A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Does John MacArthur Teach that Suffering Abuse is Meritorious Before God?

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.


[April 26, 2022: There have been some changes made to this post. For more information, read the Editors’ notes at the bottom of the post. Editors.]

Ok, here I go again getting into trouble, and I’m not even really trying. But I am learning that there are certain names that many professing Christians have sanctified, and John MacArthur is one of them. I have had much respect for MacArthur and still do in many ways. His book Ashamed of the Gospel is wonderful, as is The Gospel According to Jesus. Good stuff. But when Pastor MacArthur begins to teach in the realm of marriage, divorce, and abuse – he is just plain wrong. I have quoted him before in another post, but let me just refresh your memory here in this quote taken from the Grace to You website:

Answering the Key Questions About the Family  (Click here for the PDF.)


If a violence-prone husband becomes agitated and abusive, the wife should remove herself from danger, by leaving the home if necessary. God has promised that He will not test us beyond our ability to endure, but will always make a way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13). Sometimes escape is the only way. If you have children and they are in danger, take them someplace where you will be secure until you feel you may safely come back.

If you are not truly in any physical danger, but are merely a weary wife who is fed up with a cantankerous or disagreeable husband — even if he is an unbeliever who is hostile to the things of God — God’s desire is that you stay and pray and sanctify that husband by your presence as a beloved child of God (1 Corinthians 7:10-16). The Lord will protect you and teach you in the midst of the difficult time.

Of course, pray for your husband, submit to him in every way you can, encourage him to seek advice and counsel from other biblically-knowledgeable men — and do everything you can to heal the problems that cause him to be angry or abusive.


And again — Dialogue on Divorce


….You know, I can’t counsel a mother who says, [you know,] “What am I going to do? This man has committed incest with my child and he beats me up and et cetera. or beats up the children and so forth and so on. Do I just sit there and take it? And the chairs on my head, and the stuff he throws at me, and the cigarette burns on my arm” — battered wives and all this stuff? What do I do? Well, certainly there is nothing in the Bible that says you just stand around until you are just beaten to a pulp. You know, God has built into the human being a certain sense of self-preservation, right? And it’s normal to separate yourself in that kind of situation. And maybe that’s what Paul is thinking about. There may come circumstances where divorce occurs, but if it isn’t on biblical grounds, that’s it. I mean, you can remain unmarried or be reunited.

But I would say that’s only a possibility in that text. I really feel that if we are obedient to the word of God in that kind of a situation, God would give us the grace to endure a lot more severe things than we think. So what we do is this, we counsel people this way: If you’re in an abusive situation, there’s not adultery involved, it’s just abusive, cruelty, or something like that — I don’t think [,you know,] alcoholism is necessarily in the same category. But where there’s beatings, where it affects you or the children, there’s nothing to say that you shouldn’t step away, get away to preserve your own health and your own safety and your own security. You don’t need to stay there and just be beaten to a pulp. God’s given us a self-defense mechanism. But I don’t think that that’s grounds for divorce biblically. I think you have to hang in there, and that’s what makes great prayer warriors, people who can turn that kind of a thing into a draw-nigh-unto-God kind of relationship. You know, when all your families have forsaken you, the Lord will be your family.


Now, here is a question I would like to put to our readers — Is it fair to say that John MacArthur is teaching a kind of meritorious suffering doctrine here? I know that he would not intentionally teach such a thing. But my question is, do his conclusions here and his advice to victims of abuse amount to a doctrine that says the Christian pleases God by remaining in an abusive situation and suffering? After all, MacArthur is indeed telling us that a victim of abuse should not divorce from her abuser. She might need to separate for her own safety, but she is to pray and work for reconciliation with the abuser and not divorce him. In this context, MacArthur promises her that God will sanctify her into Christ-likeness, making her a “great prayer warrior” and being enabled by the suffering to “draw nigh unto God.”

