Paul's Passing Thoughts

The “Lamb’s Wife” Revisited – Part 2

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on September 21, 2018

The following is taken from the transcript of Andy Young’s second session at the 2018 TANC Conference for Gospel Discernment and Spiritual Tyranny.


 

Despite the fact that a simple search of scripture reveals that the expression “Bride of Christ” is nowhere to be found, nevertheless, this doctrine continues to breathe life. Contributing to this is the existence of several New Testament passages that seem to refer to the “church” in “spousal” terms.  Let’s start with one that might prove to be the most difficult.

For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.” ~ 2 Corinthians 11:2

Before we jump to any conclusions, let us remember some simple rules. First of all, the Bible does not contradict itself. There is no such thing as a paradox. We cannot take a verse like this and reconcile it with Revelation 19 and 21 and all the other passages we looked at in the previous article.  When we have a contradiction we have to evaluate our assumptions. We must either assume the church is the bride or it is not, and we already have plenty of Biblical support to conclude that the church is not the bride. So if we go with that assumption, then we must evaluate 2 Corinthians 11:2 in light of that assumption.

If we are honest with ourselves, and if the so-called scholars were honest, we would admit that we are severely lacking in context to get the full idea of what Paul is really trying to say here. So if we want to be objective, we shouldn’t really use this verse one way or another to support any kind of orthodoxy. Now I’m not saying we ignore it. All I’m saying is that it is not clear enough to use as evidence to support an entire doctrine.

But let’s look at what context we do have, and that would be the immediate context of the surrounding verses.

Would to God ye could bear with me a little in my folly: and indeed bear with me. For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him.” ~ 2 Corinthians 11:1-4

What you should notice here is that Paul is about to go off on a rabbit trail from his main argument – whatever that is – and he is in so many words saying, “Please bear with me a moment”. If someone came in to the assemblies teaching another gospel you would hear him out. In fact they already have, which is the context and the purpose of the whole epistle. You had people coming in accusing Paul of not being a legitimate apostle.

Not only do you have a rabbit trail, but you have a rabbit trail within a rabbit trail in verse 2. Paul give the reason why he begs for their indulgence: his deep and enduring love for the brethren. In fact it would not be unreasonable to conclude that Paul cared for these believers as a father cares for his own children. Now we could parse out verse two even more and consider the grammatical structure, but I think there is something lost in the translation of this verse. Again, we can’t be sure because we lack sufficient context, but given the context we do have, AND evaluating this verse in light of the assumption that the church is not the bride, we might conclude that this statement of Paul is simply his way of expressing his love for the brethren using a METAPHOR of a father’s disposition towards his virgin daughter; his desire for her to be pure.   Paul didn’t want these Corinthian believers to be tarnished by the error of false teaching.

So let’s be sure not only that we are careful to identify a metaphor when we come across it, but let’s not read more into a metaphor than what the author intended. And this is the problem when allegory becomes our primary interpretive method.   Remember for about 1500 years, allegory was the primary interpretive method for scripture. You could have 100 different scholars read the same scripture and come up with 100 different doctrines.   It wasn’t until the 1800’s when you had critical examination of scripture that took into consideration things like grammar and historical context and audience. So if we do a critical analysis of this verse and consider other scriptures that clearly teach otherwise, we cannot just automatically take this verse as a proof text for some pet doctrine.

The next verse I want to look at is in Romans.

“Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.” ~ Romans 7:4

Here once again the same thing hold true. Everything I said about the previous text can be applied here as well. First consider what we already know. The church is not the bride. Next evaluate the verse in light of that premise and with regard to context. So let’s look at this verse in context.

“Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth? For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man. Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.” ~ Romans 7:1-4

This is a powerful passage in Romans because this is where Paul is getting into the heart of his argument for justification. The point Paul is making is that when someone dies the law no longer has jurisdiction over him. This is something we have discussed at length here at TANC, and it is the very reason why believers are righteous as a state of being. The old person is dead, so the law can no longer condemn him. The new creature is not under law, so that old law of sin and death has no power over him.

Now he uses once again the analogy of marriage. This is more of an analogy than a metaphor, but the purpose is the same; to help illustrate a point. If a man and woman are married and one spouse commits adultery, that spouse is under the condemnation of the law. But if the spouse dies, the other is free from the condemnation of the law. He or she is no longer bound by that legal contract. That old marriage contract cannot condemn the living spouse who decides to remarry.

Now, is Paul saying here that believers are married to someone, or is this a figure of speech? When Paul uses the word “married” in verse 4 is he speaking in the matrimonial sense? No, he is simply using the analogy of marriage to illustrate his point about our relationship to the law.

Ephesians 5:22-23 is probably the most familiar and widely used text to support the “bride of Christ” doctrine.

“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church assembly: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church assembly is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church assembly, and gave himself for it; 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 assembly, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church assembly: 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 assembly. Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.”

The first thing I want us to do is for us to read this passage with the correct terms. So, read through that passage again, and in each place where you see the word “church”, replace it with “assembly”. Believe me, this will have a tremendous impact on the way you understand this passage. “Church” connotes building, place, institution, authority. “Assembly” connotes “body”, for that is the meaning of the word. It is a “called out” body of individuals. It is also a secular, political term. A political body of individuals called together to accomplish a specific task. Moreover, this assembly is the “Body of Christ”, and that is especially significant in this passage.

