Posts Tagged ‘Christian marriage’

We are finishing up our series of basic teaching on what Christian marriage is.

As I have told you several times, Christian marriage is not necessarily the same as other ideas of marriage in the world we live in. There are many different understandings today, both secular and religious. Now if you are up on your news, you know that same-sex marriage is now legal in PA, and in many other places. So this is just one example of this.

Given all this, I have labored to lay out for you biblical teaching to ground us in our understanding of what marriage is. And today we will be looking at six key distinctives of a Christian understanding of marriage, that are often in tension with the world’s point of view.

Now, I do not think that it is our job as Christians to force our beliefs on others. That isn’t how the kingdom of God works. No, it is our job to be a city on a hill; a light to the world. It is our job to live out a Christian vision of marriage and then invite others to choose this for themselves. Let’s look at our six distinctives that are a part of this vision.

1. We believe that marriage is the place for sex.

Christian teaching is certainly in disagreement with much of society around us on this one! Scripture forbids any non-marital sex,whether it be:

  • prostitution – 1 Corinthians 6:15, 18
  • premarital sex, which is likened to prostitution – Deuteronomy 22:20-21; Leviticus 19:20-22; 1 Corinthians 7:2-3, 8-9
  • living together, which is another form of premarital sex – John 4:16-19; 1 Corinthians 7:8-9
  • or adultery, which is sex outside of your marriage – Exodus 20:14 (see also Proverbs 5:15-18)

As we have seen, in Christian thought the very purpose of sex is marital. It is to merge every part of two people into one, it is to bond them to each other like glue (Genesis 2:24) and it is to bring forth children (Genesis 1:28).

Speaking of children leads us to our second distinctive –

2. We believe that marriage is the place for having and raising children to be Christians

God says this about marriage in Malachi 2:15 – “and what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring.” One of the reasons God joins together bride and groom is so that they can have and raise godly children. As Paul teaches in Ephesians 6:4 – we are to “bring our children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

So having and parenting kids is not just about having kids, or raising them to be good people by some societal or worldly standard. It is about raising our children in such a way that they will hopefully one day choose to walk in God’s ways for themselves.

3. We believe that Christian marriage is between a man and a woman,who are not too closely related

Genesis 2:18-25, our key text in this series, gives us three creation boundaries:

a) animals are not fit partners for the man, so this is excluded.

b) The woman was made as a fit partner for the man, not another man so that you have two men or even two women. There was originally one person and then God made the woman out of the man. There is separation and differentiation. Sexual union, then, is the bringing together of the two differentiated parts to make, once again, a “one flesh” union. And this can only happen between a woman and a man, who correspond to each other in this way. (see the teaching on a one flesh union.)

c) One is to leave father and mother to find a spouse which excludes close relatives or incest. And in Jewish thought if you found out later you married someone who was too closely related, the marriage was considered to have never existed. (David Instone-Brewer, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible, p. 158).

These three creation boundaries are treated together in Leviticus 18, not because they are equivalent, but because they are all a breach of God’s creation boundaries.

Jesus accepted these creation boundaries when he spoke of marriage in Mark 10:6-8, quoting Genesis 2. And he saw these, not just as a description of what happened in one particular case way back when (descriptive), but as normative for all time (prescriptive). The first marriage teaches us what God’s will is for humanity in the area of sex and marriage.

4. We believe that Christian marriage is between one man and one woman

It is true that polygamy (or more correctly polygyny – one man and more than one wife) is assumed in the Old Testament. But Jesus’ teaching in Mark 10:11 excludes this as an option. For if he forbids remarriage after an invalid divorce, because you are still one flesh with your spouse, then this also logically forbids polygamy. You can’t marry another spouse because this too would transgress your one flesh union with your first spouse.

Also in Mark 10 Jesus highlights that there are only two people involved in the first marriage.