What do you think? I hope that even our critics will admit that this is a fair question, particularly in light of the fact that feminists who criticize and blame Christianity as one of the main causes of domestic violence, point to this very kind of teaching that says that because Christians are to suffer for Christ, abuse victims must remain in their abusive environment.

[April 26, 2022: Editors’ notes:

—For some comments made prior to April 26, 2022 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 April 26, 2022 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 April 26, 2022 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (April 26, 2022), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]


  1. Jon J. Cardwell

    In this area, he comes so close to a meritorious suffering doctrine that it might as well be for all intents and purposes. I agree with you, Brother Jeff; I don’t think he does this intentionally, but it is done nonetheless. In cases of church discipline for unrepentant sin, viz., Matthew 18, the non-penitent is put out of fellowship altogether for the sake of giving the flesh over to Satan. As with ex-communication from unrepentant sin, does not divorce become that viable option when it becomes clear that the abuser refuses to yield to Christ’s Spirit and Christ’s Word? In fact, even with gospel preaching, it is the fire of judgment preached that causes the vipers to come forth from cane fields, not continually pleading with those who have not ears to hear, neither eyes to see, nor minds to discern.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Thank you, Jon. As pastors, we need to be very careful (and I have not always been) to think about how our words might be mis-construed. MacArthur’s teaching in this area is bound to lead many listeners to a doctrine of meritorious suffering, similar to that of Rome. I have also thought of Matthew 18 – which is essentially calling upon the church to divorce a covenant-breaker who will not repent. I personally know of more than one marriage in which the guilty spouse finally got a “wakeup call” when the wronged spouse began to call them to repentance, or there would be a divorce. With abusers, repentance almost never happens, but the divorce, like church discipline, has therapeutic and even Christ-honoring results for the victim and for the body of Christ.

  2. Barnabasintraining

    I don’t have a comment on the meritorious suffering issue but I do have some words for another thing.

    Dr. MacArthur is a pastor. Not just a pastor but a celebrity pastor. Not just a celebrity pastor but the president of a seminary, which means he’s the top dog in charge of men who are in charge of teaching other men how to be pastors. He’s a pastor of pastors. And not just in America. He is known internationally. His influence reaches into the millions. It will be felt for generations to come. He’s big. Dr. MacArthur is one of the most accountable men in this generation of the church.

    Why, then, does this theological behemoth deal with one of the greatest evils to afflict Christ’s bride with nothing more than mush and marshmallows? Where is the force? Where is the authority? Why must it fall to a tiny woman posting a blog comment to say that “incest with my child” is adulterous pedophilia and a felonious sex crime against children for which the offender should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and the woman is free to divorce on the ground of adultery alone, if nothing else?

    As a pastor it is your job to protect your flock. The best you can do is this milquetoast “It’s normal to separate yourself in that kind of situation.”? David understood how to use the stones and the rod against the lion and the bear bent on the destruction and devouring of the sheep entrusted to his care. But your weapons of choice are marshmallows and wet noodles?

    And how did you miss that incest is adultery? I realize this was just an example pulled out of thin air for you. But you crossed into territory that almost everyone agrees is biblical grounds for divorce. Yet drawing your own example you first said, “this man has committed incest with my child” and then said, “…but if it isn’t on biblical grounds…” and “…there’s not adultery involved…I don’t think there’s grounds for divorce biblically.” It is troubling that you did not make the connection that incest is adultery because this is not the first time I have heard of this same failure, only this time it was real. There is an account of a woman from one of the Sovereign Grace churches whose husband sexually abused their daughter and the counsel she received from her pastors was for both her and her daughter to stay and for her to be more sexually available to her husband. Somehow, they too missed that sexual abuse of one’s children IS adulterous.

    And by the way, she was told it was partly her fault for being less than a Godly wife and had she been a more Godly wife, he wouldn’t have looked elsewhere to have his needs fulfilled. Which brings us to this,

    …and do everything you can to heal the problems that cause him to be angry or abusive.

