Author Archives: David D. Flowers

About David D. Flowers

David received a B.A. in Religion from East Texas Baptist University and a M.T.S. in Biblical Studies from Houston Graduate School of Theology. David was in student ministry for 7 years, taught Biblical Studies & Latin at The Woodlands Christian Academy for 5 years, and now pastors an Anabaptist congregation in Virginia.

It’s Time to Brag on the Bride of Christ

The church is not perfect. Never has been. Never will be. Not in this life.

That’s why I’m not surprised when folks go through a period of disillusionment with the church, even reveling in bitterness and cynicism. I’ve written two popular posts on this here and here.

As I’ve written before, experiencing a season of cynicism can actually bring forth a renewed vision of the church and a deeper commitment to the gospel if we are willing to let the Spirit transform our hearts. I’ve been there.

Are you upset at the hypocrisy and nominalism in the church? Are you tired of judgmental Christians who look more like the Pharisees than the Messiah from Nazareth? Fed up? Angry? Cynical? I get it. I really do.

So if this describes you, please allow me to speak very candidly.

I understand the cyclone of cynicism has blown through your life. But hear me… please. There is simply no excuse for isolating yourself from the saints and making yourself at home in your storm of bitterness.

Consider this before making any more slanderous attacks against Jesus’ fiancé.

In Acts 9 the very pious Saul of Tarsus, who had been “breathing out murderous threats” against the church, meets Jesus on his way to persecuting God’s people. All of this in the name of God. For the “love” of God.

Here is how Jesus responds to Saul’s words and actions in vs. 4-5:

“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied.

Clearly, the language of the church being the body and bride of Christ are more than mere metaphors (1 Cor 12:27; Rev 21:9). Instead, they are ontological facts. It’s a mysterious new reality set forth in Scripture. I’m afraid that for many in the church this has become nothing more than theological jargon.

The words of Jesus to Saul are a sobering reminder that the church is not only the physical representation of Christ on the earth (i.e., what the church does she does as his ambassadors), but also that what is done to/against the church is done to/against Christ, the glorious bridegroom.

Therefore, we must be carefully aware of the aims in our criticisms.

Let’s be honest with ourselves. Do we seek to build up, or to tear down (2 Cor 13:10)? Saul became Paul. His very identity changed. He moved from tearing down to building up. What about you? Are you helping or hurting?

We need prophetic voices in the church, no doubt. But it’s a problem when every social networker and savvy blogger thinks they’re a prophet.

Have you noticed what happens when the majority thinks they’re a prophet? We end up lacking the edification of apostles, evangelists, pastors and teachers.

You may win some loyal fans and followers, but at what cost?

I admit that I’ve grown weary of the constant flow of criticisms (many of them unfounded) against the church from within by those who profess Christ as their Lord. It’s time to change the channel. We have to do better.

Whether you’re in an intentional community, a house church, or a larger organized fellowship, don’t give up meeting with the church (Heb 10:24-26).

Detach yourself from that which feeds your cynicism. Repent of the individualism that threatens the bond of Christian community. Reimagine the church with others. Get involved with broken people who need your real presence. For it is there you will find restoration for your own soul.

Trust not in blog posts and Facebook statuses to change the world. Instead, get involved in your local church. Bless the body of Christ. Be the hands and feet of Christ to your neighbors. Don’t wait. Do it now.

I pray you will find encouragement in the following video. Listen to the talented Greg Denie brag on the body of Christ… just to say thanks.

Are you walking with Christ in community? What are you doing to build up the Bride of Christ? Stand with her today in word and deed.

D.D. Flowers, 2014.


Is Marriage a Covenant? Part II

Paul Rhodes Eddy is Professor of Biblical & Theological Studies at Bethel University and Teaching Pastor at Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, MN.

Paul is currently working on a book entitled Kingdom Sex: Toward a Covenant-Centered Theology of Human Sexuality. The book will be a further development of an extended working paper that is currently available online.

This is the second part of material from his book that he has made available on conjugal marriage being a sacred covenant in the sight of God, as revealed throughout Christian history and the entire biblical corpus.

