Friday, November 12, 2010

Does God still hate divorce? Reading the new NIV

It is not unusual to hear a preacher or teacher quote Malachi 2:16 when talking about why divorce is not acceptable. I have heard a number of preachers quote the verse which says "I hate divorce, says the Lord, the God of Israel." However, if you are using the 2011 NIV that verse no longer says it that way. Instead Malachi 2:16 now reads:

"The Man who hates and divorces his wife," says the LORD, the God of Israel, "does violence to the one he should protect," says the LORD almighty. "So, be on your guard and do not be unfaithful."

The TNIV and the earlier 1984 version read:

"I hate divorce," says the LORD, the God of Israel "and I hate it when people clothe themselves with injustice," says the LORD Almighty.

So why the change of subject? How did we move from God hating divorce to it being the man who hates his wife? Here is what the translators have to say:

In the Hebrew, God's declaration in the first half of this verse is very elliptical and hard to translate. An interlinear reading might yield, "Hating," "divorcing," "and covers," "violence," "upon protection of him"! But how do you put all those concepts together? The first word is a masculine participle, followed by an infinitive construct, suggesting "the man who hates and divorces." "His protection" could refer to clothing, but a more contextually meaningful translation would refer to the one he was supposed to protect, namely, his wife. Most scholars now think that the first half of the verse means something like "the man who hates and divorces" (the ESV follows this interpretation). The more minor changes in the final part of the verse simply use more current English.

After reading the Hebrew for myself I find their argument more than convincing. I see little support for making God the one who hates divorce in this verse. Moreover, in the context of the chapter the statements in Malachi 2:13-16 are directed at the husband and the way that he treats his wife.

So does this mean that God approves divorce and no longer has a distaste for it? Hardly. There are more than enough passages in the Bible which communicate the complete opposite. But still this new translation of Malachi 2:16 does help to open up the passage to us. Rather than focusing simply on divorce, God has some very strong things to say about husbands who mistreat their wives, are violent with them and divorce them. What we see, then, is that if God hates anything in the context of marriage it is when someone mistreats their spouse. Divorce is not the only way of being unfaithful to the one whom you married.


  1. 1. The new translation as stated does not communicate that divorce, mistreatment and violence are somewhat similar items along a spectrum so that, eg, mistreatment and violence might be substituted for divorce. I understand the harrowing circumstances in which some find themselves and do not wish to seem unsympathetic, but this is a post about correct biblical translation and the correct reading of that translation. What the new translation says is that divorce itself is an act of hatred and violence by a man (in that time period) against the wife he is bound to protect.

    2. I am an evangelical Christian who believes in the inerrancy of God's Word in the original languages but this example certainly points up the fact that well-meaning but differing translations can entirely alter the thrust and focus of a passage.

    3. I remain skeptical about the motives behind the NIV 2010 - do we really need another English translation or is this another way for Zondervan to exercise its monopoly? Given the way that information technology makes this ever easier, we should not be surprised to see an NIV 2015, 2020, etc. But then, why not apply the same logic and change the Hebrew of the Psalms to more contemporary usages?

  2. It is obvious that the correct translation is "he who hates and divorces...". That doesn't mean that God doesn't hate divorce. But that's not what the passage is saying.

    God hates evil. Period. He hates lying. He hates gossip. He hates bad attitudes. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that He hates objects or institutions. It does, however and maybe surprisingly to some, say that He hates a certain type of people - violent ones.

    The protection of marriage at ALL cost, even the wholeness of human beings, would be abominable in the eyes of God. Much like the Pharisees' protection of the Sabbath law at all cost, even the health of an afflicted woman. God cares for PEOPLE. He saves PEOPLE. Institutions serve us. If they destroy us because of the evil in it, then it's no sin to destroy evil by walking away from the institution, particularly if all it has become is a cauldron for evil to hide, finding justification in the law. That's not what the law is about!

  3. “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery."
    --Jesus Christ

    Jesus calls remarriage after a divorce ADULTERY because…
    “A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 7:39

    “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.”
    Hebrews 13:4

    Scripture clearly slams the door shut on remarriage. Only the first marriage exists, there is no husband and wife in a second marriage, only two people living in adultery.

  4. America’s divorce rate is the world’s highest because the law permits one partner to unilaterally end a marriage.

    Marriages are terminated by one person against the will of the other spouse in 80% of cases.

    I wonder how many people would divorce if they knew they were forbidden to remarry as long as their spouse is still living.

    “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery."
    --Jesus Christ

    My spouse divorced me against my will. Don’t fool yourself, God does not allow remarriage as long as your spouse is still living.

  5. So much misunderstanding in these last two replies about the validity of remarriage following divorce, but this post is about the correct understanding of God's attitude towards divorce itself and not about remarriage per-se.I find the discussion presented very interesting.