Who is the Bride of Christ?

Devoted to God and Christ:

God has always been devoted to His people, and He wants His people to be devoted to Him. One of the ways God expresses the obligation His people have to Him, and the love and devotion they should show Him, is by referring to them as His “daughter,” “wife,” “bride,” or other similar terms. However, these terms have been the source of a lot of confusion. For example, there is a lot of misinformation in Christianity about the “Bride of Christ.” Some people believe the Church is the “Bride of Christ.” Others believe Israel is. Still others believe all the saved people of all time make up the Bride.

What we will discover in this study is there is no group of people such as Israel or the Church who are “literally” the bride. The term “bride” is one of the figures of speech God uses in His Word to bring specific meaning and emotion into the text. The two primary reasons for the confusion on the subject of the bride are failure to carefully read what the Bible actually says and failure to identify and understand important figures of speech God uses in the Bible. We will never be able to understand why Israel is called a “virgin,” a “daughter,” “bride,” or “wife” unless we understand the figures of speech of comparison, so that is where our study must begin.

 

Simile—Comparison by Resemblance

Three common and important figures of comparison are simile, metaphor, and hypocatastasis. A simile (pronounced sĭm-ĭ-lee) is a comparison by resemblance, usually using “like” or “as.” If people are eating dinner together, and a man is noisy, sloppy, and ill mannered, a person in the dinner party might look at him and say, “You eat like a pig.” The sloppy eater is said to “resemble” a pig, and that kind of comparison is a “simile.” Psalm 1:3 uses a simile when it says a righteous person is like a tree planted by the water.

 

Metaphor—Comparison by Representation

A metaphor is a comparison by representation. In a metaphor, one noun represents another, usually by using the verbs “is” or “are.” If the pig example above is made into a metaphor, instead of saying, “You eat like a pig,” the person would compare the man to a pig by representing him as one and saying “You are a pig.” The sloppy eater is still being compared to a pig, but he is being actually represented as a pig via the figure “metaphor.” Jesus used a metaphor when he said to his disciples, “I am the vine; you are the branches…” (John 15:5 NIV).

The danger with the figure of speech metaphor is that if we mistakenly take the statement as literal, then we misunderstand the Bible. For example, at the Last Supper Jesus held up the bread and said, “This is my body” (Matt. 26:26). There is no evidence that any of the apostles who were there with him misunderstood his metaphor, the essence of which was, “This broken bread represents my body.” What Jesus was asking people to do was to remember him when they broke bread. Nevertheless, some Christian groups do not recognize the metaphor and claim that the bread actually is (becomes) the body of Jesus Christ. [1] We must read the Bible carefully to discern what a metaphor is and what is literal.

 

Hypocatastasis—Comparison by Implication

A hypocatastasis (pronounced: hī-poe-cä-täs’-tä-sis) is a comparison by implication. If we turn the pig example into a hypocatastasis, someone in the dinner party would simply look at the sloppy man and say, “Pig!” Just saying “Pig,” effectively communicates the implied comparison between the man and a pig. [2] The figure of speech hypocatastasis can be even more confusing than the figure metaphor for three major reasons. The first is that since the comparison is implied, it may not be clear who the subject of the comparison is. For example, in Ezekiel 19:5 a king of Judah is being called a “lion,” but which king is it referring to? The scholars are not sure. Most of them say either Jehoiachin or Zedekiah, but we do not know for certain.

The second reason hypocatastasis can be confusing is that sometimes it is not clear what meaning is being implied. It may be quite easy to figure out why the Devil is called a “serpent” (Rev. 20:2), but we may not understand what Jesus meant when he called Herod a “fox” (Luke 13:32). A study of the word “fox” in the biblical culture reveals that Jesus was calling Herod a destructive nuisance. [3] There are times when the Bible uses hypocatastasis and both who the comparison is about and what the comparison is, are unclear, and become the subject of debate.

