Saturday, December 6, 2008

Some Implications Concerning Flesh and Body

Some Implications Concerning Flesh and Body

A major issue involving different views of interpretation centers upon Paul’s intended meaning in 1 Corinthians 6:16, concerning the explanation which Paul is giving for why sexual union with a prostitute is completely wrong for a Christian. The common interpretation of Paul’s meaning is as follows:

“He who joins himself to a prostitute becomes one body with her, because this is the consequence of the teaching of Scripture when it states ‘The two shall become one flesh’. That is to say, becoming ‘one flesh’ is brought about by having sexual intercourse with a person, even if that person is a prostitute, because he who joins himself to a person in sexual intercourse becomes one body with her, and ‘one body’ and ‘one flesh’ have the same meaning.”

E.g. Conzelmann (111) says explicitly, “Paul presumes that σάρξ, ‘flesh,’ is the equivalent of σῶμα, ‘body’.” So completely was this identification of “one body” and “one flesh” accepted by the translators of the original (1946) RSV that the Greek word “flesh” was left untranslated, leaving the reader to identify the “two shall become one” with the “one body” of the sentence which precedes it. The revised RSV of 1971 inserted “flesh” to translate σαρξ (sarx), so that at least the reader is now aware that two different words are used in the Greek.

The deficiency of this interpretation is that it denudes Paul’s argument of any specific point. Paul is made to be saying: "Shall I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that the Scripture says that he who joins himself to a prostitute becomes one flesh with her?"

Why this should be wrong is not explained - that is left for the Corinthians to work out for themselves. Paul is shown as building his argument up to a point - and then he fails to make the point!

The following verse (6:17) draws the contrast between bodily union with a prostitute and spiritual union with Christ without explaining why the former is wrong. But the fact that I am spiritually united with Christ does not make all sexual union wrong for me. If Paul’s point is that sexual union is wrong if my partner is a prostitute, then verse 17 is not ­help­ing to make that point.

We know that sexual union with a prostitute is wrong because of Paul’s question about this that he answers with an emphatic “Never!” But we are left without any meaning in his purported explanation of why it is wrong. This consequence should make us somewhat suspicious of an interpretation that brings us to such a situation.

Our suspicion of this interpretation must be considerably increased when its wider implications are considered.

If sexual union with a prostitute makes a customer “one flesh” with her, then it will do the same for all her customers - so either each customer is in a one-flesh relationship with the prostitute until the advent of the next customer (a very short-term relationship!); or else the “one flesh” term refers only to the actual act of intercourse and not to a relationship at all (so that Paul is here quoting Genesis 2:24 with a meaning quite opposed to that of all other biblical occurrences of this passage); or else a prostitute can be, and remain, simultaneously one-flesh with all her customers, who themselves are also one-flesh with any other prostitutes they consort with - a conclusion which evacuates the term of any meaning at all!

However, the fact is that Scripture uses “one flesh” to refer to the marriage relationship (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:5; Mark 10:7; Ephesians 5:31). To equate becoming “one flesh” just with physical union itself (“one body”) is to make the estab­lishment of a marriage to be solely a matter of physical union.

This could not be restricted to liaisons with prostitutes. On this view, any two people who had sexual intercourse together would have to be held to be, in God’s sight, married to each other. The theological and pastoral implications of this are far-reaching! Some Christians, being consistent, have reached this conclusion, and thus they give pastoral counselling based on this interpretation of the passage, telling two people who have had sexual intercourse to become formally married as they have already become married in God’s sight!

Moreover, if physical union in itself (“one body”) is equated with “one flesh” (6:16) and this is then contrasted with being “united to the Lord” and becoming “one spirit with him” (6:17), then it is hard to resist the conclusion - from this interpretation - that all sexual activity (even the “one flesh” of marriage) is covered by Paul’s contrast with a spiritual relationship with Christ, and thus is wrong in itself and apparently condemned by the generalization of 6:18, “Flee from immorality”. Now this conclusion is impossible to sustain from the wider context: the instruction “Therefore honor God with your body” (6:20) is followed within a couple of verses by injunctions to both husband and wife to give sexual fulfillment to their marriage partner, and the assertion that each has the control, for sexual purposes, of the partner’s body (7:3-4).

