Marriage and Sex - Page 2 of 7 (series: Lessons on 1 Cor.)
by John Lowe
It is good for a man not to touch a woman.
“To touch a woman” is to be understood here to mean, not merely the simple act of touching a woman, which can neither be criminal, or always inappropriate, or that evil intentions are involved, or there are dangerous consequences; and it does not refer to the matrimonial contract, which is lawful and honorable; but the subject is the act of carnal copulation with a woman, which is the sense in which the Jews use the phrase—“And God said unto him in a dream, Yea, I know that thou didst this in the integrity of thy heart; for I also withheld thee from sinning against me: therefore suffered I thee not to touch her” (Gen 20:6; KJV). And the word "touch" is used here in the same sense, both by Greek and Latin authors. The apostle's meaning is not that it is unlawful to marry, or that it is sinful to lie with a woman in lawful wedlock; but that it is much better and more appropriate, to abstain from the use of women, when persons have the gift of chastity. “It is good for a man not to touch a woman” is an Old Testament phrase which means not to marry. He does not mean that marriage is wrong, but that on account of "the present distress" it was a good thing not to be bound by family ties—“Because of the present crisis I believe it is good for people to remain as they are…Do you have a wife? Don't seek a divorce. Are you divorced from your wife? Don't look for another one” (1 Cor 7:26-27; GW). "Forbidding to marry" is one of the signs of apostasy: “Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge” (Heb 13.4; KJV).
The word "good" as used here "does not mean morally good, but that it is in man's best interests in some circumstances to remain single." "He is teaching that because of the persecution of Christians, it is better not to get married and bring children into the world to be killed and suffer persecution. It should be carefully observed, however, that Paul in no sense advocated celibacy, except in certain situations and circumstances, and that even in those cases it was merely "allowable," and not commanded. There is no belittling of marriage here, Paul's writings in Ephesians 5:22, 23, etc., making it abundantly clear that he held the institution of marriage in the very highest esteem: “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord…For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body” (Eph 5:22-23; KJV). As Marsh said, "He is not writing a treatise on marriage, but answering their questions within the context of current attitudes and circumstances." Marsh translated this phrase, "It is WELL for a man not to touch a woman ... meaning COMMENDABLE, but not morally or intrinsically better." It is true now, even as it was in the beginning, that "It is not good for man to be alone" (Genesis 2:18). As Lipscomb noted, "Paul's teaching here regards the persecution then raging against the Christians; and, on account of these, if a man could restrain his lusts, it was better not to marry."
2 Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.
Nevertheless, to avoid fornication,
Or "fornications"; meaning either the frequent commission of that sin; or in a larger sense, all sorts of immorality and corruption, which may be avoided by wedlock, and the proper use of the marriage bed, where the gift of abstinence is not conferred: therefore to prevent unlawful sex, such as between single persons, or of a married person with a single person, the apostle advises them about what is right and proper, which is “To avoid fornication.” Paul overrides his principle of appropriateness (vs. 1) with the principle of necessity. Because of the prevalence of immorality in Corinth, Paul’s advice to these believers is that every man is to have his own wife and every wife her own husband. He informs them that marriage, and the comfort and satisfaction of that state, are by divine wisdom prescribed for preventing fornication and all sorts of lawless lust. Paul is not saying sex is the only reason for marriage, or the most important reason for marriage. Paul is simply answering their specific questions about marriage, not trying to give a complete theology of marriage. For a more complete theology of marriage, see Ephesians 5:21-33.
By these words—“But because of fornications”—and the command following, Paul refuted the false argument of Jerome who said, "If it is good for a man not to touch a woman, it must be bad to do so; and therefore celibacy is a holier state than marriage." Far from being a holier state than marriage, celibacy, forced upon the clergy of the Catholic Church is something contrary to nature which has become the worst of evils. As Barnes said: “How much evil, how much deep pollution, how many abominable crimes would have been avoided, which have grown out of the monastic system, and the celibacy of the clergy ... if Paul's advice had been followed by all professed Christians!”
let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.
Now Paul lifts marriage up to the heights, out of this degradation, and says to the Corinthians, “You are not to live like that.” Every man is to have one wife, and every woman is to have her own husband. Paul lifted woman from the place of slavery in the pagan world, the Roman Empire, and made her a companion of man. He restored her to her rightful position. He was in Ephesus when he wrote to the Corinthians, and in Ephesus there was a great deal of the same thing in the awful temple of Diana. It was to the Ephesians that Paul wrote, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it” (Eph. 5:25).
Now I know somebody is going to say that he also told wives to obey their husbands. I would like to know where he said that. He did write, “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord” (Eph. 5:22). Have you ever looked up the word submit to see what it means? To submit means to “respond.” Wives are to respond to their own husbands. The wife is to react to the man. Man is the aggressor. He initiates the expression of love, and the woman is the receiver. This is not a matter of sex alone; it involves a couple mentally, spiritually, psychologically, and physically. Man is the aggressor; woman is the receiver. God created man and woman that way in the beginning. He created woman as the “helpmeet,” a helper suitable for him or corresponding to him. She is the other part of man. When a husband says, “I love you,” she answers, “I love you.” When a man admits that he has a cold wife, he is really saying that he is a failure as a husband and that he is to blame for the condition.
The word “fornication” is used here in the larger sense of immorality in general. For the sake of the purity of society, and to avoid the evils of sensual indulgence, and the corruption and crime which go along with an illicit sexual affair, it is proper and better to enter into the married state. Believers at Corinth were constantly exposed to this vice. See the Introduction. Paul says that marriage is honorable, and that the relations of domestic life should be formed, to avoid the evils which would otherwise result. The world is the witness of the evils which flow from the neglect of his advice. Every community where the marriage tie has been lax and feeble, or where it has been disregarded or dishonored, has been infected with sin, and it always will be. Society is pure and virtuous, just as long as marriage is deemed honourable, and its vows adhered to and preserved. It was recently brought to my attention that in America statics now show more couples live together than are married; more couples live in sin than don’t. Friend, America will not be destroyed by war or terrorism, but by the elimination of marriage, leading to the destruction of families. In light of the grave danger of sexual immorality (ever present in the Corinthian culture – and our own), it is appropriate for husband and wife to have each other in a sexual sense. Paul is not commanding the Corinthian Christians to get married (an issue he deals with later in the chapter), but rather he commands them to live as a married couple, especially in the sexual sense. Paul is saying that husbands and wives should be having sexual relations.
In the Jewish constitutions there are some things regarding marriage. "There are four causes which induce men to marry: 1. Impure desire; 2. To get riches; 3. To become honourable; 4. For the glory of God. Those who marry through the first motive beget wicked and rebellious children. Those who marry for the sake of riches have the curse of leaving them to others. Those who marry for the sake of exalting their family shall have their families diminished. Those who marry to promote the glory of God, will have children that are holy, and by them the true Church will be increased." Christianity is opposed to polygamy, marital affairs, divorce and all related evils. Also, there is implicit in this verse a practical condemnation of celibacy. Because celibacy is an absolutely unattainable state for the vast majority of mankind, marriage is required as the only practical alternative.