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 question. If 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.
UPDATE 13 Nov 2020: I have now published this paper at Academia — Malachi 2:16, ancient versions and English translations, and how they apply to domestic abuse
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.)
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.
Many thanks to the reader who told me about bibles-online.net/. What a find!
William Tyndale said: Don’t Tamper with My Translation and Call It a “Diligent Correction”
The arrogant start with the false premise that service to God has to bring them worldly rewards. Once you accept that false premise, there is a certain logic to their reasoning.
Psychopaths are incapable of doing good. They are driven to cause harm – evil. They believe that whatever they do is good, therefore they believe “evil is good”.
Here is how they reason:
“Doing what we do is good. Therefore anyone doing what we don’t (can’t) do is bad. Going against us is bad. If you don’t go along with our system and co-operate with us, you are evil. Anyone who questions or admonishes us must be bad. Therefore, it is good to fight back against all such questioners; it is good to destroy them.”
The insanity does have a certain logic, once you accept the erroneous premises.
The book of Malachi is largely about men abusing God, and men abusing their wives.
Chapter 1 denounces the priests for dishonouring God. The priests were scornfully questioning God’s love. They were complaining about having to do the ceremonial sacrifices. They were presenting defiled food on the altar.
(Mal. 1:6-14 HCSB) “A son honors his father, and a servant his master. But if I am a father, where is My honor? And if I am a master, where is your fear of Me? says Yahweh of Hosts to you priests, who despise My name.”
Yet you ask: “How have we despised Your name?”
7 “By presenting defiled food on My altar.”
You ask: “How have we defiled You?”
When you say: “The Lord’s table is contemptible.”
8 “When you present a blind animal for sacrifice, is it not wrong? And when you present a lame or sick animal, is it not wrong? Bring it to your governor! Would he be pleased with you or show you favor?” asks the Lord of Hosts. 9 “And now ask for God’s favor. Will He be gracious to us? Since this has come from your hands, will He show any of you favor?” asks the Lord of Hosts. 10 “I wish one of you would shut the temple doors, so you would no longer kindle a useless fire on My altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the Lord of Hosts, “and I will accept no offering from your hands.
11 “For My name will be great among the nations, from the rising of the sun to its setting. Incense and pure offerings will be presented in My name in every place because My name will be great among the nations,” says Yahweh of Hosts.
12 But you are profaning it when you say: “The Lord’s table is defiled, and its product, its food, is contemptible.” 13 You also say: “Look, what a nuisance!” “And you scorn it,” says the Lord of Hosts. “You bring stolen, lame, or sick animals. You bring this as an offering! Am I to accept that from your hands?” asks the Lord.
14 “The deceiver is cursed who has an acceptable male in his flock and makes a vow but sacrifices a defective animal to the Lord. For I am a great King,” says Yahweh of Hosts, “and My name will be feared among the nations.”
I love the caustic, sarcastic tone God uses to admonish the priests. Psychopaths don’t bat an eyelid if you gently rebuke them. But they can be stung by mockery. They won’t change, but they are at least stung.
In chapter 2, God warns the priests he will curse them if they don’t heed his instructions. He rebukes them for causing many to stumble by showing partiality in their instruction.
(2:1-3) “Therefore, this decree is for you priests: If you don’t listen, and if you don’t take it to heart to honor My name,” says Yahweh of Hosts, “I will send a curse among you … I will spread animal waste [dung or entrails] over your faces, the waste from your festival sacrifices, and you will be taken away with it.”
… (7-9) For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, because he is the messenger of the Lord of Hosts.
“You, on the other hand, have turned from the way. You have caused many to stumble by your instruction. You have violated [corrupted] the covenant of Levi,” says the Lord of Hosts. “So I in turn have made you despised and humiliated before all the people because you are not keeping My ways but are showing partiality in your instruction.”
Chapter 2 continues with Malachi detailing the two-fold nature of their treachery: spiritual abuse (spiritual adultery) and wife abuse.
“Therefore, this decree is for you priests: 2 If you don’t listen, and if you don’t take it to heart to honor My name,” says Yahweh of Hosts, “I will send a curse among you, and I will curse your blessings. In fact, I have already begun to curse them because you are not taking it to heart.
3 “Look, I am going to rebuke your descendants, and I will spread animal waste [dung or entrails] over your faces, the waste from your festival sacrifices, and you will be taken away with it. … 7 For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, because he is the messenger of the Lord of Hosts.
8 “You, on the other hand, have turned from the way. You have caused many to stumble by your instruction. You have violated [corrupted] the covenant of Levi,” says the Lord of Hosts. 9 “So I in turn have made you despised and humiliated before all the people because you are not keeping My ways but are showing partiality in your instruction.
