BRIDE AND BODY
“He who has the bride is the Bridegroom.” John 3:29 C. V.
“He is the Head of the body, the ecclesia.” Col.1:18 C. V.
THAT there is a bride mentioned in Scripture, and also a body, probably no Bible student, or even Bible reader, would deny. As to whether these different terms refer to the same or to distinct classes of believers is the subject of our present quest. A child would probably answer the question at once in the negative. For what child, viewing a marriage ceremony, would ever mistake the bride for the body of the bridegroom? But the thought that bride and body are identical, that both words describe the church of the Christian era, has been so long and generally held that the subject is deserving of the most careful examination to see whether antiquity is a faithful companion of truth or merely a deceiving shield for error. Surely Bible students will agree that the place to look for information on this subject is in the Bible, and to that, we turn.
Even a casual reader of the book of Acts can hardly fail to note the distinction between the activities of the apostle Paul and those of the apostles who labored principally in Jerusalem, Judea, and Galilee. The distinction was officially recognized at the time.
“Now for those reputed to be somewhat (what kind they once were is of no consequence at all to me, God is not taken up with the human aspect) for those of repute submitted nothing to me. But, on the contrary, perceiving that I have been entrusted with the evangel of the Uncircumcision, according as Peter of the Circumcision (for He Who operates in Peter for the apostleship of the Circumcision operates in me also for the nations), and knowing the grace which is being given me, James and Cephas and John, who are supposed to be pillars, give me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we, indeed, are to be for the nations, yet they for the Circumcision.” —Gal.2:6-9 C. V.
Peter, James, John, and Paul are the principal discursive writers of the Greek Scriptures, commonly called the New Testament. Paul wrote more than a fourth of the Greek Scriptures; and if reference be limited to the doctrinal epistles, he easily eclipses all others in volume. Now when these four prominent instruments of the Lord agree to differ in their fields of labor, it is high time that we gave heed, because that agreement was due to a mutual recognition of a distinct divine providence for each group. This distinctness of divine providence has no little to do with the bride and body question.
THE WIFE OF THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES
The figure of nuptial and married relations as representing the spiritual union of God with His people is not one confined to the Greek sacred writings; it is most pronounced in the Hebrew Scriptures. But before we begin an examination of the Scriptures it will be not out of place to look at the Hebrew betrothal and marriage customs, so that we may know what is meant when certain expressions are used. If we fail to inform ourselves we shall be unconsciously trying to bend the figures to make them fit our Western ideas of and customs pertaining to marriage.
The customs of Oriental people generally and of the Hebrews in particular differ from our own in regard to the preliminaries of marriage as well as the ceremonies attending the rite itself.
The choice of the bride devolved not on the bridegroom but on someone of his relatives, or upon a friend chosen for the purpose. Isaac did not himself go in search of a bride, but Abraham sent his trusted superintendent Eliezer; that narrative contributes no small portion to the charm of our record of patriarchal life (Gen.24). Hagar chose a wife for Ishmael (Gen.21:21). Isaac directed Jacob in his choice (Gen.28:1). Judah selected a wife for Er (Gen.38:6).
The son was not necessarily disinterested nor even voiceless in the matter; for parents made proposals at the instance of their sons in the cases of Shechem (Gen.34:4,8) and Samson (Judges 14:1-10). Usually, the proposal came from the family or representative of the bridegroom-to-be; but when there were differences of rank the bride was occasionally offered by the father of the damsel, as by Jethro to Moses (Ex.2:21), by Caleb to Othniel (Joshua 15:17), and by Saul to David (1 Sam.18:27).
After the selection of the bride came the espousal, which was so formal and so public as to be more nearly like our American wedding; though traces of such betrothals still exist in some European countries. This proceeding was undertaken by a friend or legal representative on the part of the bridegroom and by the parents on the part of the bride. The ceremony was confirmed by oaths and accompanied by presents to the bride—neither of the contracting parties, however, being present.
Immediately upon betrothal, a woman lost all rights to her own property and it became vested in the husband. In a word, all the legal obligations that were ever assumed by either bride or bridegroom were assumed at the espousal; and with our Western conceptions of marriage, that was the marriage, but not so in Scriptural terms. And unfaithfulness on the part of the bride between the time of betrothal and consummation was punishable in the same manner as faithlessness after consummation of the marriage (Deut.22:23,24).
Between the engagement and marriage an interval elapsed, varying from a few days in the patriarchal period (Gen.24:55) to a full year for virgins and a month for widows in after times. During this season all communications between the bride and bridegroom were carried on through the medium of a friend who was called “the friend of the bridegroom.”
As for the wedding itself: it was absolutely devoid of a definite religious ceremony but consisted of the taking of the bride from her father’s house to that of the bridegroom and of their becoming one flesh (Gen.2:24; Matt.19:5; 1 Cor.6:16).
The bridegroom adorned himself for the occasion by donning a festive dress and surmounting his perfume-redolent head (Cant.3:6) with an ornamental turban and a crown of gold, silver, roses, myrtle, or olive, according to his circumstances. The bride prepared herself for the event by taking a bath (Ruth 3:3; Ezek. 23:40) and by putting on, besides usual garments, an ample over-robe of light weight, called a “vail,” which covered not only the face but the entire person as well (Gen.24:65), a girdle, and on her head a coronal or chaplet. Not unlike bridal costumes in most lands, the Hebrew maids wore white, at times embroidered with gold thread (Psa.45:13,14), and besprinkled with aromatic products of the apothecary’s art (Psa.45:8). She was decked out with jewels (Isa.49:18; 61:10; Rev.21:2) as costly as her station rendered proper.
