Whose tears are covering the altar in Malachi 2? The Matthew Bible vs. the Geneva Bible, Puritans and Calvin
Ruth Magnusson Davis is gently updating the 1537 Matthew Bible into modern English.
Ruth has shown that the Geneva Bible translated this passage in Malachi very differently from how the Matthew Bible had translated it.
If you’ve never heard of the Matthew Bible or the Geneva Bible, I explain what they are below. But first, let me show you Ruth’s article Altars Covered in Tears – Malachi [Internet Archive link].
UPDATE: in Oct 2019 Ruth Magnusson Davis updated her original article. Here is what Ruth now says:
Both the Matthew and Geneva Bibles mention altars covered with tears. Both say there is a problem in Israel: the men despise their wives, and the Lord rebukes them for this sin. But who is weeping, and why? See what has changed since the Reformation.
1537 Matthew Bible:
Now have ye brought it to this point again, that the altar of the Lord is covered with tears, weeping, and mourning: so that I will no more regard the meat offering, neither will I receive nor accept anything at your hands.
And yet ye say, wherefore [why]?
Even because that whereas the Lord made a covenant betwixt thee and the wife of thy youth, thou hast despised her: Yet is she thine own companion and married wife. So did not the one,* and yet had he an excellent spirit. What did then the one? He sought the seed promised of God. Therefore look well to your spirit, and let no man despise the wife of his youth.
If thou hatest her, put her away, sayeth the Lord God of Israel, and give her a clothing for the scorn, sayeth the Lord of hosts. Look well then to your spirit, and despise her not.
* “the one” is Abraham.
The meaning is clear. The women weep because their husbands despise them. Malachi holds up Abraham as an example of a man with an excellent spirit toward his wife, and exhorts the men to guard their own spirits. However, if a man hates his wife, he may put her away, to spare further injury and grief – but he must “give her a clothing for the scorn.” ‘Clothing’ means a covering. The men must take steps to ‘clothe’ ‘cover’ the hurt and dishonour their wives have suffered.
1599 Geneva Bible:
13 And this have ye done again, and [a]covered the altar of the Lord with tears, with weeping and with mourning: because the offering is no more regarded, neither received acceptably at your hands.
14 Yet ye say, [b]Wherein? Because the Lord hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast transgressed: yet is she thy [c]companion, and the wife of thy [d]covenant
15 And did not [e]he make one? yet had he [f]abundance of spirit: and wherefore one? because he sought a godly [g]seed: therefore keep yourselves in your [h]spirit, and let none trespass against the wife of his youth.
16 If thou hatest her, [i]put her away, saith the Lord God of Israel, yet he covereth [j]the injury under his garment, saith the Lord of hosts: therefore keep yourselves in your spirit, and transgress not.
Geneva notes (they had ten, I put two only here):
Malachi 2:13 Yet cause the people to lament, because that God doth not regard their sacrifices, so that they seem to sacrifice in vain.
Malachi 2:16 He thinketh it sufficient to keep his wife still, albeit he take others, and so as it were covereth his fault.
In the Geneva Bible, it is the people who are weeping, because the Lord does not regard their meat offerings. How plausible is this? And then, unlike the Matthew Bible where the concern is for the women, in the Geneva Bible it is for the man. The note on verse 16 even says the husband may comfort himself with a new wife, and in this manner somehow cover his fault. It defies common sense and justice.
The Geneva Bible thus changed the meaning from covering the hurt of the woman to covering the “fault” of the man. At Genesis 20:16, the Geneva Bible also changed the meaning of a “covering” to protect Abraham’s wife Sarah. See Sarah’s Covering [Internet Archive link]. This is a pattern in the Geneva Bible.
[End of Ruth’s article]
What is the Matthew Bible?
Few Christians these days have heard of the Matthew Bible. It was the first whole Bible printed in English. It came out about 70 years before the King James Version.
The 1537 Matthew Bible was the work of three men. The NT and some of the OT was translated by William Tyndale. The rest of the OT was translated by Myles Coverdale.
Tyndale was martyred before he could complete his translation of the bible into English from the original Greek and Hebrew. Myles Coverdale, who was Tyndale’s friend, translated the bible into English from other language versions, primarily Luther’s German translation.
