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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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