In biblical interpretation, a crux interpretum is a passage that’s much debated.  In the Old Testament, a fine example of a crux interpretum is Malachi 2:16.  This passage is sometimes cited to prove that God hates divorce.  In fact, in our Canadian Reformed/Free Reformed Form for the Solemnization of Marriage it is indeed a proof-text for that assertion.  But does it really say that? 

Not if you read the ESV’s main text.  In Malachi 2:16, the ESV reads: “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the LORD, the God of Israel, cover his garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts.  So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.”  Some of the earliest English Bible translations have something similar, including Wycliffe’s translation and the 1599 Geneva Bible.  More recent translations adopting this reading (or something similar) include the NIV, CSB, and HCSB.

However, the ESV does have a footnote indicating an alternative translation:  “The LORD, the God of Israel, says that he hates divorce…”  This translation also has a long pedigree, being found early on with the 1611 KJV.  It was subsequently adopted by many others including the RSV/NRSV, NASB, NET, NLT, and CEV.

Whatever approach one takes, we do know from the rest of Scripture that God does not have a positive attitude towards divorce.  Marriage is meant to be a life-long covenant commitment between one man and one woman.   God allows divorce for several reasons, but that doesn’t mean he is pleased with it when it happens for those valid reasons.  In particular, his displeasure rests on the culpable party (or parties).  Any innocent party, however, can have a clean conscience before the LORD and sleep soundly at night, even if they are the one to seek the divorce. They have the right to do that and it is no sin to seek a divorce for a reason God permits.

But what about Malachi 2:16?  Does it give a blanket statement that God hates divorce?  I don’t think so.  It’s possible to get quite technical here with the Hebrew, but I won’t.  Let it suffice to say that I believe the grammar indicates a conditional sentence.  I’ll explain that as simply as I can. 

The first word in Hebrew, often translated as “for,” can also be translated as “if.”  That introduces the protasis, or the first part of the conditional sentence.  Literally: “If some man has hated divorcing…”  This is indicating a particular type of divorce.  It is sometimes called “aversion divorce.”  The husband hates his wife and therefore wants to divorce her.

The second part of the conditional sentence is known as an apodosis.  In Hebrew, the particle which introduces it is often translated as “and,” but in a conditional sentence it can be translated as “then.”  Literally in Malachi 2:16 the apodosis reads:  “then he covers with violence his garment.” 

So taken together, protasis and apodosis, the conditional sentence literally reads:  “If some man has hated divorcing, then he covers with violence his garment.”  Put more idiomatically: “If a man has hated his wife and divorced her, then he covers his garment with violence.”

This passage is referring to a particular type of divorce, not to divorce in general.  Yet it is fair to say, reasoning from the rest of Scripture, that God hates this type of divorce.  This “aversion divorce” is a form of violence, according to the LORD.  God hates violence (Ps. 11:5, Prov.6:17, etc.).  Therefore God hates the “aversion divorce” described in Malachi 2:16.  If you divorced your spouse just because you didn’t love them anymore, God says he hates that.  That is a contextually-responsible interpretation of this passage even into our present day.    

If the fall into sin had never happened, divorce wouldn’t have been necessary.  We live in a fallen world and this has impacted marriage too.  Sadly, sometimes the sins that husbands and wives commit against each other can be so profoundly devastating as to break the marriage covenant.  Divorce is caused by sin — the sin of the person who has broken the covenant.  And God hates sin.  Because this is true, we can never say that God approves of divorce or that God loves divorce.  We can say that, in his mercy, he continues to allow it.  We can be thankful that God permits it under certain conditions, but divorce should never be regarded as an inherent good.  Divorce (for whatever reason) should never be celebrated, but lamented.

So what about the Form for the Solemnization of Marriage?  I can live with it the way it is right now, but I’d prefer to see the reference to Malachi 2:16 dropped.  Moreover, the wording could also be improved thus:  “Since God has made marriage such a strong bond, divorce displeases him and is outside of his original plan for marriage as a life-long commitment between one man and one woman.  Our Lord Jesus also teaches us this in these words…”  That would, I think, be a more accurate reflection of biblical teaching in this form.