Our Mother who art in Heaven
by Peter J. Wallace
"Since God is male, the male is God." This statementembodies one of the most difficult issues facing the church asshe faces the twenty-first century: how do we think and speakabout God in a post-androcentric world? Some have supportedcalling God "Mother;" others utterly reject any feminine languagefor God. Should we call God, "Mother," and use masculine andfeminine pronouns interchangeably, or should we eliminate allgender-bearing language and simply speak of "God"? Or, on theother side, should we simply ignore the feminist protest andsimply continue to do what the church has always done?
Many have dealt with our language concerning God, but Iwould like to take a slightly different angle. Over the last fewyears, I have come to the conclusion that the evangelical churchhas been terribly negligent in her use of gender imagery--not somuch with reference to God, but with reference to herself. Themajority of preachers and laypeople alike refer to the Church as"it." Most evangelicals acknowledge that the Church is the brideof Christ, but few explore the implications of this. Hardlyanyone reverences her as the Mother of believers. Because of thevacuum created by this negligence, the feminist theologies rampant in our culture have been appropriated and modified byevangelicals to fill the void.
Christianity is essentially a personal (not to be confusedwith individual) religion. The Trinity, the Person of Christ,Creation, Fall, and Redemption are all dependent on the personsinvolved, and the covenantal relationships which they sustain toone another. This is especially true of redemption, and it isthis aspect that I will focus on. In relationship to us, God isour Father, Christ is our Husband, and the Church is our Mother. These are not sexual relationships, but they do have to do withspiritual "reproduction."
The Church is the body of Christ--the presence of Christ inthe world. But even as we are united to Christ, becoming membersof his body, Paul compares to the union of marriage, where thetwo become one flesh: "In this same way, husbands ought to lovetheir wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loveshimself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feedsand cares for it, just as Christ does for the church--for we aremembers of his body" (Eph. 5:28-30--followed by the quote of Gen.2:24). In I Cor. 6:15-20, Paul further expands this idea byemphasizing that since believers are the body of Christ, theymust not unite themselves to prostitutes, because they arealready one in Spirit with the Lord (again quoting Genesis 2:24). This union is not a personal union (i.e., we do not become oneperson with Jesus), but, to use Paul's contrast between the twobecoming one "flesh" and our being one with Christ "in spirit,"our union with Christ is the spiritual and archetypal marriage,of which all human marriages are the fleshly and ectypalreflection.
This idea was first developed by the Old Testament prophets,most graphically in Ezekiel 16. Jerusalem is portrayed as thehelpless and destitute infant whom Yahweh has mercy on, and with whom he enters into a marriage covenant. He made her beautifuland she bore him many sons and daughters (16:1-21). The image of the people of God as the bride of Yahweh is one of the most common themes in the prophetic writings (also see Is. 54:1-8,55:4, 62:4; Jer. 2:2, 3:6-25; Hos. 2:1-3:5; 5:3-7--really the whole book; and dozens of other passages), yet unfortunately it is ignored in much of modern evangelicalism.
"Yet no sooner is Zion in labor than she gives birth to her children. Do I bring to the moment of birth and not give delivery?" says the Lord...."Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice greatly with her, all you who mourn over her. For you will nurse and be satisfied at her comforting breasts; you will drink deeply and delight in her overflowing abundance." For this is what the Lord says: 'I will extend peace to her...; you will nurse and be carried on her arm and dangled on her knees. As a mother comforts her child so will I comfort you; and you will be comforted over Jerusalem."
God's people are born of Zion, and are nursed at the breasts of Jerusalem. Therefore the redemption of Jerusalem brings peace toher children.
Paul picks up on this idea in his allegory of Hagar andSarah in Galatians 4:21-31, where he declares that "the Jerusalemthat is above is free, and she is our mother." This is the sameheavenly Jerusalem spoken of in Hebrews 12:22--the city of theliving God, and the abode of "the church of the firstborn,...thespirits of righteous men made perfect." In Revelation 12, thewoman who gives birth to the son "who will rule the nations" alsogives birth to many others, as is seen by the fact that "thedragon was enraged at the woman and went off to make war againstthe rest of her offspring--those who obey God's commandments andhold to the testimony of Jesus" (Rev. 12:17).
