1 Corinthians 6:16 (KJV)

What? know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, saith he, shall be one flesh

Genesis 2:24

Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh

The author of Genesis is writing of a lawful marriage, in which husband and wife become one flesh. But Paul quotes the same verse in an illustration of carnal copulation, and says they shall become one flesh.

How are we to understand Paul's quotation of Genesis here?

  • I believe he is saying that since copulation is that by which the sacred bond of marriage is sealed, and the two parties intimately joined therein, it would be a disgrace to join Christ (whose Body Paul is saying we are) to a harlot of all people--above all a 'sacred' bond which has now become a sacreligious monstrosity. In other words, the believer is not to join to Christ's Body a harlot, in the most intimiate union two people can have, if it is an illicit and disgraceful one: for you therefore disgrace Christ in a most egregious way, 'crucfying Him afresh' as St. Paul says. Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 15:15

7 Answers 7


I really like this question.

Genesis 2:24

Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.

In your question you emphasize lawful marriage. But Genesis 2:24 is pre-sin, pre-law, pre-condemnation. It's a creation. YHWH creates marriage here. So now rather than seeing this as "carnal copulation" it becomes a matter of a fact. In Genesis 2:24 YHWH does not say in any sort that "After a lawful ceremony, and receiving a government sponsored license for registration of marriage, the two are now one flesh". It is inherently created, that a man and women join themselves together in one flesh.

1 Corinthians 6:15

Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of a harlot? God forbid.

Those who abide in Christ so also Christ abides in them John 15:4

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.

1 Corinthians 6:16

What? know ye not that he which is joined to a harlot is one body? for two, saith he, shall be one flesh.

So now we see the joining of a man and a women inescapably resulting in both flesh being made one, lawful or not. Those in Christ, have Christ in them, so to join to a harlot or prostitute is joining Christ to the same.

1 Corinthians 6:17

But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit.

2 Corinthians 6:16

And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.


Witherington in Conflict and Community in Corinth notes that:

Unlike modern Christian practice, the basis of a Roman marriage was the intent to live together in a marital state. It did not require a formal ceremony, though many preferred to have one.

I think that you're assuming that there was a formal, legal marriage ceremony behind the words of Genesis 2, but that's highly unlikely.

Paul is extending the meaning of Genesis from the intent to be married (whatever that looked like when Genesis was written) and arguing that Genesis tells us that the act of sexual intercourse is what makes a marriage - regardless of intent.

  • I'm not sure I understand how Roman marriage is unlike modern Christian practice. Do modern Christians not intend to live together in a marital state? There was a formal, legal ceremony developed out of Genesis 2, though we must remember that Israel was a somewhat theocratic society Commented Mar 18, 2017 at 21:53
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    Yes, but simply intending to live together doesn't now count as marriage, which Witherington argues did for Romans - note that there didn't need to be a formal ceremony, which there clearly does in modern Christian practice. Commented Mar 18, 2017 at 22:00
  • Also I'm not sure when the Ketubah was developed. Moreover, the existence of a formal ceremony doesn't mean that it was required as an essential part of being married (which it now does). I'd have to look into it more... Commented Mar 18, 2017 at 22:02
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    I don't agree that the Ketubah (at least as given in that answer) was necessarily established by the time of the writing of Exodus. The linking was interesting and imaginative, but I didn't see any references to your sources for it? Also, given the evidence you cited, it's entirely possible to argue that the Ketubah was based on the structure of the Tanakh, rather than vice versa. Like I say, it's not something I've really looked at, so I don't know. I do agree with you however, that it is entirely probable that there will be significant differences between Jewish and Roman marriage practices Commented Mar 18, 2017 at 22:24
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    You might be right, it could be a derivative of the tankah format (and perhaps a variant of a suzerain covenant) but that does not preclude it from being circa the Exodus. For what it's worth, according to this source, the oldest extant Ketubah is from 440 B.C.E. Commented Mar 18, 2017 at 22:41

Paul is not commenting on marriage as much as he is commenting on idolatry and syncretism. Reducing Paul's comment to only sexuality and/or our modern perception of prostitution misses a large part of cultural context.

At the time of Paul, Prostitution occurred almost exclusively through temples - generally to fertility gods and goddesses. Nearly all prostitution at this time was "sacred prostitution" and patronizing these prostitutes was considered a form of worship of the fertility gods and goddesses in Rome.

This is pretty clear from the following verses in which Paul is calling the body a God's temple. In doing so, the implication is that this causes a syncretism which profanes God's "temple" a syncretism which the Old Testament went to geat lengths to prevent - blaming even the flood on religious mashups.

In order to make this passage merely about extramarital sexual activity you must first separate eliminate (or equate) prostitution and any extramarital sexual activity - even if it is not done for compensation - and you must seperate the idolotrous nature of prostitution as an act of worship from the sexual activity itself (something not done in that culture).

