Divorce And Violence: Synonymous Parallelism In Malachi 2:16 -- By: Elaine A. Heath

Journal: Ashland Theological Journal
Volume: ATJ 28:0 (NA 1996)
Article: Divorce And Violence: Synonymous Parallelism In Malachi 2:16
Author: Elaine A. Heath


Divorce And Violence:
Synonymous Parallelism In Malachi 2:16

Elaine A. Heath

Elaine Heath (M.Div. - ATS, 1995) is a United Methodist pastor in eastern Ohio and a Ph.D. student in theology at Duquesne University.

Is the Bible silent about divorce in the case of domestic violence? Christian commentators traditionally have argued that the Bible forbids all divorce or only permits it in the case of sexual infidelity. Yet I believe that the Old Testament verse most often cited to unilaterally forbid divorce, Malachi 2:16, actually champions hope and justice for victims of domestic violence. When read in its original historic and literary contexts and in light of the overarching biblical message of redemption, Malachi 2:16 presents domestic violence as a form of covenant-breaking equal to divorce. Moreover, this text asserts what abuse survivors know too well—that abuse divorces them from their abusive spouse. Abuse of all kinds1 is an ongoing abandonment and betrayal by the abusive partner. What the church needs to hear and to tell those who are broken by domestic violence, is that God hates domestic violence as much as he hates divorce. Furthermore, when wounded Christians face a choice between divorce or continued victimization at the hands of an unrepentant, violent spouse, they need to know that God is their helper in the painful, life-saving process of ending the marriage. God’s judgment rests against the oppressor and on behalf of the oppressed in such a case.

What, then, are we to make of the usual interpretations given to Malachi 2:16 from the average pulpit or book on Christian marriage? The major culprits are interpretive bias and lack of scholarship.

Historical and Literary Contexts

The isolated use of Malachi 2:16 to forbid, encourage, or merely permit divorce (three primary scholarly interpretations of this text)2 is problematic at best, for the pericope as a whole (2:10–16) is fraught with textual, grammatical, and syntactical difficulties in Hebrew. Even when using the best critical tools, scholars disagree sharply as to Malachi’s intent. Joyce Baldwin, for example, cites the text as being unequivocally against divorce.3 F.F. Hvidberg dismisses verses 15–16 as “being completely unintelligible.”4 Gordon Pa...

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