An Exposition of Ephesians 5:22-33 (Part 4)

Conclusion (vv.32-33)

This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband. (NASB)

I. The Mystery of Marriage (v.32)

This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.
This” refers to marriage: the joining of two people in one flesh. By “mystery” Paul means “something once hidden and now revealed, a secret disclosed.”[1] Paul has used musterion in a similar fashion throughout Ephesians.[2] So by “mystery,” Paul does not direct us to mysticism. He is referencing God’s eternal, perfect design of all things and how this design is unfolding in the progression of history.

Ego de lego” is translated “but I am speaking” in the NASB. The intention here is not sharp contrast but something like, “Now I mean.”[3] What follows is explanatory of what precedes.[4] The Greek literally reads, “To Christ and to the church.” “With reference” is added in the English to help the reader understand in what sense Paul is speaking “to” Christ and church. Essentially, the mystery is that of Christ and the church – Paul’s main burden in the first half of the letter. Yet, touto (“this”) clearly points us back to verse 31 and the joining of man and woman as “one flesh.” The union of marriage is a mystery (something once hidden and now revealed) in the sense that now, in Ephesians 5, God is revealing the full meaning of it. Marriage’s full meaning has been hidden before and is now being revealed. So, the mystery (musterion) of marital union (touto) is (ego de lego) gospel union (eis Christon kai eis ten ekklesian). What was hidden that is now revealed is that marital union is a picture of gospel union.

Marriage is a picture in the sense that, in the mind of God, the gospel union comes first.[5] Why was the truth of marriage hidden, though? Why could the full meaning of marriage not be communicated until Paul’s day? Because gospel union was not fully revealed. Because God’s eternal purpose in saving people from all over the earth was not yet revealed, neither could the meaning of marriage be revealed. If it was, it would be mis-understood. It hinged on Christ dying and rising from the dead. Once this took place and God’s eternal purpose of salvation made known, then marriage could be seen in fullness: a reflection of that eternal purpose.

The mystery of marriage is that it reflects the gospel union of Christ and the church.[6] As the husband and wife are united, so is Christ and His people. Through our union with Christ, we enjoy all the benefits of such a union, just as a husband and wife partake of each other. We are known, chosen, called, justified, sanctified, and glorified, because of His merit. The church’s marriage to God’s Son gains her access to eternal blessings therein.

The husband and wife are commanded by Paul to take their cues from the relationship of Christ and His church. Paul’s reference in verse 31 draws the reader’s attention back to creation and the first marriage. The function of marriage communicates its purpose, what God has intended to do with marriage from the very beginning. “Mystery” shows us that God’s intention with and definition of marriage has always been the same – it simply has not been fully revealed until now. Marriage was created and foreordained by God to reflect Christ’s blessed union with His people. So marriage is a shadow of what is to come. The only marriage of glorious substance is that of heaven between Christ and His bride. On earth, God has created human marriage to teach us both something of this coming day and something of the present relationship.[7]

If this is the full meaning of marriage, then it is healthiest when operating under this definition. Timothy Keller writes,

In short, the “secret” is not simply the fact of marriage per se. It is the message that what husbands should do for their wives is what Jesus did to bring us into union with himself. And what was that? Jesus gave himself up for us…. If God had the gospel of Jesus’ salvation in mind when he established marriage, then marriage only “works” to the degree that approximates the pattern of God’s self-giving love in Christ…. This is the secret – that the gospel of Jesus and marriage explain one another. That when God invented marriage, he already had the saving work of Jesus in mind.[8]

Egalitarian interpretations of Ephesians 5 (by “Egalitarian” I mean a denial of God-given, Gender specific roles in marriage) do not allow for such a “mystery.” Marital union’s innate ability to exemplify Christ’s relationship with His church is severely crippled because Christ is not uniquely exalted in the husband’s role nor the church in the wife’s. God’s fundamental intention for marriage is under-cut when the roles in marriage are removed. Marriage ceases in a fundamental way to glorify the Gospel. We explicitly advocate for a Complementarian worldview not only for the sake of a consistent hermeneutic, but also God’s fame in the Gospel. Severe Egalitarianism/Feminism distills the glory of marriage by robbing it of gospel-reflectiveness.

II. Conclusion (v.33)

Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.
This verse is a summary of Paul’s previous thoughts. “Husband, love your wife.” This love is unconditional and intended for her benefit, as the husband would treat his own body. “Wife, submit to your husband.” This submission is one of obedience and
respect. “Respect” is literally “fear.”[9] This word is used in reference to mankind’s relation to God: “fear God and keep His commands.”[10] This fear is that of respect. It is inescapably linked to obedience.[11] The negative connotations behind “fear” should not be implemented into a marriage relationship.[12] There is no Biblical cause for a woman to be afraid of her husband. God calls her to respect him, but never to cower. He is but a man – a mere steward to lead her while on earth. As such a leader, he should be respected. Yet as merely a steward, he should never be trembled before. Should a husband respect his wife? Of course – but the uniqueness of a wife’s respect is that it leads her to follow the husband. This is logical and Scriptural. Verse 33b leads to and enables a true fulfillment of verse 22. In a similar fashion, one could argue that a husband’s understanding of gospel-reflection in the union with his wife will lead to and enable him to love her unconditionally and for her benefit. Verse 33 is a well-put conclusion to such a beautiful statement on marriage.