  • He quotes Genesis 1:27 – “God made them male and female,” that is to say, two people.
  • He uses a different version than the Hebrew text of Genesis 2:24, one that has the phrase “the two shall become one flesh,” instead of simply “they,” emphasizing just two people. (The ESV misses this in its translation).
  • And he repeats this again in Mark 10:8 – “they are no longer two . . .”

He is making the point that “in the beginning” (Mark 10:6), which reveals God’s will to us concerning marriage, there was no polygamy. 

5. We believe that Christian marriage is between two Christians

Scripture teaches that we are only to marry fellow Christians. Paul tells the widow who is considering remarrying, “She is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord” – 1 Corinthians 7:39, that is to another believer.

Paul also says in 2 Corinthians 6:14-15 – “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?” Although he isn’t just talking about marriage here, this teaching does cover the marriage relationship.

It’s not just that there is a spiritual incompatibility, that can hinder our living for God (Deuteronomy 7:3-4). If you think about it, how can you work together to raise godly children, as Malachi 2:15 talks about, if you marry an unbeliever?

But also consider this. Christian marriage is classified differently than a mixed marriage between a believer and an unbeliever. In 1 Corinthians 7 Paul address those who became a Christian, but their spouse did not. And two things stand out:

1) He uses different terminology for mixed marriages. Paul writes “to the married” – v. 10, in reference to Christians who are married to each other. But in the case of mixed marriages he just says, “to the rest” in v. 12. Yes, they are married, he speaks of husbands and wives, but there is a difference in his mind.

2) Paul doesn’t apply Jesus’ teaching on marriage and divorce to mixed marriages. The latter do not fall under the saying of Jesus, “What God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Mark 10:9). And in fact, a divorce can take place here, even if there is no sexual immorality.

Different rules apply because mixed marriages are categorized differently.

6. We believe that Christian marriage is for life

We live in a time when there is low commitment in marriage relationships. Despite often lofty marriage vows, it is understood that if you can’t get along, or fall out of love, divorce is always there for you as an option. Marriage is a merely legal, human matter, not also a covenant before God.

From a Christian point of view the marriage covenant can only be ended by:

  • death – Romans 7:1-3 (This is also taught by implication in Mark 12:18-27).
  • or sexual immorality – Matthew 19:9, since this breaks the one flesh union, as well as the covenant vows.

Short of this our marriage to our spouse is to be just like the commitment of God to us, his bride. We are to display the same covenant love toward each other, as God does toward us. 

So these are six distinctives; six differences between a Christian understanding and the ideas of other groups. May we be empowered by the grace of God to live out these beliefs so that we are a light to all of God’s way of being married.

William Higgins

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Series on marriage

We are back into our series on marriage, where we have been asking the question, ‘What is Christian marriage?’

I have shared with you two key components of marriage and will share a third today. The first is that it is a one-flesh union. This has to do with physical sexual union, but also a joining of two people in every way, and the bonding of the two into one. Second, marriage is a companionship of partners. It is sharing life together, loving and caring for each other and working together at common goals. Finally today, it is also a covenanted union.

Let’s begin by recognizing that –

Marriage is a covenant

For our purposes we can define a covenant as a binding commitment, in this case, to your spouse. (The blessings and also penalties for breaking the stipulations of the marriage covenant, especially in the Old Testament, fit this covenant idea as well). It is not a temporary, experimental, or consumerist relationship, where you stay in it until you don’t like it anymore and get out. It involves specific binding commitments and obligations to each other.

That Christian marriage is a covenant comes out in several ways in Scripture: 

1) Marriage is called a covenant. Proverbs 2:17 speaks of an adulterous woman as one “who has left the partner of her youth and ignored the covenant she made before God.” (NIV). Malachi 2:14 speaks of an unfaithful husband in this way, “you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant.”

2) Marriage is paralleled in many places to God’s covenant with his people. (Jeremiah 31:32; 11:10, 15 etc.). That is, God is pictured as married to Israel. And so we see from this the covenantal nature of human marriage. For instance in Ezekiel 16:8 God says to his people, his bride, “I made my vow to you and entered into a covenant with you . . .”

