Ten reasons: the mystery

The author elaborates on his ninth reason to prove headship existed before the fall:

The mystery: Marriage from the beginning of Creation was a picture of the relationship between Christ and the church. When the apostle Paul discusses marriage and wishes to speak of the relationship between husband and wife, he does not look back to any sections of the Old Testament telling about the situation after sin came into the world. Rather, he looks all the way back to Genesis 2, prior to the Fall and uses that creation order to speak of marriage: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:31-32) Now a “mystery” in Paul’s writing is something that was understood only faintly if at all in the Old Testament, but which is made clearer in the New Testament. Here Paul makes clear the meaning of the “mystery” of marriage as God created it in the Garden of Eden. Paul is saying that the “mystery” of Adam and Eve, the meaning that was not previously understood, was that marriage “refers to Christ and the Church.” Although Adam and Eve didn’t know it, their relationship represented the relationship between Christ and the church. They were created to represent that relationship, and that is what all marriages are supposed to do. In that relationship, Adam represents Christ and Eve represents the church, because Paul says, “for the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church” (Ephesians 5:23). Now the relationship between Christ and the church is not culturally variable. It is the same for all generations. And it is not reversible. There is a leadership or headship role that belongs to Christ and that the church does not have. Similarly, in marriage as God created it to be, there is a leadership role for the husband that the wife does not have. This relationship was there from the beginning of Creation, in the beautiful marriage between Adam and Eve in the Garden.

Paul’s not above using people, places, things, and ideas from the Old Testament to prove a New Testament point. I’ve already pointed out that Hagar and Sarah were used in one illustration. This might be a simple case of another illustration – for one, let’s consider what we do know of Adam and Eve’s ‘marriage’;

Genesis 1-5 contains the sum of A&E’s lives, from beginning to end. Adam married a woman who was only slightly younger than he was. He met his wife in the Garden of Eden where no ceremony was performed nor were there any vows exchanged. They were side by side for that unfortunate conversation with the serpent, and they were side by side as they sinned. After leaving the garden, the pair began having children. One of the first two killed the other, but they had a third son to replace the murdered one. Adam and Eve had many other sons and daughters, but they died. There is a lack of ‘structure’ to this relationship – what does headship say – that Adam was the servant-leader and Eve intelligently and joyfully submitted to him in everything? But the Bible doesn’t really give us a description about what married life was like for them or gives us stories or examples where they did just that. Another thing to consider is that when you’re down to a handful of people running an entire world, there’s no such thing as ‘gender roles’ it takes everybody to put up shelters, tear them down, pack them up, move them around, dig wells, plant crops, prepare food – odds are there wasn’t a clear division of responsibilities by gender in the early days. It would have been a lonely world for Adam to all the provision by himself while Eve did all of the child-care by herself in separate but equal spheres of responsibility.

Now the marriage of Christ and the Church isn’t even completed – but we have to put marriage in it’s ancient context to see why:

In Mary and Joseph’s time, marriage was a serious undertaking. What would have usually happened is that Joseph would have first gone to Mary’s father and ask for his permission to ask to marry Mary. Joseph would have done this by pouring Mary a glass of wine – she could drink from his cup and accept the proposal; or she could refuse to drink the cup and decline the proposal. If she drank from the cup, then she was ‘betrothed’. Mary would continue to live in her father’s house while Joseph went to his father’s house to prepare their own place. This stage could easily last a year or more. Then once the room had the father’s approval, word would be sent to Mary’s family that it was time to set the date. The two families would meet together for a week-long banquet where the couple would arrive separately and leave together as husband and wife.

Now let’s take a look at where the marriage of Christ and the Church stands; communion stands as a symbol of the proposal – almost all churches partake of it in some way, shape, or form. We’ve accepted. So we’re ‘betrothed’. Jesus has gone to his father’s house to prepare rooms for us. We’re told about the wedding supper of the lamb but that hasn’t happened yet. Which means that the Church is still living in her father’s house and that Christ is still at his father’s house; the date isn’t yet set and the marriage hasn’t taken place yet.

Let’s take a closer look at Ephesians 5 – starting with verse 21: Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Paul’s about to elaborate on the relationships between husband and wife, parents and children, and masters and slaves – he starts off with a simple directive to submit to one another. I don’t think he put that there by accident, in as much as he’s about to direct certain people to submit to others, it’s not to give some people a pass to think that they’re not supposed to submit because they aren’t told to specifically in those passages. This is a general statement that excludes no one.

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. (22-24)

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, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. (25-33)

The profound mystery is the ‘one flesh’ relationship – the head/body relationship. I think we have to recognize that no matter how much we try, we can’t fill Christ’s sandals any more than we can fit in the Church’s shoes. As I mentioned yesterday, these verses are part of the household codes that are a response to Aristotle’s teachings, the Greco-Roman cultural norms about married life. I’m guessing that the author deduced headship by reading into these verses that as the original representatives for marriage, Eve is the wife and Adam is the husband. Eve is the Church and Adam is Christ. Wives are the Church and husbands are Christ.