This last example refers us back to Matthew 12:46-50, andits parallels in Mark and Luke. Here, Jesus is told that hismother and brothers wish to see him, but he turns to hisdisciples and says, "Here are my mother and my brothers. Forwhoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother andsister and mother." The connection between the woman of Rev.12:17 and Mt. 12:50 is intentional. Those who obey God'scommandments are the offspring of the woman--who is also themother of Jesus. Who does Jesus call his mother? No one person,but the whole assembly of his disciples. The assembly ofChrist's disciples, the Church, is called Mother by Christ, andbecause we are adopted as his brothers and sisters, we too are tosee the Church as our Mother.
The soteriological necessity of the Motherhood of the churchis seen in Romans 10:14-16, where Paul teaches that people cannot believe unless they hear the gospel--which must be preached,whether by oral or written means. Therefore, the Church, as the bride of Christ, is the womb in which the infertile unbeliever encounters the gospel, is impregnated by the Holy Spirit by the preaching of the Word. It is she who nurtures us, feeding us at her breasts with the pure milk of the gospel, later giving us the solid food of sound doctrine and discipleship. She guides us with her long wisdom, taught to her by the Holy Spirit from the Word of God, over long ages of her history--the very wisdom of God in Christ, to whom she submits. And her Divine-human Bridegroom cares for her, leading her and loving her, teaching us through his Word and by His Spirit--in the Church.
The early Church quickly caught on to the implication that if the Church is the Bride of Christ, then she is the Mother of the faithful. Cyprian said it so well in the third century: "You can not have God for your Father unless you have the church for your Mother." John Calvin declared that "there is no otherway to enter into life unless this mother conceive us in her womb, give us birth, [and] nourish us at her breast....[A]way from her bosom one cannot hope for any forgiveness of sins or any salvation." God is our Father, the Church is our Mother. There is a whole realm of possibility for beautiful imagery and poetry in this, as we recover the faithful teaching of the Word of God.
Yes, language in the Church has been too masculine. We have ignored the truth that the Church is the bride of Christ, and the Mother of all believers. By eliminating the Mother from their doctrine of the new birth, evangelicals have forced women to try to find some new place for feminine language. Even worse, by denying the necessity of the visible Church in their soteriology, evangelicals have ignored their Mother--and now she is dying, being excluded by Fundamentalists and Feminists alike. I do not wish to attack the feminists or egalitarians and tell them that they are completely wrong. They saw something that was truly a problem. Evangelicals have ignored feminine imagery. Yes, God cares for us as a Mother cares for her children. Yet every feminine image of God found in the Bible is a simile---"God is like..." or "God cares for us as...". On the other hand, God says that he is our Father. Christ is our Bridegroom and our Brother. It is the Church who is our Mother, by whom we are nurtured, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Let us regain this beautiful imagery and develop it to the glory of God.
I. Feminine Motifs in Scripture
1. The Bride Motif in Isaiah
John Schmitt has called attention to the careful use ofgender in biblical imagery. Israel (the people) is the son ofGod, whereas Zion (the city) is his bride. Throughout Isaiah 40-66, Israel is in the masculine, while the Zion is in thefeminine. [Schmitt, 1991, 20] He claims that throughoutScripture it is technically incorrect to say that Israel is thebride of Yahweh. Rather, Zion (or Jerusalem, or Samaria) is thebride of Yahweh. This thesis is problemmatic because Jeremiahuses the feminine gender extensively for Israel, and calls Judahthe faithless sister of Israel (Jer. 3:6-14). So while Schmittis generally correct in his discussion, there is certainly moreflexibility in the gender of Israel and Judah than Schmitt iswilling to allow (Schmitt's agenda is to show that feminineimagery for God's people is relatively unimportant in Scripturecompared to the masculine son-imagery). The bride image is first introduced in 1:21-26, where Zion, the once-faithful city, is called a harlot, and the dwellingplace of murderers. This image is taken up in 47:1-15 as acontrast is painted between the judgment of the Virgin Daughterof Babylon, and the salvation of Zion (46:13), the redemption ofthe holy city (48:1-22), concluding with the exaltation of thecaptive Daughter of Zion 52:2, in the context of God's sovereigndeliverance 52:1-12. The servant of 52:13-53:12 is a curiousfigure in this context, especially because of vv8-10.
