Does a woman have to take her husband’s last name?

Today, it is not unusual to see a couple that is married and the woman does not take her husbands last name.  Many reasons are cited for this, most of which are not based on the idea of marriage, but individualism. Too often, however, this practice demonstrates attitudes toward marriage that of themselves, usually are a source of problems in the marriage.

Sometimes a woman may have a professional career and is known by her maiden name. When she marries there is a concern that clients will no longer recognize her with a new last name. In some Hispanic cultures, such as Puerto Rico, it is common for someone to be given a hyphenated last name that includes the mother’s maiden name and the father’s last name.

Likewise, many in the Women’s Liberation Movement see taking the husbands last name as making her subservient to a man. Some even go as far as calling themselves not a woman, but a womyn so as to not identify with men at all. In any case, the idea of taking a husband’s last name comes from the Bible and, like all Biblical teaching, there is a moral reason for it.

No matter what anyone says, most people who reject Biblical teaching do so because of unbelief and pride. Unfortunately, in doing so, they often miss the logical application that the Bible has for every person’s life. Many times in Biblical counseling people want to know how to fix things, but they do not want to recognize the source of the solution. In those cases is is often necessary to point out the logic found in the Bible so they can see with their own eyes that it is not a book for ignorant people who cannot think for themselves. So, when it comes to examining whether a woman should take her husband’s name, consideration should be given as to why God said it should be done. With that in mind we will seek the answer from the Bible.

Just about everyone knows that the Bible teaches that Adam and Eve were the first human couple. The Bible teaches in Genesis 2:7-24 that Adam was formed by God first, then not long after he formed Eve:

(Genesis 2:7-24 KJV)  “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. {8} And the LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed. {9} And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. {10} And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads. {11} The name of the first is Pison: that is it which compasseth the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; {12} And the gold of that land is good: there is bdellium and the onyx stone. {13} And the name of the second river is Gihon: the same is it that compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia. {14} And the name of the third river is Hiddekel: that is it which goeth toward the east of Assyria. And the fourth river is Euphrates. {15} And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. {16} And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: {17} But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. {18} And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. {19} And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. {20} And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him. {21} And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; {22} And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. {23} And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. {24} Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” (Emphasis added)

The first thing to note is that God created both Adam and Eve, but Eve was created from the rib of Adam. This causes Adam to recognize that she is “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” and this new relationship, marriage, is considered to be a “one flesh” relationship.

When we think of a one flesh relationship, it is more than just two people deciding to live together, it is a process whereby they give up their former allegiances and form a new allegiance with one another. This allegiance entails clinging to one another only and beginning the process of weaving their lives together to form one life. This means that everything else in life, except for their relationship with God, comes second to their one flesh relationship.

It is this one flesh relationship that creates a marriage not only Biblically, but historically. The word marriage according to Webster’s 1828 dictionary is:

MAR”RIAGE, n. [L.mas, maris.] The act of uniting a man and woman for life; wedlock; the legal union of a man and woman for life. Marriage is a contract both civil and religious, by which the parties engage to live together in mutual affection and fidelity, till death shall separate them. Marriage was instituted by God himself for the purpose of preventing the promiscuous intercourse of the sexes, for promoting domestic felicity,and for securing the maintenance and education of children.

Of particular note is the Latin roots of the word, Mas and maris. Mas is a word that denotes a man and maris denotes a woman. In most cultures, Maris is better defined as mother and some link it to the name Mary, as in Mary the mother of Jesus. This feminine indication can also be seen in the use of the term mare in horses. Mares are defined as a female horse of three to four years old, or of breeding age.

Other terms used for marriage are matrimony and monogamy. Matrimony takes its root in the word matron, which indicates a mother. Adding the -mony to matron, meaning one, makes the word describe a “one mother” relationship. Likewise, the term monogamy is derived from two terms mono, meaning one, and -gamy.

Gamy is the root of the word gamete. A gamete is described in biology as a male (sperm) and female (ovum) reproductive cell. Gametes also have the ability to reproduce through a process called meiosis, the process whereby the cells divide to create a copy of itself. One fertilized egg cell divides into two, which divide into four and so on.

The significance of this in marriage is that it signifies that one man and one woman, a male and female, can create offspring by the physical joining of flesh. Neither two males nor two females can join flesh biologically to create a child so the idea of marriage in that sense would not be biologically considered to be a marriage.

This brings up another point. Husbands and wives create children through mating. This too is a another derivative of the term gamete. With this in mind, when a husband and wife are first married, the marriage is “consummated” through the joining of flesh. The term consummated is a combination of the terms consume and mate. Simply stated, it is the process whereby the husband consumes or takes the wife through mating.

