Martin Luther on divorce for sexual denial

“Only first the husband should admonish and warn his wife two or three times, and let the situation be known to others so that her stubbornness becomes a matter of common knowledge and is rebuked before the congregation. If she still refuses, get rid of her; take an Esther and let Vashti go, as King Ahasuerus did [Esther 1:12‑2:17]”.  This was a statement by Martin Luther “Living as Husband and Wife” (1523) on the subject of sexual denial and abandonment in marriage.

I had one of my readers(thanks Dash) bring this quote to my attention today.  I have attended a Baptist Church for most of my life, but I studied many of the writing of reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin in my youth and I don’t remember coming across this quote. After verifying it in several sources I thought I would bring Martin Luther’s words on this subject to your attention.

Let me first say, that unlike the Catholics, we as Protestants do not believe that our church leaders are inerrant in their utterances on doctrinal interpretation. So while I agree with the sentiment here of Martin Luther on the subject of sexual denial, there are many other areas where I would not agree with him.  But where we as Christians agree (whether we be Protestant or Catholic), we should stand together.

I think Luther’s words stand in stark contrast to a Pastor who emailed a man scolding him for considering discipline against his wife for her chronic sexual denial:

“I do not think it right to pursue discipline toward your wife for not having sex with you as you have previously suggested. Sex is the physical expression of intimacy that is to exist in a marriage relationship where the two are one – not just physically. I have never heard of or read of anyone being disciplined by a church for such a reason. And, I am not alone in that position. I have sought counsel from other pastors and elders on it without divulging your identities to those outside our church.”

So again I am not advocating for the inerrancy of Luther’s application and interpretations of the Scripture.  But whether you agree that the Scriptures allow divorce for sexual denial or not what this does provide is historical evidence for Pastors that the Christian belief in discipline for sexual denial is not a new teaching.

With all that said – here is the full quote from Luther on this subject of divorce for sexual denial:

 “The third case for divorce is that in which one of the parties deprives and avoids the other, refusing to fulfill the conjugal duty or to live with the other person. For example, one finds many a stubborn wife like that who will not give in, and who cares not a whit whether her husband falls into the sin of unchastity ten times over. Here it is time for the husband to say, “If you will not, another will; the maid will come if the wife will not.” Only first the husband should admonish and warn his wife two or three times, and let the situation be known to others so that her stubbornness becomes a matter of common knowledge and is rebuked before the congregation. If she still refuses, get rid of her; take an Esther and let Vashti go, as King Ahasuerus did [Esther 1:12‑2:17].

Here you should be guided by the words of St. Paul, I Corinthians 7 [:4‑5], “The husband does not rule over his own body, but the wife does; likewise the wife does not rule over her own body, but the husband does. Do not deprive each other, except by agreement,” etc. Notice that St. Paul forbids either party to deprive the other, for by the marriage vow each submits his body to the other in conjugal duty. When one resists the other and refuses the conjugal duty she is robbing the other of the body she had bestowed upon him. This is really contrary to marriage, and dissolves the marriage. For this reason the civil government must compel the wife, or put her to death. If the government fails to act, the husband must reason that his wife has been stolen away and slain by robbers; he must seek another. We would certainly have to accept it if someone’s life were taken from him. Why then should we not also accept it if a wife steals herself away from her husband, or is stolen away by others?”

Martin Luther, “Living as Husband and Wife” (1523)

http://www.lutherdansk.dk/Web-Living%20as%20husband%20and%20wife/Living%20as%20husband%20and%20wife.htm

By the way I am not advocating for the death penalty by civil government for a wife denying her husband.  Martin Luther was a product of his time and his day there were a lot more crimes that people thought were punishable by death.

But I do think we make divorce far too painless today, especially as it relates to women. Today a woman can deny her husband sexually or have affairs with men and then when they divorce she gets either joint custody or primary custody of the children, his house and half of his assets. It is almost as if the government(which has been thoroughly infected by feminism) rewards the rebellion of modern women today.

If it can be proven that a woman was purposefully and willfully denying her husband or that she was committing adultery then I do think it should affect property settlements and child custody in divorce. There must be a price to pay.

On the issue of proving sexual denial, I think Martin Luther actually had a great idea.  Let others know. Make sure for some time that other members of the Church as well as family and friends know about her denial if she will not repent privately.  I agree that a husband should not make this public if his wife admits her wrong privately and changes her ways.  But if she is continues in her ways, it is time to drag her sin into the light.  Sin wants to hide in the dark, it wants to remain in secret.

