There is nothing in the two figures of bride and body
which makes it impossible that both should not be used of us. Paul could
compare the Corinthians, who certainly were one body, to the betrothal of a
pure virgin, in order to picture their singleness toward Him, not
their union with Him. But, as a matter of fact, Paul never
mentions either a bride or a lamb, nor is this ever
connected with the nations in the Word of God.
In 2 Cor.11:2 Paul himself interprets the figure. As a virgin is single
and pure toward her betrothed, so they should be to the Lord. At one time,
although I had taken a course in rhetoric and was supposed to understand
figures of speech, I used this text for awhile to prove that the church was
the bride of Christ, yet in reality, if it could be used in this way, it
proves the opposite, for the figure is that of a virgin. When I
discovered that redeemed Israel is the bride, I used this passage
against the idea that the church is the bride. But I soon saw that this
would not do, for, if so, was it not also against the truth of the body? How
can the church be both the betrothed and the body of Christ? This gradually
opened my eyes to the limitations of figures of speech. I saw that I had
abused them and dragged them far beyond their boundaries under the pretense
of being "spiritual" in my interpretation.
The difficulty lies in our failure to keep each figure within proper
bounds. We fail to recognize that the ecclesia is UNlike a chaste virgin in
all points not particularly mentioned. The church is not sexed. It
is not composed only of females. There is no likeness in this
regard. The Corinthians are not to be married to Christ later. So we might
go on indefinitely, but enough has been said, we hope, to show that in
only two aspects is there a likeness to be drawn--those of
singleness and purity. We can be single and pure toward Christ
like a betrothed virgin without altering our sex or in any other way
resembling a virgin.
But, it is objected, Paul uses this figure in Ephesians in speaking of
the relations of a man to his wife, as follows (Eph. 5:25-33): "Husbands, be
loving your wives according as Christ also loves the ecclesia, and gives
Himself up for its sake, that He should be hallowing it, cleansing it in the
bath of the water (with His declaration), that He should be
presenting to Himself a glorious ecclesia, not having spot or wrinkle or any
such things, but that it may be holy and flawless. Thus, the husbands also
ought to be loving their own wives as their own bodies. Who is loving his
own wife is loving himself. For no one at any time hates his own flesh, but
is nurturing and cherishing it, according as Christ also the ecclesia, for
we are members of His body. For this `a man shall leave his father and
mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall be one flesh.'"
If the present ecclesia were the bride of the lamb, this would be the
place to bring it in. Then all that would be needed would be to say that men
should love their wives as Christ loves the church, His bride. Why, then,
say that husbands ought to be loving their wives as their own bodies? Why
say, he who is loving his wife is loving himself? Why say, seeing
that we are members of His body? Why bring in the mystery of
marriage in order to show that a man and wife are one flesh?
All of these questions can be answered only on the ground that the
ecclesia is not figured by a bride or wife at all, but that
marriage, making two one flesh, has a certain resemblance to the
figure of the one body of Christ, hence the one body, not the bride
or wife, is the basis of this exhortation. This is a much closer union than
marriage. No one hates his own flesh. Can we say that no one ever hated his
wife? The intensity of Christ's love for us is far beyond that figured by
the marriage tie. Once we realize the inevitable constancy and unlimited
devotion figured by our feeling for our own bodies, we will lose all desire
for a tie of lesser preciousness, which is suited to the earth, but has no
place in the heavens.
WHO IS THE BRIDE?
The faithful in Israel are often found under
covenant relationship with Jehovah. In the realm of feeling and affection
this is figured by the marriage bond. Israel was the wife of Jehovah. Those
who receive the Messiah are the bride of the Lambkin. As God's supreme aim
is to unite His creatures to Himself by links of love, this may be
considered as the highest aspect of Israel's relationship to their God. He
uses the transient experience of earth's highest bliss to figure the
permanent felicity of His people.
Not only was Israel brought into the bondage of the law at Sinai, but
she also was bound to Jehovah as His wife. He became her Husband
(Jer.31:32). Then it was that He put upon her His comeliness (Ezek.16:8-14).
Not only did they break the law in minor matters, but they failed in the
very first commandment. Instead of loving Him with all their hearts and
souls, they forsook Him and sought solace with His enemies (Hos.2:6-13).
This is what led to the divorce (Deut.24:1-4) which caused them to go into
captivity. According to the law, they forfeited all right to be His again.
