“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)
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.