If then respect for the whole of what Paul says in this total passage will prevent us from regarding “flee from sexual immorality” and being one spirit with the Lord as a blanket condemnation of all sexual relations, we are thereby compelled to backtrack and think afresh whether we are correct in accepting the identification of “one body” and “one flesh” (6:16) as synonymous.

Consider some of the pastoral and theological implications, in a few real-life pastoral situations, of the interpretation of 6:16 that to be “one body” with a prostitute means the same as to be “one flesh” with her - that is, that an act of sexual intercourse is what makes two people “one flesh”:

1. George goes away to a Convention with his workmates, and while they are in a distant city together he gives way to peer pressure when the others decide to hire a few call girls for the evening. So he’s become “one flesh” with one of these girls, has he? What exactly does that mean? He doesn’t even know the girl’s name. He will never see her again. What exactly does it mean now to say that George is “one flesh” with her, in terms of Bible teaching? And what is the nature now of his relationship with his wife, theologically speaking? - he was “one flesh” with her before the Convention: is he still? You are his pastor, and - deeply ashamed - George comes to you for clarification. Theologically, what do you tell him? Oh, yes, and of course the call girl had several other customers that night - are they all “one flesh” with her also? Simultaneously? How many people can you be “one flesh” with simultaneously - is there a limit?

2. Muriel and her husband split up many years ago, but she never bothered with a divorce as she did not contemplate marrying again. Recently she joined a gym club, and felt attracted to one of the instructors. One thing led to another, and one day they had sex together. It was just a passing infatuation - she doesn’t love him, and they would not be a good match to get married. But where does she stand with him now, theologically speaking? If she is “one flesh” with him now, does that mean she is actually married to him in God’s sight? So is she to put through her divorce now, so that she can legally marry this gym instructor? You are her pastor, and in great distress, remembering your sermon last year on “one flesh” in 1 Cor­inthians 6:16, Muriel comes to you now for you to explain her situation to her theologically. What will you tell her?

3. One wet Saturday afternoon two teenage members of your youth group are fooling around, not really understanding what they are doing. And while playing around together, they end up having intercourse. Now, if having intercourse means becoming “one flesh”, they must now be married in God’s sight, right? They certainly didn’t intend to get married that wet afternoon. Judy’s mother finds her in tears, and brings her to you. What can you tell them both about the concepts of intention in relation to getting married, and giving consent to a marriage, and all the other things that you would normally say to a couple contemplating marriage? Judy and Jim don’t want to marry - they just want to complete their schooling. Do you tell them they are now actually married in God’s sight? And what must they do about this?

Or, seeing all these people this week, will you decide that being “one flesh” is not the same thing as being married before God? What will you do then with all the Bible verses that say that being “one flesh” is in fact the inner meaning of being married?

Or will you perhaps rethink now what started it all - the interpretation of 6:16 that says becoming “one body” with a prostitute means in fact becoming “one flesh” with her, with all that the Bible means by this intimate term?

The fact is, this approach is an extremely unsatisfactory interpretation, both on internal grounds, and on the basis of the other teaching of Paul (e.g., Ephesians 5:22-33) and the teaching of the rest of the New Testament. For it is difficult to deny that such an interpretation sets this verse in conflict with the meaning of Genesis 2:24 (“one flesh”) both in its original context and in each other place where it is quoted in Scripture.

There are several commentators who have noted the unsatis­factory nature of this usual approach. For example, in the Anchor Bible Commentary on 1 Corinthians, the authors William F. Orr and James Arthur Walther, write:

“Since human bodies are parts of the body of Christ, Paul declares it unthinkable that they participate in prostitution. Based on his understanding of creation he believed that sex union makes the two participants one body. [Whereas] to become one flesh is the proper destiny of those who incorporate their sex desires into a total relation of love and loyalty, so that they can become one joint personality and in their relationship express faith in God and love for the other. This cannot be done in the isolated, commercial action of prostitution. The mysterious unity of the flesh where there is no concern, loyalty, or love is sharply rejected by Paul.”