We might be embarrassed after studying Ephesians 5. Have you failed to respect your husband, to love your wife, as God clearly has called you to? Have you failed to showcase the Gospel of Jesus Christ in how you relate to your spouse? Have you trampled the glory of God in marriage by reducing it to a chore – a dry duty void of delight? If you have, then let your sorrow drive you on to hope in the grace God gives towards repentance. Boice writes: “Embarrassment is a confession of failure. But it is also a challenge to heed the Word of God and put God’s instructions for a happy marriage into practice.”[13]

Because marriage has always had a Divine definition according to the eternal purposes of God, we consider Paul’s commission to husband and wife here as more of a re-calling than a calling. He is not calling us to an historically new concept, but to the original plan: Complementarianism.[14] The original plan is flawless, unlike man’s schemes which always crumble. “When Christian husbands and wives walk in the power of the Spirit, yield to His Word and His control, and are mutually submissive, they are brought much happiness, their children are brought much blessing, and God is brought much honor.”[15]

One Final Issue

This is a bit random, but I cannot in good conscious leave it unspoken. Be careful not to see Christ’s salvific love as a fulfillment of His headship. Stott appears to make this assertion in his commentary. We should not read meanings into Greek words or terms that the author does not ascribe. In Ephesians 5:22-33, Paul gives us no reason to assume that Christ’s role as head of the church entails anything more than Him having authority over it. We must be careful not to take Paul as saying, “Christ is head of the church. In His headship is involved, not only authority and rulership over the body, but salvation of the body as well.” Paul is rather saying, “Christ is head of the church. In addition to being the head, He is also Savior.” Christ is Savior and Lord. These two offices of Christ are related but must not be confused.

[1] Salmond, Expositor’s Greek Testament: Ephesians, 373. So Henry is wrong to assume that there is a “hidden, mystical sense in” Genesis 2:24 (Henry, New Matthew Henry Commentary, 2128). Yet here arises an important point of hermeneutics: the meaning of the text cannot go beyond what the author intended. Moses could not have meant all of what Paul means in Ephesians 5, because the full meaning of marriage was hidden to Moses. However, if we believe in the Divine inspiration of Scripture, then we must admit that there is a second, and primary, Author of Genesis 2:24: God. He knew the full meaning of marriage. This means that the meaning of Genesis 2:24 not only can allow what God intends, but must. It may be too much to say that there is mysticism in Genesis 2:24, but it is certainly viable to assume that there is “more than meets the eye” in the text. In a similar fashion, we read Genesis 1:1 and understand God’s intention in this act to glorify Himself with history; we read Leviticus and agree with the author of Hebrews that the priesthood was never designed to accomplish its Mosaic purpose (Heb. 7), but was in fact intended by God to point to Christ’s true and better priesthood; we read Psalm 2 and see God’s intention in glorifying Christ as Lord and King (Phil. 2:9-11), subverting all men under His feet (Ac. 2:14-36). It is too far to say that there is mysticism in the Old Testament, but it is in fact necessary  that we come with Paul in recognizing the “mysterious” (in the sense of being hidden and now revealed) intention of God in pre-New Testament history. Our vision of this mystery is guided by the revelation of said mystery in the New Testament. The revelation of God’s eternal purposes “reigns-in” tendencies toward extravagant, allegorical interpretations of Old Testament texts. I believe the early church understood this, as Didymus the Blind wrote, “we find frequently in the writings of the blessed Paul principles conducive to a higher (anagogic) interpretation. This is evident when he writes ‘This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and his church,’” (Didymus, Ancient Christian Commentary, 188). Also Jerome: “Gregory and Nazianzus, a very eloquent man and outstandingly versed in the Scriptures, used to say while discussing this passage with me: See how great the promise in this passage is! The apostle, interpreting it as an analogy of Christ and the church, does not himself even profess to have expounded it as the dignity of the idea demanded. He is in effect saying, ‘I know that this analogy is full of ineffable promises. It requires a divine heart in its interpretation. But in the weakness of my understanding I can only say that in the mean-time it should be interpreted as Christ in relation to the church. Nothing is greater than Christ and the church. Even all that is said of Adam and Eve is to be interpreted with reference to Christ and the church,” (Jerome, Ibid.).
[2] For example, see Ephesians 3:4-6.
Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament: Epistles of Paul: Ephesians, 547.
[4] Salmond, 374.
Boice, 206. He gives three specific applications of this truth: “1. No one will ever be able to understand the truest, deepest meaning of marriage who is not a Christian… 2. No one who is a Christian should ever marry a person who is not a Christian… 3. No marriage will ever attain its true potential unless those united in the marriage are pursuing it according to God’s goal and standards,” (Ibid.).
[6] Boice, Ephesians, 205; Stott, The Message of Ephesians, 231. Though “one flesh” of verse 31 is not the marital equivalent of the gospel “one new man” of 2:15, as Stott proposes, because the former is between the husband and wife. So, for the latter to be the gospel equivalent, it would need to be between Christ and His church. Yet, 2:15 speaks of Jewish and Gentile union.
[7] MacArthur suggests that Paul’s explanation of this “mystery” should motivate the husband to love the wife (MacArthur, Ephesians, 304-305). This seems to be a reasonable implication, especially since verse 32 falls within Paul’s exhortation to husbands. Some may take this to mean that only the husband’s role in marriage show-cases the gospel. This explanation appears to ignore Paul’s discussion of marital union that immediately precedes verse 32, however.
Keller, The Meaning of Marriage, 41-43.
[9] Salmond, 375.
Ecclesiastes 12:13.
For example, see Romans 3:9-18.
[12] Robertson, 547.
[13] Boice, 202.
[14] Boice, 206.
[15] MacArthur, 305.


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