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Since it is the school holidays now, I thought I'd drop into my old church this evening to attend Rev Ling Shiang Ming's bible study on 1 Corinthians as I have not been to any of his sermons or teaching since he started pastoring the church this year. It is a good thing but of all chapters in 1 Corinthians, I got chapter 7, verse 1 to 8.
It was an interesting session. I made several discoveries and I now have 2 more questions to mull over:
Verse 1 in Greek reads:
περι δε ων εγραψατε
and about which you wrote
καλον ανθρωπω γυναικος μη απτεσθαι
good (for) a man (and) a woman not to touch
The translations render the verse as follows:
NIV: Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to marry.
ESV: Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: "It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.
NASB: Now concerning the things about which you wrote, it is good for a man not to touch a woman.
NLT: Now regarding the questions you asked in your letter. Yes, it is good to live a celibate life.
I do not have any of the commentaries for 1 Corinthians except for Charles Hodges' classic that took the verse in the NIV sense and so did Walter C. Kaiser Jr. et al's Hard Sayings of the Bible. Rev Ling disagrees and commented that the verse refers to the belief held by the church in Corinth that since all flesh is sinful, it is better to keep away from sexual activities after marriage. They were not at all asking about whether it is good or not good to get married.Gordon D. Fee in NT Exegesis calls γυναικος απτεσθαι an idiom, meaning to have sexual relationship.
At the moment, I am agreeing with Rev Ling but I need further study. High on my wish list now is Anthony C. Thiselton's The First Epistle to the Corinthians (NIGTC).
Taking a look at Craig S. Keener's The IVP Background Commentary (IVP, 1993, p.465-6), he has this to say:
Different views on celibacy existed in the ancient world. Most ancient writers condemned it; many Jewish teachers even considered it sinful, because reproduction was essential and marriage was the proper deterrent from sexual offenses and distractions ... a number of groups of philosophers and minor religious sects, however, as well as many Essenes among the Jews, advocated celibacy or the rejection of marriage ...On 7:1:
... Paul responds to the position in their letter to him ... some members of the church may be following an idea common among many Greek thinkers: sex was fine as long as one did not get tied down with marriage ... others, whom Paul addresses here, are already married (7:2-5) and abstain from relations with their spouses ...
With that Paul responded to the church in the following verses:
1 Corinthians 7:2-5
2 But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband. 3 The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 5 Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
Husbands and wives are not to deprive the needs of one another. If they do it will cause much marriage problems. They also should not use sex as a weapon in marriage, e.g. to get back at one another, lest Satan use it to tempt. According to Paul, the only time that the husband and wife can deprive it of each another is when there is a need to devote time to prayer, buy in agreement, for a limited time.
The other issue I need to think about it Paul's impression about marriage. He does not seem to think too well about it. I will take a rain check on this one.