Tuesday 5 March 2013

Toward a Biblical Theology of Marriage - New Testament (2)

1.         Godhead, Relationship and Marriage
The relationship between Christ and the Church is almost as significant as the relationships within the Trinity — diminished only by its being secondary, rather than primary, in defining the nature of God — for in that relationship we find the key to salvation itself.
It is because God can do something in relation to us — something which brings us into ‘union with Christ’ — that salvation is effected through Christ’s death on the cross and our union with him in his death.
Furthermore, we need to understand that this ‘marriage’ between the Creator-Redeemer God and his created-redeemed people is possible because of the nature of God himself. God is one who can be in a marital relationship.
An important insight into the nature of persons in the Trinity is provided by the notion of ‘perichoresis’. What this means is that each person in the Trinity is defined in terms of relationship with the others.
This is easy to grasp when we think of terms like ‘Father’ and ‘Son’. One can be an individual on one’s own, but one cannot be a father without a corresponding child or a ‘son’ without a parent.
So both the differences between and identities of the persons of the Trinity arise from their distinct relationship to the others.
But the marital relationship between Christ and the Church shows that God has a further relational potential — to relate to something outside himself, something which is not his own self, but whose qualities are such that God can relate to it almost, we might say, on equal terms. After all, what is a marriage if not a relationship between beings who are profoundly alike — or as Adam’s words in Genesis 2:23 put it, “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh”?

2.         The Genesis of Marriage
In Ephesians 5, as we have noted, the Apostle applies the principles of Genesis 2:24 to Christ and the Church. But there are other ‘Christological’ elements of New Testament theology drawn from the narrative of Genesis 1-3.
Philippians 2:6-8, for example, is generally agreed to be contrasting the behaviour of Adam with that of Christ who, “being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant” (cf Gen 3:5).
Or again, Christ’s lordship over all things may be seen as the ultimate fulfilment of the Genesis mandate. When Ephesians 1:22 speaks of all things being under Christ’s feet, it echoes the language of Psalm 8 (see v 6) which, with its reference to “all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea (vv 7-8) is itself clearly echoing Genesis 1:28:
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
J V Fesko, Academic Dean and Professor of Systematic Theology and Historical Theology at Westminster Seminary, California, helpfully explores this Christological reading of Genesis in his Last Things First: Unlocking Genesis 1-3 with the Christ of Eschatology (Fearn Ross-shire Great Britain: Mentor, 2007).
In the present context, we would note that a Christological reading of Genesis 2 is particularly helpful in understanding the profound depths of the Christ-Church relationship.
It may seem odd, for example, to think of Christ as in any sense resembling Adam at the point of the latter being put in the Garden to til and keep it. But it has been pointed out elsewhere that the language of Genesis 2 at this point parallels the priestly task of the Levites in relationship to the tabernacle — the dwelling-place of God — and that the tabernacle itself represents a miniature ‘Eden’ (see Gregory K Beale, ‘Eden, the Temple and the Church’s Mission in the New Creation’, JETS 48:1, 2005, 5–31).
And to think of Christ as the ‘temple keeper’ is by no means a demeaning of his person or his task.
Provided, therefore, we keep in mind that Adam is, in the words of Romans 5:15, “a pattern of the one to come” rather than the reality itself, it is perfectly legitimate to apply narrative details concerning him to the one of whom he is a pattern — in other words, to get clues as to how we should understand Christ by reading the account of Adam.
This being the case, however, we may also understand from the narrative of Genesis something about the relationship between Christ and the Church.
Thus, once again, it may seem odd, to say the least, to appear to suggest something lacking in Christ’s nature when we read in Genesis 2:18 that it was not good for the man to be alone and apply this to Christ.
Yet a ‘not good’ is not the same as a ‘bad’. To put it another way, ‘not having reached perfection’ is not the same as ‘having an imperfection. Specifically, when we read in Hebrews 2:10 that Christ was made perfect through suffering, this doesn’t mean there was something wrong with him.
Rather, we might think of a cake which, until it is baked is not finished, but is not ‘going wrong’ in the earlier stages of its preparation. And so Adam’s condition of ‘not good’ does not imply a fault in creation, but simply that the job is not yet finished.
Yet surely to suggest that Christ, like Adam, needed a ‘helper’ implies an inadequacy? In reply, we would simply point to what the New Testament itself declares, and observe that in relation to creation a ‘helper’ is precisely what Christ must and will have, and that this helper is his Church:
18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Cor 5:18-19)
28 Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Matthew 19:28, NIV)
Or again,
22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. (Eph 1:22-23, NIV)
What, then, of Eve’s origin from Adam? Clearly the physical details do not apply, yet the Puritan writer William Gurnall was happy to draw a spiritual comparison (and I suspect from his Latin reference may have got this from an earlier source):
E latere Christi morientis exstitit ecclesia – the church is taken out of dying Jesus’ side, as Eve out of sleeping Adam’s. (The Christian in Complete Armour, Part 11, ‘Justifying Faith, as to its Nature)
Furthermore, the creation of Eve from Adam, if applied to the Church, is a reminder that human beings derive their nature from that of the one for whom they are made, for we are not just another creature, but the very ‘image of God’.
We should not forget that God has made us to be “conformed to the likeness of his Son” (Rom 8:29), and that therefore we will one day ourselves be images of the image (cf 1 Cor 15:49; 2 Cor 3:18; Col 3:9). Hence our claim above that we may legitimately apply spiritually to the Church in relation to Christ what Adam said physically of Eve:
This is now bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh ...

