Like a Virgin Bride – Ephesians 5:25-30

The idea that the church is the bride of Christ is common in popular thinking, especially in hymns and songs. This is based on the common metaphor drawn from the Hebrew Bible that Israel is God’s bride. Beginning in Hosea, the prophets use the metaphor of a marriage relationship frequently to describe God’s relationship to his people. This metaphor is almost entirely negative since Israel was an unfaithful bride. Jesus employs similar language as the Hebrew prophets, calling his himself a bridegroom and comparing both his current ministry and future return to a wedding banquet (Matt 22:1-12, 25:1-14).

Veiled BrideAs the idea that the Church has replaced Israel as God’s people became dominant, it was quite easy to extend the metaphor of a marriage to the church. Just as the idea was common in the Hebrew Bible, so too the image of the church as the bride of Christ became pervasive in medieval theology and art. For many, the idea of the church as the bride of Christ is the dominant metaphor in their theology. But the basis for this metaphorical transfer is a replacement theology (even if it is implicit); anyone who rejects replacement theology will also think about the usefulness of this metaphor for the church.

It remains a fact, however, that Paul describes the church as like a virgin being prepared for marriage in Ephesian 5:21-33. Christ’s love for the church is described in 5:25-26, 29. Paul cites foundational text for marriage in the Hebrew Bible (Gen 2) and draws an analogy from it. The relationship of Christ and church similar to that of the married couple – they are “one flesh” in Gen 2. Therefore there is some intimate connection between Christ and the church which can be described in similar terms.

There is something of an eschatological perspective in this bridal metaphor in Ephesian 5. Christ is the head of the church, which submits to his authority. That all things will submit to the authority of Christ is a view of the future when Christ returns (cf. Phil 2:5-11). But, on the other hand, the marriage is already in existence and there are aspects of a realized eschatology here. On the other hand, the idea of a splendid church (5:27) may imply a future eschatological element is present.

At some point in the future the church will finally be a pure and spotless bride prepared for the bridegroom at the Second Coming (the “wedding supper”). I am tempted to see this as another aspect of the already / not yet tension of Pauline eschatology, but I am not sure Paul’s topic in Ephesian 5 is eschatology at all, but rather the purity of the church in the present age.

It could therefore be argued that Paul, who took a negative approach of sexual purity (commands not do be immoral, 5:3-7), now adopts a positive argument, “reflect the love of Christ” in sexual ethics (your own partner). The “function” of the metaphor is to get the husbands to see themselves as in some ways an “ecclesial bride,” if Christ and the church are “one flesh,” and covenant loyalty is obvious and required, then the husband ought to have the same level of commitment to their wives.

So Paul does use the marriage metaphor, but he spins in the direction of a ethical teaching on the relationship of a husband and wife in their marriage relationship. How then can the church be the pure virginal bride of Christ? How does this function as a metaphor for ethical community conduct?

17 thoughts on “Like a Virgin Bride – Ephesians 5:25-30

  1. I would say Paul is writing a “sermon illustration” in this section. Paul is saying look at the Gospel, Christ died, he was self sacrificing, he loved us while we were still sinners, he submitted himself unto death, and now we must do something because of it. Since, we have Christ’s example how do we apply it and Paul gives the example marriage. Marriage and the gospel story mirror each other. In marriage one must submit, be self-sacrificing, care for the other more than ones self and that sounds like what Jesus did to me. In the section right before this Paul says to submit to one another and gives the example of marriage. It was an easy connection. While it could represent replacement theology or straight teaching on marriage I think it is more about how we are to apply submission to others. Marriage was just the example.

  2. I like the metaphor Paul uses to teach husbands the proper way how to treat their wives, and vise versa because they are of one flesh (Ephesians 5:31). Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the Church and cleansed her “by the washing of the water with the word”, so she might be without “spot or wrinkle”, “holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5: 26-27). What lessons this would bring to today, for our society’s ideas that if one is in a relationship where things aren’t working, then it is fine to give up and move on, be that in way of divorce or separation. This is not to say that I think divorce is wrong; I just think that divorce is not always the best solution. One reason couples divorce is because of arguments and issues that cannot be resolved; but what if we looked at each other as without blemish, what if we loved each other as we loved our own bodies, for no one hates their own flesh so far as to not nourish and cherish it (for example, we all like to eat) (Ephesians 5: 28-29). I think that if everyone looked at marriage as the metaphor of Christ and the Church–some marriages would turn out differently.

