A Cry For Justice

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

If a man hates his wife he should set her free from the marriage. That’s what Malachi 2:16 says.

Many Christians believe that God hates divorce. This mistaken idea comes from mis-translations of Malachi 2:16.

I have been rebutting the idea that ‘God hates divorce’ since 2008. I wrote about it in my book Not Under Bondage. I am in the process of revising my book and the chapter on Malachi will be entirely rewritten.

The work of Ruth Magnusson Davis has prompted me to deeply research how Malachi 2 has been translated in old versions of Scripture. I have looked at the Septuagint, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Targum Jonathan, the Latin Vulgate, the Hebrew Masoretic Text, and all the English Bible translations which came before the King James Bible. It has been a fascinating journey.

Here is how the Coverdale Bible (1535) rendered Malachi 2:16:

If thou hatest her, put her away, sayeth the Lord God of Israel and give her a clothing for the scorn, says the Lord of Hosts. Look well then to your spirit, and despise her not.

In the revised version of Not Under Bondage I will be presenting detailed arguments for WHY Coverdale’s translation of Malachi 2:16 is a valid translation. Coverdale only varies from the meaning of Hebrew Masoretic Text in that Coverdale uses the 2nd person (If you hate…) rather than the 3rd person (If he hates…). That suggests Coverdale was following the Septuagint which had the verb in the 2nd person. The difference is not significant to the meaning of the verse. Treacherous abusive husbands are being commanded to let their wives go, whether the translator uses the 2nd or the 3rd person.

Coverdale’s translation was taken into the 1537 Matthew Bible. (see Altars Covered in Tears – Malachi  by Ruth Magnusson Davis)

Moses told Pharaoh “Let my people go!” The Hebrew word ‘let go!’ in Exodus is the same word which Coverdale rendered ‘put her away’ in Malachi 2:16. It is the Hebrew word shallach.

The way shallach is spelled and pointed in the Hebrew Masoretic Text of Mal 2:16 is a form of shallach which is not very common. Myles Coverdale construed it as an imperative — a command. “Let her go!” or “Set her free!” or “Release her!” would be reasonable translations of that word in Malachi 2:16. Because exclamation marks were not used in Coverdale’s day, the strength of the command “put her away, and give her a clothing for the scorn” may not be apparent to modern readers.

Malachi’s use of the word shallach cannot be an accident. Malachi is drawing an analogy between the oppressive husband as Pharaoh, and the oppressed wife as Israel. Pharaoh hated the Israelites, so God told him, “Let my people go!” When a husband hates his wife, God commands the husband to let her go free.

Pastors and churches declaim, “God hates divorce! Get back to your husband! Get back to your wifely duties!” But the Bible says, “Set the oppressed wife free!”

The translation of Malachi 2:16 is crucial

If the Bible says that a man who hates his wife must set her free, this has two big implications:

  • God must deplore the ‘God hates divorce’ mantra because it is diametrically opposed to what He conveys through the prophet Malachi.
  • Malachi 2:16 coheres with all the other Bible texts which permit divorce.

Malachi 2:16 is a text that endorses divorce in specific circumstances. Rather than opposing divorce, it instructs a treacherous and malicious husband to divorce his wife. It therefore is consistent with the other Bible passages that allow, commend and even command divorce —

  • Matthew 19:9 permits divorce for adultery.
  • 1 Corinthians 7:15 tells us to acquiesce when an unbeliever divorces a believer.
  • 1 Corinthians 7:15 allows an abused spouse to divorce. It could even be said it urges the abused spouse to divorce the abuser. “If the unbeliever causes separation, let there be separation.” (Don’t keep giving the abuser umpteenth chances. He is a liar; his promises to reform always come to nothing. His claim to be a Christian is a sham. His conduct has effectively broken the wedlock. The abuse victim cannot be bound to a marriage that is already dead.)
  • Deuteronomy 21:14 entitles a mistreated wife to divorce a negligent / abusive husband.
  • Deuteronomy 21:14 commands the negligent or abusive husband to let his wife go.
  • Malachi 2:16 commands the abusive husband to (i) let his wife go, and (ii) give her a covering for the scorn. The husband must compensate her for the wrong he has done her, to mitigate the poverty and stigma she might endure as a divorced woman.

