You won’t find the phrase “bride of Christ” in your Bible. Just like the Trinity, this concept appears in Scripture without the wording we now use.
Though the biblical authors use this image to refer to the collective people of God, many today misapply it to individuals. This error has far-reaching and unexpected consequences.
The Old Testament
Let’s begin with the Bible. In the Old Testament, the nation of Israel was the people of God by virtue of God’s gracious covenant. In Isaiah 54 (and elsewhere), God used the language of marriage to describe his relationship with his people as a whole.
“Fear not, for you will not be ashamed;
be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced;
for you will forget the shame of your youth,
and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more.
For your Maker is your husband,
the Lord of hosts is his name;
and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer,
the God of the whole earth he is called.
For the Lord has called you
like a wife deserted and grieved in spirit,
like a wife of youth when she is cast off,
says your God.
For a brief moment I deserted you,
but with great compassion I will gather you.
In overflowing anger for a moment
I hid my face from you,
but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,”
says the Lord, your Redeemer. (Isaiah 54:4–8)
The Israelites understood marriage, so God employed this language to explain his covenant. The prophets regularly used this image to point out Israel’s many idolatries. So we read of the people “whoring” after other gods and abandoning their faithful husband. (See Ezekiel 16 for a detailed and graphic example.)
The New Testament
With the coming of Jesus, the people of God are no longer confined to one nation. Now those who confess Jesus as Lord and Savior make up God’s community, the church.
The theme of the church as the bride of Christ comes from three New Testament passages. The famous passage about marriage in Ephesians 5:22–33 compares husbands to Christ and wives to the church. Paul tells the church in Corinth that he bethrothed them to one husband, Christ (2 Cor 11:2). Finally, the picture John develops in Revelation 21 shows the New Jerusalem as the bride of the Lamb (see verses 2 and 9–10).
Whether Old Testament or New, these references are all collective, not individual.
The Importance of Getting it Right
Teaching that individuals are the bride(s) of Christ is not just an innocent mistake. It can have serious consequences for our worship, our outreach, and our own sanctification. I see at least four reasons why it’s important to cling tightly to what the Bible says about this image.
1. Biblical accuracy is important.
When the Bible speaks about something, even by way of images, illustrations, and metaphors, we must interpret accurately.
2. We use this language in worship.
When we worship God corporately, we naturally use language that captures our relationship with him. This is true in prayer, preaching, and singing.
The church has been infected with Jesus-is-my-boyfriend songs for many years now, and I wonder if a misunderstanding of this biblical image is to blame. When we urge our congregations to sing about being in love with God (instead of loving God), we evoke a romantic image that echoes the brides-of-Christ mistake. I see these solitary, romantic notions nowhere in the Bible.
3. We risk emasculating men.
Some men already feel the church is too feminine. When we ask men—especially men new to (or outside) the faith who don’t yet know our strangeness—to profess being in love with Jesus, they may not come back. Since this brushes against the hot-button topic of homosexuality, we need to be clear about the sort of love men should have for Jesus.
4. We risk sending the wrong message to women.
Some of the single women in our churches long to be married. Trying to encourage them by teaching that they are “married to Christ” now is not helpful. It’s dismissive in addition to being unbiblical.
I suspect the Catholic church’s teaching about nuns has crept into the larger church culture on this point. The Catholic church’s catechism (scroll down to paragraph 923) teaches that nuns are “betrothed mystically to Christ” and that they are “an eschatological image of this heavenly Bride of Christ.”
This is nowhere in the Bible. We need to care for the single women in our churches with biblical comfort and love.
A Beautiful Image
The image in Scripture is clear: God is preparing and purifying his people for a great gathering at the end of time. The victorious Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, will meet his bride, the church, and there will be a great feast of celebration.
Let’s not dilute or distract from this great biblical image. You are not the bride of Christ; we are.
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Photo Credit: Andreas (2008), public domain
10 thoughts on “You Are Not the Bride of Christ”
For a genuinely manly read, see A SPIRITUAL APPEAL TO CHRIST’S BRIDE by Jodocus van Lodenstein
Reblogged this on The Cross Is All We Need.
Appreciated this, Ryan. Thanks, for a much needed & edifying corrective!
