It is interesting that the church is described by Paul, not as the wife of Christ, but as the bride (2 Cor 11:2; Eph 5:27). Clearly there is something important about this distinction. A spouse stands in a settled and determined relationship. The vows have been made, the union has been actualized, the relationship has been consummated. The relationship between two betrothed however is quite different, at least in biblical understanding.
The relationship between a groom and a bride is one of promise. They are bound to one another by vow, but their relationship is not yet consummated, though it is a binding and real relationship. Inherent in the notion of betrothal is the element of anticipation, of deferred longing, of unactualized union. The betrothed live from promise towards a future in which they will be given to one another in a full and decisive way.
This image of the church as bride seems to me to be a necessary qualification towards how we interpret the metaphor of the body of Christ. Or rather, this is the question I am interested in seeing discussed. Should the image of the bride have priority in our understanding of the image of the body or vice versa? To my mind the image of the bride is preferable as a controlling metaphor because, 1) it is much clearer in meaning, 2) it is rooted substantially in the Old Testament’s language, 3) it is clearly the controlling metaphor for the union of God and his people in Revelation, and 4) it is clearly attuned to the whole framework of eschatological anticipation that the New Testament as whole presupposes.