The Old Testament specifically uphold the rights of abused wives. This is another implication which the church must face fair and square if it is going to rightly address domestic abuse. Deuteronomy 21 and Malachi 2 uphold the rights of women who have been mistreated by men. The message of those texts to men is: Do not mistreat your wives! And if you choose to mistreat your wife, you must let her go free! This message harmonises perfectly with 1 Corinthians 7:15. The mistreated spouse is not under bondage, not bound morally, or spiritually, to remain married to the abuser. The oppressed spouse is free to divorce and marry another (in the Lord).

Bad translation leads to bad tradition

‘God hates divorce’ is a clichéd dictum. It sounds like a formal pronouncement from an authoritative source, but it is overused and hackneyed. Most Christians recycle the dictum without ever questioning whether it is true. Those who spout it betray a lack of original thought. They simply believe it must be true because they heard it preached and because so many versions of the Bible have translated Malachi 2:16 wrongly:

  • “I hate divorce” says the Lord God of Israel… (NASB, AMP, NLT, NET, MSG, GW, GNT, ICB, NCV,  NLV, ERV, NRSV, CJB, EXB and others)
  • The LORD God of Israel says that He hates divorce…  (NKJ, ISV, KJV and others)

All those translations have to be called into questionIf so many translators have been mis-translating this verse in a way that diametrically opposes what God is really saying, God must be deeply grieved.

The Rev Samuel Powell was threatened with a charge of heresy for putting forward his alternate translation of Malachi 2:16. The person who threatened to charge Sam with heresy doesn’t even know Hebrew, so he couldn’t evaluate Sam’s translation on its merits. He was just outraged that Sam (a Hebrew scholar) was challenging the long-standing tradition that ‘God hates divorce’.

The New Testament warns us to beware of human traditions. 

Be careful that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit based on human tradition, based on the elements of the world, rather than Christ. (Col 2:8, CSB)

Here are Jesus’ words as recorded in Mark 7:6-9 (NMB):

He answered and said to them, Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: This people honours me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. In vain they worship me, teaching doctrines which are nothing but the commandments of men. For you lay the commandment of God aside, and observe the precepts of men, such as the washing of pitchers and of cups. And many other suchlike things you do.

And he said to them, All too well do you cast aside the commandment of God to maintain your own precepts.

There is a problem with saying ‘God hates divorce’ because it contradicts other parts of Scripture. If God unilaterally hates divorce, why does God tolerate divorce in Deuteronomy 24:1-3? Why does God positively commend and command divorce in Ezra? Why does God Himself divorce Israel? Why did Jesus say divorce was permitted for adultery?

In my experience, if you point out to people the contradiction between the ‘God hates divorce’ dictum and the rest of Scripture, they brush you off. They say “Well, God hates the harm that divorce does to families,” or “God hates the breakdown of marriage,” or “God hates divorce, but you can ask God to forgive you if you are divorced.”

If you really press them, they shuffle and say, “Well, God hates divorce, but yeah, He permits it for adultery and desertion by an unbeliever.” That kind of response leaves abuse victims out in frozen Siberia unless someone tells them that abuse is a type of desertion and an abuser is an unbeliever no matter what he may profess with his mouth.

God’s message to husbands:

“If you hate your wife, release her! Let her go free!” says the Lord God of Israel, “and give her a clothing for the scorn!” says the Lord of Hosts. “Look well then to your spirit, and despise her not.”

***

Footnote: As well as rewriting my chapter on Malachi, I will be rewriting the appendix in my book on the translation of Malachi 2:16. Plus, I will be removing the appendix which quoted Jay Adams, and replacing it with an appendix that gives more info on the translation of Malachi 2:16. I may even publish an article at Academia to share the results of my research on the translation of Malachi 2:16. I have compiled tables that set out the various versions: Septuagint (of which there are several variants), Dead Sea Scrolls, Targum Jonathan, Latin Vulgate, all the English Bible translations which preceded the King James Bible, and English translations of the Septuagint.