This idea of consummating the marriage is found in our state laws concerning marriage. Until recent times, in most states a marriage could be annulled if it was not consummated. This is because the marriage was not considered to be complete until the couple physically joined flesh. This concept of consummation is prevalent through most cultures and found in Biblical teaching. Likewise, two men or two women cannot consummate a marriage because they are not biologically able to.

It is important that when considering the intimacy of the relationship between a husband and wife, a wife taking a husband’s name is but one way that a couple demonstrates their oneness. Likewise, this sharing of a name signifies a union in all aspects of a couple’s life.  Practically speaking this practice started with Adam and Eve. We see this is Genesis 5:3-4:

(Genesis 5:1-2 KJV)  “This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him; {2} Male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created.”

Notice that God called their name “Adam.”” In other words they were Mr. and Mrs. Adam. These titles refer to their titles: Mr. is the abbreviation for Mister and Mrs. is the abbreviation for Mistress. Although today, when people hear the term mistress they have ideas about a woman who is in an adulterous relationship with a married man, especially in France. However, that was not the original use of the word.

When a wife does not take her husbands name, it leaves doubt as to where they stand in their relationship. Are they married or just living together? What about the children? Whose children are they? Some may say who cares, but in doing so they are saying they do not care what image it projects on society or what God has to say in the matter. God addresses this in 1 Thessalonians 5:22 when he says to “abstain from all appearance of evil.”

Likewise, Biblically speaking, we are taught that the marriage relationship is an earthly model of the relationship between Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:24-32). The husband represent Christ and the wife represents the church. As the church, which consists of believers, we are the bride of Christ. As the bride of Christ, we not only take upon us the name of Christians on this earth, we also are given a new name by our groom Jesus (Isaiah 62:1-5; Revelation 2:17; Revelation 3:12).

The question we have to ask is that if a wife is not willing to take the name of her husband, how much has she really given of herself in total devotion to him? Inversely, if a husband is not wanting his give his name to his wife, how much is he really willing to give himself in total devotion to her? Likewise, if we are not willing to claim the name of Jesus, how much have we willing to give of ourselves in total devotion to Him?

We should present ourselves as living sacrifices unto God which is our reasonable service (Romans 12:1-2). In doing so, God will transform and renew our minds not only in how we approach our relationship with Him, but also our spouse. And that will result in a relationship that is totally blessed.

Finally, to answer the question “Does a woman have to take her husband’s last name?” No, she does not have to take his name. However, if she is totally devoted to him, why wouldn’t she want to? (Romans 10:11)


Dr. Michael Williams

Dr. Michael Williams is a pastor, author, Christian educator and Biblical counselor who has served in ministry since March of 2000. Dr. Mike holds under-graduate through post graduate degrees in Christian Education. Dr. Mike is the Senior Pastor of Selah Mountain Ministries, which he founded in March of 2010 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA (selahmountain.org). In addition to counseling, he teaches how to overcome life issues Biblically on topics such as anger management, marriage, addictions, and other subjects typically referred to as mental illnesses. Dr. Mike lives with his wife Pamela Rose and adult daughter Hollie Rose. He and Pamela have other adult children and several grandchildren as well. Visit the About page to learn more about Dr. Mike.

19 thoughts on “Does a woman have to take her husband’s last name?

  • April 16, 2016 at 5:51 pm
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    What woman is significant for keeping her own name when she married instead of taking her husbands name?

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    • April 16, 2016 at 7:51 pm
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      Thanks for the response Carol. There are many women that have kept their own name, especially in the entertainment industry. The point is that when striving to be in a one flesh relationship, the only thing that should ever come between a husband and wife is Christ. And He is the foundation and example of the relationship. Thanks again.

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  • December 31, 2016 at 12:14 pm
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    It was well reasoned until utter compromise overtook the wisdom at the end.

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  • January 1, 2017 at 12:25 pm
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    Thanks for the comment Gregory. Not sure what your reasoning is, but in the end I tried to communicate that we do not have a commandment that we are ordered to obey concerning this topic because of our freedom in Christ. However, for the reasons provided in this article we should want to have a wife share her husband’s last name. Hopefully people are inspired to do do so, not because of intimidation of the law, but because of the leading of the Spirit and love of Christ. Thanks again.

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    • January 1, 2017 at 1:09 pm
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      Many failures have resulted as well, because of the “freedom in Christ,” clause.