You’re welcome, Don. I’m glad it was helpful. Thanks for reading!
Question: you say that the Israelites understood marriage so the Lord used that to help make himself known. It seems to me that the Lord created marriage deliberately so that we could learn about him. Similarly, he created us to be in families so that we have some context for these relationships (father, brother, sister). Would you disagree?
Dianna: Great point. I think it probably works both ways. Take marriage. Those who understand the things of God can head into marriage expecting to learn about God from this relationship he has created. But those who come to know God (or to understand God more fully) when already married can learn about God based on what they’ve already experienced. Since we forget so frequently, most of us fall into the second category (even if we also fell into the first category). As with marriage, so with most other relationships (as you point out).
Spirit created marriage as a symbol of His relationship with someone distinct from Himself but made one with Him by His covenant. God wasn’t trying to think of ways to express what He was trying to say. When He made the first married couple He already knew what He was going to say. Unfortunately, you throw the baby out with the bathwater. We are the bride and as such, we should have “jesus is my boyfriend songs” as a group. Because he is our bridegroom. If we deprive him of our affections, we will be desolate and self-justifying. We as individuals are NOT the bride. Songs, preaching, and worship that reference me or you are corrupt. Song that express intimacy for us as a whole are true and good. You fail to see this distinction because you, like the people who see themselves as individuals being the bride, fail to realize His Bride is real and she is an individual. The false either/or you entertain has rendered your insight void in this area. You’ve resisted the works of the enemy but who is your first love?
This is why I think that in the eschaton, the marriage of Christ and the church doesn’t have to *replace* marriage of husband and wife, and the individual marriage can be a place where the higher marriage can be experienced. I think the fact that Jesus Himself cited Adam and Eve as the model for human marriage (“Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so”) indicates that He was upholding it as a model.
Our resurrection destiny is bodily and communal; sexuality is the source of our capacity for relationship.
I agree. And people who love the idea of eternal asexuality contradict many parts of the Bible and their own logic.
In Luke 20:36 Jesus states one of the reasons for not marrying and being given in marriage is because the righteous resurrected can’t die anymore but will be like the angels in heaven. The contrast to angels is not about sexual desire, he’s contrasting mortality with immortality. Marry meant the male proposing for the woman to be his wife and being given in marriage meant the father giving her to the proposer, because she didn’t get a choice. It is actions done to be married, not marriage itself. Adam and Eve were married without marrying or being given in marriage. The reason for the sadducees question was that the levirate law required a person to marry someone if another died without children, so they thought if the woman hadn’t fulfilled the purpose of that law, she would still need to be married to them or they’d be sinning. If she did that, she and the men would commit polygamy which is also a sin so God wouldn’t resurrect anyone for eternity. They assumed that all of Gods laws would still be applicable in a renewed world, not understanding that the entire reason for recreating is to restore the conditions before those laws were needed, which included sexual passion. Marriage remaining does not contradict Jesus answer to the sadducees, because the woman they asked about is only required to marry any of those men with the levirate law. The law ending does not forbid her from being married to a different man, It’s a false dilema. Jesus mention of not being able to die would make no sense unless he only meant legal customs to marry, because death is not a reason for marriage itself. It says in Revelation 20:6 that those who are awakened in the first resurrection won’t suffer for eternity. These are the same people worthy to attain that age in the prophecy in Isaiah 65:17-25. If Jesus said that those worthy to attain the age of the resurrection won’t marry or be given in marriage and those same people are said elsewhere to continue being married and reproducing, that’s proof that Jesus only meant legal marriage customs would no longer apply. Remarriage is allowed after a spouse’s death, what Paul even describes as being free from the law, to compare it to being free from the mosaic law because of Jesus resurrection. The only way that analogy works is if marriage can continue, just with someone else, or it would be teaching that being free from the law eliminates sacrifice for sin too, but there remains a sacrifice for sin, just by a different method. That means the law is not needed to be married or else Adam and Eve would have to have sinned for a law to be needed for marriage. Paul wrote that the law was only necessary because of sin. Would any of the people who heard Jesus answer been amazed at it if he meant sexual feelings and relationships would be eliminated? I’m pretty sure Jews had as much sexual desire as most other people, so would have felt despair if that was the context.
