A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

The 1611 King James Bible gave “if he hates her, put her away” as an alternate translation of Malachi 2:16.

Many people are unaware of the injustice which Christian victims of domestic abuse suffer in churches. Unpacking the erroneous notion that ‘God hates divorce’ is a vital element of giving justice to the abused.

Where did the notion that ‘God hates divorce’ come from? It came into being through the King James Bible. I will now show that the original printing of the King James Bible had a marginal note which contradicts the ‘God hates divorce’ mantra.

“If he hates her, put her away.”

The 1611 King James Bible gave “if he hates her, put her away” as an alternate translation of Malachi 2:16. I discovered this at bibles-online.net which is a website that shows the original printed versions of many old Bibles. Here is a screen shot (source).

The KJV’s marginal note is almost identical to the 1535 Coverdale Bible and the 1537 Matthew Bible. For the opening words of v.16, Coverdale had ‘if you hate her’ whereas KJV had ‘if he hate her’.

In examining the passage in Malachi 2, it is helpful to start at verse 15b because 15b gives the immediate context for verse 16.  Let us examine how 15b-16b have been translated. I have copied all these translations from studybible.info (spelling lightly updated).

Coverdale (1535): Therefore look well to your spirit, & let no man despise the wife of his youth. If thou hatest her, put her away, says the Lord God of Israel and give her a clothing for the scorn, says the Lord of Hosts.

Because exclamation marks were not used in those days, the strength of the double-barrelled command “put her away, and give her a clothing for the scorn” may not be apparent to modern readers.

Myles Coverdale produced the first complete printed translation of the Bible into English. His translation of Malachi 2:16a was incorporated into the Matthew Bible, and thence into the Great Bible, the Geneva Bible and the Bishops Bible.

Matthew Bible (1537): Therefore look well to your spirit, and let no man despise the wife of his youth. If thou hatest her, put her away, says the Lord God of Israel, & give her a clothing for the scorn, says the Lord of Hosts.

Great Bible (1539): Therefore look well to your spirit, and let no man despise the wife of his youth. If thou hatest her put her away says the Lord God of Israel and give her clothing for the scorn, says the Lord of Hosts.

The Geneva Bible used Coverdale’s rendering of 16a, but it did not follow what Coverdale had done at 16b. I will underline the new thing Geneva introduced:

Geneva Bible (1560): therefore keep your selves in your spirit, and let none trespass against the wife of his youth. If thou hatest her, put her away, says the Lord God of Israel, yet he covers the injury under his garment, says the Lord of Hosts

The creators of the Geneva Bible were Puritans from John Calvin’s Geneva. They rather haughtily claimed to be making a more accurate translation than the previous Protestant English Bibles (i.e. the Coverdale, Matthew and Great Bibles).

In their 1560 preface, the Puritans criticized the former translations as immature, imperfect, and even irreverent. … They said the Great Bible “required greatly” to be reviewed and corrected. Though Coverdale and Tyndale were of the same generation, and Coverdale was still living, they characterized their work as from “the infancy of those times.” They also claimed to have more perfect knowledge of the biblical languages, and a revelation of “clear light” from God.
–  The Geneva & RV Prefaces on “Correcting” the Former Translation by Ruth Magnusson Davis

The Bishops Bible is almost the same as the Geneva; it only changed ‘trespass’ to ‘transgress’.

Bishops Bible (1568-72): therefore keep your selves in your spirit, and let none transgress against the wife of his youth If thou hatest her, put her away, says the Lord God of Israel: yet he covers the injury under his garment, says the Lord of Hosts

The radically different translation by the King James Bible.

In 1611, the King James Bible produced a radically new translation which construed God as the agent / subject of the verb ‘hate’:  Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth. For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away…

The translators of the KJV did this by moving ‘the Lord, the God of Israel’ to the front of verse 16, and by writing ‘he hates’ rather than ‘you hate’. They probably used the 3rd person masculine singular (he hates) rather than the 2nd person masculine singular (you hate) because the Masoretic Text has ‘hates’ in the 3rd person masculine singular form. (The Septuagint has ‘hates’ as 2nd person masculine singular.) The KJV translation conveys that God is the one doing the hating. Yet the context is about men who hate their wives. So the KJV translation is contradictory with the context.

