Questions From Readers
● What does 1 Corinthians 7:1 mean when it says, “It is well for a man not to touch a woman”?—U.S.A.
These words of the apostle Paul introduce a discussion recommending singleness as a better gift than marriage for those who have self-control and are determined to devote themselves fully to the advancement of true worship. (1 Cor. 7:6-9) When used in a similar way in the Hebrew Scriptures, the word “touch” refers to sexual contact. For example, regarding Abraham’s wife Sarah, Jehovah told Abimelech: “I was also holding you back from sinning against me. That is why I did not allow you to touch her. But now return the man’s wife.” (Gen. 20:6, 7) Also, Proverbs 6:29 makes sexual contact and “touching” identical: “Likewise with anyone having relations with the wife of his fellowman, no one touching her will remain unpunishable.”
In agreement with the Biblical use of the expression “touch,” Paul’s statement about not ‘touching a woman’ pertains to avoiding all sensual or sexual contact. Marriage is the only honorable way in which a person can have such contact. This being the case, Paul, in writing that “it is well for a man not to touch a woman,” was saying that it is advantageous for the Christian to remain unmarried, and An American Translation and Weymouth’s New Testament render the passage in that way. The apostle went on to elaborate this point.
It is noteworthy that the admonition “not to touch a woman” also follows a strong warning against fornication. (1 Cor. 6:15-20) On one occasion Jesus Christ said: “I say to you that everyone that keeps on looking at a woman so as to have a passion for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matt. 5:28) Thus it can be seen that even a man’s looking at a woman with passionate desire is wrong. If he had the opportunity, he would carry out in actions the adulterous desire of his heart. (Compare 2 Samuel 11:2-4.) By extension, then, ‘touching a woman’ could include any bodily contact that springs from or excites passion, as this is already beyond the point of looking.
Accordingly, a man who seeks to maintain singleness in an honorable way should avoid all actions that could give rise to passion or lead to fornication. If he finds this too difficult, it is best for him to marry. Wrote the apostle Paul: “Because of the prevalence of fornication, let each man have his own wife and each woman have her own husband.”—1 Cor. 7:2.