The third reason hypocatastasis can be confusing is that the figure can be missed and people think that the hypocatastasis is literal. A good example of that is in Genesis 3:1, when the Devil is called the “serpent” by hypocatastasis. The comparison should be clear because literal snakes cannot talk, the Devil is referred to as the serpent in other verses of Scripture (Rev. 20:2 is very clear!), and when 2 Corinthians 11:3 (KJV) says “the serpent” beguiled Eve, the context is Satan and his ministers (v. 14). Nevertheless many people miss the hypocatastasis and think that the “serpent” in Genesis was some kind of actual snake, and artists do not help much when they paint pictures of a snake with Eve in the Garden of Eden. [4]

When Jesus used the figure hypocatastasis, sometimes even people who knew him well were confused. For example, Jesus told his apostles to beware of the “leaven” of the Pharisees, but they did not recognize the hypocatastasis and thought he was speaking of actual bread. He was using “leaven” to represent “doctrine,” something he made clear to them after he realized they had misunderstood what he said. (Matt. 16:6-12 KJV).

Though the figures of comparison may be unclear at first, studying the scope and context often makes them clear. Jeremiah 46:20 is a verse that colorfully uses both the figure metaphor and the figure hypocatastasis.

Jeremiah 46:20
“Egypt is a beautiful heifer, but a gadfly is coming against her from the north.

God, using the figure metaphor, compares Egypt to a “beautiful heifer,” which imports the idea that Egypt was in good circumstances, well cared for and valuable. Nevertheless, Jeremiah’s prophecy foretold that a “gadfly” (a general term for the biting flies such as the horsefly or botfly) will come against her from the north. To understand the prophecy we need to learn both the subject that the gadfly represents and also why the “gadfly” is being used for the comparison. Thankfully in the case of Jeremiah 46:20, we can see from the context, the scope of Scripture, and history, that the gadfly is Babylon, and just as a gadfly painfully stings a heifer but does not kill her, Babylon painfully stung Egypt by defeating her in battle, but did not destroy her.

The Bible has many examples of hypocatastasis. In Song of Solomon the Beloved is called a “dove” (Song of Sol. 2:14); destructive people are called “wolves” (Acts 20:29); the strong enemies of God are called “bulls” (Ps. 22:12); vicious and unclean people are called “dogs” (Ps. 22:16; Matt. 7:6) and also “pigs” (Matt. 7:6); the people of God are “sheep,” while unbelievers are called “goats” (Matt. 25:33). People are sometimes called “trees” or “plants” (Jer. 11:19; Matt. 15:13). The Devil is called a “serpent” and “dragon” (Rev. 20:2). Each of these terms imports a meaning into the text that is important for us to understand.

Sometimes very different people are compared to the same thing, as long as the comparison is valid. A lion usually typified irresistible power and destructive strength, and so many things were compared to a lion. These include God (Job 10:16; Isa. 38:13; Jer. 49:19); Jesus (Rev. 5:5); Israel (Num. 23:24; 24:9); the tribe of Gad (Deut. 33:20); wicked people (Ps. 17:12; 22:13); false prophets (Ezek. 22:25); Jehoahaz, king of Judah (Ezek. 19:3); the officials in Jerusalem (Zeph. 3:3); Babylon (Jer. 4:7); Egypt (Ezek. 32:2); the enemies of Israel (Jer. 2:15); and the Devil (1 Pet. 5:8).

Hypocatastasis is a powerful figure in that it can bring a wide range of possible meanings to the text from just one illustration, and thus invites us into prayer, thought, and study. A good example of this occurs in Ezekiel.

Ezekiel 34:8
As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, because my flock lacks a shepherd and so has been plundered and has become food for all the wild animals, and because my shepherds did not search for my flock but cared for themselves rather than for my flock,

In the above verse, God uses hypocatastasis to compare His people to sheep, calling them “My flock.” Then He again uses hypocatastasis to explain what has happened to them: they became food for the “wild animals.” If instead of using the figure hypocatastasis, God had tried to explain in paragraph form exactly who had eaten His people, i.e., taken advantage of, hurt, and killed them, it would likely have taken Him at least a paragraph, and the punchy impact of the figure would have been lost. No doubt the list would include cruel leaders, ungodly priests, ruthless businessmen, foreign enemies, and even demonic forces. God covers all these possibilities, forces us to think broadly about the verse, and brings emotion into the text, simply by using the figurative phrase, “wild animals.”

