Altars Covered in Tears – Malachi

Everywhere I turn I see big semantic and doctrinal changes introduced in the Geneva Bible, when the Puritans took the Scriptures in hand and revised them.

Take Malachi 2:13-16. Both the Matthew and Geneva Bibles mention altars covered with tears. Both say there is a problem in Israel: the men despise their wives, and the Lord rebukes them for this sin. But who is weeping, and why? See what has changed since the Reformation.

1537 Matthew Bible:

13 Now have ye brought it to this point again, that the altar of the Lord is covered with tears, weeping, and mourning: so that I will no more regard the meat offering, neither will I receive nor accept anything at your hands.

14 And yet ye say, wherefore [why]?

Even because that whereas the Lord made a covenant betwixt thee and the wife of thy youth, thou hast despised her: Yet is she thine own companion and married wife. 15 So did not the one,* and yet had he an excellent spirit. What did then the one? He sought the seed promised of God. Therefore look well to your spirit, and let no man despise the wife of his youth.

16 If thou hatest her, put her away, sayeth the Lord God of Israel, and give her a clothing for the scorn, sayeth the Lord of hosts. Look well then to your spirit, and despise her not.

John Rogers’ note: “the one” is Abraham.

I understand this to mean that the women weep because their husbands despise them. The men have broken their covenant to love and protect.

If John Rogers’ note is correct, Malachi holds up Abraham as an example of a man with an excellent spirit toward his wife, and exhorts the men to guard their own spirits. However, if a man hates his wife, he may put her away, to spare further injury and grief – but he must “give her a clothing for the scorn. ‘Clothing’ means, I believe, ‘garment.’ The meaning of this is not clear, and may be figurative. In any case, what is certain is that the men are told to take some steps to provide for (‘clothe’ or ‘cover’) their scorned and injured wives.

But this changed significantly in the Geneva Version. Here it is not the wives who weep:

1599 Geneva:

13 And this have ye done again, and [a]covered the altar of the Lord with tears, with weeping and with mourning: because the offering is no more regarded, neither received acceptably at your hands.

14 Yet ye say, [b]Wherein? Because the Lord hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast transgressed: yet is she thy [c]companion, and the wife of thy [d]covenant

15 And did not [e]he make one? yet had he [f]abundance of spirit: and wherefore one? because he sought a godly [g]seed: therefore keep yourselves in your [h]spirit, and let none trespass against the wife of his youth.

16 If thou hatest her, [i]put her away, saith the Lord God of Israel, yet he covereth [j]the injury under his garment, saith the Lord of hosts: therefore keep yourselves in your spirit, and transgress not.

Geneva notes (they had ten, I put five only here):

Malachi 2:13 Yet cause the people to lament, because that God doth not regard their sacrifices, so that they seem to sacrifice in vain.

Malachi 2:14 This is another fault, whereof he accuseth them, that is, that they broke the laws of marriage.

Malachi 2:15 Did not God make man and woman as one flesh and not many?

Malachi 2:16 Not that he doth allow divorcement, but of two faults he showeth, which is the less.

Malachi 2:16 He thinketh it sufficient to keep his wife still, albeit he take others, and so as it were covereth his fault.

A few differences:

  1. In the Geneva Bible, it is the people who are weeping, because the Lord does not regard their meat offerings. This they confirm in note 2:13. But how plausible is this?
  2. In the Matthew Bible, if the men hate their wives and put them away, they must “give her clothing for the scorn.” This indicates that they themselves must “cover” the injury they have done to her somehow. But in the Geneva Bible, the Lord covers the injury under his garments. (How convenient.) Note 2:16 says this means the husband takes other wives and so covers his own fault. What??
  1. In the Matthew Bible, Rogers had one note explaining that “the one” means Abraham, who is apparently held up as an example. But in the Geneva Bible, “one” is referred to the teaching that men and women become as one flesh. This is a very different thing.

Looking at later Bibles, it is clear that there is no agreement among the “experts” in the translation of this obviously difficult text. Further, the “literal” Bibles disagree, which belies the promise of literalism.

The NASB at 2:26 has, “For I hate divorce,” says the LORD, the God of Israel, “and him who covers his garment with wrong.” Another entirely different message! Here is an article by one Hebrew speaker, who disagrees with the NASB rendering. He says the Hebrew cannot possible support it:

So, how do we select the true translation? Which ‘experts’ do we trust, when there are so many out there saying different things? In a courtroom, when a judge is faced with conflicting testimonies from witnesses, he will choose which to believe based on the witness’s demeanour. He will choose the testimony of the witness that appears most trustworthy. I hope shortly to write an article on choosing Witness ‘X’ among our Bibles.

As for me, the Matthew Bible is my witness ‘X.’


© Ruth Magnusson Davis, May 2018