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      • January 2, 2017 at 1:08 am
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        Freedom in Christ is the direct result of the gospel. Legalism is sin that destroys faith, which in turn destroys lives even to subsequent generations. Most people over 30 we have counseled over the past 16 years have had their faith shipwrecked by people in churches that have been like the Judaizers of Galatians – telling them that now that they were saved, they had to keep the law or rules. They tried to make them conform their behaviors by the intimidation of the law and rules of how they should behave instead of inspiring them to grow closer to Christ so the Holy Spirit changes their heart, which changes their behaviors because of their love for Him. Nearly everyone of these people have told us a story of an event in their lives where someone in a church shoved hypocritical legalism into their lives that was a turning point that made them reject the church. This resulted in disastrous things happening in their lives, which set their children up for failure as well. They come to us when their lives are destroyed and we lovingly show them that living for Christ is not working to try harder to be good, but being faithful in being immersed in His Word and prayer and fellowship with likeminded believers so that they grow to have a new heart like David asked for in Psalms 51. That is what makes their behaviors acceptable to God, because their motovation of faith based in love, not by the law or abitrary commandments made up to make one conform. This is why we are told to have the mind of Christ so that everything we do is based on our faith in what He did for us. The focus is on inspiring them to change by changing their heart, not intimidating them to change by changing their behaviors. Sadly, the latter is the number one reason people leave the church. I describe this in great detail my book, Grow closer to Christ in 30 days.

        Romans 6:15-23; Romans 8:1;17; Romans 14:1923; 1 Corinthians 10:22-31; 2 Corinthians 3:11-18; Galatians 5:1-6; 1 John 4:19.

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  • January 24, 2017 at 2:30 am
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    What about a woman keeping her name and adding the husbands name.

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    • February 16, 2017 at 7:53 pm
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      Hi Ruth, that is an interesting question as I know in many cultures, the woman does that exact thing. One of my good friends in the Army was from Puerto Rico and his mother’s last name was Delgado and his father’s last name was Delgado (No relation). Therefore, his last name was Delgado Delgado. Needless to say, it made for some interesting teasing, but he was a good sport.

      The point of my article was that although we have no commandment to adopt the husbands last name, there was a theological reasoning behind the cultural practice in many circles. Personally, I have no problem with this, but when you look at the fact that as believers we have a new name in heaven I do not personally see any symbolic representation in keeping the maiden name (Isaiah 62:2; Revelation 2:17; Revelation 3:12). The focus is leaving behind the old life and becoming a new creation. To debate this further would be tantamount to debating how many angels would fit on the head of a needle and getting mad if someone disagreed. Sadly, many people will make this into a “must do” argument and leave out the fact that as God changes us into the image of His Son, our thoughts and desires change, which convicts us PERSONALLY to live for Christ in ways that many others may not even have considered. Simply stated, I personally would have a problem, but unfortunately, many people today do not do so because they were inspired by the Holy Spirit. Instead at least every one that I have known that made to decision to do this expressed some desire not to lose their own identity. I would politely disagree as it reinforces my proposal that our new identity is in Christ, not the person of our past. Either way, I still love them as a brother in the Lord.

      Thank you for your thought provoking comment. For those who may read my thoughts on this matter, please do not interpret my words to mean that I am judging anyone to be wrong if they kept both names. I just would choose otherwise and my wife would as well. This does not mean that either of us love the Lord any less. Just how we express it may be different as it may be when we express our love to our spouse.

      Blessings, Dr. Mike

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  • March 6, 2017 at 8:58 pm
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    But if a husband was totally devoted to his wife, wouldn’t he be willing to do the same for her? Shouldn’t he also be willing to show his devotion by making that sacrifice?

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    • March 15, 2017 at 10:58 pm
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      Hi Rita. Good question. I guess my my answer would be where would we see that in Scripture and what type of Christ and the church would that represent? We, the church, take a new name as the bride of Christ, not the other way around. This was the subject of Ephesians 5:21+ that Christ is the beidegroom and we are the bride. Hence the reason for the marriage supper of the Lamb in Revelation 19. Thanks again.

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    • March 16, 2017 at 2:06 am
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      I agree with you. A man is the one being called to leave his father and mother and Cleve to his wife. He should do this by letting go of his family name. I have known only one couple where he did this and they have an exceptional partnership.

