New Testament Teaching on Marriage and Divorce
An Essay presented as part of the requirements for the Degree of Bachelor of Divinity with Honours in New Testament within the University of Queensland
3. "One Flesh"
Fundamental to the New Testament concept of marriage is the teaching that in marriage the man and wife are "joined together" by God so as to constitute "one flesh". This is quite clear in Mt. 19.4-6 (= Mk 10.7-9). It is the basis of a very serious warning against being joined to a harlot (1 Cor. 6.16) and of an illustration of the relationship between Christ and the Church (Eph. 5.29-32). However, it is of great importance that the significance of the concept, "one flesh", be clearly understood.
Thus, J.C. Fenton has interpreted "one flesh" as meaning "as closely related as the members of one family, or as the limbs of one body".7 F.V. Filson, however, sees the phrase as pointing to "a new creation that has its life only in their union".8 E.P. Gould considers that the union is the physical one to which the sexual relation points to and involves a "structural unity" between the two persons.9 C.L. Mitton asserts that the sexual powers become the strong bond binding man and wife together in a lasting union in which a new entity, a new kind of personality has come into being.10 C.E.B. Cranfield queries whether the reference is to one personality or to one kindred.11 D.E. Nineham favours the latter.12 While there are a number of variations and combinations, the basic question is that raised by C.E.B. Cranfield.
In the passages noted above in Matthew and Mark, the nature of the marriage relationship is seen to be inherent in creation itself. In Matthew, ap¢ archV is to be taken with epoihsen ( 19.4 ),13 and thus corrects the more difficult expression of Mark (apo de archV krisewV - 10.6).14 The meaning, however, is similar - the permanent bond which is marriage originates in the will of the Creator and is set out in the physical differences between the sexes from the beginning (Gn. 1.27; 5.2). Both accounts then proceed to quote from Gn. 2.24. This latter in context seems to refer to the creation of the woman from the man's rib (v.23). Nevertheless, the force of eneka toutou is to refer the teaching on marriage back to creation itself. This point is not lessened by seeing the relation from a different angle. The pertinence of our Lord's teaching lies not in the origin of the woman - this might tend to emphasise a woman's status as inferior - but rather in the creative design of God.
Because in both accounts the quotation from Gn. 2.24 is thus set in relation to the creative design of God, the concept of "one flesh" would seem to involve much more than a new family relationship. It is true that each marriage does in fact involve the latter, but the significance is not simply that husband and wife belong to the one family - it is rather that, leaving the family of father and mother, they together form the basis of a new family. Thus, they are described as having been "yoked together" (sunezeuxen) by God (Mt. 19.6; Mk 10.9). The verb used here refers to a working team rather than to a unit of creation, as its usual translation might be taken to imply, although functionally this team may well be regarded as in fact "a unit of creation", being the means to the continuance of the race. However, in attempting to understand correctly the import of New Testament teaching, caution needs to be exercised with such terms as "new creation" and "structural unity" as used above. That the physical relationship is important in the union is beyond doubt, but the new creation and the structural unity need not thereby be seen solely or basically in physical terms. From an external point of view, indeed, there is the yoking together, the creation of a new family unit and the physical union of two persons as, one might say, a creative organism. But these aspects do not give the full significance of "one flesh".
The marriage bond is seen to be a continuous one, though the physical sexual relations are intermittent. The aorist (sunezeuxen) seems to imply that a definitive act of God has taken place. The yoking together is no mere matter of convenience, a divine sanction for a time. What God has yoked together, no person is to separate. The question whether this implies that persons can and do separate or whether no matter what happens in human sinfulness the bond remains must be considered later with respect to divorce. The point here is that something deeper than a physical relationship is involved. There is a union of personality, though this is best seen in a complementary sense. This may give added significance to the reference to Gn. 1.27; 5.2, for the creation of "male and female" does not merely point to the difference between the sexes but more notably to their complementariness, their need one of the other. This is more than a physical need requiring sexual completion, for more than the latter is involved. Having been created complementary, man and wife together form a "super-personality", in which there is a blending of their individual personalities, the latter not thereby being subordinated or negated but finding in the union their true identity. The omission of kai proskollhqhsetai proV thn gunaika autou from Mk 10.7 by À, B and Syrsin does not seem to have any particular significance. The awkwardness thus given to the sense justifies the conclusion that it was perhaps omitted by inadvertence.15 The verbs kollaw (as Mt.) and proskollaw (as Mk and LXX) both refer to a close bond, whether the passive is to be understood reflexively here or not. Thus, RSV renders "and be joined to his wife", avoiding the suggestion that the bond is only an emotional tie.
