The Bible says “it's not good for a man to touch a woman”, but it does not actually say it is wrong. Is it wrong (a sin) to touch a woman before marriage, like holding hands, hugging, an occasional peck on the lips, but nothing serious, like fondling or groping (foreplay)?
The Corinthians had written to Paul asking a question about marriage in 1 Corinthians 7:1. The New King James Version captures the actual meaning of the Greek better than the NASB or the NIV.
Now concerning the things of which you wrote to me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband. Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 1 Corinthians 7:1-5 (NKJV)
Touch A Woman
First, we want to understand what the phrase “to touch a woman” means. The phrase “to touch a woman” is an idiom that referred to “sexual intercourse.” In fact, the Greek word that Paul uses for “to touch” is hapto. It means “to cause the process of burning to begin—‘to ignite, to kindle, to set ablaze, to start a fire, to light a lamp.”[1, 2] It was also used to refer to sexual relations between a man and a woman.[3, 4] In short, hapto can mean anything from a simple touch that seeks to excite someone sexually resulting in sexual intercourse.
Do Not Touch
Next, we need to understand the context. So if we look at the next verse we see that it starts with “Nevertheless.” This connects the thought of verse 1 with the next four verses where Paul talks about the need for men and women to be married in order to avoid sexual immorality.
Now we must ask, “Is Paul making a statement that it is not good for a man to hold hands, hug or give an “occasional kiss on the cheek” to a woman?” The answer is “no” since verses 2 through 5 are about the need for a husband and his wife to have regular sexual relations in order to avoid sexual sin. That is, it is okay for spouses to sexual stimulate each other and have sexual intercourse, but it is not okay if they are not married. It appears Paul is responding to a statement from the Corinthians that said, “It was good for man not to touch a woman.” Paul is disagreeing with that statement.
In fact, Paul goes on to warn husbands and wives to not deprive one another of sexual relations. Therefore, once a male and female are married it is okay to stimulate one’s spouse sexually until sexual intercourse occurs. Notice the Holy Spirit’s statement,
|Wife’s Responsibility||Husband’s Responsibility|
|The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does (v. 4).||And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does (v. 4).|
The Holy Spirit says a wife has the responsibility to meet the needs of her husband. Her body belongs to her husband. Now this thought is not very popular today, but it is from the Holy Spirit. Today we do not want to be subject to anyone, but the Holy Spirit’s command is clear. The same is true with the husband. He does not control his own body. Now the Holy Spirit does not mean that either the wife or husband has the right to be demanding and inconsiderate. It means the husband and wife are to lovingly submit to one another. Read verse 3,
Let the husband fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. I Corinthians 7:3 (NASB)
Some demanding husbands and some wives, believe it or not, are unloving and inconsiderate in this area. That is sin. Some wives have used sexual relations as a reward for good behavior! And there are husbands who deny their wife sexual relations. It is sin for a spouse to constantly say “no” to their partner or make up excuses, and it is sin for a spouse to be demanding. Both are sin!
Is it okay for an unmarried man and a woman to hug, hold hands or give an occasional kiss? The answer is found in “flee sexual immorality (2 Timothy 2:22). Most engaged couples find it difficult to avoid sexual relations before they get married. Touching leads to hugging which leads to kissing and eventually to sexual activity which ends in sexual intercourse. That is how God designed us, but 2 Timothy 2:22 reveals that it is sin to intentionally sexual stimulate someone before marriage. It is a sin to sexually excite oneself before marriage since we are to flee sexual passions before marriage. The message of 1 Corinthians 7:1-5 is to flee sin by getting married and have sexual relations with your spouse.
Contrary to popular belief, premarital sex does not help one check-out sexual compatibility. Research has shown that most couples who have had sexual relations before marriage have a higher divorce rate and are more unhappy. This is consistent with the couples that I have counseled. The premarital experience is an irritating thorn in the marriage. It is always a source of unhappiness and pain.
May I suggest that any seriously engaged Christian couple discuss this topic. Talk about boundaries. If holding hands causes a sexual desire – STOP! If it is kissing – STOP! The truth both hold the hands and kissing excite sexual passions, unless the kissing is quick. Set honest boundaries. Remember our focus is to please the Lord by fleeing sin. 1 Corinthians 7:1-5 is about fleeing sexual immorality.
1. Lou and Nida. Greek-Lexicon of the New Testament. United Bible Societies. 1988. vol. 2. p. 178. Section 14.65.
2. Colin Brown. Dictionary of New Testament Theology. Regency Reference Library. Grand Rapids, MI. vol. 3, p. 860.
4. Fee, Gordon D. The First Epistle to the Corinthians, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI., 1987, p 275.
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