In the next several weeks, I will be doing a series about dating after abuse. Before I begin writing about dating, I would like to answer a question many divorced Christian women* struggle with:
Does the Bible (and God) say it’s OK to remarry if you divorced because of abuse?
I cover the theology of this question in great detail in my first book, A Journey through Emotional Abuse: from Bondage to Freedom. Here is a summary of the conclusions I drew there.
Many Christians believe there are only two valid reasons given for divorce in the Bible: adultery (Matthew 5:31-32), and desertion by an unbeliever, (1 Corinthians 7:1-16). These reasons both come from the New Testament. However, 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says:
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
Because of this, I looked at verses from both the Old and New Testaments to answer this question. The Old Testament prescribed laws for Israelite women who were sold for the purpose of marriage, and foreign women taken as captives during war. Both these groups of women were allowed to “go free” (divorce) if it were possible they were going to be mistreated, i.e. abused (Exodus 21:7-11 and Deuteronomy 21:10-14).
Any woman in the Old Testament who was granted a divorce was allowed to marry; the only condition was she could not remarry her first husband if she had married someone else in the meantime (Deuteronomy 24:1-4).
Many Christians say God “hates divorce,” and therefore, victims of abuse should never divorce. God said He hated the specific divorces in Malachi 2:10 – 16, where Israelite men were divorcing the godly Israelite wives they had married in their youth, and were marrying instead the idol worshiping women of surrounding tribes.
Though God hates divorce, He required the Israelite men to divorce their pagan, idol worshiping wives in order not to defile the people of Israel, (Ezra 9 – 10).
In his booklet God’s Protection of Women: When Abuse is Worse than Divorce[i], Herb Vander Lugt, author and senior research editor for RBC Ministries explains how Jesus and the Apostle Paul both knew the Old Testament completely, and their comments were meant to add to, rather than replace or change what was already said in the Old Testament about marriage and divorce. In Matthew 5:31-32 and Matthew 19:1-9, Jesus was not giving a full treatise on divorce law, and he was not responding to abused women. Instead, in Matthew 5 He was focusing on hard-hearted men who were “adulterizing” their wives, and in Matthew 19, He was responding to self-righteous Pharisees who were trying to pit Jesus’s words against those of Moses.
In 1 Corinthians 7:1-16, Paul, knowing all the laws set out by Moses, and what Jesus had already said about divorce, answered questions asked by the Corinthians about sexual abstinence, and how it pertained to marriage. It was in this context he said a wife must not separate from her husband, but if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband.
Throughout the gospels, Jesus showed how He is more concerned with the intent of the law than He is about the letter of the law. He was often angry with those who put more value on keeping the Sabbath law than on showing love toward those the law was meant to protect, (Luke 13:10-17). In a similar way, Herb Vander Lugt proposes Jesus would put more value on showing love toward those marriage law was meant to protect, rather than keeping a narrow interpretation of what the bible says about marriage and divorce[ii].
In his book A Cry for Justice: How the Evil of Domestic Abuse Hides in Your Church, Pastor Jeff Crippen, an evangelical pastor, studies 1 Corinthians 7:13 which says,
And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him.
Crippen says the phrase willing to live with her “cannot be limited to a narrow, wooden definition such as ‘if the unbeliever agrees to remain in the same house with the Christian.’”[iii] Crippen contends that domestic abuse is a form of desertion, calling it “constructive desertion.” He says, “ ‘Constructive desertion’ occurs when one partner’s evil conduct ends the marriage because it causes the other partner to leave. But the abuser is construed as the deserter, not the victim. The victim bears no blame.”[iv]
Many Christians have struggled with what the Bible says about this. Some will say based on 1 Corinthians 7:11 if you are divorced, you should never remarry. Others say that in the Old Testament, a husband was required to give his wife a certificate of divorce, thus, divorce always came with the right to remarry.
In his booklet God’s Protection of Women, Herb Vander Lugt studies Deuteronomy 24:1-4:
If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled. That would be detestable in the eyes of the LORD. Do not bring sin upon the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance.
Vander Lugt writes, “In this passage, a divorce so completely dissolves a marriage that the only restriction imposed on a man who divorces his wife is that he is forbidden from ever marrying her again if she has been remarried, divorced, or even widowed in the meantime.”[v]
Concerning this passage, in Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage in the Bible Jay Adams says the wife “becomes the ‘wife of another man’ who is called her ‘husband’. If she were still her first husband’s wife ‘in God’s sight,’ then she would be committing adultery here, and also bigamy. But she is not accused of that. No, she is clearly called the second husband’s ‘wife’. Indeed, the first husband is forbidden to marry her ‘again’. This obviously means she is not his wife after their divorce, or during her second marriage.”[vi]
Based upon my study of the Bible, and with the help of the above theologians, I believe domestic abuse is a valid biblical reason for a Christian abuse victim to divorce. Once an abuse victim is divorced, I believe she has a biblical right to remarry.
Each woman needs to search her own heart and decide for herself whether she believes God gives her the go-ahead to remarry after divorcing her abusive husband. Psalm 139:23-24 says:
Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
If you don’t have peace with the Lord about remarrying, it would not be right for you in your own eyes to pursue a romantic relationship with another man. Until and unless God changes your heart and gives you peace about remarrying, I recommend you spend your time as a single woman bringing glory to God.
Dear Lord, please help divorced former victims of abuse discern whether it is right for them to remarry. Give them peace about their decision please Lord. Amen.
* In this blog, I refer to the abused person as “she”, and the abuser as “he”. The same principles apply if the abuser is the female and the victim is the male.
[i] Taken and adapted from God’s Protection of Women, When Abuse is Worse than Divorce by Herb Vander Lugt, Copyright 2005 by RBC Ministries, Grand Rapids, MI. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
[ii] Vander Lugt, God’s Protection of Women, 32
[iii] Crippen, A Cry for Justice, 303
[iv] Crippen, A Cry for Justice, 304
[v] Vander Lugt, God’s Protection of Women, 30
[vi] Adams, Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage in the Bible, 43-44