Wayne Grudem’s Position on Divorce for Abuse

UPDATE Sept 2021: I have come to believe that Jeff Crippen does not practise what he preaches. He vilely persecuted an abuse victim and spiritually abused many other people in the Tillamook congregation. Go here to read the evidence. Jeff has not gone to the people that he spiritually and emotionally abused. He has not apologised to them, let alone asked for their forgiveness.


[February 6, 2023: There have been some changes made to this post. For more information, read the Editors’ notes at the bottom of the post. Editors.]

Looking over Wayne Grudem’s web page, I found the following question and answer which explains what his position is on abuse as biblical grounds for divorce: (See it yourself at Questions [Internet Archive link].) —


No, I do not agree with my friend John Piper on that matter. But I thought I could endorse the book anyway because there is so much excellent material in it.

My own view of divorce and remarriage is expressed well in the article on marriage, divorce, and remarriage in the ESV Study Bible (pp. 2545 – 2547), and also in the ESV Study Bible notes on Matthew 5:31-32; Matthew 19:3-9; Mark 10:2-12; Luke 16:18; and 1 Corinthians 7:15.

In brief, my own view is the mainstream evangelical Protestant view since the Reformation, the position which is also represented in the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646). In brief, that position is that marriage is a life-long commitment, but that divorce is morally justified, and is not sin in God’s sight, if the other spouse (a) has committed adultery, or (b) has abandoned the marriage and all attempts at reconciliation have failed.

In such cases where divorce is morally justified, it is allowed by God but not necessary, and, if possible, reconciliation and attempting to preserve the marriage should be the first choice. But when a divorce has occurred for one of these reasons, then the marriage no longer exists, and the spouse who obtained a divorce because of such a reason is viewed as a single person in God’s sight and is free to marry someone else. (See the ESV Study Bible notes referenced above for further explanation).

So the earlier post on this blog in which I quoted from the ESV study Bible notes does in fact represent Grudem’s teaching on this matter — no divorce for abuse. Prove me wrong if I am, but I conclude that in Grudem’s thinking, “abandoning the marriage” means actually hitting the road, or some nuance of that. Notice that the phrase “….and all attempts at reconciliation have failed” puts the onus back onto the victim. Am I seeing that correctly? We all know that in abuse cases, especially when the victim is a Christian and her abuser is a professing Christian, it is almost always the victim who actually, physically leaves. The abuser then cries “foul!” to his church and is believed. “That rotten woman whom I love so dearly and with whom I have tried and tried to reconcile just hardened her heart and left me!”

I would love to be able to put more specific questions to Grudem. Maybe he would prove me wrong and it would turn out that I am interpreting his words wrongly. I would love to find that out! I am ready to eat a pie of crow and would gladly do so if Grudem could tell me clearly — “I believe that habitual, unrepentant, verbal, emotional, and / or physical abuse is a biblical ground for divorce.” I hesitate to use the word habitual, as I think that if a husband smashes his wife in the face with his fist even once, that is enough right there for wisdom to dictate that she is out of there for good. Abusers abuse habitually. (This may not be worded very well. Verbal / emotional abuse blows are just as wicked as physical ones. I just don’t want the critics going off and saying “that Crippen guy says that a woman can divorce her husband if he calls her a bad name even one time”.)

So, what would Grudem tell a woman who came to him with black eyes and a split lip? I am granting that he would surely pick up the phone right there and then and call the police and see that the brute was thrown in jail. Piper would, Sproul would, MacArthur would — I have to believe that. But then what? Would they tell her that she has the right to divorce? From everything I am reading from these men, the answer is “no”. They would tell her she can separate, but only for a time and during that separation she needs to keep working toward reconciliation.

