If a marriage can actually end, what does 'one flesh' mean?

Someone emailed:
I understand from your study that the divorce certificate actualy ends any marriage, whether it is legitimate or not, and one is then free to remmary (though not in the proper biblical order if it is illegitimate) which means also that they are not one flesh anymore. So my question is, how should we understand "they are one flesh" they are not two anymore but one.

Reply: There are two main views of how to understand "one flesh":
1) two people become permanently one person through a sexual act - if this is so, then we would have to say that no divorce is possible unless one half of that one new person-pair dies.
2) two people are joined in a special way through a sexual act - if this is so, then that joining CAN come to an end, though it should not.

Jesus appears to hold the second view, because he says that the joining CAN be broken but it is sinful to cause that breakup.

Jesus says "no one SHOULD separate" those whom God has joined - ie it is wrong, sinful, to cause the breakup of a marriage. The Greek has the imperative mood - ie a command or a longing or a wish. I take it as a command. However, you can't translate it as "no one CAN separate". The fact that Jesus commands people not to cause the breakup of a marriage (ie not to break their marriage vows) implies that it sinful but it is possible.

Paul also appears to hold the second view, because he says you can become "one flesh" with more than one person.

Paul says that if you go with a prostitute you become "one-flesh" (1Cor.6.16). He does not say that it only happens with the first person you have sex with - otherwise it would be OK for a married person to go to a prostitute because they wouldn't become "one flesh" with them. According to the context, he is saying that sex is very special and it involves a spiritual bonding, just as "he who is joined to the Lord becomes one flesh with him" (v.17), so we should not take sex lightly because our bodies are a temple of God (v.19).

Therefore I take "one flesh" to mean a special spiritual relationship which comes about through sex and which should not be broken if it has been sanctified by God in marriage. However, marriages can break up due to the sinful breaking of marriage vows. This SHOULD never happen, but sadly it does.

For more see Till Death Us Do Part? in Divorce & Remarriage in the Church


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