Blessed Is The One Who Reads (rev.1:3) – Dr. Eli Lizorkin-eyzenberg And Peter Shirokov

Rev. 1:3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.

As we continue to slowly walk through the book of Revelation, we will repeatedly see that the book is not a sporadically and feverishly written version of what John saw happening in heaven. Instead, the Book of Revelation has a very carefully nuanced literary structure characteristic of biblical literary traditions in general, and of the Jewish apocalyptic genre/tradition in particular, mixed together with epistolary (letter-writing) and prophetic genres.

When we come to verse 3, we are introduced for the first time to a carefully written series of seven blessings that are interspersed throughout the book. It is too early in our exploration to see the rhythmic pattern of John’s presentation and how these seven blessings serve as literary devices that help to organize and communicate John’s vision. However, a part of the pattern can be discerned even now.

It is clear that the number seven is a crucial number throughout the book and constitutes the base numeric structure of the book’s composition. The word Messiah (anointed one) or “Christ” is used seven times (1.1, 1.2, 1.5, 11.15, 12.10, 20.4, 20.6), John announces Messiah’s coming seven times (2:5, 2:16, 3:21, 16:15, 22:6, 22:12, 22:20), seven times the form “Lord God Almighty/Lord of Hosts” is used (1:8, 4:8, 11:17, 15:3, 16:7, 19:6, 21:22). Moreover, there are seven “amens” in the book (1:6, 1:7, 3:14, 5:14, 7:12, 19:4, 22:20), the word “prophets” is referred to seven times (10:7, 11:18, 16:6, 18:20, 18:24, 22:6, 22:9) and the phrase “the one who sits on the throne” is used seven times (4:9, 5:1, 5:7, 5:13, 6:16, 7:15, 21:5). (1)

It, therefore, becomes obvious to any reader that John is very fond of the number seven and uses it intentionally. There are other ways that the number seven is used, usually in multiples (the name of Jesus is used fourteen times and the Lamb is mentioned twenty eight times.) At this point in our study it is important that we survey all the seven blessings and see how the first one (Rev.1:3) is related to the other six blessings. Please, allow us to give a brief explanation about the literary method that ancient Jewish (Biblical and non-biblical) authors frequently used as they composed their works.

In modern biblical studies, this literary structure is called chiastic, after the Greek Letter Chai (X). Essentially this is the way Semitic thought patterns came to be represented in literary studies. In addition, Jewish poetic style is based on parallelism, on repetition, on analogy as typically the second line or idea repeats the content of the first line, sometimes taking it further, sometimes elaborating or clarifying it. It is easier to first show a diagram of how chiastic structure looks before I attempt to explain it. The literary unit when analyzed has the following structure:

CHAISMThe sentence, either word-by-word, or at the very least, thought-by-thought is repeated in the beginning and at the end of the literary unit. It is as if the original author goes from A1 to B1, from B1 to C1, from C1 to D1. Then he suddenly switches gears and moves backwards in the same order (D2, C2, B2, A2).

We suggest that the first blessing (Rev.1:3) stands outside of the chiastic structure that follows it. Its purpose is to summarize or set the stage for the rest of the 6 blessings that are in fact organized in the chiastic form. Once one looks at the entire set, the parallelism of meaning is very hard to deny. Here is how we see it.

Summary statement: “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things, which are written in it; for the time is near.” (Rev. 1:3) Each summary statement is connected to Rev. 1:1-2 where we are told that this apocalypse/unveiling concerns events that are soon to come (in vs.3 “for the time is near”).

Chiastic structure

A1. ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ “Yes,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them.” (Rev. 14:13)

B1. “Behold, I am coming as a thief. Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame.” (Rev. 14:13)

C1. Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb! (Rev. 16:15)

C2. Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. (Rev. 20:6)

B2. “Behold, I am coming quickly! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.” (Rev. 22:7)

A2. ‘Blessed are those who obey His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city. (Rev. 22:14)

Notice that A1 and A2 speak of the death of the believer and one’s eternal destiny (dying in the Lord, having the right to the tree of life, and entering through the gate into the city of the New Jerusalem). John paints a picture for his readers and hearers of the gates of the city with the names of tribes inscribed on them.

Both B1 and B2 are without a doubt connected by the desperate need for vigilance (I am coming as a thief and I am coming quickly). Moreover, the idea of keeping is also a connecting factor (keeping the garments from being stolen, keeping the words of the prophecy). (2)

The blessings of C1 and C2 are no exception – both speak of the blessed future for the believers (being called to the wedding (3) of the Lamb and deserving of taking part in the first resurrection).

The idea of being “blessed” sometimes gets lost in translation. The Greek word translated as “blessed” is μακάριος (makarios) which is an equivalent of the Hebrew word אַשְׁרֵי (ashrey) which means happy, joyful, blessed, and found in a favorable circumstance. This noun expresses a passive idea of being on the receiving end of favor and is most often found in the book of Psalms. In fact the book opens with this word, “How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked (Ps 1:1).

