Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

Paul’s words on divorce, and leaving an abusive marriage

Divorce Paul 1 Corinthians 7 abuse

I often receive questions and comments from Christian men and women who are agonizing over whether they should leave their abusive spouse. They want to know what the Bible says about leaving. They want to be sure that their actions are not going against God’s will or are displeasing to him. Someone recently asked me specifically about Paul’s teaching on divorce in 1 Corinthians 7:10-16 and whether it allows for an abused spouse to leave their abuser. Here’s my response.

Sexual Tensions in the Corinthian Church

Paul doesn’t consider marital abuse in 1 Corinthians 7. It wasn’t the situation at hand. Rather, the issue was that some Corinthian men and women were choosing not to marry, and others, who were already married, were renouncing sex and even separating from their spouses.[1] These Corinthians may have believed they were living in the resurrection era where sex is supposedly irrelevant, or they may have chosen celibacy for reasons of piety. (In the second-century Apocryphal Acts, there are several stories of Christian women rejecting sex with their husbands for the sake of piety. Though, some Christian men too were choosing celibacy. More on this here.)

Paul advocated for singleness and celibacy, but he knew it wasn’t for everyone (1 Cor. 7:6-7, 25-40). He knew that pent-up sexual desire might lead to sexual immorality, to improper sexual relations. His advice in 1 Corinthians 7, including “If they can’t handle not having sex, let them marry, because it is better to marry than to burn” (1 Cor. 7:9), and “The husband should fulfil his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband” (1 Cor. 7:3), addressed this conflict of celibacy versus desire among some believers in the Corinthian church (1 Cor. 7:6).[2]

The Ideal and Allowances

Paul’s advice in 1 Corinthians 7 must be understood with these tensions between celibacy, marital sex, and immorality in mind. This includes Paul’s advice about separation and divorce:

To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate (chōrizō) from her husband. But if she does separate (chōrizō), she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce (aphiēmi) his wife (1 Cor. 7:10-11).[3]

Paul explicitly states that the Lord commands that a wife should not separate, but Paul then makes an allowance for the very thing the Lord forbids. It seems Paul understood the difference between the ideal and the concessions that are sometimes made in a less than ideal situation. Moses, likewise, allowed for divorce (Matt. 19:7-8; Mark 10:2ff). (It seems Moses sent away his first wife Zipporah and later married another woman from Kush.)

With the situation in Corinth in mind, Paul allowed for a separation but he did not want to rule out the possibility that a separated couple might mutually resume relations, that they might ‘reconcile,’ which they couldn’t do if a spouse married someone else.

Abuse and Divorce

Paul’s words on divorce in 1 Corinthians 7 apply to a spouse or couple who have renounced sex (1 Cor. 7:10-16; cf. 7:39f).[4] It doesn’t make sense to apply his words to the situation of a spouse who wants to leave an abusive marriage.

The Bible does not mention every scenario where divorce is acceptable, but it does state that neglect was a valid reason for divorce in ancient Israelite society (Exod. 21:10-11). If neglect was a valid reason, surely abuse would be also.

When a couple married in ancient times, as now, there were expectations and promises, either implicit or articulated. When a spouse repeatedly breaks these promises, the terms of the marriage contract or covenant are broken; the marriage is broken.[5]

Paul had a high view of marriage and was trying to prevent both divorce and sexual immorality among the Corinthian Christians. He was not, however, suggesting an abused spouse should stay with their abuser. He simply does not cover this scenario in 1 Corinthians 7.[6]

Relevant Bible Verses

God, Jesus, and Paul all have things to say about divorce. But none of them addresses the idea of divorce in the case of abuse.[7] The biblical principles at play in the scenario of abuse—all kinds of abuse—can be found in other Bible verses, in verses that speak about loving and caring for people, especially the vulnerable and wounded, and verses such as “Do unto others . . .”

Another verse to consider is 1 Corinthians 5:11ff:

But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother or sister who is sexually immoral or greedy, or is an idolater, reviler [loidoros: “verbally abusive”], drunkard, or robber. Do not even eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging those outside? Is it not those who are inside that you are to judge? God will judge those outside. Drive out the wicked person from among you.
1 Corinthians 5:11-13 NRSV. See also 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.

Paul didn’t necessarily have marriage in mind when he wrote these words, but the principle of “drive out the wicked one” can be applied to marriage. A Christian can divorce a spouse who claims to be a Christian but is sexually immoral, a drunk, or verbally abusive, etc. How many Christians, especially women, have had to put up with the abuse of revilers and drunks who claim to be Christian?

Many Christians have a holy fear of divorce, and this can be a good thing. Yet divorce is never mentioned in lists of sins or vices in any New Testament letter, including in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 6:9-11; cf. Mark 7:20-23). Adultery is sometimes mentioned in New Testament vice lists. However, a person who divorces an abusive spouse and later meets and marries someone may not necessarily be committing adultery. (More on this here.)

Conclusion

Some Christians think all marriages are sacred. Some marriages, however, are diabolical. Furthermore, people are more sacred than marriages, especially abusive marriages. People need to be cared for, protected, and loved, and not unwillingly sacrificed for an ideal. All biblical regulations and instructions, including those about divorce, must be applied with both wisdom and kindness. But please note that I am not promoting divorce. What I do say is this: if a marriage or a home is unsafe, we must not just allow people to leave, we need to help people to leave.

Footnotes

[1] Still other Corinthians were having immoral sexual relations.

[2] Writing about 1 Corinthians 7, Gordon D. Fee cautions,

. . . one must remember that the original intent of the passage was not to establish canon law but to address a specific situation in Corinth—their apparent rejection of marriage on ascetic grounds. The text needs to be heard in its own historical context before it is applied to broader contexts.
Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 1987), 291

[3] I’ve written about the different Greek terms Paul uses for divorce in the postscript below.

[4] 1 Corinthians 7:39: “A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord. In my judgment, she is happier if she stays as she is—and I think that I too have the Spirit of God.” Paul’s words here in 1 Cor. 7:39 are given in the context of a preference for singleness.

[5] In the Roman colony of Corinth, divorce was easy for both men and women. Divorce was not uncommon and it was relatively stigma-free. Fee, writes, “Divorce in Greco-Roman culture could be ‘legalized’ by means of documents; but more often it simply happened. In this culture, divorce was divorce, whether established by a document or not. Either the man sent his wife away (= ‘divorce’) in the sense of v. 12, or else either of them ‘left’ the other (= ‘to separate’).” Fee, First Corinthians, 293.

[6] Paul doesn’t cover the scenario of abuse in Romans 7:1-6 either. In this passage, Paul uses the example of marriage law as an analogy to illustrate that we have died to the law and now belong to Jesus. “But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” Paul’s point isn’t a comment on marriage law, however; and he doesn’t mention divorce. The law Paul refers to is not unlike modern marriage laws and the clause “until death do us part.” Yet, marriage laws in both ancient and modern times allow for divorce under certain conditions.

[7] In Malachi 2:16, God reprimands abusive husbands who were mercilessly dumping their wives so they could marry someone “better.” More on this here.


A Note on Divorce Terminology in the New Testament

I’ve written the following to hopefully clear up some common misunderstandings about the meanings of “divorce/separate” words used in the New Testament.

Terminology in the Gospels: Apoluō and “Certificate of Divorce”

The Greek verb apoluō is used in a technical sense to mean “divorce” in the Jewish setting of the Gospels. Apoluō occurs, in various forms, three times in Matthew 5:31-32, five times in Matthew 19:3-9, four times in Mark 10:2-12, twice in Luke 16:18, all with the sense of “divorce.” It also occurs in Matthew 1:19 where Joseph plans to break off his betrothal to Mary.

The term Biblion apostasiou (“certificate of divorce”) occurs in both the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Old Testament) and in the New Testament. In the New Testament it occurs twice, both times with the verb apoluō (“divorce”): see Mark 10:4 and Matthew 19:7-9. Apostasion, which also refers to a certificate of divorce, is used with apoluō in Matthew 5:31.

Apostasion/apostasiou (“certificate of divorce”) and apoluō are the only Greek words used for “divorce” in the Jewish setting of Gospels. (Chōrízō is used in Matthew 19:6 and Mark 10:9 and means “separate.”)