As I have shown, the KJV translators put the marginal note “If he hates her, put her away” as an alternative translation.

The 1909 Cambridge version of the King James Bible had same the marginal note. Here is my screen shot (source):

If you can find any more recent printed versions of the KJV which include that marginal note, please let me know in the comments.

For hundreds of years, the KJV was the most commonly used version. During those centuries the ‘God hates divorce’ mantra became pervasive. Even if translators and producers of English versions of the Bible knew that the mantra deserved to be questioned, they would have been fearful of bucking the system. And if they did buck the system, they would cop lots of flack from their peers who thought the ‘God hates divorce’ mantra was written in stone like the Ten Commandments.

It is reasonable to wonder whether the marginal note has been deliberately omitted in later versions of the KJV, to make the lives of abused women more difficult.

God commands abusive husbands: “Let your wives go free! Stop using power and control to oppress your wives!”

Perhaps God anticipated the abusive priests and abusive husbands would retort back with harsh words (cf. Mal 3:13a), so He hit them between the eyeballs with his instructions before they had a chance to stubbornly push back.

God emphasised the importance of His command “put her away!”  by following it immediately with “says the Lord, the God of Israel”. The designation the Lord, the God of Israel stands out because that two-fold appellation for God is used nowhere else in the book of Malachi.

Could God have made it more clear?  God says it is ESSENTIAL that abusive husbands let their wives go free. If a man hates his wife, he has no right to insist that the marriage continue.

In my revised chapter about Malachi 2:16, I will be citing the KJV’s marginal note. I will also be presenting evidence that Coverdale’s translation of verse 16b “give her a clothing for the scorn”  is a very legitimate translation of the Hebrew and is probably the best rendering of the Hebrew idiom in verse 16b. Literal translations like “he covers his garment with violence” obscure the probable meaning of that idiom.

***

Ruth Magnusson Davis has presented evidence that Coverdale’s Bible and the Matthew Bible demonstrated wisdom of choice in which version (Greek, Latin, etc.) of a verse to translate into English, and their translations (a) faithfully conveyed the OT prophecies of the coming Messiah, many of which are not found in the Masoretic Text, and (b) were not misogynistic like the Geneva Bible sometimes was.

For examples of the Geneva Bible’s misogyny, click here and here.

Many thanks to the reader who told me about bibles-online.net/. What a find!

Further Reading:

Malachi 2:16, ancient versions and English translations, and how they apply to domestic abuse

“If thou hatest her, put her away, and give her a clothing for the scorn” – Malachi 2:16 in the Matthew Bible

Revised edition of Not Under Bondage is in the pipeline

William Tyndale said: Don’t Tamper with My Translation and Call It a “Diligent Correction”

12 Comments

  1. Finding Answers

    From the original post “Many people are unaware….”

    There is a Kindle series of Bibles: Textus Receptus Bibles: Historical Series.

    I only have the first nine Bibles in the series:

    Tyndale New Testament 1534
    (Historical Series Book 1)

    Coverdale Bible 1535
    (Historical Series Book 2)

    Matthews Bible 1537
    (Historical Series Book 3)

    The Great Bible 1539
    (Historical Series Book 4)

    Geneva Bible 1560
    (Historical Series Book 5)

    Bishops Bible 1568
    (Historical Series Book 6)

    King James Bible 1611 (Annotated) (In Early Modern English)
    (Historical Series Book 7)

    Webster Bible 1833 (Annotated)
    (Historical Series Book 8)

    Young’s Literal Translation 1862
    (Historical Series Book 9)

    From the original post “If you can find any more recent printed versions of the KJV which include that marginal note, please let me know in the comments.”

    My Kindle version of the King James Bible 1611 (Annotated) (In Early Modern English) does not contain a marginal note for Malachi 2:16-17.

