A Brief Comment on Divorce and the Bible

Therefore take heed to your spirit,
and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth.
For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away.
(Malachi 2:15-16)

When was the last time you looked at this verse? It’s used all the time, in the Message and in evangelical culture, to justify opposition to no-fault divorce and the rising trend of multiple marriages. “God hates divorce” is the mantra of many Christian conservatives. But have you ever thought about what this verse actually means?

How did a verse that so obviously tells men to be kind to their wives and not to leave them destitute become a verse that tells women they have no right to leave an abusive marriage? (Isn’t promising to love, protect and provide for someone and then throwing them out on the curb the very definition of “dealing treacherously”? Divorced women were in dire straits in that era.) Branham taught that men could divorce women for adultery, but women could never divorce their husbands, under any circumstances. Branham taught that wives could win their husbands to Christ and change them from abusers to saints by living the example of the Holy Spirit before them. That is not what this verse is about. This verse, if anything, looks like it’s about God caring for the afflictions of spurned women and commanding men to treat their wives better.

The “stay until he changes” dogma is a fiction created by cobbling together piles of fractured Scriptures into a Frankenstein that bears no resemblance to the words above. God hates divorce, indeed, but not because it ends a marriage. He hates it because it hurts women.

  • http://gelowigenondersoekend.wordpress.com Retha

    Amen, Sierra, preach it!

    I tried to blog that about Mal. 2, but I got too technical and never finished the post.

    But it proves something else I said recently: Rumors of God’s patriarchalism have been gretly exaggerated!

  • http://mysteriousobject015.wordpress.com/ mysteriousobject015

    Indeed, that seems to be the intent behind Christ’s prohibition of divorce in Mark as well:

    1 And he left there and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan, and crowds gathered to him again; and again, as his custom was, he taught them. 2 And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 3 He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” 4 They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to put her away.” 5 But Jesus said to them, “For your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. 6 But from the beginning of creation, `God made them male and female.’ 7 `For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, 8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. 9 What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” 10 And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11 And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; 12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

    This is, in my view, basically a rebuke to men who think they should be able to dispose of their wives (“put them away”) as long as they no longer please them. Christ’s response that a man would only divorce a woman out of “hardness of heart” seems to confirm this. The addendum about divorce being equally prohibited for women seems to be added as an afterthought, as if to say, “it’s really wrong for you men to do this — and yes, it’s wrong for women too.”

    It’s important to keep in mind that basically until the late 20th century, the shame and stigma of divorce fell squarely and primarily upon women. Their chances of financial security, not to mention potential for remarriage, were often very low. For this reason many women, even in abusive marriages, may have preferred to endure abuse from their husbands over the social abuse and shunning they would receive as “divorced women.” It was similarly hard to imagine until fairly recently that a woman may actually not want to have a child, since children were often guarantees of care in old age. Women would count on their sons, especially, to care for them should their husbands abandon or divorce them.

    This is why the changing roles of women in society must *necessarily* result in some changes to religious law as set down over a thousand years ago. In a situation where women are kept structurally dependent on men, indeed divorce can be a death sentence. But in a different kind of society, the meaning of divorce itself (as well as marriage) changes, and as that meaning changes, the law which is predicated upon that meaning must change also.

  • bnonymous

    There was a time when I used to post on a Jewish message board. Some folks there asked why Christians opposed divorce and I quoted Malachi 2:16. I was promptly informed that was a horrible translation, and that the real translation was like this:

    2:15 So did not the one, and yet had he an excellent spirit. What did then the one? He sought the seed promised of God. Therefore look well to your spirit, and let no man despise the wife of his youth.
    If thou hatest her, put her away, sayeth the LORD God of Israel and give her a clothing for the scorn, sayeth the LORD of Hosts. Look well then to your spirit, and despise her not.


    “Put her away” means divorce her! Apparently the verse can be translated not to mean that God hates divorce but that a man who hates his wife should divorce her so that she will be free to remarry a husband who takes care of her.