An hour was fixed upon, usually late in the evening, and the bridegroom set out from his own house, attended by the “sons of the bridechamber” (Matt.9:15 R. V.), or groomsmen, preceded by a group of instrumental or vocal musicians (Gen.31:27; Jer.7:34; 16:9; 1 Macc.9:39) and accompanied by other persons bearing torchlights (2 Esdr.10:2; Jer.25:10; Rev.18:23), mistakenly rendered “candles” in some passages of the King James or Common Version.
The bride with her bridesmaids meanwhile anxiously awaited the advent of the groom, who, having reached the bride’s home, conducted her and the whole party toward the abode prepared for the two. On this return journey, the joyous band was intercepted and augmented by a committee of friends of the bride and bridegroom, which consisted of ten maidens* with lamps. The general populace of the streets traversed were attracted by the sounds of merriment and pushed out to see and pay their respects (Cant.3:11).
* It was the writer’s privilege to meet with a night wedding procession just at this juncture in the city of Colombo, Ceylon, several years ago. When one considers the indisposition to change in all parts of the Orient, it is highly probable that the party as he saw it was in all essential features the same as might have been seen in Palestine in the time of our Lord, or, for that matter, in the time of David, or Moses, or Abraham. The same lamps, the same groups of participants, and the same—to us—rather labored and dutiful hilarity were all there.
At the bridegroom’s house a feast was found prepared, to which friends and neighbors were invited (Gen.29:22; Matt.22:1-10; Luke 14:8; John 2:2), and which festivities lasted a week (Gen.29:27; John 14:12). The host provided his guests with suitable robes that there might be no unpleasant contrasts between the poorer and the better-to-do.
Only when the bride was in her new home did the bridegroom enter into direct communication with her. The bridegroom’s friend, who has been acting as days-man or go-between, now had his joy “fulfilled” or consummated at hearing the bridegroom’s voice in converse with his bride. His work was done.
The ceremonial features of the marriage ended with the conducting of the bride to the bridal chamber cheder where there was a nuptial canopy called the chuppah (Psa.19:5, here translated “chamber;” Isa.4:5, “defense;” Joel 2:16, “closet”). A relative of the bride and a relative of the groom, together called bridal attendants, paranymphi, or in Hebrew shoshibenim, were commonly selected on the day of the marriage to represent the peculiarly marital interests of the occasion, such as might hinge on or arise from the subject noticed in Deuteronomy 22:15-21.
Such was the Jewish marriage. And such is the basis of the allegorical and typical allusions to marriage in the sacred Scriptures.
But there is another important point that will help our matter-of-fact Western minds to grasp the imagery of the Jewish wedding. It is a fact that, in the Orient, it is the prevalent view to think of the king of a country as the husband of his people and to look upon his ascendancy of the throne as the espousal or marriage celebration. This idea still persisted even in Europe in the middle ages, and traces of it are yet to be found in those European countries where there are kings or other hereditary potentates. In the minds of us who are raised under a republican form of government, the thought meets with not the least appreciative response. We simply have no sympathetic understanding of it, but our lack of sympathy should not close our minds to the facts; and the facts are not only that this was and still is a figurative office of kings in Eastern lands but that this was one of the relationships existing between Yahweh and His people Israel, of whom He was King. The analogy is really not strained; for a true husband loves, adorns, protects, cares for, and provides for his wife; and a true king does all these things for his people.
Those who appreciate romance will find all its elements in the love story of God for His people Israel. There is the ardent wooing—howbeit through a middle-man, as in Oriental custom—; the appreciative response on the part of the bride; the mighty deeds of valor done on her behalf by the lover-husband; the fruitful home prepared for her; the shadow side, the great triangle; villainy; faithlessness; tender compassion; faultless longsuffering; wantonness with strange lovers, until the husband’s name and honor are dragged in the dust; disciplinary separations, and then divorce; the rewooing; the bitter spurning and putting to an open shame, as though He were the sinner and not she; the flouting of her independence by public scandal; her complete humiliation, repentance, forgiveness; magnanimous forgetting; indefatigable faithfulness; abiding understanding; the living happy ever after—all, all is there.
If the precise facts of the story were divested of their celestial and supernatural elements, invested with Aryan characters, and put into an Anglo-Saxon or American setting, there would be a novel with gripping power unequaled by any other thus far. It would, be a kind of “Taming of the Shrew” and “As You Like It” rolled into one. We would be drawn by the charm of the first faint flutterings of love, would rejoice at the apparently happy consummation, would be chilled to the marrow to see the wife’s affection wane, shocked and disgusted at her flirtations with those who seek not so much her as her husband’s dishonor; our eyes would be wet with tears and dimmed with sighs: our throats would choke with grief, gulp with new-found hope, and parch once more as that languished and died; admiration would well up for the undaunted, patient, yet strong and wise lover; and tears of real joy would course down our cheeks as we witnessed the penitence, the sweet concord, the unmarred ending that has no end. Through it all our hearts would be gripped; for no story is worth the paper it is written on that merely shocks the nervous system and leaves the heart unmoved. Such would this story be if it could be made into only a human tale. But who would lower it from the divine drama that it is?
Fredrik Homer Robison
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