That is, these authors affirm that Paul sharply rejects the idea that “the mysterious unity of the flesh” can exist “in the isolated, commercial action of prostitution”, “where there is no concern, loyalty, or love”.

The commentator who seeks to face the problem squarely, and to wrestle with it realistically, is Calvin. In his commen­tary he begins his discussion of what Paul says in v.16 thus:

“He makes it plainer how seriously Christ is harmed by the man who has intercourse with a harlot. For one body is formed, and so tears a member away from the body of Christ. Paul adds a quotation from Genesis 2:24 but it is not clear what connection he means it to have with his theme. For if he quotes it in order to prove that two people who commit fornication with each other become one flesh, he is distorting the meaning, from the true one to [a different] one quite alien to it. For Moses is not speaking here [Genesis 2:24] of the scandalous and forbidden cohabitation of a man and a woman, but of the marriage union which God blesses. For he teaches that that bond is so close and indissoluble that it surpasses the intimacy which exists between a father and son; and that certainly cannot be said about fornication.”

Having thus totally rejected this explanation, Calvin suggests two other ways in which the passage may possibly be understood. My suggested interpretation is akin to, though not completely identical with, the second of Calvin’s two alternatives.

The true understanding, I suggest, of Paul’s meaning in 1 Corinthians 6:16 proceeds upon the basis that when Paul has chosen to use two different words here, “body” (soma) and “flesh” (sarx), it is with two different meanings. That is, he uses these words not as synonyms but in order to contrast them.

While “flesh” (sarx) can be used as a synonym for “body” (soma), its normal use is with different meaning. It refers to all that is means to be human. To say, for example, that “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14) means more than that Jesus had a body. A “one-flesh relationship” means that marriage is a union of all that two people are as human beings in this life.

Paul asks, “Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute becomes one body with her?” He is about to use a quotation containing the word “flesh”. If he intended his readers to see that this word links directly with what he is saying, with the same meaning, he had only to use the word “flesh” instead of “body” in this lead-up to the quotation. That he used different words should at least give us pause, and lead us to consider whether by them he meant different things.

Let us trace Paul’s whole argument. His emphatic “Never!” (v. 15) makes it plain that sexual intercourse with a prostitute is wrong. He is now clarifying why it is wrong. Sexual intercourse with a prostitute is a union of bodies, a coming together into one body. Moreover, that is all that it is.

This thus raises the question, unspoken but implicit in Paul’s reasoning, “Why is this wrong?” His answer is, “Because the Scripture says ‘The two shall become one flesh’” (6:16). The one-flesh union is a total union of two people. This is God’s intended type of union for sexual fulfillment. The one-body union, in contrast, is a mere physical coupling. So then, why is it wrong? Because it is a willful substitute for, and a rejection of, the full one-flesh union, which is God’s plan for mankind and the only legitimate sphere for the expression of our sexuality according to the will of the Creator.

Taking “body” and “flesh” as synonyms in this passage dep­rives Paul’s logical argument of any point and forces us to some very bizarre theological and pastoral conclusions. Taking “one-body” and “one-flesh” as being contrasted here (that is, accepting that Paul choose to use different words because he wan­ted to express different meanings) gives us the interpretation that Paul is showing sexual union with a prostitute to be wrong because this is only a union of bodies whereas God’s plan for the expression of human sexuality is that it takes place within, and is limited to, the total union of two human beings which Scripture refers to as the one-flesh relationship of marriage.

(This is one of the “Practical and Pastoral Reflections” upon Paul’s Epistle, taken from
B Ward Powers’ First Corinthians - An Exegetical and Explanatory Commentary.)



[Click for "First Corinthians Commentary" contents, overview or order info.]
[Click for "Ministry of Women" contents, overview or order info.]
[Click for "Marriage and Divorce" contents, overview or order info.]
[Click for "Learn to Read the GNT" contents, overview or order info.]
[Click to go to the Ward Powers Home Page.]


Anonymous said...