I don’t hold out hope that many Hebrew scholars or pastors will bother to read my paper. The churches are in such a dire state, and the world is so transfixed with the covid story, that fewer and fewer Christian leaders have the time or willingness (let alone see the need) to read a paper by me. After all, I’m “only a woman” and I have no letters after my name. So be it. God knows. He will be rescuing the remnant. Maybe a few of the titled leaders in the crumbling edifice of churchianity will look at my paper.

The complexity of my research on Malachi largely explains why I have not been publishing many posts here during the last few months. (And I’m still in Stage 4 Lockdown in Melbourne.)

Related posts:

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

A comparison of Mal 2:16 in the Matthew Bible and the Geneva Bible

 

 

22 Comments

  1. Anewanon

    It drives me crazy whenEVER I meet an abused wife echo the words spoken to her: “But … God hates Divorce”

    That scripture is being spoken to MEN and their treatment of their wives! Oh my Goodness, I don’t understand how people can’t SEE this! Even Jesus echoed Moses’s words about setting her free because of the hardened state of the hearts of the husbands towards their wives!

    Proverbs 6:16-19 describes what “God hates”:

    16There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: 17 haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, 18 a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, 19 a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.

    All those things also hurts a spouse beyond imagination …. Whatever hurts a spouse, also hurts God. Whatever God despises, hurts a spouse.

    We must repent and avoid it all – at all costs. Become unyoked, if necessary to save your own soul. Proverbs 4:23 Above all else, guard your heart, for EVERYTHING you do flows from it. And God needs you…

    It wasn’t until I was out of an abusive marriage that I truly realized how much I put a wayward husband before God.

    • After20

      Truth! Thank you for the verses you shared.

    • Hi Anewanon, thanks for your comment. Proverbs 6:16-19 is a very good description of the mindset and conduct of an abuser.

      You said: “Jesus echoed Moses’s words about setting her free because of the hardened state of the hearts of the husbands towards their wives.” Actually, I don’t agree with that idea. In my book and in this post I wrote years ago, I explained why I think that idea is incorrect.

      I get the impression that many people who have read my book or read that blog post have not understood my argument. That includes Jeff Crippen, with whom I was co-leading this blog when I wrote the post. It also includes Sam Powell, who I know has read my book. I don’t know why people have not understood my argument. I wish I knew. I tried my best to explain my reasoning. Perhaps my communication was not clear. Or perhaps the idea that “Moses allowed divorce for hardness of heart” is just so entrenched in people’s minds that it can’t be dislodged. Maybe you and other readers here would like to read that post of mine and give me some feedback. It would help me if you did, because I sometimes despair of ever getting my idea through to people. And I need feedback to help me understand where and why the misunderstandings are happening.

      • James

        Barb wrote,
        ”Maybe you and other readers here would like to read that post of mine and give me some feedback. It would help me if you did, because I sometimes despair of ever getting my idea through to people. And I need feedback to help me understand where and why the misunderstandings are happening.”

        I don’t think you are doing anything wrong, Barb. The way I see it, at least, the problems are in human nature, the nature of the issue and in the nature of how the passage in Deuteronomy is expressed.

        When faced with a foreign (in terms of everyday life) concept or language, we tend to do an impromptu interpretation to fit it in with our present understanding – and all the problems that are inherent in that.
        Or we defer to an authority figure (who does the same thing) to interpret it for us – and all the problems inherent in that and more.

        If the issue is not particularly relevant to us when we first come across it, we tend to make a superficial judgement of it or accept an ‘authority’s’ opinion without much critical thought and move on.

        But when, later, the issue does become relevant, we tend to trot out the ill considered previous judgement and stick to it. Because we have considered this before – right? But we haven’t really considered it at all.

        Then we have the problems inherent in abstraction.

        The passage (Deut 24: 1-4), as Barb has pointed out, is a conditional proposition and its conditional nature is not made very clear in the passage. “Conditional” automatically means we are dealing in abstractions.

