Does God allow divorce for abuse?

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.

Conclusion

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.

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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/

8 thoughts on “Does God allow divorce for abuse?

  1. Thank you for sharing this. Very eye opening. However, I’m not sure God would want his children to suffer abuse in any context (physical, emotional, sexual, etc.)

  2. Lynettedavis,

    I agree that it is not God’s will that his children suffer any kind of abuse. In the same way God does not want us to commit any sin. But God has chosen that certain sins allow for divorce, while others do not. Even in the context of physical abuse vs emotional abuse with servants and slaves – God told servants unless they were being physically abused they still had to submit to their masters who were harsh and cruel(emotionally abusive).

    Then it comes to emotional abuse – that is a very slippery slope, where physical abuse either is, or is not. Some people say if a wife or husband yell at their spouse that is emotional abuse worthy of divorce – but I just don’t see that in Scripture.

  3. True to the extent that EA has not been defined as clearly as physical abuse. EA can include yelling. which falls under verbal abuse, but generally has more longer lasting affects than physical abuse. I’m thankful that you shared Exodus 21:26-27 in support of divorce due to physical abuse. This can save a lot of lives.

  4. LynnetteDavis,

    For years I grew up in Churches that taught, while a woman could separate from an abusive husband, it was not grounds for divorce. We were taught there are only two grounds for divorce – Adultery and Abandonment. But as I studied the Scriptures I realized that while God does not give all the human rights that we as Americans give ourselves – he does give certain human rights. Even slaves – who were considered the human property of the masters and could be passed down as an inheritance were to be treated with human dignity. They had to be feed, clothed, given a day of rest like everyone else and they could not be physically abused. I then reasoned if a slave was entitled to these basic human rights – would a husband or wife be entitled to any less from their spouse? And I believe the clear answer is no – or in other words a husband and wife have the same rights as a slave and MORE rights.

  5. When I am discussing divorce I am not so much considering a legal decree from a pagan court; rather, that God considers the marriage terminated with the parties free to marry someone else.
    “Divorced” but not free to marry some other agreeable person is referred to by Paul.
    “Divorced” but still “married in the sight of God” therefore not free to marry someone else is not what I’m contemplating.

  6. Gerry,

    You said:

    “When I am discussing divorce I am not so much considering a legal decree from a pagan court; rather, that God considers the marriage terminated with the parties free to marry someone else.

    “Divorced” but not free to marry some other agreeable person is referred to by Paul.

    “Divorced” but still “married in the sight of God” therefore not free to marry someone else is not what I’m contemplating.”

    Gerry I agree with you that there is certainly a difference between being divorced in man’s eyes and being divorced in God’s eyes.

    I agree with you that Christ gives us the concept of a woman being unjustly divorced from her husband and her still being considered married to him God’s eyes:

    “And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.” – Matthew 19:9 (KJV)

    And I agree there is a type of divorce based on Paul’s use of the word “unmarried” where wife may is not to remarry but rather her only choice is to be reconciled to her husband:

    “10 And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband:

    11 But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.” – I Corinthians 7:10-11 (KJV)

    I believe based on the witness of the entire Scripture as well as Paul’s own words later in this same passage that he is referring to women divorcing their husbands for reasons other than those allowed by God. So he is saying – “women you are not to be separated or divorced from your husbands for reasons that God does not allow, but if you do divorce him for reasons God does not allow you are not to remarry – but remain unmarried or be reconciled to your husband”. Later though in the same passage Paul will give them a reason that does free them from their obligation to their husband and that is abandonment.

    There is more than one way for a person to be justly divorced from their spouse in God’s eyes.

    1. A man puts his wife away(divorces her) for fornication(Matthew 5:32, Matthew 19:9). The marriage is terminated in God’s eyes therefore they are BOTH the man and the woman free to marry as they are no longer bound in wedlock in God’s eyes.

    2. A woman is to be freed(give a bill of divorce from her husband) if he fails to provide her with food clothing and sex. (Exodus 21:10-11) The marriage is terminated in God’s eyes therefore they are BOTH the man and the woman free to marry as they are no longer bound in wedlock in God’s eyes.

    3. A man or woman are freed(able to divorce their spouse or be divorced from their spouse) where the other physically abuses them or tries to kill them(the ultimate physical abuse). While this is not spoken of in the context of marriage, it is spoken of in the larger context of human rights that God gives to all people from slaves on up. (Exodus 21:26-27) The marriage in these cases is terminated in God’s eyes and therefore they are BOTH the man and the woman free to marry as they are no longer bound in wedlock in God’s eyes.

    4. Paul in the same passage where he tells a woman that she is not freed from her husband(still bound to him) and cannot marry anyone else says that if the spouse departs lets them depart and that “A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases” or not still bound to this person in wedlock in such cases(I Corinthians 7:15). So Biblically speaking abandonment does free a person(unbounds them) from one they were married to, thus terminating the marriage and freeing them to remarry. Now we can debate about how long someone should wait when the spouse departs, but their is definitely a Scriptural allowance for termination of a marriage in God’s eyes for the reason of abandonment.

    I am familiar with the argument that “God allows divorce in some cases but that does not mean he allows remarriage”. I grew up Churches that taught that(for both men and women). But I respectfully find that argument lacking. The language of a person being “freed” as in Exodus 21:10-11 and “not under bondage”(I Corinthians 7:15) tells us that a woman marrying another man is acceptable if the reasons she was divorced from her husband were just in God’s eyes.

    So as I said in the beginning and as I have maintained throughout my studies of Biblical divorce – we must look at the entire witness of Scripture to understand for what reasons God allows divorce and remarriage.

  7. In my marriage I have made some mistakes. I have not directly hit my wife but I have used my physical strength to over power her. I have broken a vase (that I replaced) and threw some items off the dresser. Here recently I went so far as to go into her checking account and withdrew money from it out of anger. I know that her money is supposed to be our money but that’s just not the situation right now. I am a man of God who has made some mistakes and through Jesus I am trying to become the man I’m supposed to be. We have not lived together in almost 3 months but Ilove my wife dearly. How do I keep my marriage from failing. I know through prayer and repentance but she is not as spiritually led as I am.

  8. McAurther Woods,

    Without more detail I really could not give you much advice. What do you mean by “I have my physical strength to over power her.”? What was the context of you doing this? Was she acting erratically had to be restrained or did you just grab her?

    Feel free to email me at biblicalgenderroles@gmail.com if you would feel more comfortable giving details privately.

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