Thursday, May 25, 2006

Good not to touch...

Got to get back to posting! Lord, help me post what I ought, as I ought, when I ought, and give me diligence.

1 Corinthians 7:1 (KJV) Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman.

This verse what brought to my attention recently by a relative who was using to teach the idea that I should not touch friends of the opposite sex. Of course I didn't feel that this was the intent of the verse so I figured I'd look at it a bit...
First, it is obvious that this verse can't be taken literally, if touching is to be understood as any physical contact. How would I hug my mother, or my sister (if I had one), or my aunt? If I had a daughter, I suppose I wouldn't be able to change her diaper. That is absurd, obviously, but it makes the point. In addition, v.1 makes no exception for marriage. To interpret the verse as forbidding physical contact between a married couple would be an even bigger absurdity, but it is the logical conclusion if you take the verse all by itself. The point is, if you use this verse to forbid physical contact between unmarried, unrelated persons of opposite gender, this verse give you no warrant to limit your restriction to that.
Taking the verse in context yields a different explanation. Both the ESV translation and John Gill's commentary have this verse as referring to sexual relations. Gill specifically understands "touch" in the sense of "use," similar to Romans 1 where we are told that homosexual men have left the "use" of women. So "touch" can represent this, although it is misleading and archaic by modern usage. Consider the statement that someone should not "touch" alcohol. Obviously this statement is not saying that someone shouldn't get the drink on their hands; what we are saying when we make that statement is that someone should not "use," or drink, alcohol. So it is the same with the word "touch" in I Cor 7:1.
This interpretation also has contextual support. Vs.1-2 are parallel to Paul's admonition in vs.6-9 that it is better not to marry, but that marriage is the right option if needed. As a matter of fact, an honest reading of I Cor 7:1-9 would make evident that this passage is in fact concerned with sexual relations specifically, not mere physical contact- the verses in between, vs. 3-5, concern the rights of each partner pertaining to sex.
I really wish people would stop twisting scripture to teach their rules. I could respect the idea of "no touching" more if it were presented to me as a wisdom matter subject to the situation, rather than a Biblical command, which it is not. Unfortunately, IFBs confuse "wisdom" issues with Biblical commands all the time and guess what--- they end up with children WHO NEITHER UNDERSTAND THE BIBLE NOR RESPECT THE WISDOM. Grrrrr.
So as a purely practical matter, is it wise to never touch someone who is unrelated and not your spouse? I would point out, that this is a decision between two people. If an unmarried couple can respect and abide by a decision to not touch, why may they not touch and make a decision as to how far they will take it? From a standpoint of merely physical desire, both options present equal opportunity for temptation.
From the standpoint of a dating relationship, obviously the introduction of physical contact both signifies fondness and takes the relationship to a new level. Is this a bad thing? In my opinion, dating could be defined as the mechanism whereby a couple makes the transition from acquaintances to partners over the time span required by current social expectations. For example, in the Bible, dating is not really an issue because marriage was a property transaction.
No wonder we spin in circles trying to understand what it means for Christians to date, or whether Christians should date at all. The current courtship/emotional purity teachings are an attempt to take the process back to the simplicity of Bible days, but it ignores the reality of modern society.
So the issue of touching would not be an issue in Bible days, really, because the man would either be doing one of two things, paying the dowry for the girl to get her as his wife, or else trying to have an illicit relationship. If not, her father would probably press the man into a decision or run him off.
These days, where we expect an extended "getting to know you" phase, we are in Biblically uncharted waters with regards to the progession of affection and affectionate acts between an unmarried couple. Here is where wisdom comes in- the couple has to look at their situation and, if they have serious feelings, decide what the best course in the matter would be for them, given whatever time period is required by parents or the circumstances. While I reject the teaching of SM Davis on courtship/emotional purity, the excellent take-away point that the mainstream dating crowd needs to get is that while actual marriage may be in the future, the discussion needs to happen sooner rather than later, so that there is an understanding and expectation between all parties and "elders" in the family and church can provide more accurate guidance and support. Or else, the couple can move on.
Unfortunately, marriage has become a scary thing to people. You mention the "M" word and all sorts of imaginations and prejudices rise in people's minds. On the other hand, those in support of heading towards marriage, including the couple, fear sharing this with those who care because of it. A burden rests on the "elders" in such cases to encourage or detect marriage interest between a couple- and take it seriously, and provide support, counseling and a framework by which the couple can eventually glorify God in a pure marriage.
This is the other side of the equation when it comes to physical purity. Unfortunately some of the churches in which physical purity is taught the most are the least conducive for pairing couples in marriage. How is that helpful?