As we continue to move from verse to verse, and from chapter to chapter we can already see early glimpses of the level of authorial design in the composition of the Book of Revelation within the traditional contours of the genre of Jewish apocalyptic literature.


1 Bauckham Richard, The Climax of Prophecy, (Bloomsbury Publishing Edinburgh, 1993), pp.1-38.

2 Jesus spoke of coming as a thief in the night in his apocalyptic discourse in Mat. 24. In his parables, he also used wedding imagery of expectation of God’s Kingdom – as the bride waits for the groom. Weddings are accompanied by a grand feast and one needs “wedding garments” to enter feasts (Mat 22:11-14).

3 In the first century, Jewish wedding feasts presented two opportunities to join the celebration. One was a general admission as one simply was ready and followed the bridal processional in the courtyard of the groom’s house. The other was by individual invitation, which was dispatched well ahead of time to family and friends.

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  1. Sonia Ann Azzopardi

    I believe that Jesus only used this as a metaphor as humans are only concerned with marriage, when we are in heaven we are angels therefore as the Lord told us we have no need of marriage, husbands or wives we will be praising God to much to bother about all this earthly stuff!!! Just a thought 🙂 A priests heart should be given to God wholly

  2. Fernando Bartels

    There is a typo above… It should be … Has it ever been…

    1. Prof. Peter Shirokov

      Fernando, the answer depends on what your definitions of state are… Many nations ruled and exercised control over the land given to Abraham and his descendants, minted their coins, taxed people. There has been many states that extended their reach to include Israel.

      1. Fernando R. Batels

        Well, I guess if you listen to the following video, you will understand my question…
        Now, do you have the history of each of the 3 Jewish States?
        Forgiveme, but I am just beginning to study… I wish I could go to your school to pick on your brain a little…
        Have a great day,

    2. Sonia Ann Azzopardi

      The trouble is with humans they place boarders around everything even their gardens!!! It all belongs to God @ the end of the day, so why r u fighting over land that really doesn’t belong to you. Again in the Bible it states even in the OT that God has turned His back on Israel, sad but true, that land will never b milk n honey again.

      1. Fernando R. Bartels

        Sonia I have to disagree with you. The promise to Abraham still valid today and God did not turn his back on Israel. The land given to Abraham more than 4000 years back will one day be control in its totality by Israel. Just look at history, the formation and existence of Israel alone is a miracle by itself today. Thank you and blessings to you…

        1. Sonia Ann Azzopardi

          It is not valid, God turned His back on Israel even before Jesus, read OT through 2 conclusion minor prophets all state the same God had enough!! 2 think of rebuilding the Temple is an abomination, and will not happen ever again until The New Jerusalem comes down from Heaven. I study the Bible OT & New every day, or I am reading a different book

          1. Catrina Crawford

            I mean no disrespect, but can you tell me where in the Old or New Testaments God says He turns His back on Israel?

      2. Brad Thompson

        The land issue involves God’s bride. God’s commands and teachings are like a marriage contract for His people. In the beginning, marriage was a permanent status.Even after Torah was given to His people, divorce was the choice of the victim; that is not mandatory. Likewise, it’s God’s choice to remain married to His bride or not.

      3. Brad Thompson

        In the beginning there is only one Father and Son. Likewise there is only one bride. In the end of the age this is also true. However, there are all those who are invited to the wedding. Will the one’s invited to the wedding, but are not the bride, get angry? God forbid. All at the wedding are happy and support the bride and groome.

      4. Brad Thompson

        I always try to remember Gamaliel’s advice found in Acts 5:33-39, “for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing, but if it of God, you cannot overthrow it – lest you even be found to fight against God.” Peace to you.

  3. Fernando Bartels

    Dear Dr. Eli or Shirokov,
    Has it ever even in the area that we know as Palestine any other State other than the State of Israel? Thank you again for your help and blessings… Fernando Bartels

  4. Fernando Bartels

    Dear Dr. Eli,
    Would you have a copy of the Book of Mathew in Hebrew? How can I get one and how much it cost?
    Namely Shem Tovs Hebrew Mathew… it may not be in print but, if anyone knows, you will know?
    Thank you for your time!!!
    Fernando Bartels

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Fernando, I don’t think I can help you. But this may interest you

    2. Prof. Peter Shirokov

      Fernando, Shem Tov Matthew can be read from a scan of the original book

      It is known as Even Bohan, the touchstone… Here is a modern script, but it may contain typos

      1. Fernando Bartels

        Thank you, thank you and thank you Dr. Eli and Prof. Peter Shirokov.
        You guys are the best… keep on the good work…

  5. Xiaohui Yang

    Is there a difference between Book of life and Lamb’s book of life?

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      I don’t think so. Book of the Lamb is a way to say to say that Jesus is God.

