In my two previous posts, I shared with you Zanchi’s definition of marriage and unpacked the trinitarian structure of his definition. In this post, I’d like to delve a bit deeper into what Paul means by instructing husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the Church in light of the trinitarian structure of marriage that Zanchi elucidates.
The marriage issues swirling in today’s church are serious. With the #MeToo movement, cases of alleged abuse by prominent ministers, politicians, and business men, and a growing consciousness of alleged domestic abuse, the conversation about marriage is being driven by the needs and concerns of women in marriage. This is not to be denigrated, but corrected. Women are only one half of marriage. But, living in a world suffused with feminism, they have a privileged voice in this discussion even as victims, or alleged victims, have a corner market on sympathy. Given this emphasis in the contemporary conversation, much exegesis of scriptures that deal with marriage is driven by these concerns. This is not, eo ipso, wrong. When the Arian heresy was being combated, exegesis was driven by that debate and enabled the Church to clarify her understanding of Scripture’s teaching on the hypostatic union. The fault with Arianism was that it only emphasized half of Scripture’s testimony. In this respect, the feminist hermeneutic, whether academic or popular, emphasizes only half the picture of what marriage is and what a man’s role in marriage is supposed to look like and what it is supposed to accomplish.
The reformed scholastics are a hale and hearty antidote for modern maladies. Writing, as they did, from an older perspective and concerned, as they were, with clearly defining the issues they handled, they supply the modern church with much needed clarity. In particular, Zanchi’s definition of marriage gives scope and purpose to what it means for a man to love his wife as Christ loved the Church.
But, we need some context. This is a short video, produced by The Gospel Coalition, describing how complementarian theology has no place for domestic abuse. In this video, Melissa Kruger gives a brief definition of what complementarian theology teaches. She also cites Ephesians 5 as showing that a husband’s love for his wife is to be sacrificial, even as Christ’s was for his Church. While this emphasis on Christ’s love for the Church as sacrificial is correct, it is only partial. The emphasis on Christ’s love as sacrifice, and terminating therein, reduces the love and mediation of Christ to promoting human flourishing. In the context of the discussion on marriage and because the husband is to imitate Christ in this, this resolves into emphasizing the flourishing of the woman in marriage. But, knowing that this cannot be accomplished by a husband in and of himself, complementarian writers are ready to refocus their desire for female flourishing on Christ himself. Here is an example of the type of teaching that I am interacting with. Kendra Dahl talks about a common problem in marriages where the wife seeks all her fulfillment from her husband, because he is supposed to cherish and nurture her, even as Christ does the Church. Not finding that fulfillment she expects from him, she must repent of her idolatry and look to the sacrificial love of Christ as her only satisfaction. This is fine as far as it goes, but my contention in this post is that it does not go far enough.
To understand the sacrifice of Christ, we must have a trinitarian framework within which the sacrifice of Christ makes sense. Ephesians 1 gives us that framework. It was the Father’s purpose to redeem a people back to himself through the sacrifice of Christ. The necessity for the sacrifice of Christ was God’s determination to have worshipers and the reality of man’s sin. Given sin, death must follow as the penalty; God is holy. But, God is also merciful and, not willing that his creature should perish, he provided the sacrificial lamb to take away the sin of the world. But, why take away sin? To what end was this glorious transaction ordained by divine wisdom? It was for the purpose of worship. That is, so that sinners can be reconciled to God and made able to behold the divine glory.
Thus, the sacrifice of Christ is not merely a token of passionate love which finds its purpose in satisfying the longings of broken sinners. Rather, it finds its purpose in satisfying the eternal purpose of God the Father in redeeming his people back to himself. Our longing is not sated by merely knowing that we are loved by God as displayed on the cross. No, our longing is sated by beholding him as he is. In a word, we are blessed when we see that sight which makes blessed, the Beatific Vision. And the Beatific Vision is only possible because of the Cross.
How then does this relate to Zanchi’s definition of marriage and the role of husbands? Again, if the sacrifice of Christ ipse can only be understood in the trinitarian framework of Scripture, so also, a husband’s role in marriage as imitation of Christ must also be understood in a trinitarian framework. Zanchi has given us that framework.
