Sun | Jan 20, 2019

Mistranslating scripture, misquoting God on divorce

Published:Sunday | February 15, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Rev Clinton Chisholm, Guest Columnist

At the risk of being called 'liberal', 'apostate' or a 'tun back parson', I confess that I do not share the puzzlement of most persons concerning the divorce rate, even among Christians.

If anything, I am puzzled that so many married persons stay married given the known vagaries of marriage.

The alleged scriptural quotation has become so popular that you may wonder about my eyesight or sanity when I assert that God, nowhere in Scripture says, "I hate divorce". I know you don't even have to search hard in your Bible to find and throw in my 'backslidden face' and challenge me to deal with Malachi 2:16.

Well, bear with me now as I try to explain this text, subject to correction from my friends with superior command of the biblical texts in Hebrew and Greek; friends such as Garnett Roper, Delano Palmer and Carlton Dennis of the Jamaica Theological Seminary, Paul Thompson of the Catholic College in Mandeville and Clinton Baldwin formerly of Northern Caribbean University.

Re-reading Malachi 2 (re mixed marriages)

Malachi ministered between the first and second governorships of Nehemiah, approximately 432-431 BC, and yet again (as it was under Ezra and Nehemiah), Israelites had not only married heathen wives (Malachi 2:11) but as well, divorced their long-standing Jewish wives (Malachi 2:13-15).

Malachi 2:16 - "'I hate divorce,' says the Lord God of Israel..." is often quoted without an awareness of its context (a discussion of mixed marriages and groundless divorce of Jewish wives). Worse, verses 15-16 are perhaps the most difficult verses to translate in the entire Old Testament, and verse 16 is usually wrongly translated as a direct quotation from God re his hatred of divorce, because of the problems in the text.

One textual scholar, Gordon Hugenberger, has a translation/explanation of verse 16, which reads, "If one hates and divorces (i.e., if one divorces merely on the ground of aversion) says Yahweh, God of Israel, he covers his garment with violence (i.e., such a man visibly defiles himself with violence), says Yahweh of hosts. Therefore, take heed to yourselves and do not be faithless (against your wife)". (Marriage as a Covenant: Biblical Law and Ethics as Developed from Malachi, 1994, p. 83).

The few English versions online, via Bible Gateway, that move away from the first person, "I hate divorce", include the English Standard Version (ESV) and the Holman Christian Standard Bible." For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the LORD, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts. So, guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless." (ESV)."If he hates and divorces (his wife)," says the LORD God of Israel, "he covers his garment with injustice", says the LORD of Hosts. Therefore, watch yourselves carefully, and do not act treacherously. (Holman Christian Standard Bible).

The Septuagint (LXX), a Greek version of the Old Testament, which was the version used by the New Testament writers, renders Malachi 2:16 as "'But if you hate and divorce (your wife)', says the Lord God of Israel, 'ungodliness will also cover your thoughts (Greek: enthumemata)', says the Lord Almighty, 'therefore, take heed to your spirit and do not at all abandon (your wife)'."

There is no first person 'I hate divorce' from God in either the Hebrew or the Greek despite mistranslations into English. What the Malachi text condemns is divorce based on hatred or aversion, not all divorces.