Is Domestic Abuse an Acceptable Reason for Divorce

Orginally published on Monday, January 12, 2009 at 7:33 AM
by Todd Rhoades

According to the Christian Post: "Physical abuse by one’s spouse is not a biblical reason for divorce, says a pastor at Saddleback Church in southern California.

Tom Holladay, teaching pastor at the megachurch founded by best-selling author Rick Warren, says the Bible only gives two cases where divorce is acceptable: abandonment and a physical affair.

“I wish there were a third in Scripture having been involved as a pastor with situations of abuse," Holladay said in an audio clip posted on Saddleback Church’s Web site. "There is something in me that wishes there were a Bible verse that says, 'If they abuse you in this-and-such kind of way, then you have a right to leave them.'"

Physical abuse, he defined, is someone “literally” beating another person up regularly...

Holliday does believe that couples involved with domestic abuse should separate; and find counseling.

You can read the whole article here.

So… what do you think?  Is Domestic abuse grounds for a Biblical divorce?  What’s your take?


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  There are 34 Comments:

  • Posted by

    Todd, did you read the small print on your photo?

  • Posted by Daniel

    I second that. Todd, please remove the incredibly offensive image from this post.

    As for your question, it reminds me of the “how far is too far?” question dating couples sometimes ask. The focus is in the wrong place. It’s on rules and regulations, and what can I get away with without being in trouble… wrong question.

    A better question is, what are Christians called to in marriage? And of course, the answer is: to mirror God’s faithfulness to Sarah and Abraham in Christ. Christian marriage is an image of divine faithfulness, so divorce FOR ANY REASON is a falling short of that calling.

    In the tragic circumstances surrounding abuse, I whole-heartedly endorse separation. Or better yet, have a trusted third-party from the church move in with the couple and counsel them. If God took drastic steps in Christ to keep a promise to Israel, so also we (by which I mean ‘the Church’) ought to take drastic steps to save our marriages.

    When one of the spouses ceases to truly WANT reconciliation however, the name of the game changes. In that case I would advocate separation, with the hope of reconciliation. But if divorce occurs, surely there is no room for blame.


  • Posted by

    Here is an example where atheists can live less violent and abusive, and therefore more God-like, lives than fundamentalist Christians.

    A quick google will uncover a variety of articles where beating a wife was justified by the “Christian” abuser on the grounds she wasn’t submissive enough.

    The bible was written when women, children and slaves were property belonging to the man of the house.  We must consider the context.

  • Posted by Todd Rhoades

    Oops… didn’t see the small print on the picture… You guys have much better eyesight than I do.

    I’ll replace it now!  smile


  • Posted by

    Juan, How can an atheist live a more “God-like” life than a Christian?  Atheists, by their philosophy, do not believe in God.  So their standards have to come from personal choice.  It is true that some Christian husbands have behaved badly towards their wives because of sin.

    As far as this article goes.  Abuse may lead to divorce in a Christian couple.  There is the biblical option of separation.  There is also church discipline.  The abusing spouse must be confronted.  When the abuser refuses to repent, the abusing spouse at a church meeting will be treated like a sinner until repentance or the abuser abandons the spousal victim.  Then the victim has the option of divorce due to abandonment.

  • Posted by anne jackson

    i like how physical abuse is defined as something that is done “regularly”—as if one blow to the face isn’t enough....

  • Posted by Jerry D. Hill

    It always amaxes me to read that Sarah and Abraham are put forth when talking about marriage. The Jews in Isreal are fighting a group of terrorists today that are a direct example of Sarah and Abraham’s faithfulness to God on the marriage vows.

    Hagar was not in the plan.

    Today if a wife were to introduce a third party into the bedroom she would be called a swinger.

    How long before we head the words of Jesus when He said to search the scriptures (Old Testament only). It gets more unreasonable every day to be a King James only Christian.

    God is a Spirit, according to the Word/word, and seeks such to worship Him. Lay the book down and listen to your HEART/soul for the VOICE OF GOD, Holy Spirit, the only thing left on earth to teach us the will of God. THE ONLY THING left on Earth to teach, guide or lead His children who know His Voice.  Jerry D. Hill

  • Posted by

    I believe that the passages the author mentions regarding adultery and abandonment have to do with divorce and re-marriage, the bond is broken and the believer is free.  However, when First Corinthians 7:10-11 says that a wife must not leave her husband, but if she does, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled, Paul is not contradicting Jesus or himself, there is a third category.  Reconciliation is always best, but not always possible.  Sometimes, divorce is inevitable, but remarriage is to be shunned.  God is merciful to the despised and abused.