Great analysis. It makes me wonder why more have not challenged the traditionally accepted translation of this passage. It appears that most accept it as a one flesh union, but then create a reason why it is not "the one flesh union." Your explanation suits the passage and articulates a "why" position which is not otherwise there. Furthermore, the use of the greek words "gar" and "de" can also be translated "yet" and "moreover" which provides another interesting dimension to your argument...

(Essentially the passage could read something similar to: "or don't you know that he who unites himself with a prostitute becomes one body with her, yet the scriptures say, "the two will be one flesh." Moreover, he who unites himself with the Lord becomes one with him..." etc) :)

Also, some other horrific examples of what a "one flesh union" would create can be found in cases of rape, incest, and adultery (original spouse could not accept back wayward spouse). The most horrific (and outrageous) might be a marriage "covenant" being dissolved by the rape of one of the spouses... essentially dissolving the previous one flesh relationship with a new one. Who would have thought that a Biblical Covenant joined together by God could be dissolved by an unrelated third party!

John Romero said...

While this does explain why sex with a prostitute is harmful for the members of Christ, viewing one body as equal to one flesh also has a simple answer: if the simple act of sex makes you married, why would you waste your energy on a wife who will be adulterous within an hour? You are willfully causing sin to come into the world, so in this light, it is also an affront to God's ideal for marriage.

Furthermore, it should be noted that, if it is true that sex makes you one flesh and one flesh makes you married, then the Old Testament laws about having sex with an unbetrothed virgin in Exo 22 and Deut 22 make more sense, as the very horror of marrying a victim to her rapist exists in those passages. It is not beyond a shadow of a doubt that sex makes you married because those verses state "he shall make her his wife," not "he shall then marry her." Viewing sex as marriage would make sense then, and making her his wife would simply be denoting that he makes her a wife, and not a concubine as would also be common of that day. It also is with noting that the man mentioned isn't necessarily unmarried, so these verses are not the best examples of premarital sex. They would perhaps better be explained as improper marriage laws.

Lastly, you say that the question of "why?" should be placed in between the one body and one flesh statements. However, the word "gar" is used, and Strong's concordance states that gar is never used to contrast two statements (but, however, yet). Instead, it is used to denote the cause of a statement. Why does one become one body with a prostitute? Because it is written the two shall become one flesh.

I see it as more likely that Paul was simply criticising a popular excuse for having sex with a prostitute, and it is the very reason you cite! That one becomes "one body" with a prostitute, and that's all it is. It's not truly one flesh, is it? It is similar to an adulterous man who says to himself, "It's just sex, I don't really love this other woman, no biggie. Just one body." Paul says this excuse is not cutting it, and that's why he equates one body to one flesh, to condemn the ease with which some members of the church viewed having sex with a prostitute as okay and without commitment. He was reminding them that ALL sex makes one married, whether they think so or not.

Your argument is very convincing, and I did not know that as far back as Martin Luther there was debate over this verse, but your criticism of my interpretation is based entirely on an abhorrence of the idea of telling "premarital" sex partners that they have to then commit to a marriage. There is a bias, right there, and don't you think that it might make you guilty of eisegesis, rather than exegesis? I think in all those examples you cite, the best answer would be to tell these young people ahead of time that sex makes you married, no questions asked, so you'd better be on your guard against temptation! I think most would guard their lusts much more carefully if this was the message from the church today.

John Romero said...

Also, as far as adultery and rape of a spouse, marrying another, even after a divorce, doesn't dissolve the previous marriage. Otherwise, how could one commit adultery through remarriage as Jesus teaches? Even upon divorce, one is still truly married in God's eyes.

In the case of adultery, where two men become one flesh with the same woman, quite simply it doesn't make sense as you said. What are they, 1.5 flesh? Who does the woman stay married to, if sex made her married to the adulterer or rapist AND she is still married to her husband? Well the one to whom she made a vow of marriage to takes precedence. Adultery is so sinful (originally requiring the death penalty), because it is one of the most wrongful marriages one can engage in.

