Several weeks ago, I noted how some common translations of Malachi 2:16 are unhelpful because they make the text say that God hates divorce (e.g. NKJV, KJV, NIV). However, the Malachi 2:16 doesn’t say that; it says, ‘For the man who hates and divorces,’ says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘covers his garment with violence….’ (ESV; see also HCSB). Based on this discussion, I appreciate Barbara Roberts’ words in Not Under Bondage, a thorough biblical study of divorce, abandonment, abuse, and remarriage. Here’s how she says it:
“The words ‘I hate divorce, says the Lord God of Israel’’’ which occur in many translations of Malachi 2:16 have frequently been paraphrased as the slogan ‘God hates divorce.’ At face value this slogan appears to condemn all divorce and all acts of divorcing, with no thought for who is the innocent, or less guilty, party. Understood like this, it might appear that God hates all divorce.”
“When Christians use the slogan, ‘God hates divorce’ they often have no idea how hurtful their words can be to those who might use divorce for disciplinary reasons – those who divorce adulterers, abusers, or deserters. Christians who do realize that the slogan may cause pain to an innocent spouse often try to soften things by saying, ‘God hates the sin but not the sinner,’ or ‘Divorce is a sin, but God forgives.’ However, such expressions may not make the innocent spouse feel much better, for every serious Christian knows that the forgiveness of sins is the forgiveness of sins. Defining all divorce as sin (albeit forgivable sin) makes the sensitive conscience of an abuse victim tremble with fear. How dare she divorce if it so displeases God? She does not want to be a hypocrite by knowingly and deliberately displeasing God, then asking him for forgiveness.”
“…God did not say ‘I hate divorce,’ nor did he condemn all divorce. We should therefore stop using the slogan ‘God hates divorce.’ If we still need a slogan, it would be better to say, ‘God hates treacherous [unbiblical] divorce, but he does not hate disciplinary [biblical] divorce’” (p. 72-75).
Roberts does give more explanation of her comments based on Scripture. She also covers other parts of Scripture that deal with divorce. If you’re looking for a detailed biblical study of divorce and related topics (e.g. abuse, remarriage, adultery, etc.), I recommend this book. Even if readers don’t agree with everything Roberts says, the book will no doubt be helpful for those who truly want deeper biblical guidance on the difficult subject of divorce.
I’m grateful to Barbara for sending me a review copy: Not Under Bondage (n.l. Maschil Press, 2008).
rev shane lems
covenant presbyterian church (OPC)