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  • March 14, 2017 at 11:38 am
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    I do agree in what you say that “No matter what anyone says, most people who reject Biblical teaching do so because of unbelief and pride”. I have numerous times been confronted unfortunately with men who use the bible to use women to gain a higher status to her despite Mathew 20:28 “I have not come to the world to be served BUT to serve” stated by Jesus Christ which men are called to emulate. I have been villanized when I say I would not be assuming a husbands name. For it is the mans duty to leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife. If he is the one to retain his family name he is STILL legally identifying with that group of individuals which on his wedding day he is suppose to leave SO that the two become one. This is not mentioned once, twice, three times but… count it 5 times. Yet we see women being the ones to assume this responsibility they are the ones “given away” and say goodbye to their family and their family name… this is completely backwards it is up to the man to leave his former family to cleave to his wife. To do this he must put down his pride and take on her name showing he is cleaving to her, a man who is not willing to do something simple as sacrifice his pride by his last name as scripture dictates, by no means is willing to die for his wife which is a much greater sacrifice.

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  • March 19, 2017 at 2:27 pm
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    Some of the many responses I have received about this article demonstrate how we as humans try to rationalize our stances on this matter based on our “experience.” We must go back to the cruxt of this article. Christ does not receive a new name from us, we receive a new name and other things from Him. At the moment of salvation, we are born again by faith into HIS family (Galatians 3:26) and become heirs to the promises to Abraham because we are also born into the family of Abraham (Galatians 3:6-14).

    The point of man leaving his father and his mother and cleaving unto his wife and becoming one flesh is that the man and the woman become a separate family when they marry: Not that the man takes upon him the name and attributes of the wife (Genesis 2:24; Ephesians 5:28-32). This is spelled out very clearly in the entire chapter of Ephesians 5. We, as believers or the bride of Christ, are called to be followers of God, leaving the old life and fellowship that we lived and cleaving unto our husband Jesus Christ. When we are saved, we receive Him into us and He receives us into His family.

    Revelation 2:12-17 reinforces this in that the very name of the church of “Pergamos”, meaning “marriage” presents a church that God had good things to say about and not so good things. The not so good things were that they “held fast my name”, meaning they called themselves Christians and have not denied their faith, but held the doctrines of Balaam and the Nicolaitans. These doctrines espouse humanistic and governmental influence over the church (Numbers 22:17; Numbers 25:1-3). In other words, these believers were forming church-state “marriages”, allowing the power of the state to govern the affairs of the church. The Nicolaitans, took this to a higher level in that they put government officials in control and endorsed infallibility of these leaders to define what Scripture taught. This was literally seen and implemented in church history around 300-500 AD with the church-state mix between the church in Rome and the government, which led to centuries of atrocities. The story of Baalam is a type of that theological stance and what comes of it as described and seen later.

    Notice in Revelation 2:16-17, they are told to repent, else Christ would come to them and fight them with the Sword from His mouth (The Word of God – Hebrews 4:12; Revelation 19:11-21). (Note: The situation is similar to Balaam, who was about to do King Balak’s bidding, in how the angel stopped them and the ass spoke the words of warning from God in Numbers 22:22-35.) Then He tells them “To him that overcometh,” meaning those that are saved (1 John 5:1-5), He would give them a white stone WITH A NEW NAME written that no man knows except he that receives it. In other words, the moment a believer trusts Christ as their savior, they are given a new name. Christ does not take their name, they receive a new name.

    If you look at all the references to those that overcome (trust Christ as Savior) in the seven churches of Revelation, found in Revelation 2-3 we see the following:

    + The believer receives eternal life – Revelation 2:7
    + The believer receives salvation from death – Revelation 2:11
    + The believer receives a new name written in heaven (The Book of Life) – Revelation 2:17
    + The believer receives the Holy Spirit – Revelation 2:26-28
    + The believer receives eternal security – Revelation 3:5
    + The believer receives a part in the church – Revelation 3:12
    + The believer receives a future glorification – Revelation 3:21; 1 Timothy 3:15

    We see, as a new creation in Christ, ALL things become new, old things are passed away, including our former names. The marriage is an earthly representation of this truth.

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  • March 19, 2017 at 8:58 pm
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    I appreciate your reply however am not in agreement. Leadership in a home details sacrifice otherwise it means nothing. If a man retains his family name and his family pride upon his marriage he has not left them as he is instructed to do.

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    • March 19, 2017 at 9:18 pm
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      I would also add that in order for the two to become one flesh it is the man that is called to act on this point in all 5 references and leave his family and obviously his legal family name specifying his placement, this in order for the two to become one flesh. this is not directed to the woman. she submits to his leadership which is made true upon his greater sacrifices which entails his very life.

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    • March 20, 2017 at 6:40 pm
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      Absolutely bang on Doris.

