, be in anguish, be pained. 1A (Qal). 1A1 to dance. 1A2 to twist, writhe. 1 A3 to whirl, whirl about. 1B(Polel). 1B1 to dance. 1B2 to writhe (in travail with).
Judges 21:23 – In this passage, the ladies were dancing, which meant that they were whirling about. Don’t read more into this term than is there.
16 occurrences; AV translates as “keep” eight times, “… feast” three times, “celebrate” once, “keep a solemn feast” once, “dancing” once, “holyday” once, and “reel to and fro” once. 1 to hold a feast, hold a festival, make pilgrimage, keep a pilgrim-feast, celebrate, dance, stagger. 1A (Qal). 1A1 to keep a pilgrim-feast. 1A2 to reel.
I Sam.30:16 – This example describes what transpired after a military battle. It is used about 16 times, but translated “dance” only once. It is usually translated “to keep a feast.”
Exodus 5:1 – Here the term speaks of keeping a feast unto the Lord in the wilderness. (Cf. Lev.23:39)
Two occurrences; AV translates as “dance” twice. 1 to whirl, dance. 1A whirling, dancing (participle).
This is the term that is used twice to describe David’s dance, and translated “dance” both times in our KJV Bibles. (II Sam.16:14,16)
AV translates as “dance” four times, “skip” three times, “leap” once, and “jump” once. 1 to skip about. 1A (Qal) to skip about. 1B (Piel) to dance, leap. 1C(Hiphil) to make to skip.
I Chron.15:29 – The king was skipping and leaping; that was his “dance.” The term is used in Nahum 3:2 of the “jumping” of the chariots. It is used in Ps.114:6 of “skipping like rams.”
n m. From 2342; TWOT 623g; GK 4688; Six occurrences; AV translates as “dance” five times, and “dancing” once. 1 dance, dancing.
Jer.31:4 – In this passage, dancing is spoken of in conjunction with making merry.
v. Middle voice from orchos (a row or ring); GK 4004; Four occurrences; AV translates as “dance” four times. 1 to dance.
Luke 7:32 – This “dance” was part of a child’s game.
The term is used 6 times – 4 in Luke 7:32 & its parallel in Matt.11:17; and twice describing the dance of Herod’s daughter (Mark 6:22; Matt. 14:6).
n m. Of uncertain derivation; GK 5962; AV translates as “dancing” once. 1 a band (of dancers and singers), circular dance, a dance, dancing.
This term was used only once in Luke 15:25. It was a dance of some sort that occurred when the prodigal son returned.
Some Important Considerations
How did David “dance?”
Oftentimes believers refer to David’s dance when trying to justify Christian dancing. In II Sam. 6:12-14, David was bringing back the Ark of the Covenant from Kirjath-jearim. This was an exceptionally exciting event for him and the people! The term translated dance is used twice to describe what David did on this occasion (vs.14,16).
In II Sam.6:16, we are told that David was “leaping.” This term in Hebrew is “pazaz” – which means leaping for joy. In I Chron.15:29 a different term is used. It means: to skip about; to skip about; to dance, leap; to make to skip. Putting these terms together, we can discover what David did. He was skipping along the parade route and leaping and twirling about for joy! Is this kind of dancing acceptable today? Of course it is! It was an expression of sheer enthusiasm and excitement over the glorious fact that the Ark of the Covenant was returning!
Why did Michal despise David in her heart when she saw David “dancing” (II Sam.6:16)? It was because she was embarrassed at David’s childlike exuberance. She thought it undignified and childish for the royal monarch to be jumping and twirling for joy. However, God was not ashamed of his childlike exuberance. He was a man after God’s own heart. He was truly JOYOUS about the homecoming of the Ark! This was a good cause for jumping and leaping for joy! Michal was not so thrilled over the event, but godly David was.
There are various examples in the Scriptures of men and women who danced:
- Ex.15:20 – Miriam and the women.