 

Personification—Things Represented as People

As well as the three figures of speech of comparison mentioned above, we also need to understand the figure of speech “personification.” “Personification” occurs when something that is not a person is described as a person. We humans relate so well to other humans that referring to something as a person often makes it easy to understand. There are many examples of personification in the Bible. Wisdom is portrayed as a woman calling out for people to listen to her (Prov. 8:1). Ethiopia is portrayed as a woman stretching out her hands to God (Ps. 68:31; KJV; ESV; NASB. Ethiopia is “Cush” in some versions),and, of course, the nation of Israel is portrayed as a woman many times, which is the subject of this study. The land of Israel is portrayed as a person mourning because of its ruin (Joel 1:10; KJV; ESV; NASB). The blood of innocent Abel is portrayed as a person crying out from the ground after Cain killed him (Gen. 4:10).

The figures of comparison and personification communicate both information and emotion well. For example, saying the people of Israel broke their covenant with God gives us information but does not communicate much emotion. In contrast, referring to Israel as a woman and saying she committed adultery with her pagan lovers brings up a host of emotions. In the Bible, Israel is personified as a woman, and then that personification is intertwined with the figures of comparison we have been studying, when “she” is called a virgin, daughter, wife, etc.

 

Why Use Figures of Speech?

Figures of speech communicate ideas and concepts succinctly and powerfully, and that is why God uses them. Calling Jesus a “lion” and the Devil a “serpent” is a lot more effective than trying to describe the irresistible power of Jesus Christ and the sneaky, deceptive, and poisonous nature of the Devil. The most important work available today on the subject of biblical figures of speech is Figures of Speech Used in the Bible by E. W. Bullinger (first published in 1899). Bullinger writes: “Commentators and interpreters, from inattention to the figures, have been led astray from the real meaning of many important passages of God’s Word; while ignorance of them has been the fruitful parent of error and false doctrine” (p. xvi).

What Bullinger said about ignorance of the figures of speech leading to error is exactly what has happened with the subject of the “Bride of Christ.” People miss the figures of comparison and personification and think Israel or the Church is in some way a literal bride. We say, “In some way,” because although Bible teachers know Israel is not a woman, they are confused about the words “bride” or “wife” and invest more literal meaning into those terms than they are meant to communicate. Furthermore, because they do not understand that “bride” is simply a comparison, they try to figure out who is the bride and when the marriage occurs. We do not get confused when Israel or Judah is called a lioness (Ezek. 19:2), a horse (Jer. 5:8), a vine (Jer. 2:21), a camel (Jer. 2:23), or a wild donkey (Jer. 2:24). In a similar way, we should not get confused when God calls His people a “daughter,” “virgin,” “bride,” or “wife.”

When God calls Israel a lion, horse, camel, or vine we instinctively understand that God is using those terms to import a meaning into the text. He is comparing Israel to those things to help us understand how Israel is behaving or what He expects of her. Of course Israel is not an animal or plant, but neither is it a person. God did not literally give birth to her, get engaged to her, or marry her. However, there are so many spoken and unspoken emotions, expectations, and commitments between a man and a woman that it is more succinct and powerful for God to occasionally refer to His people as a “daughter,” “virgin,” or “wife” than to try to describe the relationship in paragraph form.

 

God’s People Figuratively Described as a Woman

The female figurative terms that God uses to describe His people include “daughter” (Micah 4:8), “virgin daughter” (Jer. 14:17), [5] “virgin” (Jer. 18:13; 31:4, 21; Amos 5:2), “sister” (Ezek. 16:45, 52; 23:11), “espoused” or “bride” (Jer. 2:2), [6] “wife” (Ezek. 16:8, 32; 23:4, Isa. 54:6; cp. Jer. 3:1-14; Hosea 2:7), and “mother” (Ezek. 16:20, 36; 23:4; Hos. 2:2). These terms do not just refer to the women of Israel, but to both men and women collectively. It is misunderstanding the figures of comparison for a man to think that when God’s people are called a “virgin daughter,” the meaning God is importing into the text does not apply to him because he is a man. Similarly, women should realize they are included when God’s people are called “sons.” When God calls His people a “vine,” we know the term applies to both men and women, and similarly when God uses hypocatastasis and refers to Israel as a “wife,” the term includes both men and women.