In the first post Is Marriage a Covenant? Part I Paul established that church history is quite favorable to the concept of marriage as a covenant.

So what about the Bible? In an effort to redefine marriage as set forth by Moses, Jesus, and the apostle Paul (Gen 2:18-24; Matt 19:1-11; Eph 5:25-31), some have questioned whether we can legitimately ground the notion of marriage as a covenant in the Scriptures. Is there a case against marriage as covenant?

In Is Marriage a Covenant? Part II, Paul Eddy will address three common arguments that have led to this conclusion, in order to present us with a defense for marriage as a covenant to be affirmed and celebrated in the church.

Is Marriage a Covenant? Part II

1) “There is no clear statement in the Bible that marriage is a covenant. For example, the Hebrew term for covenant (berith) is not found in Gen 2:18-25, the paradigmatic explanation of God’s design of marriage. Nor does Jesus or Paul ever call marriage a covenant.”

Here we must beware what some modern linguists refer to as the “word-thing fallacy,” which mistakenly assumes that if the word for something isn’t present, then neither is the concept.1

Frequently the concept and essence of a thing is present apart from the explicit terminology. (A classic biblical example is the fact that the term “Trinity” does not appear in the New Testament, while the seedling essence of this concept, which led to its later flowering within the church’s dogma, certainly is.) This is precisely the case with marriage and covenant in Genesis 2:18-25.2

To begin, we must remember that what a covenant, by definition, does is create, by promise and oath, a kinship-like bond (“kinship-in-law,” so to speak) where before none existed. As Walter Brueggemann demonstrated decades ago, understood in its ancient cultural context, the phrase “This is now bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh” in Gen 2:23 functions as a covenant formula that creates kinship.3

The renown OT scholar Frank Moore Cross explains: “In Israel, contrary to many primitive band or tribal societies, the legal compact of marriage introduced the bride into the kinship group or family. This is the proper understanding of Genesis 2:24 . . . . [W]hat is asserted is that the covenant of marriage establishes kinship bonds of the first rank between spouses.”4

2) “The texts often cited as evidence that marriage is called a covenant – e.g., Malachi 2:14; Proverbs 2:17; Ezekiel 16:8 – are better interpreted in other ways. For example, such texts are better understood as using the ancient marriage relationship merely as a metaphor for the covenant that God has with Israel.”5

Traditionally, at least three OT passages have been recognized as equating marriage with covenant:

(1) Mal 2:14 – “the Lord was a witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant”; (2) Prov 2:17 – “[the adulteress] who forsakes the partner of her youth and forgets her sacred covenant”; (3) Ezek 16:8 – “I passed by you again and looked on you; you were at the age for love. I spread the edge of my cloak over you, and covered your nakedness: I pledged myself to you and entered into a covenant with you, says the Lord God, and you became mine.”

Some scholars have argued that other things are going on in these passages. Given our limited space, we can’t enter into anything like an extended exploration of the details of these arguments. Suffice to say that just such an extended study has been done.

In his book, Marriage as a Covenant, Gordon Hugenberger explored virtually every possible argument that has been made against the common interpretation of these passages (with a focus on Mal 2:14).

Hugenberger’s conclusions have shown them to be questionable at best, and often less than that. The force of his arguments can be seen by the effect his book has had on this field of study.

For example, Michael Lawler, who is otherwise very willing to express skepticism with regard to related issues, nonetheless concludes that Hugenberger has successfully demonstrated that Mal 2:14 “portrays marriage as a solemn covenant.”6

And what of the claim that the OT prophets use the marriage covenant as merely a metaphor for the covenant that God shared with Israel?

First, this argument begins unraveling if it turns out that ancient Israelites did consider marriage to be a covenantal relationship (and evidence to this effect is discussed below).

Additionally, this thesis hinges on the developmental argument that ancient Israelite marriage was originally non-covenantal, that it was used by the prophets merely as a metaphor for the actual covenant between Yahweh and Israel, and that this metaphorical usage was later retrojected in a reified form back onto marriage, thus eventually turning it into a covenant much later.

