on Ephesians 5 :32
This is a great mystery - Το μυστηριον τουτο μεγα εστιν· This mystery is great. Sacramentum hoc magnum est; this sacrament is great. - Vulgate. And on the evidence of this version the Church of Rome has made matrimony a sacrament, which, as they use it, is no meaning of the original. By mystery, here, we may understand a natural thing by which some spiritual matter is signified, which signification the Spirit of God alone can give. So, here, the creation and union of Adam and Eve, were intended, in the design of God, to point out the union of Christ and the Church: a union the most important that can be conceived; and therefore the apostle calls it a great mystery. See the observations at the end of this chapter, (Ephesians 5:33 (note)).
on Ephesians 5 :32
This is a great mystery - The Latin Vulgate translates this, "sacramentum hoc magnum est" - "this is a great sacrament" - and this is the proof, I suppose, and the only proof adduced by the papists that marriage is a "sacrament." But the original here conveys no such idea. The word "mystery" - μυστήριον mustērion - means something which is concealed, hidden, before unknown; something into which one must be "initiated" or instructed before he can understand it. It does not mean that it is "incomprehensible" when it is disclosed, but that hitherto it has been kept secret. When disclosed it may be as intelligible as any other truth; see the word explained in the notes on Ephesians 1:9. Here it means simply, that there was much about the union of the Redeemer with his people, resembling the marriage connection, which was not obvious, except to those who were instructed; which was obscure to those who were not initiated; which they did not understand who had not been "taught." It does not mean that no one could understand it, but that it pertained to the class of truths into which it was necessary for one to be "initiated" in order to comprehend them. The truth that was so great a mystery was, that the eternal Son of God should form such an union with people; that he should take them into a connection with himself, implying an ardor of attachment, and a strength of affection superior to even that which exists in the marriage relation. This was a great and profound truth, to understand which, it was necessary to receive instruction. No one would have understood it without a revelation; no one understands it now except they who are taught of God.
But I speak concerning Christ and the church - This, it seems to me, is an explicit disclaimer of any intention to be understood as affirming that the marriage contract was designed to be a "type" of the union of the Redeemer and his people. The apostle says expressly, that his remarks do not refer to "marriage at all" when he speaks of the mystery. They refer "solely" to the union of the Redeemer and his people. How strange and unwarranted, therefore, are all the comments of expositors on this passage designed to explain marriage as "a mysterious type" of the union of Christ and the church! If people would allow the apostle to speak for himself, and not force on him sentiments which he expressly disclaims, the world would be saved from such insipid allegories as Macknight and others have derived from this passage. The Bible is a book of sense; and the time will come, it is hoped, when, freed from all such allegorizing expositions, it will commend itself to the good sense of mankind. Marriage is an important, a holy, a noble, a pure institution, altogether worthy of God; but it does not thence follow that marriage was designed to be a type of the union between Christ and the church, and it is certain that the apostle Paul meant; to teach no such thing.
on Ephesians 5 :32