    From the Preface of my Kindle version of the King James Bible 1611 (Annotated) (In Early Modern English):

    The commissioning of the King James Bible took place at conference at the Hampton Court Palace in London England in 1604. When King James came to the throne he wanted unity and stability in the church and state, but was well aware that the diversity of his constituents had to be considered. There were the Papists who longed for the English church to return to the Roman Catholic fold and the Latin Vulgate. There were Puritans, loyal to the crown but wanting even more distance from Rome. The Puritans used the Geneva Bible which contained footnotes that the king regarded as seditious. The Traditionalists made up of Bishops of the Anglican Church wanted to retain the Bishops Bible.

    The king commissioned a new English translation to be made by over fifty scholars representing the Puritans and Traditionalists. They took into consideration: the Tyndale New Testament, the Matthews Bible, the Great Bible and the Geneva Bible. The great revision of the Bible had begun. From 1605 to 1606 the scholars engaged in private research. From 1607 to 1609 the work was assembled. In 1610 the work went to press, and in 1611 the first of the huge (16 inch tall) pulpit folios known today as “The 1611 King James Bible” came off the printing press.

    Translators, KJV. King James Bible 1611 (Annotated): (In early modern English) (Historical Series Book 7) (Kindle Locations 124-133). Masonsoft Technology Ltd. Kindle Edition.

    Some versions of the Bible can get to the general public faster now because we have computer software that can (amongst other things) scan pages and / or text.

    These new versions of the Bible reflect: A) The computer software available at the time the Bible version was created, B) the computer programmers, C) the actual computer programming, D) the folks who told the computer programmers what kinds of information to program, E) the context of the time the new version was created, and / or F) other unknown variables not included in options A) to E).

    Perhaps ^That could be used as an analogy to reflect the kinds of things that happened when Bibles were revised and / or printed in times past.

    From the original post “For hundreds of years, the KJV was the most commonly used version….”

    Perhaps if the world of computers had come into existence earlier, the KJV would not have lasted for so long.

  2. momtomyson

    Barbara, I really appreciated that you included a screen shot of a real old English Bible where it is written with German letters. I was quite fascinated, and was sure to show it to my son. Since we have our own little place on the property with some of my old stuff back, my son has been diligent to study my old German-English New Testament that my parents gave me when I was little. We are slowly reading through the Gospel of John and he is doing quite well, especially considering that he does not exactly know the language (he has only ever learned English, though he loves casually studying many other languages) and he has not even studied a German primer, like I did as a child before I started reading the German Bible. But I can’t find a primer right now, so we went straight to reading the Bible.

    In our morning devotions my son and I are reading through the five books of Moses, and this morning we read Leviticus 16, about the scapegoat. I explained to my son that I have often felt like the scapegoat all throughout my life, certainly with my husband blaming me for practically everything in his life, or mine, that he is discontent with, and for anything about our son that displeases him, but before I married, my family blamed me for so much that I really couldn’t help, too. Thing is, I have never been sent away like the scapegoat was to be sent away; instead I have not been permitted to go. I do wonder why, but it’s not my place to question. Oh, I did finally leave my family long after I was of age, in rebellion, because I truly believed I could not stay. And I DO think that the whole gist of the Bible after you have used the scapegoat, is to send it away rather than continue to torment it. At least I hope so.

    • “the whole gist of the Bible after you have used the scapegoat, is to send it away rather than continue to torment it.”

      Spot on, Momtomyson!

  3. James

    Well, the Official KJV ‘sprung bad’!

    That’s, “Game, Set and Match. Thank you linesmen. Thank you ball-boys” 🙂

    Well done, Barb. Somewhere down the line, this is going to save some people a whole mess of trouble.

  4. Ruth M. Davis

    Very interesting, thanks Barb. I didn’t realize (or I forgot) that it was the KJV translation of Malachi 2:16 which prompted the “God hates divorce” mantra. Really, it is a silly saying. The emphasis is wrong. How much more accurate to say “God hates abuse and adultery,” and to accept divorce as a necessary remedy when there is intolerable sin in a marriage – and the sooner, the better, to put an end to the suffering. But the “God hates divorce” mantra emphasizes that the remedy is wrong … it is actually subtly twisted reasoning.