At the beginning God said for us to be fruitful and multiply with no indication it was to ever stop. It is stated nowhere in the bible that there would eventually be no more room to fill. There would need to be a bigger earth to fit all people and animals, including insects, that have ever lived by the time of the resurrection. God expands the entire universe, doing the same to any planet shouldn’t conflict with his plans. Marriage was the only thing God said during the original creation that is not good to be without before creating it. He made Eve to complete humanity, brought her to Adam, and after that, it says for this reason shall people be united with a spouse to become one flesh, not for this reason shall people reproduce a specific number of people. Jesus repeats this in Matthew 19:4-5 and Mark 10:6-7 and Paul does in Ephesians 5:31. If gender remains, the reason for marriage does. The purpose of the marriage relationship is itself: it has to exist to be fulfilled. A marriage partner was made to eliminate loneliness, so simply being without friends of the same race isn’t the loneliness God meant, that’s an assumption. If Jesus answer to the sadducees meant no one will be married, then us being male and female is not the reason for marriage, and contradicts those texts, as well as the promise to restore all creation. If God is the same forever and said it’s not good to be alone, then the opposite can’t also be true. God did not declare everything very good until he made marriage, because there was no longer anything missing needed to make anything better. The conditions of the original creation don’t need improving.
Many Christians have claimed that something unspecified would be needed to make life better forever and also make sexuality useless, ignoring the fact that marriage was something needed for creation to not be missing anything good. It’s contradictory and more akin to Buddhism than Christianity. If having something better is a reason to eliminate sex, it’s a reason to eliminate everything God made, and we should all just feel Gods presence, getting joy from that and never being with anyone else or doing anything else for eternity. If simply having a sinless relationship with God makes marriage unnecessary, then God would have had no reason to create gender and sex, because God and Adam already had the kind of relationship people will have with him in the renewed creation, before Eve was made. If God eliminated sexuality then the features that distinguish the genders faces and body shapes for sexual attraction, and parts used for sexual pleasure and reproduction would all be wasted. Gender having other functions is no reason to get rid of any of them. They’re all part of what makes us the genders we are and God doesn’t create anything expendable. The human female figure is shaped the way it is to fit babies during birth, and sperm, egg cells and wombs are used only for reproduction. keeping a libido is justified.
If people interpret Jesus answer to the sadducees as claiming no one will be married anymore, then they can’t consistently claim we’ll be married to Jesus as a replacement. God is described as a husband to his people in parts of Hosea, Jeremiah and Ezekiel and that wasn’t meant to replace marriage, because they are used as analogies, just as the wife of the lamb is in Revelation. They are different types of relationships that fulfill different desires. If marriage is a representation of Jesus redemption, then sin would have been necessary, so Jesus would have a reason to found church. God is not going to create something that requires what he hates.
If you are made unable to care about something you’re passionate about, regardless if you want to keep that drsire, it’s manipulation of free will. There being people who dont care for it does not make it free will for those who want to keep it to have no choice but to not care. That’s a false equivalency. They think that because they don’t think of the consequences of losing that passion for eternity, that wanting to keep something God said wasn’t good to be without is the problem. They’re obsessed simply with being eternally satisfied that they don’t understand that it’s only hopefull because it’s by restoration of all God made for our joy, not a replacement to change our will for any of it. That would make anything God made for us irrelevant. There’s a whole book devoted to the joy of sexual passion: Song of Songs, and has no indication that marriage is useless without reproduction. There isn’t a bible book entirely about the joy of any other creation. Heaven isn’t the final destination, it’s the renewed earth. The only thing that needs elimination is what sin did.
This idea is used in conjunction with verses in Matthew, Mark and Luke where Jesus rebukes a group of Sadducees who ask him a trick question about a woman who was married multiple times. Who’s wife will she be? Jesus responds with, “People of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those considered worthy to attain that age and the resurrection will neither marry nor be given in marriage, nor can they die anymore, for their are like [equal to] the angels.” People mistakenly think that there is no marriage in heaven because we are “married to Jesus”. This is not only an inaccurate but damaging teaching. Jesus never said we won’t have individual relationships with partners in Heaven that are patterned after God’s design for Adam and Eve, he was merely saying there will no longer be the legal contractual practice of “giving in marriage”.