Particularly the phrase, "he will see his offspring..." raises aquestion in light of the following verses (54:1-8) which speak ofthe children of Zion, and also Yahweh as Zion's husband: who isthe father of Zion's children? Yahweh, or the servant? Thebride prepares for the wedding in 61:10-11, and chapter 62 couldbe seen almost as a wedding song, leading up to the entrance ofthe groom in chapter 63--the one whose arm worked salvation (cf.59:15-20 where he is identified as Yahweh). It is this Yawheh,the Divine Warrior, who is explicitly identified as father in63:15-19 and 64:8-12 (ultimately, of course, the ambiguity isresolved by the fact that the Servant is Yahweh in Jesus Christ).
2. The Mother Motif in Isaiah
The birth image is introduced in 13:8, as the anguish oflabor is used as the picture of the anguish of the people ofBabylon in the day of the Lord. This image is then put in themouths of the people of Judah returning from exile in 26:17-18,as they reflect on their troubles: "As a woman with child andabout to give birth writhes and cries out in her pain, so were wein your presence, O Yahweh. We were with child, we writhed inpain, but we gave birth to wind. We have not brought salvationto the earth; we have not given birth to people of the world." This startling statement declares that all of Judah's anguish andpain has been for naught. They were commanded to be a blessingto the nations--to the people of the world, but they havemiscarried, and have given birth to wind. As might have beenexpected, 26:19-21 follows this with the assertion that whenYahweh comes, "the earth will give birth to her dead." Similarusage of this motif is found in 33:11 ("you conceive chaff, yougive birth to straw...") and 37:3. Simply put, Zion has not onlyfailed in her commission to be a blessing to the nations, she hasfailed to give birth to a people for God at all. Later Isaiahtears into the "offspring of adulterers and prostitutes" as hedeclares God's judgment upon the bastards of Zion--"sons of asorceress" (57:3-13).
Nonetheless, the birth-image gains a positive use as it isdeveloped in Isaiah 40-66. Mother Zion discovers that even inthe years of bereavement (the exile) God has protected herchildren, and given her more children, bringing them in the armsof the Gentiles. She has not done anything to deserve this, butGod will bring her and her children home (49:19-21). Isaiah54:1-8 declares that the barren woman will have more childrenthan anyone else. While Zion is not named in this passage, thereis no doubt that she is the referent here, as she is named to bethe wife of Yahweh and the mother of his children. She who wasdesolate during the exile is now the joyous mother of manychildren. Her rejection is past, and now she receives theeverlasting kindness and compassion of Yahweh, and the reproachof her widowhood is forgotten.
Connections to Isaiah 66:13 are seen in 42:14 where Goddeclares that "like a woman in childbirth, I cry out, I gasp andpant," as he marches out as the divine warrior to go before hispeople in triumph, as well as in 49:15 where Yahweh compareshimself to a mother who cannot forget the baby at her breast. Nonetheless, these images are not on the same level, either infulness of description or in completeness of identification, asthe Mother Zion image. While it is important to recognize thisfeminine imagery, it should not obscure the primary references toZion.
3. Development of the Motifs in Isaiah 66:7-13
Isaiah expands the mother image in this passage to includethe birthing of multitudes and the nursing/comforting of herchildren, all in the context of Yahweh's sovereign power insalvation. In this passage however, he is portraying life in thenew creation rather than his previous focus on the exiliccontext. That still is in his mind--as evidenced by the languageof sudden transition and comfort from the past--but the center ofattention is the comfort and delight of the glory which shall beZion's in the new heavens and new earth, which functions as theimmediate context of Isaiah 65-66.
The figure of Zion as (rejected/restored) bride and motherfit naturally into the larger theme of Isaiah: namely, thepurification of Zion by the Holy One of Israel. Yahweh desiresto have a faithful bride; the only way he can have one is if heaccomplishes her salvation. Hence he (as suffering servant andtriumphant divine warrior--Is. 53/63-64) takes her as his brideand populates the world with their holy offspring.