- Judges 21:21 – the daughters of Shiloh
- I Sam.18:6 – the women from all the cities
- I Sam.30:16 – celebrating soldiers
- II Sam.6:14 – David danced before the Lord
Note that there is not one example of a man dancing with a woman. That practice is not found in the Bible. Women danced alone or with a group of women. Soldiers “danced” (leaped for joy) together. David leaped for joy in a parade procession. But we don’t have any examples of a “boy/girl” kind of a dance. Thus, there was no sensual chemistry taking place in these kinds of dances… at least not in the good dances.
Is it fair to equate the concept of dance in Bible times with the concept of dance today?
When modern readers read the 26 occurrences of the English word dance, we almost automatically think of dance in a modern setting. That is a faulty method of interpretation. In the Bible the term meant leap, twirl, or whirl, not dance as we think of it today (waltz, tango, twist, square dancing, etc).
Also, when we think of a dance, we think of a man and a woman dancing together. That is not a concept found in the Scriptures. There was nothing sensual about the good dances in Bible times. In our culture, it is virtually impossible to separate the two concepts – dance and sensuality.
It is a distortion of Scripture to attempt to make the Biblical terms for dance equal to the modern concept. Scripture must be understood in the historical and social setting in which it was written. What David or Miriam did in no way resembled what takes place in a dance hall today, a disco, a rock concert, or even a barn dance. It is comparing apples and oranges, and is not a fair or honest approach to the subject.
Folks like the quick and easy method of Bible study today, which amounts to not much study at all! It is easy to ASSUME that if David danced, then so can we – end of argument! For those determined to find a justification for the practice of modern dance, the superficial method will suffice. But those seeking the truth will dig a little deeper.
Dancing is certainly acceptable in God’s sight IF we understand the terms in their historical setting; but the concept of dance has changed drastically over time. For example, Irish step dancing was a folk dance done by young girls dancing together. It was done in the old folk garments and was not at all a sensual dance. Recently, however, a troupe of dancers modernized this in a popular performance called “Riverdance”… (seen on PBS). The modern version uses sensual music, puts men and women in skin tight sensual clothing, dancing together, and has transformed a rather benign folk dance into a very sensual show! (And it has become quite a profitable show too – not that the business world would ever use sensuality to sell a product!)
If this much of a change in Irish step dancing can take place in one generation, imagine how much dancing has changed in the last 2000 years! It is not fair to assume that dancing in Bible days is the same as it is today. It is quite misleading to say, “Dancing is dancing.” In fact, dancing (then) is NOT equal to dancing (now).
Were any of the dances in the Bible “performance” type dancing”? Should we bring in troupes of dance performers into the churches?
What was the PURPOSE of dancing in the Bible? Some claim that believers today should dance as a form of artistic expression to be used in our worship service. Others claim that dancing is a harmless form of entertainment. But what were the dances in the Bible? Were the dances in the Bible a performance for the purpose of entertainment or amusement?
None of the good dancing mentioned previously was a performance or a show. Rather, they were rather spontaneous expressions of thanksgiving and joy that arose naturally out of the events and circumstances. David wasn’t dancing to entertain the crowd – he was no crowd pleaser. In fact, he made some angry!
David was overcome with joy and leaped up and whirled around in delight because the ark was coming home! Miriam and the women danced after God brought them through the Red Sea, not as a SHOW or a performance, but rather out of sheer delight… awe… gratitude… pure exuberance! Put yourself in their shoes. You would probably jump for joy too if the Lord rescued two million of your countrymen from sure death at the hands of the Egyptian army and drowned your enemies in the sea!
The performance type dances (done for entertainment; sensual pleasure) in the Bible were evil dances. In Matthew 14:6, Herodias danced to incite lust. In Esther 1:1-12, evidently the king wanted Vashti to perform a lewd kind of dance for the men. She refused and was removed from being queen. Good for you, Vashti! This is a good lesson for those clamoring to dance today. The Bible honored Vashti (she is spoken of in a favorable light) for refusing to participate in a dance designed to be a show for the sensual pleasure of the male spectators.
When and where did the good dances occur in Bible times?
