Is Domestic Abuse Grounds For Divorce?

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  • I recently preached a message on the biblical grounds for divorce. This is not a subject where all agree. But I read the scriptures to teach two circumstances in which God permits divorce:

    1. God permits divorce when sexual immorality has been committed (Matt. 5:32; 19:9).
    2. God permits divorce when a believer is deserted by an unbelieving spouse (1 Cor. 7:15-16).

    These are the only grounds scripture gives for divorce. And, as it relates to sexual immorality, I believe that we should view this as unrepentant sinful behavior, not just a single act.

    If a believer divorces outside of these grounds, he or she is obligated to remain unmarried or be reconciled to their mate. (Note: I do not think these stipulations apply to believers who were divorced before they were converted to faith in Christ.)

    God hates divorce. It is not his will that a marriage end in divorce. But God in his mercy permits divorce under limited circumstances.

    This is my summary of what the Bible says about divorce. Admittedly, it leaves a lot of “what abouts” Specifically, the follow-up question I have received the most is about domestic abuse.

    Domestic abuse is a serious matter. If statistics are correct, it is an inevitably reality in every local church. But this fact is not often acknowledged, much less addressed in the church.

    Young or single women should be advised not to get involved with an angry man. “A man of great wrath will pay the penalty,” warns Proverbs 19:19, “for if you deliver him, you will only have to do it again.” I interpret this verse to mean that if a man does it once, he’ll do it again. So a woman should go slow and let a relationship develop in a way that she has the opportunity to see a potential mate responds to different moods.

    Likewise, young or single men should be taught that a husband is to treat his wife with love, respect, and gentleness (Eph. 5:28-30; Col. 3:19; 1 Peter 3:7). Psalm 11:5 says, “The Lord tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.” Anger does not accomplish the righteousness of God (James 1:19-20). We must cultivate the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23) that we may reflect the character of Christ in our relationships.

    What about those on the other side of the marriage vows? What advice should be given to those who are going through this? Is domestic abuse grounds for divorce?

    On one hand, this is a simple question. The Bible does not teach that domestic abuse, in and of itself, is grounds for divorce. However, I think domestic abuse can lead to circumstances that result in grounds for divorce.

    While I cannot teach domestic abuse as grounds for divorce, I would direct a woman to immediately remove herself from a place where she and her children are threatened with abuse. Get to a safe place. Do not stay where you are in danger. And when physical abuse has taken place, it should also be reported to the authorities. A man who physically harms his wife should be subject to the law.

    If a man (as is typically the case, even though men themselves are sometimes victims of abuse) abuses his wife and he is a professing believer, he should become subject to formal church discipline (Matt. 18:15-20). Unfortunately, this process could lead to the brother’s excommunication. At this point, I believe divorce would be permissible. He is a brother who has proven to be an unbeliever by his behavior and has, in a real sense, “deserted” his marriage by his abusive behavior. If a man abuses his wife and is not a believer, and continues to be a threat to her, I believe this should be viewed as a desertion of the marriage, as well.

    What do you think? How would you counsel a person in this situation? But biblical wisdom would you give? Join the conversation in the comments section. 


    H.B. Charles Jr.

    Pastor-Teacher at the Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church of Jacksonville and Orange Park, Florida.