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One Flesh, One Purpose, One Rank

On July 20, 2011

Summer is the season of weddings! Many of us will have the pleasure of celebrating with family and friends as they join their lives as husband and wife. Though we have all enjoyed countless weddings over the years, there always seems to be that one moment in the ceremony where we are hit by the immensity of the occasion—when the two become one flesh! As bride and groom are joined as one, before God and their community, we experience an ecstasy we've encountered before—in the early chapters of Genesis.

Standing amid the countless wonders of Eden, Adam's aloneness is the only "not good" in a perfect world. Among the many astonishing animals, Adam cannot find a suitable companion. What is missing? Adam needs a creature like himself, made of his substance—a woman. Notice he recognizes her immediately. "At last! This is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh" (Gen. 2:23). Adam declares their shared origins with these words, "I will call you woman because you came from my body." Scripture emphasizes not their differences but their likeness to each other! They share a metaphysical substance because they are both created in God's image. They also share a physical being, because Eve comes from Adam's body. In this oneness, they are then given a common commission—to exercise authority together in caring for and being fruitful in the world (Gen. 1:27-31). Their shared ontology (being) reveals a shared teleology (purpose). Rank, authority, and hierarchy are unnecessary for those who share the same substance and purpose.

Notice the apostle Paul makes a similar point when addressing ministry within the body of Christ. Those who share in a spiritual rebirth are inaugurated as equal members of Christ's body—the church. Through Christ, God is building a New Covenant people, with Jesus as head, and you and me as joint heirs. Slaves, Gentiles, and women serve equally with free people, Jews, and men in the purposes for which God has called and gifted them, because they too are born of the same Spirit. Rank, authority, and hierarchy are unnecessary among those born of the same substance—the Spirit.

Likewise, in his teaching on marriage, Paul calls husbands to love their wives as they love their own bodies. They share the same substance! Ten times Paul asks husbands to love their wives, encouraging the tender empathy distinctive of a one-flesh relationship. Just as all Christians submit to one another (Eph. 5:21) because they are born of the same Spirit, husbands and wives submit to one another as one flesh. Husbands are to nurture and love their wives, because her body is his, and his body is hers (a point Paul also stresses in 1 Cor. 7:3-7).

Oneness of substance leads naturally to mutuality, love, and a shared purpose, underscored in the early chapters of Genesis and in Paul's teachings on redeemed relationships among Christians. While some wish to ascribe authority and rule to male headship in marriage, to do so misses Paul's point, beginning with Ephesians 5:21. Just as Christ is head of the church, husbands also have an opportunity to imitate Christ, who came not to rule, but to serve, and lay down his life to serve and love others.

In Christ, husbands now exalt with Adam, "This is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh!" Authority, rank, and hierarchy are not only unnecessary among those who are born of the Spirit, but they are also inconsistent with the very nature of a one-flesh union.

This column is an excerpt of an article of the same title that appeared in the most recent issue of CBE's Mutuality magazine, on "Headship."

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