Wayne Grudem is not my enemy. He is a brother in Christ. I am not setting out in naming names in these blog posts to simply attack these men because it makes me look and feel like the “self-righteous big-shot”. I am simply sounding out A Cry for Justice. And I am saying that such men’s teaching in the church that — in God’s name — “forbids beaten, terrorized victims to divorce their abuser” (who has already destroyed the marriage covenant) is wrong. It is injustice. It is cruel. And God is not pleased with us for teaching it.

P.S. — John Piper’s book This Momentary Marriage is bad news. It will enslave the sincere Christian abuse victim in a torment of false guilt. Grudem is wrong to endorse it.

[February 6, 2023: Editors’ notes:

—For some comments made prior to February 6, 2023 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be an exact match.
—For some comments made prior to February 6, 2023 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be found in the post.
If you would like to compare the text in the comments made prior to February 6, 2023 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (February 6, 2023), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]

14 thoughts on “Wayne Grudem’s Position on Divorce for Abuse”

    1. Yes, I did see it. Thanks. Terrible, isn’t it? How do men like this get to a place where they think they can sit in front of a crowd and everyone is just taking their every word as Gospel? He doesn’t think it is that big of a deal for a man to hit his wife.

      1. It really is awful. I saw it before a few months ago and thought it was bad then. Now that I know more about this issue, seeing it again it’s even worse.

  1. Sorry. I’m reading this blog backwards and just learned you already posted this on March 3rd.

  2. Just to contrast with what’s going on here, could I please name one light in the darkness? Before I found any books on abuse, I picked up a book by TD Jakes called “Before You Do” (or something like that) and it was about all the things you should consider before making decisions. If I recall correctly, there is a chapter on separation or divorce, and he doesn’t toe the usual, strict, regimented “sorry, but this is what the Word” says line, but admits to the complexities involved. He talks about his dilemma about how even he hesitated to send a woman and kids back to the dad after seeing the gouges and wounds on a boy from the blows of a father using a metal bicycle chain. (At that time, I was so relieved that he acknowledged the pain, but now I’m thinking, “is that what it takes for a pastor to hesitate??”) Anyway, he boils it down to three things that justifies a woman’s leaving — safety, survival and sanity. To me, that said it all — I felt justified! Thank you, Rev TD Jakes!

    1. Yes, I have read a couple of things by Jakes that indicate he does better than most on abuse. HOWEVER — warning! TD Jakes’ doctrine on some very fundamental elements of the Gospel is terribly wrong. He denies the doctrine of the Trinity, which goes to the very heart of the Gospel. Oh, he’s slippery in denying this — but that is characteristic of all such people. I am glad that the Lord used Jakes’ statement early in your experience with abuse to help you, but I certainly wouldn’t recommend him as someone to listen to. Thanks again for sharing your experience.

  3. Safety, survival, sanity….good criteria, but not I fear good enough to be comprehensively helpful for many victims of abuse. Many victims of emotional, verbal, sexual, economic, social and spiritual abuse (or any one or combination of those) where there is little or no physical abuse will not feel that their safety, survival or sanity is in danger. These kinds of abuse usually escalate so slowly that the victim doesn’t realise what is being done to her or how much it’s affecting her, until the damage is so severe that she’s exhausted, ashamed and so bewildered that she can find it hard to think straight.

    And yes, it’s good that TD Jakes did at least hesitate to come out with the standard pat “Abuse or abandonment are the ONLY grounds” line on divorce. It’s a long way from that hesitation, however, to being fully galvanised and responsive to the epidemic of domestic abuse in Christianity.

    I think back to when I was in the abusive marriage. I would not have said that my safety, survival or sanity were in grave danger. Maybe I would have said I was stressed, had trouble at home, and wasn’t happy in my marriage. But I didn’t think I was all that “unsafe” even though my husband used physical violence from time to time. I buried each incident of violence after it happened. Only after I left, and became educated about the tactics and mentality of abuse, did I realise how much in danger I had been, and WAS STILL in that danger, because of his post-separation abuse.

