[taken from the Introduction to “The Henotic Relationship: A Study in Oneness“]
…a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.
To be more precise, what is the meaning of the phrase “one flesh”? How might we come to appreciate its value theologically and in our modern relations?
The male anglerfish in a literal sense, after fertilizing the female’s eggs, bites into her side (she being much larger than he) and there he swims, physically welded after his bite “heals,” a part of her, visible only as an extra fin, for the remainder of his life. The National Geographic called it “a weirdly clingy side” explaining, “after finding a female, the male black devil angler latches on and never lets go!1 “
There are better translations of the word “united”2 in our verse. The King James’ translations “cleave” which is more accurate if less technical—reminds me of an old german translation I once read “klebt an seine Frau” (glued to his wife).3
And quickly: man cleaves to woman—not the other way around. Are the genders not interchangeable?4
The King James’ use of a future “shall cleave” is not accurate. This is a state of being which in the dynamic of the Hebrew language somehow speaks of a completed event, “is united.” The Christian Standard gets closer: “bonds with his wife, and they become one.” I like the English Standard Version: The man shall “hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” There is no letting go in this verse! Letting go is my euphemism for divorce, something God came to “hate”5
“Guard your spirit,” the Lord warns,6 against breaking this bond.
This single verse is like studying the Mandelbrot: a captivating fractal that draws you deeper into its design but only revealing the same. “One flesh,” in like fashion, the closer we look, the fuller and more real the “one”ness. To “cleave and become one” must speak of a relationship that parallels the mathematical beauty of the Mandelbrot, an infinite and eternal design for marriage that has no fissure to discover, no matter how deep we go searching into this awe-inspiring love relationship between Adam and his Eve.
2 glued – דָבַ֣ק
3 This Lutheran translation is lost to me now since I cannot find it on the web and I must have given my copy away.
4 In the Old Testament economy men divorced women never the opposite.
5 Malachi 2:16 “For I hate divorce!” says the LORD, the God of Israel. [NLT] The NIV is for me a poor translation, after the LXX: ἀλλὰ ἐὰν μισήσας ἐξαποστείλῃς λέγει κύριος ὁ θεὸς τοῦ Ισραηλ. “if thou shouldest hate thy wife and put her away (divorce her) …ungodliness shall cover thy thoughts.” That’s a discussion for another day.
6 Malachi 2:16b