Terminology in 1 Corinthians 7: Chōrizō and Aphiēmi

Paul does not use apoluō when writing to the Christians in the Roman colony of Corinth. He uses the verb chōrizō (“separate”) in 1 Corinthians 7:10 & 11 for a Christian wife who separates from her Christian husband. He also uses chōrizō in 1 Corinthians 7:15 (twice) for an unbeliever who separates from their Christian spouse.

Paul uses a different verb, aphiēmi (“leave” or perhaps “send away”), in 1 Corinthians 7:11 for a Christian husband who must not leave or send away (i.e. divorce) his Christian wife. He uses the same word, aphiēmi, in 1 Corinthians 7:12 for a Christian husband who must not leave or send away his non-Christian wife if she is willing to stay. The word is then used again in 1 Corinthians 7:13 for a Christian wife who must not leave or send away her non-Christian husband if he is willing to stay.

Writing about chōrizō and aphiēmi, David Instone-Brewer cautions,

Differences between these words should not be exaggerated. There may be no significance in their use other than stylistic variation. In English one might use both “divorce” and “dissolution” in the same paragraph without intending any difference in meaning. There were more than fifty words used for “divorce” in Greek marriage and divorce contracts, and it was common to use several in a single document. It is certainly not possible to say that aphiēmi is a legal divorce and chōrizō is just a separation. In Greco-Roman society, separation was a legal divorce, and chōrizō is the most common of the words used for divorce.
David Instone-Brewer,  Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: the Social and Literary Context (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 198-199.

Note that apoluō, chōrizō, and aphiēmi are all common Greek verbs. They are used in various contexts in the New Testament, many that have nothing to do with divorce.

An Old Testament Term

Exapostellō is typically used in the Septuagint for divorce and it literally means “send away” (e.g., Deut 24:1; Isa 50:1; Jer 3:8; Mal 2:16). Exapostellō, however, is not used in the New Testament to mean divorce. Language about divorce may have changed during the 300 odd years between the translation of Deuteronomy in the Septuagint to the writing of the Gospels.

A final caution: When considering what the Bible says about divorce, it helps to differentiate between Israelite customs in Old Testament times and early Jewish customs in Jesus’ day, and not confuse either of them with later Jewish customs and traditions that didn’t apply in Bible times. It is also important to understand that Jewish divorce customs relevant to Jesus’ teaching are different from Roman divorce customs and laws that are more relevant to Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 7. Furthermore, we must understand the different concerns that are addressed in passages about divorce in the Old Testament, in Jesus’ teachings in the Gospels, and in Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 7.

Image Credit

“Broken Heart Bleeding” by Vishnu Vijayan (Pixabay)

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Related Articles

God on Divorce (Malachi 2:16)
Jesus on Divorce, Remarriage and Adultery
Hyperbole and Divorce in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:31-32)
A wife has no authority over her own body? (1 Cor 7:4)
Mutuality in Marriage (1 Corinthians 7)
God wants Women to be Happy in Marriage
Power Struggles in Christian Marriage?

Further Reading

David Instone-Brewer’s article “What God has Joined Together
Abuse Defined: What is Domestic Violence?

artigos em portugues sobre igualdade entre homens e mulheres no lar e na igreja

50 thoughts on “Paul’s words on divorce, and leaving an abusive marriage

  1. Abandonment, alienation, abuse, and adultery are reasons that God honors if divorce occurs.

    1. Abandonment, Alienation, Abuse, and Adultery: 4 As. That should make it easy to remember.
      People and relationships can be complicated, and some people face extraordinary and exceptional circumstances. So I do wonder if there may be other instances where God accepts divorce.

  2. “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Matthew 12:7)

  3. Hi Marg … I do enjoy reading your well researched responses to the questions readers send in. Make no mistake …I’m glad you’re there to speak into those difficult scenarios. Just an observation…. it seems that these brothers and sisters have not received godly counsel from their pastors, or lack the confidence to approach them with these questions, and so out of pain and frustration, and even fear of being told to “go home and submit”, they write to you or someone at CBE. Quite an indictment on the state of things in the church currently.
    Just an observation …. God bless you, sister. Michael Poole

    PS …. spent 4 yrs. ‘down under’ from 1963 – 1967. A different place then but wonderful people.

    1. It was very different back then. The dirt road I lived on has turned into a four-lane major road. Not to mention the change in customs and values.

      I think the same thing when I receive questions about divorce. Why isn’t someone they know and trust, perhaps a pastor or a Christian counsellor, helping them? (I never give personal advice to people who contact me via the internet.)

  4. Great post. I have discovered several scholars and author’s of books on the internet who confirmed most of what you’ve written on Divorce because of abuse. They are David Instone-Brewer who wrote the book “Divorce and Remarriage”. I discovered his article on subject matter on “Christianity Today” about a decade ago and he basically explains biblical grounds for divorce on abuse very well. Other scholars are Pastor Rick Walston “Something Happened on the Way to Happily Ever After”, Pastor William Luck “Divorce and Remarriage” Pastor Bob Yandian “One Flesh” and few others. Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore also believes abuse justifies divorce and Beth Moore as spoken out against Christians who treat divorce like the worst of all sins even in cases of abuse. I’ve relieved that they are plenty of Christian leaders that support divorce in case of domestic abuse since I read many seem to blindly condemn divorce even if case of violence of a spouse or children. I read a article from one church online that condemns divorce even in case of sexual abuse on children despite it saying that sexual sins justifies a divorce which just left me confused. I read sad cases from women who were shunned from the church and relatives for divorcing an abusive spouse even when the abuse was inflicted on their children and I feel for them. Divorce is quite a controversial subject among Christians, many treat it like the worst in the world , the biggest abomination that needs to be avoided at all costs. Although I’m mostly support saving marriages whenever possible I do believe sometimes that may not always be the case and sometimes divorce is a necessity. I will be writing a post on my blog in the future about the subject matter on divorce and hope you will read it. By the way, I wanted to point out that from what I gathered on other sites is that the Greek word apoluo doesn’t exactly mean divorce it means putting away which is the first step of a divorce. The Greek word of divorce is apostasion which refers to a written bill of divorcement. Great post again. God Bless.

    1. Hi CT,

      The way the Gospel writers use apoluō seems to indicate it did mean divorce.

      Exapostellō is typically used in the LXX (Greek Old Testament) for divorce and it literally means “send away” (e.g., Deut 24:1; Isa 50:1; Jer 3:8; Mal 2:16). Exapostellō, however, is not used in the NT to mean divorce. Language about divorce may have changed during the 300 odd years between the translation of Deuteronomy in the LXX to the writing of the Gospels.

      The verb apoluō has a range of meanings. It means “release” or perhaps “dismiss.” “Send away” is not a precise meaning, though it may have this sense in the Gospels, idiomatically, in relation to divorce.

      Biblion apostasiou (“certificate of divorce”) occurs in both the LXX and NT. In the NT it occurs twice, both times with the verb apoluō (“divorce”): see Mark 10:4 and Matthew 19:7-9. Apostasion, which also refers to a certificate of divorce, is used with apoluō in Matthew 5:31. Apoluō also occurs, as a participle, in Matthew 5:32 (cf. Matt 19:9).

      In all, apoluō occurs, in various forms, three times in Matthew 5:31-32, fives times in Matthew 19:3-9, four times in Mark 10:2-12, twice in Luke 16:18, all with the sense of “divorce.” It also occurs in Matthew 1:19 where Joseph plans to break off his betrothal to Mary.

      Apostasion/apostasiou which means “certificate of divorce” and apoluō are the only Greek words used for “divorce” in the Jewish setting of Gospels. Chōrízō is used in Matthew 19:6 and Mark 10:9 and means “separate.”

      Paul, on the other hand, writing to the church in Roman Corinth uses the word chōrízō (“separate”) in 1 Corinthians 7:10 & 11 for a Christian wife who separates from her Christian husband, and in 1 Corinthians 7:15 (X2) for an unbeliever who separates from their Christian spouse.

      Paul uses the word aphiēmi (“leave” or “send away”) in 1 Corinthians 7:11 for a Christian husband who must not leave or send away (i.e. divorce) his (separated?) Christian wife. He uses the same word, aphiēmi, in 1 Corinthians 7:12 for a Christian husband who must not leave or send away his non-Christian wife if she is willing to stay, and in 1 Corinthians 7:13 for a Christian wife who must not leave or send away her non-Christian husband if he is willing to stay.