10 Don’t all of us have one Father? Didn’t one God create us? Why then do we act treacherously against one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers? 11 Judah has acted treacherously, and a detestable thing has been done in Israel and in Jerusalem. For Judah has profaned the Lord’s sanctuary, which He loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god [= a woman who worshiped a foreign god].
… 13 And this is another thing you do: you cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning, because He no longer respects your offerings or receives them gladly from your hands.
14 Yet you ask, “For what reason?” Because the Lord has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth. You have acted treacherously against her, though she was your marriage partner and your wife by covenant. 15 Didn’t the one God make us with a remnant of His life-breath? And what does the One seek? [Hebrew obscure] A godly offspring. So watch yourselves carefully [So guard yourselves in your spirit], and do not act treacherously against the wife of your youth.
…17 You have wearied the Lord with your words.
Yet you ask, “How have we wearied Him?”
When you say, “Everyone who does what is evil is good in the Lord’s sight, and He is pleased with them,” or “Where is the God of justice?”
The priests were saying, “God is bad because he is going against us. He is not blessing us enough. The abusive situation (evil) should continue and this is good. Doing evil is good. It doesn’t pay to obey God. It is wearisome to obey God. We want to keep swapping defective animals for unblemished animals when we do the ceremonial sacrifices. And we want to keep mistreating our wives. God is unfair to admonish us. God is arguing against us, therefore God is evil.”
Malachi blames the abusive priests for causing the altar to be covered with tears: “this is another thing you do” — the word ‘you’ is plural in the Hebrew. So these priests’ souls are in great jeopardy. Power corrupts.
Other denunciations of hypocrisy come to mind:
(Jeremiah 7:9-10) Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Baal, and walk after other gods whom you do not know, and then come and stand before Me in this house which is called by My name, and say, ‘We are delivered to do all these abominations’?
(Hosea 5:2) The revolters are deeply involved in slaughter, though I have been a rebuker of them all.
(Romans 1:28-32) And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.
Square brackets in grey denote footnotes in the HCSB (Holman Christian Standard Bible).
This post is an excerpt from what I am drafting for the revised chapter on Malachi which I am composing for the revised edition of my book. Hopefully this will give readers an understanding of what I’ve been doing in the last several weeks and why I have not been posting many blog posts.
Melbourne is enduring a 6-week Stage 4 Lockdown. The restrictions on our movement are extreme. I’m surviving, but I hate the isolation and I dislike having to wear a mask in public.
Thanks to my friend James (one of our regular commenters) for giving me some of the ideas in this post.
Update (13 Nov 2020): Malachi 2:16, ancient versions and English translations, and how they apply to domestic abuse — academic paper by Barbara Roberts
Here are tips and encouragement for sheep who are stepping forward as shepherds.
God’s word urges us to grow into maturity in Christ:
….until we every one (in the unity of faith and the knowledge of the Son of God) grow up to be perfect in the maturity of the fullness of Christ; so that we henceforth would no longer be children, wavering and carried with every wind of doctrine by the wiliness of men, and craftiness whereby they lay in wait for us, to deceive us. (Eph 4:13-14)
The Matthew Bible says:
Rom 16:19 – “your duty to listen extends to all men”
The Matthew Bible note on Romans 16:19 says:
Paul would have the lay people to be learned, able to judge the prophets [pastors, priests, teachers], and to heed them only according to true knowledge.
Authority and responsibility must always be equally balanced.
Shepherds must not become so focused on preserving their authority that they neglect their responsibility to serve the sheep. If shepherds become puffed up with the authority they have been accorded by the sheep, they effectively become hirelings and wolves-by-proxy. (If you want to know what I mean by ‘hirelings’ and ‘wolves’ and ‘wolves-by-proxy’, follow the links I’ve given at the bottom of this post.)
The Matthew Bible says:
1 Tim 3:1 This is a true saying: if a man desires the office of a bishop, he desires a good work.
The Matthew Bible note on 1 Timothy 3:1 says:
A bishop is as much as to say one who sees to things, who watches over: an overseer. When he desires to feed Christ’s flock with the food of health – that is, with his holy word, as the bishops did in Paul’s time – he desires a good work and the very office of a bishop. But he who desires honour, looks for personal advantage, is greedy for great revenues; who seeks pre-eminence, pomp, dominion; who wants more than enough of everything, rest and his heart’s ease, castles, parks, lordships, earldoms, etc. – such a man does not desire to work, much less to do good work, and is anything but a bishop as Saint Paul here understands a bishop.