  3. I have heard a certain interpretation of this passage that is interesting to me. Because it mentions that the husband is to love his wife, as “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” (Eph 5:25), this person took it to mean that a man should be so protective and supportive of his wife that he would die for her just to keep her safe at all costs. That is the kind of love that Paul is calling for here when he says that husbands should love their wives as they love their own bodies (v. 28). This guy who felt this way was adamant that a husband should love his wife so much he would die for her. And i suppose this can be seen by what is said there in Ephesians 5. This can definitely be part of the new identity in Christ that believers should have, and that through a totally new morality for Christ. They abandon their past life of being pagans and put on the new self of Christ, then change their actions until they line up with Christianity (TTP 248).

  4. I always liked Ephesians 5:21-33, because it does a good job of showing us how intimate our relationship as the body is supposed to be with Jesus, as well as showing us how to properly go about a marriage between spouses. The verses show that a man is supposed to love his wife, to share the word with her, to be loyal and to hold them in the same regard as they hold themselves when it comes to loving them. Wives are also expected to love their husbands as their own bodies, like their husband is to love them. Wives are to respect their husbands as well. I think all of those things are sound biblical guidelines for Christians who want healthy marriages, and yet at the same time those are also guidelines for a healthy relationship with the Lord. Verses 5:25-33, also are showing us that we are supposed to love Jesus and our fellow believers as we love ourselves, and we are expected to show respect for the Lord as the wife is expected to respect her husband.

  5. This passage to me seems like a very well done illustration used to preach to people. It obviously can mean a whole lot more than just a picture used to describe a point, but I think it can be seen as an illustration. This illustration I think, very clearly helps explain the point being made here.

  6. I love this metaphor to describe the Church, because I think it does a great job to explain to us what it means to have a relationship with Christ. It is a powerful illustration, and it resonates with many people. Longenecker does a great job explaining how this illustration can translate to an actual earthly marriage, as well as how it reflects Christ, (Longenecker 256). in Ephesians 5, it says that wives should submit to their husbands in everything, much like how the church should submit to Christ in everything (Ephesians 5:22-24).

  7. Paul’s use of the bride metaphor is present, and correlation is simple and difficult for me to make. I can see plainly that the ethical implications come into play in 5:25-30, but in 27 Christ is stating that he is preparing the church for himself as a bride. It is a great segue into the parallelism of sacrifice that husbands are supposed to have in loving their wives, but I struggle with the thought of the church being the bride sometimes. I understand it, but I can guess that for some, the idea of being ‘married to God/Jesus’ is a turn off. I am thinking in terms of the unsaved jock who is masculine in every human sense of the word, but finds that language to be ‘repulsive’. God is Spirit, so when thought of in those terms, it is less difficult. I want not much more in life than to live out Christ’s love for the church, but when I hear terminology like ‘worship is like going on a date with Jesus’, I get stand offish. Depending on the person you are ministering to, you might want to hold off on the ‘your going to marry Jesus’ spiel. I don’t want to undermine it though!

  8. I really like this passage because of how it shows what a marriage should be like. I always think it is interesting that when people want to debate about in the Bible, it is the part that says “wives should submit to the husbands in everything” (5:24). It’s like people don’t see the part that says “husband.” It is not like they have to submit to every man, only the one the CHOSE to be with for the rest of their life. And then, people miss the part where it says to men to “love [their] wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (5:25). There should probably be way more complaining and debating about that than anything. Christ sacrificed himself for us. He died on the cross FOR US! This means men have to be willing to die for their wives.

    “Husbands who love their wives and wives who respect their husbands, however, are not meant to be a mystery or an oddity but a lived realty” (TTP 256). This should be something that people no longer debate about but embrace. If people read the whole passage and took it seriously, instead of picking apart the verses they don’t like or don’t understand because they don’t see the bigger picture, marriages could actually last longer than they do today.

  9. I think that Paul is trying to convey to his readers how a husband and wife should act towards one another by referencing how the church and Christ operate with one another. To compare a marriage and how one should act as Christ did is a huge comparison and it can really hit at the heart of the reader. In relation Paul can also be describing how a household should conduct itself and how it should operate. Having God at the top and then the father to follow. But I also feel that Paul is expressing how the church and Christ are both connected to God and how we should view both things through this metaphor.

