The end of Christ’s saving and sanctifying work is nuptial. For this reason, the end of biblical interpretation should be nuptial as well.
It is one thing to affirm that biblical interpretation and preaching should be Christ-centered. This affirmation follows from Jesus’ own teaching about the relationship between Scripture and himself (e.g., John 5:39; Luke 24:44-47). It is another thing to say how biblical interpretation and preaching should be Christ-centered. Christ-centered exposition means different things to different people. For many contemporary interpreters and expositors, it means that biblical interpretation should aim at proclaiming “the gospel,” variously understood in terms of Christ’s atoning work or Christ’s gift of justification.
Ephesians 5 suggests another way of thinking about the Christological telos of biblical interpretation and proclamation. In verses 25-27, Paul summarizes Christ’s work in a manner that includes the aforementioned dimensions of Christ’s work while helping us appreciate the teleological order that obtains between various aspects of Christ’s work: “Husbands love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”
Beginning with the impelling cause of Christ’s work (“Christ loved the church”), Paul traces the course of Christ’s work from his saving self-sacrifice (“Christ … gave himself up for her”) through his ministry of sanctifying the church through Word and sacrament (“that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word”), to the final, nuptial end of Christ’s work: “so that he might present the church to himself in splendor.” According to Paul, Christ saves us by means of his atoning death and sanctifies us through the ministry of Word and sacrament for the sake of marital union and communion. Knowing Christ the bridegroom is the final end of all his saving and sanctifying activities.
Not only do Christ’s saving and sanctifying activities serve this nuptial end. According to Paul, Scripture itself (indirectly!) directs its readers to this nuptial end as well. In verse 31, Paul cites Genesis 2:24: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” While Genesis 2:24 has immediate application to Christian marriage (which is Paul’s main focus in Ephesians 5:22-33), Paul insists that its ultimate application is Christological, ecclesiological, and eschatological: “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Eph 5:32). In the institution of marriage, God has written into the very fabric of creation a sign pointing to the ultimate end of the saving “mystery” to which both Old and New Testaments attest (cf. Eph 3:9). And that ultimate end is nuptial, “it refers to Christ and the church.”
How would our biblical interpretation and exposition change if we considered the perspective of Ephesians 5? If we considered the nuptial end of Christ’s saving and sanctifying work, and of Scripture itself? At the very least, our Christ-centered ministry of the Word would focus not only on what Christ has accomplished for us, not simply on the benefits and blessings that Christ gives to us. It would focus also, and indeed supremely, on who Christ is, on his relationship to us as our bridegroom, on our receiving him as Lord and on our responding to him in love within the context of the covenant of marriage.
In doing so, our biblical interpretation and exposition would more closely approximate the conviction shared by many patristic, medieval, and Protestant interpreters throughout church history, namely, that the Song of Songs reveals the ultimate meaning of Scripture and the ultimate meaning of salvation: “My beloved is mine, and I am his” (Song 2:16).