God and Divorce – A Brief Exploration of Malachi 2:16 and Matthew 19:9

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A few weeks ago, I was interviewed on a podcast where we discussed, among other things, divorce and what the Bible has to say.

Bible verses like Malachi 2:16 and Matthew 19:9 have been interpreted in ways that make it difficult for people in unsafe situations to find safety and for those in healthy marriages to accept healthy baselines.

God and divorce

It was a great convo, (I’ll share the podcast once it’s out!) and I wanted to explore the two verses with you.

This is not an exhaustive exploration, more like important information to keep in mind when seeking to understand these two verses.

Let’s dive in.

1. “God hates Divorce” Malachi 2:16

Malachi 2:16 has been understood as “God hates divorce.”

Several Bible translations do read that way, like the King James version which states “For I hate divorce,” says the LORD, the God of Israel, “and him who covers his garment with violence,” says the LORD of armies. So be careful about your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.”

It makes sense that for a long time, we have understood Malachi’s words as God hating divorce. But a more faithful interpretation of the original language reveals that it’s the man who is doing the hating, not God.

It’s not God “hating the divorce” but the man hating and divorcing his wife. God is not talking about Himself. The full significance here is God calling out the men for being traitorous to their wives. Read More 10 Things Christians Need to Know About Destructive Marriages

Some recent Bible translations have shifted to a faithful interpretation of the original language.

In the latest NIV translation, Malachi 2:16 now reads. “The man who hates and divorces his wife,” says the LORD, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect,” says the LORD Almighty. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful.”

Let’s note that if God hated divorce, there would be a contrariness because, according to Jeremiah, God divorced Israel for their unfaithfulness (Jer. 3:8).

Moses may have divorced his first wife. And in Ezra 10:2–3, the Jews were allowed to divorce their wives. So, divorce is not as foreign in the old Testament as we were taught it was.

2. “Adultery is the only Biblical ground for Divorce” Matthew 19:9

The other misunderstood and misapplied verse is Matthew 19:9, which reads,  “and I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”

In this verse, Jesus is responding to a question the Pharisees posed to test Him. A fuller context of the verse is that Jesus is being tested. He repeats back what their law already said they could do.

Here, Jesus is not delivering an outline of all the reasons why divorce is allowed. Read 15 Things We Think God is Obsessed With (But He Isn’t)

So Matthew 19:9 (divorce for adultery) is not an exhaustive summary of why or when people can divorce. It’s a deliberate response to a testing question.

If it were true adultery that was the only reason for divorce, Paul would have been painting outside the lines to propose that an unbeliever could choose to leave a marriage, and the believing person could let them go. 1 Corinthians 7:15

God and Divorce:The Ideal

The ideal is healthy life-long matrimony. That’s the hope for marriage: that it will be healthy and that it will last.

However, a healthy, lifelong marriage requires both partners to remain committed to their vows.

A life-saving divorce become necessary when a partner refuses to do the work of being safe and healthy.

I hope these thoughts are helpful as you continue exploring healthier marriage beliefs. I’ll share the full interview once the podcast is out!

You Can’t Fix a Bad Marriage by Yourself

When one person is encouraged to adopt a “team” mindset while the other is allowed to continue, unchecked about their self-centeredness, the result is endless pain and harm. You deserve more. I wrote Courage: Reflections and Liberation for Hurting Soul for women who are tired of harming marriage advice and bad theology. Order your copy AMAZON I PDF

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