As this last verse evidences, 3) Marriage involves an exchange of vows. Vows are binding voluntary commitments. And as Numbers 30:2 says, “If a man vows a vow to the Lord . . . he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.” (Psalm 50:14) (Also see Jesus on keeping your word in Matthew 5:37)

The most basic vow is to take the other person as your spouse. Here are two examples from ancient Jewish documents: “she is my wife and I her husband from this day forever” (Elephantine); “you will be my wife according to the law of Moses.” Presumably a corresponding vow was said by the wife.

Interestingly, we have an example of this in Scripture between God and Israel. It is a divorce decree, however, which is the opposite of the marriage vow. This is found in Hosea 2:2. If we reverse it, the vow would be – “she is my wife and I am her husband.” (The covenant vow of God to Israel is the same in form – “I will be your God and you will be my people” – Leviticus 26:12; Deuteronomy 29:13)

There were also other vows and commitments made that had to do with marital obligations. Some of these are rooted in Exodus 21:10. The husband is to provide “food, clothing and oil.” And the wife is to use these for the family. (See also 1 Timothy 5:8.) (These came from Mosaic legislation about slaves. If a man takes a slave as his wife and then takes another wife, he cannot reduce the first wive’s food, clothing and oil. In Judaism this came to be applied to all wives).  The last one – “oil” came to have a double meaning. It can mean ointment, but also conjugal rights. Most translations, both ancient and modern say something like “marital rights.” Paul talks about these rights in 1 Corinthians 7:3-5.

This threefold set of obligations is seen in the description of God’s relationship with his bride, Israel:

  • God, the husband of Israel is portrayed as keeping these vows in Ezekiel 16. In vs. 8-9 he gave her conjugal love and also literal oil. In vs. 10-13 he gave her fine clothing, and in v. 13b he gave her excellent food.
  • Judah, his wife, did not keep her vows. In v. 15 she was sexually unfaithful to him. In vs. 16-18 she gave her clothing to idols, and in v. 19 she gave her food to idols. (See also Hosea 2:5; 8-13)

Vows and commitments would also include financial arrangements. The groom gave a financial gift to the bride’s family (the mohar or bride wealth, or less correctly bride price). Deuteronomy 22:28-29; Exodus 22:16-17; Genesis 24:53; Genesis 29:18; Genesis 34:12; 2 Samuel 3:14; Hosea 3:2. At least at one time it was 50 shekels of silver for a virgin. Perhaps it showed that the man is able to provide for the woman. This practice changed later (first century BC). The money was not paid unless the husband divorced the wife. This made marriage cheaper and divorce more expensive for the man.

The bride’s family gave a dowry to the husband, which was in essence her inheritance, and kept for her. This was a larger sum than the bride wealth. Judges 1:14-15; 1 Kings 9:16. If the husband died or wrongfully divorced her, breaking their agreement, she got this back. However, if she broke the agreement he retained it. This also discouraged divorce.

Later, the marriage contract was called the Ketubah. But since much of this had to do with what happens economically in case of the dissolution of the marriage, it became connected to divorce. And since the mohar (the amount to be paid in case of divorce) and the dowry were involved in this, the word Ketubah came to identified with these. (David Instone-Brewer, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible, pp. 82-83)

In a New Testament context, where polygamy is disallowed and divorce is severely restricted, marriage vows include a life-long and exclusive commitment to your spouse, and any children that come from your union. As Jesus said in Mark 10:9, “what God has joined together, let not man (or, a mere human) separate.”

The wedding ceremony enacts the marriage covenant

Although in ancient times the marriage covenant could also be written out, usually it was implemented simply by means of the verbal exchange of vows in the ceremony. This is what established the marriage covenant.

Both in ancient times and today this involves a public ceremony with witnesses and a feast. This is important because it shows that when the bride and groom live together:

  • Both have consented to this, there is no force involved.
  • And it protects both from the charge of sexual immorality.