    As I understand Malachi 2:13-16 in the Matthew and Great Bibles, the women are weeping because their husbands despise them, and the altars are covered with their tears. Because the men come unrepentant to worship with this sin on their hands, God will not heed their offerings. Abraham is held up as an example of a man with an excellent spirit toward his wife, and Malachi exhorts the men to guard their own spirits from falling into hate. But if a man irretrievably despises his wife, to spare further injury and sin he may put her away; however, he must “give her a clothing for the scorn.” The Hebrew translated “clothing” is “kawsaw.” It is used figuratively to indicate a “covering” to atone for shame and harm done to a woman. I do not know what form that “covering” might have taken in ancient Israel, but financial and practical provision for the despised wife seems an obvious answer.

    But in the Geneva Bible everything changes. In the 1599 version, the translation and notes together indicate that it is the men who weep, and their tears cover the altar because God disregards their prayers; thus they, not the women weep, and they weep not for their sin, but for the consequences of their sin. Further, one of the 1599 GNV notes makes the “covering” to be for the men if they decide to keep their despised wife. GNV note 16(2) says, “He thinks it sufficient to keep his wife still, albeit he take others, and so as it were covers his fault.” And voila, to “cover his fault” he gets to take another wife. Choice! Does this cover his fault or appease his lusts?

    Clearly a very different spirit motivated the Geneva Bible than motivated the Matthew Bible. One taught concern for the woman’s honour, and the other only concern for the man, and even in the situation where he was the sinner against his wife.

    • Thanks Ruth. I agree with all you said in your comment. I will be taking a similar line in the revised chapter on Malachi, for the revised edition of my book. I have researched and assembled many evidential arguments that support the view that Coverdale’s rendering of verse 16 is a plausible translation of the Hebrew.

      Coverdale’s translation defends and protects women from abusive men. It is also a valid translation of the Hebrew.

      The only element of Coverdale’s rendering that is not consistent with the Hebrew Masoretic Text is that Coverdale puts ‘hates’ in the 2nd person (thou hates) rather than the 3rd person (he hates). But that variation can be explained. The Septuagint used the 2nd person. One of Coverdale’s sources was the Septuagint. The Masoretic Text only came into existence many centuries after Coverdale. Possibly the Masoretic Text is incorrect in rendering (spelling and pointing) the verb ‘hates’ in the 3rd person. Or possibly the Septuagint translators put ‘hates’ into the 2nd person to make it more consistent grammatically with the 2nd person in 15b (the wife of your youth). Either way, whether ‘hates’ is 2nd person or 3rd person, the person of the verb ‘hates’ is not all that significant to the meaning of the verse. The important thing is that the one doing the hating is the husband (not God).

  5. I found another article about the Matthew Bible. It is written for English learners and is a quick read, so it’s a good introduction to the Matthew Bible.
    The Matthew Bible was ‘bought with blood.’

    • Finding Answers

      For me, I’m looking forward to the article announcing the release of The Story of The Matthew Bible, Part 2 🙂

      • On Facebook recently, Ruth announced that she has completed the MS of The Story of The Matthew Bible, Part 2 and sent it to the printer.

  6. where2or3r

    Ecclesiastes 7:7a
    “Surely oppression maketh a wise man mad.” This would seemingly apply to a cruelly treated wife held captive by a fraudulent “covenant marriage” as well. But people disbelieve her and say she is “the crazy one.”

    • Good point, where2or3 🙂

      Ecclesiastes 7:7 in the Matthew Bible (lightly updated by me): Whosoever does wrong, makes a wise man go out of his wits, and destroys a gentle heart. OR The wrongdoer makes a wise man go out of his wits, and destroys a gentle heart.

      The original spelling: Who so doeth wronge, maketh a wyse man to goo out of hys wytte, and destroyeth agentle herte. (source)

      It is not only women who can be driven out of their wits by cruel oppression. Men can be driven out of their wits by cruel oppression too. Case in point: Richard Wurmbrand when he spent years being tortured in prison in Romania under the communist regime.

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