Did Paul really say, "It is good for a man not to touch a woman"?
Updated: Feb 15
This was the standard rule for members of the opposite sex through most of my childhood and into my teenage years. Touching was prohibited, which left even a handshake or high five with a girl seem oddly inappropriate.
The basis for this was from a passage of scripture in 1 Corinthians chapter seven. For many youths in the movement, it was a verse that was memorized about as much as John 3:16.
This verse reads,
“Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.” (1 Corinthians 7:1,2)
Under the premise above, the reasoning that is given to explain this statement is as follow:
A. Since committing fornication requires touching...
The best way to avoid fornication is...
B. Keep unmarried people to keep from touching each other.
But the question that a study of the text, in context, brings up is, “Did Paul really say that it is good for a man not to touch a woman?”
Before we begin, I am in no way advocating for lewdness, what I am advocating for is the correct reading of scripture.
If we take time to read the text as it is written, the answer becomes quite clear. This was not a statement that was made by Paul, but a statement that was being propagated by the Christians in Corinth.
Paul is saying, “Now about what you said” and then he restates their question [It is good for a man not to touch a woman].
In that period of time, there were those in the Corinthian church that had begun to propagate the idea that you were better off to remain celibate (hence the Corinthians saying that you ought not to touch one another).
History tells us that there were even some that were advocating for people to leave their spouse to maintain their spirituality.
Charles Hodge in his commentary on First and Second Corinthians states, “ The idea that marriage was a less holy state than celibacy, naturally led to the conclusion that married persons ought to separate, and it soon came to be regarded as an evidence of eminent spirituality” (Hodge p.110)
Further, Henry Spence-Jones in the Pulpit Commentary helps us grasp a better understanding when he wrote, “Ascetic Gnostics, therefore, strove to destroy by severity every carnal impulse; antinomian Gnostics argued that the life of the spirit was so utterly independent of the flesh that what the flesh did was of no consequence”
You see there were some who had begun to pick up what John Rutherford called the “germs of Gnosticism”. This was the teaching that your body was dragging your spirit down, and by rejecting the desires of the body, you would become a more spiritual person. We can easily see this teaching trending in most monasteries around the world, even in our day.
Philip Lee in Against the Protestant Gnostics explains that "[Gnosticism] essentially proclaims a Christ who does not redeem," (Lee p. 107) but a Christ that merely reveals.
In orthodox Christianity, faith is trust in God's specific promise of salvation through Christ. By contrast, in Gnosticism, faith is magic. It is a technique for getting what we want or getting closer access to God, through our own works.
This Gnosticism is even at the core of the well-known illustration “Inside of me there are two dogs. One is mean and evil and the other is good and they fight each other all the time. When asked which one wins I answer, the one I feed the most.
The root of misinterpreting many biblical passages is the desire to have better access to God and to have a better testimony among others of like minds.
But the whole point of Christianity is that one cannot "access" God at all!
Extra-biblical standards are not the good news that transforms lives but is something that is promoted and must be obeyed to reach “enlightenment”, a new rank of spirituality, or a better standing before God.
This could not be farther from the true Gospel, the news that Jesus, by his life and death, has saved us and given us new life, that free for the taking.
And that this new life gives us all of the acceptance before God that Christ has, because He has done the work for us, and in this, we rest!