        Most people are untrained or unpractised at abstract thinking. There is little call for it in most peoples’ everyday lives. So the proposition is hard to grasp to start with so we revert to the behaviour previously mentioned.

        Plus, the structure of the abstraction is of a particular nature – that of, “If this, Then that”, which is also a building block of computer logic (If this applies, then that will necessarily follow” – If the bough you are sitting on breaks, then you will fall to the ground.

        The “then” becomes the next “if” for the next block. If you fall to the ground, then you will hurt yourself -this not a very good analogy but I hope it helps).

        Anyway, this particular “If this, Then that” structure is not made very clear in the passage either. Though Barb did a very good and crucial job in highlighting it.

        “If this, Then that” requires a “Yes / No” or “Go / No-Go” answer which is binary and therefore “Black and White”. Using just one of these blocks can lead to an overly simplistic answer.

        However, you can get to a very good answer to a very nuanced problem this way but only after correctly employing a long string of these “If this, Then that” building blocks. This is called a “logic tree”. Too often, though, it is done incorrectly or insufficiently.

        Imagine (so what follows is an abstraction!) this computer logic building block was an actual kiln fired red brick. The brick is very simple in itself but you can build a very complicated cathedral using lots of them.

        Now imagine someone takes half a dozen of these bricks, arranges them in a particular fashion and then claims the result is a cathedral. If this person believes what he is saying, he is deluded and we see this repeatedly with professionals (priests, pastors, lawyers, doctors, politicians etc). It is best understood as the “Dunning-Kruger Effect”. Hubris has this effect.

        If this person knows what he is saying is wrong, then he is a controller, at least, if not a psychopath of one variety or another. We see this manipulation repeatedly also with professionals (priests, pastors, lawyers, doctors, politicians etc). It is best understood as “Power corrupts”. Evil has this effect.

        So, it’s the abstract nature of the argument that is not recognised or understood for all sorts of reasons. Then on top of this we have the ‘usual suspects’, Hubris and Evil, taking advantage of the confusion and the misunderstanding.

        What to do about it? I don’t know except to do what you are doing, Barb, – continue to point out the conditional and abstract nature (and what that means) of passages like these to those that will genuinely consider your words. And not to expect Hubris and Evil to give ground to your arguments because of their inherent conflict of interest.

      • Thank you so much James. That was really helpful — and encouraging. 🙂

      • Anewanon

        Hi Barb

        You are sweet to reply and ask for feedback. Funny that, I didn’t think I was disagreeing with your stance. I do agree with your positioning. Perhaps I just didn’t dive into explaining myself enough.

        I mentioned the Jesus / Moses / divorce passages only to underscore the fact that Jesus / Moses are aware that MEN’s heart grow hard to their wives and they had compassion for those women! Whereas, our church leaders who insist on heaping the ill-fitting “God hates divorce” onto the wife’s shoulders, do not have any compassion! They just wish to burden her further. A husband who has a hardened heart, whether he divorces her or not, is heaping treachery upon his bride. Even though Jesus and Moses offer this last resort “prescription”, it is for HER benefit, not theirs. To them he is DESCRIPTIVE of the hardness. I think we agree here. If I am wrong, please advise. I did go to the link you provided and read it, thank you!

        I hope this helps. I wouldn’t want to cause despair of not getting through. You’re work is amazing and I am grateful that you made it your life’s work. Press on!

        James, Thank you for your replies as well.

        God Bless you both!

      • Hi Anewnon. You said, “Even though Jesus and Moses offer this last resort “prescription”, it is for HER benefit, not theirs.”

        I think this is where we have a different understanding. I believe that in Deut 24:1-4, Moses was not offering divorce as a last resort prescription for men’s hardness of heart. I think Moses was spelling out the conditions in which a man must NOT remarry a woman he had previously divorced. That passage in Deuteronomy does not explicity permit or allow or condone divorce. It DIS-allows remarriage under certain circumstances.