There are many ways we can tell that the female terms God uses to describe His people are figures of speech. One of them is by comparing the terms themselves. It is not possible for Israel to literally be a virgin daughter and also God’s wife at the same time. Furthermore, in the Old Testament God married Israel and Judah, and although He divorced Israel, He is going to be married to her again the future under the New Covenant (Hos. 2:16-25). But in the Four Gospels and the book of Revelation, Jesus Christ is the bridegroom (Matt. 9:15; John 3:29; Rev. 21:9). This should catch our attention, because in the Law of Moses a person could not have sexual relations with his father’s wife, so legally Jesus cannot marry his Father’s wife and be the “bridegroom” (Lev. 18:8, 15; 20:11, 12). These “marriages” are figurative, and describe in a figurative way the intimate relationship that both God and Christ will have with the people.

Further evidence that the female terms God uses of Israel are figurative is that Israel and Judah are “sisters,” but God marries them both and even has children by them both (Ezek. 23:4). Yet the Law of Moses forbids a man from marrying two sisters (Lev. 18:18). Furthermore, the Law says a person could not marry his daughter or granddaughter (Lev. 18:6, 10). However, Israel is called God’s virgin daughter and yet He married her, which again would be breaking His own law.

Still more evidence that the female terms that God uses to describe Israel are figurative comes from the fact that there is no orderly chronological progression in the use of these terms in the Old Testament. If they were meant literally in some way, Israel would start as a daughter, a virgin, and then become espoused (engaged), then get married, then be a mother. Instead, there is no flowing chronology to the use of the terms. Note the following chronology as Israel goes from being wife to a virgin to a daughter back to a wife, and note how especially confusing things would be in books such as Jeremiah if the terms were literal.

  • 1450 BC. Israel becomes God’s wife after she leaves Egypt. (Ezekiel 16:8 portrays the covenant made between God and Israel at Mt. Sinai as a marriage covenant). [7]
  • Late 700’s BC. Israel is a virgin (Amos 5:2).
  • About 700 BC. “Jerusalem” (also called “Zion”) is a daughter (Micah 4:8). [8]
  • About 700 BC. The prophet Hosea shows Israel as acknowledging having once been God’s wife (Hos. 2:7). There is a future time coming when Israel will again be a faithful wife—this is prophesied for the future (Hos. 2:16). [9] Hosea also portrays Israel as a mother (Hos. 2:2).
  • About 700 BC. Israel is a wife (Isa. 54:6). [10]
  • About 600 BC. Jeremiah shows God’s people as engaged or “espoused” to Him (Jer. 2:2); a wife (Jer. 3:14), [11] a “virgin daughter” (Jer. 14:17), and a “virgin” (Jer. 18:13; 31:4; 21).
  • About 595-570 BC. Ezekiel portrays Israel through her history from Sinai as an adulterous wife (Ezek. 16:32; 23:4).

More evidence that the female terms used of Israel are figurative comes from the fact that Israel is sometimes not called a woman at all, but a man. Israel is called God’s “son” (Jer. 31:9; Hos. 11:1; 13:13). Hosea 7:9 refers to Israel as a man with gray hair, and 12:7 and 8 refers to Israel as a merchant man who has become rich by dishonesty. In Malachi 2:11 Judah is portrayed as a husband who has married the daughter of a foreign god. Isaiah 61:10 uses the figure simile to compare Israel to both a bride and bridegroom in the same verse! [12] Obviously, Israel is not both a man and a woman, or a bride and bridegroom, in any literal way.

The key to recognizing the seemingly confusing references to Israel as a man or woman is realizing that each reference is a figure of speech and each reference stands on its own. In each case God is using a specific illustration to make a point, just as He does when He calls His people a “vine,” “wild donkey,” “sheep,” or “camel.” When God compares Israel to an animal or plant, we do not try to build a chronology, as if Israel could evolve from one thing to another. Similarly, we should not try to build a chronology when God calls Israel a virgin or wife. Each term imports into the text a picture and a meaning that is important to the point that God is trying to make in that specific context, and each term stands on its own.

