Here comes the bride?

In a video message posted online, Pastor Mark Driscoll (Mars Hill Church Seattle) defends himself against his critics who find some of his remarks in the pulpit inappropriate. In defending himself, among other things, Driscoll talks about something he finds inappropriate—namely, associating the word “bride” to himself personally in relation to Jesus.

You can watch his full defense here.

The comments I’m referring to start about 2:45 minutes into the recording and relate to a sermon he preached on the Song of Songs.

“. . . we do love Jesus, but we don’t love Jesus as if we were his bride. . . . the bride imagery of the church doesn’t work real well for an individual application, especially for a man. . . . But taking that metaphor, for example, and applying it to an individual would mean that I am Jesus’ bride. That I am Jesus’ wife. To say the least, that conjures up very bizarre imagery that creates a very strange relationship with Jesus who is God become a man, but is now a man nonetheless, the God-man to be sure, but a man. . . . It’s false, it doesn’t make any sense. It doesn’t work. . . . because that’s not the kind of relationship that a heterosexual man should have with Jesus.

I would agree that the bride metaphor is corporate and also that there’s always a danger of taking a metaphor too far. At the same time, aren’t we skating on thin ice theologically and hermeneutically, not to mention falling into the “picking and choosing” habit, when we stiff-arm a biblical metaphor at the personal level just because it makes us uncomfortable? Isn’t Scripture supposed to make us uncomfortable?

More to the point, does Driscoll’s resistance expose a flawed view of male/female relationships, if it is off-putting at best and demeaning at worst for a man to think of himself as a bride or a wife, even though Scripture attaches those labels to him?

Doesn’t the “heterosexual man” need to know at the personal level he is beloved, pursued, embraced, and called out. Are there no low moments in his life when he needs to hear Jesus exclaiming “You are bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh!” or be reminded that the love bond between God and himself is “as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave”?

Is there something important for all of us to gain—including Pastor Driscoll—in contemplating what it means for us individually to be called the Bride of Christ?

What do you think?

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14 Responses to Here comes the bride?

  1. Suzanne says:

    A woman once told me it is harder for men to become Christians than women because it is harder for them to submit. I've pondered that over the years since. Whether we are the Bride of Christ corporately or individually, the imagery would remain the same. God is the boss. No answers here, but I wonder if Pastor Driscoll is giving voice to that internal struggle of submission found in all of us. The fact that he goes straight to the sexual aspect of bridehood is telling. He immediately condemns and doesn't step back to consider that our sexuality is very much a product of our flesh. We are called to intimacy with Christ. All of us, male and female. Much to ponder about this today. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!


  2. Karen K says:

    Scripture doesn't have a problem using feminine metaphors to refer to God. God the Father is described as a mother giving birth, for example (Isaiah 42:14; 46:3; 66:13). And Jesus is said to be like a mothering hen over her chicks (Matt. 23:37). If its not too unmanly for Jesus, then it shouldn't be for Driscoll.

    As a single person, marriage is only a metaphor for me, not a tangible thing. But, my marital status or someone's gender does not alter the meaning of the biblical metaphor. To follow Driscoll's train of thought would be to envision Christian women literally having sex with God. It is just as problematic to envision a polygamous God having sex with all his female “brides” as it is to take the metaphor to the extreme of homosexual imagery.

    The marriage relationship simply symbolizes our intimacy with God. We are his and he is ours. God and I are convenanted together forever. Wow! When you think of it, its difficult to wrap your brain around.

    There is no other vocabulary or image we have to demonstrate that kind of covenant between two parties–a symbol that is celebrated by everyone across history and culture. An image of feasting, eleborate dress, celebration, and profound union. What else is Driscoll going to use to help men understand the depth of their personal relationship with God if he throws out THE premiere icon meant to help us grasp it?


  3. J. K. Gayle says:

    “Both men and women do, however, make the connection that the ecclesial marriage metaphor means that women as members of the church should be submissive, however troublesome that realization may be, and whether they accept or reject it. Men certainly do identify not with the church in this metaphor, as members of it, but with Christ, because such identifications suit male interests. Herein lies the great danger posed by this ecclesiological metaphor: it encourages men to identify with Christ, women with the church. As everyone knows who teaches or ministers, for most people the line between Christ and God is very thin. As long as the marriage metaphor is in play, gender symbolism is fixed. Men will, even unconsciously, identify with Christ and women with the church, and feminine imagery for God or Christ then has no place. Then God is the ultimate male.”
    –from Carolyn Osiek's “The Bride of Christ : a problematic wedding – Ephesians 5:22-33 Biblical Theology Bulletin, Spring, 2002 – also available online in full for free here.

    And to your points also, I've always thought that Paul to the Romans (Romans 7:1-6) made all men to be the bride, precisely men if also women as the bride of Jesus.


  4. Carolyn says:

    The metaphor is actually worse than Driscoll supposes, for Paul is coming from a Middle Eastern patriarchal culture where brides were bought, became the property of their husbands, were valued for their ability to produce sons, and could be discarded if they failed. Hardly a 21st century, western, romantic view of marriage. You'd think Paul would be the last person to use “bride” as a description that included himself.

