Does God allow a husband or wife to divorce their spouse for abuse? Is domestic violence a Biblical cause for divorce?
So far in this series we have shown that while God hates divorce, and God does not allow “no fault divorce” or “divorce for any cause”. He only allows divorce for certain causes. Many Christians believe that divorce is limited to only two causes – adultery and abandonment. This is based on Christ’s words in the Gospel on divorce and Paul’s words about abandonment.
However this interpretation ignores other key passages of Scripture like Exodus 21:10-11 that allow a woman to be freed from her husband for other causes. Neither Christ nor any of his Apostles removed these rights from a woman, or her right to divorce if these rights were denied.
Does the Bible speak specifically on spousal abuse?
No. The Bible never specifically speaks on spouse abuse. However the Bible does speak on the subject of physical abuse in other contexts:
“And if a man smite the eye of his servant, or the eye of his maid, that it perish; he shall let him go free for his eye’s sake. And if he smite out his manservant’s tooth, or his maidservant’s tooth; he shall let him go free for his tooth’s sake.” – Exodus 21:26-27 (KJV)
If a man physically abused his male or female slave and caused any type of serious physical damage – he had to free them.
It is human right that God has given to all mankind –we do not have to allow ourselves to be physically abused.
Some have tried to point to passages in the New Testament like Matthew 5:39 to suggest that a spouse needs to allow physical abuse to continue for Christ’s sake:
“But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” – Matthew 5:39 (KJV)
But they are ignoring the context of Christ’s statement. For the sake of the Gospel –we are to endure all manner of persecution – even unto death. He is not talking about a husband or wife taking a beating from their spouse in marriage.
The right to be freed from physical abuse is a human right, regardless of who the abuser is – whether it is a parent, an employer, or even a spouse.
In the context of marriage physical abuse would constitute a breach of the marriage covenant.
What kind of abuse are we talking about?
If you look at the language of Exodus 21:26-27 it clearly speaking of physical abuse that causes bodily harm. It is not talking about “emotional abuse” or any other kinds of abuse. In fact in I Peter he tells slaves:
“Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.” – I Peter 2:18(NIV)
God does not allow a master being harsh, or a husband being harsh, or a wife being harsh as a reason for a person to be freed. In other words, God does not allow divorce for emotion abuse, only for physical abuse.
There is no reason to believe that God would expect a husband to stay with a wife who stabbed him and tried to kill him (physically abused which resulted in great bodily harm). There is no reason that God would expect for a wife to stay in a marriage with a husband who continually beats her or her children as this is a basic human right given to all people – the right to not be physically abused.
Source: publik15 at https://www.flickr.com/photos/publik15/4023162743
Used under Creativecommons license 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/