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)
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.Please give a full name and location when posting. Comments without this information may be deleted. Recommend: