John Calvin on 1 Corinthians 6:16

Here is Calvin on First Corinthians 6:16. But before I quote Calvin, a thought on the possible charge of novelty regarding the truth of what constitutes marriage:

“Name one person/theologian/church father who taught that sex alone is what constitutes marriage.”

There are others who hold to it like Bill Tess and some others who probably can be found on the internet by a Google search. I do not know of any throughout church history who did, and judging by the contents of the major Confessions no one believed that sex equaled marriage. But it does not matter ultimately since it is very clear that the Apostle Paul taught this “novel” doctrine to the babes in Corinth. But it goes back much further than Corinth, for Jesus Christ quotes Genesis and says that “this” is how God joins a male and a female together (Matthew 19:4-6).

Just like the wicked and adulterous generation of Christ’s day who devised all kinds of intricate and elaborate ways to nullify the commands of God by the commands of men; so today they say a man wasn’t married (whether lawfully or unlawfully) when God said he was married, and they tried to say a man was married (lawfully) when God said he was not married lawfully. God says that if they have sex they ARE one flesh, and one flesh is the marriage union. But they say “no” since they “didn’t do this” or they “didn’t do that” in addition to sex alone.

Back to Calvin:

16. Know ye not that he that is joined to an harlot He brings out more fully the greatness of the injury that is done to Christ by the man that has intercourse with an harlot; for he becomes one body, and hence he tears away a member from Christ’s body. It is not certain in what sense he accommodates to his design the quotation which he subjoins from Genesis 2:24.

Calvin asserts that the reason Paul cites Genesis is “not certain.” Calvin’s presuppositions say it’s not certain, but it IS quite certain why Paul cites Genesis in order to make his point. The problem for those like-minded with Calvin, is that they do not like the implications Paul’s point has for them regarding what constitutes marriage.

For if he quotes it to prove that two persons who commit fornication together become one flesh, he turns it aside from its true meaning to what is quite foreign to it. For Moses speaks there not of a base and prohibited cohabitation of a man and a woman, but of the marriage connection which God blesses.

If the “true meaning” is a lawful marriage of which Moses speaks in Genesis 2:24, then it is precisely Paul’s point to give it a foreign meaning. Paul labors to show the Corinthians that a man who unites himself to a harlot has created a “foreign” (unlawful/adulterous) marriage union with her.

For he shows that that bond is so close and indissoluble, that it surpasses the relationship which subsists between a father and a son, which, assuredly, can have no reference to fornication. This consideration has led me sometimes to think, that this quotation is not brought forward to confirm the immediately preceding statement, but one that is more remote, in this way — “Moses says, that by the marriage connection husband and wife become one flesh, but he that is jointed to the Lord becomes not merely one flesh, but one spirit with him.” And in this way the whole of this passage would tend to magnify the efficacy and dignity of the spiritual marriage which subsists between us and Christ.

Oh, the incredible lengths Calvin will go in denying the clear import of the passage because of his confusion, misunderstanding, or denial of the obvious:

“Paul can’t mean that; he just can’t mean that.”

Calvin continues:

If, however, any one does not altogether approve of this exposition, as being rather forced, I shall bring forward another.

Uhh, yes. It is forced. So let’s have another one, John.

For as fornication is the corruption of a divine institution, it has some resemblance to it; and what is affirmed respecting the former, may to some extent be applied to the latter; not that it may be honored with the praises due to the former, but for the purpose of expressing the more fully the heinousness of the sin.

By John, I think you’ve got it! The “some extent” portion means that although one flesh is a marriage union, it is not necessarily a God-pleasing, lawful one. Anyways, Calvin concedes a lot here. I know of some other commentators –Gordon H. Clark comes to mind — who totally side-stepped Paul’s Genesis 2:24 quote and did not even deal with it at all.

The expression, therefore, that they two become one flesh, is applicable in the true and proper sense to married persons only; but it is applied to fornicators, who are joined in a polluted and impure fellowship, meaning that contagion passes from the one to the other.

WHY is it being applied to fornicators, Mr. Calvin? It is polluted. It is impure. The words “polluted” and “impure” describe this marriage, and Paul’s point hits home by citing Genesis 2:24. Sex alone has polluted the marriage bed (Hebrews 13:4). And this sex alone, one flesh union is applied to BOTH lawfully married and unlawfully married persons.

For there is no absurdity in saying that fornication bears some resemblance to the sacred connection of marriage, as being a corruption of it, as I have said; but the former has a curse upon it, and the other a blessing. Such is the correspondence between things that are contrasted in an antithesis. At the same time, I would prefer to understand it, in the first instance, of marriage, and then, in an improper sense, of fornication, in this way — “God pronounces husband and wife to be one flesh, in order that neither of them may have connection with another flesh; so that the adulterer and adulteress do, also, become one flesh, and involve themselves in an accursed connection. And certainly this is more simple, and agrees better with the context.

Calvin revealed his uncertainty at the beginning of his comments on 1 Corinthians 6:16. But his comments following the “uncertain” comment show that he actually has a pretty good grasp of the passage (he just won’t admit its conclusions). In some areas it seems he almost admits that sex alone is what constitutes marriage.

It is interesting to look at a bunch of commentators who actually deal with this passage, and then watch them either twist like a contortionist and/or stop short of actually saying anything about the implications this verse has on the constitution of marriage.