The One-Flesh Covenant as a Key to Understanding Abuse as Grounds for Divorce
Genesis 2:21-25 So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. (22) And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. (23) Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” (24) Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (25) And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.
Commenting upon these foundational words about the very first marriage, the Apostle Paul wrote:
Ephesians 5:28-31 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. (29) For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, (30) because we are members of his body. (31) “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”
I have been thinking lately about why Jesus especially focused in on adultery as a valid reason for divorce. I realize that there are numbers of reasons for this and scholars more scholarly than myself have written about those reasons in detail (and some not so scholarly!). The context in which Jesus was asked about divorce by the Pharisees is vital to take into consideration, and often it is not. When that neglect happens, much harmful ink is spilled that brings abuse victims into bondage.
But what I have been considering is this matter of adultery, and specifically how it relates to the essence of marriage. Namely, the one-flesh union between husband and wife. Of all sins, adultery most obviously violates that one-flesh union. Paul points this out again in the following passage –
1 Corinthians 6:16 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.”
I mean, you can only be “one body” with so many other bodies, right? If an adulterer is joined as one body to a woman not his wife, that would imply that his one body union with his wife is broken, right? That is my take on it anyway. Adultery is an evident example of breaking the one flesh covenant with one’s spouse.
Now, consider Paul’s words to the Ephesians as quoted above: In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. I suggest that the Apostle’s words here lead us to still another principle which arises from the one flesh nature of the marriage covenant:
Treatment of one’s spouse which, if practiced upon one’s own self would be considered hatred of one’s self, is covenant-breaking. The one flesh union necessitates nourishing and cherishing our spouse as we nourish and cherish ourselves.
Like adultery, abuse of one’s spouse breaks the very nature of the marriage covenant because of the one flesh nature of that covenant. Therefore, I propose, abuse is biblical grounds for divorce just as adultery is. It kills the one flesh union, and thus kills the marriage.