February 29, 2016

Leap Year Engagements & Hermeneutical Oddities

by Clint Archer

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 the 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 ‘leapt over the law.’ Sometimes non-conformity can be taken too far.

One such custom which was leapt 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.

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 engagement 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 bust out her best Mac make-up and Channel perfume, attend the man’s business party, and wait til he has 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 okay 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 that he is sporting a faux hawk hairdo and v-neck t-shirt, nor that 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.
  • Didn’t see that coming! Boom! Maybe the most insane transition ever, bro.

    • That’s how we roll at TCG brother.

  • Jason

    And here I thought this was going to be about guys proposing on the 29th of February to avoid having to remember the date most of the time and how, similarly, people try to interpret scripture in a way that limits their requirements (the “but who is my neighbor” topic)!

    • Would be smart to only have to remember an anniversary every 4 years. But if you forgot that one, the damage would be compounded. Catch 22.

  • 4Commencefiring4

    Translation: Just because “it’s in the Bible”, it doesn’t make it biblical to do it. Or something.

    • Jason

      But Judah even said Tamar was more righteous than he!

      • And we trust Judah’s judgment, right?

    • Right. I mean, would you let your daughter marry a guy who sent his manservant in his stead (Isaac) or tell your son to kidnap a bride while she’s dancing (Benjamites), or any old pagan gal who looks good (Samson)?

      • 4Commencefiring4

        Yeah, they had their quirks regarding nuptials back in Bible times. But these days, two GUYS can get married, so I guess they’ve got nothin’ on us.

        • Jason

          That’s old news in a lot of countries. People are already “marrying” inanimate objects in some places.

          • 4Commencefiring4

            Not a bad idea. No child support or alimony. Lousy conversation, though.

      • Jason

        Come on Clint, if she didn’t want to marry Isaac she wouldn’t have watered the camels. It’s just common sense!

  • tovlogos

    Absolutely, Clint —
    “His primary qualification should be a sound hermeneutic.”
    I was think this…the other day when brother Michael wrote about “Reason.”

    • And I’d add that since elders need to be “able to teach” that also implies sound interpretive skills.