    How, Dr. MacArthur, do you explain this? Do you intend for her to see herself as responsible for his sinfulness? Would you approve or condemn the kind of counsel this SGM woman received? I would like to believe you would condemn it but you aren’t giving me much to work with here. Then again, if you did condemn it, would it just be more marshmallows and wet noodles?

    Here is the woman’s account if anyone wants to verify.

    Taylor’s Story [Internet Archive link]

    • Jeff Crippen

      Barnabas – Thank you for the excellent challenge. You are absolutely correct as to the huge influence he has had and continues to have. When someone gets this influential, it is really hard to even get a hearing from them. I hope he or one of his elders see your challenge here, but I think it is going to take a growing groundswell of outcry in order to override all the bad teaching that has held victims in bondage.

      • How about you beginning a compilation of comments, Jeff, and asking to meet with JM? Moses went in front of the Pharaoh!

      • Jeff Crippen

        Great idea. Let my people go!!

    • Crystal

      @Barnabasintraining – Thank you for sharing. I’m in a situation where my once “Christian” husband has gone back into the world. We are borderline living in a dangerous environment, yet by God’s grace nothing so far that has made it to the point where it would be better to leave. Growing up in church I heard so much about marriage being for life, and it was wrong to separate and after going to lots of various Christian pastors/counselors, I have had similar admonitions as to what Dr. MacArthur has given.

      Looking back at the last 14 years of somewhat dangerous behavior, I wonder now if I had actually separated if it would have been better or not. There is a real danger that he could have custody of the kids and they would NOT be safe without my presence. I very rarely leave the house if he is home with them and pray they are safe until I return. Yet God has thus far amazingly protected. Yet, I want to be prepared, because God may allow him to cross a line and I need to know what is allowed. I keep reading: “A wife is not to depart, but if she does depart” and it makes it sound like if you do depart, then you’re in disobedience. And that’s the counsel I’ve been given from church leaders. But I’m glad at least John MacArthur said to keep yourself and kids safe. I’m starting to think in a situation where the wife needs to leave (whatever that is) that Scripture does support it, I just can’t be remarried, which I have no desire to….and the sad thing is, one of my adult children is completely against getting married because of the treatment she’s been given by her father.

      I’m ranting, but it helps me to put it all down on paper. All this to say, I think the church is not helping others like me to understand what to do in a dangerous or potentially dangerous situation.

      • Hi Crystal, welcome to the blog! 🙂 We are very very happy to have you here.

        you said

        I keep reading: “A wife is not to depart, but if she does depart” and it makes it sound like if you do depart, then you’re in disobedience. And that’s the counsel I’ve been given from church leaders.

        I think you would find my book Not Under Bondage [*Affiliate link] helpful, as one of the things it does is tackle that misunderstanding of scripture. The church leaders and authors who are teaching it are wrong. And because they are wrong on that point, they are causing great harm to victims of domestic abuse.

        Here are some nutshell posts which explain the core teaching of my book. If you read them, you’ll get a sense of what my book is about.

        The Bible DOES allow divorce for domestic abuse

        Remarriage after divorcing an abuser — in a nutshell

        God hates divorce? Not always.

        I strongly encourage you to read our New User’s Info page as well, as it gives tips for how to guard your safety while commenting on this blog.

        We hope you continue to comment here. 🙂 I think you’ll find you have much in common with the rest of our readers.

        *Amazon affiliate link — ACFJ gets a small percentage if you purchase via this link.
      • Don Johnson

        Instone-Brewer points out that 1 Cor 7:10 can be translated in the past tense in the sense of “The (unspecified but known) wife should not use divorce by separation method (that is, not divorcing for a valid cause), but if she did [past tense]; she should either reconcile or remain unmarried.”

