Man and woman as “one flesh”: are we just obsessed with sex?

Read time: 4 minutes

I have been reading James Brownson’s Bible, Gender, Sexuality: Reframing the Church’s Debate on Same-Sex Relationships in preparation for a theological forum next week. The book basically attempts a re-thinking of “the moral vision regarding gender and sexuality that Scripture commends” (3)—a rethinking prompted not least by the fact that Brownson’s eighteen year old son had confided to his parents that “he believed he was gay” (11). Brownson describes himself as having taken, prior to this, a “moderate, traditionalist position”. We are clearly heading in a less traditionalist direction, but I’m only on page 85.

One of the main biblical arguments against same-sex erotic relations is that the creation narrative in Genesis 2 describes a fundamental “gender complementarity” based on biology. The woman is created out of the man, therefore for the man to be complete again as “one flesh” he must be joined with a woman. Brownson quotes Robert Gagnon:

Only a being made from ʿadam can and ought to become someone with whom ʿadam longs to reunite in sexual intercourse and marriage, a reunion that not only provides companionship but restores ʿadam to his original wholeness. (25)

Brownson thinks that this is a spurious argument and sets out four “counter-theses” (26-34). It is the last one that particularly struck me.

  1. The original ʿadam of Genesis 1:26-2:18 is not a binary, or sexually undifferentiated, being that is divided into male and female in Genesis 2:21.
  2. The focus in Genesis 2 is not on the complementarity of male and female, but on the similarity of male and female.
  3. The fact that male and female are both created in the divine image (Gen. 1:27) is intended to convey the value, dominion, and relationality shared by both men and women, but not the idea that the complementarity of the genders is somehow necessary to fully express or embody the divine image.
  4. The “one-flesh” union spoken of in Genesis 2:24 connotes, not physical complementarity, but a kinship bond.

In support of the last point, Brownson notes that in the Brown-Driver-Briggs lexicon basar (“flesh”) in Genesis 2:24 is listed under the sense of “relatives”, so that “one flesh” means “one kinship group” (33). Perhaps this is common knowledge, but I must admit, I have always taken the verse to mean that sexual union is the defining element of marriage. The point of verse 23 would appear to be that the woman is “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” because she was taken from the man’s side; therefore the woman’s identity in relation to the man consists in the shared physicality of sexual union.

Brownson notes that there are Old Testament parallels but doesn’t give details, which is a shame because a number of passages are cited under the meaning “kindred, blood relations” in BDB which give solid support to his argument. Laban says to his nephew Jacob, “Surely you are my bone and my flesh!” (Gen. 29:14). Abimelech says to his mother’s family, “Remember also that I am your bone and your flesh” (Judg. 9:2). The tribes of Israel say to David, “Behold, we are your bone and flesh” (2 Sam. 5:1). David says to the elders of Judah, “You are my brothers; you are my bone and my flesh” (2 Sam. 19:12; cf. 19:13).

So when a man leaves his father and mother, one primary kinship bond is dissolved; and when he attaches himself to his woman, a new kinship bond is formed. The rationale is given in the manner of the woman’s creation from the side of the man: such a new family could not have been formed through a union of the woman with a creature made independently from the ground (cf. Gen. 2:19). But it means, in Brownson’s view, that we cannot appeal to this verse as evidence for a “doctrine of physical or biological gender complementarity” that might explain the moral logic behind the Bible’s condemnation of same-sex erotic relations. “One flesh” is an image not of an essential and determinative human sexuality but of the origin of kinship groups that would later be characterized as shared bone and flesh. [pullquote]Perhaps the description of the man and woman as naked and not ashamed in verse 25 has misled us into reading primal rumpy pumpy back into the sociological comment. Or perhaps we’re just obsessed with sex.[/pullquote]

Steven Opp | Thu, 01/15/2015 - 18:21 | Permalink

Hi Andrew,

Very interesting. Makes sense that one flesh is more than just physical. But what about Paul in 1 Corinthians 6 where he says a man who goes to a prostitute becomes one flesh with her? No kindred aspect there, yet they are one flesh.