3.         The Gender of God
And this itself helps us answer the question as to in what sense God is ‘gendered’. In a world where godesses were commonplace, the Bible is unequivocal in applying the male gender to God.
Yet clearly a God without physical ‘parts’ is not ‘a man’, or even, in the biological sense, ‘male’.
Even so, he remains ‘he’, and as we have seen, in the marital relationship between God and Israel, he is the husband and Israel the bride.
Some might suggest this is a merely social convention, appropriate to a world in which patriarchy was the norm. But as we have seen above, the marital relationship between God and Israel, fulfilled in the relationship between Christ and the Church, is of too profound a significance to relegate to a matter of cultural convention.
Rather, we should see that the ‘masculinity’ of God, like the ‘Fatherhood’ of the Father or ‘Sonship’ of the Son, is relational — though in this case the relationship is not within the godhead, but rather between the godhead and that which is created to be the image of God.
The Creator-Redeemer God is ‘he’ in relation to that which he has created and redeemed — that which is his bride and in union with which he brings to pefection an image of his own self to which he will finally relate ‘face to face’ (cf Ex 33:11; Dt 5:4; 1 Cor 13:12).
This is the profound truth about marriage, and one which ought to govern our thinking.
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  1. John,

    I know you think that it's telling when people rush to reply when you blog on one of the current controversies, but are silent when you do something "useful". But I think in the case of your last 3 pieces we've all got digital indigestion from having consumed too much in too shorter time!

    It does touch on some of those controversies though. Concern about relationship over status (how Father and Son relate, that makes them Father & Son, rather than one being more important), the Church, and where marriage points. Lots to filter through our systems

    Darren Moore

  2. What a beautiful blog post.

    We cannot create new life with any other species, since there is no species "alike" enough for us to have that relationship. But mankind does enjoy a relationship which no other species can enjoy: a relationship with our creator.

    God created that relationship so that He could have a relationship with us. Unavoidably, then, the relationship was simultaneously created so that we could have a relationship with God. God wants us to know Him. That's how much he loves us!

  3. "After all, what is a marriage if not a relationship between beings who are profoundly alike — or as Adam’s words in Genesis 2:23 put it, “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh”? " - Ugley Vicar -

    Absolutely! - a Very good reason for advocating same-sex marriage!

    Marriage is not just about sex. there is no such component, for instance, in the marriage feast of the Lamb!

  4. Father Ron,

    Why then did God make male & female rather than like worms? The point is alike, but different. How would same-sex marriage (following where the rest of the argument was going)help us understand God's relationship to the Church?

  5. Fr Ron, I think you'd have to ask two questions at least:

    a. Is same sex sexual activity intrinsically sinful? The mainstream Judaeo-Christian tradition has held that it is.

    b. Can same sex sexual activity correspond to the typology of the 'one flesh' union, originating in the narrative of Genesis 2, that finds its anti-type in the union of Christ and the Church? I think the UK government's need to avoid 'consummation' and 'adultery' as categories in their same-sex marriage legislation clearly indicates an absolute difference.

  6. Following the typology of the NT It would seem to me that SSM would be akin to the church marrying the church or Christ marrying Christ.

