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 Study Bible (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 [Internet Archive link] 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 [Internet Archive link] 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.
Many thanks to the reader who told me about Bibles-Online.net. What a find!