@Steven Opp:

Here’s what Brownson says:

For Paul, the central problem concerning sex with a prostitute is that sexual union enacts a deeper union (“one body”) with a prostitute that is completely inappropriate. Or to put it in different terms, Paul urges the Corinthians not to say with their bodies (by enacting sexual unions with prostitutes) what they are not saying with the rest of their lives (by recognizing the kinship ties and obligations of marriage). (34)

I don’t find this very convincing. Paul’s concerns are not with the broader social context of kinship ties but with the physical or “carnal” experience: the “body is not meant for sexual immorality” (1 Cor. 6:13); the body will be raised up; Paul substitutes “body” for “flesh”; sexual immorality is a sin against one’s own body, not outside it; the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. This rather suggests that Paul has used the Old Testament verse to support an argument for which it was not originally suited. He has exercised a certain rhetorical licence.

@Andrew Perriman:


Many scholars consider a portion of 1 Cor 6:18 to be a Corinthian slogan.

“every sin a person commits is outside of the body”

It was used by the Corinthian’s to justify their immoral behavior.  It was a claim that anything done in the body or through the body had no moral relevance.

If this is the case and Paul is quoting the slogan it changes the standard interpretation of the passage we are used to.  

Paul would not be claiming that sexual sin is somehow unique in sinning against the body; rather, he would countering the Corinthian position.


@Andrew Perriman:


the “body is not meant for sexual immorality” (1 Cor. 6:13); the body will be raised up; Paul substitutes “body” for “flesh”

perhaps the “body” in view here is not the physical body of man.  Might it be a reference to the “body” of Christ?  Which would/could(?) drive it back to a kinship relation?  Another perspective it as follows.  I’m also not convinced that when Paul makes references to man’s “body” he has in mind the physical body, as we define it, but something else.  I once read John A.T. Robinson’s little book The Body: A Study in Pauline Theology which I need to go back and refresh my memory on, but he pointed out that from a Hebraic point of view (which he defends that Paul wrote from) that “man does not have a body, he is a body”.  If his assessment is correct than Paul would be referring more to the person, which would seem to allow the kinship sense to enter back into the picture rather than the physical aspect of man.

Have you ever read that book by Robinson?  Didn’t agree with some of his final conclusions towards the end, but very enlightening to say the least.

Andrew Perriman | Fri, 01/23/2015 - 20:55 | Permalink

In reply to by Rich


“And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power.” (1 Cor. 6:14)

Doesn’t this make your first point unlikely? Jesus has been raised; our bodies will be raised.

Yes, I’ve read Robinson’s book. My PhD was on Paul’s use of “body” language. I think the point is broadly valid, but in the context of the discussion in 1 Corinthians 6 the physical dimension of personhood is very much to the fore.

@Andrew Perriman:


I agree, the “body of Christ” couldn’t be in Paul’s mind.  I didn’t have time to look into that when I wrote my other post.  I was initially only going after my second point, but as I typed the first point popped into my mind so I put it down (yeah, that was a bit of laziness).

On the second point though I don’t necessarily agree.  Paul states the follow:

“Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! 16 Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” 17 But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.

1 Cor. 6:13-17

Paul states “but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.”  I don’t see why Paul would say such a thing if he had physical body in mind.  How is my physical body for the Lord?  Wouldn’t the focus be more on Paul saying you, as a person, are for the Lord?  And how is the Lord for my physical body?  Seems much more natural for Paul to be saying the Lord is for you, the person.

In verse 15 Paul continues and says,

“Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?”

Again, seems strange if he had physical body in mind, but natural if he meant the person, as a whole, was a member of Christ.

Verses 16-17 wouldn’t make any sense at all as well.  Isn’t Paul contrasting the two “joinings”, one with a prostitute and the other with Christ?  If the joining with Christ isn’t physical why is the other?  The one with Christ definitely implies kinship, thus the other must as well.