        It is important to see (first) that Jesus taught that one should not divorce using Hillel’s “Any Matter” divorce, that is, divorce for no valid reason, so this must be what Paul is referring to when he says Jesus taught this, it is just Paul is putting it into terms that those in Corinth with its Greco-Roman culture and Roman laws would understand. As Jews, both Jesus and Paul would accept divorce for VALID reasons such as adultery, abuse or neglect.

      • well said, Don!

  3. joepote01

    Jeff, I see this as another example of what happens when we elevate the marriage covenant on a pedestal comparable to our eternal covenant with Christ. When we start thinking and behaving as though divorce is the worst thing that could ever happen to a Christian, then that error starts to affect other areas.

    Yes, in this context, MacArthur is clearly advocating meritorious suffering!

    Why would he say such a thing in this context when he likely wouldn’t in another context? Because he is trying to reconcile his erroneous view of marriage and divorce with the reality of abuse…and it is dragging him into deeper error…

    • Jeff Crippen

      You make some really helpful observations, Joe. Once again, abuse reveals the fallacy of bad theology. Bad theology will inevitably lead us into a quagmire when trying to deal with abuse (and sin in general!). There is only ONE unbreakable covenant – Christ established it in His blood.

      • joepote01

        “There is only ONE unbreakable covenant – Christ established it in His blood.”


        I know I sometimes sound like a broken record, on this topic. Like the Apostle Paul on the topic of legalism, it is easier to spot bad theology in an area that I was once erroneous myself. 17 years of an abusive marriage ending in divorce require one to rethink things a bit…and to spend a good deal of time in prayer and Bible study.

  4. ben davis

    I have followed Macarthurs ministry and have been very edified. Based on the those qoutes alone, we see that John is saying very clearly in cases of physical abuse to get out of the home and not return until its safe. He talks about trying to reconcile with the other party if possible. He makes an extremely biblical statement by saying that if you don’t have biblical grounds for divorce you shouldn’t. Now most certainly we can disagree with what is biblically acceptable and what is not, but where on earth does the idea come across that suffering abuse is meritourious before God? What text was he preaching from? Lets open it up and let it say whatever it teaches.

    On another note, my mother in law whom is a christian and lives with my wife and I had a horrible marriage with a nonbeliever so I have some level of this being personal.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Ben: Could you perhaps clarify for us just a bit? We aren’t quite sure what you mean. Are you agreeing that MacArthur’s teaching here essentially amounts to seeing the suffering of abuse, from which the victim has the means to escape, is somehow meritorious/good/redemptive in God’s sight? And if you are agreeing that he is teaching that, then do you agree or disagree with him? Please clarify so we understand you clearly. As to the text he was preaching on, he wasn’t. It was a extemporaneous question and answer time.

      As to the first part of your comment, you said “John is saying very clearly in cases of physical abuse to get out of the home and not return until it is safe.” This is a big part of the problem. People who thoroughly understand abuse recognize that some of the very worst abuse is non-physical. It is verbal and psychological torment that destroys the victim in many ways, including destroying their physical health as well as mental and spiritual well-being. MacArthur’s words here can only be interpreted as meaning that if physical abuse is not happening, the victim is to remain in that abusive environment. In addition, of course, he insists that even in cases of physical abuse, the victim is not permitted by God to divorce the abuser. Yes, we agree that a person needs biblical grounds for divorce, but do we truly want to take MacArthur’s position that a man can beat his wife, ridicule her incessantly, exercise evil power and control over her, strip her naked, sodomize and rape her, take a whip to her – and yet, just as long as he doesn’t commit adultery physically or physically desert her, she is not permitted by God to divorce him? Because, you see, that is exactly what MacArthur and other big names in the evangelical church are teaching. And I really don’t believe that many Christians understand this. They don’t understand abuse. They don’t know how widespread it is within the church. They don’t know how deceitful and deceptive it is, how charming and “godly” the abuser can be. And that is why we are Crying for Justice.