  6. Kat

    I see the #7 in Gen 2:2 & Exodus 20:8 so why does John call this a prophecy?
    “reads aloud the words of this prophecy”

  7. Cherryl Mohamed

    Hello Dr. Eli,
    I appreciate the respond on marriage given above, very helpful, thank you. The meeting between Jesus and the Samaritan woman has been used as one of the stronger stories to show how women can be disciples of Jesus and many a women’s group use this story as the basis of their ministry. Can you provide any insights on this?

  8. almir alves da silva

    Olá Dr. Eli Lizorkin, gostaria de compreeder melhor a estrutura quiástica e poder reconhece-las nos texto e versículos biblicos, me ajude. obrigado

  9. Fernando Bartels.

    Dear Dr. Eli, Is there anyway I can get anymore information about the Jewish wedding feasts in the time of jesus or in the first century? I believe to be a very important subject to further understand the New testament. SHALOM and blessings to you…

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      The following is from Theological dictionary of the New Testament.

      γαμέω, γάμος* → (νυμφίος).

      γαμεῖν “to marry” and γάμος “marriage,” “wedding,” from the time of Homer. Common in the plur. for “wedding festivities” (Ditt. Syll.3, 1106, 100). γαμίζειν acc. to the grammarian Apollonius1 means “to give a maiden or woman in marriage,” though this is the only instance in secular Gk. More common is γαμίσκω, “to give in marriage,” mid. “to get married.”2 In the LXX the word group is rare, though common in Philo and Josephus.

      1. Marriage Customs in the NT.

      In the writings of the Heb. Canon the LXX has γάμος only 3 times: Gn. 29:22: ἐποίησε γάμον; Est. 2:18: ὕψωσεν τοὺς γάμους and Est. 9:22: ἡμέρας γάμων, always for מִשְׁתֶּה “marriage feast” (orig. “carousal,” Est. 9:22). γάμος is very common in Tobit, e.g., 11:19: καὶ ἤχθη ὁ γάμος Τωβία μετʼ εὐφροσύνης, ἑπτὰ ἡμέρας. The equivalent משתה occurs frequently in Rabb. works,3 e.g., Halla, 2, 7 == S. Nu., 110 on 15:21: בעל הבית שעושה משתה לבנו a master of the house who arranges the wedding-feast for his son (cf. also S. Dt., 343).4

      The ancient Jewish custom of extending the marriage over several days (a whole week in the case of a virgin), and also of celebrating far into the night, is reflected in the parable at Lk. 12:36, where it may be well after midnight before the κύριος returns ἐκ τῶν γάμων. At Lk. 14:8 Jesus speaks of the marriage-feast and warns: ὅταν κληθῇς ὑπό τινος εἰς γάμους, μὴ κατακλιθῇς εἰς τὴν πρωτοκλισίαν. Again at Jn. 2:1 ff. the reference is to a wedding (γάμος) in which Jesus Himself took part and revealed τὴν δόξαν αὐτοῦ by the changing of water into wine (v. 11).

      2. The New Ideal of Early Christianity.

      The firm starting-point for the early Christian evaluation of marriage is Gn. 2:24, the saying concerning the henosis of the partners in which the original unity of man and woman is restored. Marriage is the continuation of the divine work of creation in the history of the human race (cf. also Gn. 1:28).5 This thought always persisted in the Jewish community.6 Thus Tobias prays with his young wife: σὺ ἐποίησας τὸν Ἀδὰμ καὶ ἔδωκας αὐτῷ βοηθὸν Εὔαν … καὶ σὺ ἐ͂πας· οὐ καλὸν εἶναι τὸν ἄνθρωπον μόνον … καὶ νῦν, κύριε, σὺ γινώσκεις ὅτι οὐ διὰ πορνείαν λαμβάνω τὴν ἀδελφήν μου ταύτην, ἀλλὰ κατὰ δικαίωμα τοῦ νόμου σου ἐπὶ τῷ ἐλεηθῆναι ἡμᾶς … καὶ δὸς ἡμῖν, κύριε, τέκνα καὶ εὐλογίαν (Tob. 8:6 ff.; cf. 7:12).7 The Jewish ideal of marriage, however, reaches its climax in the rich circle of legends which clustered around the marriage of Akiba and Rahel. Rahel allows Akiba to go to the house of instruction while she remains behind in shame and poverty. After twice 12 years Akiba returns as a great rabbi with the confession: All that we have we owe to her. Rahel has sacrificed her hair to make study possible for him. Instead, he brings her a diadem representing the pinnacles of the holy city which is now so dreadfully destroyed.8 This is the symbol of a marriage which has led two persons ceaselessly in service of their God and people under the sign of the divine calling and the historical moment.9
      Pointing in the same direction is the ideal of marriage which Zarathustra wins from his dualistic and eschatological understanding of life. In the marriage liturgy composed by the prophet for the marriage of his youngest daughter (Yasna, 53),10 marriage is the alliance of two persons who set the will and blessing of Ahura Mazda above all else and would strengthen their front against the evil forces which threaten catastrophe: “Soon it will come to pass.” Parseeism maintained this high view of marriage, as may be seen from the last sentence of the Bundehesh: “He who hath thrice drawn near (to his spouse), cannot be separated from fellowship with Ahura Mazda and the immortal saints.”11

