Is violence a biblical ground for divorce?

Last updated on September 29, 2021

Is violence a biblical ground for divorce?

The Bible has several things to say about divorce, but it does not speak directly to domestic violence and abuse. However, we do know that God desires that we love our neighbors as ourselves, which surely means we should not harm them in any way. The Apostle Paul writes that “husbands are to love their wives as Christ loves the church” (Ephesians 5:25). Christian husbands should be willing to lay down their own lives for their wives, not physically abuse them.

Be safe

If you are in a marriage where you (and maybe your children) are being harmed physically, you should make sure you are safe. A husband who beats and abuses his wife, loses all rights to the love and care of his wife. There is absolutely nothing wrong, and a whole lot right, about removing yourself (and your children) from the abusive situation. There is no command in the Bible to allow yourself to be harmed. So the first thing to say, if the abuse is severe or repeated, is: get away! Yet this is not the same as saying ‘get divorced’.

Two grounds for divorce

The New Testament provides two grounds for divorce: an unbelieving spouse leaves (in which case the believer doesn’t initiate the divorce, but just accepts the fact that the other spouse has decided to leave) and/or a spouse commits adultery (Matthew 5:32; 1 Corinthians 5:1). At least, this is what most Bible teachers believe. A minority believes divorce is never an option.

To be clear, Jesus never commands divorce. In Matthew 19:8, Jesus says, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” Divorce was never a part of God’s plan for marriage. We know from Malachi 2:16 that God, in fact, hates divorce. Divorce is the breaking of a special covenant between a man and a woman for life. The Bible says that marriage is a picture of Christ and the Church, according to Ephesians 5:32. So, divorce greatly twists and distorts this holy picture.

All domestic abuse is evil and never right

With that being said, all domestic abuse is evil and is never right. Amos 5:24 says, “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Justice is what the Lord desires in every situation. For those in abusive relationships, please tell someone you trust that you need help today. In severe or ongoing abuse situations, involving the authorities is also a good step, regardless of whom it might incriminate.

Pray for your spouse to come to know the Lord, if they don’t already. If they truly love you, they will not purposefully cause you physical or emotional pain. Remember that only God can change a person’s heart. And only God can truly restore and heal a marriage. If you can reconcile with your spouse, you should because this testifies to the power of the Gospel. Marriage counseling and/or a time of separation may be helpful in this reconciliation process.

If the abusing spouse does not repent (and repentance means to change! Repentance just with words while the abuse continues is worth nothing in the sight of God), continued separation might be needed. Sometimes a legal divorce is necessary as well, to not allow the abuser to have an influence in your and your children’s life. However, unless one of the biblical reasons to divorce is there as well, you should still consider yourself married in God’s eyes and hope and pray for reconciliation. Only when the other party moves on to another relationship, and in that way commits adultery, you are free to consider yourself divorced. When you need a continued separation for your own safety and the other party uses that as reason to divorce, he may be considered as the unbelieving spouse who leaves, and there is no need to fight the divorce.

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