Marital Imagery in the Bible: An Exploration of Genesis 2:24 and Its Significance for the Understanding of New Testament Divorce and Remarriage Teaching

By Heth, William A. | Anglican Theological Review, Summer 2016 | Go to article overview

Marital Imagery in the Bible: An Exploration of Genesis 2:24 and Its Significance for the Understanding of New Testament Divorce and Remarriage Teaching


Heth, William A., Anglican Theological Review


Marital Imagery in the Bible: An Exploration of Genesis 2:24 and its Significance for the Understanding of New Testament Divorce and Remarriage Teaching. Apostólos Old Testament Studies. By Colin Hamer. London: Apostólos, 2015. 316 pp. $60.99 (cloth); $30.99 (paper).

The biblical teaching on divorce and remarriage is clouded by the question of whether or not a duly covenanted and consummated marriage results in a mystical, ontological, indissoluble union which is permanent this side of death. Something close to that conception is the prism through which I once read the biblical passages on marriage, divorce, and remarriage, as have many others.

But, with David Instone-Brewer and others, I eventually concluded that the only way to make sense of Jesus' teaching is that divorce and remarriage is permissible; it is just that the one who remarries after an invalid divorce commits adultery. Matthew's account makes this assumption explicit and essentially endorses the Shammaite reading of Deuteronomy 24:1 that divorce is permitted-not commanded-in such situations.

But how can we be sure? And what about 1 Corinthians 6:16, where Paul cites a portion of Genesis 2:24: "Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, The two will become one flesh'" (ESV). Some recent studies argue that Paul's citation of Genesis 2:24 means he believed sexual relations with a literal prostitute create an ontological union. How do we address these and other questions that still cloud the skies of how to responsibly understand and apply the biblical teaching on marriage, divorce, and remarriage today?

This is where Colin Hamer's amazing Marital Imagery in the Bible enters in. This conceptually integrative study uses both traditional metaphor theory and more recent developments in concept mapping to engage the considerable corpus of published material that considers marital imagery in scripture. Hamer shows there is no evidence that Jewish or Christian marriage teaching is rooted in the Genesis 2:23 literal flesh and blood connection of the primal couple. This neoplatonic model of indissoluble marriage patterned after the original couple first appears in the intertestamental period, and even there the evidence is scanty; nor is the primal couple marriage model a part of the implied readership of the New Testament. Rather, Hamer shows that the conceptual domain for marital imagery in the Bible is sourced in the Genesis 2:24 teaching that a woman becomes the wife of a man in a metaphoric one-flesh union formed by means of a volitional, conditional covenant. …

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