      Jesus sees in marriage the original form of human fellowship. It has its basis and norm in God’s act of creation. It has a history which divides into three periods. It has its time, and will end with this aeon.
      Ἀπὸ ἀρχῆς κτίσεως ἄρσεν καὶ θῆλυ ἐποίησεν αὐτούς … καὶ ἔσονται οἱ δύο εἰς σάρκα μίαν, Mk. 10:6 ff. This is the original state in Paradise, i.e., marriage as God intended it. Jesus emphasises the event, the henosis, which marks it as belonging to creation: οὐκέτι εἰσὶν δύο ἀλλὰ μία σάρξ, Mk. 10:8b. The practical consequence is clear and is drawn by Jesus Himself in a new word of institution: ὃ οὖν ὁ θεὸς συνέζευξεν, ἄνθρωπος μὴ χωριζέτω, Mk. 10:9 f. To be sure, Jesus realises that the primitive order has been shattered by the corruption of the human heart. He sees the historical justification and necessity of the Mosaic law of divorce which introduces the second period in the history of marriage, the period of compromise: πρὸς τὴν σκληροκαρδίαν ὑμῶν ἔγραψεν ὑμῖν τὴν ἐντολὴν ταύτην, i.e., the direction to give a bill of divorcement. Jesus Himself, however, introduces a new period in the history of marriage. This third and decisive period is characterised by a new conception of the law of divorce, a deepened ideal of marriage and finally a fourfold reservation in respect of it.
      Jesus begins by recalling the original order of creation, thus assuring the elementary unity and inviolability of marriage, and overthrowing the lax interpretation and practice of the Mosaic law with the corresponding Jewish Halacha and practice of divorce:12 μὴ χωριζέτω! But Jesus is no fanatic dreaming of a new Paradise. In all sobriety He creates practical conditions for carrying out the ancient divine order in the present aeon. In place of Jewish traditions He sets a sharper interpretation of Moses which handles the problem of divorce according to the principle of the lesser evil, a new Halacha which can sometimes allow legal divorce but leaves intact the henosis of the marriage partners: ὃς ἂν ἀπολύσῃ τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ καὶ γαμήσῃ13 ἄλλην, μοιχᾶται ἐπʼ αὐτήν. καὶ ἐὰν αὐτὴ ἀπολύσασα τὸν ἄνδρα αὐτῆς γαμήσῃ ἄλλον, μοιχᾶται (Mk. 10:11 ff.). This means quite clearly and unambiguously that dissolution of marriage may be conceded at a pinch, but that there must be no contracting of a new marriage. The replacement of one spouse by another is adultery. For it affects the fundamental unity of the partners. This unity is posited and actualised in accordance with creation. It remains even when human σκληροκαρδία causes a rift which leads to legal divorce. Hence it must not be violated by any law of divorce permitting another union.14
      Again, Jesus finds the starting-point of marital failure in σκληροκαρδία only with a view to establishing in the καρδία the base of a new ethos of marriage (Mt. 5:27 f.). It is in the heart that the decision is taken respecting the continuance of henosis. If it is abandoned in the heart, the marriage is broken. The meaning of henosis is fulfilled, according to Jesus, only where persons become and remain one inwardly as well as outwardly, in a fusion which is total and al-comprehensive. Physical fellowship must have and maintain its centre in moral. Copulation without communion is fornication.

      The words of Jesus permit neither free love nor double standards. Yet complete equality is not the ideal of Jesus. The linguistic usage in Lk. 17:27 etc. proves this (→ n. 15). The husband is the active partner in the conclusion and direction of marriage. This is self-evident for Jesus.