      I’ve heard many people claim that apoluō doesn’t mean divorce, but the actual evidence in the Gospels does not support the claim.

  5. Marg, do you know scripture for why Jesus came as a man and is the image of God? I come from a very strict church and marriage to submit to headship of man. I hope you understand why I am thinking on this subject. Teresa

    1. Hi Teresa,

      There are several verses that show that men and women are made in the image of God and bear his glory. Take a look here: https://margmowczko.com/man-woman-image-glory-god-1-corinthians-11-7/

      And I have an article that suggests reasons why Jesus come to earth as a male human here: https://margmowczko.com/is-god-male-or-masculine/ Look for the heading “Jesus is Male.”

    1. Thanks, Sarah. 🙂

  6. I am not a Bible scholar, theologian, or expert in ancient Biblical languages. So my understanding of some of these issues might be a bit spotty.

    Having said that… can we look at 1 Corinthians chapter 5? In verse 11 Paul tells us that we are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer, but is (presumably habitually) “sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler.” (NIV) We are told not to even eat with such people, and in verse 13 he quotes Deuteronomy and says to expel the wicked from among us.

    Other translations use “railer” or “reviler” where NIV uses “slanderer.” In modern terms, we could say “verbal abuser.”

    So again, if a person claims to be a believer, but does those things listed in 1 Corinthians 5:11, including verbal abuse (and it’s not just a one-time event where they “fell off the wagon” but then got back aboard), we are not supposed to even eat with them.

    If we are not to even eat with them, how on earth are we nevertheless expected (by some) to stay married to them?? Am I missing something here?

    1. Hi SW,

      You make a great point. Paul states Christians should not associate with someone who claims to be a Christian and behaves badly, including being verbally abusive. He even calls such a person “wicked.”

      “But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother or sister who is sexually immoral or greedy, or is an idolater, reviler [loidoros: “verbally abusive”], drunkard, or robber. Do not even eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging those outside? Is it not those who are inside that you are to judge? God will judge those outside. “Drive out the wicked person from among you.” 1 Corinthians 5:11-13 NRSV

      Paul didn’t necessarily have marriage in mind when he wrote these words, but the principle could be applied to marriage.

      How many Christians, especially women, have had to put up with the abuse of revilers and drunks? It is very distressing that the church has counselled women to stay with an abusive spouse. 🙁

      Thank you for highlighting these verses! I’ve shared this on my Facebook page here. And I’ve added information in endnote 8 above.

  7. I appreciate you’re comments on I cor 7. Especially that you are not Willing to extrapolate the message beyond the original intent/circumstances. I also think you are correct in reference to apoluo and chorizo (sorry I have no minuscules on my I-Pad). I think the other Greek word that means a lot that may not come through is dedoulotai in 7:15. When I looked at this passage in the Greek for the first time in ages this word just burst out at me. It so obviously links the discussion of marriage to slavery just a few verses later. This is not a sophomoric equation like people joke about. But it’s real. The single pe son and the free person both have more self direction in how they serve God.
    I als think that choice of words used instead of the word strictly meaning divorce is just logical. One person leaves, one person stays. If we substituted “eviction notice” for apoluo and “leaving” for chorizo in this passage I think we get a bit of a feel for why these words were chosen. It also makes the passage flow better. I’m not saying this is a better translation, just a nuance that our English vocabulary isn’t showing.
    I was struck by these thoughts yesterday morning as I was reading. I did a casual nternet search and to see if anyone else had them and I found your page. ?you brought a focus on the original context of this that I wasn’t thinking about, and I appreciate your work. Thanks.

    1. Hi Matt,

      Thanks for your kind words. I like your idea about “eviction notice” for apoluō and “leaving” for chōrizō. It does help to highlight the different nuances in the words. But Paul does use both words to refer to divorce.

      And you bring up an interesting idea about dedoulotai and slavery. I hadn’t made that connection. I’m not sure if we can make too much of it though.

  8. Dear Marg,

    Ever since I learned that wife beating was considered acceptable in Christian society (both east and west) for centuries for the purpose of “chastisement”, I have been struggling to see where the Bible actually forbids physical abuse. After all, if loads and loads of Christian thinkers throughout history have failed to see it, then maybe it’s not really forbidden?

    Exodus 21, for example, only forbids the neglect of food, clothing, and conjugal rights. Beatings for physical chastisement are not mentioned. I read David Instone-Brewer’s magnum opus on the subject. Even he admits that we don’t have any surviving first century Jewish court cases that would shed light on whether the Rabbis interpreted physical chastisement of wives as being okay or not. Worse yet, later Rabbinic opinions through the middle ages seem mixed. Some say yes, and some say no. And as a woman, getting a divorce because a husband was beating her was still rubbishly hard in medieval Jewish communities.

    Which leads me back to, where in the Bible is physical abuse truly forbidden? Or is God really okay with it? I know the Bible tells husbands not to be harsh with wives, and to love their wives as their own bodies, and even as themselves (thus classifying them as a “neighbor” to do unto others to). And yet, the Bible fails to spell it out in such a way that people of that era and later times could really understand. Opinions like those of John Chrysostom’s (that wife beating should never ever be for any reason) are rare, and only until the Protestant Reformation and beyond do we see attitudes begin to change. (And being allowed to lock women up under house arrest was still an approved means of chastisement even then.)

    Wife beating is so common all over the world, and yet the Bible doesn’t mention so much as even one example of it happening to a woman. I don’t understand why the Bible doesn’t say anything about it when it’s such a common experience. It describes rape, murder, theft, etc., directly but not wife beating. All we have are round-about verses for that that really avoid taking it head on. Why? The Torah is vague, and open to interpretation. And, apparently, the New Testament is still too vague for most men to understand throughout history. After all, “harsh” is a relative term (referring to the Biblical injunction for husbands not to treat their wives harshly). So is “love your wives as your own bodies/as yourself”, apparently.

    How do I get my faith in God back? How do I know He really cares? He didn’t give even one verse to help us, to really get it into men’s skulls. If God didn’t mean for women to be beaten, then why wasn’t He more clear? So much suffering could have been prevented if He had just been more clear. Women have been struggling for their very survival, all because He couldn’t be more clear. Or, He was perfectly clear, and He doesn’t really care?

    Please help me. It’s been torturing me. I grew up seeing my Mom be beaten, and having my Christian father abandon us both. Why? Why didn’t God give better directions for the church? If He didn’t want us to be abused, then why isn’t Scripture more clear, and why isn’t the Holy Spirit helping the church interpret it right throughout history?

    I’m terribly sorry to dump this on your blog. I’ve been struggling with severe depression for a year. And all the while, what I read of wife beating being legal in canon law and civil law in Christian nations has been torturing me. I guess my mind wants to fix why it’s depressed, and keeps analyzing the same thing over and over and won’t let it go, because there is no resolution. How do I trust God with this information? How do I trust that He cares and is working in His church and that He has good men throughout history who are kind to their wives? How do I find rest and peace about this?

    Thank you for your time. Again, I’m sorry if this is too much for you to answer. I’ve tried even a Christian psychologist. It was no help to me. Just a waste of money. Because there are no answers. Or are there?

    1. Hello CA,

      I am really sorry for the distress you are experiencing

      The church has got a lot of things horrendously wrong. And some rabbis have said pretty dismal things. The teachings of a few first-century rabbis give us some insight into Jesus’ teaching, but the teachings of later rabbis have no relevance for the church. I do not regard rabbis as having unique insights into God’s heart or God’s will. Rabbi Jesus is, of course, the big exception!

      I can’t see that Paul was vague. He tells husbands 6 times in Ephesians 5:25ff to love their wives. 6 times! You do not abuse a person you love. Paul also tells them to nurture, cherish and yield to their wives. Just because men have disregarded Paul’s instructions doesn’t mean that Paul was vague.

      As you mentioned, Paul tells husbands in Colossians 3:19, again, to love their wives and not to be harsh with them. This instruction is straightforward and easy to understand and is not at all vague. “Being harsh” covers all kind of abuse.

      In 1 Peter 3:7, Peter tells husbands to be gentle with their wives and to honour them. You do not abuse someone you honour. Abusing someone and punishing them is humiliating; it is not showing honour.

