This post was adapted from Male & Female: Embracing Your Role in God’s Design. Read below to learn about how marriage reflects God’s design for the head and the helper, as discussed in Genesis.
Paul makes an incredible claim: the “mystery” of why God instituted marriage has been revealed, and it refers to Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:32). Marriage was made not only as a strategy to care for creation but also to foreshadow the Gospel. Remember, the institution of marriage in Genesis 2 is the climax of the creation account, where God entrusts to Adam and Eve the well-being of His beloved creation! Marriage itself was designed for the care of creation and contains within it a prophecy of Jesus and the Church, who provide the ultimate care of creation. Marriage, therefore, is rooted in the relationship between Christ and the Church. If we understand the Gospel rightly, we will understand marriage rightly.
Understanding the Meaning in Ephesians 5
Look again at Ephesians 5:21–22. Verse 22 has a reputation for making people uncomfortable—perhaps you squirmed as you read it. That “submit” word is one our culture vilifies, as we have discussed in the previous chapter. Perhaps because of this discomfort, a common interpretation of Ephesians 5 is to emphasize verse 21 over verse 22, inferring that husbands and wives should just both submit to each other as fellow Christians.
A better interpretation sees that the beginning of Ephesians 5 is addressing all Christians, teaching them how to behave toward one another, and concluding that they should all submit to one another regardless of sex or role. Starting in verse 22, Paul addresses married couples, specifying the way submission among Christians looks within marriage. Christians in the Church submit to Christ just as a wife submits to her husband, and Christians submit to Christ by practicing marriages that conform to this pattern of marital leadership and submission.
Let’s read this passage in the context of all of Scripture, asking, What is God teaching us here about Himself? about the Church? about marriage? We know that Christ is always the Head of the Church. It would be unthinkable to say that the Church is the head of Christ, as if pastors and laypeople could give orders to Him. No, Jesus is the Head of the Church, and Christians submit to His Word.
Head of the House
The idea of conforming to the will of a head is unsettling to our modern feminist-influenced consciousness, but consider the beautiful description Paul gives us of what Jesus does as Head. As the Husband of the Church, Jesus gave Himself up for her—certainly in a sacrificial sense upon the cross, but also by leaving His Father and holding fast to His wife. This is evocative of God’s institution of marriage in Genesis 2:24: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Jesus left His Father in heaven to hold fast to His Church on earth and become one flesh with her, taking on human flesh for eternity.
In becoming fully human, Jesus sanctifies—makes holy—and redeems humanity. Jesus does the masculine job of glorifying and lifting up His Bride out of shame and sin, “having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word” (Ephesians 5:26). Jesus takes up the job of having dominion for the benefit of His Church by giving to her the gifts of Baptism and Holy Communion. In Baptism, He multiplies His people who bear the fruit of the Spirit. In Communion, He gives Himself for her, His very own body and blood, so that she might live eternally with abundant forgiveness. That’s Headship.
Genesis, Marriage, and the Church
God created Adam and Eve and marriage with all of this in mind. Salvation for the Church by the crucifixion of Jesus was not God’s backup plan. Jesus and the cross was the plan all along, even before the fall into sin. In fact, the creation of Eve is an image that foreshadows the cross. In Adam’s deep sleep Eve was drawn from his side—made from his rib. In Jesus’ “deep sleep” upon the cross, His Bride, the Church, is drawn from His pierced side—made from the sacrificial flow of blood and water. In Baptism, Jesus’ blood washes our sin away. From the flow of water with the Word, each member of the Church is born. Marriage is a picture of Christ and the Church, so God created marriage as a gift to all the world as a picture reminder of the Gospel. Christians live out faithful, loving, forgiving marriages for Gospel proclamation.
To learn more about God's gift of marriage, order Male & Female: Embracing Your Role in God's Design.