The new edition of Affinity's Foundations is available here. It includes a book review I have done on Colin Hamer's book on Marital Imagery in the Bible. See here.
Marital Imagery in the Bible
Apostolos Old Testament Studies, 2016, 258pp, £19.99
If you want to do your bit towards undermining Christian unity then simply try to get a discussion going among fellow pastors and other believers on the subject of marriage, divorce and remarriage. It is sometimes surprising to see what a range of, often trenchantly held, views exist, even among those who may appear to be on exactly the same page otherwise. We need all the help we can get in this area.
Colin Hamer has already produced popular books on being a husband and on divorce (he has also written short biographies of Thomas Cranmer and Anne Boleyn whose stories very much touch on this area). This present title, which seeks to explore Genesis 2:24 and its significance for the understanding of New Testament divorce and remarriage teaching, is Dr Hamer’s 2015 Ph.D. thesis awarded by the University of Chester. It therefore contains much that would probably be omitted from a more popular volume – most of the 771 footnotes, for example, and the constant quoting of other scholars, the discussions of methodology and most of the extra-biblical material essential in any rigorous study of the subject.
Having said that, this is a beautifully produced book written in very clear English, with regular summary statements and set out in meticulously numbered sections that enable the reader to know exactly where he is going, enabling him both to keep up and to find the material later on with ease.
The first three chapters are introductory and deal with “cross-domain mapping”, with previous material on the same subject and the methodology used in looking at the Scriptures quoted. The other chapters take a generally chronological direction. First, we have a background chapter on betrothal, marriage, divorce, adultery and remarriage in the Ancient Near East (the laws of Hammurabi, from Ur and the Nuzi archive, etc). Chapters 7 and 8 are two short excursions into the literature of the Second Temple period (Pseudepigrapha, Apocrypha, Qumran documents, Rabbinic writings, Philo and Josephus, Judean desert documents and Graeco-Roman documents). Chapters 5 and 6 look at the Old Testament material and Chapters 9 and 10 look at the New Testament material.
The basic argument of the book concerns Genesis 2:24: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Whereas Genesis 2:23 (“Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.’”) speaks of a miraculous couple in a literal one-flesh union formed, not voluntarily or on a covenantal basis, but by God, Genesis 2:24 restates what the marriage union is to be using a metaphor. In this case a naturally born couple, by means of a covenant, voluntarily choose to be formed into what they were not before, a (metaphorical) one-flesh family union. The argument is that whereas many have taken Genesis 2:23 as the model of marriage or conflated the two verses, it should rather be Genesis 2:24 that is our model. That is the way earthly marriage should be understood and the way both that the Old Testament understands the covenant relationship between the LORD and Israel and the New Testament understands the covenant relationship between Christ and his church. In the technical jargon of the book, which he carefully and helpfully explains throughout, Genesis 2:24 “is the source domain which is cross-mapped to the target domain (God ‘married’ to his people) in the marital imagery of both the Jewish and Christian Scriptures.”
The book contains several helpful diagrams or maps found in the text and in an appendix. The two most interesting are the ones that show consequent Old and New Testament analogies from the biblical understanding of marriage. First, we have five consequent Old Testament analogies, namely marital obligations for God, adultery forbidden, divorce certificate required, remarriage to God forbidden but a future betrothal followed by remarriage promised (see Ps 132:13-16; Ez 23:1-9; Jer 3:6-8 [twice over]; and Hos 2:19, 20; Is 54:4-8). The references to a new covenant in Jeremiah 31 are also brought in here. Secondly, we have nine consequent New Testament analogies, namely betrothal, wedding feast, invitations, Jesus prepares a place for the church, he pays the mohar (purchase price for a wife) for the church, Christ cares for the church, the church waits for Jesus, Jesus comes for the church, Jesus takes the church to his own home (see 2 Cor 11:2; Mat 22:1-14; Jn 4:5-29; 1 Cor 6:1, 20; Eph 5:22-29; 2 Tim 2:10-13; Mat 25:1-13; Rev 21:1-4).
The book argues that it is on this basis that we should understand the concepts of marriage, divorce and remarriage. Hamer argues that the New Testament affirms his thesis that the pattern for earthly marriage is to be found in Genesis 2:24 but scholars and the churches alike down the years have conflated Genesis 2:24 marriage with that of Adam and Eve as described in the previous verse so teaching that earthly marriage is to be modelled on the first couple. This leads to the restrictive views on divorce and remarriage that we all know about and perhaps hold. He blames the confusion on the influence of Neoplatonism and of Augustine. Hamer argues that the New Testament writers would not employ an imagery when speaking of Christ and his church that they then repudiated when it came to earthly marriages.
The bottom line, then, is a more liberal view of divorce and remarriage than many are comfortable with: “A divorce can be legitimately initiated by either spouse when the other fails to fulfil their own specific covenantal responsibilities”. However, the case is very thoroughly and carefully argued and does raise the higher and ultimately more important question of the nature of the relationship between God and his people.
Even if one does not accept every argument or piece of exegesis employed or even the thesis itself (and some may well not), this is nevertheless an erudite, well thought-out and tenable approach that yields many insights along the way. This reviewer found references such as that to the Exodus in terms of divorce and remarriage and the briefer allusions to how we understand the minor prophets (a set of books that begins in Hosea with marriage and divorce and that ends in Malachi with a reference to divorce) and the opening chapters of John (where there is not only a wedding in Cana but also a meeting at a well) most stimulating and thought-provoking. His understanding of God divorcing his people, as in Isaiah and elsewhere, was also very well handled.
In his conclusion he has a series of observations that, if all correct, might transform the way we read Scripture. The pattern in the Old Testament is marriage (in Eden), divorce (expulsion from Eden), remarriage (to Satan), divorce (from the gods of Egypt), remarriage (at Sinai), divorce (the Assyrian exile thought not the Babylonian). In the New Testament he sees a marriage proposal in John 4, divorce from Satan at the cross, divorce from the “Israel cult” in 70 AD and a glorious remarriage at the eschaton.
This book has undoubtedly made great strides in analysing and presenting a biblical understanding of these matters. It will not convince every reader but it is no surprise to read Craig L Blomberg’s appraisal of it as “The best and most thorough treatment of this topic now available…”. Hamer acknowledges that no attempt is made to deal with any of the pastoral issues that arise from his view and certainly there is room for lengthy discussion on those. This is certainly a book that anyone with an interest in this matter can and ought to read and ponder. We are grateful to the publishers for having decided to publish and promote it
Gary Brady Pastor, Childs Hill Baptist Church, London