Sunday, January 10, 2016

Marital Imagery in the Bible

Marital Imagery in the Bible
Colin Hamer, Apostolos Publishing Ltd., London, UK, 2015

The Most Challenging (but rewarding) Scholarly Work This Layman Has Read
When I was offered the opportunity to review Colin Hamer’s book on marital imagery in Scripture, I jumped at it because, well because, I’m interested in both marriage (my own and that of persons I mentor in this area) and what the Bible has to say about it. It’s also something that seems to separate many Christians from other Christians – sometimes because of who they marry, sometimes because of who they leave or divorce, and sometimes simply because they remarry.
At the same time I knew I was getting into something that might challenge my own thinking as to what I personally believed. Finally, having been familiar with other material from this publisher by authors of similar academic achievement, I knew I would be stretched intellectually by this book. I report to you that I was not disappointed on any count.
For those very reasons, I decided to take a laymen’s approach to what was bascially Colin Hamer’s thesis document presented in June 2015 for his degree of Doctor of Philosophy.  One of his supervisors for that was Tom Holland, author of another book I had reviewed entitled Hope for the Nations based on Romans. Hamer, perhaps a little too conveiently, relies on many of Holland’s other work.
Let me try and speak the common man’s English here rather than the highly academic approach Hamer rightly took.
The book takes great care to spell out the difference between the marriage described in Genesis 2:23 and the one described in Genesis 2:24. Many of us have, I am sure, taken those two verses to refer to the same type of marriage. Hamer points out, through careful examination, how different these two are (vs. 23 talking about a marriage that directly required the involvement of God; and vs. 24 talking about mundane or regular marriage). And he does so very convincingly.
He then moves on to introduce his readers to all sorts of metaphors and language terms that are outcomes of variations of metaphors used in the Scripture and especially how they apply to the imagery of marriage in the Bible. (Have I lost you yet? I hope not, because the conclusions are most significant and relevant. So hang in there.)
The author also relies heavily on what Israel was actually practicing and understanding to be mundane or regular marriage. He correctly points out that in order for God’s teachings, especially those delivered to His people through metaphors, to be comprehended properly, one has to deduce that they are best understood in the meaning of the words used in the metaphors that they are familiar with. That is, he argues that the Scriptures would not employ an imagery that did not reflect a social reality.
Hamer, mainly because a good doctoral thesis has to, examines all (or so it seems due to the numerous references) the helpful literature available from ancient times through to the early centuries of the church. So, not only does he address what the Old Testament was saying to Israel, but also what Jesus, and later the Apostle Paul, was saying to the New Testament believers, and thus to us. Just learning what the secular and church literature contains is well worth the read.
Those who write movie reviews caution me not to provide “spoilers” and so I won’t even here.  But allow me to give you some hints:
n  Through the ages the church may have incorrectly used the marriage in Genesis 2:23 as the model to apply to our current marriages and thus to forbid divorce.
n  If, as one scholar suggests Israel metaphorically married and later divorced Egypt, then when God took her as His people at Sinai, was He uniting Himself to a divorcee?
n  If God divorced Israel as various Scripture suggests, how could she come back to Him unless remarriage was allowed?
n  At its foundational basis, what was the purpose of any divorce decree except that one could be free to remarry?
The author also explores thoroughly the role of Jesus as a bridegroom and the Church as His Bride.  And through the study of what Christ had done and would do for His Bride, comes to some very interesting and not at all heretical conclusions about divorce and remarriage.
To the chagrin of males, there seems to be greater onus on the husband to keep the marriage together. He is also under greater restrictions than the wife when it comes to leaving a marriage. There is no doubt that God’s original hope and desire for marriages was that they not end in abandonment or divorce, but rather remain as per the Edenic marriage of Adam and Eve. Hamer postulates this will once again be accomplished when Christ returns to take up His Bride.
This is indeed a scholarly tome and not your light summer reading. I certainly do not recommend it for someone who only enjoys a book that can be read easily without the need for some concentration. But even some of them will want to read it to gain insight into what the author believes the Bible allows with respect to separation, divorce, and remarriage.  Many will be surprised and they may find they had been right all along.  A must read for all Bible scholars, pastors, and Christian marriage counselors.

Ken B. Godevenos, Accord Resolution Services Inc., Toronto, Ontario. 16/01/09

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