We can rightly look to God as husband and God as Father without making male sexuality divine.

Last week, my students and I were looking at ways to interpret difficult texts in Paul in class when a storm broke out online around the theology of the marriage metaphor.

In Twitter threads and Substack posts, Christian voices offered their discerning views around pastor Joshua Ryan Butler’s metaphorical reading of Ephesians 5 published on The Gospel Coalition website. Butler’s piece, an excerpt from an upcoming book on sex, generated enough critical feedback that the article was removed.

The recent discussion, though, underscores a perpetual question for us as Christians: How can we discern the Bible and Christian tradition faithfully? What should be our key?

As Christians, we point to the triune God as the fount of all love, and one way that Scripture invites us to consider God and love is through the metaphorical language of marriage. In Ephesians 5, Paul describes marriage, a union both social and physical, as a great mystery (v. 32), and he draws out practical lessons of self-sacrifice for wives (vv. 21–24, 33) and husbands (vv. 21, 25, 28–29, 33). Woven throughout these teachings on marriage are beautiful statements about Christ and the church.

Our interpretation of these statements must be anchored in the biblical text itself. Before describing him as a husband, Paul uses imagery in Ephesians 5 to reveal the Lord’s sovereignty. Although he has just given his incarnate name, Jesus, Paul refers to the Son of God as Christ and Lord. Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the one who reigns over God’s kingdom, and the Lord, the sovereign over the universe. He is also the Savior of the body (v. 23).

Christ exercises his sovereign lordship through acts of self-giving service and love, as in John 13 …

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