The following e-mail correspondence took place in October of 2009 (slightly edited for readability):
I’ll intersperse my comments below. But before I do, I need to say that since I do not know what your beliefs are, then I do not know if you are truly a Christian or not. And since I do not know if you are truly a Christian or not, then your outward obedience to God’s law of marriage may either be pleasing to Him (see Proverbs 15:8b; Hebrews 13:20-21; Romans 7:4), or it may be an abomination to Him, depending (see Proverbs 15:8a; Hebrews 11:6; Romans 7:5).
Is the interpretation of 1 Corinthians 7 v1 below correct? The full article is linked below for you to reference. I really want to get this right, and it seems to be at odds with your understanding, per your advice to me regarding my situation.
I didn’t have 1 Corinthians 7:1 in mind when I said that such things as holding hands should be avoided. 1 Corinthians 7:8 gives us the necessary implication that those whom Paul is addressing in 1 Corinthians 7:1-7 are those who are, lawfully married. Thus, when he writes that it is good for a man not to touch a woman, he is speaking to lawfully married persons (some of whom had apparently been influenced by ascetic philosophy). But in verse 2 he rejects the ascetic idea of celibacy within the context of a lawful marriage. To remain celibate is to NOT touch a woman (1 Corinthians 7:1); but to remain celibate toward your own lawfully married wife is ascetic.
In verse 7, Paul shows that he does not have a problem with celibacy per se since he said that he wished all men were even as himself (1 Corinthians 7:7). The conclusion drawn here is that the idea of not touching a woman is NOT an ascetic idea, but a biblical one — it only becomes the erroneous ascetic idea, when not touching a woman is one’s own lawful wife.
“But concerning what you wrote to me, it is good for a man not to touch a woman; but because of fornication, let each have his own wife, and let each have her own husband. Let the husband give due kindness to the wife, and likewise the wife also to the husband. The wife does not have authority of her own body, but the husband. And likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife. Do not deprive one another, unless by agreement for a time, that you may be free for fasting and prayer. And come together again on the same place, that Satan may not tempt you through your incontinence” (1 Corinthians 7:1-5).
In context, the Greek word “haptomai” is being contrasted with the Greek word, “porneia.” The idea being conveyed above is that it’s because of things like porneia that one should haptomai their lawful woman (i.e., wife). Thus, it is NOT a case of porneia to haptomai one’s own lawful woman. But if one were to haptomai (i.e., touch) a woman who is NOT his lawful woman, then it would be a case of porneia. The next question then is: What is porneia? A biblical definition of porneia will necessarily give a definition of what kind of “touching” is NOT to be done to a woman who is NOT your lawful wife.
Is porneia just limited to the specific activity of sexual intercourse, or is the definition much broader than that? Would it be lawful for me to kiss the cheek, or to hold the hand of a woman who is NOT my wife? To use a fictional example:
If I were to kiss, or hold the hand of a 30-year old Christian virgin woman who is NOT my wife, then how would that NOT be at least a lesser form of intimacy, only reserved for the marriage bed (cf. Hebrews 13:4)?
Please understand I am not trying to be argumentative but I don’t understand how there can be opposite meanings derived from the same word “haptomai”. I have no problem with Not touching my wife at all even if that does refer to hand holding, hugging, or a kiss on the cheek, if that is truly what God requires due to my sin of adultery.
A broad meaning for any given word, does not necessarily mean an opposite meaning. For instance, porneia (fornication) is not limited to sexual intercourse — it also includes other kinds of intimate touching; it would also include such things as bestiality and homosexuality. The aforementioned things are not “opposite,” since they all fall under the heading “porneia.”
As 1 Corinthians 7 begins, Paul seemed to agree with the ascetics when he said, “It is good for a man not to touch a woman.” The phrase “not to touch a woman” does not refer to holding hands or putting arms around a woman. Touch is the Greek word “haptomai” which means to attach oneself to, to apply oneself to. It directly relates to the sexual relationship within marriage. This is a euphemism for a sexual relationship. We see it used this way in Genesis 20:6 (NKJV):
Again, in the context of 1 Corinthians 7:1-2 the definitions of porneia and haptomai are specifically sexual intercourse. But obviously sexual sin would also include lustful thoughts (not just touching) of a woman not lawfully yours. The marriage bed (cf. Hebrews 13:4) can be desecrated and defiled in a lot more ways than explicit sexual intercourse — a lot more things than out-and-out adultery, defile it. To put my arms around a woman who is NOT my lawful wife; or to hold the hand of a woman who is NOT my lawful wife; or to kiss on the cheek a woman who is NOT my lawful wife, is at the VERY LEAST a provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts (Romans 13:14). All of these things, while admittedly “less intimate,” are still things intimate, and thus are reserved solely for the lawful marriage bed.