    I suspect the Bible's view of women and of marriage doesn't sit comfortably in either the 1st or 21st centuries, but is foreign to both.

    Considering, in contrast, all that Christ calls his bride to be and do, I wonder, not if Scripture is embracing and portraying this low view of brides, but setting forth a radically different concept of women and of marriage.

    If we start with the biblical metaphor and allow that to inform our views of women and of marriage, rather than the reverse, where does that take us?


  5. Kristen says:

    I have very strong opinions regarding Mark Driscoll. I am not a fan.

    He seems to think that anything that doesn't grunt or smell like WD-40 is too wimpy for him, and for every other guy in the pew. I understand he's trying to make church more accessible to manly men, but seriously, perhaps he should re-evaluate what it means to be a godly man.

    Like I said… I have very strong opinions about Mark Driscoll. I will exercise some self-control (which is, incidentally, one of the “fruits” of the Spirit, including love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and gentleness, which are also probably much too “fruity” for Mr. Driscoll).


  6. simplegifts3 says:

    There is a huge contrast between Driscoll's comments and John Winthrop's, and I like to give this link and some selected quotes from this page when I see the subject being brought up by modern preachers:

    Winthrop's Relationship to Christ In His Own Words~

    “I considered that he was such an one as should ever be living, so as I might ever love him, and always present, so as there should be no grief at partings: O my Lord, my love, how wholly delectable thou art! let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth, for his love is sweeter than wine: how lovely is thy countenance! how pleasant are thy embraces! my heart leaps within me for joy when I hear the voice of thee my Lord, my love, when thou sayest to my soul, thou art her salvation. O my God, my king, what am I but dust! a worm, a rebel, and thine enemy was I, wallowing in the blood and filth of my sins, when thou didst cast the light of thy Countenance upon me, when thou spread over me the lap of thy love, and saidst that I should live. Then didst thou wash me in the ever flowing fountains of thy blood, thou didst trim me as a bride prepared for her husband, my clothing was thy pure righteousness, thou speakest kindly to the heart of thy most unworthy servant, and my flesh grew like the flesh of a young child, etc: And now let me ever be with thee, O my Redeemer, for in thy presence is joy, and at thy right hand are pleasures forevermore. Shadow me, and guide me with thy love, as in the days of my marriage, that I may never swerve from thee to run after earthly vanities that are lying and will not profit. Wholly thine I am (my sweet Lord Jesus) unworthy (I acknowledge) so much honor as to wipe the dust off the feet of my Lord and his wellbeloved spouse, in the day of the gladness of their heart, yet wilt thou honor me with the society of thy marriage chamber. Behold, all you beloved of the Lord, know and embrace with joy this unspeakable love of his towards you. God is love, assuredly.


  7. meredith says:

    I too am not a Driscoll fan. However, if I can become a son (Gal 4:6), then he can certainly be a bride!


  8. Carolyn says:

    Nicely stated, Meredith! This puts a fine point on the matter. And just as the notion of sonship is loaded with significance for males and females, so also the metaphor of the bride is loaded with significance for both.



  9. thatmom says:

    Carolyn, as a result of watching Driscoll here, I also came across the Shepherd's conference at John McArthur's church where Phil Johnson was addressing some of the other issues with Driscoll. He kept talking about “contestualization” is what appeared to be a negative manner and I was left confused. I thought “context was king” as Kay Arthur would say. I didn't listen to the whole presentation but was wondering if you might explain this. I am almost afraid to ask.


  10. thatmom says:

    And I had a typo…contextualization is what I should have written.


  11. Carolyn says:


    Good question, especially since contextualization is an issue in the Driscoll controversy.

    Actually, everyone contextualizes. We have to if we hope to communicate clearly and remove unnecessary barriers when interacting with a particular individual or audience. We do it all the time with little children. An adult vocabulary is over a preschooler's head. So we choose words they understand.

    Missionaries have always contextualized, accommodating other cultures through language choice, dress, and other cultural practices for the sake of making the gospel clear to their new neighbors.

    When Amy Carmichael went to India, she made a deliberate choice not to dress in her customary British attire, which proved to be a distraction, but for the rest of her life wore the Indian sari.

    The proliferation of different Bible translations reflect the efforts of translators to make the Bible’s true message understandable to different groups of readers. The variety of worship styles are attempts to engage different segments of worshipers.

    The current controversy is over whether or not you can take things too far. And how far is too far? Are you compromising, even violating the gospel message and how it should be lived as you accommodate the culture or subculture you’re attempting to reach?


  12. thatmom says:

    Thank you so much for your response, Carolyn. I imagine this will continue to be one of those issues that won't be resolved this side of heaven, especially in the current high tech world we are in where people can be exposed to any number of perspectives with the click of a mouse!

    Thanks, too, for your ministry. I am refreshed and inspired each time I visit this blog and your books have become my favorite gifts to pass along to friends. When my grandson was stillborn a couple summers ago, sharing When Life and Beliefs Collide with my daughter-in-law brought her such comfort. She, in turn, passed it along to her mom.

    May the Lord continue to bless you.


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