    • Anonymous

      Ben, To get out of the home is very difficult when you have been disempowered. In fact, physical separation from an abusive husband is an extremely dangerous move, and women are at their most vulnerable and more likely to be killed then than at any other time. That’s not to say it shouldn’t be done, but the advice should be given with the caveat that the woman must put have a safety plan in place, and this normally involves the support of people who understand the dynamics of abuse.

      God Himself doesn’t try to reconcile with evil. Evil people must make the move to repent and come to Him. Saul is an example. For true reconciliation to occur, the abusive person must be repentant or the victim and her children are putting themselves at risk of inviting evil into their lives once more. Most of the time reconciliation is not possible because the abuser is not capable of being in a relationship without being abusive or exercising coercive power over the other person. So reconciliation should not be the first priority because that cannot happen without the abuser repenting and the victim has no control over that, so to tell her to reconcile is to ask her to monitor how he is doing and be responsible for restoring the relationship.

      Finally, the advice not to return until it is safe puts women in danger as it doesn’t take into account the fact that an unreformed abuser is ALWAYS somewhere in the cycle of violence, so there IS NO SAFE time. A friend of mine was told that and she returned “when it was safe”, and tragically a death resulted.

      Jeff, secular workers in shelters note that women of faith stay an average of 2 years longer in their violent marriage AND suffer worse abuse. No wonder they think that Christian beliefs CAUSE abuse. Maybe many will have blockages to God removed when they find out that those common church teachings are NOT biblical beliefs.

      • Jeff Crippen

        Yes. Perhaps we would find that the fields become “white for harvest” when we show the lost the real Jesus. I think of the Prodigal son in the pig pen when he came to his right mind. Or the demon-possessed man in Gadera who used to run around naked in a graveyard, and then was “clothed and in his right mind” after Jesus cast them out. Maybe the conservative church has been so possessed by a wrong spirit in so many ways that we need to have such a moment ourselves and return to sanity. We no doubt look quite out of our minds to people in women’s centers and women’s rights groups. To them, we are the enemy.

      • Diane

        Exactly, anonymous.

        JM says, ““If a violence-prone husband becomes agitated and abusive, the wife should remove herself from danger, by leaving the home if necessary. God has promised that He will not test us beyond our ability to endure, but will always make a way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13).

        Can someone explain to me how that scripture is fitting here? Is God testing a wife with an abuse-prone husband?

        He also says. “If you are not truly in any physical danger…” How does one determine if one is truly in physical danger? Is he saying there is a difference between being in danger, and truly in danger?

        “Sometimes escape is the only way. If you have children and they are in danger, take them someplace where you will be secure until you feel you may safely come back.”

        Sometimes escape? What if the one time someone doesn’t escape, a tragedy occurs? How will someone know when it is safe? JM is speaking here about a violence-prone husband who becomes abusive and agitated.
        I find this very confusing. I find the entirety of his quoted statements irresponsible and inadequate.

        And what exactly does he mean here? “I really feel that if we are obedient to the word of God in that kind of a situation, God would give us the grace to endure a lot more severe things than we think.”

        I cannot imagine the horror women must endure being married to such men. I know Jesus loves women and children and hates oppression and injustice to the weak. How is it honoring to the Lord to “endure a lot more severe things” when, by staying in this abuse, you are endangering yourself and children, if any?

        I almost cannot believe I am reading these things.

        “But I don’t think that’s grounds for divorce biblically. I think you have to hang in there and that’s what makes great prayer warriors People who can turn that kind of a thing into a draw nigh unto God kind of relationship. You know, when all your family has forsaken you the Lord will be your family.”

        Is this a kind of marriage sanctifies you by the awful injustices you endure teaching?

        Thanks you for your article, Jeff. As an RN who has seen her fair share of abuse in my work…this is just shocking.