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10 thoughts on “Martin Luther on divorce for sexual denial

  1. “But I do think we make divorce far too painless today, especially as it relates to women.”

    Something you should keep in mind, no fault divorce is usually supported and defending by men, as it is in my state. Before we had no fault divorce, men were most often perceived as being at fault and even when they clearly weren’t, often their sense of honor compelled them to take full responsibility anyway. Women were nearly always granted full custody, too. Today with divorce available simply on the grounds of irreconcilable differences and parenting plans rather than custody orders, most men are fairing much better as far as custody, visitation, and access to their children goes. Alimony is also way down, we have this thing called spousal support, but it is temporary and expires the moment a spouse re-marries.

    There is a meme about the need to bring back fault divorce, but I don’t believe the facts and statistics really back this up, at least not in my state.

  2. Insanity,

    I know what you talking about.

    This is what happened in historical context.

    Before the mid 1800’s women had zero rights in divorce. Then in what would later lay the ground work for the woman’s suffrage movement – new movements began to start advocating for giving women property and custody rights in divorce. Divorce was still rare as feminism was still not widely accepted. But then as the suffrage period approached divorces started to creep upward courts started to trust false advice that said it was better for the children to be with the mother in case of divorce and men started to get nailed at that point with alimony and child support along with rarely being able to see their children.

    In 1967 the movie “Divorce American Style”, a satirical comedy poked fun at the divorce epidemic that had exploded in America by that point. I have actually seen this movie and I think people should watch it. But in this movie it shows how easy divorce was for women. Her husband did not cheat or anything. They were both fighting a lot and eventually their friends had them thinking of divorce. Eventually the man get’s taken to the cleaners looses everything he has and has to live out of a dumpy apartment while his wife got full custody of the kids, child support and alimony. In fact at the final divorce proceeding his soon to be ex-wife could not believe how unfair the entire system was to him.

    This was one of the reasons that Ronald Reagan was the first state governor to push for and sign “No fault” divorce into law in 1969(he said later in his memoirs that it was one of his greatest political regrets). It then spread to all the other states from there.

    So I don’t disagree with you that men were even WORSE off before the advent of no fault divorce, but they were far BETTER off before the divorce law changes in the mid 1800’s that started giving women property and custody rights.

    Now I realize that seems unfair to say that. And people in the mid 1800’s argued “it was only fair” to give women at least joint custody of children and some property rights. That same argument was used for women’s suffrage, “it was only fair” that women should have the right to vote as well. But all these “it was only fair arguments” have lead to the mess we are in today. I am not saying all the evils in the world lie at the feet of feminism. But feminism was a probably the largest contributor.

    Now we have a society where women do not mind splitting custody of their kids(as they are now often forced to do) in order to get divorced and have their selfish ways.

    So no fault divorce really did nothing but help expand divorce, it just eventually evened out things with custody and eventually helped to make alimony more rare but believe I saw men still paying alimony in my divorce support group – so I know it still happens.

    You know based on my writings here that I do believe there are legitimate cases where women should have the right to divorce their husband and divorce instituted by women is not always for selfish reasons. Sometimes it is for abuse, infidelity or things like drug addiction or gambling addictions and when he fails to provide for his family.

    But before the mid 1800’s people rarely divorced. Society did not accept it. Men generally did not think of divorce, and women were scared to death of divorce because it would leave them without their children and nothing but the clothes on their back. So our society did something we still do today. They took something that was very rare – a man divorcing his wife and made it into a crisis. In these rare instances women had nothing, not even custody of their kids and that just could not stand – even though it had been that way pretty much since creation. Unless the man voluntarily gave up his children to his wife, they did not get them.

    What if we had an entirely new divorce structure? Yes we get rid of no fault. But then we replace it with something that addresses the rare legitimate times when couples should be able to divorce. If a man has by his horrible behavior of gambling addiction, drug addiction, failure to keep a job, abuse or infidelity then the woman gets full custody. However if she has not legitimate reason for divorce or he is the one with a legitimate reason for divorce he gets full custody of the kids and she gets nothing but the clothes on her back? That would make for a far better system that actually discouraged divorced and encouraged marriage.