Was it in a synagogue meeting? Did they dance in the Holy Place? David danced along the parade route in bringing the Ark home. Miriam danced on the shores of the Red Sea. (Ex.15:20) The daughters of Shiloh danced in the vineyard. (Judges 21:21) People danced (leaped for joy) spontaneously wherever they were and whenever there was occasion for it. There was no such thing as a dance hall or a dance performance. They knew of no such thing as planning a dance at a school hall for Friday night at 7:30!
The kind of dancing we see in the Bible wasn’t contrived. It wasn’t planned. It was just a natural and spontaneous expression of joy, usually in direct response to some exciting event. (Harvest; parade; Red Sea opening up; victory in war; pilgrims returning to Jerusalem, etc…)
For example, in a non fictional missionary video, an African tribe (as a corporate body) instantly reacted bodily (by jumping up & down) to the words of the gospel message being spoken. It was a spontaneous response to the joyous content of the message. There was nothing sensual about it. They were excited about the content of the message and in their culture, they demonstrated that joy by jumping and leaping and whirling. It wasn’t a show. It wasn’t planned, contrived, practiced, or performed. In fact, it wasn’t even practiced! It was a spur-of-the-moment, spontaneous reaction that filled their hearts with joy and radiated through their bodies. This is identical to what David did.
WHY do folks want to bring dance into the churches?
This is an important question to address. Is it because one considers the present worship service boring? Is it because we want to be like all the nations? Is it because we enjoy the sensuality of modern dance? Is it because we have been listening to sensual music all week long and sensual dancing is a natural outcome of sensual music? If that is the case, then shame on us! If so, then we have the wrong music, the wrong set of values, and a wrong concept of what it means to worship in spirit and in truth.
If, on the other hand, God has done something wonderful in your life, and you are filled with joy and excitement over it – then go ahead! Leap for joy! Twirl around a few times while you’re at it! Shout for joy! Do a cartwheel. That’s what David did. We ENCOURAGE that kind of enthusiasm! If a family hears a report from the doctor that dad’s cancer has gone into remission – then shout for joy! If a young couple finds out they are having a baby – then go ahead and leap for joy if you want! If a loved one comes to know Christ as Savior – that too is a time for leaping for joy!
For the most part, the dancing in the Bible was a spontaneous expression of thanksgiving, joy, and delight over the wonderful works of God. When God does something wonderful in your life – go ahead – rawkad! Jump, skip, and leap for joy! That’s what David & Miriam did. That’s what good dancing was in the Bible. We encourage you to do the same!
But if you DO want to leap for joy and shout out… remember Ecc.3:1-4! There is a time and a place for everything! (Dance = rawkad; skip & leap) We would ask that you not do cartwheels down the center aisle in the middle of our morning worship service. And that is not because doing cartwheels is wrong, but because that is just not the place or the time for it! During a graduation, the graduates are excited – but they hold in their excitement during the graduation ceremony. Then when the ceremony is over, at the appropriate time, they jump up, whirl around, and throw their hats in the air! But they do NOT do that during the speeches. There is a time and a place to jump and whirl around. The fruit of the Spirit is self-control (Gal. 5:22-23).
What is the relationship between the music and the dance?
Sensual music leads to sensual dancing. Ex.32:15-19 describes the music and dancing of the Israelites on the occasion of Moses returning from the Mount with the Law. Moses had just been in God’s presence. In verse17, Joshua could hear the noise of the camp in the distance. It sounded to him like the noise of war. Perhaps loud drums were beating. Since he mistook it for war, the music must have been rather rowdy and raucous. The noise was perplexing to him and was not exactly what he was used to. After ruling out several options, he then determined that it was some sort of singing (vs.18). As he drew nearer, he discovered what was really happening. It was lewd music, which led to lewd dancing around an idol (vs.19)! We discover in verse 25 that the people were naked. The playingmentioned in verse 6 was obviously not an innocent game, but a licentious type of playing.
In this chapter, there was a direct link between the loud, raucous, unusual singing (something godly Moses and Joshua were not accustomed to hearing) and the lewd dancing that it spawns. Sensual music leads to sensual dancing. On the other hand, worshipful, majestic music is appropriate for worship – not dancing. Worshipful music lifts the soul, not the hips.