However, this thesis begs the question of where the original covenantal roots lie by assuming that the initial impetus derived from the Sinai covenant between Yahweh and Israel (itself presumably drawn from the political realm of ancient suzerainty-vassal treaty-covenants). A number of scholars have made precisely the opposite developmental case.

For example, Elaine Adler argues that “the use of [a covenant] formula to express the legal relationship between YHWH and Israel finds its origins in family law, and thus the recitation of this expression would have evoked the quasi-familial, or even matrimonial nature of the covenant.”7 This observation aligns with Mark S. Smith’s contention that family, not political treaty, is the basic ground of ANE covenantal thought.8

Following along similar lines, Seock-Tae Sohn’s research has led him to conclude that “the origin and background of the [YHWH-Israel] covenant were the marriage practices of the people of Israel.”9 This claim raises the issue of evidence regarding the covenantal nature of ancient Israelite marriage, and so to this contested question we now turn.

3)“A covenant, by definition, requires an oath, but there is no evidence that ancient Israelite betrothals or marriages included an oath. In fact, there is no mention in the Bible of ceremonies or oaths necessary for a marriage covenant.”10

With a wide consensus of scholars today, we can agree that at the heart of the ancient notion of covenant is an oath.11 Thus, Hugenberger’s definition provides a useful guide: “A covenant, in its normal sense, is an elected, as opposed to natural [i.e., biological], relationship of obligation under oath.”12

This means we can expect to find a wide range of ancient human associations falling under the umbrella of “covenant” (berith) relationship within the OT, and we do – from political treaties (Gen 21:22-34; 26:26-31), to personal/familial relationships (Gen 31:43-55), to intimate friendships (I Sam 18:1-4; 20:8-17), to marriage (Mal 2:14).

But is there evidence of a marriage oath in the ancient Near Eastern (ANE) world? Skeptics argue in the negative based on observations such as extant ancient marriage documents do not contain an oath, and the Bible itself never explicitly mentions an oath spoken by a couple at their wedding. In fact, they claim, marriage ceremonial elements in general are missing from the Bible.

But are such observations – and/or the implications drawn from them – on track? Many scholars think not. It has been pointed out that the extant ancient marriage documents, much like our current marriage certificates, have a narrowly defined purpose: namely to function as durable written proof of the marriage for the purpose of dealing with legal and economic issues.13

The purpose of a marriage certificate is not to record the verbatim marriage vows of the couple. Rather, living witnesses (both divine and human) to the actual ceremony and the verbal pronouncements made there serve that function.14 Thus, it is quite likely that ANE marriages, including the ancient Israelites, did include the recitation of traditional verbal formulas (verba solemnia).15

What about the paucity of explicit references to ceremonial details of marriage covenant in the biblical texts? As members of any given culture know, there is little need to explicitly mention the details of what is assumed to be commonly shared assumptions and knowledge among cultural insiders. This is even more so the case for an ancient orally-dominant cultures where the phenomena of traditional referentiality and highly context-dependent communication patterns enable a remarkably economical use of language.16

For example, as Menahem Haran notes: “The phrase KRT Bĕrît (‘cut a covenant’), or similar wording, already entails in itself the details of ceremonial activity [i.e., the cutting of an animal and walking between the pieces as a non-verbal, self-maledictory oath] without any further need to highlight them explicitly.”17

The fact is that we have very little detailed information about marriage ceremonies well into the Christian tradition itself.18 All of that being said, a number of scholars have pointed out that the OT does refer, however elliptically and off-handedly, to some aspects of ancient marriage ceremonies (e.g., feasts, etc.).19

Finally, there is the problem of contemporary scholars who are unfamiliar with the range of possible oaths and oath-signs (i.e., non-verbal acts that function as an oath), and thus miss seeing their presence in the Bible. A classic case of this involves our topic at hand: the presence of an oath in the biblical understanding of marriage.

