What does it mean to be one flesh in a marriage?

Question: "What does it mean to be one flesh in a marriage?"

The term “one flesh” comes from the Genesis account of the creation of Eve: “And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:21-24).

The term “one flesh” means that just as our bodies are one whole and cannot be divided into pieces and still be a whole, so God intended it to be with the marriage relationship. There are no longer two entities (two individuals), but now there is one entity (a married couple). There are a number of aspects to this new union.

In terms of the duration of their union, Jesus states that it has always been God’s intention for a married couple to remain one unit until death parts them (Matthew 19:6). When divorce occurs contrary to God’s plan, you do not have two “wholes” but rather two halves that have been ripped apart. As far as emotional attachments are concerned, the new unit takes precedence over all previous and future relationships (Genesis 2:24a). Some marriage partners continue to place greater weight upon ties with parents than with their new partner. This is a recipe for disaster in the marriage and is a perversion of God’s original intention of “leaving and cleaving.” A similar problem can develop when a spouse begins to draw closer to a child to meet emotional needs rather than to the other partner.

Emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, financially, and in every other way, the couple is to become one. Even as one part of the body cares for the other body parts (the stomach digests food for the body, the brain directs the body for the good of the whole, the hands work for the sake of the body, etc.), so each partner of the marriage is to show like care for the other. Each partner is no longer to see money earned as “my” money but now as “our” money. Ephesians 5:22-33 and Proverbs 31:10-31 give the application of this “oneness” to the role of the husband and to the wife respectively.

Physically: They become one flesh and the result of that one flesh would be found in the children that their union produces; these children now contain genetic makeup as a result of the union. And even in the sexual aspect of their relationship, they are not to consider their bodies as their own but as belonging to their partner (1 Corinthians 7:3-5). Nor are they to focus on their own pleasure but rather the giving of pleasure to their spouse.

This oneness and this pursuit of the benefit of the other is not automatic, especially after mankind’s fall into sin. The man, in Genesis 2:24, is told to “cleave” to his wife. This word has two ideas behind it. One is to be “glued” to his wife, a picture of how tight the marriage bond is to be. The other aspect is to “pursue hard after” the wife. This “pursuing hard after” is to go beyond the courtship leading to marriage and is to continue throughout the marriage. The fleshly tendency is to “do what feels good to me” rather than to consider what will benefit the spouse. And this self-centeredness is the rut that marriages commonly fall into once the “honeymoon is over.” Instead of each spouse dwelling upon how his or her own needs are not being met, they are to remain focused on meeting the needs of their spouse.

But as nice as it may be for two people to live together meeting each other’s needs, God has a higher calling for the marriage. Even as they were to be serving Christ with their lives before marriage (Romans 12:1-2), now they are to serve Christ together as a unit and raise their children to serve God (1 Corinthians 7:29-34; Malachi 2:15; Ephesians 6:4). Priscilla and Aquila, in Acts 18, would be good examples of this. As a couple pursues serving Christ together, the joy which the Spirit gives will fill their marriage (Galatians 5:22-23). In the Garden of Eden, there were three present (Adam, Eve, and God) and there was joy. So, as God is central in a marriage today, there also will be joy. Without God, a lasting oneness will not be possible.

Recommended Resource: Fit to Be Tied: Making Marriage Last a Lifetime by Bill Hybels.

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What does it mean to be one flesh in a marriage?