As we saw in the previous post, the notion of ‘two becoming one flesh’ is essential for a proper biblical understanding of the sexual act.
Another thing we see in the Bible is the idea of ‘knowing’. For example, Genesis 4: 1 reads, ‘And Adam knew Eve his wife: who conceived and brought forth Cain…’. In the famous Sodom and Gomorrah story in Genesis 19: 5 the townspeople said to Lot, concerning his two guests, ‘bring them out hither that we may know them’. There is also Numbers 31: 17, ‘Therefore kill all of the male sex, even of the children: and put to death the women that have carnally known men.’
In all of these examples the word know or knew, Hebrew word yada, connotes a sexual meaning. This is especially obvious in Genesis 4: 1 where the immediate action that occurs after Adam knew Eve was Eve’s conception of Cain. It is interesting that yada, however, does not necessitate a sexual connotation. In fact, it is more often than not used in the Bible as: to comprehend something, to understand something, or to learn something, as for example in Exodus 6: 7 where God says, ‘I will be to you a God: and ye shall know [yada] that I am the Lord your God…’ (emphasis mine).
What is interesting here is that the existence and use of these two meanings of the same word makes it at least a possibility that there is an inherent connection between them.
Let me explain. Take Genesis 4: 1 as an example. If Adam knew Eve, then yes that means they had sexual intercourse. But it also means much more then that, when you take into consideration what yada is usually defined as. For Adam to know Eve through the sexual act means he knows her and understands her in a way that no one else does: in a personal, intimate, and unifying way. Marriage and the sexual act that is meant to accompany it are the unification of man and woman and as such you know (understand) this woman or this man in a way that is completely and utterly unique.
Another definition of yada is to reveal. This is even more tied in with the sexual connotation in Genesis 4: 1, for Adam and Eve reveal their whole selves to each other via the sexual act, as does any husband and wife who enter into the marital bond. An act that is supposed to be in its very nature entirely self-sacrificing (because you are literally giving your body and soul to your spouse in each and every sexual act) entails that each spouse reveals themselves to each other in ways they could not before. As a result, the other spouse grasps an understanding of their beloved more fully than they did and could before.
‘But wait,’ you may say, ‘Even if a passage like Genesis 4: 1 could be interpreted in that way doesn’t a passage like Genesis 19: 5 contradict that? Isn’t the intention of the townspeople against Lot and his guests to do something horrible and wrong? And if so, how could that square with your interpretation of ‘to know’?’
Genesis 19: 5 does seem to be talking about a sexual act here, since only a couple of verses later Lot offered his two daughters to the crowd who ‘have never known man’. So what can we make of this?
It seems to be that yada is being used here to describe the physical act of sex. But this is not contradictory to the deeper meaning behind yada described above for two reasons. First, even today we use the word ‘sex’ as simply the physical act of sexual intercourse, even though when I and other Catholics use the word ‘sex’ we imply something with a far deeper meaning. So it is very possible for the same situation to be applied here.
Second, the passage could actually prove the deeper meaning if the wording is being used in order to prove a point. We see an example of this in 1Corinthians 6: 15-16 where St. Paul says, ‘Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take Christ’s members and make them the members of a prostitute? Of course not! [Or] do you not know that anyone who joins himself to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For “the two,” it says, “will become one flesh.”’
Now clearly St. Paul does not think that having intercourse with a prostitute is unifying in the same way that a husband and wife having intercourse is, even though he compares both situations to Genesis 2: 24; if that were the case then that would mean that a man and a prostitute would be comparable to Christ and his Church like husband and wife is. Rather, St. Paul is using the Genesis 2: 24 comparison to show how ridiculous it is for one to misuse their body for sexual immorality, for it becomes a false connection to that truly unifying aspect of marital love.
So it is in Genesis 19: 5. The crowd’s use of the word ‘know’ here shows how twisted and godless they really are to imply that their suggested actions are comparable to the true meaning of sexual complementarity that God designed.
Hence no contradiction remains. Yada has clear sexual implications and speaks to the very nature of the sexual act. To 'know' your spouse is to continuously grow in your understanding of who they truly are through a lifetime of sexual, intimate, and personal experiences together.