Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Text and Translation Note: Malachi 2:16a

A recent post on the Reformed Baptist officers’ Yahoo list asked about the translation of Malachi 2:16a in the ESV.

The issue:

The ESV reads:  “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the LORD, the God of Israel….”  The online text of the ESV includes a footnote for the verse reading:  Hebrew who hates and divorces,” acknowledging that the ESV departs from the Hebrew text to follow a conjectural rendering.

The vast majority of English translations, however, follow some variation of translating the traditional Hebrew Masoretic Text which reads:  ki saneh shalach amar Yahweh eloheh yisrael.  The verb saneh is qal perfect 3rd person singular.  This is reflected in the KJV and NKJV translation which offer the most literal rendering of the Hebrew MT:

KJV:  Malachi 2:16 For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away….

NKJ Malachi 2:16 "For the LORD God of Israel says That He hates divorce…”

Other modern translations also follow the Hebrew text, but they choose to change the verb from third person to first person.  Examples:

NIV Malachi 2:16 "I hate divorce," says the LORD God of Israel….”

NASB Malachi 2:16 "For I hate divorce," says the LORD, the God of Israel….”

This change apparently reflects the suggestions of the critical text of the OT in the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia where a footnote at senah suggests the reading should probably be in the first person (p. 1084).

Even the RSV (the base for the ESV translation) and the NRSV (like the ESV, a revision of the RSV) follow the Hebrew text:

RSV and NRSV Malachi 2:16  For I hate divorce says the LORD, the God of Israel….


There are several interesting things about the ESV rendering of this verse, but I'll break it down into two categories:  text and translation philosophy:


First:  Regarding text, the ESV follows the LXX which reads:  alla misesas [aorist participle from miseo, to hate] exaposteiles [aorist active subjunctive verb, second person singular, from exapostello, to send away] legei kurios ho theos tou Israel.  A literal rendering of the LXX would be:  “But hating you might send away, says the Lord God of Israel.”  This is also the reading of the Latin Vulgate.

A footnote in the print edition of the ESV reads:  “Probable meaning (compare Septuagint and Deuteronomy 24:1-4); or For the LORD, the God of Israel, says that he hates divorce, and him who covers”.

The ESV Study Bible provides an extended commentary on the translation of Malachi 2:16, beginning, “The Hebrew text of this verse is one of the most difficult passages in the OT to translate, with the result that the two main alternatives proposed for this verse are strongly disputed….” (see pp. 1776-1777).

Oddly enough the Geneva Bible follows the LXX as well and, thus, is closer to the ESV than to the KJV (a rarity).  Calvin’s commentary on Malachi also takes the Latin Vulgate reading as its base.

Second:  Regarding translation, I find it interesting that the ESV of Malachi 2:16a apparently reflects a dynamic equivalent rendering of the LXX which it follows.  It makes the participle from miseo a third person finite verb and the second person verb from exapostello into a third person verb.  It also adds the noun “wife” as the object of the verb exapostello though no such noun appears in the LXX.

It is also interesting to note that the ESV was apparently revised at some point.  The original (2001) ESV of Malachi 2:16a reads, "For the man who hates and divorces...." while, again, the current ESV reading is, "For the man who does not love his wife, but divorces her...."  Thus, the current ESV changed its predecessor’s more literal rendering of the verb “to hate” (miseo) to the negative (and softer?) “not love.”

This raises the issue of the ESV translation philosophy which has more dynamic equivalent renderings than one might expect in a version so heavily promoted as "essentially literal” (though this example is admittedly odd given that we are talking about the ESV’s rendering of a Greek translation of the OT and not the Hebrew original).   For another example of dynamic equivalence in the ESV of Jeremiah look here.


What is the significance of the textual and translation philosophy choices of the ESV?