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    • March 20, 2017 at 7:17 pm
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      Hi Doris, again, where is this modeled with Christ? The answer was in what Jesus said to the disciples when He told them that He was going to His Father’s house to prepare a place for them. It was customary that a Jewish man would come to the bride’s father and asked for His permission to propose to the wife. If the father agreed, then they would bring in the woman and the man presented Himself to the wife as a husband. If she agreed, then he gave her a ring or a bracelet as a token of his promise. Then the man left to go back to his fathers house to build an addition onto the house.

      There was no date set for the wedding. Once the man had finished preparing a place at the father’s house, he would light a torch and walk toward his bride’s house. The virgins waiting for their husband would hear the “midnight cry” and shout that the bridgegroom was coming. Upon hearing this cry, the virgins lit a lamp and came out to meet her groom. From there, they would proceed to the marriage and later the the house that the man had built on to His Father’s house.

      This is the perfect type of Christ as the Bridegroom who proposed to us, offering us eternal life with Him in His kingdom. When we have accepted, He gives us His Spirit as the earnest, non-refundable guarantee upon our inheritance (Ephesians 1:12-14). He want back to His Father’s house to prepare a place for us. At an undetermined time, He will return to call us out. We know this time as the resurrection/rapture of the bride, the church. Form there He takes us back to His Father’s house where He has prepared a place for us. After this event, the marriage supper of the lamb takes place in heaven where we become one with Him (Revelation 19).

      The parable of the 10 virgins illustrates this in that some had oil in their lambs, which represents the Holy Spirit and the others did not. Those that did not were not able to go with Him and were left behind. Those who had the oil/Holy Spirit were able to come out and go with Him. The others, realizing they had not oil/ Holy Spirit desperately tried to buy some, but they could not. This is a picture of those who have the Holy Spirit (saved) and those that do not (unsaved) at the resurrection/rapture.

      It is clear from Scripture that when a man leaves His Father and mother, they form a new family, long before any children come into the scene. This is why we have the tradition of the wife taking the husband’s name, because Christ does the same for us. We receive HIS name in heaven. After this, He establishes His kingdom on earth, not the bride’s, when He comes to rescue the remnant of Jews at the end of the tribulation period.

      This is the fulfillment of the types of Christ pertaining to his return from His Father’s house to retrieve His bride. This is also where we get the phrase “He is carrying a torch for you” when referring to a man who wants to marry a woman. Likewise, this is referenced in Ephesians 5:26-27, where it says, “That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might PRESENT IT TO HIMSELF a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.” And later, in Ephesians 5:30-32 “For WE ARE MEMBERS OF HIS BODY, of HIS flesh, and of HIS bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.” We become members of HIM, not the other way around.

      Finally, as to the idea of becoming one flesh, it is the joining of flesh in the marriage called the consummation. The etymology of the word consummation is to “consume through mating.” We see this illustrated with Jacob, Rachel, and Leah when Jacob went through the marriage with Rachel, but Laban, her father, slipped the elder sister Leah into the tent and Jacob went in unto her, meaning he consummated a marriage. This is why fornication is condemned in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 as it is the joining of flesh as referred to in Genesis 2:23-25. Jacob woke up and he was married to Leah, not Rachel, because He had consummated the joining of flesh with her. This is why states will allow the annulment of a marriage if it was never consummated because the joining of flesh never occurred.

      Paul was rebuking the believers in Corinth because they were having relations with other women, which he references as becoming one flesh with the. If you look at my series on marriage, you find that I go into great detail how the marriage is not created by a ceremony, but the joining of flesh. This is not to say that that the wedding ceremony is not important, any less than baptism is to someone who get’s saved. It is the public profession that the couple are entering into an honorable one flesh relationship. This is played out historically in Judaism when a marriage feast took place and the bride and groom went into a tent and consummated the marriage.

      There is much more to learn about this in my series on “When God builds a marriage.” I will leave with this thought. No where in Scripture do we see the bride of Christ giving their name to Christ. Instead, we see directly that He gives US a new name. This is also why He tells us that in heaven there will not be marriage and giving in marriage, because He has delivered us from bondage to deliver us to himself as His bride.

      Blessings.

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  • March 20, 2017 at 6:44 pm
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    I misunderstood. Absolutely wrong Doris. When a rebellious female choose NOT to take her husbands name, she opens the door for the devil to tempt her husband with disunity thoughts and threatens her marriage.

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    • March 20, 2017 at 7:27 pm
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      HI Greg, Thanks for your reply. Most people do not understand also that because of the fall, a woman’s desire was toward her husband and he was placed in a position of authority over the family, not the other way around. “Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee” (Genesis 3:16 KJV). This directly reinforces the husband’s leadership role as referred to as follows: “But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety” (1 Timothy 2:12-15).

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