Focus on the Family & John MacArthur spout “God hates divorce.” And do they accept correction?
Focus on the Family recently re-broadcast an interview they did with John MacArthur titled God’s Word on Divorce and Remarriage Part 1. [If the broadcast does not work or you would like to read a transcript of the episode, click here. Editors.] So we called them out on our Facebook page (link).
Here is a quote from the broadcast. Trigger Warning. The President of Focus on the Family, Jim Daly, is talking to John MacArthur:
Jim: Dr. MacArthur, when you look at divorce, it’s a very difficult thing in our culture because the culture has played so loosely with it. Even within the Christian church, we have struggled to be committed to our marriages and the testimony that, that actually is and what people see. People that don’t know the Lord and look at us, when they see a divorce rate of 35 percent or 40 percent within the church, it doesn’t feel right, does it?
John M.: Well, it isn’t right. I think the bottom line when we talk about this is to remember the first person comment from God Himself: “I hate divorce.” And that’s the bottom line. God hates it because it’s a violation of the one-flesh-for-life union by which righteousness is passed from one generation to another and also by which the relationship between Christ and His Church is demonstrated and symbolized in the world. And when that is shattered, there’s loss on all fronts, not only does that union break up, the question of passing righteousness to the next generation falls under terrible duress. And then you have lack of clarity about the church and its relationship to Jesus Christ. It’s all tied together. And I think, in any case, divorce always has negative ramifications, even when it is justified.
MacArthur thereby demonstrated his ignorance of the Hebrew text of Malachi 2:16. He confidently asserted that it is a first person comment from God Himself: “I hate divorce.”
MacArthur is wrong. It is not “I hate…” (first person). It is “he hates…” (third person). The translators of the 2011 NIV, HCSB and ESV all recognized this. All those translations show that the person doing the hating is the guy who is divorcing his wife:
“The man who hates and divorces his wife,” says the LORD, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect,” says the LORD Almighty. (NIV, 2011)
“If he hates and divorces [his wife],” says the Lord God of Israel, “he covers his garment with injustice,” says the Lord of Hosts. (HCSB, 1999)
“For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the LORD, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.” (ESV, 2001)
MacArthur is a renowned Bible teacher. He ought to know better. He ought to have studied Malachi in the Hebrew and paid attention to the third person of that verb ‘hate’. He ought not to have blindly accepted and parroted the mistranslations of Malachi 2:16 which have abounded in the past. He ought to have been aware that the NIV, HCSB and ESV all say “he hates”… not “I hate”.
Now, this interview FOF did with MacArthur was originally aired on 16 May 2012. Note the dates of the three translations I have quote above: 2011, 1999 and 2001. Let’s cut MacArthur some grace eh? Perhaps he hadn’t been aware of the many Hebrew scholars who had already been pointing out (for decades) that the word ‘hate’ in that verse is third person. Maybe he was too busy being a celebrity pastor. But by 2012 when he did that interview with Focus on the Family, he’d had more than ten years to become aware of those more accurate translations of Malachi 2:16 in the NIV, HCSB and ESV.
So, I lobbied Focus on the Family
The justified outrage our FB readers expressed towards Focus on the Family prompted me to contact FOF directly. I emailed them via their website. This is what I said:
Once again you have failed to care for victims of abuse. You or some of your networked radio stations re-aired the interview with John MacArthur in which he asserts “God hates divorce”.
PLEASE stop recycling that wrong translation of Malachi 2:16. You do much harm to victims of marital mistreatment when you recycle it.
If you don’t believe it is a erroneous translation, check out the ESV, the HCSB and the 2011 NIV.
Details in this short post: God Hates Divorce? Not Always.
Here is the place where I emailed Focus on the Family: Question / Feedback [Internet Archive link]. If readers want to contact FOF, click on that link and you’ll find a web-email form where you can give them feedback.
On June 3rd, I received this reply:
Thank you for writing to Focus on the Family regarding our radio program with Dr. John MacArthur titled “God’s Word on Divorce and Remarriage.” We appreciate your feedback, and we’re also pleased to have an opportunity to read your post in which you shared your thoughts about Malachi 2:16.
In response to your concerns about the broadcast, we want to let you know that it was not Dr. MacArthur’s intention to provide blanket advice that would apply to every difficult marital situation. He is aware of the complexities involved, and he recognizes that it’s important for individuals facing serious issues to seek help, if possible, from a pastor or competent Christian counselor. This can provide objectivity, and equip a hurting spouse to prayerfully make decisions based on God’s guidance and the dictates of her own conscience.
Be assured, too, that it’s not our intention to state or to imply that someone should stay in an abusive marriage. We believe that spousal abuse is never acceptable and should not be tolerated. Based on large number of letters, emails, and phone calls we’ve received on this topic through the years, we’re well aware that abuse of any kind is devastating to victims. We have nothing but compassion for any wife (or husband, as the case may be) who’s facing such a serious and potentially dangerous problem.
Because every situation is unique, we cannot claim to be in a position to make decisions or judgments for someone in the midst of a marital crisis. Only God can provide the wisdom and direction needed in such circumstances. Obviously, a great deal depends on whether or not the spouse is willing to repent and make a real commitment to change his or her behavior and seek ongoing help and healing. When the willingness to address and correct serious issues is missing, or when promises made are easily and quickly broken, reconciliation and restoration of the marriage may be out of the question.
In addition to divorces and marital separations caused by abuse, there are situations in which one mate intentionally and permanently abandons the other. Unfortunately, too, many Christians have no choice but to go through a divorce that their spouse filed for. Regardless of the specific circumstances, we believe that offering friendship and demonstrating an attitude of compassion for divorced individuals is in keeping with Christ’s commandment that we love one another as He has loved us. Rather than inflicting greater pain upon those who are already wounded, we are called to become messengers of God’s grace in their lives.
Thanks again for contacting us, Barbara. We hope this response has clarified our perspective. God bless you in the days ahead.
Focus on the Family
What do you think? Is it an adequate reply? How genuine are they in wanting to help victims of abuse? Are they double-tongued? Are they sitting on the fence? Are they having it both ways? Would you have been mollified by their reply? Are they emitting a dose of fog so we can’t see their hardness of heart? Do you suspect they have hidden the hidden the devil in the details?
Here is an exercise for our readers: What elements of the typical language of abuser’s allies and crummy counselors can you detect in their email?
And how would you like to reply to them?
Not recommended for further reading unless you want to critique and admonish them:
Focus on the Family’s interview with John Macarthur: ‘God’s Word on Divorce and Remarriage’
[If the broadcast does not work or you would like to read a transcript of the episode, click here. Editors.]