Q: #343. What does the Bible mean when it says a married couple becomes "one flesh?"
A: The Bible uses the term “one flesh” 5 times: (Gen 2:24)(Mt 19:5-6)(Mk 10:8)(1 Cor 6:16)(Eph 5:31). It is first used to describe the relationship between Adam and Eve in (Gen 2:24) “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” The word “cleave” comes from the Hebrew word “dabaq” which is primarily the noun for “glue.” In other words, when a man and woman marry, they become “glued” to each other.
A husband and wife are “glued,” becoming “one flesh” in several ways. The primary way is through sex. In fact, in Bible times, a man and woman entering into marriage were not “officially” married until they had sex. We can see examples of this in the Bible with Isaac (Gen 24:67) and Jacob (Gen 29:21-30). God created sex ONLY for a man and woman in a marriage relationship (Gen 1:28)(1 Cor 7:1-2)(Heb 13:4)(Prov 5:15-20).
In addition, the Bible speaks of marriage as a “covenant” (Mal 2:14)(Prov 2:17). A covenant means an agreement or contract between two parties. When we enter into a marriage relationship, we are entering into a lifetime contract with our spouse: “until death do us part.” This lifetime relationship is compared to Christ and His church in (Eph 5:22-33). I believe this is also a picture in many ways of our relationship as believers to Jesus Christ, with Him as the groom and we as His bride (Rev 21:9)(Rev 19:7-9)(Mt 9:15)(Mt 25:1-13)(Jn 3:29). The Bible speaks in a number of places about being “one” with Christ (Jn 14:18-23)(Jn 15:4,7)(Jn 17:20-23).
This being said, it seems pretty clear that being “one flesh” is more than just about sex. We also become “one” by sharing and going through every aspect of our lives together: our problems, our victories, our health issues, our dreams and plans, our possessions and finances, and more. We are a united front with our children, our parents, and our friends. (When we are not united, problems WILL occur: i.e. when we do not obey the Lord’s command “to leave father and mother.”)
This “one flesh” covenant must not be broken by divorce. God HATES divorce (Mal 2:16). However, if one party breaks the covenant by adultery, God does allow for divorce (Mt 5:32)(Mt 19:9)(Mk 10:11). (A second, more debatable reason He allows divorce is if an unbelieving spouse departs: 1 Cor 7:15.)
Let me also quickly address (1 Cor 6:15-17), which talks about the sin of a believer having sex with a prostitute and becoming “one flesh” with her. It says: “Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid. (16) What? know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, saith he, shall be one flesh. (17) But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit.”
This verse reaffirms that the primary way of becoming “one flesh” is through sex. However, it also shows us that “one flesh” is more than just sex, because a person is not entering into a marriage “covenant” by having sex with a prostitute. When a Christian commits this sin, He is in essence “joining Christ to a prostitute” because that believer is “one” with Christ (God actually lives in him). Can you see how horrible this would be??
The Bible says the “flesh” of a husband or wife belongs to their spouse (1 Cor 7:2-5). “Husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself” (Eph 5:28). As Christians today, it is IMPERATIVE that we set this example, and stand strong on the Biblical teaching of “one flesh” between a man and woman in marriage, especially as the world seeks to redefine what marriage is today.