        In my view, Jesus did not agree with the Pharisees’ claim that Deut 24 was about Moses permitting men to divorce their wives. Jesus told the Pharisees that Moses made the law in Deut 24:4 because men were hardheartedly divorcing their wives and later on remarrying those same wives.

        Think of men doing wife swapping. One man dumps his wife, another man marries her, the second man dumps her, and the first man marries her again. It’s that kind of thing which Moses forbade in Deut 24. I have heard that in Islam, that kind of male conduct is condoned and authorised by Imams. Ugh!

      • Poster

        Barb mentioned hearing that in Islam there is temporary marriages, where the men pay to use women, and girls, for a weekend or even just a night, and then divorce them after using them. The imams get paid a tidy sum, the marriage vows can be done quickly over the phone, and then the man gets to use and abuse his latest girl or woman for the weekend and then be divorced upon the set time period lapsing or otherwise he just pays the imam to quickly write him a divorce decree.

        The imam makes a tidy sum. The john gets to use a girl or woman as a prostitute, without paying her anything, so thieving her, too. And when he is done exploiting and using her, he can quickly and easily get a written divorce as readily as he got ‘married’ for the weekend. It’s done in minutes. And the girl or woman gets afforded no payment as a prostitute would, nor does she have any marital rights, and then she when she is discarded, she is considered unmarriageable / damaged goods and it is almost certain nobody will marry her in a more traditional sense.

        I think the men can be more traditionally married and then divorce their traditional wife for the weekend while temporarily marrying a girl or woman he is preying on and exploiting, then divorce the temporary ‘wife’ and remarry the traditional wife, once the weekend is up.

        Some men don’t marry in a traditional sense and just go from one temporary marriage to another, using and abusing. It’s sick.

        I watched a documentary on this temporary marriage system and how men would use it to obtain girls in their preteens, and temporarily use them via ‘marriage’ for a night and then divorce them in the morning and go on their way. The imams were pimps, with girls filling their stable. Pedophilia and prostitution — which is sexual slavery — and pimping all wrapped up in the imam’s “services”. It was revolting.

      • Thanks Poster. Could you email me a link to that documentary? barbara@notunderbondage.com

    • James

      Anewanon makes such a good point –
      ”That scripture is being spoken to MEN and their treatment of their wives!”

      This issue comes up all the time. These OT scriptures were written by men (inspired or not) for men (honourable or not) in a culture that heavily discounted the importance or value of women. Women were discounted to the point that they weren’t deemed worthy of addressing directly.

      Jesus took issue with this false thinking with his whole ministry yet so many teachers ‘want to go back to the way it was’.

  2. After20

    I attended a ‘divorce recovery’ program at a local church. I was wanting to work harder at healing and growing. I was hoping to grow friendships and be supported. Unfortunately ’God hates divorce’ and only allows for divorce with adultery and the unbeliever leaving was their stance. I attended multiple meetings and left more hurt and raw each time. I finally chose to stop doing this and left the group. Thank you for all of your study and research. God loves us and has a plan!

    • Hi After20, welcome to the blog! 🙂 Thanks so much for sharing your experience. ‘Divorce recovery’ groups are a mixed bag, from what I’ve heard. Some seem to be led by people who recognise abuse as grounds for divorce. Others are led by the kinds of people who led yours: the ones who re-abuse the victims of abuse with the “God hates divorce” mantra.

      If the divorce recovery group you went to was under the DivorceCare banner, you might like to read this: Critique of DivorceCare’s “Choosing Wisely: Before You Divorce” Program

      Part of the problem is that DivorceCare does not take a really clear stand on the question of whether abuse is grounds for divorce. I have heard that the videos which are presented to participants in the program do not take a clear stand either. I have also heard that some local leaders tried to get the DivorceCare head office to modify its program to explictly say that abuse is grounds for divorce, and they got a wishy washy response from head office. Unless the teaching says explicitly and unreservedly that abuse IS grounds for divorce, there will always be room for leaders to toxify it with their own rusted-on presumptions that ‘God hates divorce’, not to mention other twisted interpretations of scripture that are weaponised against victims of abuse.