    Unless you invent a new theology and doctrine of marriage it just ain't there Father Ron.

    Chris Bishop

  7. John, the 'mainstream Judaeo-Christian tradition' has been amended to bring about change in many spheres of justice. Think of the treatment of women, for instance, now regarded as equally deserving of ministering to congregations - in all but 'Headship' churches.

    The Genesis typology obviously refers to heterosexual marriage, with the possibility of propagation. However, there are other types of marriage, as already discussed, where sexuality is not involved, but neither is propagation. As the latter is described as 'marriage', this would seem to allow for same-sex relationships which have the potential to care for children - as is the case with heterosexual couples incapable of producing children.

  8. Kiwianglo, (real name or unkind parents?)

    This is a classic arguing backwards isn't it? Think about the logic of what you've just said. "Judaeo-Christian tradition has been amended". You have an option; either say, the Bible is God's word (yes with lots of hard thinking about how it applies etc.) OR we work out things for ourselves.

    The claim that some of us are making is that the Bible reveals God's thoughts from outside of ourselves that we'd be ignorant of otherwise. So, with marriage, it tells us stuff we would otherwise not know. So, the Christian has a distinctive view of marriage (although marriage isn't just for Christians), which brings in all this stuff that John's been going on about. Chris Bishop's little summary above hits the nail quite well.

    I get what you want the answer to be, but you have to make some choices.

    Is there a marriage that involves no sexuality? And even for a couple that can't propagate, the action isn't unrelated, is it? Besides, the whole point of what John's been going on about is that marriage is bigger than sex. Sex comes into it and expresses something, but the whole stuff about a woman (who is the image of God) & a man (who is the image of God), are still somehow different, but in marriage they come together and that expresses something beyond just that marriage. That's why God made male and female, rather than neuter.

    As for being able to care for children, that is another can of worms. Sometimes because of circumstances a single parent does the best that they can (which is often very well! Conversely some "conventional" families do a shocking job) - but there is more to care than "just" provision and love. A Mum & Dad work well as a team, because they are a Mum & a Dad.

  9. Andrew Godsall7 March 2013 at 12:47

    "You have an option; either say, the Bible is God's word (yes with lots of hard thinking about how it applies etc.) OR we work out things for ourselves."
    It is not either/or. It is both/and.
    The clear narrative of the scriptures is that God was working it out as things went along and that God could change his/her mind. We even hear that Moses got God to change mind about something.
    God tried wiping out everyody with Noah but realised this was a daft idea so said 'I won't try THAT again'. The whole of the narrative of Israel in Egypt is of God working it out as things go along.
    And then God tried sending prophets - but in the end thought it was better to just go himself. Even the writer of Hebrews tells us that. Why would it be any different now? Of course the scriptures are God's word - but only because God's word is first and foremost God in personal form. There is still more light and truth to break forth from God's word. Still more.....
    Andrew Godsall, Exeter

    1. "God tried wiping out everyody with Noah but realised this was a daft idea so said 'I won't try THAT again'. "

      Nothing in Scripture says that God thought it daft. If anything it repented him that he'd made mankind in the first place!

      "And then God tried sending prophets - but in the end thought it was better to just go himself."

      Again, Jesus didn't come simply as another, better prophet - even John the Baptist was more than a prophet. I think you're referring to Hebrews 1:1-2, but what about verse 3?


  10. Andrew,

    This is actually old & tiresome. The "God changes his mind" thing, is well answered, in say Thomas Winandy's "Does God Suffer" (Roman Catholic perspective, not Evangelical) & the like, I'm not going to rehearse the arguments here. But this is why it's tiresome, there's a sort of smugness of "look, here, we've thought of things, you stupid evangelicals". But when an argument like you've just said is put across so un-nuanced as that, it indicates that you've never considered any counter-argument or answer (even if you don't find is satisfactory).

    There is a story line in the Bible, but clearly one where God knows where it is going. More light breaks through, but from what we have. "God got tired of sending the prophets" - seriously? The Noah thing... but he did it small scale... is "god" incompetent and forgetful as well as not knowing what's next?

    Basically, you have a "god" who makes mistakes and doesn't know where he is going. Rather, God is "wonderful" Ps 139:6, Judges 13:18, meaning "mind-blowing". Being committed to the Bible as God's word (in the traditional sense, not bar of soap sense), involves much more hard work and thinking. We have to keep asking, how does this bit and that bit fit, how does it apply & so on. Rather than... "well, nowadays... God couldn't have seen that one" etc.