      In the Old Testament, Malachi 3 CSB, God laments that Judah has been unfaithful to him. He then laments about the treacherous treatment of some husbands to their wives. God does care about wives!

      Furthermore, in the New Covenant community of God’s people, Paul says we shouldn’t even tolerate verbal abuse.

      “But actually, I wrote you not to associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister and is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or verbally abusive, a drunkard or a swindler. Do not even eat with such a person” 1 Corinthians 5:11.

      I suspect the reason no Bible authors says, “Don’t hit your wife” is because it’s obviously wrong. It was even illegal in Roman law.

      I’ve not personally read an early church father who condoned the physical abuse or punishment of wives. Chrysostom, who you mention, says some lovely things in his homily on Ephesians 5. Which church fathers, prominent clergymen, or theologian of the past condoned spousal abuse? I’d like to know more about this. And where is the physical abuse or punishment of wives condoned in canon law? Are you referring to the Westminster Confession of Faith, XXIV, 6?

      I only know of two men, John Piper and Paige Patterson, who do not denounce the physical abuse of wives as totally unacceptable. I’m sure there are others, but these others are in the minority. I know of numerous clergy who have stated that spousal abuse, including physical abuse, is wrong.

      To me, trusting God and the Bible is very, very different to trusting church leaders. I totally trust God and I think the Bible is amazing. Church leaders, on the other hand, are flawed human beings, some are even corrupt human beings. The fact that some church leaders have so much power is the opposite of what Jesus wanted for the community of his followers.

      But some past church leaders are on record for not condoning the physical abuse of wives. Here’s a small sample.

      Thomas Cranmer, archbishop of the Church of England, made this statement under the heading “The Crime of Ill-treatment is also a Cause of Divorce.” It was presented to the English Parliament in March 1553:

      “If a man is cruel to his wife and displays excessive harshness of word and of deed toward her, as long as there is any hope for improvement, the ecclesiastical judge is to reason with him, rebuking his excessive violence, and if he cannot prevail by admonitions and exhortations, he is to compel him not to inflict any violent injury on his wife, and to treat her as the intimate union of marriage requires by making him pledge bail or by taking guarantees. But if the husband cannot be coerced either by bail or by guarantees and if he refuses to abandon his cruelty by these means, then he must be considered his wife’s mortal enemy and a threat to her life . . . In her peril, recourse must be made to the remedy of divorce, no less than if her life had been openly attacked. . . it is our will that parties set free in this manner may contract a new marriage, while those convicted of the said crimes be punished either by perpetual exile or imprisonment for life.”
      Thomans Cranmer, Reformatio Legum Ecclesiasticarum.

      Desertion was an allowable legal reason for divorce, but William Perkins, English clergyman and Cambridge theologian, wanted the law to go further. In 1609 he wrote,

      “Like unto desertion is malicious and spiteful dealing of married folks one with another. . . if the husband threatens hurt, the believing wife may flee in this case . . .”
      William Perkins, Christian Oeconomie, Or, A Short Survey of the Right Manner of Erecting and Ordering a Familie According to the Scriptures.

      And this from William Ames, Puritan theologian, in 1632:

      “For if one party drive away the other with great fierceness and cruelty, there is cause of desertion, and he is to be reputed the deserter.”
      William Ames, Conscience with the Power and the Cases Thereof.

      Herbert Palmer, another Puritan, wanted the law to allow a woman to separate from a violent husband.

      “Yet for her necessity, she may by the Law of God and conscience … secure her person from his violence by absence.”
      William Ames, Scripture and Reason Pleaded for Defensive Armes, 1643.

      Richard Baxter acknowledges that past theologians (divines) prohibited physical abuse towards women, and he gives reasons for this prohibition.

      Divines used to say, that it is unlawful for a man to beat his wife: but the reason is not that he wanteth authority to do it; but, (1) because he is by his relation obliged to a life of love with her and therefore must so rule as tendeth not to destroy love: and, (2) because it may often do otherwise more hurt to herself and the family, than good. It may make her furious and desperate, and make her contemptible in the family, and diminish the reverence of inferiors, both to wife and husband, for living so uncomely a life
      Richard Baxter, A Christian Directory I, 447 , 1664-1665.

      I don’t have time to add more names and more quotations, but there are many more theologians and clergymen who did not condone physical abuse. Those who did condone physical abuse and chastisement were influenced by patriarchal culture and not by the Bible or the Holy Spirit.

      I don’t know if these words will give you any peace, but I do wish you peace.

      1. Thanks, Marg.

        Medieval canon law both east and west allowed physical chastisement of wives. It’s in Gratian’s Decretum. This is also upheld in ecclesiastical court cases. An example of a historian you can read on this is Sara M. Butler. She covers late medieval England, where you can see the attitudes of the church courts for yourself. They only allowed separations, not divorce, and only if the husband was maiming his wife or chasing her around with a weapon. They often let the husband off with a warning not to do it again and to only correct his wife “within reason”. There are others who cover France, Bologna, etc. Mostly all the same. Ruth Tucker also acknowledges the legality of wife beating in canon law in Daughters of the Church. There are scant few medieval preachers / commentators who come off like John Chrysostom in forbidding any and all wife beating. The majority of the nice ones try to urge husbands to be patient and long-suffering (a la Bernardino of Siena). John Chrysostom’s opinion turns out to be rare. Perhaps you have also heard of Cherubino of Siena (well, now historians think he’s from Spoleto)? His Rules of Marriage recommending beating a wife are for real. They’re the equivalent of Russia’s Domostroy that recommends similar treatment. All for her moral good and the salvation of her soul! Yes, there was a discourse against beating one’s wife in the west, but it wasn’t what was canon law or enforced in an ecclesiastical court. “How the Good Man Taught His Son”, for example, says not to beat a wife or speak harshly to her so she won’t hate you. But that’s just nice advice. It isn’t official church teaching.

        This finally started to change around the Reformation. However, the Reformers only were okay with divorce for “extreme cruelty”. They wouldn’t allow it if they didn’t feel the wife’s life was in danger. So, some beatings women still had to endure without right to divorce. Cranmer’s Homily on Marriage in the Church of England’s Second Book of Homilies is quite clear that a wife is to endure the violence. Thus, he only supports divorce for “extreme” violence–i.e,, what the medieval church would have already granted separations for, namely maiming and nearly killing. Often, a pattern of this had to be demonstrated before a divorce might be granted in Protestant lands, or a separation in Catholic lands (both medieval and early modern) or Protestant England.

        There were still Reformers who were okay with physical chastisement of wives. According to Ruth Tucker, Martin Luther wanted to keep the option open as a last resort if nothing else worked. Bishop Edmund Becke (during the reign of Henry VIII’s son Edward) is famous for printing what is known as the “Wife Beater’s Bible”, which has a comment in it on 1 Peter 3:7 stating that if a wife refuses to obey her husband, he can beat her. None other than Nicholas Ridley appointed Becke to his bishopric. Secular laws in Christian lands remained spotty for a long time after the Reformation. Calvin’s Geneva and the Massachussetts Bay Colony Puritans didn’t grant divorces for beatings unless they became severe enough to endanger the woman’s life (which of course is an arbitrary opinion of how much violence a woman must endure before her life is considered endangered). What they would do is extreme marital counseling. Geneva would punish the beater. But women still got blamed if they weren’t submissive enough.

        As for church fathers, Augustine has the usual stay and pray attitude when he discusses his mother Monica’s endurance of her abuse, and her chastisement of other bruised and battered women, where she tells them to get better at avoiding beatings. (See his Confessions. Easy to Google this.) As for whether Augustine thinks wife beating is wrong…we really don’t know. He doesn’t say. But City of God has the strong implications that chastisement of wives is okay where he discusses hierarchical order of society and family, and the paterfamilias responsibility to physically correct members of his household. (The wife is lumped in.) Basil of Caesarea actually introduced canon law forbidding women from so much as separating from their husbands, no matter how violent they might be, nor how near death the wives might come to be. So when the medieval church allowed separations for extreme cruelty, that was very progressive of them.