First, for a long time, most of the battles over text seem to have been in the field of the NT with even most modern translations accepting the Hebrew MT for the OT, but now it seems that the translators are increasingly choosing to follow a reconstructed modern critical text of the Hebrew Bible.  The ESV (even more boldly than the RSV or NRSV) seems to be leading the way in preferring readings that have little or no Hebrew textual basis but are based on conjectural emendations like this one from the LXX.  Here are comments on a few other examples of this which I ran across when preaching through 1-2 Samuel:  1 Samuel 6:19; 1 Samuel 13:5; 1 Samuel 13:15; 1 Samuel 17; 2 Samuel 6:3; 21:8.  Another example would be Psalm 145:13 where the ESV includes a half verse found only in one Hebrew manuscript but supported by the LXX and the Syriac.

Second, one might ask how these decisions relate to the confessional perspective on Scripture reflected in the Westminster Confession and Second London Confession which stress the immediate inspiration of the OT in Hebrew and the NT in Greek (which would, of course, exclude the Greek of the LXX as authoritative).  Admittedly, this could also prove troublesome for supporters of the TR (like me) if it could be proven that some TR readings (like "book of life" in Rev 22:19) did not rest on some preserved Hebrew or Greek witness.

Third, it is also interesting that the ESV is so willing to offer such conjectures in the OT without any Hebrew textual basis given the disdain of most evangelical modern critical advocates for the Comma Johanneum of 1 John 5:7-8 which is, at least, supported by a handful of Greek witnesses (up to 9 now, I think).

Fourth, though the ESV Study Bible notes on the passage assure its readers that translations based on either the LXX or Hebrew MT of Malachi 2:16a equally affirm divine displeasure regarding divorce one wonders if there are not potential divergences in interpretation and application based on the translation one reads.  Is the point of Malachi 2:16a that the one who does not love (hates) his wife and divorces her covers himself in destruction (as in the ESV) or is it that the Lord hates divorce (as in the other English translations)?  Might this have some impact on one’s understanding of the Scriptural teaching on divorce?  


D. Scott said...

Thank you for all these observations and comments.

D Scott Meadows, Pastor
Calvary Baptist Church (Reformed)
Exeter, New Hampshire


Jeffrey T. Riddle said...


Thanks for the encouragement!


Phil Brown said...

I appreciate this observation. I personally didn't even realize the ESV had been edited since 2001. Also, the issue of Textual Criticism is interesting. We all base our arguments on presuppositions, and I think that a believer who understands the doctrine of preservation should always take a believing approach to textual criticism. The problem with Modern, or should I say "Post-Modern" textual criticism is that it takes an Naturalist approach in determining the best text. I think that approach is ok and sufficient for an uninspired work such as a secular ancient work, but for the Written Word of God, one must handle with faith and care. Thank you for this insightful and helpful analysis.

Will Kinney said...

Hi all. The ESVs have now had 3 different editions in just 10 years and they keep changing not only the English text but the underlying Hebrew and Greek as well. The ESV is in fact just one more of the modern Vatican Versions. See the documented proof of this here, along with many textual examples.

The Ever Changing ESVs 2001, 2007 and 2011 = just another Vatican Version

Alastair Manderson said...

Thanks for your comments. I don't know much about this, was wondering if you would expand a bit for me.

Can you just explain the additional half-verse in ESV rendering of Psa 145:13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations. [The LORD is faithful in all his words and kind in all his works.]

Do square brackets not indicate something which the Translators do not support the inclusion of?

Jeffrey T. Riddle said...


I think the brackets are meant to indicate textual uncertainty or dispute. Mark 6:9-20 and John 7:53--8:11 are set off by double brackets in the ESV indicating that the editors do not believe these are original.

In the case of Psalm 145:13, however, the editors by the single brackets are suggesting the addition is original, though acknowledging that it does not have strong textual support.

The ESV note reads: "These two lines are supplied by one Hebrew manuscript, Septuagint, Syriac (compare Dead Sea Scroll)." This is what is called a "textual emendation." They believe that the line is original primarily because Psalm 145 is an acrostic following the letters of the Hebrew alphabet and supplying v. 13b completes the acrostic which is otherwise interrupted. My response, however, would be that the Masoretic conservers were not ignorant of the acrostic design but held the interruption as somehow purposeful and intentional in the original. There were early efforts to "correct" this "mistake" in the LXX and Syriac which have now been taken up by the ESV editors, but the traditional church text never saw any problem with the "broken" acrostic.