When a Christian tells just about anyone in their circle that they are getting separated or divorced, almost every conversation has to include the words but God hates divorce. But, is that really true in the way it is being communicated? Does God hate divorce so much that couples should stay married no matter how much damage is being done?
The “God hates divorce” verse is found in Malachi 2:26 in the Christian Bible. The problem with the “God hates divorce” part is that in total, all Biblical manuscripts until the King James Version in 1611 did not say that God hates divorce, but was instead referencing the man who divorces his wife because he hates her. And when you look at the context of the Bible, it seems clear that it is the foul treatment of spouses that really offends God and not just that God doesn’t like divorce.
Recently, Bible scholars have looked back at ancient manuscripts and realized that modern Bible versions have been mistranslating that verse from the time of King James in England to the current day. A few translations have recently changed their texts back to agree with the ancient manuscripts in order to regain the accuracy of the message.
Let’s take a closer look at the “God hates divorce” verse as well as various issues around it and how it relates to Christian living today.
Table of Contents
Correctly Translating the “God Hates Divorce” Verse
As I mentioned above, before the King James Version of the Bible, Biblical manuscripts almost universally translated Malachi 2:16 to say that the man who hates his wife and divorces her heaps violence on her.
I would like to take a look at many of the different Bible translations throughout history and see what they say and how much they agree across history and language. Because there are at this time over 725 versions of the Bible throughout history, I will not make this an exhaustive list. But I will make it a good representation of the major translations throughout history and culture.
The following chart will show you the consensus of what I found. I know it is an extremely long chart. But it reads very quickly and you will see patterns emerge immediately. I’ll elaborate a little more under the chart.
Upon inspection of the various translations, you may have noticed that while the majority of them said that “God hates divorce.” But then, upon even closer inspection, you may have noticed that all of the ancient texts talk about when the husbands hates his wife and divorces her, he heaps violence on either him or God.
At some point in time, the Scriptures were somehow changed and it caused a terrible new doctrine to run rampant in the church. This new doctrine forbidding divorce caused women to be abused by their husbands with no hope of being protected or escaping the abuse. This change happened in the late 1500’s and scholars didn’t study the ancient texts seriously enough to change things back to the wording of the ancient manuscripts.
So, for many years, Malachi 2:16 was incorrectly translated that God hates divorce rather than when a man hates his wife and divorce her, he heaps violence. And I love how the ancients said he heaps violence upon himself. The man who puts his wife away on Earth may not get what he deserves right away. But God will make sure that the unrepentant man eventually pays. And you don’t have to worry about it. You just need to live your own best life.
Now that you have a clearer picture, I am sure you can see the trends much easier. But there is one more thing: I did not put any of the King James Translations in the chart above. I wanted to treat them separately because there are several and they had some distinctions. Let’s take a look at that much shorter chart:
How the King James Version Treated the “God Hates Divorce” Verse Over the Years
I decided to do a whole section exclusively on the King James Version of the Bible. There were many versions within the version, as you can see in the chart above. And in extremely conservative circles, people have claimed that if someone isn’t using the King James Version of the Bible, they are heretical.
It is unfortunate that people have become so enslaved by the King James Version that they don’t see the value in other translations that can actually give them a better understanding of the Bible. Scholars believe that the Old Testament especially was mistranslated because knowledge of Hebrew was very limited in the day that King James’ people were working on the new translation. Because of this, passages that seemed to be clearly understood got changed. And because most people couldn’t read the other versions, they couldn’t compare versions to make sure what they were reading was correct.
The verse we are talking about today is one of the biggest proofs that there are better translations. Let me explain.
The King James Version is a word-for-word translation. While this sounds good on the surface, no two languages have all the same words with all the same concepts. So many of the principles taught in the Bible literally get lost in translation. The King James Version couldn’t see the forest for the trees. And this affected church doctrine over the years significantly.
This verse is a perfect example of the problem with word-for-word translation. The original 1611 King James Version was the first Bible Version in the history of the Bible to say that God hate divorce. Previously, all versions said that the man who hates and divorces his wife heaps violence on his family because he is not protecting his wife as he swore before God to do. The whole point of this verse wasn’t about God’s view of divorce, but a warning to not deal cruelly with your wife (or husband if that is the case in this day and age where men no longer rule over their wives).
And finally, if you look back to the chart, you will see that even after the original manuscripts have been grammatically proven to not say God hates divorce, the most recent King James versions still hold to the mistranslation. That seems very strange to me, but not always surprising, seeing how many churches operate on what they think should be done rather than what the Bible says. This has caused much damage to abused people in the church for literally centuries.