  4. [Note from Eds: We are publishing this comment not because we agree with it but in order to respond to it by pointing out that Robert Needham, who this commenter thinks is a “great spousal Nouthetic biblical counselor”, is a man whose words are not to be trusted because he contradicts himself. See our response directly underneath.]

    I have been blessed to know a great spousal abuse Nouthetic biblical counselor who has counseled for 40+ years. He has also authored a book called “What To Do When You are Abused by Your Husband”, Debi Pryde and Robert Needham (ironwood.org). Our local pastors were counseling a dear friend that she must keep her abusive husband in the house and brought her before the church using Matthew 18 to point out her sin in refusing to take him back. She went to Mr. Needham for counsel and was encouraged to file separate [separation?] papers (he claimed he would quit providing support thus the necessity to file papers), keep him out of the house and obtain a restraining order.

    She eventually divorced. I questioned Mr. Needham about the biblical implications since our pastors were saying she was in sin. He said some insightful things that helped me with the issue. First, God values LIFE above the MARRIAGE. Second, if a man claims Christ yet abuses his family you must separate for safety sake and the churches should help each other out by whisking a family away to an unknown location (hospitality hopefully from another church out of the area) if warranted. Third, if after time and correct biblical instruction on his sin, the man refuses to repent, there are grounds for divorce because the man is not being affected by the Word of God and the Holy Spirit that should be dwelling in him if he is a believer. That would indicate he is a non-believer and has abandoned the family. So, in defense of Mr. Grudem’s statement regarding abandonment of the family as a valid Scriptural reason to divorce, I would give him the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise that he would be in alignment with Mr. Needham’s view.

      1. Thank you for responding, Barbara. I found the quote (page 73) you gave but I believe you are taking it out of context for your purposes. If you read carefully, that is in response to a question from a woman, “I often feel like I hate my husband….but I don’t want to divorce him. Will scaring him by threatening to divorce him….make him more serious about changing.” The response….”Although separation may be necessary, divorce is NOT an option.” If you go to page 85 in the Appendix C, you will find an outline of options for a wife of violent abuse including (13 lines down) “Third, it establishes a record of the abuse, which proves to be invaluable in the event she should ever separate from her husband on a long-term basis or be forced by her husband to go through a divorce hearing.” I think you owe a public apology to Mr. Needham and Ms. Pryde. Mr. Needham definitely DID NOT contradict himself.

      2. Laurie, your argument does not hold water.

        Even in the quotes you gave, it’s clear that Pryde and Needham tell the victim that divorce is not an option. That can only mean that they do not allow the abuse victim the option to divorce the abuser. They only say that an abuser might decide to divorce the victim, not the other way round. They only allow a victim of abuse to undergo divorce if the abuser chooses to initiate the divorce and “forces” it onto the victim.

        So what we say stands, and we will not be apologizing to Needham and Pryde. Rather, they ought to be apologizing to victims of abuse for teaching an unbiblical and harshly legalistic doctrine of divorce which contributes to the prolongation of victims’ suffering.

  5. You’re not seeing it incorrectly. Although I do not know Grudem personally, that is EXACTLY the same language and rationale church leaders use — including my former pastors; as I messaged you about — to keep the onus on the abused wife to “reconcile at all costs”. I cornered them with this very question back in March, when they tried to back me into a corner and tell me that biblically, abuse is not grounds for divorce. I asked them straight out “How, then, would you counsel a woman sitting here with bruises all over her face?” Well, they would “allow for a separation — possibly even a LONG separation — while both are being counseled separately and working toward the ultimate goal of reconciliation. ”

    They repeat this mantra like robots; refuse to listen to reason, AND ACTUALLY BELIEVE THIS IS “COMING ALONGSIDE” VICTIMS. They are WILLFULLY BLIND to the fact that this enables abusers and makes their hearts harder and harder — the abusers now feel justified and are given a sympathetic platform for twisting the truth. This is exactly what happened to me.

    Wayne Grudem is not helping abused wives by any means, while his position remains as such.

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