Now remember our rules. Eliminate contradictions by evaluating assumptions and eliminating the ones that are faulty. We then evaluate the text based on a premise that we agree is correct. We can’t have contradictions, therefore our interpretation of a passage must be in light of a correct premise.

Now let’s consider the larger context. In this case the context is the whole letter to the Ephesians. The main theme of Ephesians is the New Man. Just like the book of Romans was a treatise on justification, Ephesians is Paul’s systematic case for the New Man.

The Paul says the idea of the New Man was a mystery in OT times. It was not something that God revealed, so man could not know it. God told us about the Promise and about all the nations being blessed through Israel, but Israel had no notion about the New Man. This is a term that is given to God’s called out assembly. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, bond nor free. All believers are identified as being part of the Body of Christ or this one New Man.

The book is full of body metaphors. Remember a metaphor is a figure of speech that uses a familiar concept to help illustrate or lend understanding to a more abstract concept. So in Ephesians we see references to body parts functioning together as a whole. This is especially apparent in chapter 4 when Paul talks about spiritual gifts. But the major idea presented is this head-body relationship. If believers are members of the Body, then Christ is the head. And there are all the implications that go with that.

So given that the theme of Ephesians is the New Man or the Body of Christ, when we get to chapters 5 and 6, Paul uses 3 analogies to further help illustrate the metaphor of a Body. There is the parent/child relationship – the parents, specifically the father, is the head of the family and the spouse and children are the body members; there is the employer/employee relationship – Paul uses the analogy of masters and bond servants. And then there is the husband/wife relationship.

All three of these analogies are helpful in the context of the lives of believers because Paul wants us to remember that in all of these head/body relationships we must remember that we are all part of Christ’s Body, therefore we should act accordingly. Verse 23 of chapter 5 says

“Christ is the head of the [assembly, ‘called-out ones’]:”

The very next clause modifies this statement.

“- and he is the saviour of the body”

This is the actual Greek word for “body”, σωμα (“soma”). The structure of the end of this verse is interesting. The word “and” is the Greek word και (“kai”), and it is used as a joining word, just like a conjunction creates a list or connects words or clauses or ideas. It is also used to show equivalence or parallel thought. This kind of writing style is common in Hebrew writing, especially in poetry, this parallelism. And you can see Paul’s Hebraic style of writing in the parallelism in this verse. Paul is stating that Christ is the head of the assembly, and furthermore, not only is He the head, He is the Savior of the whole body of the assembly. In this one verse, Paul has established that the assembly is the body and Christ is the head. Paul is not establishing a husband/wife relationship, he is establishing a head/body relationship. Keep this relationship in your mind because I’ll say more on this in a bit.

Now, when someone wants to make the case that the “church” is the “bride of Christ”, they usually go right to verse 24 and pull this one particular phrase out of context:

Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church”

Their reasoning goes something like this:

“Husband” is to “wife” as “Christ” is to “church”

Therefore:

Christ = husband

church = wife

Therefore:

The church is the bride (wife) of Christ.

And while that may seem to be a reasonable logical conclusion, it fails because it is beginning with the wrong premise which results from failing to understand the context of the entire passage. While Paul is instructing men on how to love their wives, he is not using a metaphor of a husband/wife relationship. He is using the metaphor of a head/body relationship. The reasoning of the metaphor is better understood like this:

Husbands are to love their wives

  • How do they do that?

Well, no man hates his own body.

Man loves himself (i.e. his body).

Therefore, love your wife in the same way you love your own body.

This is the context of the entire passage. Period. Nothing more. It’s that simple. Now Paul goes on to elaborate on that point by giving examples of how one loves their own body. He says that man shows that he loves his body because he feeds it and nourishes it and cherishes it. Thus, men thus show love to their wives by treating them just as they would their own body, by feeding, nourishing, and cherishing. Obviously he means from an emotional standpoint.

To further emphasis his point about loving one’s own body, Paul draws a comparison to Christ and the assembly. Christ is the head, and the assembly is the body. Just as a man loves his own body, Christ also loves His own body, which is the assembly. Christ also shows his love towards His body/assembly by feeding, nourishing, and cherishing it. And Paul is also quick to point out that Christ gave himself for His body/assembly. More than that, He also sanctified and cleansed it. How? With the washing of water by the word. These are the very same words that Jesus prayed to the Father in John 17:17, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth!” once again showing that the believer is sanctified by the law.

Let me be quick to point out, this does not mean that we conflate Jesus’ relationship to the New Man to one of a marriage relationship. It is a BODY relationship.

So how do we end up with this doctrine? I hope that what you have seen is that if we are sloppy with our hermeneutics we end up with error. And since the Bride of Christ is a major doctrine in Christian orthodoxy, this doctrine just gets regurgitated over and over again in seminaries and churches.

But the question then is, how did this all happen in the first place? If you and I can sit here and flesh out these passages and come to the conclusion that this doctrine is false, then where did it come from and how did it come to be so widely accepted in Christianity? And that is what I am going to address in my next article.

~ Andy

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