Does God Hate Divorce?


‘For I hate divorce, says the Lord, the God of Israel.’ Malachi 2:16 NLT

As a Christian, for many years I heard preachers preach and teachers teach that God hates divorce. I sincerely believed this to be true, after all, God’s Word says it loud and clear in Malachi, depending on which translation you read.

When I discovered that different translations use different words, I asked myself, is that what God really said?

Ralph Smith in the Word Biblical Commentary, Micah-Malachi, 1984: 321, wrote the following:

‘Malachi 2:10-16 is one of the most important yet most difficult pericopes in the book of Malachi”. Whereas much of the debate centres on the interpretation of the passage, there is significant difficulty with regards to the state of the Masoretic Text at this point. See also John Goldingay, Minor Prophets II, 2009: 346.

This is clearly evident in the differences within English translations.

Translations Of Malachi 2:16

“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.” N.R.S.V.

“For I hate divorce,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “and him who covers his garment with wrong,” says the Lord of hosts. “So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.” N.A.S.B.

“For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, 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.” E.S.V.

“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.” N.I.V.

“I hate divorce,” says the LORD God of Israel, “and the one who is guilty of violence,” says the LORD who rules over all. “Pay attention to your conscience, and do not be unfaithful.” N.E.T.

“I hate divorce,” says the Lord God of Israel. “I hate it when one of you does such a cruel thing to his wife. Make sure that you do not break your promise to be faithful to your wife.” G.N.B.

“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.” R.S.V.

“For I hate putting away, saith the LORD, the God of Israel, and him that covereth his garment with violence, saith the LORD of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously.” R.V.

“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.” A.V.

“But if, since you hate her, you should send her away, says the Lord, the God of Israel, then impiety will cover over his garments, says the Lord Almighty. And be vigilant in your spirit, and do not abandon her.” A New English Translation of the Septuagint

In light of this ambiguity, we likely should be careful in our interpretation and application of what we understand to be the meaning of this passage. The traditional interpretation of the first three word sentence attributed to God is: “I hate divorce”.

The subject of which is based more on contextual evidence than on that of the manuscripts. The translation is not adopted in E.S.V, N.E.T or N.I.V, both of which attribute the verb to a third party.

Does this passage go beyond the teaching of Deuteronomy 24 and entirely prohibit divorce? Ralph Smith.

Some think so, but I doubt this. Some possible solutions:
1. It may be speaking of divorce in general and possibly comparing it with violence. In Malachi, marriage is seen very much as a covenantal relationship between two people who, in this context, were also a part of the covenantal relationship with God as his people. In this sense, divorce is a deplorable thing.

2. It is possible that it may be speaking against the casual, non-cause divorce scenario, also addressed by Jesus. Deuteronomy 24 speaks of divorce only where there is a legitimate reason. In this, divorce is seen as a product not of love, but of hate.

3. It might be speaking of divorcing a fellow-Israelite and marrying a Gentile, so dishonouring the covenantal relationship with God.

4. It might even be speaking in a non-literal, spiritual or cultic sense.


The use of the word “divorce” in most of the above versions is, itself, possibly ambiguous. The Hebrew word used in Malachi 2:16 is ‘shalach’ which might be better translated “putting away”. The usual word for “divorce” is ‘keriythuwth’, a word which occurs only 4 times in the Hebrew Scriptures and which is always associated with a certificate or writ, Deuteronomy 24:1 / Deuteronomy 24:3 / Isaiah 50:1 / Jeremiah 3:8.

Both words are found in Deuteronomy 24.

“When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favour in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce ‘keriythuwth’ and puts it in her hand and sends ‘shalach’ her out of his house, and she departs out of his house,” Deuteronomy 24:1 E.S.V.

The term “sending out” is certainly a part of the “divorce” process, but it is likely that many may have been “sent out” without having first been “divorced”, that is without having first been given a certificate of divorce. Ralph Smith, Word Biblical Commentary: Micah-Malachi, 1984: 321.