Not trying to defend necessarily James Brownson’s argument/position on homosexuality, but he definitely has me thinking about this kinship concept.


Rich you should check out Dale Martin’s book, “The Corinthian Body.” It’s the latest on the Greek and Hebrew worldview scholarship on the body. It points out the errors Robinson made in misunderstanding the 1st century contemporary views of the body. Martin painstakingly goes through all of Corinthians to exegete which times “body” is individual and when it is corporate. Martin is futurist, so as a preterist I can see the mistakes in his application; however I think he is on to something how he points out the (individual) body that is raised would have been understood as a spirit-based body, not a corpse-resurrection.

Robinson’s corporate body view (CBV) was a result of his defense of universalism. As you know many many preterist CBV’s have become universalist — and there’s some pretty solid logic behind why that happens.

If Martin’s understanding is correct, it butresses Paul’s moral argument regarding pagan idolatry and immorality.

I noticed you didn’t paste verse 18, which clearly is regarding the individual’s body:

1Co 6:18 ESV  Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.


@Jerel Kratt:


Thanks for the reference. I will indeed look into getting it.  Always interested in books on that subject.

When you state:

I think he is on to something how he points out the (individual) body that is raised would have been understood as a spirit-based body, not a corpse-resurrection.

Are you referring to 1 Cor. 15 and/or 1 Cor. 6?

I don’t think the reference to body in 1 Cor. 6 anywhere can mean one’s physical body.

Verse 13 — How is my physical body for the Lord?

Verse 13 — How is the Lord for my physical body?

Verse 15 — So it’s my physical body, and not me, the person, who is a member of Christ?

Verse 15-16 — If physical body is being referred to in the statement “and make them members of a prostitute”, then so is the reference to body in “that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her”.  That obviously does not work.

Verse 19 — so my physical body is a temple of the Holy Spirit?  It is not me, the person?

Now back up to verse 18.  I can read that verse with the reference to body referring to me as a whole and it still makes complete sense.  I don’t see how you can say it’s “clearly” regarding the individual’s (physical) body?

About Robinson’s view.  I am aware of his univeralism and understood as much as I read his book.  However, as I stated, I did disagree with him at certain points and conclusions.  I also don’t think that because there are some preterists who hold to the CBV and moved to universalism is a valid arguement for or against CBV.  I think David Green’s presentation in “House Divided: Bridging the Gap in Reformed Eschatology” is a very good summary of Paul’s usage of Body; both he individual usage and corporate usage.


@Steven Opp:

I use that question a lot. Who said “for this reason a man shall leave his mother and his father and clieve to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” They both knew they had no father or mother. They were created. Moses added those words in. Looking ahead and God’s plan for mankind.

@Steven Opp:

I think that years down the road, if you’ve had sexual relations with however many others, your current  sexual partner is ‘contaminated’ by all the other partners you’ve been with. 

Andrew Goddard | Mon, 01/19/2015 - 15:03 | Permalink

Hi Andrew,

Thanks for this post and hope the forum on Brownson goes well.  In case you are interested I have a review on Fulcrum with a link to a too-long engagement with his main arguments which is on the KLICE website.  Interested in any comments you or others might have on Brownson or my engagement with his work.

Perhaps the description of the man and woman as naked and not ashamed in verse 25 has misled us into reading primal rumpy pumpy back into the sociological comment. Or perhaps we’re just obsessed with sex.

I think part of the problem is “we are obsessed with sex”, while the other part is we are blinded to the text due to our cultural ignorance.  We tend to read everything from a world view handed down to us by Greek influence instead of from a Hebraic or ANE worldview.

Perfect example is the reference to nakedness.  We read about nakedness and instantly think about the physical body not having clothes on it.  Problem is the reference to nakedness in Ge. 2:25 has nothing whatsoever to do with physical nakedness.

