February 29, 2012

Leap Year Engagements & Hermeneutics

by Clint Archer

[In the non-conformist spirit of leaping over tradition, Clint is venturing out of his regular Monday slot just for today.]

It takes more thought than you’d think to figure out which years are leap. Years divisible by 4 are  leap, except for the Century. I.e. years ending in -00 are not leap years, unless first 2 digits are also divisible by four. Got it?


So 1700 is not a leap year, but 1600 is. That’s why the year 1900 was not, but 2000 was. Don’t stress, you won’t have to worry about getting it wrong until 2100 (which is not leap).

When Pope Gregory XIII declared the first leap year to be 1588, the Protestants were ruling England and they rejected the law, saying it was too Catholic. The problem was that on the day after the 28th of February the rest of the world had calendars that acknowledged the 29th. So Protestant Brits just ignored the day, as if the law and custom didn’t apply to them. So a superstition arose that the other laws and customs didn’t apply either. Hence the name ‘leap year’ as it was the day that ‘lept over the law.’ Sometimes non-conformity can be taken too far.

One such custom which was lept over, was that of marriage proposal etiquette. It was customary
for a gentleman to propose by sending a glove to his true love. If she was seen wearing it at church the following Sunday, she had accepted the proposal.

But on the 29th of February the custom didn’t apply.

It became acceptable for a lady to propose marriage to the man, as long as he accepted and the wedding was done the same day! 

The very first leap year engagements was the well-oiled idea of a young lady named Ruth. More accurately it was her mom-in-law matchmaker, Naomi who concocted the plan. But Ruth played her role with gusto. She proposed to Boaz in a way that has left commentators blushing. But it is a good example of how narrative descriptive passages in Scripture should not be taken as prescriptive.

If narrative were meant to inform how we behave, the advice any pastor would give to an eager single lady in his flock would be the stuff of sitcoms. We’d have to tell the lady to make sure she bust out her best Mac make-up and Channel perfume, attend the man’s business party, and wait til he had consumed a fair amount of alcohol. Then when he passes out, sneak into his bed, uncover his feet, and curl up with him. When he awakes in his alcohol-induced grogginess, immediately propose marriage to him and offer to do whatever he wants.

Now honestly, how many parents would be OK with that biblical counsel being given to their single teens at the youth lock-in? And yet it is biblical, right?

I am of the opinion that your youth pastor’s main qualification should not be if he is sporting a faux hawk hairdo and v-neck t-shirt, nor if he can use the word dude deftly while preaching from his iPhone. His primary qualification should be a sound hermeneutic. Otherwise, make sure your teens stay away from youth group this leap year .


Clint Archer

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Clint has been the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church since 2005. He lives in Durban, South Africa with his wife and four kids.
  • Hermenutics and engagement craziness does not stop there. You see people build cases for all sorts of strange marriage proposals from random OT passages. Never mind that most OT betrothals that are described are both far from normal, and far from being emulated.

    • True. My favorite is Samson’s “She looks good to me, go get her for me.” Or maybe the Benjamite’s kidnapping party.

      • Matt

        How about Isaac’s “blind date marriage”?!

  • Michael Delahunt

    love it! thanks for the post!

    • My pleasure. Thanks for checking in.

  • GiantSmokey

    I’m a litte confused as to the point of this post. While I agree with what is said, I’m curious about the cheap shot at Youth Pastors (full disclosure: I’m a Youth Pastor with a faux hawk, an iPhone and a sound hermeneutic). Again, I don’t disagree, but I just wonder what appearance and style have to do with sound teaching.