Good Not To Touch A Woman
“Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. - 1 Corinthians 7:1
Some say the word “touch” here means more than just the action of touching. However, I believe that based on the Scripture this verse really is just talking about normal, plain touch.
Paul is answering a question about relationships that isn’t already defined in Scripture. He is saying that it is generally a “good” thing for men not to touch women. Not that there is never a reason (even Jesus touched women and was touched by women), but in general refraining from physical contact with the opposite sex is a good thing.
In the following sections I will present the evidence I’ve found for this view.
First, avoiding touch isn’t a command
There is not a universal command that men and women must not touch each other. This verse is Paul’s answer to a question by the Corinthians. It is given as a recommendation for what is
“good”. We know there are situations where touch is required and it occurs multiple times in scripture. Even Jesus touched (and was touched) but women. However, I doubt Paul, Peter, John, the prophets, or even Jesus touched women when they didn’t need too. It’s generally a good thing to avoid for everyone’s sake.
There might be a good reason to touch someone from the opposite sex. Obviously if you need to carry someone who is hurt, or save someone from drowning then there is nothing wrong with touching them in order to take care of them. However, it’s generally “good” and wise not to go around touching men or women for reasons that are obvious. It’s also worth noting that not all touch has the same emotional meanings in different cultures.
The Audience and Leadership knew the Law
The first several thousand members of the church in Jerusalem were all Jews. In each missionary Journey Paul spoke to many Jews. Synagogues were a prime target for the gospel (all of the first missionaries being Jews). Even in Gentile cities like Corinth many of the believers were either Jews or proselytes. We can see an example of this heavy Jewish influence by Paul’s earlier speech in chapter 5 comparing the gentile’s morals:
“It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife. - 1 Corinthians 5:1 However, regardless of how many members had followed the Jewish faith - all the church leadership was versed in the scriptures (minus most of the New Testament). The Torah and Prophets were the “bible” of that time and were diligently searched as people sought to love God and learn more about following Christ.
The first thing we can assume is that the questions this church had were not about basic things like adultery or fornication which are clearly addressed in scripture, by our own conscience, and by God’s Holy Spirit.
This word is never used to mean anything but plain touch
There are actually several Greek translations. However, many people still refer to “the Greek” as the final source (never specifying which one). At any rate, the word “haptomai” (transliteration) is number G680 in the Strong’s lexicon. This word is used 38 times in the new testament but never does it carry a sensual or over-reaching meaning with it. In other words, “haptomai” just means touch.
Despite this, many people still include some kind of alternative sensual definition when they define the word. This is probably to make room for their view on this verse.
In the Old Testament the word touch always means touch.
Here are two verses (out of over 100 in the OT) that could be argued to indicate more than plain touch at first glance.
“Let thine eyes be on the field that they do reap, and go thou after them: have I not charged the young men that they shall not touch thee? - Ruth 2:9
Boaz had instructed the men not touch Ruth in any way, period. Obviously this was to keep more from happening - but even plain touch was forbidden from them. So even those that would drive her away (or some other non-sensual touch) were prevented from bothering her.
“And God said unto him in a dream, Yea, I know that thou didst this in the integrity of thy heart; for I also withheld thee from sinning against me: therefore suffered I thee not to touch her. - Genesis 20:6
This literally means God kept Abimelech from even touching Sarah. Obviously God also kept him from sleeping with her as well.
God did not simply keep Abimelech from more intimate touches.
Paul just finished talking about Sex
The previous several verses just concluded Paul’s instructions (for now) about sex before marriage.
“Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body. What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s. - 1 Corinthians 6:18-20
Paul changes to a new subject here when He says, “Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me”.
In addition, why would Paul warn to “Flee fornication”, and then say, “It’s good not to have sexual relationships”? It seems silly that Paul would write back with such a passive sounding reply to something for which one of the punishments in the Old Testament was death.
The Bible uses the right words
Adultery, fornication, relations, defrauding, uncleanness, abusers of themselves with mankind, them that defile themselves with mankind, knowing your wife, being joined, and many other descriptions are given in scripture where they are appropriate.
God knows what words to use where. He isn’t trying to make this confusing. If this verse really is secretly talking about sex, then it’s also missing a clarifier about what type of sex (before or after marriage) which is odd given how specific God is about these things.
Who stands to benefit from touching?
If Paul is simply saying it is good practice not to touch ladies, then it benefits the body by avoiding temptation and denies the flesh. If Paul is subtly hinting at not having sex (or something like that) then we don’t have to deny our flesh, and we are free to touch young ladies.
Even past touch, many godly men have acknowledged the dangers of simply counseling women (married or unmarried) alone. A person can bond without any physical touch and there just isn’t any reason to put these temptations in our lives or obstacles in our brothers and sisters lives. This isn’t that men can’t or shouldn’t counsel women, but we should take every precaution to help edify and serve the body.
“Abstain from all appearance of evil. - 1 Thessalonians 5:22
Perhaps it’s about Married people?
Some people claim that Paul was writing against a form of Gnosticism which existed at the time. Which in this context just meant that people were teaching abstinence in marriage.
Regardless of touch or sex, it’s not talking to married couples. Scripture makes it clear that marriage is a joining of two people into one. Saying couples should refrain from sex (and thereby touch) is contrary to the advice just a few verses later.
“Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency. - 1 Corinthians 7:5
“And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. - Malachi 2:15
In addition, he says “to avoid fornication” in the next verse:
“Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. - 1 Corinthians 7:2
This is two unmarried people being discussed. If they were married, then it wouldn’t be fornication for them. Likewise, if they were two people from different marriages it would be “adultery” not “fornication”.
One other thought with this alternative view, is that perhaps when Paul says “let every man have his own wife” he means “have access too”. However, if Paul was saying that they should not deprive each other (which he speaks about in verse 3), then he again wouldn’t have said “to avoid fornication” since if a deprived husband was looking for intimacy with someone other than his wife it would be “adultery”.
This verse is not talking about a married couple.
What Paul is saying here should be obvious to us; touching members of the opposite sex can lead to problems, so it’s wise to avoid it. Single people should limit their physical touch with members of the opposite sex as needed. This is a good thing and will help prevent the unmarried from falling into temptation and fornication through emotions kindled through unnecessary touch.
This isn’t a commandment as there are times in life where it will be appropriate to touch someone. However, it will be for a sacrificial or faith-based reason, not simply enjoyment.
Whatever we do needs to be for the glory of God. Ask yourself, is this acting in faith towards God (Romans 14:23) and treating the young lady/man as a sister/brother in all purity? (1 Timothy 5:2)