  10. In the book of Ephesians, the church is described as the body and bride of Christ. God has “exalted Christ to be ‘head over everything for the church, which is his body’, a body that Christ is said to love, feed, and care for (1:22-23; 5:29)”(Longenecker, 240). I also love the illustration of the Church being the bride of Christ. As mentioned, Ephesians relays the illustration of the bride on both men and women and it can also be connected to the marriage relationship (Ephesians 5:25, 31, 26-27). The relationship of the body in Christ is also expressed in a way of loving fellow believers just like we love ourselves. If a person fully embodies their new identity through Christ, then they should also strive to love others in the same way. The verses found in this book that relate to marriages, such as“husbands who love their wives and wives who respect their husbands” (Longenecker, 256), can also be connected to the Christian body.

  11. I think Paul uses the bride and groom reference as more of a metaphor to explain the relationship in a deeper sense. When a bride is preparing herself to get married she is both nervous, but very excited. She is nervous because she is unsure of the future and what she is getting herself into, but still excited because she knows who is going to be apart of her future, her new husband. We should be in the similar situation, in a sense, when we accept Christ into our lives. We are excited, but nervous because we do not have control over our future anymore. We are not on our own to walk life like the bride once was. “The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete.” (John 3:29)

  12. In movies, there is always the hero who gives himself up for a noble cause. Most of the time, the hero is a man. Christ gave up himself on the cross for the greatest cause of all..the world to receive salvation. It’s that reason that the body of Christ has the opportunity to show love to each other. In the same way, it’s an example for how husbands are to love their wives. “Husbands who love their wives and wives who respect their husbands, however, are not meant to be a mystery or an oddity but a lived reality” (TTP 256).

  13. I really like Ephesians 5:21-33 because it really does sound out what it means to live in a certain what. Colossians is one of my favorite books of the bible and is in direct correlation to this because in Colossians we are told children are to obey their parents because it in turn pleases God. Ephesians offers us insight on the children obeys their parents in the Lord. (Longnecker,256) I think that its nice to have a place to refer to how we are to act. As far as the illustration of the Church being the bride of Christ goes, I think that it serves well for us to see marriage relationship in Ephesians.

  14. The metaphor of the church as the bride of Christ is one of the most known metaphors in theology. I think that Paul chose it because of the fact that it is prophesied about as far back as Hosea, but also to put it into terms that every believer would understand in that time and in time to come. Marriage is a concept that every person understands or rather they should and I think the best way that Paul could put it into understanding for everyone was to reaffirm what God had previously said. The church does replace Israel as the people of God which is why the message of the gospel is taken to the Gentiles to begin with and I think viewing the Church, The Body of Christ as the Bride of God makes it have a stronger and more powerful meaning and holds it to higher standard as well.

  15. I highly enjoyed reading what Natalie had to say concerning this post about how marriage could look different if husbands and wives started to see the other partner as ‘without blemish’. A typical saying by most older married couples is “a man marries a woman thinking she won’t change, while a woman marries a man thinking he will change.” The truth is, typically, the woman does change and the man does not–at least not the way his wife would like him to. With this saying, one can understand that this concept is so far from the truth that Christ is exemplifying. Christ says, whether you change or not, I will love you. As Natalie stated “…if everyone looked at marriage as the metaphor of Christ and the Church–some marriages would turn out differently”. Christ does not try to change us for His benefit. Rather, he encourages us to live a life seeking Him–knowing full well that in Him, we can then be complete. Whether it be a spouse, friend, or co-worker, we should not attempt to change people so we can be happier. Instead, we are called to meet them where they are at, just as Christ waited patiently for ‘his bride’.

  16. The majority of what I think about when reading this initially is how powerful marriage is and how unique it is from anything else in this world. Our world has tainted the idea of marriage and frequently devalues the commitment, purpose, and plan that God created it to have. There is very few things that have that level of commitment and unity and that’s why God uses it as an analogy to explain his relationship with the Church. There is so much more to marriage than a wedding, cohabitation, and sex – despite what our culture teaches, and honoring the blessing of marriage is one major way to honor God and live ethically as a church community.

    Another way to do this is by focusing on and teaching those positives that you mentioned. I appreciated that you pointed out Paul’s change from saying “don’t to this” to “do this” So often, I can get in the mindset of don’t do this or don’t do that and it can create negativity in myself, resentment, or even obedience for the wrong motivations. Rather, if those get switched to the positive and for example I can remind myself to love God, be kind and pursue righteousness, those are enabling rather than debilitating thoughts. It allows me to be less frustrated and hard on myself and overall more positive and encouraging to myself and those around me. The church can be the pure bride of Christ by understanding and living out the gospel that Jesus and Paul both passionately teach. Strive for righteousness and holiness by training thoughts, actions, and behaviors to be God-honoring and pure.

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