It is important to consider at what point man and wife are constituted "one flesh" - whether in the marriage contract, however regarded, or in the physical consummation, or in conception. It is clear that while the union is not merely physical its ground in a physical relationship cannot be denied. It may indeed be the importance of this relationship which undergirds the term "one flesh".
It is striking to note Paul's teaching in 1 Cor. 6.15ff on this point. Physical intercourse outside the legal bond of marriage is seen to create the "one flesh" relationship, constituting man and woman one soma, one organism (cf. Eph. 5.28-31). Outside marriage, however, this involves a man in sin against his own body (v.l8). This is because the relationship is entered with no intention that it should be exclusive and for life. This, indeed, is why the external regulations of a marriage contract are not irrelevant to the discussion. While the marriage contract may not constitute the "one flesh" relationship, it nevertheless initiates and safeguards it, involving a solemn covenant between man and woman that they will in fact enter this relationship exclusively and for life. This is to some extent true of marriage within different cultural settings, though the exclusiveness and permanence of the relation may be widely divergent from the Christian teaching. In Paul's teaching, the relation of conception and the procreative purpose of marriage does not enter into the question. The union takes place irrespective of whether the physical relationship has produced children who would then symbolise its reality as "one flesh". Our Lord's teaching does not specifically touch on this question, though it is clear that the union transcends the legal and social regulations since it cannot be dissolved by the latter.
Some note has already been taken of Paul's understanding of "one flesh" as "one body". While it is evident in 1 Cor. 6.15ff, it is developed more clearly in Eph. 5.28ff. As "one body", husband and wife are complementary and fulfil one another's needs. Thus, as each man has a strong instinct to preserve, care for and nourish his own body, so now this is to be the practical expression of his love towards his wife.
The teaching of Paul concerning the differing roles of man and woman in marriage has sometimes been passed by as if he taught that women are to have an inferior status. The difference, however, is one of role rather than status. Paul had written that "... there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3.38). This statement of women's equality with men in Christ Jesus is not to be taken as meaning that there are no differences of role within marriage. "The body" implies that these roles are complementary and hence necessary to each other. While acknowledging some cases to be contrary, it would be true to say that the psychological differences between men and women seem to fit them for the roles that Paul sets out. The husband is the head to whom the wife is to be subject in everything; the husband, for his part, is obliged to nourish and cherish his wife. The husband's position is not to be seen primarily in terms of authority, but rather of responsibility. While the wife is to be subject en panti, the authority of the husband is subject to the obedience he owes to Christ and is to correspond to the relation of Christ and the Church.16 There is no question of domination but rather of the complete harmony of mutual love between those who are "one flesh". "It is the function of the head to plan the safety of the body, to secure it from danger and to provide for its welfare".17 Paul states marital responsibilities similarly in Col. 3.18-19 (cf. Tit. 2.5; l Pet. 3.1).
However, this statement of the marriage relationship seemed to raise problems with respect to the marriage of believers and unbelievers. To what extent could the close bond of "one flesh" exist between those who did not have a common faith in Christ? To this it must be answered that the purely physical bond can exist, as in fact in relations with a harlot (1 Cor. 6.16), and beyond this the union on the personal level can take place, but there can hardly be the deeper spiritual union. For this reason, believers are not to be "mismated with unbelievers" (2 Cor. 6.14, RSV). This expression (heterozugounteV) may not, it is true, refer exclusively to the yoke of marriage,18 but it would seem to have considerable reference to the latter. The sharing (metoch) and fellowship (koinwnia) are on the deepest possible level. Paul is not advocating isolationism (cf. 1 Cor. 9.20-23), but speaks rather of the closest relationships of life. Account needs to be taken of the significance of mh ginesqe here followed by a present participle. The sense seems to be given well by P.E. Hughes - "do not go on becoming unequally yoked with unbelievers, as you are already doing".19 The command seems to forbid entry by a Christian into a relationship with an unbeliever rather than to give counsel to those who, on becoming Christians, find themselves yoked with unbelievers. Thus, a woman whose husband has died may marry again, but it must be "in the Lord" (1 Cor. 7.39). However, where only one partner has become a believer, the Christian is not to precipitate separation - if such action is taken by the unbeliever, the believer is not to be held under bondage in such a case (1 Cor. 7.12,13,15). Whether this implies freedom to remarry must be considered later. It is clear that the marriage relationship is not without meaning in such a case. While the deepest reality of "one flesh" may not be possible, it is true that the unbeliever is sanctified (hgiastai)through the believing partner (v. 14) and may in fact be led to salvation (v. l6), and that the children of the relationship are holy (agia - v. 14). Just as sexual union with a harlot involves degradation (as 6.16), so within marriage, union with a pure Christian results in the enriching of the unbeliever.20 With this may be compared the teaching of 1 Pet. 3.lff, in which, however, the influence is not so much through the union in itself but by the wife's taking up consciously and deliberately the role which is hers within marriage and so winning her husband to the faith by her chaste and respectful behaviour. It should be noted in this passage that although the wife has a different role and is hence "a weaker vessel" she is nonetheless to be seen as an equal, "fellow-heir (sugklhronomoV) of the grace of life" (v. 7). This principle, of course, had special significance where both husband and wife were Christians.