As Hugenberger has effectively demonstrated, there is good evidence to suggest that the act of sexual union was understood to function as an oath-sign between the marriage partners.20

But an oath requires the presence/involvement of the divine. Is there any evidence of involvement of the gods/God in ANE – and later Greco-Roman – marriages? It appears that the answer is ‘Yes.’ Extant documents concerning Mesopotamian marriages include temple rituals involving the gods.21 By Romans times, we find multiple gods involved in marriages in various ways.22

Within the Jewish tradition, the fact that the primordial marriage in Genesis 2 was seen as a creative act of Yahweh provides an even stronger basis for seeing divine involvement in the marriage covenant.

With the teachings of Jesus, based upon Genesis 2, God’s involvement in marriage is strongly emphasized: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Matt 19:6-7).

There is no mere “secular business arrangement” here.23 This is the language of covenant relationship.

Paul Rhodes Eddy

Thanks for reading! Feel free to address Paul in your comments. He would be happy to respond to any thoughts or questions you might have.

D.D. Flowers, 2014.

____________________
1 This fallacy was originally applied to biblical studies by James Barr, The Semantics of Biblical Language (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1961), 206-62. See also Anthony C. Thiselton, “Semantics and Biblical Interpretation,” in New Testament Interpretation: Essays on Principles and Methods, ed. I. H. Marshall (Grad Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977), 75-104; Stanley E. Porter, “The Concept of Covenant in Paul,” in The Concept of Covenant in the Second Temple Period, eds. S. E. Porter and J. C. R. de Roo (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2003), 269-85.
2 Despite the reservations of some, that Genesis 2:18-25 is, in fact, about marriage is demonstrated (apart from other internal considerations) by ANE parallels. E.g., see Bernard F. Batto, “The Institution of Marriage in Genesis 2 and in Atrahasis,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 62 (2000), 621-31.
3 Walter Brueggemann, “Of the Same Flesh and Bone (GN 2, 23a),” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 32 (1970), 532-42. Similarly, André LaCocque points out that the phrase functions as “a formula of kinship.” André LaCocque The Trial of Innocence: Adam, Eve, and the Yahwist (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2006), 121.
4 Frank Moore Cross, “Kinship and Covenant in Ancient Israel,” in From Epic to Canon: History and Literature in Ancient Israel (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998), 7-8. See also the extensive argument for marriage in Genesis 2 as a covenant in Gordon P. Hugenberger, Marriage as Covenant: Biblical Law and Ethics as Developed from Malachi (Boston: Brill, 1994; reprint ed. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998).
5 F. C. Fensham, “The Marriage Metaphor in Hosea for the Covenant Relationship between the Lord and his People (Hos 1:2-9),” Journal of Northwest Semitic Languages 12 (1984), 71-79; Milgrom, Cult and Conscience, 134-6; Tully, “Stutzman, Sex, and Secular Marriage.”
6 Lawler, “Marriage as Covenant in the Catholic Tradition,” 75.
7 Elaine June Adler, “The Background for the Metaphor of Covenant as Marriage in the Hebrew Bible” (PhD Diss., University of California at Berkeley, 1990), 120. Adler argues forcefully that marriage was seen as a covenant in ancient Israel (pp. 296-308). Intriguingly, Jacob Milgrom – a strong advocate for the opposite perspective – was on her dissertation committee and officially signed off on her thesis!
8 Mark S. Smith, “‘Your People Shall Be My People’: Family and Covenant in Ruth 1:16-17,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 69 (2007), 242-58. See also Cross, “Kinship and Covenant in Ancient Israel.” This observation also forces a reconsideration of how we view OT “love” language. In the early 1960s, William Moran (“The Ancient Near Eastern Background of the Love of God in Deuteronomy,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 25 [1963], 77-87) made the case that Deuteronony’s “love” language should be seen a rooted in political suzerainty-vassal treaties, and a scholarly consensus followed. But in light of the shift toward family-oriented understandings of covenant, viewing things with a monochromatic political lens requires reassessment. See e.g., Susan Ackerman, “The Personal is Political: Covenant and Affectionate Love (’ĀHĒB, ’AHĂBÂ) in the Hebrew Bible,” Vetus Testamentum 52 (2002), 437-58.
