Original Research

Problematiek rakende ‘opofferende en reinigende liefde’ in die bruid-en-bruidegom-metafoor (Ef 5:22–33)

Aletta Vrey
In die Skriflig/In Luce Verbi | Vol 56, No 1 | a2878 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ids.v56i1.2878 | © 2022 Aletta Vrey | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 04 July 2022 | Published: 14 December 2022

About the author(s)

Aletta Vrey, Unit for Reformational Theology and the Development of the South African Society, Faculty of Theology, North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa


The problematic use of ‘sacrificial and purifying love’ in the metaphor of the bride and bridegroom (Eph 5:22–33). The sacrificial love expected of the bridegroom in Ephesians 5:22–33 is a totally foreign idea in the culture of the first-century Mediterranean world in which the first Christians lived. An argument can be made that the working of the Holy Spirit within the believing men infiltrated the cultural boundaries and expectations with new values such as sacrificial love. However, ‘cleansing love’ as expressed in Ephesians 5:25–28 is an unfamiliar idea, even in our contemporary culture. How can the husband’s love cleanse his wife as Christ cleanses the church? To what extent can the metaphor of the bride and bridegroom be applied to the marital relationship between the present-day man and woman? This article examines the problematic ‘cleansing love’ as portrayed in the metaphor of the bride and bridegroom in Ephesians 5:22–33. A critical investigation is done into the symbolic importance of the bride and bridegroom metaphor for contemporary culture. Schüssler Fiorenza’s (2001) application of the approach of suspicion is followed to interpret the cultural roles assigned to female and male believers from a feminist point of view. The critical feminist approach and its meaning and application to the ancient context of the early Christians in Ephesus serve as the hermeneutical model of this article. Although certain aspects of the bride and bridegroom metaphor, representing Christ as bridegroom and the church as bride, can be applied to the relationship between a Christian bride and bridegroom, there are also aspects of Christ’s relationship with the church, such as his ‘cleansing love’, which cannot realistically apply to the Christian marriage. The husband’s love cannot purify and sanctify the wife (Eph 5:27). Everyone is responsible for his or her own salvation and sanctification. The wife does not need the love of her husband to be in a relationship with Christ, her heavenly bridegroom. Christ’s love cleansed the church, which consists of male and female believers. The love that Jesus demonstrated on the cross, should result in equality among all people.

Contribution: The sacrificial and cleansing love of the bridegroom as portrayed in the metaphor of the bride and bridegroom in Ephesians 5 is problematic regarding the gender roles in contemporary marriages. A critical interpretation of the relevant metaphor respects the integrity of the text, but also sees the underlying message of gender inequality.


Ephesians 5; bride and bridegroom metaphor; patriarchy; equality; gender; feministic hermeneutics; unity


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