The Marriage Bond in Ephesians 5

Ephesians 5:22
Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.

Ephesians 5:23
For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.

Ephesians 5:24
Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.

Ephesians 5:25
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;

Ephesians 5:26
That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the

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.

Ephesians 5:28
So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself.

Ephesians 5:29
For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church:

Ephesians 5:30
For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.

Ephesians 5:31
For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.

Ephesians 5:32
This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.


All contract theory of marriage shatters on Ephesians 5:22.

Is the relation between my head and my body that of a contract?

Did my head and my body agree conditionally to live together for their mutual advantage and pleasure, or even for their life?

Is it part of their “co-living” and of their cooperation that if one fails in its duty the other may sever relations and find another, more agreeable body or head?

If the head should become senile, may the body leave and re-attach?

If the body becomes paralyzed, may the head dissolve the relationship?

Can they dissolve their union?

Nonsense, you say.

And you are right.

No fool represents the relation between physical head and physical body as a contract. It is a wonderful, close, ultimately mysterious bond established by the Creator in His creation for every one who partakes of human nature. Such is the bond that head and body, though distinct, are one.

But now the inspired apostle describes the relation of husband and wife exactly as that of head and body: “the husband is the head of the wife” (Ephesians 5:23); “men ought to love their wives as their own bodies” (Ephesians 5:28).

No more than that of head and body is the relation of husband and wife a contract. As much as the relation of head and body, marriage is a bond of intimate fellowship in which the two share one life.

Not even this in Ephesians 5, however, is the most powerful testimony against the sterile, fragile contract-theory of marriage and for the fruitful, solid doctrine of marriage as bond.

The most powerful testimony is the apostle’s teaching that earthly marriage symbolizes the relationship of Christ and the church.

Having quoted the fundamental Word of God at the institution of marriage, the apostle exclaims, “This is a great mystery: but I speak conceming Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32).

If earthly marriage is not a bond, but a contract, such also is the relationship between Christ and the church.

If earthly marriage is a mere contract, dependent for its endurance upon conditions fulfilled mutually by husband and wife, so also is the relationship between Christ and the church.

If earthly marriage can be dissolved by one or the other of the parties at his or her will and pleasure, or even by his or her sin, so also can the covenant between Christ and the church be dissolved by the will of Christ or by the sin of the church. And then, a remarriage, at least on the part of Christ.

Years ago, a dear sister, who was not at that time enamored of everything Protestant Reformed, said to me, “The best thing that the Protestant Reformed Churches have going for them is their stand on marriage.”

She was not far wrong. For in addition to its being a blessing to many families, as well as to the churches made up of these families, the doctrine of marriage as a lifelong, indissoluble bond serves the gospel of the covenant of grace. And this grand gospel of the covenant as a bond of fellowship between Christ and us, established, maintained, and perfected by the triune God in sheer, unilateral, unconditional grace and, therefore, unbreakable and everlasting, is the “best thing” in the Protestant Reformed Churches, as it is the “best thing” in the Bible.

On the day (which may God graciously forbid!) when the Protestant Reformed Churches give in to the pressures of the world, which are heavy, and to the desires of their own members, which can be strong because of the hard, marital circumstances of ourselves or of our children, and permit remarriage, on that day they will repudiate marriage as a bond. And on that day they will be committed to a doctrine of the covenant as a contract a conditional, breakable contract.

By virtue of Ephesians 5:31-32.

Marriage is a bond. God the Creator made it so. He made it so for the sake of the redeemed and for the sake of His own covenant as Redeemer.

The question then is: Can the bond be broken, and if so, by whom?

God must answer this question. Marriage is His institution. He has formed every marriage-bond as with His own hand. Men and women may not speak here. All must listen to the Word of God. Then they must confess what God has said. They must ignore what the world says. They must pay no attention to the answer pleaded for by their own circumstances or by the circumstances of those whom they love.

God’s answer, given in Holy Scripture, is plain.

Earthly marriage can be dissolved. It can be dissolved only by God Himself. He dissolves it by the death of one of the married persons (I Corinthians 7:39).

Only the death of one of the married persons dissolves the bond, for the bond is superhumanly strong: “one flesh” by the joining of the Almighty.

“Marriage: a lifelong bond” implies “marriage, a calling.”

By David J. Engelsma

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