becoming one flesh
Question from PJ on 07-21-2007:
After years of searching I have yet to obtain a good explanation for 1 Corinthians 6:16. I hope you can help. St. Paul cites Genesis 2:24 in stating that when a man unites with a prostitute they become a one-flesh union. This ontological union of two persons apparently occurs with sexual intercourse whether or not the couple is married. Therefore, is the state of becoming one-flesh a permanent act? Are they always one flesh? If not, how long exactly are two persons one-flesh after they have intercourse? When would the man and the prostitute in 1 Corinthains cease to be one-flesh? Is there an expiration of one-fleshness after intercourse that brings them back to being two-flesh? I'm not being facetious; I truly want to understand the nature of the one-flesh union in the light of scripture and nature, particularly when a couple is not legally married. Thank you for your help.
Answer by Fr. Matthew Habiger - NFP Outreach on 07-27-2007:
Dear PJ,

Here are my reflections upon 1 Corinthians 6, which also include a study of the theology of the body. I hope this helps you.

“The body is not meant for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. Do you not know that you bodies are members of Christ? Shall I take therefore the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never!” (vv. 13-15).

Paul is saying that we are to shun all sexual immorality. Our bodies (we are bodied persons) are meant for the Lord. God wants us to be in total communion with Him. As bodied-persons we do this through our bodies as well as through our spirit-souls. We belong to the Lord. “You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (vv. 19-20)

Thus it is totally wrong to misdirect our bonding by abusing our sexuality in whatever way. We belong to the Lord. There are only two appropriate expressions of sexuality: 1) as a faithful married person, and 2) as a celibate single person.

As to your question about the duration of being two in one flesh, I think that Paul is thinking of more than the spousal act here and now. He is thinking of the bondedness that exists between a husband and wife. This persists throughout their entire married life. The spousal act renews and gives expression to this bondedness. A married couple now lives in a shared life; they are no longer unattached, uncommitted, or totally free agents.

In a similar way, we are bonded with the Lord. “But he who is united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him” (v. 17). In Ephesians 5, Paul uses the imagery of marriage to express the union between Christ and us. Marriage and the spousal act are full of meaning for us and our relationship with God.

That is what makes fornication, adultery, homosexual acts and other forms of sexual abuse so wrong. It is abusing our sexual powers. It is making lies with our bodies. It makes a mockery of the marital act. It is making sexual pleasure the absolute goal of our lives. It is the rejection of God’s plan for us as bodied persons, and a rebellious attempt to redesign that plan.

In fornication or adultery, a person is giving to another what was meant to be given only in the committed relationship of marriage. Such a union cannot last, because it is not built upon a solid foundation. After their tryst, the individuals still remain unattached, uncommitted, and totally free agents.

I hope this helps you.

Cordially yours,

Fr. Matthew Habiger OSB


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