        There are loads and loads of stuff you can Google that is perfectly academic. Loads of papers, free Google book previews. I can’t list them all here. Whatever you do, don’t ask what I did: Are the Eastern Orthodox better, since they have divorce? No, they’re actually meaner. Especially in Russia. I can’t get the image of Russian peasants gang-beating a wife who looked at her husband disrespectfully out of my head. Or the image of a wife having to be bandaged like a mummy after her drunken husband beat her for hours and hours just for the fun of it. All while the Russian Orthodox Church just stood there and drooled, and actually forbade divorce for these women.

        As for Roman law outlawing beating, I’ve read conflicting evidence of that. My understanding was that Roman women could get a divorce if her husband beat her severely enough. I’m referring to later times after no-fault divorce was eliminated after Constantine, of course. The Justinian Code forbade beating a wife with a whip. It says nothing about not beating a wife whatsoever. Corporal punishment was common back then. That’s why I’m so flabbergasted that the church utterly failed to protect women here. They put preservation of hierarchy above our safety.

        But what’s getting at me is that Torah doesn’t forbid wife beating. David Instone-Brewer made a good case, but we have no sure way of saying that Exodus 21:10-11 forbids wife beating. Some Rabbis in medieval times said yes, some said no. There was a short period of time where Jewish women in medieval times could force their husbands to divorce them for wife beating (the courts would beat the husband to give her the “get”). But later on, the Rabbis overturned this and forbade divorce for wife beating. They would simply fine the husband instead, similarly to how they would treat assault on a stranger.

        Without Exodus 21:10-11 being clear that wife beating is grounds for divorce, I don’t think we Christians have grounds for divorce for this either. It’s just uncertain. You say you don’t depend on Rabbis, but without their input, we don’t even have a leg to stand on to extrapolate that beating counts as grounds for divorce in Torah. Instone-Brewer actually acknowledges that it’s speculative that wife beating was grounds in first century Judaism. In which case, we have no idea if Jesus considered divorce for wife beating as valid grounds when He debates the school of Hillel view of the “any reason” divorce. The only evidence available in first century Judaism for the meaning of Exodus 21:10-11 is that it’s conjugal rights being discussed as grounds, not emotional abuse, let alone beatings. Again, Instone-Brewer acknowledges that the opinions for emotional abuse as grounds based on this passage came later. He has to assume the first century Rabbis (and therefore Jesus) believe emotional abuse is valid grounds and backwards-project. We can’t do nearly as well with wife beating because the Rabbinic opinions are so mixed. Even with emotional abuse, Instone-Brewer admits that the Rabbinic courts were reluctant to grant divorce automatically and tried to use fines to pressure the offending spouse first.

        Where does that leave us women? The Torah fails to even plainly forbid corporal chastisement of wives where the surrounding ancient near east culture definitely expected it to be allowed. It’s unclear whether any beating at all is grounds for divorce. I feel so lost. Why wouldn’t God put in better protections in Torah so that women wouldn’t have to worry about being beaten? The New Testament is a lot better, I’ll grant you. But again, rights to divorce are now unclear to me. And since the surrounding Roman/Greek culture was okay with physical chastisement, and quite possibly so was the Jewish culture, and since Paul’s statement that a husband should love his wife as his own body failed to get through to most people’s heads in later times, how can I know for sure the Bible is against a husband “disciplining” his wife like she’s a child? (And oh, they all beat their children back then. No nicey nicey spankings.) Bishop Edmund Becke thought he could still honor his wife and beat her at the same time. It’s making me feel crazy. It should be obvious that any wife beating at all is wrong, but it hasn’t been to so many interpreters. God could have been more clear, but He wasn’t. He just left us all to be beaten. Why?

        I wish I hand’t gotten into church history, let alone asked how they used to handle things. I made a terrible mistake, and now I feel so lost. And I have such monstrous stuff stuck in my head to haunt me. I can’t get off the hamster wheel. It’s awful. It was really stupid of me to read ecclesiastical court cases. I wish historians would put trigger warnings on their work. All I wanted was a brief paragraph, not to have to slog through all this junk.

        How can I know for sure that God protected women from abuse in Old Testament times? Let alone New Testament times? How do I know that the church fathers aren’t right about staying and praying and being a martyr in marriage?

      2. Almost forgot. You said, “I suspect the reason no Bible authors says, ‘Don’t hit your wife’ is because it’s obviously wrong.” Well, to most sane people, having sex with an animal is wrong, and yet the Torah goes out of its way to forbid it. Stealing is obviously wrong, as is murder, and yet the Torah goes out of its way to forbid it.

        It epicly fails to forbid wife beating, and to an ancient near east culture where physical chastisement of wives would have been condoned.

        Just even go over to Uganda or Kenya today, where supposed 80% or more of its population is Christian, and wife beating is still considered okay. When they read, “husbands, love your wives”, it just doesn’t sink in that corporal punishment of a wife is wrong. And the Torah doesn’t even expressly say, “husbands, love your wives.” If the New Testament is failing to change people’s hearts and minds, how much more is Torah going to fail to when it doesn’t have anything at all?

        Also, Dr. Instone-Brewer just emailed me back this morning, as I had questioned him about this whole thing. Here is his reply:

        “It is true that Exo.21.10f does not specifically outlaw abuse, and it is tricky finding this in rabbininic literature. However, I would understand the strange rules against making one’s wife tip waste onto the midden, and forbidding her visiting relatives as the minimum degrees of abuse. That is, citing these rulings, they could say: My husband does worse than this, so I demand a divorce. Using the normal rabbinic legal rules, this should be successful.”

        So, um, yeah, technically speaking, I’m having a hard time seeing where divorce for abuse is truly permitted without having to rely on spotty Rabbis (mostly medieval) who have opinions all over the map regarding wife beating, and who don’t even directly rely on Exodus 21:10-11 in their interpretations for wife beating. I’m still probing Dr. Instone-Brewer about this. But, I don’t think we have much to go on. Unless you have an idea?

        The best idea I’ve come up with is that since a wife has these material and conjugal neglect divorce rights, a husband would, too. And since in most cultures a husband would beat his wife if she materially neglects him (not doing her chores, i.e., failure to feed and clothe him), the Torah is permitting divorce instead. But that’s a very indirect way to get there. It’s spotty, at best. And it doesn’t cover things like whether he can beat her for being a scold, or disrespecting him or his parents, or for disobeying what he considers to be a reasonable command, etc.

        Any ideas?

        1. I would say, that God hates violence so much, that He flooded the earth over it.

          Genesis 6:11-6:13 says:

          Genesis 6:11–13 (NIV): 11 Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. 12 God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. 13 So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth.

          And let’s look at the definition of violence:

          vi·o·lence
          /ˈvī(ə)ləns/

          noun
          behavior involving physical force intended to hurt, damage, or kill someone or something.

          • strength of emotion or an unpleasant or destructive natural force.

          •the unlawful exercise of physical force or intimidation by the exhibition of such force.

          I know it’s not exactly what your looking for in terms of a verse that says specifically “husbands do not abuse your wife”, but I think if it’s such a huge deal that God wanted to end mankind over it, it’s not acceptable.

  9. Exodus chapter 21 gives instruction to ancient Israel concerning the treatment of slaves, and how they were to be set free if they were violently abused by their master. It also addresses purchased slave wives, and commands that if the husband diminished her food, clothing or marriage rights, she was to be set free.

    So let me get this straight. A “master” beats snot out of a slave, and under God’s law the slave is set free. But a husband beats the snot out of his wife and she has to stay married to him? Or that a purchased slave wife is not given adequate food, clothing or “marriage rights” she is to be set free, but again if a husband beats up his wife she is required to stay in the marriage? So essentially the husband can’t starve his wife but he can beat her up every day and twice on Sunday, and she has no recourse?

    That makes no sense at all.

    I find it impossible to believe that a woman beloved of God himself, a co-heir of eternal life,has fewer rights than a slave in Old Testament times. But that is exactly what the “you must stay with your husband even if he’s beating the snot out of you” crowd is saying.

    1. Hmm, Exodus 21:26-27 seems to only set the slave free in case he is maimed (loses an eye, as an example). Back up to Exodus 21:20-21, and the slave is not set free for a “lighter” beating because “he is his [the owner’s] property”. (Literally, in Hebrew, “he is is money”.) Since they practiced debt slavery back then, perhaps it was presumed that the slave wasn’t doing the work he owed the master to pay his debts, and the master therefore has the right to beat the slave into doing the work, so long as he doesn’t maim him? (Crummy law, to say the least. I feel a slave should have a trial with a judge to determine the punishment, and not leave it up to the master, who might just be an arbitrary lunatic. Just my thoughts.)

