Question & Answer Forum

What is the meaning of “one flesh”?

This was God’s intention at the institution of marriage (Gen 2:24). It expresses the oneness of a married couple. In this seminal statement, the Lord points out that a man leaves his role of obedience to his parents (although still responsible to honor them, Exo 20:12) to assume headship of a new and distinct relationship. At marriage a new family unit exists that had never existed before. This newly-formed oneness, involves a physical union, the culmination of marriage, but it involves more than that. Four of the five New Testament passages that refer to “one flesh” (Mat 19:5, 6; Mar 10:8; Eph 5:31), quote the original statement and are passages that teach about marriage. The fifth (1Co 6:16) is part of Paul’s teaching about fornication (v 18). He states that one who “is joined to an harlot” is “one body.” Then he cites the Lord’s original intention (Gen 2:24) regarding “one flesh.” The promiscuous relationship with a harlot is a physical union, but not the physical union God intended in marriage. “One body” does not include the intended intimacy and oneness of a unique relationship within marriage. “One body” is merely an external relationship. “One flesh” is both physical and relational, expressing the inseparable closeness of Christ and His Church (Eph 5:31, 32). This can never be expressed outside marriage.

D. Oliver

Does the oneness of a couple in marriage change their relationship as a brother and sister in Christ?

ationality, status, and gender do not affect our relationship with Christ Jesus (Gal 3:28), although we have become brothers and sisters (1Co 7:15; Jam 2:15) in a new family. In our new relationship to Christ, no natural distinction limits our closeness to Him. Being brothers and sisters in Christ expresses that relationship.

Paul refers to “a sister, a wife” (1Co 9:5), which includes a spiritual (a sister in Christ) and a marriage relationship (wife). The two coexist.

Apart from the marriage relationship, Paul teaches Timothy that he must preserve moral purity with younger sisters (1Ti 5:2). The Lord condemns some behavior outside of marriage (Exo 20:14; 1Co 6:18; 1Th 4:3-7) that is pure, proper, and prescribed (1Co 7:3-5) within marriage (Heb 13:4). So marriage moves a Christian into a new sphere, but doesn’t change his spiritual relationships. This points to some very practical teaching. A Christian’s marriage is to be marked by a dignity (1Th 4:4) and thoughtfulness (1Pe 3:7) consistent with the relationship of Christ and the Church. Disagreements in a marriage are to be resolved behind closed doors (hopefully) as mature brothers and sisters in Christ. The pressures of a marriage do not excuse acting toward a spouse in a way that a Christian would not act toward another fellow-believer.

“He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone” (John 8:7).

D. Oliver

Does the Lord teach that believers will not become married in heaven or that the marriage relationship will not exist in heaven?

In answer to the Sadducees’ question about the woman who had seven husbands (Mat 22:23-32), the Lord discloses that those who have resurrection bodies will not marry or be given in marriage. If this only means that couples will not become married while they are in resurrection bodies, but will retain the status of marriage they had at death (or the Rapture), it hardly answers the question. When each of the seven husbands died, he was married to that one woman. Which of them claims her as wife in the next life? This is the original question and, in that case, the Lord didn’t answer it.

The teaching cannot simply mean that death severs the relationship; therefore none were married at death and so they will not be married at the time of the resurrection. What about the Rapture? Are the only people who remain married in heaven the living couples who go to heaven at the Rapture?

Perhaps a better understanding of the Lord’s teaching is that the unmarried state of angels in heaven is the state of resurrected believers – whether on earth or in heaven. Marriage is an earthly, temporary, but wonderful institution. Its design is to better enable our understanding of the glorious and eternal relationship between Christ and the Church. In heaven our only thought there will be to please Him, our eternal Bridegroom (compare 1Co 7:34).

D. Oliver

Will the Lord recognize married couples as married when they are in heaven?

Our unmarried state in resurrection doesn’t mean that marriages on earth will have no effect on us for eternity. Just as experiences in the lives of single believers refine them and provide opportunities for spiritual faithfulness, which the Lord will reward at the Bema, so the experiences of marriage will have an eternal impact on a believer’s reward and in the coming kingdom. At the judgment seat of Christ, the Lord will review how a husband has fulfilled his responsibility to love his wife (Eph 5:33a) and how a wife has fulfilled her responsibility to respect her husband (v 33b ESV). That will reveal the results of our response to Biblical teaching, even behind closed doors.

D. Oliver

How will married believers relate to one another in heaven?

The Scriptures do not give us much direct teaching about this; however, we can be certain that in heaven the Lord will not take from us what brought righteous joy on earth. Would he remove the love that so enriches a believer’s life here? In a Christian’s marriage that love is a fruit of the Spirit’s working in the believer (Gal 5:22, Eph 5:25 – same root words).

If we are assured from Scripture that we will know each other in our eternal state (Mat 17:3, 4), then believers will know and love their spouses to at least the same degree as they did on earth. How that will compare to a believer’s love for the many other fellow-believers may be difficult to answer, but at least the love for a spouse will not be less than it was on earth. We will find no disappointments in what grace has provided for us eternally in Christ! The grace of God – His very character – assures us of that.

D. Oliver