      Finally, Jesus shows that marriage is historically conditioned with a view to making His fourfold reservation in respect of the present state of things. There are times of threatened judgment in which careless and self-confident γαμεῖν and γαμίζεσθαι15 indicate a culpable blindness to the seriousness of the situation and can thus be frivolous and irresponsible. One such time was in the days of the flood; another such time16 has now dawned (Lk. 17:27). There are situations in which γυναῖκα ἔγημα can be wrong and obstructive,17 because marriage hampers a man’s unconditional readiness for the call of God (Lk. 14:20, cf. Mt. 22:14). There are men18 who have the gift and task of refraining from marriage διὰ19 τὴν βασιλείαν (Mt. 19:12).20 And a new age is coming in which there will be no more marrying: ὅταν γᾶρ ἐκ νεκρῶν ἀναστῶσιν, οὔτε γαμοῦσιν οὔτε γαμίζονται, ἀλλʼ ὡς ἄγγελοι ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς (Mk. 12:25 and par.). Marriage, too, is one of the forms of life in the present aeon which are to pass away. The history of marriage will terminate with the end of this age.
      Jesus Himself never married. But He is not a pessimist in relation to it like the Christ of the apocryphal Acts. He does not go into houses to warn against it. He attends weddings. He has a deep joy in children. He knows the legitimacy, meaning and glory of marriage, as He knows the glory of the lilies which tomorrow will have faded. One day the form of marriage will pass. But this day has not yet come. To-day, and especially to-day, the word of institution from the time of creation is still in force (→ 649 on Mk. 10:6 ff.). Hence a general abstinence from marriage would be an anachronism in this aeon.
      Paul in 1 C. honours all the motifs introduced by Jesus. For him, too, the saying in Genesis concerning henosis denotes the metaphysical range of every sexual union (1 C. 6:16 f.). Yet the thought is not developed positively in an understanding of marriage. It is used polemically in an attack on πορνεία. Free love is sin against the body (6:18b).21 In 1 C. 7 Paul refers expressly to the saying of the κύριος in his radical rejection of divorce, or at any rate his prohibition of the remarriage of a divorced wife (10f.).22 Once a marriage is contracted, it must be carried out in full both physically and spiritually. Periods of withdrawal should be brief (3ff.; cf. 24, 27a and Col. 3:18 f.). The basis given by Paul is, however, somewhat pessimistic: διὰ … τὰς πορνείας ἕκαστος τὴν ἐαυτοῦ γυναῖκα ἐχέτω … ἵνα μὴ πειράζῃ ὑμᾶς ὁ σαταμᾶς διὰ τὴν ἀκρασίαν (v. 2, 5).23 If Jesus explained divorce as a necessary evil, Paul seems almost to see marriage in the same light. He thus presses even more strongly the fourfold reservation already encountered in Jesus. Marriage can be a hindrance to final dedication to God (v. 5, 32ff.; cf. Lk. 14:20 → 651). Basically, it is not consonant with this καιρὸς συνεσταλμένος (1 C. 7:26, 28 f.); παράγει γὰρ τὸ σχῆμα τοῦ κόσμου τούτου (v. 31; cf. Mk. 12:25 → 651). Hence celibacy is the true demand of the hour διά τὴν ἐνεστῶσαν ἀνάγκην (1 C. 7:26, 29; cf. Lk. 17:27 → 651). To be sure, Paul has no use for ascetic experiments, and if they lead to tense situations resolute marriage24 is for him the lesser evil. Yet it is still an evil. A widow is free to remarry; μακαριωτέρα δέ ἐστιν ἐὰν οὕτως25 μείνῃ (39f., cf. 8; R. 7:2). Finally; he could wish that all γαμεῖν and γαμίζειν were at an end (1 C. 7:1, 7 f.)—ἀλλὰ ἕκαστος ἴδιον ἔχει χάρισμα ἐκ θεοῦ (v. 7). He himself has the charisma of remaining unmarried for the sake of his unique situation and commission (cf. 1 C. 9:5, 12, 15 ff.).26 It may be seen that this is no accident but a demonstration. Paul is conscious of being one of the εὐνοῦχοι διὰ τὴν βασιλείαν (→ 651, on Mt. 19:12).27

      In later writings the battle for the inviolability of marriage is prominent. 1 Cl. warns against the discord which can even shatter marriage: ζῆλος ἀπηλλοτρίωσεν γαμετὰς ἀνδρῶν καὶ ἠλλοίωσεν τὸ ῤηθὲν ὐπὸ πατρὸς ἠμῶν Ἀδάμ: τοῦτο νῦν … σὰρξ ἐκ τῆς σαρκός μου.28 Hb. 13:4 admonishes: τίμιος ὁ γάμος ἐν πᾶσιν, and Ign. writes in the same vein to Polycarp (5, 1). Hence a Christian marriage should not be contracted without the blessing of the Church: πρέπει δὲ τοῖς γαμοῦσιν καὶ ταῖς γαμουμέναις μετὰ γνώμης τοῦ ἐπισκόπου τὴν ἕνωσί ποιεῖσθαι, ἵνα ὀ γάμος ᾖ κατὰ κύριον καὶ μὴ κατʼ ἐπιθυμίαν. ἁγνεία should not be made a law; it becomes a curse if it puffs up the ascetic; εἴ τις δύναται ἐν ἀγνείᾳ μένειν εἰς τιμὴν τῆς σαρκὸς τοῦ κυρίου, ἒ ἀκαυχησίᾳ μενέτω (Ign. Pol., 5, 2). And while the thought of mere co-habitation becomes more prevalent (v. Herm., 1, 1 and esp. s., 9, 11, 3), the Pastorals condemn the shunning of marriage and the questionable activities of young widows, laying down the principle: βούλομαι οὖν νεωτέρας γαμεῖν (1 Tm. 4:3; 5:11, 14). Here, too, of course, the principle of the lesser evil lurks in the background, namely, in the motive: μηδεμίαν ἀφορμὴν διδόναι τῷ ἀντικειμένῳ. The ideal is again that the widow should manage without a second marriage (5:5ff.). It is demanded of the bishop in particular that he should remain μιᾶς γυναυχὸς ἀνἠρ (3:2). It is evident that the demands of Paul are increasingly restricted; they are now limited to bishops as the ecclesiastical successors of the apostles and charismatics.