  10. In Matthew 18:6 Jesus says that it would be better for a millstone to be tied around somebody’s neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea than the fate that presumably awaits those who cause one of the little ones who believes in Jesus to stumble.

    Getting beaten up by one’s husband and being told one has to just put up with it would MOST CERTAINLY cause ME to stumble, and I would venture to guess I am not alone in that assumption.

    So again we have to take the full counsel of God into consideration when we consider these matters.

    And can we consider the possibility that wife-beating simply was not specified in the Bible because everybody already knew it was wrong, and thus didn’t need to be said?

    1. Most cultures around the world in ancient times and to this day think physical chastisement of wives is okay (aka., wife beating) for the purpose of disciplining her. In other words, if she disobeys him, disrespects him, etc. It’s still a common belief in Africa, loads of Asia, and, of course, the Middle East. That’s because for most of the word throughout time, we’ve been patriarchical. Israel was plucked from a patriarchical ancient near east, which also would have allowed for physical chastisement of wives.

      God went out of his way to forbid murder, stealing, sex with animals, etc. All of these are obvious to loads of people around the world, especially the first two. Wife beating is not so obvious a crime to most cultures, unless perhaps it becomes “excessive” and makes the man look irrational. That’s why I’m struggling with this so badly. God didn’t go out of his way to forbid wife beating, particularly for physical chastisement of wives. One verse on that would have spared so many women throughout history. If you have any ideas on how to resolve this gross discrepancy, I’d be grateful to hear them.

      Thanks.

      1. You’re right that wife-beating is not a crime in some cultures, and I don’t know why wife-beating or the physical punishment of wives is not specifically mentioned in the Bible one way or the other.

        The bestiality example you gave is the opposite of what I meant. What I was trying to suggest is that the pervasive cultural norm in Israel may have been not to physically abuse wives, so much so that it didn’t need to be stated. The regulation about bestiality addressed something less common. I think it’s interesting that Israelite and Jewish wives are never told to be submissive to their husbands in the Hebrew Bible.

        Anyway, you’ve obviously thought about this a lot more than I have, so I can’t see that I have anything of value to say. But I will say, that most of the regulations given to the Israelites, who lived long ago in a culture alien to mine, and had a system of government that has no correspondence with the Australian government, has no bearing or relevance today.

        Many of the Old Testament regulations are concessions to a fallen and sometimes brutal culture and they aim to minimise and mitigate distress rather than totally outlawing the practises and situations (e.g., warfare) behind the distress. Even by the first century, the Jews had well and truly stopped following many of the archaic regulations given to their forefathers or they had altered them.

        Patriarchy is a result of the fall, of sin in the world. Patriarchy was never God’s best plan for humanity. There is no patriarchy before the fall. Jesus came to deal with the problem of sin and, with the Holy Spirit’s help, there is again the potential for unity, mutuality and love between all people, regardless of their sex.

        Also, the idea that one verse makes a big difference to how Christians formulate their doctrine and behaviour is problematic. It is a worry when we emphasise and focus on one verse that mentions a concept given nowhere else in scripture, in a letter written for a specific congregation with its own specific issues (e.g., baptising the dead in 1 Cor. 15:29).

        The overall teachings of Jesus and of the writers of the NT are my guide, not the Hebrew Torah. The overall teaching of Jesus is to love one another. This precludes all forms of abuse. Sadly, loving one another is difficult for some. It is people, not God, who are the problem.

        I’m sorry that I cannot help further.

        1. Thanks, Marg.

          I suppose the only round-about way I can think of where physical chastisement of wives would be forbidden is that divorce concessions in Exodus 21:10-11 are granted to the man for the usual excuses of “she’s lazy or burns the food” for giving beatings. In which chase, if instead the husband made to divorce her, the accused wife can try to prove he didn’t have valid grounds for this and that she wasn’t lazy or burning the food all the time. But, it’s a very roundabout way of getting there.

          I understand that we have a redemptive hermeneutic of sorts where we’re slowly getting it that there’s mutuality in human relationships now. I just…I feel really sorry for ancient Israelite women if the men didn’t see anything forbidden to them with regards to beating their wives.

          On the other hand, the Middle Assyrian laws explicitly give a man the right to beat his wife. The Torah does not. But on the other hand, ancient Egypt had punishments for wife beaters laid out. Perhaps God figured that the Hebrew slaves, once free, would have absorbed some Egyptian views of women, which were far more egalitarian than those of their neighbors? I don’t know. It just saddens me that the Egyptians had more explicit protections and rights for women than God’s own people did.

          Thanks for trying. 🙂

        2. Dr. Instone-Brewer got back with me:

          “I agree that they would be unlikely to regard a beating ‘for chastisement’ as abuse. Beating was regarded as a teaching method in ancient cultures, both in OT & NT times.
          The point of these two examples of abuse is that they were unnecessary suffering. There was no need for the wife to get herself dirty by pouring liquid on the midden (though admittedly the meaning of this is uncertain) and refusing to let her visit her family was similarly cruel. So, if abuse did not occur for ‘educational’ reasons I think this would be regarded as cruel.

          I agree that the dating of those example of abuse are not datable to 1st century but it makes it like it that this principle existed even if these specific examples are later.”
          Gosh, this stinks. 🙁

          I just can’t imagine why God wouldn’t put even one law against wife beating down in the Torah itself.

  11. CA, it’s also worth reminding ourselves that Jesus said his yoke is easy and his burden is light. If a burden is too heavy, chances are very good it’s not a burden Jesus assigned to us.

    My final thoughts on the matter for now.

    First, I would encourage you to give some serious attention to the concept outlined above in the discussion about 1 Corinthians chapter 5. To expand on my comment above on that topic, if we are not to associate with someone who claims to be a brother but is (habitually and unrepentantly) sexually immoral, greedy, an idolater, a slanderer [verbal abuser], a drunkard or a swindler. We are not to even eat with such people. I made the point that if we are not to even eat with any of them, how are we supposed to stay married to them? I would make the case that although physical abuse is not found in this list, a physical abuser almost certainly commits one or more of the sins on the list in addition to the battery. How many abusers beat the snot out of their spouse in silence? Just a thought.

    For further reading, I recommend the following links:

    1) My Only Comfort, a blog by Pastor Sam Powell, especially the posts tagged with “abuse.” Here is a direct link to all the abuse posts. He has some very good material.

    https://myonlycomfort.com/category/abuse-2/

    2) Unholy Charade, a blog by Pastor Jeff Crippen, another pastor who truly “gets it” about abuse:

    https://unholycharade.com/

    3) Leslie Vernick has some excellent resources:

    https://leslievernick.com/blog/

    4) The Boundaries series of books by Henry Cloud, especially “Boundaries in Marriage.” This is an excellent resource.

    I will continue to pray that God gives you clarity on this very sobering topic.

    1. Thanks for this, SW. I appreciate it. <3

    2. Thanks. Yes, the Bible certainly does say to not associate with a verbal abuser.

      Yeah, I was a regular on ACFJ. So I’m familiar with all those links. But thanks for sharing them! Thank you most of all for your prayers.

      I suppose verbal abuse does tend to come with battering. However, it’s chilling to read medieval conduct advice about beating your wife calmly and not in anger. And then speaking nicely to her afterward and comforting her. It reminds me of James Dobson’s advice on how to spank your kid. Calmly, not in anger, and then plenty of hugs afterward. Creepy, eh? So, I don’t know anymore.

      Thanks again for your prayers.

  12. Hi Marg, what I’m confused about is in verses Matt 19: 7-8. What doesn’t make sense to me is these few verses:

    3Then came some of the Pharisees to Him to put Him to the proof by the question, “Has a man a right to divorce his wife whenever he chooses?” 4″Have you not read,” He replied, “that He who made them ‘made them’ from the beginning ‘male and female, 5and said, For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two shall be one’? 6Thus they are no longer two, but ‘one’! What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” 7″Why then,” said they, “did Moses command the husband to give her ‘a written notice of divorce,’ and so put her away?” 8″Moses,” He replied, “in consideration of the hardness of your nature permitted you to put away your wives, but it has not been so from the beginning. 9And I tell you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except her unfaithfulness, and marries another woman, commits adultery.”

