So what is marriage? Is it a legal contract? A covenant? A sacrament rendered effective by a priest?
When a man and woman marry, what do they “covenant” to do and to be?
Marriage, he says, is a covenant. A covenant is “an agreement between two parties” (23). And covenants involved parties (people involved not dancing, though that too, unless you grew up as I did … but I digress), conditions, results and security.
In the Genesis accounts, and in the Bible elsewhere, the wife is seen as a “helper suitable” (an equal companion) and a willing partner (see Genesis 24). Thus, the biblical marriage covenant is a “bi-lateral” covenant and bi-lateral covenants are conditioned upon acceptance and fulfillment of the covenant. Thus, Luck argues that when the marriage vows are broken, the conditions have been unfulfilled and the divorce writ merely states the facts of the case.
So what are the commitments made?
For the man:
1. provision for his wife’s bodily needs (Exod 21:10)
3. prohibition of abusing her body (Exod 21:26)
4. protection of his wife’s reputation (Deut 22:1-9)
For the woman:
1. sexual fidelity to her husband (Num 5:19)
2. prohibition of abusing his body
So his conclusion: “Marriage is a conditional covenant, insured by God, wherein the husband promises to provide for the essential needs of the wife and to do nothing to seriously injure her body or stain her reputation, while the wife promises to be physically faithful to her husband and to do him no bodily harm” (41).
Let me enter a thought here: Luck, in my judgment, appropriates Scripture differently than I would. While I do not dispute here his exegesis, and while I value as much as he does what the Scripture does say, I would approach the marriage covenant from a slightly different angle: namely, from the covenant of love as found in texts like Song of Solomon and Ephesians 5. This difference would shift how I would orient the discussion of the above topics, though I would not dispute that the Bible teaches what he says above.
His focus in this chp is on marriage as a covenant, a bi-lateral covenant, and I agree with him.