  3. Wow insanity, I did not know that! So divorces were even worse in the 60s? Crazy.

    Larry,
    It’s sad you had to go all the way to mid-1850s to find sensible rules for divorce. I mean, I don’t agree with divorce at all, but if you have to do it, then the example you gave makes sense. Custody rights to the partner who isn’t at fault, and if neither is at fault the property and custody rights defaults to the man. That makes the most sense and I dont think its unfair at all.

    Ofc it wasn’t all fine and dandy then. Men didn’t get divorced because they got to have their cake and eat it too, since adultery for married males was considered quite normal then, I believe.

    Oh and the ‘its only fair’ arguments have really destroyed society. Thats the same arguments the homosexuals used to get marriage rights.

  4. Emily,

    You said:

    “Oh and the ‘its only fair’ arguments have really destroyed society. Thats the same arguments the homosexuals used to get marriage rights.”

    All I have to say sister is AMEN!.

  5. Insanity Bytes has the facts wrong. Women were the one pushing no-fault divorce. No-fault divorce was embraced as the pet project of the National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL) in 1947. They pushed it forward for over 20 years until California and other states adopted it. Herma Hill Kay is a woman who also pushed it.

    From Wikipedia:

    In addition, advocates for no-fault divorce argued that the law should be changed to provide a straightforward procedure for ending a marriage, rather than forcing a couple who simply couldn’t get along to choose between living together in “marital hell” or lying under oath in open court. The most prominent advocate of this position was feminist law professor Herma Hill Kay (who later became dean of UC Berkeley School of Law).[24]
    At its convention in 1947, the National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL) voted to draft and promote a bill that would embody the ideal of no-fault divorce and describes its efforts to promote the passage of no-fault divorce laws as “the greatest project NAWL has ever undertaken.”[25]

  6. Back in the days of Esther a man would not have to concern himself with the option of divorce, he would simply take on another wife, more willing than the first (assuming he could afford it). Since that option has been taken from modern American man, well, the only option is divorce or adultery, neither which is advisable. I am not an advocate of divorce for denial of sex, and adultery is another one of those pesky sins (insert sarcastic tone).

  7. Vashti was not divorced. She was demoted from queen and sent back to the royal hareem. She remained one of the king’s wives.
    Likely she was a daughter of an allied king, or of an important nobleman. Such fathers-in-law probably would have been in agreement with Ahasuerus’ discipline of insolence in a wife. But to divorce her and send her back to her father would have been a gross insult and might have incited war.

  8. Vashti was not divorced. She was demoted from queen and sent back to the royal hareem. She remained one of the king’s wives.
    Likely she was a daughter of an allied king, or of an important nobleman. Such fathers-in-law probably would have been in agreement with Ahasuerus’ discipline of insolence in a wife. But to divorce her and send her back to her father would have been a gross insult and might have incited war.

  9. When my sister’s husband slapped her around, beat her and then choked her, in an earlier age he would have been lashed to the post and whipped. Unfortunately rich feminist women had gotten the whipping post and the stocks abolished in the 1920s and 30s.
    The post and stocks might have salvaged him. Instead, over the next few years he grew up and made a decent husband for another woman.

  10. This is a very old post, I know, but I wanted to add something about “no fault” divorce. In these days of joint custody and no alimony, no fault divorce can also bring financial (in addition to the emotional and spiritual) devastation to a blameless *wife* and I know this because it happened to me.

    My husband abandoned me and our daughter in favor of a “different model.” I sought assistance from an attorney, but because divorce is no fault, the fact that he had abandoned his wife (a SAHM) and young daughter, put us out of our home, and refused even temporary assistance for me to rebuild my life, meant NOTHING to the courts, the mediators, or even my own attorney.

    Of course, he was eventually required to pay minimal child support, but we are talking $50 per week, an amount insufficient to put gas in the car. I was blindsided by my husband’s decision, entirely devastated, and forced to basically become a beggar to my elderly mother (who, luckily, was able to make temporary provision for us.)

    I was not perfect, of course, but there was no sexual denial on my part. I gave myself willingly and enthusiastically to the marriage bed. I accept my failures as a wife but even now, so many years later, I cannot see where I deserved the treatment I got, either from my husband or the civil authorities.

    I kept wishing at the time that there was some forum where someone in authority would *care* about his horrible treatment of his wife and daughter, and penalize him accordingly. But there is no longer any such thing, for the most part. Sometimes no fault divorce works *against* women, too.

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