How Modern Translations Solved the KJV Problem
If it weren’t for the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, nearly all modern translations would still have the incorrect version. In God’s providence, a complete manuscript of this verse was found. All of the versions that had changed the verse to say that God hates divorce (of which most had footnotes saying they changed the translation to God hating divorce instead of the husband divorcing his wife because he hated her because of missing but “understood text”), now could see the whole passage exactly as it was meant to be understood. It is not meant to say God hates divorce.
Since the discovery of this scroll, many modern English translations have restored the passage to its former wording, now in agreement with all Scriptures before the publishing of the King James Version.
How the “God Hates Divorce” Verse Relates to Other Scriptures Regarding Divorce
Now that we have looked at Malachi 2:16 in just about every way possible, let’s take a look at the context of Scripture and how it holds up to other passages. I would like to look at what God says regarding people who hate and abuse those around them, regardless of the relationship that exists. Here are a few of them:
- 2 Timothy 3:1-9 “
But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.
6 They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, 7 always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. 8 Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these teachers oppose the truth. They are men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. 9 But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone.”
- Proverbs 6:16-19 “There are six things the Lord hates,
seven that are detestable to him:
17 haughty eyes,
a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,
18 a heart that devises wicked schemes,
feet that are quick to rush into evil,
19 a false witness who pours out lies
and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.”
I think I will stop there because I could keep on going for hundreds of verses. But I think you already get the point with these two very specific passages.
At the end of the day, God tells us that we are to walk away from people who are so intentionally nasty and unable to exercise any self control over their impulses and evil heart. And if we are to walk away from people we run into every day who do these things, why would we think that God would want us to stay married to someone who treats us in such terrible ways?
If we are leaving a spouse who has done these things to us, it is not our leaving that caused the breaking of the covenant of marriage. It was the sin against you that caused it. The divorce is merely the logical end of that covenant breaking. At the end of the day, if your spouse is dangerous to be around, God does not want you to stay with them just to preserve an imaginary fantasy of a perfect marriage that you want everyone around you to see.
There have been many people featured online or on other media that were encouraged to be a better spouse rather than leave to find safety outside of the marriage. And some of those people were killed by their spouse because they didn’t follow the red flags. Or they acknowledged the red flags but their church told them they had to stay married for the sake of the sanctity of marriage. That is so wrong and inappropriate.
Jesus could not say everything in the limited amount of time He had on the Earth. It is wrong for us to put that expectation on the abused and unfortunate in our world rather than supporting them and loving them through the disaster they are trying to work through.
I hope that by now, when you hear another Christian or church leader talk about how God hates divorce, you realize that there is so much more to it than that. There are so many more things that God hates, but yet we don’t give them as much attention as we do the divorce issue. That is unfair to sensationalize it to the detriment of abused spouses who need to get themselves and/or their children to safety.
How have you been affected by this common phrase used to keep people in the church from divorcing? How many times did you hear it? How were you able to work through it?
One of my favorite resources when I was trying to save my already unsavable marriage was The Emotionally Destructive Marriage by Leslie Vernick. In this book, Ms. Vernick does an amazing job of keeping her reader from taking on the guilt of the demise of the marriage. She spends a good amount of time showing people who are victims all the Scriptures that show God does not want them to endure a lifetime of suffering because their spouse will not ever love them in a way that is healthy or reciprocal. If you are struggling with why God has chosen to allow your marriage to fall apart, this book may be the perfect thing to adjust your thinking and view of Scripture to a healthy place.
Check it out here:
The path to divorce is never an enjoyable one. But it can actually bring you closer to God than you were before if you merely let Him work through this with you. Feel free to leave a comment below!
Roberts, Barbara. “Malachi 2:16, ancient versions and English translations, and how they apply to domestic abuse.” Academia, 12 November, 2012, https://www.academia.edu/44443657/Malachi_2_16_ancient_versions_and_English_translations_and_how_they_apply_to_domestic_abuse
Watson, Daniel R. “Who Hates . . . Divorce? A Text-Critical Examination o0f Malachi 2:16.” Midwestern Journal of Theology, 2011, https://biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/midwestern-journal-theology/10-1_087.pdf
“Online Parallel Study Bible: Malachi 2:16.” Study Bible, https://studybible.info/Thomson/Malachi%202:16
BP-Pub-3. “List of Bible Translations by Year.” Believers Portal, 7 March, 2018, https://believersportal.com/list-of-bible-translations-by-year/0
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