Issues Surrounding Mal. 2:16

Edgar Foster questioning1 at
Thu Jun 17 09:54:22 EDT 1999

Dear Paul,

Thanks for your valuable contributions to the thread on Mal. 2:16. I
now want to take this time to list some of the issues involved in this
significant passage.

(1) In Smith's discussion of Mal. 2:15, 16, the following questions are
posed: "Does "marrying the daughter of a foreign god" mean marrying a
foreign woman, or does it mean worshiping a female deity (idol)? Does
divorcing the wife of one's youth refer to husbands divorcing their
wives or does it refer to Israel's unfaithfulness to the covenant
religion?" (Smith 32:322. Word Series Commentary). 

After raising these questions, he then references the 1898 JBL article
by CC Torrey who suggests a cultic interpretation for Mal. 2:16. Torrey
writes that Mal. 2:16 is neither castigating marriages with foreign
women nor divorce from one's wife: "The rebuke is rather directed
against the encroachment of some foreign cult in Israel. The
unfaithfulness of a part of the people threatens to forfeit for all the
covenant of the fathers (v 10). Judah has dealt falsely with the wife
of his youth, the covenant religion, and is wedding a strange cult"
(Torrey, JBL 17 [1898] 4-5).

To sum matters up, Torrey would say that "There is one, and only one,
admissible interpretation of the passage; namely that which recognizes
the fact that the prophet is using figurative language. Judah, the
faithless husband, has betrayed the wife of his youth, the covenant
religion, by espousing the daughter of a strange god" (Torrey 9-10).

(2) On the other side of the spectrum, Lars Kruse Blinkenberg writes: 

"In my opinion, the meaning of 2:16 is that Yahweh hates divorce. This
is undoubtedly the most characteristic feature of M[alachi]: First the
author of M seems to protest against the dissolving of mixed marriages
in his time; secondly his proclamation contrasts with Deuteronomy that
allows a divorce"

Personally, I find Blinkenberg's explnation more cogent; the only
criticism I would have with his argument at present would be his
understanding of Deuteronomy over against Malachi 2:16. I see no
contradiction between Deut. 24 and Mal. 2:16. I think the circumstances
of each passage are different, and what is being condemned in Mal. 2:16
is the sending away of one's wife without a good reason: just "trading
her in," as it were, for a new "model" (to be colloquial about it).

These are some issues involved in the translation and interpretation of
Mal. 2:16. I would like to know your thoughts on this issue.


Edgar Foster
Classics Major
Lenoir-Rhyne College

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