The reference to nakedness has to do with ones standing before God.  Adam and Eve stood before God blameless and thus required no “covering” (they were naked).  Once they had “sinned” (disobeyed the command not to eat) they were no longer blameless.  We see this in Ge. 3:4-7.  After they “ate” their eyes were opened and they knew they were “naked”.   Of course they tried to making a “covering” for themselves (Ge. 3:7), but man cannot provide atonement for his own sin.  Only God can do this.  Thus, in Ge. 3:21 God made for them a “covering”.

In the NT Paul picks up on this in 2 Cor. 5:1-4 (this passage has nothing to do with the physical body of man – another distortion stemming from a western worldview).  Here Paul is speaking of Israel.  At the time of the writing of this Epistle, Israel was currently “covered” in their OC dwelling (their tent) – which was a building made with hands (a reference to the temple) – which is in contrast to the one “not made with hands” (2 Cor. 5:1).  But, Israel was living during the transition from one covenant dwelling to another.  Their current covenant dwelling (OC) would soon disappear (Heb. 8:13) (AD 70) to which they feared being found in a position/state of “nakedness” — being exposed before God without a covering.  But, God was also building (an ongoing process) a new “house” (one “not made with hands”, 2 Cor. 5:1) — their new covenant dwelling — to which they “groaned” (2 Cor. 5:2) to enter into and thus not be found “naked” or exposed before God.  See also Hebrews 3 for additional insight regarding Israel’s new “house” and Hebrew 4:13 on nakedness.  This same concept is also present in the robes of righteousness (Rev. 7:9), Sabbath rest (Heb. 4), New Jerusalem (Rev. 21) and Resurrection (1 Cor. 15).  It all has to do with Covenant dwelling of God’s people (Israel).

Of course none of that was directly related to your post, which was interesting, but is a very complicated topic which I don’t feel articulate enough to engage in via this method of interaction.



Can you direct me to any material that would substantiate that an ANE Hebrew would hear the Genesis story and assume “naked” meant “standing before God?”

@Phil Ledgerwood:

Hey Phil,

There is no manuscript (ANE dictionary??) that was written by someone in the ANE that defines nakedness.   This has to be made via deduction by 1) looking at the way Paul (a Hebrew who wrote from the perspective of a Hebrew), as well as other NT writers (see Hebrews 4:13) used nakedness and 2) from studying ANE thought from what texts we do have.  There are many scholars now writing about ANE and their worldview; one such Scholar is John Walton.

I might ask you for any direct material that would prove that an ancient Hebrew would read Genesis’ reference to nakedness as referring to no material clothes on a person’s physical body.  Can you not see how you have already assumed as correct (as you read it from a 22nd century worldview) that nakedness meant physical clothes and then anything outside that is wrong or has to be proved otherwise?  Why doesn’t your assumption need proving?  It’s those very assumptions that scholars like John Walton (an ANE expect) are showing to have mislead Christendom and scholarship for a very long time on a number of issues.

Also, I’m not sure you understood my reference to nakedness correctly or if I didn’t do a very good job of defining it (probably the latter).  Adam and Eve were naked, they had no “covering” (not a reference to clothes).  But, it was no problem for them to be “naked” because they were not guilty of sin (not saying they hadn’t ever sinned prior they were just not guilty — Romans 5:13).  Once God gave them law and they broke it they were then guilty of sin.  Now for them to stand before God naked and guilty they only had condemnation to look forward to.  So, naturally they were scared and sought to “cover” themselves.  But their “works” could not cover their guilt.  So, God stepped in and provided a “covering” for them, which was only a temporary covering.  They, like all men, would have to wait for Christ to cloth them in his righteousness.


Hey Rich,

I wasn’t saying you were wrong.  I was asking for substantiation.

I could easily say that, when Genesis 2 says Adam and Eve were naked, it means that they were communist, and the clothing they tried to cover themselves with was capitalism.  You might well wonder what would substantiate such a view, and you would probably not be very receptive to my saying, “Oh, why does this assumption have to be proven, but yours doesn’t?”

