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?

2 Timothy 3:13-15 – Avoiding Self-Deception

MontebankThe opponents in Ephesus stand in contrast to Paul’s record of suffering (v. 13) It is Paul and Timothy’s opponents who are the imposters. The noun (γόης) Paul uses here is a common way to describe an opponent in a philosophical debate. The noun originally referred to a sorcerer (T.Sol 19:3 uses it for a witch, Herodotus, Hist. 7.791.2 for magicians, sometimes it refers to a “juggler,” [Aeschines, Ctes. 137], presumably because they do some sort of distracting act while they pick the pockets of the crowd.).

By the first century this word was used to describe a swindler or a con-man who used some kind of deception to gain a profit from his audience. I think of the character from old Western movies, the “snake oil salesman.” The Greek writer Demosthenes used the word in this sense: “for fear I should mislead and deceive you, calling me an artful speaker, a mountebank, an impostor, and so forth” (Dem., 18 276).

Ironically, these deceivers succeed in deceiving themselves! This is also a common way of describing sophists and charlatans in Greco-Roman world (Dio Chrysostom, Orations, 4.33). The way to avoid these sorts of people is proper “divine” education (4.29).

Dio Chrysostom, Orations 4.33 If, however, he falls in with some ignorant and charlatan sophist, the fellow will wear him out by leading him hither and thither, dragging him now to the east and now to the west and now to the south, not knowing anything himself but merely guessing, after having been led far afield himself long before by impostors like himself.

Similarly, the way to avoid the self-deceptive teaching of the opponents in Ephesus is to devote oneself to divine teaching through the Scripture which has been given by God.

Paul encourages Timothy to “continue in what he has learned” from the Scriptures (vv. 14-15). Timothy was trained in the scripture from a young age. Jewish family, reading the Old Testament in Greek (most likely). While the opponents are progressing into more esoteric “deep” knowledge, Timothy is told to remain where he is. He has already learned the truth and has been convinced that it is the truth. There is no need for him to dabble in the “myths and genealogies” of the opponents.

The Jews regularly referred to their scriptures as “sacred writings,” Paul can only have in mind here the Old Testament. At this point in history it is unlikely that the Gospels were circulating as Scripture, perhaps Paul’s churches cherished his letters as authoritative. But the New Testament as we know it simply does not exist yet!

Paul says Timothy was “raised on the Old Testament.” We know that his mother was Jewish and it is likely that he was taught the Old Testament, perhaps having some training in the Septuagint and Hebrew Bible in a synagogue. I doubt that Paul selected Timothy as a missionary companion if he was totally ignorant of the Bible prior to coming to faith in Jesus!

The remedy for self-deception, for Paul, is an absolute reliance on the Scripture for faith and practice. While the opponents in Ephesus pursue fruitless “myths and genealogies” Timothy is to remember what the Scriptures plainly teach and pursue righteousness.

I suspect if people actually read the Bible, they would not tolerate the sort of “teaching” that passes for popular Christian preaching!

2 Timothy 3:10-12 – Why did Paul Suffer?

In contrast to the false teachers, Paul lists his own suffering as an example of what will happen to anyone that wants to live a godly life (vv. 10-12). This is somewhat surprising for contemporary Christians who are fed a steady diet of “health and wealth” gospel: if you are really spiritual and doing everything God requires, you will be blessed, you will be happy, healthy and wealthy. That teaching is the exact opposite of Paul’s point in this passage.  Paul knows that his Gospel is the truth because he has suffered physically as a result of his preaching of Jesus.

It might seem odd, but Paul recalls his first missionary journey as an example of his suffering. He specifically has in mind the persecution he faced in Asia Minor (Acts 14). In Antioch, Paul is opposed by Jews from the Synagogue, who follow him to Iconium to harass him. Paul was attacked in Lystra, stoned and left for dead (Acts 14). Perhaps these persecutions were chosen because he was “left for dead,” or perhaps this period continued to haunt him in his ministry for some time.

Paul StonedWhile that physical attack was important, Paul has in mind the constant treat from the Jewish community throughout that first journey as well as the threats to his churches reflected in the book of Galatians.  The attack on Paul’s character reflected in Paul’s early letters may have been more painful than the physical pain he faced in Lystra.  It appears that some of Paul’s opponents described him as unqualified to preach the gospel (Gal 1) or worse, as a charlatan (1 Thess 2, for example).

A potential problem with this review of Paul’s ministry is that it all occurred on the first missionary journey, before Timothy began to travel with Paul (Acts 15). This is used to argue the letter of 2 Timothy is a pious forgery. The writer introduced a historical error by saying Timothy witnessed these events himself. On the other hand, Timothy was from Lystra himself and joined Paul mission with the full knowledge that Paul is often persecuted physically and opposed by very powerful people where ever he preaches the Gospel!