      Only in one passage in the early Christian treatment does the principle of celibacy find a place, namely, in the picture given in Revelation of those who followed the Lamb,29 of the 144,000 παρθένοι: οὗτοί εἰσιν οἳ μετὰ γυναικῶν οὐκ ἐμολύνθησαν … οὗτοι οἱ ἀκολουθοῦντες τῷ ἀρνίῳ ὅπου ἂν ὑπάγῃ. οὗτοι ἠγοράσθησαν ἀπὸ τῶν ἀνθρώπων ἀπαρχὴ τῷ θεῷ καὶ τῷ ἀρνίῳ (Rev. 14:4). There is here no suggestion either of human impotence on the one side or of successful monkish achievement on the other. The reference is to the genuine heroism of those who are called for the sake of a unique situation and commission.
      Yet early Christianity does not speak only of the difficulty of marriage in this kairos. It also speaks in strict and lofty terms of the inviolability of the marriage bond. Jesus in His saying concerning the heart (→ 650 on Mt. 5:27 f.) laid the new foundation for a positive understanding and ethos of marriage. The house tables30 of the NT build on this foundation when they base the whole fellowship of marriage and the family on → ἀγάπη. ἀγάπη and not ἔρως creates marital fellowship. Again, the fellowship of the family is the organic centre of the actualisation of ἀγάπη, which sustains all fellowship. In the NT, however, the ground and measure of all human ἀγάπη are to be found in the love of God. The Epistle to the Ephesians carries this thought further. The basis of all marital love is for the Christian the love of Christ for His community.31 This gives marriage its place in the new world situation. The Christian ideal of marriage is thus brought into a wider theological context.

      3. The Messianic Wedding and Christian Marriage.

      γάμος acquires its greatest religious significance where it is used of the union or close connection between God and man. The thought of a divine being having sexual intercourse with a human woman is common in the ancient Orient. It is the presupposition of the ruler ideology of Egypt, of the fertility rites of the Near East and of the Greek Mysteries both in classical and Hellenistic times. The δρώμενον of Eleusis represented the ἱερὸς γάμος between Zeus and Demeter, between the lord of heaven and mother earth.32 The climax of the Feast of Flowers consisted in the γάμος of Dionysus, who came in human form to his earthly bride.33 Again, the heavenly wedding is a sign set over the marriage of the earthly couple. Thus in the “bridal chamber” of the Villa Item the wedding of Dionysus and Ariadne is perhaps represented as a model for the future marriage of devotees.34 In Plato (Resp., V. 459 ff.), where the mythical and cultic realism is less evident, the idea of the heavenly ἱερὸς γάμος gives both form and meaning to earthly marriage.
      In the world of Israel and Judah, too, there is reference to the marriage between God and the land or people of Israel. The OT, however, has no hint of any actualisation of this relationship in mysteries, or of any sensually perceptible union with the deity.35 On the contrary, marriage is simply a symbol for the covenant between God and the people as this is to be kept in all fidelity and renewed with all passion36 (Hos. 2:19; Is. 54:4 ff.; 62:4 f.; Ez. 16:7 ff.).
      With the same strictness with which prophecy fought the ancient fertility cults, Hellenistic Judaism damps the erotic impulse of the Mysteries, e.g., in Wis. 14:23 ff.: ἢ γὰρ τεκνοφόνους τελετὰς ἢ κρύφια μυστήρια ἢ ἐμμανεῖς ἐξάλλων θεσμῶν κώμους ἄγοντες … οὔτε γάμους καθαροὺς ἔτι φυλάσσουσιν … γάμων ἀταξία, μοιχεία καὶ ἀσέλγεια.37 Philo uses the imagery of the Hellenistic Mysteries together with the OT stories of Sarah and Leah to depict in a varied allegory the truth that the ἀγέννητος θεὸς καὶ τὰ σύμπαντα γεννῶν is the πατήρ who in the ἀρεταί gives birth to beautiful and perfect works.38
      Wholly along the lines of the OT the Rabbis extolled the conclusion of the covenant at Sinai as the marriage of Yahweh with Israel. The Torah is the marriage contract, Moses is the friend of the bridegroom and Yahweh comes to Israel as a bridegroom to his bride.39 Acc. to Akiba the bride of the Song of Songs is Israel as the bride of God. “I belong to my friend, and my friend belongs to me. You have no part in him (God).” Thus speaks the people of God in a great dialogue between Israel and the Gentiles composed by Akiba on the basis of this text (M. Ex. on 15:2). But the final renewal of the covenant between God and the people, intimated by the prophets, was expected by the Rabbis in the days of the Messiah. Thus we often find the view that in these days there will take place the true marriage feast.40 In this connection the present age is that of engagement, the seven years of Gog will be the period immediately prior to the marriage, the marriage itself will dawn with the resurrection and the great marriage feast will be eaten in the future world.41

