FAQ: Malachi 2:16

Here’s Malachi 2:16 in the ESV:

“For the man who hates and divorces, says the LORD, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.”

Here’s Malachi 2:16 in the RSV:

“For I hate divorce, says the LORD the God of Israel, and covering one’s garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts. So take heed to yourselves and do not be faithless.”

You can see the different emphasis of the verse in these two translations. Why did the ESV translators translate this verse this way?

The answer turns on some fairly technical points in Hebrew, but it boils down to three arguments, as explained by ESV Old Testament Chairman C. John Collins:

  1. The translation of this verse found in the AV [KJV] (and most English Bibles since then), with God hating divorce, represents a departure from the translation tradition of the previous centuries.
  2. The rendering of the ESV, which has a Judean man “hating” his wife and divorcing her, does the best job of handling the details of the Masoretic Text, with no corrections. It also enables us to see how this fits into the context of profaning the calling of the people of God.
  3. This way of reading Malachi 2:16 allows us to see how the verse fits into the overall promotion of covenant fidelity as the ideal of marriage, an ideal for which the faithful among the people of God—whether in ancient Israel or in the Christian Church today—will seek all the resources of grace, of forgiveness, of fellowship with the saints, and of the Holy Spirit’s enabling power.

That’s the short answer. For the long answer, read this 25-page article (pdf) by C. John Collins. You can also find this article (and others) on the Articles page elsewhere on this website.