The insistence on the doctrine of "one flesh" clearly implies monogamy. The teaching of Jesus nowhere assumes that marriage can ever be otherwise. Paul makes the same assumption in writing to a pagan situation. The statement, "let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband" (1 Cor 7.2), requires monogamy. This is true whether or not Paul implies any difference in the use of eautou and idion here and elsewhere (as Eph. 5.22,28,33; et al.).21
The question of what was to be done where people polygamously married became believers was bound to arise at some stage, as indeed it does today in a missionary situation. There is no clear direction that marriage relations with all but the first wife are to be ceased, although it might be inferred that the succeeding relationships would be adulterous. However, the situation is not a simple one, for the marriage relationship might have been regarded as sacred and permanent, though not monogamous. Further, if such action was to be taken, there would be grave economic and social complications for the women concerned, with the additional problem of forcing them into further adultery should they be desiring to remarry. Of course, if some wives did not become believers and sought freedom, the principle of 1 Cor. 7.12 would apply, though it should be noted that the other complications of the case still remain. There is no indication in the New Testament that a clear-cut solution was ever given. However, it was clear that those in authority in the Church should exemplify the Christian ideal of monogamy – this was a rule by the time the Pastorals were written (1 Tim. 3.2,12; Tit. 1.6).
The concept of "one flesh" thus involves a deep union of man and wife based on the creative will of God, the covenant between the two persons and the physical relationship thus established. The relationship, however, is not merely physical, though the depth of the bond may depend on other factors. Within this bond, the two personalities complement one another and fulfil different roles, though equal in status. The relationship is meant to be exclusive, permanent and monogamous.

End Notes:
7 The Gospel of St. Matthew (Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1963), on 19.5.
8 A Commentary on the Gospel according to St. Matthew (A. & C. Black, London, 1960), on 19.3-9.
9 The Gospel According to St. Mark (T.& T. Clark, Edinburgh, I896), on 10.8.
10 The Gospel According to St. Mark (Epworth, London, 1957), on 10.5.
11 The Gospel According to St. Mark (C.U.P., Cambridge, 1963), on 10.8.
12 Saint Mark (Penguin, Middlesex, 1963), on 10.7. 7.
13 cf. A.H. McNeile, The Gospel According to St. Matthew (Macmillan, London, 1915), on 19.4.
14 cf. P. Bonnard, op. cit., on Mt. 19.4-5.
15 V. Taylor, The Gospel According to St. Mark (Macmillan, London, I952), on 10.6-9.
16 Cf. T.K. Abbott, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistles to the Ephesians and to the Colossians (T. & T. Clark, Edinburgh, 1897), on Eph. 5.24; E.F. Scott, The Epistles of Paul to the Colossians to Philemon and to the Ephesians (Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1930), on Eph. 5.23.
17 J.A. Robinson, St. Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians (Macmillan, London, 2ed 1904), Exposition on 5.23.
18 Cf. P.E. Hughes, Paul's Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Marshall, Morgan & Scott, London, 1962), on 6.14.
19 ibid.
20 Cf. J. Moffatt, op. cit., on 1 Cor. 7.12; J. Héring (tr. A.W. Heathcote & P.J. Allcock), The First Epistle of Saint Paul to the Corinthians (Epworth, London, 1962), on 7.12.
21 Cf. F.W. Grosheide, Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians (Marshall, Morgan & Scott, London, 2ed