    Take the last 3 blog posts John's done. A bit of thought about a storyline, connections & how it fits today. I'd say that does shed light. What you're doing it is closing & say, "I think", which looks remarkably like our surrounding culture.

  11. Andrew Godsall7 March 2013 at 15:54

    And of course the answer probably lies somewhere in between. Ever heard of 'Thesis, Antithesis, synthesis'? But I (and others) have to state the antithesis strongly otherwise the synthesis would be unbalanced. But yours (and John's) thesis just doesn't hold enough water.
    John has never been able to answer serious questions about scripture and will always prevaricate when asked questions like 'Did Noah's Ark actually exist', or 'was Jonah swallowed by a Whale and who was the witness to it', or 'how did Job hear God's voice and who was taking notes' or 'who overheard Jesus praying in the garden to get down the words of his prayer so accurately'. Answer these questions and THEN come back and tell us exactly how scripture is infallible, and inerrant and THE word of God will you? Otherwise I'm afraid there is not much here to be taken very seriously.

  12. Andrew, you wrote, "there is not much here to be taken very seriously." And still you read and have commented more than anyone else in the whole history of this blog apart from me - 272 times to date. So I find your dismissal hard to believe.

  13. Andrew,
    Of course I've heard of Hegal's idea of thesis, antithesis & synthesis. And CS Lewis (Shaefer, Van Til & others) seriously panned it! But is that a Christian/Bible way of thinking? That itself needs a critic from a higher authority doesn't it?

    Noah, Jonah, who heard... Andrew, have you read a serious evangelical or conservative catholic book? When we were at Theological College, we had to read quite a range of stuff, along the liberal spectrum, non-Christian and Jewish. Good evangelical books actually put the other view across, seriously and fairly (serious ones do). Carson has addressed some of these things, Jensen in "Revelation of God" Frame & others.

    I'm not going to get sucked in to each, each taking a bit of time. But there are plenty of books dealing with it properly. Again, you may not be satisfied. But you (& quite a few others), need to drop this idea that evangelicals are dancing around with their tambourines saying, "really!" to the 1st thing that they hear. I am constantly amazed to hear of Evangelical ordinands in the C of E being told that they have had too narrow exposure to the wider church (wider church narrowly defined as English Anglicans), but it is a rare thing to find people outside of that constituency with any fair idea of what evangelicals actually think or who their big (global) players are.

    Read Hermenutics, Canon & Scripture Edited by Carson/Woodbridge, then we can have a sensible chat about what traditional evangelicals believe.

    1. better still, Frame's "Doctrine of the knowledge of God". Suspend disbelief for a moment, jot objections down & press on through

  14. Andrew Godsall, Exeter7 March 2013 at 17:12

    Darren: you really think that a book/author using the phrase 'bible-believing' (Carson) can be taken seriously? I've got much more important things to read I'm afraid.
    What does he/you mean by 'bible-believing'? What kind of scholarship is it that wants to define people as 'bible believing'?

    John: If you prefer me not to comment, then please do e mail me explaining why not. Otherwise, I assume that as you open your blog for comnments that you welcome them?

  15. Sorry, Andrew, I was teasing, though I did splutter a bit when I read your comment "there is not much here to be taken very seriously." If that's what you think, why spend so much precious time on it?

  16. Andrew,
    Without sounding too smug - I rest my case.

    1. Andrew Godsall7 March 2013 at 17:27

      And what is it that you/he mean by 'bible-believing'? I'd love to know....

    2. I suggest it might include believing the Creeds because they are Biblical. Hint hint.


  17. Andrew Godsall7 March 2013 at 17:25

    How do I put this:
    because I think the Gospel is far too important and vital to be left to Conservative Evangelicals? And because those who claim to be Anglican 'Mainstream' are anything but?
    Those who said there is a battle for the soul of the C of E were, sadly, probably right.

    1. Andrew, I presume this is a reply to my question, but I still don't get it. You don't think there's anything here to be taken seriously. But you do think the 'battle for the soul of the CofE' is being fought out here? Or am I missing something?