    I hope that you understand that this does not make sense to me because Moses did not allow his people to put away (separate without a legal document) their wives. He required a legal document of divorce (separation with a legal document) be given to the other partner. But here Jesus is saying that Moses did allow his people to put away their wives without a legal document? This just confuses me because Jesus is saying that Moses allowed his people to put away (separate without a legal document) their wives even though Moses clearly required a certificate of divorce to be given to the other person. Thank you for your help!

    1. Hi Anonymous,

      Here is the same passage in an accurate translation (Christian Standard Bible) that is easier to understand.

      Some Pharisees approached [Jesus] to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife on any grounds?”
      “Haven’t you read,” [Jesus] replied, “that he who created them in the beginning made them male and female, and he also said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
      “Why then,” they asked him, “did Moses command us to give divorce papers and to send her away?”
      He told them, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because of the hardness of your hearts, but it was not like that from the beginning. I tell you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another commits adultery.”
      _______

      It’s always important to read every sentence and phrase in the Bible within the context of the whole passage. It’s also important to understand the main concern of any passage. I’ve italicised some phrases to highlight what was at the heart of the conversation between the Pharisees and Jesus.

      Jesus is not saying here that Moses allowed Israelites to put away their wives without a legal document. Jesus acknowledges what the Pharisees say in Matt. 19:7, but does so without mentioning “divorce papers” because this is not his concern.

      Jesus’ concern was with some Jewish men divorcing their wives for no real reason. He acknowledges that Moses allowed for divorce, but this was a concession; it was not the ideal, as at creation, which is that no married couple separates.

      So, to clarify, Jesus doesn’t mention a legal document in his reply in Matt. 19:8, but that is no reason to think that “Jesus is saying that Moses did allow his people to put away their wives without a legal document.” Jesus doesn’t say that.

      I’ve written more about Jesus’ words on divorce here: https://margmowczko.com/jesus-divorce/

  13. This scriptures you cite seem just as speculative as Wayne Grudem’s. At least his citation could apply to physical abuse and he is not the first to do that. I recall an Egal writer has a book on that. At best yours implies to separate from such a person but nothing on divorce and remarriage. Even David Instone Brewer relies on an argument from silence. Why God in His in sovereignty give explicit scriptures?

    1. I think you’ve misunderstood the premise of the article, Kevron.

      The basic premise is that Paul does not mention abuse in 1 Corinthians 7 because that was not the issue he was addressing. And I don’t mention remarriage in this article, because that is also not part of the issue in 1 Corinthian 7.

      Some Corinthians were leaving marriages and some married couples were living together but not as man and wife; they were not having sex. Some Corinthians were avoiding marriage altogether, let alone getting remarried. This is the context of 1 Corinthians 7. (More on this here.)

      With this context in mind, my article is about Paul’s words about divorce in 1 Corinthians 7 and how they don’t apply to leaving an abusive marriage. So to say, as some do, that abuse is not a permissible reason for divorce, is an argument from silence and it is invalid.

      Also, separation and divorce were practically the same thing in Roman Corinth. I have a note at the end of the article explaining the various terms.

      The Bible does not cover every human experience, even significant experiences. We have to look for basic and broader scriptural principles, and use compassion and commonsense, when the Bible does not give clear teaching on a specific issue.

      Let me repeat myself.
      “God, Jesus, and Paul all have things to say about divorce. But none of them addresses the idea of divorce in the case of abuse. The biblical principles at play in the scenario of abuse—all kinds of abuse—can be found in other Bible verses, in verses that speak about loving and caring for people, especially the vulnerable and wounded, and verses such as ‘Do unto others …’”

      My approach to Paul’s words on divorce in 1 Cor. 7 is nothing like Wayne Grudem’s in his recent paper.

      I cite lots of scriptures in my article. Which ones are “speculative”?

      1. Hi Marg. I apologize for my tone I am not trying to be critical.

        Exodus 21 vs 10-11, I Cor 5 vs 1-11 and 1 Cor 6 vs 9-11. I don’t see how it explicitly refers to divorce and remarriage. It seems to imply I can separate but not divorce as when Paul mentioned revilers but the whole sentences was not talking about a divorce but different sins but it does not apply to marriage situation explicitly.

        I believe based on the liberty in Christ you can divorce and remarry in domestic violence situations. That is how I reason it out

        I will read a few more times to see if I understand better.

        1. Kevron, I have always taken your questions and comments to be sincere and kind.

          I make this statement about 1 Corinthians 5:11-13 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-11: “Paul didn’t necessarily have marriage in mind when he wrote these words, but the principle can be applied to marriage.” Especially as Paul says “Drive out the wicked person from among you.” I think I have framed the way I use Bible verses fairly.

          Exodus 21:10-11 is about divorce under certain conditions. It does not mention remarriage. In fact, I do not mention remarriage in this article. The article is not about divorce and remarriage.

          This article is about the context of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 7 and about the faulty idea, held by some, that because Paul does not mention abuse in 1 Corinthians 7, abuse is not a “biblical” reason for divorce. I argue against this flawed idea.

          Divorce should be allowable on the basis of Christain compassion and commonsense. We see expressions of this compassion in verses that do not specifically mention abuse in marriage but do mention other kinds of suffering.

  14. Why didn’t God make it explicit about divorce and remarriage being allowed in domestic violence as He did with adultery? Why do we have to rely on inferences and speculations. This really bothers me.

    1. I don’t think the verses where Jesus talks about divorce and remarriage in the case of adultery are especially clear. I believe these have been misunderstood and misinterpreted.

      I think the whole way people approach Bible verses that mention divorce is problematic. Some Christians search these verses for a loophole that lets them out of a marriage. Rather, they should be looking at who God, Jesus, or Paul was speaking to and why. What is the heart of the issue being addressed? This needs to be the start of interpreting these verses, and then take it from there. Malachi 2 is addressing a form of abuse.

      God in no way condones spousal abuse. There is no place for physical and verbal abuse, etc, in any Christian relationship and this includes marriage.

  15. My heart goes out to Clockwork Angel who has commented on this blog. She wrote: “I wish I hand’t gotten into church history, let alone asked how they used to handle things. I made a terrible mistake, and now I feel so lost. And I have such monstrous stuff stuck in my head to haunt me. I can’t get off the hamster wheel. It’s awful.” She said she wishes there was a specific scripture against wife-beating as there are for adultery, murder, stealing, etc. I think the fact that she feels such tremendous pain and torment in her mind, heart, and soul reveals that wife-beating alone is wrong. Her spirit testifies and bears witness. Domestic violence goes against the intimate one-flesh union that God created for marriage. In Ephesians 5, husbands are to love their wives as their own bodies. A husband wouldn’t beat his own body. How can a wife feel emotionally connected, sexually intimate, and physically safe with a husband who beats her? To me it is impossible and goes against the one-flesh union that God designed. Let the peace of Christ rule your hearts (Colossians 3:15). Also, husbands must not be harsh – period. Marriage is a reflection of Christ’s love for the church which He died for. We must take all scriptures into context and learn about the heart of God. He sent Jesus to die for us while we were sinners. His ultimate sacrifice, His beauty revealed in nature, and His agape love draw me to Him. “For your Maker is your Husband – the Lord Almighty is His name” – Isaiah 54:5. If God was physically beating me, or mentally tormenting me, I would not be drawn to Him. I would want to run and flee just like David fled Saul for protection. Study the scriptures that reveal God’s heart towards the oppressed, and for those that cry out to Him for deliverance. “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things…And the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9).

    1. Thanks for your wise and caring words, Anon.

  16. Thank you. Thank you so much for writing this. I left an abusive marriage and by God’s grace have been able to secure protection for myself and my children through the legal system. Although I know that I made the right decision to protect my children and myself, I struggle through different passages of Scripture. My NT reading was 1 Corinthians 7 this morning. It was difficult to get through. I learned, as I struggled through the decision of divorce, that context is so very important while studying the Bible, and I spent many months diving into David Instone-Brewer’s and others’ words on different texts like Matt 19 and Mark 10. I so valued reading the work of scholars who had invested the time and energy to explore the context and meaning of original text, and I valued the same this morning. Thank you so much for investing the time and energy to write this to clarify context and meaning to illuminate truth. I’m more grateful than words can adequately express for those who are publicly standing in the gap to speak truth into a system that has tragically been used by the church to pressure submission in the worst of cases. Thank you.

