Prize Fighter Christ // Nursing Christ

In an interview with Relevant Magazine a while back, Mark Driscoll famously asserted, “In Revelation, Jesus is a pride fighter with a tattoo down His leg, a sword in His hand and the commitment to make someone bleed. That is a guy I can worship. I cannot worship the hippie, diaper, halo Christ because I cannot worship a guy I can beat up.” Driscoll seems to be a bit confused about the imagery of Revelation 1: Jesus does admittedly come across as a pretty tough fellow, but the sword is in his mouth (Rev. 1:16; cf. Isa 11.4), and his bronze limbs and white hair (Rev 1:14) are suggestive of his identity with the Ancient of Days from Dan 7.

But more than all this, I wonder what Driscoll makes of Rev. 1:13, where Jesus is “περιεζωσμένον πρὸς τοῖς μαστοῖς ζώνην χρυσᾶν.” That is, Jesus is girt with a golden girdle — around his “breasts.” (And yes, it’s definitely breasts: mastos, while it typically refers to the female bosom, in opposition to the more typically masculine mazos, could still refer to a man — but in the plural, it’s a reference to the female secondary sexual trait). And this usage is no accident, but rather (likely) an allusion to the figure of the Beloved in the Song of Songs: “ἀγαθοὶ μαστοί σου ὑπὲρ οἶνον” (1:3, LXX). This strange phrasing occurs only in the Greek; the Hebrew has, “We will remember your love more than wine.” That Revelation ascribes breasts to Christ, and that this ascription resonates with the depiction of the Beloved in the Song, opens up a range of interesting interpretive possibilities, perhaps foremost among which is seeing Christ as nursing the Church with the milk of his word (1 Pet 2:2-3).

None of this is to say that Jesus literally is a nursing mother — rather, the nursing mother figures Christ in interesting ways, and this figuration is activated by Rev 1:3. Jesus is no more literally a nursing mother than he is literally a prize fighter — though parts of Revelation activate a figuration of Christ by warriors. However, Jesus is literally the one who willingly suffered crucifixion, and whose defenselessness was vindicated in the resurrection; and this reality is something that all figural readings of his identity must reckon with.

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