9 Seock-Tae Sohn, “‘I Will Be Your God and You Will Be My People’: The Origin and Background of the Covenant Formula,” in Ki Baruch Hu: Ancient Near Eastern, Biblical, and Judaic Studies in Honor of Baruch A. Levine, eds. R. Chazan, W. W. Hallo, and L. H. Schiffman (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1999), 355-72 (here p. 368).
10 Milgrom, Cult and Conscience, 134; Greenberg, Ezekiel 1-20, 278; Tully, “Stutzman, Sex, and Secular Marriage.”
11 E.g., Cross, “Kinship and Covenant in Ancient Israel,” 8; D. J. McCarthy, Treaty and Covenant (Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1981), 141; Scott Hahn, Kinship by Covenant (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), 28; Gene Tucker, “Covenant Forms and Contract Forms,” Vetus Testamentum 15 (1965), 487-503; Daniel C. Lane, “The Meaning and Use of Berith in the Old Testament” (PhD diss., Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, 2000), 314.
12 Hugenberger, Marriage as a Covenant, 9.
13 For a feel of the overwhelmingly legal-economic concerns dealt with in ancient marriage contracts, see the examples of Aramaic papyri from Elephantine in James B. Prichard, ed., The Ancient Near East, vol. I: An Anthology of Texts and Pictures (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1958), 170-72.
14 Eva von Dassow, “Introducing the Witnesses in Neo-Babylonian Documents,” in Chazan, et al., eds, Ki Baruch Hu, 3-21.
15 E.g., Samuel Greengus, “The Old Babylonian Marriage Contract,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 89 (1969), 505-32; idem, “Old Babylonian Marriage Ceremonies and Rite,” Journal of Cuneiform Studies 20 (1966), 55-72; Haymin Tadmor, “Treaty and Oath in the Ancient Near East: A Historian’s Approach,” in Humanizing America’s Iconic Book: Society of Biblical Literature Centennial Addresses 1980, eds. G. M. Tucker and D. A. Knight (Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1982), 139; Menahem Haran, “The Bĕrît ‘Covenant’: Its Nature and Ceremonial Background,” in Tehillah le-Moshe: Biblical and Judaic Studies in Honor of Moshe Greenberg, eds. M. Cogan, B. L. Eichler, and J. H. Tigay (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1997), 203-19; Adler, “Background for the Metaphor of Covenant as Marriage,” 111-24; Norbert Lofink and Erich Zenger, The God of Israel and the Nations, trans. E. R. Kalin (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 2000), 86. Mordechai Friedman has made a case for identifying an ancient Israelite bridal verbal response in Hosea 2:17. See Friedman, “Israel’s Response in Hosea 2:17b: ‘You are My Husband,’” Journal of Biblical Literature 99 (1980), 199-204.
16 John Miles Foley, Immanent Art: From Structure to Meaning in Traditional Oral Epic (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991), 6-13; idem, How to Read an Oral Poem (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2002), 59-65, 130-33; E. J. Bakker, “Activation and Preservation: The Interdependence of Text and Performance in an Oral Tradition,” Oral Tradition 8 (1993) 5-20; D. Tannen, “Relative Focus on Involvement in Oral and Written Discourse,” in Literacy, Language, and Learning: The Nature and Consequences of Reading and Writing, eds. D. R. Olson, N. Torrance, and A. Hildyard (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985) 124-47.
17 Haran, “Bĕrît ‘Covenant’,” 208.
18 See Kenneth Stevenson, Nuptial Blessing: A Study of Christian Marriage Rites (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983).
19 E.g., Loren Wade, “Marriage and Covenant: Reflections on the Theology of Marriage,” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 13/2 (2002), 80-81.
20 Hugenberger, Marriage as a Covenant, 185-279. Also Hahn, Kinship by Covenant, 5-6, 52-54.
21 E.g., see Greengus, “Old Babylonian Marriage Ceremonies and Rituals,” 58, 61.
22 Karen K. Hersch, “Gods of the Roman Wedding,” in The Roman Wedding: Ritual and Meaning in Antiquity (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010), ch. 4.
23 Tully, “Stutzman, Sex, and Secular Marriage.”