      Jesus moves wholly within the circle of ideas of His contemporaries when He expresses the meaning and glory of the Messianic period in the images of the wedding and wedding feast. The virgins will wait until a late hour of the night to accompany the bridal pair with lamps to the marriage house, where at a brightly illuminated table the seven day feast will begin:42 καὶ αἱ ἕτοιμοι εἰσῆλθον μετʼ αὐτοῦ εἰς τοὺς γάμους. So the community of disciples hastens to the coming of the Lord, fully alert: γρηγορεῖτε οὖν, ὅτι οὐκ οἴδατε τὴν ἡμέραν οὐδὲ τὴν ὥραν (Mt. 25:10 ff.). This point, cf. Lk. 12:36 f.), is undoubtedly the chief one. But the rich imagery is chosen deliberately. This is shown by Mk. 2:19 and par., where Jesus describes Himself as the Bridegroom.43 Here (and in Jn. 3:29), the days of wedding festivity fall in the life of Jesus, whereas in Mt. 25:1 ff. they await His return—an obvious tension. Even more important is another shift in conception. In Jewish eschatological expectation God is the One who renews the marriage bond with His people. In the NT Christ takes the place of God as the heavenly Bridegroom. According to Mt. 22:1 ff. He is the King’s Son for whom the βασιλεύς holds the great wedding feast (ἐποίησεν γάμους). Again, the image can hardly be accidental. Jesus often speaks of the Messianic feast.44 The βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν is the great Messianic banquet to which the people of God is invited. But those invited refuse when the γάμος ἕτοιμός ἐστιν. The call δεῦτε εἰς τοὺς γάμους goes out to those outside, and they hear and stream in (Mt. 22:3 ff.; cf. Lk. 14:8 ff.).
      Who is the bride in the Messianic feast? In Jewish tradition it is the people of the covenant brought home to its Lord. In the Synoptic parables, however, the community of disciples is invited as a guest, and the bride is not mentioned. Yet the thought readily suggests itself that the new community of the covenant is the bride. The first traces of this view are to be found in Paul, probably in 1 C. 6:14 f.), where Paul sees an analogy between pneumatic union with Christ and the henosis of Gn. 2:24. It emerges more clearly in R. 7:4, and especially in 2 C. 11:2: ζηλῶ γὰρ ὑμᾶς θεοῦ ζήλῳ, ἡρμοσάμην γὰρ ὑμᾶς ἑνὶ ἀνδρὶ παρθένον ἁγνὴν παραστῆσαι τῷ Χριστῷ. Paul here thinks of himself as occupying a similar role to that of the Moses of the Haggada (→ 654). He is the one who conducts the bride to the heavenly Bridegroom, presenting the community to Him pure and chaste. The same imagery is found in Jn. 3:29, where the Baptist has the office of friend and therefore the community must again be the bride of the Messiah. The image of the bride is most powerfully used in the final visions of the Apocalypse, which brings together all the varied imagery of the Messianic banquet.45 The bride waits with longing: ἔρχου! (22:17). But the divine already catches the final Hallelujah which intimates the day of consummation: ἦλθεν ὁ γάμος τοῦ ἀρνίου καὶ ἡ γυνὴ αὐτοῦ ἡτοίμασεν ἐαυτήν; and at the same time a voice declares: μακάριοι οἱ εἰς τὸ δεῖπνον τοῦ γάμου τοῦ ἀρνίου κεκλημένοι (19:7ff.). It may thus be seen that the thought of the community as the bride includes rather than excludes the further thought that the individual members are invited to the wedding as guests. The sustaining thought, however, is that of the community as bride. The words which Trito-Isaiah46 sets in the mouth of the divine bride Jerusalem as an eschatological hymn are seen by the divine to be fulfilled after the final cosmic upheavals. He sees the new city of God ἡτοιμασμένην ὡς νύμφην κεκοσμημένην τῷ ἀνδρὶ αὐτῆς (21:2).47

      In contrast to Jn. 3:29 Jesus is not the bridegroom in the Cana story. The couple is of only subsidiary interest in this episode.48 Jesus stands at the centre. Again, the conjunction of the wedding and wine is not mythologically determined in the sense of the Mysteries.49 It simply arises out of the situation. The marriage as such is not important to the narrator (cf. 4:46), but the σημεῖον which points beyond itself to the δόξα of the Son. The miracle is a miracle of revelation, like that of the bread (6:26) and all the Johannine miracles. It is the first step on the way of the historical manifestation of the glory of the Son.