When God calls Israel a “virgin,” or “daughter” He is placing the emphasis on attitudes and behaviors that were important to young women in that culture, such as purity, chastity, modesty, and obedience. When He calls Israel a “wife,” He is emphasizing things such as fidelity, commitment, love, and respect. When God calls Israel a “son,” He is emphasizing the intimacy of the relationship, family love and pride, and obligations and privileges of the family. When God portrays Israel as a man with gray hair, He is pointing out that through bad decisions Israel has become old and weak. When God portrays His people as a husband who has married a foreign woman, He is lamenting the covenants that His people have made with idols.

When God calls Himself a husband, He is emphasizing His love for Israel, His commitment to her, His expectations, and His disappointments at her behavior. When the Bible refers to Jesus the “bridegroom,” it is highlighting the intimate relationship between Jesus and his people, their obligations to each other, and what they can expect from each other. The Bible says that both God and Christ marry Israel, not as a contradiction, but because both God and Christ have a relationship with Israel and want and deserve the love and devotion from the people that a husband should have from his wife.

 

God as Israel’s Husband

The most dominant comparison in the Old Testament that is used of God’s people is the figurative portrayal of Israel as God’s wife. This figurative imagery is very deeply embedded in the text and it is expressed in many different ways: sometimes by calling God a “husband” and Israel a “wife,” sometimes referring to the “marriage,” sometimes calling Israel a “whore” for her unfaithfulness and referring to it as “adultery,” sometimes noting that the couple got a divorce, and so forth. In fact, there are so many verses that in some way make reference to the marriage that it would be difficult to catalogue them all.

God’s “marriage” to Israel occurred on Mount Sinai after God gave some of the Law to Israel and the people made a covenant to obey Him. Ezekiel describes this in figurative terms.

Ezekiel 16:8 [13]
“‘Later I passed by, and when I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love, I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness. I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign LORD, and you became mine.

The context of Ezekiel 16:8 is important to the subject. Verse three refers to the pagan ancestry of Israel, which is accurate because Abraham was from Ur of the Chaldeans in Mesopotamia. Verses four and five say that when Israel was born she was despised. Exactly when God considered Israel to be “born” is not stated, likely because her “birth” is not literal but is part of the personification of Israel as a woman. Interestingly, although God refers to Israel as His daughter in other places, He does not do so here because He certainly did not despise her on the day of her birth. We know from history and the Bible that as Abraham’s descendants multiplied, they were in fact despised while they were in Haran, Canaan, and Egypt. Nevertheless, God pitied Israel and made her to grow and flourish (verses 6 and 7).

When God brought Israel out of Egypt, He made a blood covenant with her (Exod. 24:3-8). Bulls were sacrificed, and half their blood was sprinkled on the altar (representing God), and half on the people. We commonly refer to that blood covenant as “the Old Covenant” (or “Old Testament”), but God figuratively refers to it in Ezekiel 16:8 as His marriage covenant with Israel. After that covenant, when the Israelites sinned against God, He often referred to their behavior as “adultery.” [14] God tolerated Israel’s spiritual adultery only so long, and then He “divorced” her, abandoning her to her enemies (Isa. 50:1; Jer. 3:8). Nevertheless, God promised to remarry Israel in the last days and never be separated from her again (Hos. 2:16-23; esp. 19, 20). For her part, Israel will repent of her wickedness and return to God, her husband, saying, “I will go back to my husband as at first, for then I was better off than now” (Hos. 2:7). God will be glad, saying, “In that day…you will call me ‘my husband’” (Hos. 2:16). This “marriage” is still future, and represents the time, after the Second Coming of Christ, when God’s people will be faithful to Him. Just as the first “marriage” was a covenant (the Old Covenant), this new marriage will be associated with the New Covenant, and it will last forever (Jer. 31:31-33).

 

The Christian Church as the Wife

The figurative use of the bride not only fits Israel, it fits the Christian Church. This makes sense because what God and Christ want from people does not change over time and is typified well by a wife: love, devotion, and fidelity. Thus, the Church is clearly compared to a bride or wife twice in Scripture. One of them is in 2 Corinthians.

2 Corinthians 11:2 (NASB)
For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin.

In this verse the husband is Christ and the engaged virgin is the Church. The point of the verse is that the Church is to be a “pure virgin” for “one husband,” who is Christ. In the Old Testament, Israel was to give herself only to God, and when the people worshipped other gods it angered Him and He called her actions “adultery.” In the New Testament the figure of the virgin bride is again used to effectively communicate how Christians are to be devoted to Christ and not be led astray to another lord or another Gospel.