Is Marriage a Covenant? Part I

Paul Rhodes Eddy is Professor of Biblical & Theological Studies at Bethel University (St. Paul). He holds a B.A. in Biblical & Theological Studies (Bethel University), a M.A. in Theological Studies (Bethel Theological Seminary), and a PhD in Theology (Marquette University).

Paul also serves as Teaching Pastor at Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, MN. He resides in White Bear Township, MN with his wife, Kelly, and their two sons.

His primary research interests include methodological issues in historical Jesus studies, John Hick and religious pluralism, and Christology and the Atonement. He has coedited several successful multi-view volumes and is the author or editor of a number of other books, including The Jesus Legend.

Among other projects, Paul is currently working on a book entitled Kingdom Sex: Toward a Covenant-Centered Theology of Human Sexuality. The book will be a further development of an extended working paper that is currently available online at Central Plains Mennonite Conference.

After reading Paul’s current manuscript, I asked if he would be willing to share with you some of his biblical and historical research on marriage as a sacred covenant between one man and one woman for life, as set forth in Genesis 2:18-24; Matthew 19:1-11; and Ephesians 5:25-31.

I’m thankful that Paul was willing to take time out of his busy schedule to present us with some of the material from his upcoming book, Kingdom Sex.     I believe his insights are already helping to bring some much-needed clarity to God’s divine intentions for conjugal marriage.

Notice that I’ve divided Paul’s article into two parts.

The first part proves that marriage has been understood as a one-flesh covenant throughout all of church history. The second part will address common arguments that the Bible isn’t clear on marriage being a covenant relationship. On the contrary, Paul argues that marriage is portrayed as a sacred covenant throughout the entire biblical corpus.

Your feedback is welcome. Feel free to address Paul in your comments. He would be happy to respond to any thoughts or questions you might have.

Is Marriage a Covenant? Part I

Is marriage a covenant? For many people today, especially evangelical Christians in the U.S., the answer to this question will seem absurdly obvious. Of course marriage is (or at least is suppose to be) a covenant.

If it’s not – then what in the world is?

But things aren’t quite that simple. More than a few voices have questioned whether marriage – at least in certain historical contexts, including biblical times – is, in fact, properly to be construed as a covenant.1

These voices force the question upon us today: Should we understand the divine intention for marriage as covenantal? Are there good biblical and church historical grounds for seeing covenant relationship as the norm by which Kingdom people should shape their theology and practice of marriage?

I propose that the answer to these questions is an unequivocal ‘Yes.’ Let’s look at the some of the challenges to the claim that marriage is best understood as a covenant relationship and see how they stand up to analysis.

Some suggest that the idea of marriage as a covenant is a late-comer within church history. In fact, some claim that this idea was unknown within the Christian tradition until John Calvin originated it in the 16th century.2

This claim is simply historically incorrect.

It is certainly true that in Calvin’s mature thought, his theology of marriage is anchored in the concept of covenant (prior to which he had based it upon Luther’s ‘two kingdoms’ notion), and that he is the first Christian theologian to flesh out marriage as covenant in anything like a thorough fashion. However, he is hardly the first in church history to equate marriage and covenant.

For example, the fourth-century Arnobius writes of “conjugal covenants” (Latin = coniugalia foedera; see his Adversus Gentes, 4.20). Interestingly, in the ninth century, Pope Nicholas I uses the term covenant (foedus) of both marriages and betrothals (Responda ad Consulta Bulgarorum, III). And both the Gelasian and Gregorian Sacramentaries allude to marriage as a covenant.

In fact, Augustine himself unambiguously refers to marriage as a “covenant” (foedus) and a “bond of covenant” (viniculum foederis).3 It is important to remember the context here. The Roman concept of marriage (with its conviction of the necessity of not merely initial but continuous consent) allowed for relatively easy divorce.4

Taking their cue from Jesus and the NT authors, the early Christians on the other hand viewed marriage as a solemn and permanent relational bond. They sought to find language (Greek, Latin, etc.) that captured this counter-cultural reality. Latin terms such as pactio, pactum, confoederatio, societas – and yes, foedus (covenant) – were among those chosen to describe the marriage bond.

So why then did the church refrain from developing a robust theology of marriage as covenant until Calvin? The reason seems fairly clear.