Context Of Malachi

‘Judah has been unfaithful, and a detestable thing has been done in Israel and in Jerusalem. The men of Judah have defiled the Lord’s beloved sanctuary by marrying women who worship idols. May the Lord cut off from the nation of Israel every last man who has done this and yet brings an offering to the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. Here is another thing you do. You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, weeping and groaning because he pays no attention to your offerings and doesn’t accept them with pleasure. You cry out, “Why doesn’t the Lord accept my worship?” I’ll tell you why! Because the Lord witnessed the vows you and your wife made when you were young. But you have been unfaithful to her, though she remained your faithful partner, the wife of your marriage vows. Didn’t the Lord make you one with your wife? In body and spirit you are his. And what does he want? Godly children from your union. So guard your heart; remain loyal to the wife of your youth. “For I hate divorce!” says the Lord, the God of Israel. “To divorce your wife is to overwhelm her with cruelty,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. “So guard your heart; do not be unfaithful to your wife.” Malachi 2:11-16 NLT

When we read the Malachi 2:11-16 passage, we read that there are two kinds of marriages and one divorce being mentioned. We read that the ‘divorce’ wasn’t an official divorce but it needed to be. They were already previously married and ‘unofficially’ married again.

The older men were putting away the wives that they had married when they were young in order to marry younger, more beautiful wives in their older age. In other words, they had forgotten their ‘marriage covenant’ with their wife.

When one marries another, he or she comes into a covenant relationship with his or her partner. It’s a covenant that is made in the eyes of God, and so it is honoured by God, Genesis 31:50 / Proverbs 2:16-17. When someone puts away his or her mate, he or she has broken the marriage covenant.

We’ve already seen that the Hebrew word ‘shalach’ means ‘putting away’, a separation, as correctly translated in most Bibles. However, the King James and a number of newer versions have incorrectly translated ‘shalach’ as to mean divorce, ‘keriythuwth’.

God hated the ‘putting away’ ‘shalach’ because they didn’t keep God’s ways concerning marriage, divorce and remarriage, but had shown partiality in the law, Malachi 2:9.

The law clearly said that when a man got a divorce from his wife that he was to write “…her a certificate of divorce, ‘keriythuwth’ put it in her hand, and ‘shalach’ send her out ‘put her away’…” Deuteronomy 24:1.

God also commanded them not to marry anyone who didn’t serve Him, that is those who served a foreign god, Nehemiah 13:25-30.

The problem was that these men separated from their wives without ever giving them a certificate of divorce ‘keriythuwth’ and then illegally married someone else. This is why the Lord said that they were still ‘their wife by covenant.’ Malachi 2:14. In other words, the marriage covenant had never been dissolved by the divorce certificate.

The men of Israel were separating from their wives for self-gratifying reasons. God Himself was a ‘witness’ at their original marriage ceremony which was still in effect.

The marriage covenant was never dissolved by a certificate of divorce. The men remarried outside their own culture and tribe and God considered the children they bore unholy because of the mixed marriages bringing curses into their families, Ezra 9:1-2 / Nehemiah 13:26-30.

Because of these unauthorized marriages, the Word of God came to Ezra and Nehemiah to have the men and women of Israel who had done this thing, to separate from their spouse and even from their children, Ezra 9:1 / Ezra 9:11-12 / Ezra 10:3 / Nehemiah 13:23-27.

In this situation, God’s command was to “put them away, separate yourselves from them!” This was not the kind of marriage to which God was saying, “I hate divorce!” He was saying “get out of these wrong marriages!”

Because these men had remarried illegally and separated from their wives without giving them a certificate of divorce, they were living in adultery, just as Jesus taught.