What is the task of ministry? What is the job description of a shepherd?
Augustine (A.D. 354–430) was bishop of Hippo (in modern day Algeria) as the Roman Empire was collapsing. He is best known for his writings about theology (City of God) and Christian living (Confessions). In one of his sermons, he clearly outlined the challenging task of ministry:
“Disturbers are to be rebuked, the low-spirited to be encouraged, the infirm to be supported, objectors confuted, the treacherous guarded against, the unskilled taught, the lazy aroused, the contentious restrained, the haughty repressed, litigants pacified, the poor relieved, the oppressed liberated, the good approved, the evil borne with, and all are to be loved.”
—Augustine, Sermon CCIX (source)
Good shepherds are often unpopular. No wonder! Part of their task is to restrain the contentious, rebuke the disturbers, confute the objectors, repress the haughty, and liberate the ones who the haughty are oppressing.
Jesus – the chief shepherd – was unpopular in his day and ended up being killed for what he said. Jeremiah’s ministry was also unpopular. If you are trying be a good under-shepherd by standing against injustice, and especially if you are being disregarded by the institutional church, you might identify with how Jeremiah cried out to the Lord: —
You deceived me, Lord, and I was deceived.
You seized me and prevailed.
I am a laughingstock all the time;
everyone ridicules me.
For whenever I speak, I cry out,
I proclaim, “Violence and destruction!”
because the word of the Lord has become for me
constant disgrace and derision.
If I say, “I won’t mention Him
or speak any longer in His name,”
His message becomes a fire burning in my heart,
shut up in my bones.
I become tired of holding it in,
and I cannot prevail.
For I have heard the gossip of many people,
“Terror is on every side!
Report him; let’s report him!”
Everyone I trusted watches for my fall.
“Perhaps he will be deceived
so that we might prevail against him
and take our vengeance on him.”
But the Lord is with me like a violent warrior.
Therefore, my persecutors will stumble and not prevail.
Since they have not succeeded, they will be utterly shamed,
an everlasting humiliation that will never be forgotten.
Lord of Hosts, testing the righteous
and seeing the heart and mind,
let me see Your vengeance on them,
for I have presented my case to You.
Sing to the Lord!
Praise the Lord,
for He rescues the life of the needy
from the hand of evil people.
May the day I was born
May the day my mother bore me
never be blessed.
May the man be cursed
who brought the news to my father, saying,
“A male child is born to you,”
bringing him great joy.
Let that man be like the cities
the Lord demolished without compassion.
Let him hear an outcry in the morning
and a war cry at noontime
because he didn’t kill me in the womb
so that my mother might have been my grave,
her womb eternally pregnant.
Why did I come out of the womb
to see only struggle and sorrow,
to end my life in shame?
(Jer 20:7-18, HCSB)
Whether the Bible allows divorce and remarriage has been debated for centuries. If you are battling authorities who say that divorce is not allowed and remarriage is always sinful, then you are not alone!
Martin Luther fought that battle against the Roman Catholic Church. In his day, the Roman Catholic Church imposed rules (canon law) on the populace – which made life very hard for victims of adultery, desertion and abuse. The Pope’s laws gave no justice to those who suffered grievous mistreatment by their spouses. In his book The Babylonian Captivity of the Church (1520), Martin Luther pointed out some of the contradictions in the Pope’s laws.
[Begin quote from Martin Luther]
As to divorce, it is still a moot question whether it be allowable. For my part I so greatly detest divorce that I should prefer bigamy to it, but whether it be allowable, I do not venture to decide. Christ Himself, the Chief Pastor, says in Matthew 5:32, “Whosoever shall put away his wife, Matthew excepting for the cause of fornication, maketh her commit adultery; and he that shall marry her that is put away, committeth adultery.” Christ, then, permits divorce, but for the cause of fornication only. The pope must, therefore, be in error whenever he grants a divorce for any other cause, and no one should feel safe who has obtained a dispensation by this temerity (not authority) of the pope. Yet it is a still greater wonder to me, why they [the Roman Catholics] compel a man to remain unmarried after bring separated from his wife, and why they will not permit him to remarry. For if Christ pennies [permits?] divorce for the cause, of fornication and compels no one to remain unmarried, and if Paul would rather have one marry than burn, (1 Corinthians 7:9) then He certainly seems to permit a man to marry another woman in the stead of the one who has been put away.
Would to God this matter were thoroughly threshed out and derided [decided?], so that counsel might be given in the infinite perils of those who, without any fault of their own, are nowadays compelled to remain unmarried, that is, of those whose wives or husbands have run away and deserted them, to come back perhaps after ten years, perhaps never. This matter troubles and distresses me; I meet cases of it every day, whether it happen by the special malice of Satan or because of our neglect of the word of God.
