God Hates Divorce: Slogan or Scripture?

https://i0.wp.com/ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41rOl3VlaiL.jpg 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
hammond wi
covenant presbyterian church (OPC)

23 thoughts on “God Hates Divorce: Slogan or Scripture?”

  1. Is there anywhere in the US where this book can be purchased, other than Amazon? I am currently preaching through Malachi and will be dealing with this verse before the estimated arrival date from Amazon. Any direction you could give me would be appreciated.


      1. Thank you Shane. I tried the website all morning and it is down. I can get to the first page, but when I try and order the book I get an error page. I hope she does read this.

        I have been following your other posts related to this issue and have the resources you have mentioned. Stuart in McComiskey’s Minor Prophets is particularly helpful. I’m just happy I’ve had that for some time, I couldn’t buy it today!!


    1. Hi Bill
      I tried my website notunderbondage.com just now and so far as I could see I could order the book from it. But if you still have problems please email me. You can find my email addresss at the ABOUT US page on A Cry For Justice —- http://cryingoutforjustice.com/contact-about-us/ —— which is the blog I co-lead with Ps Jeff Crippen.

      You can also purchase my book from Amazon or any other book retailer, worldwide.

      I shall get on to my web hosting firm to try to find out what the issue was. I’ve been receiving orders via my site in the last few days, so normally it works fine, so far as I’m aware. Thanks for letting me know about your difficulty.

      blessings to you


      1. Thank you Barbara . . . I don’t know what was happening yesterday, but it would not let me put anything in the shopping cart. Anyway, I made contact with Pastor Crippen and he is getting it to me first of the week. Amazon gives me the message that “it usually ships with in 1-3 weeks.” I was afraid if ordered from them it might get here long after I needed it.

        I am looking forward to reading it when it arrives.


        1. Bill, I wish I understood why Amazon gives that ‘usually ships within one to three weeks’ message. I think they do it to cover their back.

          When a customer orders it on Amazon, so far as I know Amazon electronically order it from Ingrams (a very large book distributor in the USA) and Ingrams immediately forward the order to Lighting Source, a subsidiary company of Ingrams, who print a copy and ship it directly to the customer as per the shipping details the customer had given to Amazon. Lighting Source gurantee a three to five day turn around between when they are notified of the order, and when they ship it out to the end customer. So that one to three weeks thing makes no sense to me. . .

          TMI for you, probably, but hey, authors can have a whinge from time to time, eh? (whinge == complain in Aussie slang)


  2. I just heard the verse “pride is their necklace, and violence covers them like a garment” from Psalm 73 last week in church, and it caught my attention due to the language it shares (violence as a garment) with Malachi 2:16. I wonder if this was an idiom in Aramaic or Hebrew in Biblical days and if so what a good translation into contemporary English might be.

    I just received Barbara’s book in the mail (via amazon) and am eager for a free moment to sit down and read it.


  3. I am so glad to see that Barbara’s book is getting yet another positive review from a pastor. This book was such an eye opener for me and helped me come to a better understanding of who my Savior is. Thank you so much Pastor Lems for being a protector of those that are in need and opening the eyes of the church. God hates the sin that causes divorce.


  4. Thank you for this thoughtful review of Barbara Roberts’s book.
    I have been leading divorce recovery groups for eight years at my church and the DivorceCare curriculum we use also promotes the incorrect interpretation of Mal. 2:16. Since I read “Not Under Bondage” whenever I see that usage it just sounds like a miss-struck gong, I know that it is painful to hear for divorced people and discourages them from seeking consolation and guidance from scripture. I spend considerable time “un-teaching” this unfortunate, but widespread error.
    Blessings to you for being open to re-examining this scripture and teaching its meaning.


    1. Oh bless you…I am currently doing the divorce care course Loren and just finished the topic that I think is the one you are referring to “what the owners manual says”. I have loved the class and teaching but this one made me feel really sad. some people felt very discouraged and I was really concerned about message of trying to reengage with an abusive ex spouse. I am so encouraged to read your comments and will share them with others in my group who felt quite condemned. your group must be very blessed to have you. thanks again :)


      1. GA, I supplement DC with Barbara’s book and material from Craig Keener, David Instone-Brewer, Leslie Vernick and Les Carter. It is interesting that Keener, Vernick and Carter are featured in DC videos, but their views on divorce and remarriage are quite different than what DC presents. I wish I could find another divorce recovery program with a good video curriculum. There are some with only text and workbooks but it is hard to get most people to read anything.
        Good luck with your DC program. Do not be hesitant to present alternative ideas about divorce and remarriage to your participants. Sometimes it is just what a person needs to be introduced to the God of justice, grace and forgiveness we follow.


        1. Loren, you wrote, “God of justice…” we follow. I find that many in the pulpit and church leadership neglect that element: justice. And discipline. I find that the drum of “love and mercy” beaten to death while “justice and discipline” fall by the wayside. Right alongside the victims of domestic abuse. Trodden underfoot by those whose feet carry the message of “grace and forgiveness, love and mercy.”

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Still Reforming,

          I find that the drum of “love and mercy” beaten to death while “justice and discipline” fall by the wayside.

          That would make a very good tweet.


        3. Brenda, Feel free to tweet it if you like. I’m not on Twitter. However, I did edit it and inadvertently turned it into incorrect English. It should instead read either “I find the drum of …” as is (taking out the word “that”) OR “I find that the drum of ‘love and mercy’ IS beaten to death…” I added the word “that” and forgot to check the rest of the sentence, into which I should have also inserted the word “is.” (The former editor in me apparently wasn’t beaten into the ground with the rest that my abuser tried to destroy. Heh.)


        4. Still Reforming,
          I don’t tweet either. After some of the nonsensical ones I have heard lately, I thought this would be a good one to put out there.


        5. In domestic abuse, churches often beat the drum of “love and mercy” to death while “justice and discipline” fall by the wayside. — I just tweeted this.


        6. I’m glad you tweeted this, Barbara. Thank you for letting me us know. It’s a sad state of affairs in the church when justice is neglected and mercy touted as the banner of God’s people, when in fact, there can be no mercy without justice. If there is no justice (which requires a law, otherwise justice is meaningless), then there can be no mercy. For what is mercy without justice but a mere platitude, which in effect is not mercy at all, but in fact the very lack of same.


  5. Yes,the phrase “God hates divorce” is not an accurate translation. I enlighten Christians whenever the topic comes up and hardly anyone checks it in the Hebrew. Stone’s Chumash, in Hebrew and English translates it accurately.


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