Making love without making babies...
Note: This afternoon, I received the following E-mail from a young man in Church of the Good Shepherd. I've changed the text of his letter, slightly, to protect his and others' privacy. Following his question is my response.
Recently, I was speaking to a believer who does not currently share with his wife a desire to have children. I cited Malachi 2:15, where God joins man and wife so that they produce a godly seed. Surprisingly, I found there is a discrepancy in translations. The New American Standard Bible reads:But not one has done so who has a remnant of the Spirit And what did that one do while he was seeking a godly offspring? Take heed then to your spirit, and let no one deal treacherously against the wife of your youth.
Compare the New International Version:
Has not the LORD made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth.
There are major differences here in meaning, and I am perplexed. In the NASB, the rebellious man desires the godly seed, not God. The NASB then footnotes the standard translation. Can you shed any light on this?
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The translation of Malachi 2:15 by the New American Standard Bible and its updated version, the New American Standard Version Updated (1995), is poor. The Revised Standard Version, the New Revised Standard Version, the New International Version, and the New King James Version all follow the King James Version which reads:
And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth.
To defend the NASB95's choice, some lines of thinking from Jewish times believed this text to be a reference to Abraham's taking of Sarai's servant, Hagar, in order to gain the offspring Sarai was not providing him. Thus it would be Abraham who was desiring "a godly offspring" and becoming a polygamist to that end. So then Abraham is here reproved by the prophet, Malachi, for violating God's universal law that "two should become one," not three.
Historically, though, John Calvin is typical of the understanding of this Hebrew text shared by our church fathers:
For what, or wherefore, has God made one? even to seek the seed of God. ...He sought then the seed of God, that is, he instituted marriage, that legitimate and pure offspring might be brought forth. Hence then the Prophet indirectly shows, that all are spurious who proceed from polygamy, because they cannot be deemed legitimate children; nor ought any to be so counted but those who are born according to God's institution. When a husband violates his pledged faith to his wife, and takes another; as he subverts the ordinance of marriage, so he cannot be a legitimate father. We now perceive why the Prophet says, that it was God's purpose to unite only one wife to one man, in order that they might beget legitimate offspring, for he shows by the effect how frivolous were the evasions which the Jews had recourse to; for however they might contend, their very offspring would prove them liars, as it would be spurious.
Thus it is God, not Abraham, Who makes the two one. And the "propagation of a godly seed" is the statement of God's purpose in this divine institution.
Some Bible students believe the text is not referring to God making the man and woman one, but rather His making Israel one. In this view Malachi is referring to God gathering the Jews together as one people under His provision and care, forbidding them marrying outside of His covenant community. Thus the casting off, or divorcing, of their Jewish wives and their taking Gentile wives to replace their Jewish ones could not produce the "godly seed" God was seeking. The children of such unions would be unclean.
Even if this is the correct understanding of the text, the underlying doctrine remains intact: that a central purpose of God in creating the institution of marriage and making a man and woman one is the propagation of the race of man; and that within His covenant community (the Church), His purpose is not the propagation of just any seed, but a godly one.
So the testimony of the Church through the centuries is that Malachi 2:15 confirms the doctrine revealed other places in Scripture--that from the beginning, prior to the Fall, God created the institution of marriage; and more specifically, it is His will that the physical union of a man and his wife be fruitful in the bearing of children. His command. "Be fruitful and multiply," is repeated several times in the Old Testament. And in the New Testament, we find this reaffirmation:
Therefore, I want younger widows to get married, bear children, keep house, and give the enemy no occasion for reproach; (1 Timothy 5:14).
This was no novel view or new command from the Apostle Paul. Rather, it was an incidental reinforcement of the purpose of marriage already understood by the believers Paul was indirectly (through Timothy) addressing.
Reflecting a consensus concerning the meaning of Malachi 2:15, we find that most-respected of all Protestant statements of doctrine, the Westminster Standards, summarizes the teaching of Scripture concerning the purposes of marriage as follows:
Westminster Confession of Faith (1648), Chapter XXIV
Marriage was ordained for the mutual help of husband and wife, for the increase of mankind with a legitimate issue, and of the Church with an holy seed; and for preventing of uncleanness.
And the Westminster divines added these Scripture proofs to the above confession:
 And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. (Genesis 2:18)
 And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth. (Malachi 2:15)
 Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. 9 But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn. (1Corinthians 7:2)
Until the past fifty years or so when the Protestant church has reversed her many-century-long biblical opposition to the intentional frustration of fruitfulness in the marriage bed--what we now euphemistically refer to as "birth control," when what we really mean is "few births and no control" (GKC)--there was no question that Scripture presented the bearing and rearing of children as a central purpose of marriage. And more specifically, both Roman Catholics and Protestants were largely agreed that Malachi 2:15 bore witness to, and reinforced, this Creation command.
There may be extraordinary circumstances in which a Christian man and his wife would consider intentionally circumventing the fruitfulness God placed at the heart of marriage. If so, they should understand that such circumvention bears a heavy burden of proof when one stops to consider the one-voiced witness in this matter of both Scripture and the Church through the ages. To be more specific, as a pastor I am not prepared to say such circumvention is always wrong. But I don't hesitate to say that most couples who have chosen to limit the fruitfulness of their love have done so in ignorance of this biblical teaching and command, and are unlikely to have been doing so by faith. And whatever is not of faith is sin.
Let us each be restrained in his judgments of others in this sensitive matter. And yet, let us not hesitate to proclaim the doctrine of Scripture, calling our brothers and sisters in Christ to hear God's Word and to walk in this matter, too, by faith.