I, indeed, who, alone against all, can decide nothing in this matter, would yet greatly desire at least the passage in 1 Corinthians 7 to be applied here – “But if the unbeliever depart, let him depart. For a brother or sister is not under servitude in such cases.” Here the Apostle gives permission to put away the unbeliever who departs and to set the believing spouse free to marry again. Why should not the same hold true when a believer – that is, a believer in name, but in truth as much an unbeliever as the one Paul speaks of – deserts his wife, especially if he never intends to return? I certainly can see no difference between the two. But I believe that if in the Apostle’s day an unbelieving deserter had returned and had become a believer or had promised to live again with his believing wife, he would not have been taken back, but he too would have been given the right to marry again.
Nevertheless, in these matters I decide nothing, as I have said, although there is nothing I would rather see decided, since nothing at present more grievously perplexes me and many more with me. I would have nothing decided here on the mere authority of the pope or the bishops; but if two learned and pious men agreed in the name of Christ (Matthew 18:19 f.) and published their opinion in the spirit of Christ, I should prefer their judgment even to such councils as are nowadays assembled, famous only for numbers and authority, not for scholarship and saintliness. Herewith I hang up my harp, until another and a better man shall take up this matter with me. (Psalm 137:2).
[End quote from Martin Luther. Source: The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, Chapter 6, paragraphs 26 & 27. For ease of reading, scripture quotes have been italicised and the quote broken into four paragraphs by Barb.]
What strikes you, dear readers, about these words by Martin Luther?
Several things occur to me.
Firstly, and most importantly, Luther’s humility. He confessed his perplexity and his concern for victims of marital mistreatment. He didn’t arrogate to himself the authority to proclaim his view as law. He didn’t claim to have the last word on this subject — “Herewith I hang up my harp, until another and a better man shall take up this matter with me.”
Secondly, I wonder what Luther would have made of views that came out later, after 1520, and after his death.
I wonder what he would have made of Thomas Cranmer’s view that abuse is grounds for divorce.
I wonder what he would have made of the puritans who argued that divorce for abuse was grounds for divorce.
I wonder how he would have responded to the current positions on divorce and remarriage which wash around the so-called evangelical churches.
I wonder what he would have made of my book.
a) Male abuse and violence against women
b) Mental health and mental illness
These are big topics which intersect in complex ways.
Violence against women and mental health is a research paper that examines the way that mental health intersects with trauma, complex trauma, disability, coercive control, access to justice and parenting. The paper is produced by ANROWS — Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety.
I don’t often share research papers on this website. I’m sharing this one in the hope that it may help some of our readers, especially the professionals who follow this blog but seldom or never comment.
The purpose of the paper
To effectively meet the needs of women at the intersection of gender-based violence and mental health impacts, improved collaboration and coordination is required across mental health, sexual violence, domestic and family violence, justice and child protection sectors.
This synthesis is designed for policymakers and practitioners engaging with women affected by violence, including domestic violence and sexual violence, who are also experiencing mental health impacts; and/ or who are developing policy and practice frameworks responsive to violence against women and mental health.
— from the blurb at the ANROWS website.
The key points
- For women experiencing violence, mental health problems can overlap with trauma, complex trauma and disability, making simple diagnoses and treatment difficult.
- Mental ill health can be a compounding factor, a barrier, an outcome and a tool used by perpetrators of violence against women.
- Access to justice can be impacted at the intersection of mental health and violence against women, because the criminal justice system is not designed to accommodate trauma.
- Women with mental health concerns who have been subjected to gender-based violence can be harmed by institutions tasked with helping them.
- The co-occurrence of violence against women and mental health concerns can have parenting impacts, damaging the mother–child relationship and impacting the child’s mental health.
- The complexity of the intersection of violence against women and mental health often requires collaboration between mental health, sexual violence, domestic and family violence and other sectors to provide effective care.
— from the blurb at the ANROWS website.
Do any of those key points ring bells for you, dear readers?
For me, what jumped out most was the part I’ve put in italics from the second point:
- Mental ill health can be a compounding factor, a barrier, an outcome and a tool used by perpetrators of violence against women.
Abusers can indeed use mental ill health as a tool with which to perpetrate abuse.
For example, an abuser can excuse his abusive behaviours by asserting that they are uncontrollable symptoms of his mental illness.
Another example is when an abuser claims his partner is mentally ill when she is not; rather, she is prudently and judiciously resisting his abuse.
Another example is when an abuser gets his target sectioned (involuntarily admitted) into a psych ward.