    2. " I think the Gospel is far too important and vital to be left to Conservative Evangelicals"

      Hmm - where have we heard this sort of thing before? Oh, yes:

      "I think marriage is far too important and vital to be left to heterosexuals!"


  18. Andrew,

    Where did you get that phrase, "Bible believing"? It's not in any of my recent posts? Yes, Conservative types use that phrase and it annoys people like you, as it implies others don't. So, strictly speaking we should nuance that, perhaps.

    Now, is that any different to when people like yourself state that basically in contrast to Evangelicals, that you think? Isn't there a website called "Thinking Anglicans"? So, where are the others showing off, "What do you mean by this... we think too". etc.

    But you can't say, "oh, you haven't heard of Hegalian ideas, look at so-&-sos wonderful insight, you've got no answers to a bunch of tricky questions" Along with, "you lot, so cut off, haven't experiance all this wisdom"

    Then, when somebody says, "actually, there are lots of answers to those questions, at different levels, written over the past few 100 years. Some of which goes into a far bit of depth, insights from various places, archaeological evidence..."
    -you reply, "life's too short"
    so, not listening to the answer etc. etc.
    Not amazingly broad minded. Not very Hegalian (not listening to the antithesis of your hypothesis, denying yourself a new synthesis)
    If you can't see the irony...

  19. Anyway, wearing my old wrestling referee's shirt, I am sounding a 'first public warning' that this thread is going off-topic. If it continues to do so, I'm afraid I will delete further comments.

    The authority of Scripture is NOT THE TOPIC of the post. So from NOW ON PLEASE STAY ON TOPIC. (Andrew, you're allowed one last word on this.)

  20. Andrew Godsall, Exeter7 March 2013 at 18:09

    Darren: Carson uses the phrase 'bible-believing'. I'm afraid it means I discount anything else he says as it hardly takes bilical scholarship very seriously.
    John: yes - I think you are fighting for the soul of the C of E. I think you have your emphases in seriously the wrong place - your fighting for a Conservative Evangelical Flying Bishop is one evidence of that and it is always going to need challenging.

    Your graciously offered last word is done....

  21. Andrew Godsall8 March 2013 at 11:10

    Some really helpful words from Richard Rohr (his daily meditations are excellent) which *sort of* help all of us in this debate I think:
    (I hope John allows them :) )

    When you encounter a truly sacred text, the first questions are not: Did this literally happen just as it states? How can I be saved? What is the right thing for me to do? What is the dogmatic pronouncement here? Does my church agree with this? Who is right and who is wrong here? These are largely ego questions, I am afraid. They are questions that try to secure your position, not questions that help you go on a spiritual path of faith and trust. They constrict you, whereas the purpose of The Sacred is to expand you. I know these are the first questions that come to our mind because that is where we usually live—inside of our mental ego. They are the questions we were trained to ask, because everybody else asks them, unfortunately!

    Having read sacred text, I would invite you to ponder these questions:

    What is God doing here?
    What does this say about who God is?
    What does this say about how I can then relate to such a God?

  22. Very interesting 3 articles that deserve careful reading and reveal many insights into a subject which has profound depths. Thank you John.

  23. 'What does this say about how I can then relate to such a God?

    Hmm. By Rohr's own assertion could this question in itself be an example of an 'ego question' that tries to secure ones own position?

    Chris Bishop

  24. Once again, can I just ask people to keep comments focused on the subject-matter of the original post. I know Andrew Godsall has set numerous hares running, but I've asked him and others to let them go.

  25. BTW the reason I am asking people to stay focused is that the whole point of my leaving comments open is to get some feedback on, or even critique of, the ideas in the articles. Given that I usually have to read the comments, it is helpful to me if they are generally relevant to what I'm writing!

  26. John,

    I am unclear as to how does Matt 22:30 fits into your analysis. Do we assume that gender and therefore marriage is abolished in heaven? In what way are we like the angels?

    Is marriage only a temporal institution this side of heaven?

    Chris Bishop

  27. Chris,
    I'd have thought so, or something like that must be the case mustn't it? Mark 12:25, we'll be like the angels. Also, I guess the point to which John was driving at is that marriage here points to the marriage there, where the church will be married to Christ. So there will be 1 marriage, at least.

    A non-Christian couple I know didn't like the vow, "To death us to part", as they felt their love transcended death. That is very sweat. But I guess this shows that there is something bigger, & more significant that our human relationships. That's the context all this fits into.