I'm not necessarily arguing that this passage isn't about extramarital sexual activity (though it may be) but I am saying that limiting the focus to only this strains the text and severely limits our understanding of the text.


Paul is quoting directly from the Greek Septuagint here:

Genesis 2:24 LXX

ἕνεκεν τούτου καταλείψει ἄνθρωπος τὸν πατέρα αὐτοῦ καὶ τὴν μητέρα αὐτοῦ καὶ προσκολληθήσεται πρὸς τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἔσονται οἱ δύο εἰς σάρκα μίαν.

1 Corinthians 6:16

ἢ οὐκ οἴδατε ὅτι ὁ κολλώμενος τῇ πόρνῃ ἓν σῶμά ἐστιν; ἔσονται γάρ, φησίν, οἱ δύο εἰς σάρκα μίαν·

*What? know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for [the] two, saith he, shall be one flesh.

The word γυνή (in τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ) in Genesis does not necessarily mean "wife", but can also simply mean "woman". The same is true of the Hebrew אִשָּׁה, which is translated as "woman" in Genesis 2:23 in the King James, but "wife" in verse 24. The Hebrew word can also simply mean "female" (e.g. Genesis 7:2).

While perhaps one could argue that the intent of the writer was that Genesis 2:24 applied only to the relation between a man and his wife1, Paul, himself a Pharisee, does not seem to interpret the Scripture to mean this.

1 One rabbinic commentary on Genesis 2:24 (by Nahmanides, 13th century) held this verse up as evidence that God intended men not to be promiscuous (Oxford Jewish Study Bible, 1st ed., p.16n)


Forgive me if this is unsatisfactory, but isn't it a lot simpler than these answers are making it seem?

Carnal union (sexul intercourse) is that which consummates and constitutes marriage in this culture. Biblically, theologically, it is when the two "become one flesh" Gen 2:24—it is precisely that in which true marriage consists (not mere betrothal, which pledges you in marriage) .

Consequently, joining oneself to a woman in sexual intercourse you are not married to is akin to marrying one woman, and committing adultery with someone else (becoming one flesh with a woman you are not married to).

Specifically, in context, the Christian Church is said to be married mystically to Christ, and to be one with His Body--it is called the "Body of Christ" (presumably due to this spirutal or mystical 'marital untion').

Therefore, to say that to have sex with a woman ("join to a harlot" 1 Cor 6:16a) is to be one with her in body is to say that they are doing that which is alone reserved for the sacred bond of marriage.

St. Paul is calling intercourse with harlots a kind of adulterous sacrilege. Sacrilege because in doing so one joins Christ's body to an adulterer who sins in her flesh (something St. Paul says is a more grave sin than others 1 Cor 6:18). Adulterous because it is not your wife.

In the bigger picture, he tells us that we do not own our own bodies, but were "bought with a price" (6:20) by Christ, and that joinging with a harlot would be dishonoring our bodies body and expelling the Holy Ghost from your body—whose Temple it ought to be (6:19), whereas you are to glorify God with your body instead (which comitting adultery with any real and legitimate wife, or spiritually, Christ, certaintly does not).


I think it wise to refresh the knowledge that sexual intercourse, under law, begins with two virgins, whose resultant sexual experiences grows in knowledge, as they grow together, blissful in perfect union. The man knowing the woman. This is only natural for consummation, as Eve came from Adams rib- Genesis 2:23

It is frightening to think of the spiritual dangers that associate with a sort of friendly one night stand- in some sense one is physically moved by the experience of the other- this may horrify you- the sounds and writhing that could occur- in some sense the dirt sticks. When we are joined to a harlot, we naturally come together as one, and hence we a knowers of her dirt. This is what I feel Paul is trying to say in 6:16- to join is naturally to become one- G 2:24 is just starting the correct footing, the natural understanding of reason- woman only is joined to man as she came from his rib- if you join that not of you, it must be the Lord, as he goes on to lead. A harlot can only despoil you, as being with her is saying she is of me. Eve and Jane and Caro, cant all be from you, nor are they from themselves - simple sense.

Carnality is a slightly different thing, being the sort of all out, this is mine, everything else get fucked. Where desire could lead anywhere- hence the need for marriage. In warfare, or when one totally disregards another- this is naked carnality.

for unlawful carnal knowledge.

The best advise I have taken, as I am not Married, is simply not to encourage or indulge nigglings and fantasy.

It seems to me, that just being a part of a dirty society, allows the threat of that dirt- contradictions of knowledge to dwell with us, at least rub off.

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Paul was referring to a higher authority to back up some serious statements and accusations, that of harlotry and the spiritual consequences of it. Paul referred to Genesis 2:24 as evidence and validation of what he was saying was true. Yeshua also referred to the Torah several times. Each of the temptations by Satan was refuted fully when Yeshua referred to the Torah. It was used by the writers of the New Testament and still is an authority for us. A link that shows the many examples of the Old Testament quoted in the New Testament:https://www.blueletterbible.org/study/misc/quotes.cfm

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