Verse 32 reads, This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.
Regardless of how we interpret this, it must fit into the message of “submit to one another” that we’ve seen already. Some believe Paul refers to the purpose of marriage as being, from the beginning, a picture of Christ and the church. I am reluctant to accept that based on these reasons:
1) Marriage was given before the Fall where God’s initial intention was not to establish an assembly of people apart from the world. All the world loved him.
2) If church is an “assembly of believers” in an informal sense (which I believe it is with qualification) then even Adam and Eve were an assembly before the Fall. Their marriage wouldn’t be needed to represent their relationship with God, since they already had a relationship with God.
3) God did not say “man was alone” because he was thinking that Messiah needed more people in his church. “Man was alone” because man was actually alone and needed a companion. This parallel doesn’t work with the Messiah as he wasn’t alone and in need of a companion. The Holy Trinity is infinite companionship already.
4) Marriage is a good thing in itself. That it is a parallel picture of Christ and the church does not negate that marriage is intrinsically good and ordained by God for its own sake.
I think Paul is getting at something else here. I think he is getting at the mystery of marriage as well as the mystery of the church. Both are born in the heart and mind of a God who loves. That humans have a union of one flesh is a mystery that God revealed in Eve. That God loves rebel humans and unites them with himself through the Jewish people is also a mystery that God revealed in the Messiah. In Scripture, mystery doesn’t usually mean “something difficult to understand.” It usually carries a definition of “something we didn’t know about, but now we do.” If we said “revealed secret,” in place of “mystery,” we’ll be close to its meaning. Both the marriage of husband and wife and the marriage of Messiah and the church are mysteries or revealed secrets.
The way marriage points to Christ and the church, as far as I see it, is that humans were made for communion, just as God exists in communion within the Trinity. Community among humans is one way we are made in God’s image. Perhaps Paul highlights the mystery of Christ and the church, beyond the mystery of marriage, because God‘s purposes of pure love in marriage is being redeemed again through the Messiah, his work, and his resurrected life.
Notice, just like with the wives, no mention is given to the “roles” of the husband. He is to lay his life down (though elsewhere in Scripture the woman is to do the same, for the greatest love is to lay your life down for your friends—John 15:13). No mention of authority is given or protecting and providing roles. Only serving, deferment, and love. Based on what I read in this passage, it is quite unclear to me what a husband is “in charge of” in marriage. What I see is that he is to ensure his wife is treated supremely by him, even if it means losing his own head. When the wife submits to the husbands love, the mutual vulnerability paints the only portrait God gave us of what the Trinity is like. Yet in the church today, much energy is placed on the need for “authority” for a marriage to work. Paul, however, emphasizes without confusion or debate that the recipe for a well-ordered marriage is love. We would do well to explore joyfully all the implications of love, of which there is much evidence than to preclude that reward with a culturally-driven need to emphasize “authority” of which there is little evidence.
Next up: a look at the currently popular passage on "love and respect."