      This conception of Christ as the Bridegroom underlies the house table of Ephesians (5:22ff.). Already in 2 C. 11:3 (cf. 1 C. 6:16 f.) the marriage bond between Christ and the community as His bride had been set in analogy to the marriage bond between the first human couple. In Eph. 5:31 f. the thought is worked out typologically, and the Genesis saying50 concerning the impulse of the man to the woman and the henosis of the two is explained as a μυστήριον μέγα and referred εἰς Χριστὸν καὶ εἰς τὴν ἐκκλησίαν. This relationship between Christ and the community, however, is necessarily normative for that between husband and wife in a Christian marriage. Thus Eph., developing Pauline motifs (cf. 1 C. 11:3; 6:15 ff.), offers a christological basis for the two main parts of the early Christian marriage catechism,51 for the subordination of the wife to the husband and the overriding love of the husband for the wife: ὡς ἡ ἐκκλησία ὑποτάσσεται τῷ Χριστῷ, οὕτως καὶ αἱ ηυναῖκες τοῖς ἀνδράσιν ἐν παντί (5:24, cf. 22f.). Οἱ ἄνδρες, ἀγαπᾶτε τὰς γυναῖκας, καθὼς καὶ ὁ Χριστὸς ἠγάπησεν τὴν ἐκκλησίαν καὶ ἑαυτὸν παρέβωκεν ὑπὲρ αὐτῆς, ἵνα … (5:25ff.; cf. 29f.). The tensions in the relationship between husband and wife, recognised already in Genesis, are resolved ἐν Χριστῷ. For the self-giving of the wife acquires a new dedication, and the impulse of the husband a new content and standard, in ἀγάπη.52 The wife is no longer surrendered to the husband; she is entrusted to him. He does not have rights of lordship over her; he takes responsibility for her. Sometimes the execution of this thought has been as artificial as its exegetical basis. But the enterprise is magnificent and bold. It is the only attempt of early Christianity to set marital duty definitely under the sign of the fact of Jesus.

      The starting-point is obviously the old idea of the imitation of Jesus which first arose in Judaism as the imitatio Dei (→ ἀκολουθέω), which then came to control Christian ethics, and which played a great role from the time of Ignatius. It is no accident that it is in Ign. that the ideas of Eph. 5 find their first echo (Ign. Pol., 5, 1). On the other hand, there is no doubt that the thought of Christian marriage is here referred much more strongly to that of the ἱερὸς γάμος, to the analogy between heavenly and earthly wedding which is so important in Gk. thinking.
      In the later development of early Christian ideas of marriage and celibacy there is much contact and conflict with Hellenistic motifs. Gnostics speculate on heavenly syzygies, mystics revel in the imagery of the Song of Songs, ascetics despise the body and ecstatic women experience the union of the soul with the heavenly Bridegroom. Two texts stand out in the welter of literature. The Jewish legend of Joseph and Asenath,52 which deals with the marriage of Joseph to a daughter of the Egyptian king, is obviously interpreted and allegorically exploited in Judaism with reference to the marriage of the Messiah to the city of God (p. 15; 16; 17; 19); and Christians, too, work it out in the same way, the virgin Asenath being fearfully opposed to all men until the great stranger comes (υἱὸς θεοῦ, 6; 13) who converts her to the true God and imparts the Spirit of God to her in a kiss (19). She gives herself to him. She is affianced to him from eternity, and their marriage bond will last to eternity (21). Similar ideas and motifs recur frequently in the apocryphal legends of the apostles, esp. the Acts of Thomas. Here, too, there is an evident ascetic tendency. Jesus enters the bridal chamber and wins the newly espoused for the ideal of continence. A higher marriage takes the place of carnal union: ἑτέρῳ γάμῳ ἡρμόσθην … ἀνδρὶ ἀληθινῷ συνεζεύξθην (Act. Thom., 14). And an ecstatic hymn of Thomas lauds the mystical wedding, the dance of the seven male and female attendants and the eternal joys of the marriage feast (6f.).53 In the story of Joseph and Asenath the reference is still to the relationship between the Messiah and the community, but here it is to the sensual and supra-sensual experiences of the individual soul. Mysticism has triumphed.


      . Vol. 1: Theological dictionary of the New Testament. 1964- (G. Kittel, G. W. Bromiley & G. Friedrich, Ed.) (electronic ed.) (648–657). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

      1. Catrina Crawford

        Dr. Eli,
        This just answered many questions I have been pondering for quite some time. Not sure of my decisions in the matter yet, but very helpful in my prayer and thought process. Thank you very much for the thoroughness of this response. <3 <3 <3
        Bless you always,

  10. Brad Thompson

    I’m going to learn alot with this study. It’s as if God is pointing us back to the beginning; I’m Elohim of Creation (Gen. 1:1), I’m Elohim of weekly Sabbath (Ex. 20:8-10) and I’m God of Yeshua the Messiah (1 Peter 3:1-5). Seven blessings from a powerful God to be communicated to us in a powerful book…

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Brad, welcome to our group! We hope to learn from each other.