We understand the role of human witnesses, but God is also a witness at the wedding. Malachi 2:14 talks about how some Israelite men had wrongly divorced their wives. It says, “the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth.” God is saying, I was there and heard the commitments that you made and have now broken. This shows us that our vows are made to each other, before others – but also before God.

The covenant nature of Christian marriage

So Christian marriage is not just a sexual union, which you can have with a prostitute, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:16 (see also Exodus 22:16-17 in relation to premarital sex). This will make you one-flesh with that person, but it is not a marriage, and in fact, should be stopped since it is a wrong use of sex.

And Christian marriage is also not just a sexual union plus living together as companions and partners. The Samaritan woman lived with a man who was not her husband, as we read in John 4:16-18. And she knew that this was wrong.

No, Christian marriage is a one-flesh union and it is a companionship of partners, but it is these built on the foundation of a covenant, with specific binding commitments. And it is this covenant that provides the proper context for a one-flesh union, a life-long companionship of partners, and for having and raising children.

By entering into a marriage covenant you take on the full responsibility of a marriage relationship – not some other, lessor kind of relationship. And you make yourself accountable for this before God and all the other witnesses.

The covenantal nature of Christian marriage makes clear that this is the most important human relationship you will ever have. It takes precedence over your relationship with your parents, blood ties, because you leave them to hold fast to your spouse (Genesis 2:24). And it takes precedence over your relationship with your children, also blood ties, because they will one day leave and most likely hold fast to a spouse of their own (Genesis 2:24).

Finally, let’s briefly look at marriage as a covenant in our key text –

Genesis 2:18-25

v. 24 says, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”

The man is told to “leave and cleave/hold fast” to his wife. This points to a new, covenanted union.

The word “hold fast” includes in its meaning loyalty and commitment. It is a word that often refers to Israel’s faithfulness to their covenant with God. There is also a covenant here to be committed to.

This also comes out in the phrase, “they shall become one flesh.” As we saw, the idea of “one-flesh” goes beyond the physical to the social; it works to bond two people together.

(I find Walter Brueggemann’s contention that the phrase “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” is a covenant formula unconvincing.  Although covenant is a prominent theme in this passage, this phrase is focused on the complimentarity between the man and the woman.) 

But the covenant nature of what is going on in Genesis 2 is especially evident when we see that it is portraying a wedding ceremony, the means of enacting a marriage covenant.

  • God gives away the bride – v. 22. God is here the wedding attendant or the father of the bride who gives her to the groom.
  • God is the witness to the wedding. God is the only third party in this case. But it is done publicly, before God.
  • God gives a covenant charge to the couple – v. 24. This verse can be read as simply the voice of the narrator. But Jesus takes it as the voice of God (Matthew 19:5). And so God is acting as the officiant of this wedding, charging them to leave and cleave, and become one flesh. (This also fits with the idea that God “joined them together” in Matthew 19:6).
  • It ends with the man and “his wife” – vs. 24-25. The phrase, “his woman/wife” (it can be translated either way) reflects the ancient marriage vow, “she is my woman/wife.” He has taken a marriage vow. (From a woman’s point of view it would say “her man/husband”).

William Higgins

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Series on Marriage

We’re talking about Christian marriage again this morning. There are a lot of different understandings of marriage in the world today, both secular and religious. And so I am sharing with you three key components of what Christian marriage entails to help us get oriented and grounded in what the Scriptures have to say about this.

Last week we looked at the first component – a “one flesh” union. This has to do with sexual union, but also a joining of two people in every way, and the bonding of the two into one. But as we will see today, Christian marriage is not just a sexual union. Our second component is a companionship of partners.

This is talked about in several places in Scripture, for instance Proverbs 2:17 speaks of the husband as “the companion (or partner) of her youth,” talking to a wife. Malachi 2:14 speaks of the wife, saying, “she is your companion (or “partner).” And in Song of Solomon 5:16 the wife says to her husband, “this is my beloved, this is my friend” – different language, but the same idea.

But certainly –

Genesis 2:18-25

– is the key passage that teaches this. So let’s look at this and see what it has to say about partnership and companionship in marriage (Genesis 2 handout).

18Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone . . .’” So there’s a problem. Even though the man is living in paradise, something is wrong. “It is not good” stands out, in contrast to chapter one where everything is declared good.

What’s the problem? The man is alone; all by himself. Even though God is there with him, still something is missing. As we will see, the problem is that there is no woman yet. The creation is not yet complete.

Well, God initiates a solution to the problem. “. . . I will make him a helper corresponding to him.” What is “a helper corresponding to him”? First we have the word “helper” (ezer). This can also be translated as partner or companion. It does not in any way refer to someone who is subordinate, although the English word can give this idea. The Hebrew word is most often used of God helping his people Israel. And God, of course, is superior to Israel.

The second word, “corresponding to him” (kenegdo) conveys the idea of compatibility, similarity and equality. As we will see, in context it means someone who is on a par with the man, who is of the same kind as him, even though different.

19Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for the man there was not found a helper corresponding to him.”

So the search begins. God makes and brings all the animals to the man for him to name. But there’s more going on. In the process of naming he is examining all these animals to see what to call them. And he himself comes to the conclusion that he is alone, because none of these can be his partner and companion.The animals have partners and companions suitable to them – but he does not. This self-realization was, no doubt, a part of God’s purpose.

21So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman . . .” So we have some divine surgery going on here. God takes a rib from the man, and from this, it says literally, he “built” a woman.

The rib comes from his side and the word “rib” can also mean “side.” The idea seems to be that the woman is to be his partner and his companion, standing by his side. You have no doubt heard some version of this famous saying – “Eve was not taken from the feet of Adam to be his slave, nor from his head to be his ruler, but from his side to be his beloved partner.” (Peter Lombard)

“and (God) brought her to the man. 23Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.’” “At last!” “Wow!!!” “Finally!” The man is recognizing that she is different than all the animals, because she is on the same level as him. She is of the same order as him. The phrase, “bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh” indicates that she is just like him in terms of humanity; she is from him and therefore they are the same.

Here is one who is his equal in every way, someone who “corresponds to him,” so that even in their differences they complement each other.

The man also names the woman, but it is a bit different than with the animals. Because in the act of naming her, he acknowledges her equality with him. “Bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh” – you are just like me, fully human.

He also names himself, after seeing her. He calls her “isha” = woman (wife), and for the first time he is called “ish” = man (husband).  (This is the first occurrence of this particular word for man.) He finds out about his own identity in relationship to her. (Sarna). And there is a play on words here between “ish” and “isha.” Even though they are from a different root word, they sound very much alike, pointing to the similarity between the man and the woman. They share a common status as humans.

24Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. 25And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” As we saw last week “one flesh” is not just about a physical relationship, it is the joining together of two people at every level. And as we also saw last week ‘they were both naked and not ashamed’ indicates that they had nothing hidden between them. Both of these point to a relationship of intimacy and companionship.

Let me draw out –

Three key themes for emphasis

1. Humans are made for relationships. Something was not good when the man was alone. And so we learn that being alone; being solitary is not ideal. Now, even though we are talking about marriage here, the lesson is larger and applies to singles, in terms of connections with family, friends and fellow believers. We all need relationships.

It is in relationships, just as with the first man, that we find out who we truly are. When he saw the woman he discovered something about himself. And it is in relationships that we discover things about ourselves – both our weaknesses and also our strengths.

2. The woman is on an equal footing with the man. She is different than the man, and they are to complement each other in their differences. But the emphasis of the passage is clearly on how they are on the same level with each other.

She is the center point of the story (see handout). She is the completion of the creation, as the story is told in Genesis 2. Things aren’t fully good until she is made. She is “a helper” or partner. She “corresponds to him” and is thus similar, compatible and equal. She is made from his rib to stand beside him as his partner. She is bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh, that is, of the same nature. Even the names “man” and “woman” point to similarity. She is a full partner. She brings as much to the relationship as he does.

And all this agrees with Genesis 1 where both male and female are together made in the image of God and both together are to rule and fill the earth.