Paul’s symbolic use of nakedness has no bearing on whether or not the author of Genesis 2 is using the concept the same way.  They are separated by centuries and addressing two different audiences for two different purposes.  That would be like saying every time Bob Dylan said the word “hurricane,” he was talking about a boxer just because he did that in one song.

Also, they are literally not speaking the same language.

The word in Genesis 2 is “arummim,” which is the same word used in Job 2:26 that specifically refers to removal of clothing.  The Septuagint has it as “gymnoi” which is one of the words Paul uses for nakedness in the passage you cited, and also the word used in James 2:15-16 where an actual lack of clothing is clearly meant.

In the Genesis story, Adam and Eve make coverings of leaves and God makes them coverings of animal skins.  This, to me, implies trying to cover a physical body, but I suppose you could say these materials are also allegorical, assuming there are reasons to believe that.

In Rabbi Hirsch’s 19th century commentary on Genesis, his commentary on Genesis 2 is on Adam and Eve’s feelings toward being physically naked.  He acknowledges no other more allegorical view, and I am unaware of any rabbis that do, which is why I asked if you could point me to such references.  All other commentaries I have read on Genesis have never taken an approach such as you describe, but I am open to understanding the scholarship behind such a view.

In the early church, Basil, Ephraim, and Anastasios all say the issue is physical nakedness.  Is there an early church father that supports your view?

What I’m trying to say is that internal consistency is not the measure of the truth of something, so I’m wanting to see the scholarship that supports your view.  I’m not saying it doesn’t exist.  I’m just saying that it’s different that what most have said, and I want to see the work.

@Phil Ledgerwood:

Hey Phil,

Didn’t mean for it to sound argumentative or condescending.  Sorry about that.  Poorly worded.

Paul’s symbolic use of nakedness has no bearing on whether or not the author of Genesis 2 is using the concept the same way.

I believe you are very wrong here.  Paul, being a Hebrew of Hebrews, and a scholar on the OT is the perfect person to look to for insight into OT interpretation, which is why he could quote it throughout his epistles.  He would know exactly what the Genesis record was speaking to.   Of course then you have the fact that he was gifted with the truth of the Scriptures via the Spirit of God.

You stated,

separated by centuries and addressing two different audiences for two different purposes

You know there is a great debate on when Genesis was written, so centuries may not be so correct.  I would also argue their purpose is not so different.  The relationship between Adam and Israel is as direct as you and your great great great…grand-father, and the topic is exactly the same.  Both are concerned with sin and judgment.  So your argument concerning communism and capitalism is nowhere near valid.

The Septuagint has it as “gymnoi” which is one of the words Paul uses for nakedness in the passage you cited, and also the word used in James 2:15-16 where an actual lack of clothing is clearly meant.

This is why context is important.  Do you think Hebrews 4:13 is referring to physical clothes?  Do you think 2 Cor. 5 is as well?  Obviously they aren’t.  So, what do they speak to?

Also, they are literally not speaking the same language

I would argue they did speak the same language.  Paul spoke and thought as a Hebrew.  He merely wrote his letters in Greek.  There is a big different between somebody who thought and wrote from a Greek worldview, and someone who thought in a Hebraic worldview but merely conveyed his thoughts in Greek.

In the Genesis story, Adam and Eve make coverings of leaves and God makes them coverings of animal skins. This, to me, implies trying to cover a physical body, but I suppose you could say these materials are also allegorical, assuming there are reasons to believe that

So how does animal skin cover better than leaves?  What is wrong with leaves as long as the body is covered? That fact that 1) it was God who stepped in to provide the covering shows me that God felt what man had provided was insufficient.  Why would leaves be insufficient?  Either you’re covered or you’re not (if biology is in view).  This clearly hints to man’s inability to provide for his own covering/sacrifice.  2) The fact that what God provided was made of skin screams blood sacrifice.  That which was required all throughout the OT and ultimately by Christ.  3) the entire account is about sin and judgment which continues to be the topic until the last chapter of Revelation.  What does physical clothes have to do with the relationship between God and man?

