Does the Bible promise that a couple who “belong to the Lord” will have godly offspring?

Q. In the Bible, the prophet Malachi says about marriage, “Has not the Lord made the two of you one? You belong to him in body and spirit. And why has he made you one? Because he was seeking godly offspring.”  Does this mean that we should expect the offspring of couples who “belong to the LORD in body and spirit” will naturally be “godly”? Or, since the translation note says, “The meaning of the Hebrew for this section is uncertain,” is the English translation still debatable?

It would certainly be wonderful if there were a promise in Scripture that a husband and wife who both belong wholly to the Lord will have children who grow up to be godly.  Unfortunately, as you note, there is some uncertainty about what the text actually says here.

In fact, it’s quite amazing how widely English translations of this statement by Malachi vary.  You quoted it from the TNIV (2005); in the latest update to the NIV (2011) it reads, “Has not the one God made you? You belong to him in body and spirit. And what does the one God seek? Godly offspring.”  So the translators who are responsible for both these editions have rethought things a bit:  no longer “God made you one,” but now “the one God made you.”  And look at how some other translations of this first part of the statement are even more different:

“Did not one God make her? Both flesh and spirit are his.” (NRSV)

“No one who has even a small portion of the Spirit in him does this.” (NET)

“And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit.” (KJV)

“God wants husbands and wives to become one body and one spirit.” (ERV)

“Has not the one God made and sustained for us the spirit of life?” (RSV)

(These examples are all taken from the comparison feature on Bible Gateway; you will see even more variety if you visit the site.)

English translations differ so much because of a couple of ambiguities in the Hebrew original.  Its wording is quite sparse, so translators need to supply much of what they believe to be the meaning.  Its first phase reads either “Did not one make?” or “Did he not make one?”  The second part reads either “flesh spirit to him” or “remnant spirit to him” (the same Hebrew consonants provide the root both for the word “flesh” and for the word “remnant”).

So translators need to decide whether Malachi is saying that “the One” (God) made something (and if so, what?), or whether someone (who?) made someone or something to be “one.”  They also have to decide whether Malachi is talking about flesh and spirit (meaning the whole person?) or a remnant or residue of the spirit.

These ambiguities are inherent in the original Hebrew and I honestly don’t believe they can be definitively resolved.  English translations will continue to differ.  However, I think your question can still be answered in light of the context of this statement within the book of Malachi.

In this section of the book, the prophet is warning the people against divorce.  (That is why some translations say that what “the One” made was marriage.)  Whatever the first part of this statement means, the second part is clear:  God is seeking godly offspring—children who will grow up to know Him—and so “do not be unfaithful to the wife of your youth.”  (Translators are widely agreed that this is the meaning of the second part of the statement.)

In other words, even if we don’t have a promise here that godly couples will naturally have godly children, there is an encouraging explanation that God’s design is for faithfulness in marriage to promote faith in children.  Indeed, studies have shown that the single most important factor in determining whether the children of Christian parents will grow up to be Christians themselves is whether they perceive that their parents love one another and are committed to each other.  This is far more important than whether the children are homeschooled or go to public school, whether the church they attend has a youth pastor, what translation of the Bible the family reads, etc.

So even if there isn’t a promise or a guarantee here, there is certainly hope and encouragement, and a challenge for couples who do “belong to the LORD in body and spirit” to make sure that their marriage is strong and lasting, for the sake of the “godly offspring” they trust God will help them raise.

Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is a writer and biblical scholar who is also an ordained minister. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the Scriptures that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He has an A.B. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

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