If we ask ourselves why God uses the figure of a bride in the book of Corinthians, the answer is clear. The Corinthians were being led astray from Jesus by “super apostles” (2 Cor. 11:5). These were men who masqueraded as apostles of Christ, but were false apostles, deceitful workers, and servants of Satan (2 Cor. 11:13-15). Any man would be distraught if his bride was being led away from him by someone who was “super,” and by using the figure of the bride in this context, Paul eloquently communicates how Jesus felt when the people of Corinth deserted him and the truth about him and what he had done for them, and followed the erroneous teachings of others. It is not proper for Christians to leave the truth of the Word and be turned to error, nor is it proper for Christians to leave the love and devotion of God and Christ, and be beguiled by “good luck charms,” protective amulets, astrology, or any other idolatry or sin. As the “bride” of Christ, we owe him love and fidelity.

The personification of the Church as a wife helps us relate to what Jesus did for “her” and what we are to do for him, as well as instructing Christian husbands and wives on how to relate to each other in a godly way.

Ephesians 5:25-27
(25) Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her
(26) to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word,
(27) and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.

The figure personification helps us understand how Christ gave himself for the Church, and effectively communicates the actions, commitments, and expectations of Christ with minimum words but maximum impact.

 

The Bride in the Future

In the book of Revelation, the bride of Christ is specifically identified as the New Jerusalem.

Revelation 21:9-11
(9) One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.”
(10) And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.
(11) It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.

The text refers to the New Jerusalem as both the “bride” and “wife” of Christ. Of course, the wife of Christ is not the city, but the city figuratively represents all the people who live there. Thus, in the book of Revelation we see that the wife of Christ is neither Israel nor the Christian Church, but rather is every saved person who has ever lived, all of whom will live eternally in the New Jerusalem.

Portraying all the saved people as the wife of Christ shows us the love and devotion that will exist into eternity between Christ and the people he died for. Also, we must recall that the Old Testament prophecies foretold that God would also be married to these saved people, and as God’s wife they would also give Him the love and devotion that He deserves forever and ever.

 

Conclusion

Figures of comparison communicate a lot of meaning with very few words. People understand and relate to other people very well, so it makes sense that when God wanted to write about His people and communicate both information and emotion with a minimum of words, He often portrayed them as a person, usually a woman. He referred to His people as a virgin, a daughter, a sister, a bride, a wife, and a mother. In each context, the term He used imported a meaning into the text that included actions and/or expectations.

God loved Israel and married her. He was frustrated when she was selfish and stubborn, and angry when she deserted Him for other gods. Eventually He divorced her. In spite of their marital difficulties, He promised to give her a new heart, marry her again and give her a bright and eternal future. God’s Son Jesus also did much for his people and expected much from them. Thus it makes sense that in the Four Gospels Jesus is referred to as the bridegroom of Israel, then in the Church Epistles the Christian Church is his bride, and in the book of Revelation every saved person becomes his bride and wife.

Comparisons such as “son,” “virgin,” “bride,” and “wife” import a host of meaning into the text. We are rightly thinking about the comparison when we focus on the meaning it is importing into the text and ask ourselves why God is using the illustration and what lesson He wants us to learn from it. God wants and deserves love and devotion from His people, and the human terms God uses to describe us illustrate that well. As God’s sons, let us take our family pride and our responsibility to love, provide for, and protect our own fellow family members seriously. As husbands, let us keep our covenants pure and not develop relationships with God’s rivals and enemies. As virgins, let us diligently keep ourselves pure and unspotted from things that ruin our, or our Father’s, reputation. As daughters let us be diligent in our work to better ourselves and our family. As brides and wives, let us be loving and devoted to God and Christ, and show them true fidelity, making sure they are the most important things in our lives. [15] Let us not be “goats,” ignoring the things of God, or “wolves” tearing his flock, but be “sheep” willingly following the Shepherd, and “lions” fighting for God’s kingdom.

