There is much confusion about what the Bible says about domestic violence, marriage and divorce. The Bible was not meant to be read out of context. Many abused spouses are told that “God hates divorce” and that “the only biblical grounds for divorce are infidelity and abandonment by an unbeliever.” Abusers often use the Bible to keep their victims in bondage, using verses meant to bring life and joy to validate their oppression of their spouses and even marital rape. God is not honored when we twist his word in this way.
Church leaders who do not understand the dynamics of domestic violence often add to the burden Christian abuse victims face. Not realizing that domestic violence is all about power and control, they give poor advice to victims who come to them seeking help. They often tell a woman to submit to her <abusive> husband. Or, they might tell a man to be more loving toward his <abusive> wife. Why is this poor advice? Since abusers have a great sense of entitlement, being more submissive or loving to an abuser will only increase their sense of entitlement, which leads to even more abuse. Instead, the church should support the victim while holding the abuser accountable for his/her actions.
Many abuse victims leave the church and their belief and trust in God because of this great misunderstanding of what the Bible says. This is tragic. Please hear me when I say:
God does not want any of his children to carry the yoke of slavery that is domestic violence. Tweet This
Using the Bible to condone domestic violence is called spiritual abuse. Abusers mis-use the Bible in this way purposely, to keep control over their victims. Church leaders mis-use these verses most often (but not always) innocently, because they have not studied domestic violence and don’t understand what the Bible truly says. Either way, the abuse victim continues in their bondage.
I have created a resource to speak to this problem. In it, you will see all the Bible verses that I have shared over the years in my books and blogs. You can access and download this resource by clicking here. Here are just a few of the verses I share in the resource:
Abuse Is a Sin
The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Abusers Look Good to those Outside the Home Because They Usually Only Abuse Those Inside the Home
Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
Separating from the Unrepentant
People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.
(2 Timothy 3:2-5)
Standing Up Against Abusive Behavior
In 1 Samuel chapter 25, we see the story of Abigail and her husband Nabal. When Abigail’s fool of a husband speaks abusively to David and David is about to slaughter him and every male in his household, Abigail comes to the rescue. She doesn’t “submit” to her foolish husband. Instead, rather than following Nabal’s irrational wishes, she decides to protect her household.
What Does the Bible Say About Divorce for Abuse?
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).
What Does the Bible Say about Remarriage?
Discussing Deuteronomy 24:1-4, 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.”
If you find yourself in an abusive relationship and feel stuck because you are trying to honor God, please check out my book A Journey through Emotional Abuse: From Bondage to Freedom. This book walks readers through all the questions they might have, and all the steps needed to improve the relationship, or safely leave it.
If you have sought help from your church, and they have told you to submit to your abuser, or to be more loving, please check out my Domestic Violence Guide for Churches. This guide walks church leaders through the dynamics of abuse from a Christian perspective and gives suggestions on ways their church can become a safe haven for the abused.
Question: Has your abuser or your church ever used the Bible to keep you in the relationship?
I pray this new resource will be a blessing to you. You are not alone, God is on your side.
*Jay Adams, Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage in the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1980), 43-44.