    1. I wish you well, CC.

  17. I have just come home despondent and have shut myself away yet again, looking for answers and found this post.

    My exact search words were “I am desperately unhappy in my marriage but God doesn’t permit divorce”…

    I originally became absolutely downhearted when I read through Matthew again and saw Christ’s words. If not for sexual immorality, then divorce is not permissible. I was wrong, it seems. Very wrong.

    Long story short, I have been married for 15 years. My wife and I have no children and this is the very center for what appears to be the destruction of the very foundations to our marriage. She is absolutely desperate to have them (to the point where she will get physically, verbally and emotionally violent towards me) and yet, we have tried to no avail and it is now costing us an exorbitant amount of money to go through IVF, which is really tearing us apart. I have endured physical, mental and psychological abuses for years over this to the point where I have simply wanted a divorce but felt God would punish me for my sins. I cannot claim to be innocent – far from it as Paul wrote to the Corinthians – but I most often have acted out of self defense. Having to hide knives when they are pulled (yes, she has threatened to kill herself over this) is eating away at my soul. She absolutely cannot function coherently without being pregnant and having babies as if her life is a complete failure if that doesn’t happen and it feels like an anchor trying to drown me and kill us both.

    It wasn’t until I found out that, 8 months after the fact, she was indeed pregnant last year with a child but didn’t tell me and then subsequently hid the miscarriage from me as well. I am distraught, unable to look at her lovingly now and clutching at straws to keep myself from jumping off the deep end, figuratively speaking. I do, of course, love this woman but I cannot for the life of me understand how I am supposed to be expected to put up with all of this. It is cruel and unusual punishment.

    I am scared but want a divorce and she has signed papers making it effective. I need only sign them and hand them in but I haven’t and I feel like this is a guilt trap to keep me in what I effectively feel is a deliberate attempt to frighten me out of following through. I don’t trust her anymore. I can’t sit next to her without feeling regret and frustration which then leads to anger, necessitating the next fight. I am tired and weary of her ceaseless attempts to force me into a pregnancy, years after none of the methods have worked and I just want my freedom back. I want my life back. I want out.

    In this situation, is it really a sin to divorce? I am out of excuses, options, ideas and patience. I am not out of love but I cannot go on like this any longer.

    If God is going to punish me for leaving this abusive marriage (which has been both sides of the same coin) then I would rather accept the weight of His judgement than be here any longer.

    Why should I have to carry the weight of her guilt, regrets and anger over something that didn’t happen to/for us when she says it should have??

    Any thoughts you can opine, I’m all eyes and ears. I hope you get a chance to read this and reply…

    1. I am so sorry for the tremendous hurt you are experiencing. Do you have someone in real life you can talk this through?

      Does the Bible say that God punishes people who get divorced? Of course, the ideal is that marriage lasts until a spouse passes away, but the reality is that sometimes marriages are so painful they are already broken.

      If you are worried about what Jesus says about divorce in Matthew’s Gospel, I encourage you to read my articles on them. I believe Jesus’s teaching on divorce is commonly misunderstood.

      Divorcing someone because of pain or abuse is different from divorcing someone for frivolous reasons, which is what some men were doing in Jesus’s day. And other people were divorcing one spouse because they wanted to marry someone they liked better. It’s important to understand these contexts of Jesus’ teaching.
      https://margmowczko.com/jesus-divorce/

      It’s also important to realise that Jesus sometimes uses the rhetorical device of hyperbole in his teaching to shock his audience.
      https://margmowczko.com/hyperbole-divorce-sermon-on-the-mount-matthew-5/

      I can’t advise you what to do, but I hope you have a friend or a counsellor that you can talk to. This is too heavy a burden to carry on your own. I’ve said a prayer for you.

      1. Thank you for the reply and I am sure your prayers have been well received.

        I read this at the end of one of the articles: “At the heart of Jesus’ ministry is love for humanity, and sometimes accepting divorce is the merciful and loving thing to do, even when there is no evidence of sexual immorality. And insisting that a person endure a marriage where the other spouse is violent and habitually cruel to their partner or to their children is the opposite of what Jesus wants for his followers. Insisting a spouse stay in a harmful marriage is not an example of high moral or ethical standards or of exemplary righteousness.”

        This particularly highlights and sums up how I am feeling about this entire situation. I have walked a long and frequently troubled pathway with my Brother for the best part of my life and my wife has refused to believe, even though she knows my faith and can see it in the way I and we, rebound from setbacks through God’s grace, which has put us at odds with each other over the course of our marriage.

        I know deep down she has as heart of gold, a strong and dependable mind, a spirit for the poor and the elderly and has been a rock for me in times of trouble but this desperation to have children – at any cost, even our own marriage, has pitted us against each other consistently for years, to the point where she most recently felt it was appropriate to not only hide the fact she was pregnant but of the miscarriage that followed. Conversations start and now devolve quickly. I come home depleted, do not want to talk to her, have the means and the will to leave and I am tired and weary of her and want it to be over. I feel she is at the same point but for her own personal reasons which I cannot vouch for or validate except to admit she is the other half of me.

        I’ve discussed this at length with family members and other people, including your gracious self, and have no issues opening up with a difficult topic – and as heavy as this is, please do know I have the internal fortitude to weather my own personal sufferings as Jesus taught me: “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.”

        And so it, and He, is. I have hope but I am out of pretty much everything else at this stage. I truly do appreciate you replying so quickly to the call for an answer and I too will pray for her and for us, again, but a part of me believes that it’s also okay to put an end to this.

        1. It seems the pain revolves around one issue, a deeply important issue. I hope your wife is receiving counselling about it. My hearts breaks for both of you.

          1. Marg, thanks for replying. I see many issues. Which one did you think is singled out?

            Please be blunt with me… the world has tried to dull the blade where a sharp response is more appreciated and certainly, appropriate, in this situation.

          2. Sorry for the delay in replying. It’s been hectic here this week. I was thinking that being childless was the, or a, catalyst for the misery you are both experiencing.

    2. “For your Maker is your Husband – the Lord Almighty is His name” – Isaiah 54:5.

      Thank you for sharing your story and reaching out. This trial is an opportunity for you to dig deeply into God’s Word and get to know Him and Jesus on an intimate personal level as your Father, Counselor, Comforter, Deliverer, Savior, and Friend. He will sustain you on a daily basis. God will show you “treasures hidden in the darkness” – Isaiah 45:3. God has a purpose for your suffering. The testing of our faith is how we grow to become mature and complete, not lacking anything – James 1:3-4. God will teach and guide you – John 6:45.

      Your text to Marg reveals the anxiety, distraught emotions, uncertainty, and lack of peace you are experiencing. It is not wise to make life-altering decisions in this frame of mind. Rather than deciding on a divorce which is permanent, turn your attention, focus, thoughts, mind, heart, and soul to your Heavenly Father. Pray without ceasing. Your Creator knows what you need and what is best for you.

      Many times we look to others to help us choose; but at the end of the day, we alone are responsible for the choices we make to which we will give an account to God. We cannot blame others, nor can anyone force us to do something, or behave and react a certain way. We are responsible for our actions and behavior. We cannot “fix” or change others, only ourselves.

      You mentioned you love your wife deeply. It appears both of you could benefit from professional individual Christian counseling first before coming together for marriage counseling as a couple. Some suggested readings are: “Boundaries” by Dr. Henry Cloud, and “The Emotionally Destructive Marriage” by Leslie Vernick. Also, Dr. David E. Clarke has some good books and offers insight.

      If you are in danger, separation may be an option. David fled from Saul for protection. There are many wise scriptures in Proverbs and the Psalms to direct us towards safety.

      Fall in love with God all over again and put Him above all else. Sometimes, we allow our marriage and problems to become idols. Get spiritually and mentally healthy first before making any major decisions.

      Reading “Job” in the bible, chapters 38 though 41 is inspiring. Trust God and put your faith in Him. Trust Jesus as your Savior. Amen….

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