But the law of love is higher than the law of Sinai. That was given partly
because of the hardness of their hearts. Jehovah's heart is not hardened by
the failure of His people. Even though divorced, He invites her to return to
He not only gave His word to wait for her, but promises to do far more
than that. In her inconstancy she is liable to be drawn after anyone who
will comfort her sorrowing soul. So He engages to keep her for Himself until
she becomes His again in the latter days. Jehovah will not marry another,
nor will He allow Israel to do so. They are betrothed from of old. "Thou
shalt not be for another man, so will I also be for thee" (Hos.3). This
troth, plighted by Jehovah, not only for Himself, but also for her, must
find fulfillment. He will not break His word. He cannot take a wife to
Himself from the nations. To make them the bride would be a breach of
promise more dreadful far than the defection of His people. His character
would suffer beyond repair. His word would be worthless. The nations do not
usurp the place of faithful Israel. We have no part in the new Jerusalem.
When our Lord came, the nation as a whole was faithless. They were not
only a wicked but an adulterous generation, for they had forsaken
Jehovah. Only those who received Him were restored to their former
relationship. They became, not merely the wife of Jehovah, but the
bride of the Lambkin. It is not a renewal of the old legal bonds, a
sad reunion in old age of those who have been long estranged, but a new and
fresh relationship, with youth regained. John the Baptist introduced the
bride to her Bridegroom when he told his disciples, "He Who has the bride is
the Bridegroom." The twelve apostles were the nucleus of that goodly company
of faithful Israelites, who, with all her saints of former times, will be
united with the Lambkin in the coming eons, under the figure of the marriage
WHAT IS FORGIVENESS OF OFFENSES?
The forgiveness of offenses (Eph.1:7) seems to be so
far below the sphere of truth in the Ephesian epistle that those who are
most enlightened are tempted to look askance at the phrase and wonder if it
is well founded in the ancient text. They have learned that pardon, or
forgiveness (it is the same word) is probational. It belongs to the
proclamation of the Kingdom. Many who gained pardon, like the ten thousand
talent debtor (Matt.18: 23-30), lost it through misconduct.
Paul, meanwhile, has heralded a far higher, a far greater grace than
the pardon of sins through repentance and baptism. He has set forth
justification by faith, through the unforced favor of God, which leads us
into a sphere where condemnation no longer exists (Rom.8:1). It is
absolutely without admixture of words, either before or after it is
received. It cannot be forfeited by aught that we can do. Having this, shall
we go back to pardon, even if it is in Ephesians?
Ephesians does not deal with the pardon of sins, but the
forgiveness of offenses. It is not in the sphere of government or
of the courtroom, but of the home. It has reference, not to God's rule, or
His righteousness, but His feelings. We are not forsaking
justification for a lower benefit. We are going on to a higher, even if one
of the terms is borrowed from the lower. We have not only sinned and are
justified, but we have offended God, and are forgiven.
This forgiveness, however, is not measured by the
mercy shown to the Circumcision. That, as we have seen, was comparatively
stinted and probational. It sprang from pity rather than love. It was
temporary because its term depended on its possessor instead of on God. This
forgiveness is according to the riches of His grace. It were wise
never to leave off this phrase.
WHAT IS PARDON OF SINS?
According to Col.1:13 we are rescued out of the
jurisdiction of Darkness and transported into the kingdom of the Son of
God's love, "in Whom we are having the deliverance, the pardon of sins." In
anticipation of the coming Kingdom of God upon the earth, when the race
shall be freed from the thralldom of its spiritual despotism, the believers,
and they alone, are rescued from the realm of darkness and transported to a
different allegiance, that of God's Son. To complete the picture, our sins
are pardoned, and we have deliverance, as will be the case in the new earth.
Let us not confuse this with other figures, such as justification, or
acquittal. That belongs in the courtroom, and has to do with our
relationship to the judgment, which will take place before the new creation.
Now it is a question of entrance into a kingdom, and, as it is a figurative
kingdom, we can enter it only by means of a figurative pardon.
Much has been made of the figurative terms in Paul's epistles, such as
the covenants and the festivals, in order to show that he was writing only
for Jews. Yet there is probably no passage so surely and conclusively
"Jewish" as this reference to the kingdom and the pardon of sins, both of
which, taken literally, are entirely foreign to Pauline teaching. According
to this method of interpretation, this passage should prove clearly that
Colossians is a Jewish epistle, not intended for the present administration
of God's grace. Yet, as a matter of fact, it and Ephesians are utterly
devoted to the exposition of the present interval of God's grace. May this
example help to show how unwarranted it is to make any of Paul's writings
"Jewish" because of his figurative use of "Jewish" things.
Once we realize that much of the blessing which is predicted on the
page of prophecy comes to us, in spirit, long before it is fulfilled in
fact, such allusions should rather prove the opposite. For example, there is
now a new creation. Is it not a marvelous method of transferring to our
minds great spiritual realities which otherwise would be most difficult to
express? I suppose no one takes this literally, so why take Paul's
references to kingdom, covenants and pardon literally? In figure,
we have these things now. In no way could we be led to understand our own
blessings better than by illustrating them from Israel's history, by drawing
pictures from the pages of prophecy.
A. E. Knoch