One will also find that in Deuteronomy 22, in the case of a betrothed virgin, when a man rapes her, God does not state that the woman is to stay with the rapist, as he does with the unbetrothed virgin. Why? Because God takes into account our promises. The Jewish betrothal was more binding that the wedding, so this was really a case of adultery by proxy: by becoming one flesh and married with the rapist, the betrothed woman cannot now have sex with her fiance/husband without committing adultery against her rapist! This is truly abhorrent, and perhaps a worse crime than normal adultery, as it also involves breaking a promise to her fiance against her will. Yet it is stated that in the case of rape, that the woman is guilty of no sin worthy of death. If sex doesn't make one married, then what sin has she committed that ordinarily would be worthy of death by being a rape victim? The sin is the unwilling sin of adultery.

This is all viewing Scripture under the idea that sex makes one married, regardless of intent or consent.

It should be noted that marriage, gamos, literally means just union in the Greek, and that husband was man of her and she was woman of him. These terms haven't necessarily always had the same connotations as they do now.

Cw said...

So what if a girl backslid or rebelled and had sex with a boyfriend or two, and repents, gets married and then a Christian group says she is bound to the first person she had sex with and is in adultery while most other Christians say she is married and OK and forgiven by Christ. Who is she married too and she is scared she will go to hell if she is wrong. This may be NY personal story

Cw said...

* misspelled my

John Romero said...

Under the assumption that sex makes you naked, quite simply, you'd be married to all of the people you had sex with at the same time. I wouldn't necessarily call this polyandry, but maybe bigamy or successive polygamy. However, scholars differ on whether Jesus in Matthew 19 meant that you commit adultery against past spouses only once, upon the first sexual act, or whether every single sexual act is adultery against your first spouse.

Without answering the question directly, I can safely say that you don't need to worry about going to hell if you're not a virgin when you get married to your current spouse. Paul said that though divorced people should either reconcile to their ex spouses or remain single, it is better to get married and avoid the temptation to sexual immorality than to stay single and burn in temptation. If you are better able to focus on your life in Christ by being married, then that is the better choice. I wouldn't say you need to repent every time you have sex with your current spouse.

Also, I'm not even sure that you DO get married when you have sex. From a Biblical perspective, it is surprisingly easy to defend that idea, but if you're not convinced yourself, then don't believe it.

John Romero said...

LOL! What a typo. I meant, "under the assumption that sex makes you MARRIED," not naked.

Anonymous said...

There are couples out there who can't have sex, or have never had sex, yet are considered married.

The idea that sex equals marriage, or any kind of pre-marital sex is marriage, strikes me as legalistic, and is abhorrent to the idea of true love.

I lose count of the number of married couples, who have more stable, loving, and happy relationships than so called Christian couples.

It makes a mockery of Genesis 2:24, where a true definition of marriage is defined. Pre-marital sex is one part, but doing it in a loveless act, without committing your entire life to that person, is ridiculous. Reducing marriage to a mere physical act to confirm it, is crazy.

Imagine a former prostitute who turns her life around, and marries someone, who she stays committed and faithful with. A pastor comes along and tells her she's still married to all of her other partners, thus destroying her self-esteem and progress she's made in becoming a healthier person. It's time Christians start thinking more deeply about Scripture

It s true, that an act of sex is giving a part of yourself to a person, but it can be thought of as an analogy i.e. wood joints. Pre-marital sex is unholy, and causes all sorts of damage to a joint, but recognising this is wrong, asking for forgiveness, and renewing your mind, is the way to remove the splinters and begin again, allowing for a true connection through the right means - marriage.


Nate said...

Excellent article, I agree.

Koziba Palalani said...

I understand the meaning to have more to do with the consequnes of the exchange or mixing of bodily fluids, considering that Paul said this beofre the condom was invented, and sex was unprotected. The consequences would have had to do with the risk of venereal diseases in the event that one of the two was sick. I came across a research report on the internet that genes were exchenged during sex such that the genes of one were discovered in the brain cells of previous sexual encounters. This would be scientific evidence that people do become one to tha extent that each other's genes are present in the other, with the genes representing a permanent marker left in the other.