1 Corinthians 6:12-20 (NRSV) – “‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are beneficial. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be dominated by anything. ‘Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food,’ and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, ‘The two shall be one flesh.’ But anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Shun fornication! Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.”
This passage is centered on the concept of becoming “one flesh” through sexual intercourse. It is important to analyze what this means in order to understand the Biblical mindset for sexual morality.
When Paul writes “the two shall be one flesh,” he is quoting the part of the Genesis creation account that depicts the creation of Eve from Adam:
“The Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.’ Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Genesis 2:21-24).
Although most translations say that God removed a “rib” from Adam to form Eve, I don’t think that is exactly correct. The word translated “rib” is the Hebrew word “tsela,” which is translated as “angular organ” in the Concordant Version of the Old Testament. The commentator William W. Bentley, Jr. viewed the term in this context as suggestive of female sexual anatomy (see “Scene 3” in exposition), writing, “Whereas Adam had been created a bisexual human, God separated the male and female reproductive function by removing an angular organ from Adam and forming another body around it.”
Another commentator, Martin Zender, describes another instance of the term “tsela” that occurs in Ezekiel 41:7, describing the structure of a temple’s “side chambers,” which resemble the shape of a uterus (see 14:00-16:00 in the linked video). Zender also states that the normal Hebrew word for rib would be “ala,” not “tsela” (12:10-12:30).
The “rib” translation is convenient for a kids’ Sunday school class, but the real meaning of the term unlocks a powerful truth about how God works with humanity.
The original Adam, created intersex, had a sense of balance not found in humanity since then. If God simply wanted Adam to have a partner, He could have created another human like Adam. But God was up to more than just that!
I doubt that Adam woke up from this operation feeling good. He probably felt internal irritation and weakness. But, together with Eve, he found something resembling the balance that was lost. Male-female attraction is actually a symbol of humanity seeking God, because ultimately all humanity is lacking something that God has, leading to irritation in life.
During times in life when there seems to be continual frustration from something needed for peace and balance getting taken away, my belief is that God ultimately causes/allows (whichever you prefer) these things to happen, and if it makes you feel any better about it, He’s been doing this since the very beginning of humanity, starting with the disruption He caused inside of Adam. But ultimately, this sets the stage for the Biblical process of redemption, in which God transforms humanity into a new creation, restoring what was lost and creating something even more glorious. And we can believe for this transformation to play out in circumstances of our present lives.
Now, getting to the concept of becoming “one flesh” through sexual intercourse, the significance of sexual intercourse in the Bible is that, by uniting male and female genitalia, humanity is brought into a new state of being that resembles the completeness that it had before the disruption. Since this affects the core essence of one’s existence, the Bible is concerned with the circumstances under which it occurs, and who it occurs with. This is why Paul writes that “every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself” (1 Cor. 6:18).
Sexual immorality is not fundamentally about utilization of sexual organs. Rather, it is about creating a new state of humanity with another person which takes us farther from, rather than closer to, the state of being God has called us toward.
Paul writes that “The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power” (1 Cor 6:13-14).
God is working on our entire being through this power to bring us into our destiny. The exhortation toward sexual morality is meant to encourage us to live in harmony with this transformative power.
Paul also writes, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:19-20).
This is an encouragement to trust in what the Holy Spirit is doing inside of us. On one hand, there is still a lack of balance in humanity stemming from the disruption to Adam, but the Holy Spirit is working with believers on this, so this should be an encouragement to stay optimistic and trust in the process rather than resorting to immoral sexual intercourse out of hopelessness.