Aristotle wrote that – “the rule of a household is a monarchy, for every house is under one head” in reference to the relationship between master and slave; but of the relationship between a husband and wife: “whereas constitutional rule is a government of freemen and equals … A husband and father, we saw, rules over wife and children, both free, but the rule differs, the rule over his children being a royal, over his wife a constitutional rule. For although there may be exceptions to the order of nature, the male is by nature fitter for command than the female, just as the elder and full-grown is superior to the younger and more immature. But in most constitutional states the citizens rule and are ruled by turns, for the idea of a constitutional state implies that the natures of the citizens are equal, and do not differ at all. Nevertheless, when one rules and the other is ruled we endeavor to create a difference of outward forms and names and titles of respect, which may be illustrated by the saying of Amasis about his foot-pan. The relation of the male to the female is of this kind, but there the inequality is permanent.

What is the saying of Amasis about his foot pan? it turns out Amasis and his guests were accustomed to using a gold basin with which to wash their feet. One day, Amasis melted it down and molded it into a god-image which the residents of the city would bow to reverently. He told them that the god which they had been worshiping was originally his foot-pan, in the same way that he, their king, had been a private person, he would now require respect despite his humble origins in the same that they god-image was respected despite it’s humble origins of being a foot-pan. Since this illustration is to show that a difference of outward forms and names and titles of respect is important for the relationship between husbands and wives; then we can deduce that ‘difference’ was a key component of this entire dialogue; how a master was different from the slave, how a husband was different from the wife, how a father is different from his children in his various roles as odds were in the old days, the master, husband, and father would be one and the same person.

So free men and women are equal, but different so much so that men, by nature, are fitter for command than women. Equal … but different. Odd – this sounds like headship teachings; just without Christ’s servant leader-ship and without a word spoken to women about their roles. Paul does something remarkable, he speaks to women, not through men and about women as Aristotle did. Paul also put women first, whereas Aristotle’s started with the men. Aristotle sees men and women as two separate kinds of people, a natural ruler, and a natural subject. Paul points the ‘one flesh’ teaching to get men to understand that women aren’t just ‘others’ that they get to rule other, but they’re part of their very being – they are their body which they are to nurture, cherish, and love. Now no body ever lasted very long without a head, and no head lasts very long without a body – especially two thousand years ago in a patriarchal society where men held all the power and made all the decisions; women who weren’t provided for or protected by men were vulnerable to other men who could care less about their well-being. Paul’s main concern is under-mining the ‘equal (as in equally free) but different (as in men always rule and women are always subjects to that rule)’ teaching and he does that by making them one. Just as Christ and the Church will be one when the marriage finally takes place.

It’s not authority and leadership that’s the point of what Paul’s trying to say, if it were then it would sound more like Aristotle and less like Paul. Paul uses the word love lots of times; Aristotle – zero. (Technically twice, but not in the context of husband and wife.) Using these verses out of context to try to prove ‘headship’ existed before the fall is certainly a stretch that doesn’t seem to have very strong support. We seem to have a thorough idea about how husbands are to lead and wives are to submit, but we don’t have a parallel for how Christ is to lead and the Church is to submit – the Bible verses that govern the latter relationship doesn’t provide a clear picture for the former one. But much has been made about love: “greater love has no one than this, to lay down their life for their friends.” “I am the good shepherd – I lay down my life.” Jesus died in order to give his church life; without the hope of his Resurrection there’s not much point in having a church, isn’t there? Perhaps the foundation of what Paul’s trying to say that they have to ‘die’ to Aristotle’s teachings, to the idea that they have a constitutional rule over their wives, to die to the idea that their nature as men is that of the natural leader and their wives are naturally subjects to their rules, to die to the rules that govern their relationships that are based on power and authority just as Jesus did. Whatever he’s saying, he’s not pointing to Adam and Eve as the example that represents Christ and the Church, he’s not saying that the first marriage is the pattern that all marriages ought to be based off of. He’s saying that all you need is love; this is the key ingredient that governs the relationship between Christ and the Church, and also husbands and wives. When you have understood love correctly, everything else falls into place. Love is not and never was an exercise in control. If the relationship is all about control, then it ceases to be about love.


^ Read Aristotle’s work, Politics Book 1 here:  It’ll give you an insight into how his culture differed from ours in many ways. We have to be careful not to ‘read into’ ancient works things like how we understand marriage to be like because we highly value love, whereas marriage was usually more like a business arrangement to the end of strengthening two families. Love wasn’t always part of the deal which is why Paul had to remind the husbands that love is the foundation of what Christ did and what they ought to emulate.


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