Now, this is not to say that there aren’t aspects of marital roles in Genesis 2, which we will talk about later. But just to say that these roles need to work toward the partnership that is described here, not unequal relations. Hierarchy and Patriarchy come after the entrance of sin into the world, as we see in Genesis 3:16, when it talks about a husband ruling over his wife. Just as with the permanence of marriage, the ideal to which we are to strive in the kingdom of God is laid out for us in the original creation.

[Note: In 1 Timothy 2:13-14 Paul refers to the broader story of Genesis 2-3 to speak of marital roles. He appeals to the fact that the man was created first and that Eve was deceived and sinned. He is apparently countering teaching that did away with marital roles and so he needs to emphasize these points and not the partnership theme of our specific story. In 1 Corinthians 11 Paul refers to our story in Genesis 2 in reference to marital roles. If in vs. 8-9 he contemplates that the woman is made from and for the man, he balances this in vs. 11-12 by saying, “Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God.”]

3. Because they are true partners they can share true companionship. To the degree that you lessen the status or dignity of a woman, through a misreading of this passage, to that very degree you lessen the relationship of companionship that is possible. It is precisely because they are on a par with each other; because the woman is the equal of the man, that they can experience true and full companionship with each other.

Finally, let’s end by looking at some –

Aspects of a companionship of partners

It means to be in deep relationship with each other. They were naked and not ashamed. Nothing was hidden. They had intimacy at all levels. They were together and not alone. They communicated and related to each other. And each one knew what it was like to be truly known by someone and accepted and to know someone truly and accept them.

It means to be united in purpose. This has to do with family life and raising children, working to provide for their needs – with both husband and wife laboring at this, subduing and filling the earth. And it has to do with serving God together and working for the kingdom of God.

 It means to have a shared life journey together. To love each other, care for each other, encourage each other, support each other, help each other, forgive each other. It means finding each other’s weaknesses and also discovering each other’s strengths as we travel along. It means weeping with each other, but also rejoicing with one another; sharing our burdens and our joys.

William Higgins

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Series on Marriage

We are beginning a series this morning on Christian marriage, and we start by asking, “What is it?” Today there are many different understandings of marriage – some secular, some from various religious traditions. As Christians we need to understand that Christian marriage is its own unique thing. We should not think that society around us shares our views and values. And given the differences around us we need to remember what we believe and teach by looking to the Scriptures for our grounding and orientation. So I want to share three core components of what makes a Christian marriage, and the first is a “one flesh” union.

We will be working with Genesis 2:18-25 for this series. This rich text is the basis of much of what is taught about marriage in the Bible as a whole.

A. Alone: “18 Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper corresponding to him.’

B. Naming/animals not fit partners: 19 Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for the man there was not found a helper corresponding to him.

C. The creation of woman: 21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.

B1. Woman a fit partner/naming: 23 Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.’

A1. No longer alone: 24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.”

Our focus for today is the phrase in v. 24 – “they shall become one flesh.” And the question is –

What does “one flesh” mean?

At its most basic it is a sexual union between a man and a woman. The phrase that comes just before “one flesh” in v. 24 is that a man shall “hold fast” to his wife. A part of what this word means here has to do with joining together sexually. And also just after the phrase “one flesh” in v. 25 it says, “the man and his wife were naked and were not ashamed.” So clearly this has to do with sexual activity. To be one flesh is to be joined together sexually.

The result of this is that two people become “one body.” In 1 Corinthians 6:16 Paul says, “do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, ‘The two will become one flesh.’” He interprets Genesis 2:24 to mean that he “becomes one body with her.”

And then in Ephesians 5:28-29, in the context of quoting Genesis 2:24 – “the two shall become one flesh,” Paul says, “husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh . . .” Paul here takes “one flesh” to mean that they become one body.That’s why he can say that the wife is the husband’s own flesh or body. And that to love his wife is to love himself  – because they are one body. And notice he is not just talking about during intimate moments – but always.

