The Church as Body and Christ as Head: The “One-Flesh Union”

The Church as Body and Christ as Head: The “One-Flesh Union”

JPI 1010
3 Credits

At the heart of creation lies a mystery which is termed in Hebrew the basar ’echad or the “one-flesh union.”  It appears initially in the second movement of the narrative of creation (Gen 2) which describes the precise theological relationship between man and woman. While sexual union is the privileged expression of this one-flesh union, it does not exhaust the meaning of this theological/anthropological reality. Rather it is caught up in the primordial principle of “one-flesh union” that is the central key to understanding human relationality, the organic nature and bodily structure of Church, the interior relationships of the Persons within the Godhead and the dynamic organic nature of salvation.

The narrative of creation (Gen 1-3) is where the essential principles informing the created order are revealed, including the principle of “havdil” (separation), the Semitic cognitive category of corporate personality, and creation’s ordering towards worship. In this context, the term basar ’echad (one-flesh) emerges providing us with an interpretive key which penetrates into the essential meaning of the man’s nature and provides the initial clues as to the inner life of God. Herein, man’s gendered existence is shown to be intrinsically tied to the covenant between God and man and the meaning of man’s liturgical existence.

We will explore the intrinsic link between these primordial texts and Eph 5:32 (the Pauline great mystery). This latter text specifically unites both the Old Testament’s “one-flesh” reality of man and woman with the New Testament Church and provides the lens by which the nature of the Church as Body and Christ as Head will be examined. This will include an in-depth look at Paul’s ecclesiology and soteriology. Primary texts will include Scripture, major commentaries (Westermann, Wenham, Cassuto, Bruce) von Balthasar, Miletic, Pedersen, Tertullian, Augustine (Totus Christus) and others.

Selected Texts


Joseph Atkinson portrait

Joseph C. Atkinson

Associate Professor of Sacred Scripture
S.T.L. and S.T.D. Program Advisor

Dr. Atkinson’s work has included foundational research in developing the biblical and theological foundation of the family. He is a primary authority on the concept of the Domestic Church, which explores the ecclesial structure and meaning of the family. He teaches on the biblical structure and meaning of marriage and the family, on the Jewish background of the family, and on the nature and role of covenant.

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