Hey! Randy

Bound as One by an Oath

Posted by heyrandy on June 29, 2009

Marriage as a Covenant A Study of Biblical Law and Ethics Governing Marriage, Developed from the Perspective of Malachi Gordon Paul Hugenberger, E.J. Brill, 1994.  414pp., indices, footnotes.

Is marriage a covenant?  What is a covenant?  Does it matter?  Gordon Hugenberger answers these questions and much more in his book.

My church’s adult class was studying Deuteronomy.  We got to chapter 24 when my pastor, who was leading the class, mentioned the interpretation of v. 1-4 given by his seminary professor, Gordon Hugenberger.  In his Ph.D dissertation Hugenberger advances the view that Deut. 24:1-4 should be interpreted as meaning the proscribed palingamy to the former spouse is to stop any financial gain by by the first husband.  This interpretation intrigued me.  I later asked if there was a civilian version of Hugenberger’s dissertation.  There is not, but my pastor was kind enough to lend me his copy of Hugenberer’s dissertation, complete with sticky note marking the interpretation in question.

People who know Hey, Randy know that I don’t always do things as expected.  I was not going to only read the section marked; I started at the beginning of the book and read it all, including the footnotes.  There are a lot of footnotes, this is a dissertation after all.  I left the sticky note in place.  It would later come in handy.

Hugenberer deals primarily with Mal. 2:14-16.  I think that he deals well with that passage.  I really like his interpretation of v. 15.  He relates it to Gen. 2:23, arguing correctly, I believe, that Adam’s statement is the oath/sign of his marriage covenant to Eve.   I think that the author has proven his thesis that marriage is a covenant between husband and wife.

This book is heavy reading.  It leans much upon the original languages.  This puts the general reader at a disadvantage.  However, the book is of great value in that it covers all the biblical evidence for marriage covenants and addresses many objections to this idea that have been raised by other scholars.  There are a lot of objections with which to deal.  This is dissertation after all.

While answering the objections of others is requisite for academic writers, it does add to the overall mass of the book.  If you don’t like academic writing, don’t pick up this book.  If you can tolerate academic writing you will learn a great deal.

Not all the objections raised are mere academic pettifogging.  The issue of the oath/sign is a good example of a serious objection answered by Hugenberger.  It does not take much study of biblical covenants to see that one of their characteristics is an oath.  This oath sometimes takes the form of a physical sign.  This oath/sign is always closely connected to the covenant.  It is so closely connected to the covenant that it’s violation is regarded as a violation of the covenant itself.  We see this in the new covenant instituted by Jesus.  The oath/sign is the Lord’s Supper.  What is the oath/sign of the marriage covenant?  It is Hugenberger’s opinion that the oath/sign of the marriage covenant is the sexual union.  Once this act occurs the covenant is ratified.   He cites Jacob’s marriage to Leah when he was really expecting to marry Rachel.  Once morning arrived and Jacob discovered it was Leah it was too late.  The covenant had been made and ratified.  Jacob was married.

I enjoyed the challenge of reading this book.  If I had not read it I might not have added palingamy, hypocorism, henydiadys, idolect, and about twenty other words to my vocabulary.  I think I may have been cured of my allergy to academic writing.  Is this a good thing?

But what of Dt. 24:1-4?  Alas, not so good.  It is at the very point of my interest that I find the book to be the most disappointing.   This is where the sticky note proved its worth:  it made it easy for me to find again and reread that passage.  While the interpretation offered by Hugenberger may be correct, his case is based entirely upon extra-biblical literature.  Citing the work of R. Westbrook who originated this interpretation, Hugenberger tries to make his case based upon the Code of Hammurabi where such prohibitions are in place.

I learned a lot about covenants and marriage covenants in particular by reading this book.  This justifies the effort of reading academic prose.  I recommend the book to all brave and persevering souls.  Just keep your dictionary at hand; this is a dissertation after all.

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