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 Him (Jer.3:1).
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 covenant (Rev.21:2,9).
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
This publication may be reproduced for personal use (all other rights reserved by copyright holder).