The Cosmic Import of Marriage
The Bible is bookended by weddings. The first several chapters of Genesis detail the Creation of the world centered on a pair of human individuals, Adam and Eve, ostensibly the first married couple. The last several chapters of Revelation detail the wedding feast of the Lamb and his Bride (the Church). It is also no coincidence that in John, Jesus’s first miracle is at a wedding.
The Bible treats marriage as a representation of a deeper reality of the way God relates to Himself and His people. The Church as the Bride of Christ is not a metaphor drawn from cultural usage, much as Jesus’s command to become Fishers of Men does not merely use a facet of culture and spiritualize it. This view, though, has it exactly backwards. It is not that the Bible, looking for a something to describe a cosmic reality uses human marriage as an illustration for greater cosmic truths, but that human marriage itself is designed to be a reflection of a greater cosmic reality. Human marriage is a model, however imperfect, of the ultimate, deeper reality of marriage.
Marriage models the relationship of God to Himself. Trinitarian theology, however challenging it may be to understand, holds that God is three persons, yet one being. The early church fathers used the term perichoresis (from Greek: lit: dancing around) to describe the relationship of the Trinity to itself. The significance of this is that the very concept of relationship is contained within the nature of God Himself. This is true of any relationship, but particularly in the marriage relationship. The love given by the persons of the Trinity to each other, and in which believers are welcomed (John 17), is the model for marriage.
Secondly, marriage is designed to model the relationship of God to His people. One of the primary ways in which this is so is that God makes covenants with His people. Perhaps the most pivotal is the Abrahamic covenant. That is, God enters into relationships with His people that entail promises.
The Old Testament constantly refers to Israel as an unfaithful wife, i.e., that the covenant was somehow violated by the action of Israel in turning away from God to pursue other things. Hosea offers the paradigmatic example of this as the prophet Hosea is told by God to take a wife who is unfaithful. Hosea’s pursuit of an unfaithful wife represents the attitude of God towards His people. Marriage is a human representation of the deep covenant establishing the love of God towards His people.
In the New Testament, we see this relationship of God and His people taking a specific form, namely the relationship between Christ and his Church. Paul, in an oft-cited passage in Ephesians spells out this relationship: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word and to present her to himself as a radiant Church… holy and blameless.” (3:25-27). Marriage is not presented as a metaphor through which we better understand the relationship of Christ and the Church, but human marriage is an instantiation of the ultimate reality of Christ and the Church.
This cosmic truth is finally dramatically revealed in Revelation, as the people of God, who are no longer unfaithful but made perfect by the blood of the Lamb on the cross, are the Church, the Bride of Christ. In sweeping language, Revelation presents imagery of the ultimate consummation of history as the marriage of Christ and his Church.
Of course, topics such as the Trinitarian nature of God, the relationship between Christ, the Lamb, and his Church, are mysterious and, to a certain extent, inexplicable. However, it is important to recognize that human marriage in the Bible is a representation of greater cosmic realities, not a mere human institution.
Markus Boesl is a senior Philosophy major in Timothy Dwight College.
Image: Jewish Wedding by Marjorie Sterian.Tags: church, dance, God, love, marriage, theology