The Bizarre Nature of Marriage in Ephesians 5:25-33

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to honor marriage with respect to the Hebrews text @MrBryanLCarter brought up last week. As such, I’ve been poking at some scriptures here and there all week. Then, a day or two ago I saw in my twitter feed something from John Piper.


Really, is that what marriage is for?

I’ve known folks who ascribe to such a teaching, and for some it does work out ok, albeit with incredible pressures along the way. For others, the covenental focus turns their marriage from something that should have reflected well on Christianity, into a relationship so toxic, that who in their right mind would ever want to get married?

Its a good thing to want to honor the covenental aspects of marriage, but when ones witness of honoring the covenant also destroys the couple involved… it really doesn’t pass the smell test. Rather it sets up stumbling blocks, and does anything but honor marriage.

So, I go back to the scriptures from early in the week, and I come across Ephesians 5:25-33.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.

I think there are 3 main ways to look at this text.

1. Live out your marriage in such a way as to demonstrate Christ’s love for the church which is the approach of @DesiringGod teachings. It fails some of the time for the reasons discussed above. It also puts a lot of pressure on a marriage to witness to something which truly doesn’t need witnessing. I mean really, is there any doubt that Jesus doesn’t love the body of Christ? Is that something that needs reinforcement somehow? I just don’t see the need for this.

2. Look to Christ’s love of the church for a model as to how your marriage should be. The power dynamics of that make it impossible, to say nothing of the problems of the church. Its way beyond a white knight with a heart of gold marrying the crazy party girl who keeps going off the path. If anything, this seems like a disaster in the making.

3. Only look to the aspects of marriage that are explicitly directed to husband and wife or only applicable to Christ and the church. Do not try to co-mingle them as a whole, as they are like apples and oranges, Rather,in making parallels, only look to things they explicitly could share, like love, respect, and oneness and anything beyond those, leave as a mystery.

As far as the other elephant in the room, the submission problem, there are a ton of issues, with the biggest thing being caving to the fallen nature of humanity. Genesis 2:18 sets up Eve to be a helper to the man, one of explicit equality. Paul in a similar vein says there is no male or female in Christ. Its only man’s fallen nature that the one sided submission thing comes into being…

Folks much smarter than I have dug deep on this, a few resources.

The first is Fr John Ricardo talking on Ephesians 5… and some might wonder, why I’d reference a Catholic priest on this. The reason, they hear confessions, the deepest, darkest depths of a person’s struggles. And in a lot of ways, a Catholic priest likely knows a whole lot more about a given marriage than the folks actually in the marriage. Beyond that, there is a great deal of depth in his podcast, things like pagan cultural aspects, language / translation issues, and equality.

To go even deeper than the podcast, here is a link to his dissertation. Warning, its 133 pages!

Rachel Held Evans also takes a look at this. She states. “I, (and many biblical scholars and fellow Christians), would argue the point of these passages is not that patriarchy is the best foundation for marriage, but rather that the humility and service of Jesus Christ is the best example for marriageā€¦and any relationship.”

Bottom line, if one sided submission works for your marriage, good for you, but keep watch for issues over time. Beyond that, one sided submission is unlikely to be fruitful for a lot of couples, and its by far not the only way to ascribe to the scriptures as well as to honor marriage.

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