What does this mean? As Paul indicates in Ephesians 5 it is mysterious (referring, I believe, not only to our connection to Jesus but also human marriage – v. 32). If you’ll pardon the pun we will try to “flesh” some of his out in just a moment. But first, let me say that the background to what “one body” means is almost certainly found in our passage in Genesis 2.

The woman is formed out of the man’s rib. So what was once one in man, one body, is separated and differentiated and then is brought back together again in sexual union. Originally, one flesh became two. And then the two become one again. In this light our sexual desire can be seen as a longing for completion.

Other aspects of a “one flesh” union

1. It is a joining of every part of two people. In Genesis 2 the idea of “one flesh” goes beyond just a physical sexual encounter. As we saw in v. 25, “the man and his wife were both naked and not ashamed.” This pictures an interpersonal relationship, and one where nothing is concealed.

Also, the words “flesh” and “body” can refer to the whole person. So again, to be one flesh or one body is more than a physical oneness. It means that all of us – our very heart and soul are joined together. We are still two people for sure – but we are joined or merged together in every way. It is a union of our whole person with the other. [This points us forward to the second component of Christian marriage – a relationship of companionship and partnership.]

This teaches us that sex (the means to a one flesh union) joins together two people in this way. It involves every part of us, body and soul, and it merges us together in both body and soul.

2. It is a unity of commitment and loyalty. The word “body” can also refer to a larger social unit. Even in English we can talk about “the body politic” or “the congressional body,” speaking of a corporate entity. So when a man and woman join as one body it also points to a new social unit – a marriage; a family. In Genesis we see that a one flesh union creates a new social unit – a new family. That is why there is a leaving of your father and mother, your family of origin, to start this new family.

And the word “hold fast” (v. 24) also has the meaning of loyalty (e.g. Deuteronomy 10:20; 2 Kings 18:6). So you leave behind father and mother and commit to this new bond. And in fact, you are to be more committed to your spouse than your parents. Using the older translation of the word for “hold fast,” “you leave and you cleave.” You leave what was your most important social unit and relationships to cleave to your wife, your new most important social relationship. [This points us forward to the third component of Christian marriage – a covenanted, family unit]

This teaches us that sex (the means to a one flesh union) bonds two people together. As we have seen, the word “hold fast” has both sexual and commitment connotations. So sex is like glue. It doesn’t just join every part of us together, it initiates a deep bonding of body and soul between a man and a woman. And it also helps to sustain this bond in terms of our continued marital life together.

Let me end with some –

Reflections on a “one flesh” union

1. Sex is not just for procreation – Proverbs 5:19; 1 Corinthians 7:3-5. Sex is also for merging two people into one, and for bonding two people together. And this is surely why a healthy sex life is so strongly encouraged for married couples in the Bible. I won’t read the verses, but you can.

2. This is why adultery or divorce is such a devastating experience. It is like ripping apart, in some sense, one whole person into two. To reverse the scriptural phrase, “the one, becomes two.” And by all accounts this involves a great deal of pain.

3. This is why sex outside of marriage is forbidden. This is the inner logic or rationale behind the various prohibitions on sex in the Scriptures.

Sex is very specifically designed for marriage. It is designed to join every part of two people together; and to bond them together in a new social unit.When we practice sex outside of marriage we are subverting its purpose, but we are also damaging ourselves – creating and then tearing apart one-flesh unions.

There is no such thing as sex that doesn’t join and bond two people together. Sex is not just physical – it is mystical; it is spiritual. That’s why there is no such thing as casual or meaningless sex.

4. Children are a sign of a “one flesh” union. If a couple can and does have a child it is not only an obvious sign of their sexual union – the child itself is an embodiment of the parent’s one flesh union. Here is one child, from two people – the two become one flesh. The husband and wife become one in their children.

So this is component #1. Christian marriage is a one flesh union. And I hope that we have learned some things about this today. But, Christian marriage is more than a sexual union. And so next time we will look at the second component of  Christian marriage – a relationship of companionship and partnership.

William Higgins

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