Three days ago I received an email from a brother in the Lord with a most interesting question. After answering his email, I thought this would be good to post. From the articles I had read on this topic, I hadn't come across one that I thought answered this question credibly. I hope I have done an adequate job biblically addressing a sensitive and serious subject that has grave ramifications.
NOTE: I have removed some of his email for privacy sake.
"Hey it's ________. I met you a couple weeks back.... I had a question for you... _________ mentioned that ___________ believes abuse is biblical grounds for divorce. Can you expound on that and bring clarity? I've only seen two grounds for divorce in the Bible. Adultery and abandonment. I'm curious about abuse as well. Thanks. Hope you're having a great day"
Thanks for reaching out man! I wanted to respond to let you know I have received your email. And I am glad you asked rather than assumed. As a pastor, I appreciate someone wanting to check for biblical backing of a point made in a sermon. It shows you were listening and it holds us accountable to preaching the Word in proper context and interpretation.
Because I cannot speak for what __________ may have had in mind, I am going to answer your question as a merely stand-alone question proposed to me.
The Bible does not directly speak on abuse as grounds for divorce. And that may be because of 3 reasons:
- God hates divorce (Mal. 2:16). Hence, there is not going to be many reasons for it permitted in Scripture.
- Because there is no mention of spousal abuse whatsoever in Scripture that must not have been a common thing among the Jewish people during the time span from OT-NT. Thus, we're not going to find a correlating scriptural reference/example.
- The Bible was not meant to be an encyclopedia. Therefore, we cannot expect to find a direct answer to everything.
Now, some will use 1Cor. 7:15 and stretch it to fit abuse. But that is an improper use of that text in context. If the abusive husband wants the marriage to end or to separate, then that verse can be enacted. Until then, that verse does not fit abuse. There are OT laws concerning violence against others (Exod. 21:12-27) that could be used for the argument of divorce from abuse. But contextually that was not the original intent of those verses. Furthermore, Jesus supersedes those laws by telling us to not resist an evil person but turn the other cheek (Matt. 5:38-39ff). To be clear, Jesus isn't affirming abuse or passivity. The context of that passage with Jesus has nothing to do with marriage. However, He is addressing how we are to rightly respond to mistreatment from another—(no retaliation, retribution, etc)—which can be applied to marriage.
So does that leave married women prey to abusive husbands? No. God hates sin and wickedness. Thus, He hates abuse of every form. And if God goes so far as to say that His wrath burns toward those who afflict widows and fatherless children (Exod. 22:22-24), then no doubt would this also include married women. So, in this case, it would be clear that God is on the side of the abused wife. But, He also hates divorce, which would appear to put abused wives in a catch-22. I believe the answer to this catch-22 is implied in 2 verses:
"Rescue those who are unjustly sentenced to die; save them as they stagger to their death." (Prov. 24:11, NLT)
"But those who won’t care for their relatives, especially those in their own household, have denied the true faith. Such people are worse than unbelievers." (1Tim. 5:8, NLT)
Proverbs 24:11 demonstrates, in this case, that it is clearly acceptable and tactically responsible for an abused wife to rescue herself from her abusive husband (i.e. leave him and/or press charges so she can live). Even more, this is not only an imperative for her but also for anyone else who knows she's being abused (Prov. 24:12). 1Timothy 5:8 demonstrates, in this case because of the nature of abuse, that if there are children or others in an abusive home, it would be uncaring and a denial of faith for an abused wife to remain and allow her kids to remain in that home. And again, this is not only an imperative for her but the verse implies it is also toward any other family member who knows about the abuse.
I believe both of these verses imply that it is permissible and warranted for an abused wife to remove herself (and children) from her abusive husband. Does that removal have to be divorce? Could it be separation? I cannot answer those questions (and neither should anyone else but the wife) because each abuse case is different. What I can say with confidence is that there are biblical grounds for a wife to remove herself (and any kids) from that abusive husband—not out of retaliation or retribution but rather because she's trying to save her life (and care for her kids)—and I believe God is on her side because His wrath burns towards those who afflict others.
I hope that answers your question well enough, brother.