 

Endnotes:

[1] The doctrine of transubstantiation, in which the bread (“host”) is said to become the actual body of Christ developed very late, more than 1000 years after Christ. The Internet encyclopedia Wikipedia says, “The earliest known use of the term ‘transubstantiation’ to describe the change from bread and wine to body and blood of Christ was by Hildebert de Lavardin, Archbishop of Tours (died 1133), in the eleventh century and by the end of the twelfth century the term was in widespread use. In 1215, the Fourth Council of the Lateran spoke of the bread and wine as ‘transubstantiated’ into the body and blood of Christ.” There is no evidence that the apostles or anyone in the early Church ever even considered the idea. The early Christians understood the metaphor that Jesus used when he said, “This is my body.” (This information from the Internet can be confirmed in books such as Walter Elwell, ed., Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1984), under “Transubstantiation”).

[2] The flexibility in language and figures allows for hypocatastasis to import meaning in more ways than just factually stating the implied image. For example, at a dinner party of family members who were used to poking fun at one another, instead of saying “Pig,” one person might just look at the other and say, “Oink, oink.” Doing that would effectively communicate the implied meaning of “pig.” A linguist might point out that what seems to be going on in that example is that the sound the pig makes is put for metonymy for the pig itself, which is then being imported by hypocatastasis. However, linguistic expressions are often unique and fluid enough they cannot be easily put into tightly defined boxes, and hypocatastasis seems to handle the “oink, oink,” example well on its own.

[3] The meaning of the word “fox” when used in figures of comparison has changed over time. In the United States today it usually refers to a beautiful woman, whereas fifty years ago it usually referred to someone who was sneaky. In biblical times “fox” referred to a destructive nuisance, something that could be dangerous, but not as dangerous as a wolf, bear, or lion.

[4] Many people assume that the snake was possessed by the Devil, but why would Eve believe a snake? She would be immediately suspicious of something so out of the ordinary. The truth is that it was the Devil who beguiled Eve, as Corinthians says. He would have appeared to her in an unthreatening way as a wise and helpful being, but his nature is clearly set forth by the hypocatastasis: “serpent.” E. W. Bullinger has an extensive appendix (#19) on the serpent being the Devil in his Companion Bible.

[5] Although most versions translate Jer. 14:17 as “the virgin daughter of my people,” that very literal translation brings the grammar, but not the proper sense, of the Hebrew into English. The NIV correctly gets the sense of the passage: “…my virgin daughter—my people…”

[6] Reading Jeremiah 2:2 in different versions shows that some versions use the word “bride” and some do not. The problem is in part caused by the original languages, because the word for a newly married woman in Hebrew and Greek also had other meanings. The Hebrew word kallah (Strong’s #3618, כַּלָּה) meant a daughter-in-law, a bride, or a wife (recently married or married long before). The Greek word numphē (Strong’s #3565, νύμφη) referred to an engaged woman, a recently married woman, a young wife, and a daughter-in-law. Thus, whether or not the verse in question should be translated “bride,” “wife,” or “daughter-in-law” had to be determined by context.

[7] Some commentators believe that Ezekiel is not referring to the Sinai Covenant because the chapter is about Jerusalem (Ezek. 16:2). However, reading the chapter shows that God is speaking to a wider audience than just the city of Jerusalem, and also there is no known covenant that God made with Jerusalem that could be considered a marriage covenant besides the Sinai Covenant, which included the Judeans who lived in Jerusalem. Keil and Delitzsch (Commentary on the Old Testament), and many other commentators are correct in identifying this marriage covenant with the Sinai covenant.

[8] Micah likely prophesied from about 750 to 690 BC. The Bible lists the kings during whose reign he prophesied in (the same with other prophets such as Hosea and Isaiah) but how early in the first king’s reign he started, and how late in the last king’s reign he stopped, is not known. Some versions say “daughter of Zion” and “daughter of Jerusalem” rather than “daughter Zion” and “daughter Jerusalem.” The difference has to do with how to accurately reproduce the construct case of “daughter” in Hebrew. Most commentators agree that “daughter Zion” is meant, so even if the genitive is used, it should be understood as appositional, thus being, “daughter, that is, Zion.”

[9] Hosea likely prophesied from about 750 to 700 BC.

