by Kim Johnson
God Hates Divorce?
For most who teach against divorce, one of the most overused scriptures in this defense is Malachi 2:16. In most current translations it reads: “God hates divorce.” Interestingly however, there is no place in the Old Testament that actually prohibits divorce. None. There are some restrictions concerning “putting away”, but there is not one verse in the Old Testament forbidding the end of a marriage by divorce. Yet, in teaching against divorce, one must go through 23,188 verses (with only 26 remaining) in order to find one verse supposedly against it. Nevertheless, this one verse is quoted as though it is the theme of the entire Bible.
Shalach vs. Kerithuwth
The problem is with the context of this one verse. Most importantly, current translations have failed to recognize the Hebrew word shalach with its correct translation. Only the King James Version and the old American Standard Version translate shalach correctly: “putting away”. All other translations translate shalach as “divorce”. In the Hebrew language, kerithuwth is the word for divorce, not shalach. Being “put away” is not being divorced. Instead, it parallels the legal separation of today without the benefit of spousal support. These two separate and distinct Hebrew words have been combined to mean the same thing when they do not.
If the Hebrew word “shalach” is translated correctly in this verse, it indicates what God truly hates, the putting away of a wife. “Putting away” is a term used for a wife who has been kicked out of her home by a corrupt husband without the benefit of being divorced from him. In those days she was left homeless, on the streets, while still legally married. This is not divorce. This was the motivation for the divorce legislation in Deuteronomy 24. God saw what was happening to wives in that day and used divorce as a measure of protection. Some would argue that Moses was the author. However, if we believe 2 Timothy 3:16, God is the author of the whole Bible and he directed Moses to bring relief to women who were being abused, abandoned, and left to fend for themselves. So, in Malachi 2:16, God is indicating his displeasure with this practice of putting away, not divorce.
16 For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away: for one covereth violence with his garment, saith the LORD of hosts: therefore, take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously. (KVJ)
In this passage of scripture, we have in context, a marriage between two Israelites. This we know because we are told that the wife is, “the wife of thy covenant.” This is a covenant marriage. A marriage God recognizes – a marriage that qualifies as one of His holy unions. The man has dealt treacherously with his wife. What is this treachery? He has “put her away” (shalach), kicking her out of his house without divorcing her. If he divorced her, it would indicate he gave her a “bill of divorce” (kerithuwth). In Malachi, just as indicated in Deuteronomy 24, men were deserting the “wives of their youth”. This had apparently become common practice in the time of the prophet Malachi. A man would merely desert his wife, without following the law. She was given no bill of divorce for she was still referred to as his “companion and the wife of his covenant.” She was merely kicked out of the house with no support.
The King James Version of the Bible clearly translates what it is God hates: “For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away (shalach)…” (Malachi 2:16) It is not divorce (kerithuwth) God hates.
For whatever reason, current translations of the Bible have combined the Hebrew words kerithuwth and shalach to mean divorce when they absolutely do not. One is the bill of divorce and one is kicking out a wife without a bill of divorce. Clearly then, what God hates is what men do in putting their wives away for carnal and sinful reasons without giving them a bill of divorce. Putting away (shalach) does not end a marriage but a bill of divorce (kerithuwth) does. Divorce, a legally binding document, ended the marriage in the Old Testament and it ends a marriage today.
Too often, Christians are judged unjustly for a broken marriage that was beyond their control. Equally sinful, Christians hold this situation over their heads as some “unpardonable” sin while ignoring their own sinfulness. We are all sinners, saved by grace, and a believer who experiences a divorce is still a child of God. Viewing a divorced man or woman as anything less is wrong. At the very least, there is enough evidence in Scripture to indicate divorce is not necessarily the sin, but sin is what leads to divorce. Divorce is painful and devastating. While it may not be God’s best, living in an abusive marriage is also not God’s best. When it comes to judging someone who is divorced, Matthew 7:5 applies: “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”