Friday, 23 March 2012

What is God's view on divorce?

There is a famous, and much used, verse in Malachi 2.16 that has been used for centuries to condemn all marriages that end in divorce…..and in many cases, to forbid divorce even when a marriage has irretrievably broken down:
God … says that He hates divorce, (shalach) for it covers one’s garment with violence…                 
The text of Malachi 2.16 seems to equate ‘violence’ with ‘divorce’. But the translation is incorrect. The Hebrew word translated ‘divorce’, shalach, means abandoning/sending away, it does NOT mean ‘divorce’. 

The problem is the ‘violence’ of emotional and physical abandonment without a divorce that would allow the rejected wife to rebuild her life.

Jesus comments in Matthew 5.31-32 & 19.3-8:
Matthew 5.31-32:
Whoever 1. divorces (abandons/sends away) his wife, let him give her a certificate of 2.divorce.’ But I say to you that whoever 3.divorces (abandons/sends away) his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is 4.divorced (abandoned/sent away) commits adultery’.

Matthew 19.3-8:
The Pharisees, testing Him, ‘Is it lawful for a man to 5. divorce (abandon/send away) his wife for just any reason?’ He answered, ‘Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.’ They said, ‘Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of 6. divorce, and to put her away?’ He said, ‘Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to 7. divorce (abandon/send away) your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.’

There are 7 translations using ‘divorce’ in the 2 Matthew passages. 
Nos. 2 and 6 are correctly translated ‘divorce’.
Nos. 1,3,4,5,7 are wrongly translated ‘divorce’.

The correct translation of nos. 1,3,4,5,7 should be ‘abandon/send away’. 

There are 2 different Hebrew words translated ‘divorce’ in the Matthew passages:

1. k’riythuth means a cutting of the matrimonial bond.  The word   k’riythuth is only used 7 times in the Bible, and in each case it is used as part of the phrase ‘a certificate (writing) of divorce’ ; sepher k’riythuth. Here are the 7 references:

Deuteronomy 24:1  When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some uncleanness in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house,
Deuteronomy 24:3  if the latter husband detests her and writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house,
Isaiah 50:1  Where is the certificate of your mother’s divorce, whom I have put away?
Jeremiah 3:8  Then I saw that for all the causes for which backsliding Israel had committed adultery, I had put her away and given her a certificate of divorce;
Matthew 5:31  Furthermore it has been said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’
Matthew 19:7  They said to Him, ‘Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?’
Mark 10:4  They said, ‘Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to dismiss her.’

2.   shalach means to send away. This word is used 790 times in the Old Testament.  There is a good example in Genesis 3:
Genesis 3:23 The LORD God sent him out  of the garden of Eden

When the Matthew passages are read with the correct translation, it is plain to see that Jesus was clearly differentiating between ‘divorce’ and ‘sending away, abandonment’. A correct translation might have saved centuries of misunderstanding and hurt.

The marriage relationship between a man and a woman that is publicly declared as a commitment to be united as ‘one flesh’ can break down for many reasons.  God provides divorce, formalised by a certificate, to give both the man and the woman:
1.      Public recognition that the marriage relationship is over, and
2.  The opportunity for either, or both, to start another marriage relationship with someone else.

God does NOT hate divorce, but He does hate the abandonment of the wife without divorce, which condemns her to a life with no opportunity for a marriage relationship in which she can be united as ‘one flesh’, in love, mutual acceptance, commitment, and purpose, with her husband.

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