In Exodus 32:19, sensual music led to sensual dancing, which in turn led to lewd behavior. (Naked playing). This principle holds today too. Put a group of teenagers in a hall. Then put on some classical music and observe. Then put on some rock music and turn the volume up, and you will SEE the difference in their behavior. Sensual music will get them moving their bodies. Moving their bodies will excite them and set the chemistry in motion for some potential lewd behavior.
How should this knowledge affect our behavior? It means that we should be careful about the kind of music we listen to. Rom.13:14 says that we are to make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof. If you know where a road leads, and that’s not where you want to end up – then don’t take that road!
It is a fact that dances today are getting dirtier and dirtier. Young people don’t have the discernment to make a distinction between an innocuous folk dance and the sensual dancing, which is all they know. Once the camel’s nose is in the tent – the rest of the camel will follow. To encourage our young people in one form of dancing will open the floodgates that could easily get out of control. Once their dancing gets more and more sensual, they will certainly reply, “Well, you like your kind of dancing and I like mine!” It is a slippery road downhill.
There are 1001 different types of dancing today, from the relatively harmless, to the lively, to the sensual, to the sexually explicit dirty dancing, and to the naked orgy kind of dancing described in Exodus 32, and hundreds of various shades in between. As a parent you will never to be able to explain the difference to a young person between the various shades of wholesome to dirty.
The simplest solution is to avoid it altogether. Make no provision for the flesh. Dancing between men and women has not been a big problem in fundamental churches in past generations. It was virtually unanimously agreed upon that modern dancing is worldly, and something to be avoided.
Why do you suppose it has recently become an issue in the church? Perhaps it began with the music. Once rock and pop music was accepted in the churches, it was only a matter of time before they would be dancing to it. And if these evangelical churches think that they can sponsor youth dances and keep them pure, they are dreaming! They are living in a make believe world. Sensual music leads to sensual dancing, which in turn leads to lewd behavior. Read Exodus 15! These things were written for our learning and our admonition.
Where will dancing lead us? If you begin walking down a path, wouldn’t you want to know where it will take you? Wouldn’t you want to know where others ended up who took this road? Consider some of the dangers. A dance that starts off relatively innocently gradually becomes more and more sensual, sexual, and lewd. Dancing in our culture tends to become dirtier and dirtier, and over time, it is gradually accepted. Dance is accompanied by a new form of music: sensual and worldly in nature. Dance and its accompanying music gradually take over and transform the worship service into something entirely different. The pulpit is replaced or overshadowed and worship which should be an offering to God becomes entertainment for men. The focus has shifted from God to man and the devil has accomplished his purpose of undermining the work of God. And many people love to have it so!
Some dancing was specifically designed to incite lust (Matt.14:6).
Women dancing and moving their bodies in sensual, suggestive motions excites lust in men. That is a fact of life… the birds and the bees. In fact, bees DO dance in order to communicate. Some animals do dances to entice their potential mating partner. Sensual dancing between men and women easily provokes impure thoughts.
Ladies: whether inciting lust in men is your intention or not is irrelevant. Whether you are aware of the reaction from males or not is also irrelevant. It is a FACT. It happens – whether we like it or not, whether you intended to or not. Sensual dancing incites lust. The Bible gives examples of it and experience demonstrates it. What more proof do we need? If something you do causes a brother to stumble and sin, we do well to avoid it (Romans 14:13). That’s love – and it is the clear teaching of grace. Knowing this, why would a Christian woman want to do such a thing in public?
Dancing is between husband and wife in the privacy of their own home – even sensual dancing is fine. That’s the proper place for that kind of dancing. There are things a husband and wife would do in the privacy of their own homes that they should NOT do in public.
Matt.5:28 states that it is SIN to purposely incite lust in a man who is not your husband. That is encouraging adultery in the heart. To KNOW that your actions incite to lust (which is adultery in the heart) and to DO it anyway (without regard for others) is sin. You are purposely tripping up your brother. In Rom.14:20-21Paul states that love demands that we be willing to STOP any activity that will cause a brother to stumble. It is love (not legalism) that cries out to the believer to give dancing a second thought.