John Rogers, who was friends with both Tyndale and Coverdale. compiled the 1537 Matthew Bible using Tyndale’s translation and (for the parts Tyndale had not translated) he used Coverdale’s translation. John Rogers added chapter summaries and notes to the Matthew Bible, but he did not do any of the translation.
The reason it was called the Matthew Bible was because in England at that time it was ILLEGAL to translate and publish the Bible in English. Tyndale did his translation while living a fugitive under the radar in Europe. Tyndale was captured and imprisoned in Europe and then executed for ‘heresy’ by the authorities. Myles Coverdale and John Rogers were equally in danger.
All these men – Tyndale, Coverdale, Rogers – had to work anonymously, because their lives were in danger from the corrupt church (Roman Catholicism).
Does that sound familiar to you, dear reader?
So many of our readers have to be anonymous, hiding under the radar to try to protect themselves from their abusers and the abusers’ allies in the corrupt church…
What is the Geneva Bible?
The Geneva Bible came out in 1560 – about 20 years after the Matthew Bible and about 50 years before the 1611 King James Bible. The Geneva Bible had many more notes than the Matthew Bible did. The notes in the Geneva Bible are similar to the notes in modern study bibles.
The 1560 Geneva Bible was translated by Puritans. They seem to have injected a very different spirit into their translation which is in marked contrast with the Matthew Bible. (See Ruth’s article Where the Geneva Bible lost the Word of God [Internet Archive link]. Ruth will be publishing a lot more about this in her forthcoming book The Story of the Matthew Bible, Part 2.)
The Puritans were Calvinists. Some of our readers have been given the impression that ‘Calvinism is all bad’ and Calvinists are always controlling and lacking in compassion. Some of our readers have heard that ‘Neo-Calvinist’ (Neo-Cal) churches today are abusing and re-abusing victims of abuse.
In my experience, it’s not only Calvinist or Neo-Cal churches which are mistreating victims of abuse.
I know that domestic abuse, sexual abuse and spiritual abuse is happening across the board, in all streams of Christianity. I know because I’ve heard and read the stories of the abused from ALL streams of Christendom.
I don’t buy into the idea that Calvinism or Neo-Calvinism is the problem. But it is possible or probable that the spirit which the Puritans injected into the 1560 Geneva Bible is one of the root causes of the mistreatment of victims of abuse which we see in the visible church today. If English translations of the Bible have replicated and passed down this harsh spirit from the Puritans…it would explain a great deal about the current state of affairs in Christendom.
In 1560 (the same year the Geneva Bible came out), John Calvin and his fellow church leaders in Geneva wrote to an abused woman who had appealed to them to give her safe haven from her abusive husband. Her husband was a French nobleman who had clout and powerful allies at the court of the King of France. She wrote a letter to John Calvin’s church in Geneva, Switzerland, asking if they would promise her safe haven if she fled from her husband. They wrote back to her telling her that she hadn’t done enough or gone to enough lengths to give the gospel to her husband…
Not much has changed. This is just what so many church leaders tell abused wives today!
If you want to read the letter from the French noblewoman and the letter that Calvin’s church sent her in response, you can find them in Appendix 11 of my book Not Under Bondage. (If you can’t afford to buy my book, click here.)
We know that the men who produced the King James Version (1611) used a fair bit of the Matthew Bible, but they were also influenced by the Geneva Bible.
How much has this strange spirit which was injected by the Puritans in the Geneva Bible been influencing and affecting our understanding of Scripture?
I think this a question which true believers will be exploring and pondering for a long time … until the Lord returns. The Geneva Bible is probably not the only culprit in its translation and study notes, but I suspect is a major culprit.
Mistaken ideas have a way of getting passed down…for generations. Christ’s church is always under attack from those who sneak in…
Acts 20:29-30, New Matthew Bible
For I am sure of this, that after my departing, grievous wolves will enter in among you, who will not spare the flock. Moreover, from among your own selves men will rise up speaking perverse things, to draw disciples after them. Therefore awake, and remember that for the space of three years I did not cease to warn every one of you, both night and day, with tears.
Related article by Ruth