[10] Isaiah likely prophesied from about 740-680 BC. Isaiah 54 is likely closer to 700 than 740 BC. Some versions have “master” in Isaiah 54:5, but see footnote #6. Isaiah 1:21 also portrays Israel as a wife, but by referring to her as going from “faithful” to a “harlot.”

[11] Some versions, such as the NIV, say “husband.” Other versions, such as the ESV, say “master.” The confusion is caused by the Hebrew verb ba`al (Strong’s # 1166, בּעל) which basically refers to someone who has rule over you, and thus was used by the Jews for both “master” and “husband” (a closely related word is the noun baal, Strong’s #1168, which refers to the god Baal). Translating ba`al as “master” in this context places more emphasis on Israel’s obligation to obey, but seems to more miss the point of the context, which is the obligation Israel has because of her marriage covenant to God, so “husband” seems the better translation for the context.

[12] The speaker in verse 10 is not identified in the text. Two likely possibilities are the restored nation of Israel personified as a person speaking and rejoicing, or one person speaking, but representing the common experience of everyone.
[13] Some commentators do not think Ezekiel 16:8 refers to the Sinai covenant, but we assert, like many commentators, that it does (cp. Commentary on the Old Testament by Keil & Delitzsch; J. P. Lange, Lange’s Commentary on the Holy Scriptures; F. C. Cook, ed., Barnes Notes; MacArthur Study Bible note on Ezek. 16:8).

[14] When God uses words like “adultery” (Jer. 3:6, 8, 9; Ezek. 16:32; 23:37; Hosea 1:2; 4:15), or accuses Israel of “whoredom” or calls her a “whore” or “harlot” (KJV: Isa. 1:21; Jer. 2:20; 3:9; 13:27; Ezek. 16:15, 33; 20:30; Hos. 2:2-5; 5:3), He is clearly indicating that He had married her and she was His wife. When versions such as the NIV say “prostitution,” usually the Hebrew word can refer to prostitution or adultery. Since God was married to Israel, “adultery,” is usually a better description than “prostitution,” since prostitution does not necessarily refer to an act done by a married person.

[15] These concluding illustrations of sons, husbands, virgins, daughters, and brides/wives, should be understood in terms of the biblical culture. Gender role models are often significantly different today, but it is important for us to understand the meaning of figures as God intended them to be understood.

6 comments

  1. As I looked, a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman came into view clothed in the radiance of the sun, standing with the moon under her feet, and she was crowned with a wreath of twelve stars on her head. She was painfully pregnant and was crying out in the agony of labor.rev. 12 Is this referring to Israel?

    1. Yes, the sign of the women in Rev 12 is Israel.

  2. This article was very helpful to me for too many reasons to mention at the moment. Thank you! I hope to meet up with you again one day. 🙂
    God bless you, John
    ~a blast from the past –
    Liz McEwen

  3. Very useful and helpful article among many others were published.

  4. Priceless

  5. Very good article in clarifying that many similes and metaphors are used in the bible, especially in regards to words such as bride, wife, daughter, son, virgin, mother, sister, etc. I have always heard and believed that the church is referred to as the Bride of Christ. However, if you do a search for Bride of Christ in the bible it does not come up. I have read other articles regarding who the bride of Christ is. You know the word of God is so very clear on some things that it would be hard to argue or try to explain otherwise. So here it is…… the church is the BODY of Christ and is referenced throughout the new testament as being the BODY of Christ. Clear as a bell! I am 64 yr old and have read these scriptures too many times to count and yet I missed it. Revelation 21:9-11 clearly states, “The bride, the Lamb’s wife is the holy city, Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.” In verse 24 it does say that …the nations that are saved shall walk in its (the holy city of Jerusalem) light, and the kings of the earth shall bring their glory and honor into it.
    Verse 27 goes on to say ….only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life can enter into it. Just by reading these verses it is clear that those who are allowed into the holy city of Jerusalem are not limited to only those saved in the ‘church age’. I try to be very careful not to interject my own opinions. We are not to add to or take away from the Word of God. In this case you don’t have to as the Word CLEARLY states who the bride/Lamb’s wife is and who makes up the holy city, Jerusalem.

Leave a Reply to Christopher Brown Cancel reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.