Some dancing was viewed as inappropriate by onlookers (II Sam.6:14-16). David’s dancing was a GOOD type of dancing (leaping and whirling). It was a wholesome expression of joy in the Lord. However, his dancing was misinterpreted by Michal. I Sam.16:7 tells us that man looks on the outward appearance, but God looketh on the heart. As God looked at David’s heart, God saw GOOD. As Michel looked at David, she viewed it as disturbing behavior: childish, undignified, and inappropriate for a king.
Like it or not, we as believers need to be concerned not only about our behavior (good or bad), but also about the way our behavior is PERCIEVED by others, for this is part of our testimony in the world. Even if a young girl was dancing at a dance in perfect innocence, others would not be able to distinguish her innocence from the dirty dancing from the rest of the crowd. She was PARTICIPATING in it. That’s all folks are going to see. Even with the best of intentions, the gyration of her body to the music WILL generate lust in the boys at that dance.
Sooner or later some young couple will come to the pastor and ask if it is OK to have dancing at their wedding reception. Some will come in ignorance, but willing to learn. Others will come with their minds already made up. As a pastor I can’t prevent anyone from dancing at their wedding reception, but please don’t ask me to perform that wedding… not at this church! I want no part of it.
I can hear the cries already. “That’s legalistic! That will ruin our special day! You can’t force your convictions on me! We’ve got our liberty, you know!” To which I will reply, “I’m NOT forcing my convictions on you. If you want to play worldly music and dance like the world – I’m not going to stop you. Just don’t ask me as a pastor to participate! If you want a worldly wedding, then go to the world to have it done! Don’t YOU try to force YOUR convictions on me either! I’ve got my liberty too! Don’t expect me to compromise my convictions! I’m settled in my convictions on this. I may be wrong – but these are my convictions. The Bible FORBIDS you from urging me to compromise my convictions or violate my conscience (I Cor. 8:9-13).
But I would ENCOURAGE you by reminding you that a truly Christian wedding, (a Christian ceremony in the church followed by a Christian reception) is a wonderful and glorious experience! You don’t need a pop band to make the day a wonderful experience. You don’t need to dance or drink. Those things only detract from the Christian spirit of the event and will not enhance it.
We don’t live in the Millennium.
In the Millennium, God’s people WILL dance (Jer.31:4,13)! In the Millennium, Christ is present and all rebels and those who introduce evil will face a rod of iron! Evil is not tolerated at all in that day; it is a time of holy law once again. A righteous and omniscient judge (who knows the hearts of all men and women) will rule in that day and only true righteousness will be permitted. Satan is bound. The world system has been crushed – and the kingdoms of the world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ (Rev.11:15). The entire world will be submitted to Christ (at least externally) and there will be MANY (if not most) on earth who know the Lord in a saving way. The knowledge of the Lord will cover the earth in the same way that water covers the sea (Isa. 11:9). There will be no peer pressure to do evil, but peer pressure to do right! Those who willingly submit to God will be jumping, leaping, whirling, and dancing in the streets in pure, exuberant joy! Why not? Our enemies (the world and the devil) are GONE! The only enemy left at that point is the sin nature, which will be kept under check by the iron fist of the Lord Jesus, and it with have no devil or world system to stir it up. Things will be VERY different in that day. There will be leaping for joy, but no evil dancing!
But this is not the Millennium. Our age is NOT characterized by righteousness, but by evil. We live in perilous times spiritually. The devil still walks about seeking whom he may devour. The world system is designed to lure us into sin, and away from God and purity. Immorality and promiscuity abound, and evil men are getting worse and worse. The mystery of iniquity is coming to a head. Even some in the churches are described as those who have a “form of godliness but deny the power thereof.” The line between the world and the church is being blurred. Our culture is gradually “slouching toward Gomorrah” and it seems that the churches are not far behind. In THIS age we need to use extreme caution lest we fall (I Cor.10:12). In this age, we are called upon by the principles of grace to be willing to forsake ANYTHING that would make a brother stumble, lead to sin, make provision for the flesh, have an appearance of evil, or tarnish the reputation of God. Those are good reasons to reconsider the issue of dancing in the life of a believer.