In the scheme of redemption, the sacrifice of Christ is the great means of bringing men back to God. Therefore, the sacrifice of Christ has a purpose outside of itself and in relation to which it sustains its meaning. Therefore, the love of a husband, the headship of a husband, the sacrificial love of a husband must look outside of the marriage to find its purpose. The litmus test of a husband’s sacrificial love is not his wife’s satisfaction and fulfillment. Even as this is not the litmus test for Christ’s sacrifice. Just as Christ’s sacrifice does not find its legitimacy in whether or not it satisfies a sinner’s heart, so also a husband’s sacrificial love for his wife is not ratified by his wife’s sense of fulfillment. Christ’s sacrifice is ratified by the Father’s acceptance of it and by its power to bring sinner’s back to himself. Likewise, a husband’s sacrificial love is legitimate if it brings the wife closer to worshiping God in Spirit and truth. Recall that one of the primary purposes of marriage, as defined by Zanchi, is cultivating the worship of the true God in Spirit and truth. It is this trinitarian structure that gives purpose and meaning to the sacrifice of Christ and to the sacrificial headship of husbands.
Consider the example of Moses in Exodus 4:18-26,
And Moses went and returned to Jethro his father in law, and said unto him, Let me go, I pray thee, and return unto my brethren which are in Egypt, and see whether they be yet alive. And Jethro said to Moses, Go in peace. And the Lord said unto Moses in Midian, Go, return into Egypt: for all the men are dead which sought thy life. And Moses took his wife and his sons, and set them upon an ass, and he returned to the land of Egypt: and Moses took the rod of God in his hand. And the Lord said unto Moses, When thou goest to return into Egypt, see that thou do all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in thine hand: but I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go. And thou shalt say unto Pharaoh, Thus saith the Lord, Israel is my son, even my firstborn: And I say unto thee, Let my son go, that he may serve me: and if thou refuse to let him go, behold, I will slay thy son, even thy firstborn.
And it came to pass by the way in the inn, that the Lord met him, and sought to kill him. Then Zipporah took a sharp stone, and cut off the foreskin of her son, and cast it at his feet, and said, Surely a bloody husband art thou to me. So he let him go: then she said, A bloody husband thou art, because of the circumcision.
Moses is leading his family back to Egypt at the command of the Lord. On the way, the Lord seeks to kill Moses because he had not circumcised his sons. Zipporah performs the rite and calls Moses a “bloody husband” or “husband of blood.” Not very content or fulfilled, I’d say. But, here Moses is loving his wife even as Christ loved the Church. Notice the Lord’s purpose in calling for Israel to be let go, “…that he may serve Me.” This language is common language to describe worship. Thus all the actions of Moses in Egypt find their purpose in establishing Israel as a community who worships Jehovah. Including the incident along the way where Zipporah has to circumcise her son. If Moses were to seek only his wife’s fulfillment, this action (painful and heart rending for parents, ask one who seen their child circumcised) was not the way to get there. But, Moses loves his wife by commanding her to circumcise her son so that he and she can be worshipers of Jehovah.
Was Moses’ love for his wife like Christ’s? Yes, it was sacrificial. He circumcised his son. He had to endure the epithet of “a bloddy husband.” It was also a washing of water with the word. This reference in Ephesians 5 points to baptism and, in this episode, the action is circumcision. Both of these rites signify the same thing, regeneration by the Spirit. In the Old Testament, though, the sign was circumcision, and, as this episode shows, this sign has reference to the women who are covenantally joined to the men circumcised; not simply to the men circumcised. Note that the son’s name in not mentioned here, only Zipporah. This brings her to the foreground and alerts us to how this circumcision relates to her by way of her husband. Thus, Moses serves as an example of Christ like love for his wife in bringing her along in greater sanctification as a worshiper of Jehovah. This is also the purpose that Paul highlights in Ephesians 5:27, “That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.” This holiness and without blemish is unto being presented in God’s presence, it is unto worship (Eph. 1:4).
The example of Christ for husbands must be understood in its trinitarian context. That trinitarian context gives meaning and purpose to the sacrifice of Christ just as it gives meaning and purpose to the sacrificial love a husband is to display for his wife. Zanchi helpfully defines marriage in a trinitarian framework, elucidating male headship over the woman. This elucidation is a needed corrective to the typical contemporary understanding of male sacrificial headship as terminating in the fulfillment of the wife. Rather, as the scheme of redemption shows, the sacrifice of Christ finds its ultimate purpose in bringing us back to the Father and preparing us for the Beatific Vision. So also, the sacrifice of husbands for their wives finds it purpose in bringing the woman to God as her covenant head. This is not to say that a husband’s role over his wife is identical to Christ’s. But it is a subset. Just as fathers are a subset and imitation of Our Heavenly Father, so also husbands are a subset and imitation of the Church’s Husband.