In Rabbi Hirsch’s 19th century commentary on Genesis”; “All other commentaries I have read on Genesis”; “In the early church, Basil, Ephraim, and Anastasios all say the issue is physical nakedness.

What about the Apostle Paul and the writer of Hebrews?  They’re both from the 1st century.

What I’m trying to say is that internal consistency is not the measure of the truth of something, so I’m wanting to see the scholarship that supports your view.

How about the scholarship of the Apostle Paul?  To tell you the truth your words frighten me.   Are you saying that if some “scholar” says it than that is a measure of truth?  Or if a 1000 say it?  Seems to me this is exactly why Left Behind theology has consumed the world today.

I guess what I’m trying to say is think for yourself.  Sure it’s great to read other works, but just because something is old and/or popular doesn’t make it so.  I use to believe in Hell, which has been around for a very long long time.  This is why I continue to read Andrew’s posts.  He clearly thinks for himself.  I disagree with much that he holds to, but he thinks outside the box and is willing to let the Scriptures define what he thinks.

Sorry, but it’s as clear as day in my mind what the nakedness refers to.  If you wish to reject it, that’s fine with me.  I was just sharing my point of view.


Hey Rich,

Yes, if Paul said something like, “Adam and Eve are an allegory for Israel’s standing before God and her attempt to save herself by works rather than faith,” then of course I would believe that.  He says no such thing, however.

Like I said, just because nakedness is used symbolically in some parts of the Bible does not mean it is a symbol everywhere.  I could just as easily say, “Are you ignoring James’ scholarship?  He uses nakedness to mean without clothes.  This is clearly the mindset of 1st century Jews.”

We know that the Scriptures sometimes use the concept symbolically, and sometimes it just means somebody doesn’t have clothes on.  To say that Genesis 2’s nakedness has to be symbolic because Paul uses it symbolically in a 1 Corinthians passage just makes no sense.  They are completely different works written by completely different authors over a rather large span of time.  One is framing ancient Israel’s experience in the form of a creation myth; the other is a letter to a faith community after the resurrection of Christ to guide them through a host of behavioral issues.  And, frankly, you haven’t established tht Paul means it symbolically in Corinthians so much as you just asserted it.

I admit, I find it hard to believe this meaning is “clear as day” to you.  You’re basically saying that, if an Israelite boy ran to his mother yelling that Sarah had gone outside naked, his mother would assume he meant that Sarah had gone outside with her sins bare before God, because that would be the natural Hebraic understanding of nakedness.

I would contend that the basic Hebraic understanding of nakedness is that you don’t have any clothes on.  You may read back into Genesis later theology from the New Testament, but I’m having trouble seeing how you’d establish that it was there to begin with.

If it were, you’d expect to see at least some rabbinical commentary or early church fathers at least mentioning the idea, but everyone who says something about it says the opposite of that.  I don’t know another way to get at how a people would understand something besides reading what they said about it, and no biblical or extra-biblical author I’m aware of says they understand the nakedness in the Genesis 2 story to mean man’s standing before God.  Totally open to correction on that.

The comparison with Left Behind is unfair.  Revelation is apocalyptic literature, and there is AMPLE evidence of how these images were used symbolically by the prophets as well as PLENTY of extrabiblical evidence of how the first century Jews would have understood these symbols.  You haven’t offered anything of the sort with Genesis 2.  All these same sources would seem to disagree with you.  It doesn’t make you wrong de jure, but it seems like it would moderate your dogmatism.

Gary Clark | Fri, 01/23/2015 - 16:46 | Permalink

God never condoned Homosexuality. If you knew Christ Jesus you would know that.

Recent controversie in the Catholic Church about the acceptance of  diviate / peverted life styles are easily answered in the statement Catholics aren’t Christians although they think they are. Why do they still have Christ on a cross. If thats what this discussion is about. Let me know.