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Volume 16, Issue 1: Husbandry

Of His Flesh, And of His Bones

Douglas Wilson

Husbands are summoned by Scripture to love their wives in a particular way, understanding the love of Christ for His bride, the Church. They are to do this because the words of Genesis apply to Christ and the Church on one level, and they apply to each marriage on another. And each marriage, in its turn, speaks of Christ and Church. This is a deep mystery, Paul says, but there it is.

So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church (Eph.5:28-32).
His words weave in and out, and it is impossible for us to grasp all that is here. It is hard to say if Paul even grasped it—he is the one who confessed it a great mystery, even though he was the one writing.
Consider how it weaves in a paraphrase. Men ought to love their wives as they already do love their own physical bodies. The man who loves his wife is actually loving himself in another form or manifestation, and this returns to him in a blessing. No one ever mistreats his own physical body—rather, he feeds it, and keeps it warm. This is just how the Lord treats the Church. He does this because we are His body, of His flesh and of His bones, as Genesis said of the first man and woman. A man shall leave his father and mother, and be joined to his wife sexually, and as a result the two are one flesh. She is bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh, and therefore it is appropriate for a man to marry a woman. Because Eve was bone of Adam's bone, and flesh of Adam's flesh, it was fitting for them to be joined together as one flesh in sexual union. Moreover, it has been fitting (ever since) for any given man to leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and to become one flesh with her.
Christ took on bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh in the Incarnation. As a result of this, it is fitting for Him to be joined together with His bride, the Church. Because of the Incarnation in the past, we may look forward to the Consummation of all things in the future. Because we share one flesh with Christ, we may become one flesh with Christ.
This is what Christian husbands are told to imitate. "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it" (Eph. 5:25). As Paul said elsewhere in another context, who is sufficient for these things? The answer is obvious that no one is sufficient for them at all, and yet the command remains. As married men, we are required to note two aspects of ourselves—"myself in myself" and "myself in another." We do this, not to separate them, but rather just the reverse.
In the grip of modern individualism, we see two people, and that is all. The Bible requires us to see a fundamental unity here. Theologians speak of totus Christus to refer to the "whole Christ," a Christ that includes His bride, the Church. We are the body of Christ, the Bible tells us repeatedly. In an analagous way, a woman is the body of her husband. The two of them together are one, the whole man.
What difference does this make? Paul concludes this section by saying that every man, in particular, should love his wife even as himself (v. 33). In one sense, this is nothing other than an application of the second greatest commandment. We are required to love our neighbors as ourselves, and Jesus told a story that made it abundantly clear that our neighbor is to be defined as pretty much anybody in the world. But in another sense, this teaching in Ephesians 5 transcends that general commandment. I am told to love my neighbor as if he were myself. I am told to love my wife because she is myself. My neighbor is one flesh with me in the sense that we are both descended from Adam. A wife is one flesh with her husband in the sense that the two of them, both descended from Adam, have come together sexually. The circle is completed.
The second "one flesh" is made possible by the first. God's pattern of death and resurrection is seen in how He established marriage. Adam was put into a deep sleep, a clear type of death, and his wife was taken from his side. Because God made the one into two, Adam named her Ishah, bone of his bones, and flesh of his flesh. Because God had made the one into two, it was possible for the two to become one.
Put another way, God broke Adam, and the two pieces were a man and a woman. These two pieces were fashioned in such a way as to enable them to come back together again, and the round trip meant that the man was much more complete. A solitary one became two, so that two could become a unified one.
Does anyone get this? I don't think so. In the meantime, husbands should think about it and treat their wives better than they do.

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