A. Intertextual Context
1. The Origin of the Mother Image
Mark Biddle states that most scholars have sought to find the origin of the mother/daughter/virgin/bride/harlot imageeither "in Hosea's polemic against Canaanite fertility religionor as a poetic representation of the covenant ideal," citing Halland Ringren for the former and Greenberg for the latter [Biddle,1991, 173]. Criticizing feminist readings for missing the point--and also ignoring the positive aspects which occur in theprophetic characterizations--he attempts to find the source ofthese motifs by looking at the cultural context of the prophets. Critically evaluating Fitzgerald's claim that the images arerooted in the West Semitic deification of cities, and Follis'suggestion that there is an Hellenistic root tracing back to theHomeric era [Follis, 1987, 182], he argues that while thedifferences between the Hebrew prophets and their culturalbackground must be fully recognized, they are clearlypersonifying Jerusalem/Zion, not simply as a flat, stereotyped"harlot" image, but fundamentally as a woman. When she actsfaithfully she is praised; when she is faithless she iscondemned. Biddle appears correct in his conclusion that "thepersonification of Jerusalem [is] a theological device, as well,allowing for dramatic development, but also setting Jerusalem inproper relation to her God" [Biddle, 1991, 187]. Isaiah or oneof his contemporaries may indeed be the originator of thisparticular use of the image, but it almost certainly has deeperroots in the general cultural background, at least to Moses' day(Num. 11:12, cf. below).
2. The Mother image in the canon of Isaiah's day
The richness of this imagery is developed by the laterprophets, but little of this is present in the canon of Isaiah'sday. Essentially Isaiah is theologizing about Genesis 2-3, bothin the river of peace (which in Genesis 2 appears to be wateringthe nations from the holy land to the nations; now for Isaiah theriver of peace streams in to the holy land from the nations), butespecially in the revocation of the curse of Gen. 3:16. Whilethe vocabulary is not identical, the ideas are inextricablyintertwined. Young sees this passage as a prophecy of the comingof the Messiah, and the bringing in of the Gentiles. Overturningthe curse on the woman, now the ideal woman (Zion) bears a sonwithout the pains of childbirth. Another image which isdeveloped (more so earlier in the book, but somewhat here aswell) is the motif of the barren woman to whom God grantschildren (e.g., Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Hannah).
Moses utilized this mother image when in exasperation hesays to God, "What have I done to displease you that you put theburden of alll these people on me? Did I conceive all thesepeople? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry themin my arms, as a nurse carries an infant, to the land youpromised on oath to their forefathers" (Num. 11:11-12). God'sresponse is instructive. Moses is to nurse the people, but Godwill give him 70 elders with a measure of his Spirit, who "willhelp you carry the burden of the people so that you will not haveto carry it alone" (Num. 11:17). Moses alone is not the mother,but the spirit-anointed leadership together is to nurse and carrythe people. This is something distinct from the city imagery ofIsaiah and the Psalms, but may inform the idea of spiritualmotherhood which Isaiah is picturing. Just as Moses in theExodus thinks of the people of Israel as recently born, so alsoin the new Exodus--the Restoration (whether Exilic or Messianic)--Isaiah considers the people to be newborns, and develops theimage in ways which Moses may never have imagined. Psalm 87 may be another root, as it follows the same MotherZion theme, and also includes the incoming of the Gentiles,indicating that one day even Egypt (Rahab), Babylon, Philistia,Tyre and Cush will be numbered among those who are born in Zion. Since we do not know when this Psalm was composed, however,Isaiah may or may not have known it.
3. Post-Isianic Development of the Bride-Mother Image
While Isaiah may have been one of the first to develop andapply the Bride or Mother images to Zion, many of hiscontemporaries were familiar with the same image. Hosea, Amos,and especially Micah developed these motifs, while later prophetsin the southern kingdom, such as Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Malachi,utilize them in their arsenal of verbal pictures.
The whole book of Hosea is predicated upon the marriagepicture, and while it is possible that Isaiah borrowed this motiffrom his contemporary in the northern kingdom, the stark contrastof the faithless wife in Hosea and the comforting mother whichpredominates in Isaiah make it more likely that they applied thismotif in their own separate ways. Amos also utilized the basicimage of Virgin Israel (5:2), but left it largely undeveloped. Micah, also prophesying from the northern kingdom, speaks of thebirth pains of the Daughter of Zion, and how Israel will beabandoned until "she who is in labor gives birth" to the one whowill be the peace of Israel, and he brings his brothers home(4:8-5:3).