      • After20

        Yes, this was the DivorceCare group. The video on when God allows divorce did not include divorcing for abuse. Instead it encouraged the woman to try to reconcile with her spouse. I was shocked! (Although I myself had tried everything I could to get along with my husband by reading books on marriage, joining a support group for those in a difficult marriage, counseling with him and soul care at church. Nothing worked because he did not want to change.) But after the video I clarified what it said with the group and then left in tears.

        Thankfully I read the Bible and have a relationship with the Lord. I know He would not want anyone to be constantly hurt emotionally, verbally, or physically. You will not lose your salvation by divorce. I left the group and feel comfortable with that decision. I may just have to start my own support group someday!

      • Reaching Out

        Hi After20,

        For your safety and protection, I changed the screen name you submitted with your comment to the screen name you used in your earlier comments.

      • The way I began my advocacy was by setting up a support group for Christian women who had experienced domestic abuse. Initially, I didn’t have the courage to start a group. I just wanted to join a group — but I couldn’t find one. I mentioned this to a worker at the Salvation Army women’s refuge which I’d gone to several times in emergencies. She said she didn’t know a support group, but they (the Salvation Army women’s centre) would support me if I wanted to start one up. They let me use one of their rooms for the support group weekly meetings, and let me use their photocopier to produce flyers and pamphlets. That was how I got my fledgling wings as an activist, back in 1999 / 2000. I would not have done it unless someone (someone in authority) had believed me and encouraged me in my idea.

  3. Alive

    Thank you Barbara! You brought such light to scriptures that have been twisted to essentially re-abuse the spouse who divorces an abuser. I had thought the physical, emotional, financial and social abuse was so horribly painful, however it was nothing in comparison to what “believers” used to abuse me with when I left the abuser and literally fled for my life, they took these exact scriptures and used them as an unrecognizable and evil sword to accuse me of being out of the Lord’s will. Thank you for your inspiring message and sharing of the interpretation, this was another incredible message.

  4. Beloved

    Excellent! Marriage is not meant to be bondage and God’s LOVE for women permits them to be free, in my understanding, when there is abuse, dishonor and contempt. Unrepentant abuse of any form IS adultery….it is an abomination….Can you image Jesus abusing HIS bride the church?

    • Reaching Out

      Hi Beloved,

      For your protection, I changed the screen name you submitted with your comment to the most recent screen name you used on the ACFJ blog.

      I was concerned the screen name you submitted might be too revealing.

  5. Finding Answers

    So much experienced, so much learned since my non-physically abusive ex-“husband” divorced me…

    The only thought that struggles through the mostly-awful memories is that at least (as a Christian woman married to an unbeliever), I was never hammered with the words “God hates divorce….”.

    • Finding Answers, I could make a black-humour joke and say:
      The moral of the story is, if you are a Christian woman marry an unbeliever, because if he turns out to be an abuser and the marriage falls apart, Christians are less likely to hammer you with “God hates divorce”. 😦

  6. Lucy

    Thank you and great job! God hates sin and in a divorce there is usually plenty of it. Since God uses no measuring stick to apply to his feeling on sin it makes sense that he does not like divorce. I wish abusive husbands would release their wives and provide for them without holding a grudge.

    • Hi Lucy, I wholeheartedly agree with what you said here:

      I wish abusive husbands would release their wives and provide for them without holding a grudge.

      I hope you don’t mind me mentioning that when I read your comment I felt a bit stung by this sentence: “God hates sin and in a divorce there is usually plenty of it.” That sentence could be interpreted to mean that BOTH parties are ‘sinning plenty’ in a divorce. I am guessing you didn’t mean it that way, but it could be read that way.

      To say “there is sin in divorce” is to imply that the act of divorcing an abuser is sinful…so the victim is sinning by divorcing the abuser. Is that what you meant? If it isn’t what you meant, perhaps you could clarify.

      One of our commenters (Ruth Magnusson Davis) wrote:

      Really, “God hates divorce” 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.

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