It is Good for a Man Not To Touch a Woman – 1 Corinthians 7:1-2

Paul begins a long discussion of marriage and divorce with what appears to be a quotation: “It is good for a man not to touch a woman” (7:1-2). Who said this? Paul, or the Corinthians? In modern commentaries, this is the Corinthian attitude about marriage and sexual relationships, possibly another slogan from a faction in the church. Alternatively, some translations and commentators take this as Paul’s statement from an earlier letter or teaching at Corinth. Like 5:9-11, this statement was misunderstood and now needs to be clarified.

Do Not Touch a Woman

In contrast to Roman sexual ethics, someone in the Corinthian church claimed it better for believers to be celibate. If they are married to an unbelieving spouse, they must divorce the unbeliever and if they are unmarried, they should never marry.

To “touch a woman” is a euphemism for sexual relations, not marriage. The NIV (1984) originally translated the word as marriage, the NIV (2011) and the ESV both have “sexual relations; the NRSV has the literal phrase, “touch a woman.” This phrase refers to sex as recreation as opposed to procreation. There are at least twenty-five examples from Greek and Roman sources (Ciampa and Rosner, 1 Corinthians, 273-4; Gordon Fee, “1 Corinthians 7:1 in the NIV,” JETS 23 (1980): 307-24). Ciampa and Rosner suggest “it is not good for a man to bed/bang/shag a woman” (1 Corinthians, 275). Perhaps to update this a bit more: “it is not good for a person to hook up” or “it is not good to have friends with benefits.”

In the Roman world, sexual relations in marriage were intended for procreation, having legitimate heirs. A man was expected by society to meet his physical needs by extramarital affairs, prostitution, or his slaves. Sex with a married woman was forbidden (adultery was outlawed by Augustus, but men could have sex with unmarried women (and slaves). Kyle Harper suggests “Slaves played something like the part that masturbation has played in most cultures” (From Shame to Sin, 27). Prostitution was legal and common, as was homosexual sex (although it was not necessarily a romantic relationship). Sexual desires were like any other physical desire. Sometimes you need to burp to feel better.

If the Christian was to refrain from extramarital relationships (which were not considered out of bounds by the culture), and the marriage relationship was the only proper place for sexual relations, then Gentile converts to Christianity may have been surprised by recreational sex in the marriage relationship. Does Paul really mean men ought to satisfy their sexual desires with their wife (as opposed to with a prostitute or slave)?

Why would some Corinthian Christians consider abstinence as a good thing?  It is possible Paul’s earlier command not to associate with sexually immoral people was misunderstood. If a person was married to a spouse who had been a “sexually immoral” person, perhaps spouses thought they should give up relations with them or even divorce them.  That some Corinthians believers were practicing celibacy even in marriage may explain why some men were visiting prostitutes (6:12-17). Men may have thought using prostitution was an appropriate outlet that did not count as “touching a woman.”

Paul therefore challenges the prevailing Greco-Roman culture with his views on sex within marriage as well as outside marriage. Although modern readers are more familiar with Paul’s restriction of sexual relations to the marriage, this would have shocked the original readers.

Paul, Marriage and Divorce – 1 Corinthians 7

For modern readers, Paul’s comments on marriage and divorce seem outdated. After responded to several related issues reported by the household of Chole, Paul moves on to questions from the Corinthians sent to Paul in a letter. Some of these questions relate to the reported problems. Paul begins with questions about marriage since the church asked about the topic, but Paul’s answer addresses the specific situation in the Corinthian church in chapters 5-6, sexual ethics. Notice the final words of 1 Corinthians 6, “honor God with your body.” How does the Christian honor God with their body? Flee sexual immorality (6:18) and pursue healthy sexual relations within marriage (7:1-7).

Marriage and Divorce

The context for Paul’s comments on marriage and divorce is “this present crisis” (1 Cor 7:26). If this refers to persecution, then marriage would be less important since there is a real possibility of death. But the “crisis” might be frequent famines plaguing Corinth in the first century. If this is the case, even sex within a marriage may very well result in a child, “another mouth to feed” (Ciampa and Rosner, 1 Corinthians, 270).  It is possible this explains why married couples refrained from sex while the men still visited the prostitutes (6:12-17).

Paul’s marital status is another factor which may have affected the situation. In 1 Corinthians 7:6 Paul says he remains unmarried to devote himself fully to his ministry. If 1 Corinthians 7:6 does in fact imply Paul is unmarried, then perhaps at least some in the Corinthian church took his status as a model to imitate and were taking voluntary vows of celibacy even if they were already married. There are three marital statuses addressed in this chapter: Married to a believer, married to an unbeliever, and unmarried. An unmarried person might be a widow or a “not yet married person” (a virgin in verse 25).

One last point before looking at the details of the chapter. Paul is not writing a comprehensive “theology of marriage and divorce” in this chapter. Contemporary Christianity has defined marriage in far more detail than Paul does here, and most people have far more questions about what sorts of conditions might lead to divorce. We want to define infidelity more precisely or consider spousal abuse (whether physical or emotional). Paul never addressed the question, “Should I divorce my husband if he abuses the children?”  Should I divorce my husband if he is a raging alcoholic or mentally unstable?” “Can I divorce my husband if he comes out of the closet and announces he is gay?” “Can I divorce my husband if he decides he is trans and begins to transition to a woman?” Can 1 Corinthians 7 even be used to answer such questions?

Many contemporary Christians readers approach this passage with the question, “under what circumstances is divorce permissible today.” (Or better, is there any way I can get out of this rotten marriage and not go to hell?) Others are be shocked at Paul’s patriarchal attitudes toward women in the passage, but Ben Witherington suggests most women in the Greco-Roman church of Corinth “surely would have welcomed Paul’s attempts to reform the patriarchal approach to marriage and singleness” (1-2 Corinthians, 177).