Jeremiah 2:20-3:25 portrays Judah as the faithless wife, the adulteress who follows in the footsteps of her sister Israel. The agony of childbearing is utilized in 4:31, 6:24, 13:21,22:23, and 30:6, in the context of the agony of God's judgmentagainst his unfaithful city/nation. Chapter 31 develops theIsianic picture of the marriage between God and his people in thenew covenant/last days, as Yahweh calls his wife back to himselfand makes her faithful. Also using the image in throughoutLamentations, Jeremiah's mourning over the Daughter of Zion seemsto have been a favorite text for intertestimental reflection onthe motherhood of Zion.
Ezekiel 16 is perhaps the most famous of the bride/motherpassages, as it casts the entirety of redemptive history into thepicture of a marriage between God and Jerusalem, and is the mostexplicit in claiming that Zion actually bears Yahweh's children(16:20). Zephaniah 3:1-7 is an undeveloped, but clear parallelto the faithless city motif, while Zechariah echoes Isaiah'scontrast between the Daughter of Babylon and the Daughter of Zion(2:7-13, cf. 8:2ff, where the faithful city is restored and thegentiles come flooding in). Malachi 2:10-16 blends a series ofcomplex images: Judah is judged for marrying the daughter of aforeign god; Yahweh chastises the practice of divorce because "hewas seeking godly offspring"--intimating that they are the wifeof his youth. So in close proximity Judah is viewed both ashusband (of daughters of foreign gods) and wife (of Yahweh).
In the intertestamental period this image was utilizedfrequently. II Esdras is full of the motif--especially in 9:38-10:59, where an extended allegory speaks of Zion as the "motherof us all," and indicates that the earthly Jerusalem is the sonof Zion. Baruch 4:5-5:9 shows dependence upon Isaiah 40-66 andLamentations in its portrayal of the sorrow and restoration ofMother Zion.
B. Original Audience Meaning
To the pre-exilic and exilic community this would appear to be speaking of the restoration at the end of the exile. But Isaiah is writing not only to these people but also to those who are in the post-exilic period and is warning them that the final redemption of Zion is yet to come. Yes, God has brought a new birth of some sort, but the complete purification of the heavens and the earth in the new creation is still future. This has been the message of the entire book of Isaiah. Yes, Judah needs to be purified, but so do the nations, and so does the entire creation. The original Restoration is good, but God has greater plans which will bring in the glory of the nations, and include even the Gentiles, and indeed the whole of creation. The image of Zion as Mother, who comforts and consoles her children, both infants and full-grown, points forward to the day when these plans will be consummated in the sudden rebirth of the people of God.
II. Redemptive Historical Analysis
Zion gives birth to a male child, then she gives birth to a nation and nurses them with her abundant glory--the glory of the nations--giving them comfort as the New Jerusalem. What is this but a picture of the gospel?
In the synoptic gospels, Jesus' mother and brothers come to speak with him. When he is told of their presence, he replies, "My mother and brothers are those who hear God's word and put it into practice" (Luke 8:21; cf. Mt 12:46-50, Mk 3:31-35). In the context of Isaiah 58-59, 66 and Micah 4-5, in particular, this is a claim to Messianic identity, because he is claiming the true Zion as his mother, and the children of the faithful Jerusalem as his brothers--leaving himself as the first born son who brings redemption to Zion. This language is taken over into Revelation 12:13-17, where the dragon pursues the woman who gave birth to the male child. When he fails he turns "against the rest of her offspring--those who obey God's commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus" (12:17), echoing Jesus' statement about his mother and brothers.
More specific to Isaiah 66:7-13 are Jesus' words in John16:19-24, about their mourning turning to joy: "A woman givingbirth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when herbaby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that achild is born into the world. So with you..." (16:21-22a). Thisreference to the disciples being like a mother about to givebirth is espcially poignant in light of the sudden birth ofPentecost. Without going into labor, the apostles bear 3,000children in a day--or more specifically, Zion gives birth to3,000 in a day--through the instrumentality of the apostles. Just as Moses, the Spirit-endowed leader with his 70 elders, boreIsrael in the wilderness, so also the Spirit-endowed assemblybears the multitudes at Pentecost. The Spirit hovering in theupper room in Acts refers us back to the creation-Spirithovering over the waters at creation, revealing that this isindeed the new creation which Isaiah had spoken of.
