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.

MB note: “the one” is Abraham.

The meaning is clear. The women weep because their husbands despise them. 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 a covering. The men must take steps to ‘clothe’  ‘cover’ the hurt and dishonour their wives have suffered.

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

In the Geneva Bible, it is the people who are weeping, because the Lord does not regard their meat offerings. How plausible is this? And then, unlike the Matthew Bible where the concern is for the women, in the Geneva Bible it is for the man. The note on verse 16 even says the husband may comfort himself with a new wife, and in this manner somehow cover his fault. It defies common sense and justice.

The Geneva Bible thus changed the  meaning from covering the hurt of the woman to covering the “fault” of the man. At Genesis 20:16, the Geneva Bible also changed the meaning of a  “covering” to protect Abraham’s wife Sarah. See Sarah’s Covering. This is a pattern in the Geneva Bible.

In Part 2 of the Story of the Matthew Bible I will examine the differences more closely.

© Ruth Magnusson Davis, May 2018. Revised October 2019.