  • Posted by

    Let me just say I think Physical, verbal or sexual abuse is grounds for divorce.  Not just to abuse but to the Children as well.  Although I know there is not a case or instance in scripture to back up what I am saying in my heart I feel like this is right.  I do not believe God asks a wife/husband to be continually abused by a spouse or allow their children to be abused as well.  While to do believe counseling and reconcilation needs to be tried, in some cases this is just not possible because the person is not willing to change.
    I was physically and verbally abused by my parents the root of most of it was my step mom.  My dad and her are divorced today over all of it that happened to us. 
    It is easy to sit back and judge and say this is black and white.  Wait till it happens to you or someone you love.  What if it happens to your child?  Truthfully a lot people who say you can’t divorce have probably never been through this and just don’t understand.
    Is divorce what God wants?  Of course not, the Bible says God hates divorce.  Does God want women, men to put themselves or their children through hell on earth just to stay married?  No I don’t think so.  Those of you who do, I would say wait till it happens to you or a loved one. 
    I thank God every day for the wonderful wife He provided me.

  • Posted by

    Physical, emotional, sexual, and spiritual abuse all violate the sacrament of marriage and are grounds for divorce. “We just couldn’t make it work” is not.

    And like Anne said, it only takes once; violence escalates rapidly. So, yes, obviously reconciliation is ideal, but if I were in a situation where I feared for my life, or for my kids’ health, I’d take my kids and get out. And it’s hard for me to believe that the inclination to violence magically goes away. How is this still a question in today’s church? How can the church support the abuse of the sacrament of marriage through the abuse of one partner? And how can a church shame a victim? Disgusting.

  • Posted by bishopdave

    I wonder if that statement in Eph 5:28-29 about cherishing your wife like your own flesh is God’s statement about spousal abuse.

    I wonder it Tom Holladay has ever heard of grace. I think it would be extended to an abused woman if she’s asking to go forward with her life.

  • Posted by

    @bishopdave - I am sure that I have heard of this grace thing you mention…

    That said, there is a difference between going forward apart from your husband on the one hand, and being free to remarry on the other hand.

    I think that is the crucial difference - biblical grounds for divorce also allow for remarriage.  A true end to the original relationship.

  • Posted by Ariel

    As I look into the Word, I see that there is the letter and the spirit of the law. Could it be, as I’ve heard some say, that the letter is that divorce is something God hates, but there are rare allowances for it (the spirit behind it being that the hardening of the heart)?

    If a man ...let me rephrase that ...if a male (because real men don’t hit women) would abuse his wife, then clearly his heart has hardened against her. Perhaps that would be a Biblical justification for divorce?

    I’m just thinking here ...

  • Posted by

    Wasn’t Jesus referring to the law of Moses, regarding divorce?  The only part he adds is, “if you look upon a woman and lust after her you have committed adultery.” That being the standard every married woman, most likely, has the biblical right to divorce their husbands!

    Secondly, wasn’t Jesus also referring to the practice of the day that stated a man could divorce his wife for any reason what-so-ever?  That being the case, I don’t believe the purpose of his comments were to bind women from divorcing men, but to stop men from abandoning their wives on a whim.


  • Posted by Salon Tracy

    As a woman who had a 9mm pistol aimed at her from her now ex-husband who was supposed to serve and protect with that weapon, yes it is a acceptable reason for divorce.

  • Posted by

    I find it interesting that the discussion has not actually quoted or refered to the original languages--especially in regards to the Ephesians passage. (Dr. Howard Clinebell has coined the term, “The Ephesian 5 Syndrome,” since said passage has actually been used to condone violence and abuse.)

    The standards as set forth in the King James version are not correctly translated from the Koine Greek. Paul did not use verbage which would lead anyone of sound thought or feeling to support remaining in an abusive relationship. Nor did he employ verbage which would condone an economic and or slave/master understanding of the marital relationship.