Paul states very clearly everyone who desires to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. This is a common theme throughout the New Testament: Jesus was persecuted and so too will his followers face similar trials.  Galatians 5:11 indicates that Paul was persecuted because he was preaching that the Gentiles were not under the Law.  The immediate background is his troubles in Asia Minor to which he alludes here in 2 Timothy (cf. Rom 8:35, 1 Cor 4:12, 2 Cor 4:9, 12:10, Gal 4:29, 5:11, 2 Thess 1:4).

If Timothy’s desire is to live a godly life, he will in fact face some sort of trial or  persecution.  Paul knows that Timothy is at the moment facing a difficult time because of the false teachers in Ephesus, even if that has not developed into a physical persecution at this point. This text is clear that the one who is “in Christ” will suffer like Christ.  Perhaps this is an indication that the opponents in Ephesus are not really “in Christ,” they simply do not suffer!

Imagine what would happen in Evangelical Christianity if people really believed they should suffer for Jesus rather than expecting to be wealthy because of their faith. When was the last time you took a rock to the head because of your faith in Jesus?

2 Timothy 2:14-15 – Present Yourself as an Approved Workman

Timothy is to present himself as an approved workman (v. 14-15, 22). Paul’s metaphor here is of a worker presenting himself before his supervisor. The verb (σπουδάζω) has the sense of hurried activity, eagerness or zealousness (BDAG). Perhaps someone who is doing a job will conscientiously, working hard to make sure that it is done properly.

WorkmanAn approved workman might be someone who has been trained and “qualified” as a craftsman. The noun ἐργάτης is often an agricultural laborer (Matt 9:37, “fields,” 20:1, vineyard), but in Acts 19:25 it refers to craftsmen in a kind of guild. As an approved workman, Timothy is no longer an apprentice, still a student under a master. He is an approved worker who has been examined by a master and given an approval by that master.

Timothy is to present himself before God as an approved workman. We might have expected Paul to set himself up as the example since he has done this several times. But here the ultimate “approval” of a minister’s work is God himself.

Timothy ought to do his ministry in a way that does not cause him to be ashamed. Anyone who has done a work that involved a skill has probably said, ‘yeah, that is not my best work.” In the case of a craftsman going before a master for review, the worker will want to do their very best work possible so that they will not experience shame when their work is tested.

What would possibly cause Timothy shame? Possibly his youth, since Paul has already told him to not allow anyone to look down on him for his your (2 Tim 2:15). But it is also possible that his association with Paul is shameful. Paul’s opponents may have made the point that Paul is in prison and no longer under the blessing of God. If Timothy is Paul’s successor, then perhaps they are trying to shame Timothy by associating him with Paul’s “failure.” Paul certainly does not consider his imprisonment a shameful state, but a well-trained Greco-Roman orator could have used this to their advantage. Perhaps the opponents were able to pick apart Timothy’s teaching the way a Sophist might destroy an enemy’s rhetoric, causing Timothy public shame. In any case, Timothy is told to do his work in such a way that he will not be ashamed by his own efforts.

In order to be approved, Timothy is to “correctly handling” God’s word. What happened to rightly dividing? The Greek word (ὀρθοτομέω) is very rare and is the combination of the word for straight (ὀρθός) and the verb for cutting (τέμνω), hence the KJV’s “rightly dividing.” When the word is used with a road in mind, it means “cut a road across country (that is forested or otherwise difficult to pass through) in a straight direction” (as in Thuc. 2, 100, 2 although the compound is not used there, BDAG).

In the context of 2 Timothy, the word has to been “correctly interpret” the Word of God. If Timothy is a craftsman, his “material” is the Word of God. Imagine a sculptor who is submitting a piece to Art Prize; the create a beautiful statue to display outside some building downtown. But they use the wrong material, instead of clay or stone or wood, they used sugar. The first time it rains, the sculpture will melt away into nothing (or a bunch of ants will come along and eat it!) Paul’s point here is that if Timothy is going to be an approved workman, he is going to need to know how to work with his materials in such a way as to present a finished product that will please the master.

There are many examples of people who are not well educated and try to interpret the Bible in new and exciting ways (and they tend to find their way to the internet and YouTube). For example, It is easy to pull a few verses out of the Old Testament, combine them with some conspiracy theory and fears about the government, and somehow prove the present administration is the Anti Christ or that immigration reform will lead to the End Times and the Mark of the Beast. Or something like that.

Does this mean that only the seminary-trained professional scholar should attempt to read the Bible? That is not Paul’s point at all; Timothy is the “professional” in his situation and his responsibility is to give a gentle answer when someone suggests a reading of the Bible that is in error.

In summary, this section begins with Paul commanding Timothy to seek his approval from God as if he were a worker looking for approval from his master. In order to gain that approval, Timothy must correctly handle his materials, in this case the word of God.