The Spirit endowed leader is ultimately Christ, but in theNew Testament Christ's elders may speak of themselves as birthinghis people (Galatians 4:19) and nursing (I Cor. 3:1-2) orcomforting them as a mother (I Thess. 2:7). The connection isclearly in Paul's mind, because immediately after speaking ofhimself as a birthing mother in Galatians 4:19, he then turns tothe allegory of the two women (4:21-31). It is here that Pauldevelops the mother Zion image most clearly. Quoting Isaiah54:1, he demonstrates that the Jerusalem which is above is ourmother (v26) and--in contrast to the slavery of the present cityof Jerusalem--her freedom is the reason why we are born freeaccording to the Spirit. There are two kinds of children, andtheir status depends upon the status of their mothers. If theyare born according to the flesh, of the slave woman--under thelaw--then they are slaves and have no inheritance. If they areborn according to the Spirit, of the free woman--under grace--then they are free and have the inheritance of God.
Hence we see with the vision of New Testament eyes that thefulfillment of the sudden birthing of Zion's children is found atPentecost when Zion bore 3,000 children to God in a day, as thebeginning of the incoming of the nations. While these peoplewere largely Jews, it was the beginning of the new creation, whenthe Son of Isaiah 66:7 began his reign and the children of 66:8-13 rejoiced to see the salvation of God. Nonetheless, thefulfillment is not yet full, because the glory of the nations hasnot yet fully come. The river of peace has started to flow, butit has not yet resulted in the fury of Yahweh which 66:14ffdeclares. Hence the message of Isaiah is still appropriate toour day: the purification of the nations must be completedbefore the purification of the heavens and the earth will come. Therefore the fact that God has restored and purified you doesnot mean that the end of all things has come. God has caused tobring forth--will he now shut the womb?
Finally, I must point out that this image has largely beenlost in Christian theology over the last 200 years. We rarelythink of spiritual birth as involving a mother as well as afather. Nicodemus should have known about being born again (John3)--it was stated explicitly or implicitly at least a dozen timesby the prophets! God is our Father; Zion is our Mother. Theunbeliever in worship is like an egg in the womb of the church. The Holy Spirit is like the sperm which comes and impregnates theegg with new life in regeneration through the preaching of theWord. This results in the new birth (conversion), which ofcourse need not take nine months! The church then nurses herinfants with the word and sacraments, comforting, encouraging,rebuking, training, and exhorting as the child grows up(sanctification) to maturity (glorification). This is simply anexpansion of the discussion Calvin gives in his Institutes. Itis noteworthy that the very first image Calvin uses for thechurch is that of mother [Calvin, 1960, IV.i.4., p1016]. Ibelieve that it is arguable that one reason for the current rashof evangelical feminism is the abandonment of a biblicalunderstanding of the church as bride and mother, which woulddemonstrate that feminine imagery is absolutely crucial to aproper understanding of Christian theology and worship. Even thecurrent preoccupation with the language of body-life in thechurch is misguided because of the neglect of this image. Thebody which Paul refers to in I Corinthians 12, Romans 12, is mostlikely a feminine body of which Christ is the head (Eph. 4) inthe same respect as Ephesians 5:23 where the body is undeniably afeminine body--distinct from the physical body of our Lord. Christ is not the physical head of a torso, but is the spiritualhead of his bride's body. I Corinthians 12 indicates that theparts of the body include head-parts (ears, eyes, nose),indicating that it is a complete body which belongs to Christ. ICorinthians 6 follows the peculiar blend of images found often inthe prophets were individual males commit adultery withprostitutes, and are found guilty collectively as a adulteresswife. Here, verse 17 ("But he who unites himself with the Lordis one with him in Spirit") points us to the larger question ofunion with Christ, a union of which marriage is a reflection(Eph. 5, Col. 3). The question of bride/body language is stillunresolved in my mind, but the indications are suggestive. Atthe least, the recovery of the bride/mother imagery would be areturn to a biblical way of thinking about the church in herrelationship with Christ, and would hopefully recapture one ofthe most fruitful biblical images for understanding the role ofthe church in salvation, and hence restore to the teaching of thechurch the feminine imagery which has been neglected for too long.