    Rather, Paul used verbage lifted from military terminology of the day. Paul did not use the word, “arche” for head but chose instead the word, “kephale,” meaning one who leads by lifting up the needs of those he is entrusted to care for as paramount to his own. “Arche” would mean the head or boss; “kephale” does not.

    Therefore; if the “kephale” is not caring for those entrusted to his care, he has indeed abandoned them. Moreover, violence carried out by the “kephale” upon those under his care is indeed abuse and a violation of the Biblical mandate for the actions of the head of the house. Abandonement not only of the spouse but of the Divine concept for marriage. Abandonment is a Biblical reason for divorce.

    God hates divorce because anyone who has expereinced divorce knows firsthand that it is hell on earth. Did Christ not come to rescue us from hell?

  • Posted by

    How is it that NO one has mentioned the REST of the Malachi verse that everyone seems to know about divorce?

    “I hate divorce. I also hate a man who covers himself with violence as a garment, therefore take heed to your spirit that you do not deal treacherously against the wife of his youth” Mal 2:16

    PLEASE read verses in totality, in context!
    IMHO, cultural Christianity has made a “idol” of “saving” or “restoring” marriages that are clearly DEFILED by physical violations, sexual and otherwise. In the OT, offenders would be DEAD and the offended would be free to remarry.
    Logical, as God always is.

  • Posted by

    Paige, I agree with you. Please, read all of my post. Violence is an abandonment of the intentions for marriage and as such is grounds for divorce.

    I did not think it necessary to restate the obvious. I too, am divorced from an abusive first husband and it took quite along time for me to understand the Divine truth of being head of the household, which is servant leadership.


  • Posted by gmat

    i read it all and iam 100% agree with u.

  • Posted by

    I think that ...
    1.Any man who beats his wife has already a banded her.
    2. The character of God would not demand her to stay in that relationship
    3. A man who has been truly transformed, regenerated by Christ 2 Cor.5:17 would not beat his wife.
    4. I doubt the claim of salvation of any man who beats his wife.
    5. God hates divorce, But He loves His Saints and is compassionate to the victim
    6. God would have reconciliation, separation and counseling should be sought.

  • Posted by

    What does “a banded” mean?  Your first point puts nuances into the text that were not meant originally.  If we are to think that way, then we can twist, turn and stretch every and any text to mean what we want to by changing the intent of the writer’s mind into a figurative intent rather than a literal intent.

    You either believe the Bible or you don’t. The Bible either says what it says or it doesn’t.  Just because a couple is married doesn’t mean she (OR HE) cannot move out for her (OR HIS) own protection & live apart. 

    Another point, there are (although it may be a small percentage) men who are abused by their wives.  In addition, I can’t count the number of men who are emotionally and verbally abused by their wives every day.  In many situations, there are TWO people doing wrong things. TWO people.  I’ve witnessed women badgering their husbands to the point where I would have to just walk away or go for a drive.  Others may not be able to do such a passive thing...although it’s the RIGHT thing to do.  And yes, I know, this is not the cause of “all domestic abuse.”

  • Posted by Divorce Guy

    Do you think Domestic abuse is a normal thing? I think this is very much an acceptable reason.

  • Posted by

    I do believe the Bible,
    every word of it. abandonment can be applied or understood in several ways, Don’t be telling people that they twist the scriptures or that they don’t believe them.  just because someone has a different understanding of things, or another way of thinking after much study and consideration. I never used the term divorce. Abuse is common, both men and women are victims, I speak of mainly physical abuse, The person getting beat on should get out of the home and seek help. unless you think tha’ts twisting the Scripture also, then why don’t you take an abused persons place and then ask God what you aught to do.

  • Posted by

    Who is Dave?
    Look to the original text and context.  Not figurative meanings. Hermeneutics, Hebrew & Greek.

  • Posted by

    Divorce Guy,
    Please show me anywhere in God’s Instructions that it says abuse, mental or physical is grounds for divorce.  That conclusion can only be arrived at by re-defining the original words.  Just as sex before marriage skips the important step of marriage, divorce on grounds of abuse skips the step of the abused partner moving away, showing “tough love” (as James Dobson puts it) & demanding that the other partner get help etc.

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