While the Bible does provide solid evidence that marriage was designed by God to function as a covenant relationship (on which see below), the New Testament does not explicitly link the Greek terms for covenant (diatheke, syntheke) with marriage, but rather uses other images and terms to express this relationship.

One predominant instance is Paul’s description of marriage as a “mysterion” (mystery) in Ephesians 5:32. A key moment came when Tertullian translated the Greek term mysterion into the Latin term sacramentum. Jerome followed Tertullian’s move in his Latin Vulgate translation of the New Testament, and the rest is history.

From the fifth century onward, increasingly marriage was known primarily as a “sacrament” (sacramentum) in the Latin-speaking Western church, a tradition which continues to this day within Roman Catholicism.

In other words, it was originally due to the historical contingencies of textual translation that “sacrament” became the favored term in marital theology for much of the church’s history. Once Calvin made the decision to frame his “Protestant” theology of marriage in terms of covenant, the counter-Reformational Catholic Church had virtually no choice but to reject it.

Now, on both sides, it was not simply about a theology of marriage – it was about ecclesiastical boundary-marking and theological polemics. It took several hundred years, a growing spirit of ecumenism, and the Second Vatican Council for the Catholic Church to officially (re-)embrace the language of covenant within the theology of marriage in the 1960s (e.g., Gaudium et Spes, 48).

Suffice to say that the idea of marriage as a covenant was not missing in the early church, and that today both Roman Catholicism and Protestantism are quite comfortable with this ancient equation.

But we must return to Tertullian for a moment – the original fount of “sacrament” language. Once again, Tertullian was simply translating the NT’s Greek mysterion with Latin’s sacramentum. An important question arises: What was involved in the idea of sacramentum in Tertullian’s world?

Within the Roman context, the concept of sacramentum had a double connotation: (1) the taking of an oath, and (2) a monetary guarantee.

What they had in common was that both attached to the notion of self-obligation, and both were quite likely to involve the divine (i.e., oaths/promises frequently appealed to the gods). And with this, we are in the same conceptual/semantic realm as covenant relationship.

Thus, we see that the sacramental – when understood in its original context – is a close cousin of the covenantal.

So if church history is quite favorable to the concept of marriage as a covenant, what about the Bible? Some have questioned whether we can legitimately ground the notion of marriage as a covenant in the Bible. Next, we will consider several of the most common arguments that have led to this conclusion.

Paul Rhodes Eddy

Stay tuned for Is Marriage a Covenant? Part II.

D.D. Flowers, 2014.

____________________
1 See e.g., Abel Isaksson, Marriage and Ministry in the New Temple, trans. Neil TomKinson (Lund: Gleerup, 1965), 27-34; Moshe Greenberg, Ezekiel 1-20 (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1983), 278; Michael G. Lawler, “Marriage as Covenant in the Catholic Tradition,” in Covenant Marriage in Comparative Perspective, eds. John Witte and Eliza Ellison (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 70-91; Jacob Milgrom, Cult and Conscience: The Asham and the Priestly Doctrine of Repentance (Leiden: Brill, 1976), 129-37; Tyler M. Tully, “Stutzman, Sex, and Secular Marriage” (February 17, 2014), http://thejesusevent.com/2014/02/17/stutzman-sex-and-secular-marriage/.
2 E.g., Tully, “Stutzman, Sex, and Secular Marriage.”
3 Augustine, On Marriage and Concupiscence, 1.11; idem, On the Good of Marriage, 6, 7, 15, 17, 32; idem, On Adulterous Marriages, 1.12; 2.9-11.
4 On which, see Philip Lyndon Reynolds, Marriage in the Western Church: The Christianization of Marriage During the Patristic and Early Medieval Periods (Boston: Brill, 2001), 22-38.


How Not To Make Disciples

A couple years ago Francis Chan spoke on discipleship with the VergeNetwork. Listen to Francis talk about how not to make disciples in this brief clip.

What do you think it looks like to “go and make disciples” today? How do we create a disciple-making culture in our local churches? What things need to change in our churches to do what Jesus said?

D.D. Flowers, 2014.


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