Before we look at Jesus words, please note that the Old Testament Hebrew word ‘shalach’, Genesis 3:22-23 / Genesis 21:14 / Exodus 2:5 / Exodus 8:32 / 1 Samuel 4:4 / 1 Samuel 30:26, and the New Testament Greek word ‘apoluo’ Matthew 5:31-32 / Matthew 14:15 / Matthew 19:1-9/ Mark 6:36 / Mark 6:45 / Luke 6:37 / Luke 13:12 / John 18:39 / John 19:10 / Acts 3:13 / Acts 23:22 / Hebrews 13:23, are equivalent.

The Old Testament Hebrew word, ‘keriythuwth’, Deuteronomy 24:1 / Deuteronomy 24:3 / Isaiah 50:1 / Jeremiah 3:8, and the New Testament word, ‘apostasion’, Matthew 5:31-32 / Matthew 19:1-9/ Mark 10:1-12, are also equivalent.

‘It was also said, ‘Whoever DIVORCES ‘apoluo’ his wife, let him give her A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE ‘apostasion’.’ But I say to you that anyone who DIVORCES ‘apoluo’ his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a DIVORCED ‘apoluo’ woman commits adultery.’ Matthew 5:31-32

Please note that Matthew 5:32 should have been rendered ‘put away’. Some translations such as the N.I.V. use the word ‘divorce’ instead of ‘send away’ which may be the cause of much of the confusion on the subject.

If ‘divorce’ is the only possible translation of ‘apoluo’ in Matthew 5, then it must be asked, why is the word apoluo not translated as divorce in all other passages in the New Testament?

Though context might often affect the appropriate translation of a particular word, it does not necessarily preclude other possible translations. The word ‘divorce’ is a legal term. So, if it’s valid to translate ‘apoluo’ only as such, then we must admit that in Acts 19:41, for example, that the entire assembly were married to the town clerk of Ephesus and then divorced by him.

It seems to me that many who support the idea that Matthew 5 is addressing the matter of divorce are perhaps not making a distinction between being separated, without being divorced, and actually being divorced. The problem Jesus was speaking about isn’t primarily focused on ‘divorce’ but on the ‘sending away’.

Men were ‘sending their wives away’ without giving them the ‘certificate of divorce’ which had devastating results for the women of the time.

They couldn’t marry anyone else without this certificate and if she did, she would end up committing adultery, hence causing the man who ‘sent her away’, ‘apoluo’, to make her an adulteress. Why? Because legally she was still married, Matthew 5:31-32.

Is Divorce A Sin?

I think we can also come to the conclusion that Jesus doesn’t condemn ‘divorce’ as a sin. Many people teach that divorce is a sin but the Bible doesn’t say that. Where does the problem come in this text? Does it come in the divorce? No! It’s in the remarriage, that’s where the problem is, the problem comes in the remarriage. Jesus says they can’t remarry unless there has been official divorce.

Even if Jesus is talking about legal divorce all the way through, He says the problem comes when one divorces his wife and then marries another. The person who divorces and marries another commits adultery, Matthew 5:31-32.

Isn’t that what He said? However, by default, we could say if a person divorces and never remarries, they have not sinned in the sight of God, therefore divorce is not a sin.

Does God Hate Divorce?

No! He said, ‘I hate shalach’ which we now know means ‘putting away’. I hate putting away, God says. Why? Because they hadn’t been granting their wives the ‘apostasion’, Matthew 5:31-32, they hadn’t given them the ‘keriythuwth’, Deuteronomy 24:1, they hadn’t given them the legal certificate.

God hated that the husbands were separating from their wives without giving them a certificate of divorce which would enable them to get remarried. this is what God hates!

God says, He hates it when they just abandon their wives. He hates it when there is separation and they don’t meet her financial needs, her emotional needs, her sexual needs, her psychological needs.

They just put her on the shelf and forget about her. And she doesn’t have the right to go out and marry anybody else who will meet those needs. God says I hate that. If the husband is going to separate from her and abandon her, he must give her a divorce, make it official so she can remarry. God says, ‘I hate the putting away’, not I hate divorce.


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