Must “the wife of the Lamb” be a Ewe?
N. T. Wright has suggested that Heaven marries Earth, that Adam marries Eve, that Christ marries the Church, that this is always and only Nature’s design: the male husband marries the female wife. And so he looks to the prophecies in the NT book of Revelation.
But in Revelation 19:7 and in Revelation 21:9, must “the wife of the Lamb” be a City? Or the Church? Or a Ewe?
If the sex must be different, then must the species also be different?
Below are a few quotations of Sr. Carolyn Osiek, writing to discuss the problems with the male-female marriage metaphor in the NT –
There are other biblical metaphors that have never attained the status or power that this one carries. It conveys the power it does, not only because it taps into the primal human energy of sexuality, but also because it serves certain interests that are closely related to the confusing ambiguity we experience between the desire for connection and the desire to control.–Carolyn Osiek
It does no good to affirm the full dignity and equality of women with men if our language, our imagery, and our metaphors continue to perpetuate inequality.–Carolyn Osiek
[N]early all the Hellenistic discussions of household management, beginning with Aristotle, address only one person, the male authority figure (paterfamilias) who must relate differently but always in a superior manner to wife, children, and slaves…. Since Aristotle, the basic types of … analogies have been simile and metaphor…. Metaphor is a more implicit comparison made by direct statement that one thing is another. As Aristotle puts it, when A is to B as C is to D, it is a metaphor to say A is C, or vice versa (POETICS 21.11-12).
The spousal metaphor has been a primary one throughout the development of ecclesiology. I need not and cannot document this development. Like any metaphor, it is sometimes carried too far…. One theologian argues on the basis of a social meaning of the Hebrew word basar (flesh, body) that the reference is not only to one’s personal body, but also ancestors, descendants, and particularly, one’s spouse. Thus the husband is considered to have two bodies, his own and that of his wife. Likewise, the wife has two heads, her own and that of her husband. This is supposed to reveal the distinction and the union of Christ and his church…. Since Mary is portrayed as mother of Jesus in the Second Testament and in subsequent theology and devotion, she is also portrayed as mother of the church, or perhaps more accurately, she should have been seen as its mother-in-law. But Mary has also been frequently seen as symbol or representative, a sort of first citizen, of the church. This blurs the distinctions. Thus there has been considerable symbolic slippage between her role as mother and her representation of the church in a spousal relationship to Christ.
Male interests predominate in our reading strategies. The implied reader is usually male or represents male interests. This is clear in the case of the history of interpretation of our text from Ephesians. I do not know of any instances in which male readers have deduced from it that as members of the church, which is submissive to Christ, her bridegroom, they should be submissive to their marriage partners. Nor do men generally, on the basis of this metaphor, image themselves as feminine in relation to God, which is the logical conclusion of the marital metaphor. Some older spirituality in English spoke of the soul as “she,” more under the influence of feminine words for soul in Latin and French than anything else, but also perhaps influenced by the marriage metaphor. Likewise, Caroline Bynum calls our attention in her essays on Jesus as Mother to the influence of the submission theme in medieval monasticism: becoming symbolically female meant both the humbling of the self and the assumption of a compassionate attitude toward others (Bynum: 110-69). Here the stereotype of the stern father and the compassionate mother strikes again, to the detriment of fatherhood as well as motherhood, and the stereotype of the dominant male taking on female characteristics by becoming humble belittles the dignity of women.
Both men and women do, however, make the connection that the ecclesial marriage metaphor means that women as members of the church should be submissive, however troublesome that realization may be, and whether they accept or reject it. Men certainly do identify not with the church in this metaphor, as members of it, but with Christ, because such identifications suit male interests. Herein lies the great danger posed by this ecclesiological metaphor: it encourages men to identify with Christ, women with the church. As everyone knows who teaches or ministers, for most people the line between Christ and God is very thin. As long as the marriage metaphor is in play, gender symbolism is fixed. Men will, even unconsciously, identify with Christ and women with the church, and feminine imagery for God or Christ then has no place. Then God is the ultimate male.
The above is a reposting from http://speakeristic.blogspot.com/2011/03/tap-that-sexy-power.html. And for full disclosure, Dr. Osiek is one of my own teachers, and she advised me through my dissertation project.
UPDATE: If the link to the article above ( http://btb.sagepub.com/content/32/1/29.full.pdf+html ) does not work, then please feel free to request a reprint of it or to subscribe to the journal or to find the essay in your university or local library. There are some important arguments made, such as this –
I would argue that casting the church as feminine, and above all as bride of Christ, far from enhancing the dignity of women, has in fact done harm to perception of the capacity of women to image the divine, and thus of women’s fundamental human and Christian dignity.
and this –
The “head” analogy for a leader of an army, a city, or some other social grouping was already established and quite common [by the time Paul wrote what he wrote]. What is less obvious in the sources is how “head” came to mean authority of one person over one other person as it does here [in male-female marriage, in Paul’s writing], and how “body” could support the meaning of a subordinate yet free individual person. (Slaves were sometimes depersonalized by being referred to legally in Greek as somata, bodies, but a reference to a specific individual slave by this term is unlikely.) These are precisely the points of greatest tension in the simile of this passage. The dissonance of the headship of one person over another occurs previously in 1 Corinthians 11:3, where Christ is the head (kephale) of man, man of woman, and God of Christ. But it was not a well-established metaphor in its day. How is Christ head of the man in 1 Corinthians 11:3, and of the church here? Not as military or political leader, but in a new way here, as savior ([Ephesians] 5:23). Bracket for a moment the accumulation of theological, eschatological, and individualist meaning attributed to the title “savior.” In the first century a savior was one who healed of disease and restored to community; one who protected the weak from the oppression of the strong; a military hero and ruler who was responsible to keep his people from harm. In this last sense a savior could also be head, and in a collective sense, head of the social body. But for an individual man to be head of an individual woman is a very new application of the metaphor of headship.
The comparison of wife to body is more shocking. There is nothing immediately obvious even about the similarity of wife to church, except that wives make up some of the members of the church. But so do husbands. Only by extrapolating from biological to ecclesiological functions can we begin to see some figurative similarities: wives become mothers who produce children, etc., and the
church can be figuratively personified with a somewhat similar role. But there are other more subconscious similarities that produce this metaphor: the ideal shy, pure, therefore inexperienced, virgin bride who submits her body to the waiting bridegroom and is reserved for his pleasure alone, for him to initiate her into the joy of sex in whatever way he would like. I do not mean to titillate, but I think all of these undertones are there, especially in the highly unusual suggestion that the bridegroom is the agent of the bride’s prenuptial bath and purity inspection. The
metaphor comes close to asserting that female biology is destiny. However, it is typical of the kind of projections of the feminine that are based solely on women’s sexual status in the male world: virgin, mother, or whore.
We have seen that the background metaphor to the simile of wife:husband::church:Christ is that of head as leader. The foreground metaphor is the application of the sacred marriage. It is quite an irony that the historical Jesus, of whose celibacy so much has been made in Christian history, has been transformed into the glorified Christ who is bridegroom ready for the bridal chamber, preparing to be a faithful and self sacrificing husband! Yet that seems not to have stopped the continuing power of the metaphor. “It’s only symbolic,” we say. Yet there are other elements of the metaphor that are taken with complete seriousness, like the need to conform gender symbolism in eucharistic presidency to reflect the sacred marriage of Christ and the church.
ANOTHER UPDATE (IMAGES ADDED) –