Paul’s point when he wrote the original letter was not to encourage divorce. Rather than “when can I get a divorce,” Paul offers a series of encouragements to the Corinthians to stay married. Paul’s thoughts on marriage are directed at the Corinthian situation, not ours. “Paul is not answering questions but questioning answers” (Garland, 1 Corinthians 252). Nevertheless, we can draw some principles about marriage and divorce from this passage and the rest of Scripture which the Holy Spirit may use to guide our thinking about contemporary questions about marriage and divorce

What is Paul’s main concern in 1 Corinthians 7? How does he challenge views of marriage and divorce in the Greco-Roman world?

The Book of Enoch for Beginners

The Book of Enoch for Beginners

My new book, The Book of Enoch for Beginners is now available on Amazon on September 27. It is only $12.99 in paperback and delivery is free for Amazon Prime members (and as of today, it is 10% off). The Kindle version is only $6.99 and is available to borrow in Kindle Unlimited for free. As of today, it is the #1 New Release in “Additional Biblical Texts” category on Amazon. I admit that is a fairly narrow category, but there are some really good books on that list.

The book had its origins in my PhD program in 2005, but also right here on Reading Acts. In 2016 edited material I produced for a PhD seminar class on the Old Testament pseudepigrapha into a series of blog posts in summer 2016. Those posts have always been popular; Enoch appears in my “top ten” posts every month. People hear things about First Enoch and look to google for answers.

What is The Book of Enoch for Beginners: A Guide to Expand Your Understanding of the Biblical World? When you travel, sometimes you buy a tour guidebook to give you the highlights of the place you are visiting. This book is like a tour guide for First Enoch. It is only 152 pages, so the book is not a detailed, academic commentary on Enoch. I try to explain some of the details in each section of the book and offer some suggestions on how First Enoch can shed like on both Judaism and Christianity in the first century. If you need an academic commentary on 1 Enoch, you should invest in Nickelsburg and VanderKam’s two-volume Hermenia commentary. They are expensive, but by far the best work on Enoch.

Why write a book on First Enoch? A few people have asked me why I spent time studying a non-canonical book like First Enoch. This book is not in the Bible, not even in the Apocrypha. Unless you are an Ethiopic Christian, you might have never heard of this book before! There are two main reasons I wrote the book, First, it is a fascinating glimpse into the world of developing Judaism in the centuries just before Jesus. Most people think of First Enoch as an apocalypse, and although that is not wrong, it is not apocalyptic in the modern sense. There are some wild “end of the world as we know it” scenes in the book, but they are not at all like a science fiction movie nor are there predictions about how American gas prices somehow lead to the rise of the antichrist. The book talks far more about how people live as faithful Jews in an evil world and gives some insight into what was important to Jews living in the time between the Testaments.

Second, there is a great deal of misinformation out there about what is in First Enoch. Recent conspiracy theories capitalize on the general population’s ignorance of First Enoch and make claims about the book that are just not true (including flat earth theories). People think First Enoch was suppressed by later Roman Catholics because it has the “real truth.” Movies like Noah or supernatural television shows dredge First Enoch for information about angels and demons. My book tries to explain what First Enoch actually says in order to put to rest some of these strange ideas.

Jim West reviewed the book as did Brent Niedergall. Click through and read what they have to say. I appreciate the early reviews on Amazon and comments I have received saying the book is easy to read and well designed.

If you get the book, please consider leaving (hopefully) five-stars on Amazon and if you have the time, a short review (25 words is Amazon’s minimum). Stars and reviews sell books these days.


Book Giveaway Winner: T. Desmond Alexander, Face to Face with God

Commentary on HebrewsThere were fourteen comments from people hoping to win a copy of T. Desmond Alexander, Face to Face with God (Essential Studies in Biblical Theology). Follow the link to read my review. I copied all the name into a spreadsheet, sorted randomly then used to select a winner. And the winner is….Dwight Gingrich. Congrats Dwight, I have sent an email to what I think is your email (a Canadian Yahoo account?) If you do not see that, contact me at plong42 @ and I will arrange to ship the book out ASAP.

Dwight said his favorite Hebrews commentary is Gareth Lee Cockerill’s NICNT volume, a fine choice indeed. This was not published when I wrote on the best commentary on Hebrews in 2012. There were very few repeats among the fourteen comments; I expected a few F. F. Bruce votes, but only William Lane’s Word commentary scored two votes. But this is not the Jesus Seminar, so voting does not really count.

Big thanks to IVP Academic for sending an extra copy to pass along to readers of this blog. If you don’t win this book, check back soon for another book giveaway.


Book Giveaway: T. Desmond Alexander, Face to Face with God

GiveawayIt has been a while since I gave a book away as a promotion on Reading Acts. Since it is the beginning of a new Academic year, it is time to celebrate by sending out some free books! Really, though, do you need an excuse for a chance at a free book?

I recently reviewed T. Desmond Alexander, Face to Face with God (Essential Studies in Biblical Theology). IVP Academic was kind enough to send an extra copy to pass along to readers of this blog.

Alexander does an excellent job describing the importance of the sanctuary and sacrifices in the Old Testament as well as the role of high priest as intercessor and covenant mediator. He examines these as “shadows of the reality in Christ” through the lens of Hebrews and focuses on that book’s description of Christ as priest, intercessor and mediator of a new covenant. In fact, this book could be considered an introduction to the theology of Hebrews. Go read the review for the rest of my comments.

If you want a free copy of this book, leave a comment with your favorite Hebrews commentary and your name and email (if it is not in your profile already) so I can contact you if you win. I will put all the names in a spreadsheet, randomize them, then use a random number generator to select a winner on September 21.

If you don’t win this book, check back next week for another book giveaway.