      • Jeff Crippen

        Diane – Reading this stuff and thinking about it, I mean these comments by someone as touted as John MacArthur, makes a Bible-believing Christian feel angry, aghast, horrified, and ashamed. In addition, it makes me feel like a fool for not seeing this sooner. It makes me feel a sense of false guilt because I am saying “bad things” about a conservative icon like MacArthur. I don’t like it. Critics seem to think that I do. I don’t. I hate having to say and expose these things. I hate to have to admit that this has been going on among us for a long time. But when we really see and understand abuse and the horrid evils it is effecting upon, mostly, women and children even in our churches, how can we be silent about it? There needs to be a growing swell of outrage.

  5. ” … just abusive, cruelty, or something like that” … God must weep to see these women and children turned away from the ones they have gone to for help. And alcoholism? Obviously John McA hasn’t lived in a home where children learn to be hypervigilant in order to survive. I can only imagine how Jesus would respond, and I don’t think it would be pretty. If he was angry at a building of brick and stone being violated, how much more angry would he be when young children and their mothers are broken and bloodied, and then turned away by their brothers in the faith.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Morven – it seems to me that somehow a blindness has been cast over us. I mean in the conservative, Bible-believing church. Is it because the big names teach these things and we have come to a point of seeing them as our personal champions, thus never to question them? Are we so intent upon winning battles against radical feminists, theological liberals, and distortions of the family, that we shout “hip, hip, hooray!” no matter what our champions preach and teach? Is it just possible that some of these people whom we see as our enemy, are not totally wrong? Is it even possible that they see some of our errors and traditions more clearly than we do? I don’t think even radical feminists have it totally wrong when they say that Christians’ misrepresentations of biblical truth have contributed significantly to domestic violence and abuse.

      • Maybe we need to look at “these people” another way. They are not our enemy. They are the ones the Lord died for, and he loves them. We are to love them also, and that means we need to stop and listen to what they are saying. They are angry at what they see and hear from Christians. If I was an unbeliever looking at all of this, seeing how “our champions” preach and teach, I would turn around and walk away, sickened by it all. Sadly, then, I would believe that “all Christians” think that way, and I’d want no part of it, because Christians must be imitating Christ, right? Ghandhi wrote, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

        From the research done for my doctoral dissertation, it was clear to me that there was much truth spoken by radical feminists as to the contributions of patriarchy to the rise in sexual abuse/incest. No doubt at all. I interviewed over 300 female victims, and most were raised in patriarchal churches. No wonder non believers are confused in some of their thinking. The church is confused! If I can’t accept that what a preacher is saying is Scriptural in ALL things, how can I believe what he/she is staying in anything? For this reason, the only personal Champion I have is Jesus, as all the earthly imitators I’ve seen have flaws.

      • Jeff Crippen

        Morven – You said it very well, “If I can’t accept that what a preacher is saying is Scriptural in ALL things, how can I believe what he/she is staying in anything?” Recently I had a lady in our church ask me if exposing these terrible teachings by notable leaders in the church means that we are rejecting everything they have taught us. I told her no, that is not my intent. However, I did add that “when someone is teaching things like this that are so incredibly wrong, we do need to ask ourselves then just how much of their other teachings are indeed wrong. For example, what is John MacArthur’s view of God? Or certainly we need to take a long, hard look at everything he teaches about marriage.” MacArthur has such a woodenly literal approach to Scripture (which he is proud of), that I have seen other errors it has led him into. His teachings, for example, about the nature of the true Israel, and his ideas about the doctrine of last things, are areas I have seen him really off base in.

  6. donaldbyronjohnson

    One needs to see that MacArthur simply is unqualified to speak on some subjects and his teachings on those subjects needs to be discarded or ignored. One of them is marriage and divorce, see David Instone-Brewer if you want to see what the Bible does teach, he is a Second Temple scholar and so knows what he is talking about and has collected pics of all the surviving marriage and divorce papyrii on his website.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Good advice, Donald. Very good advice. I have read Instone-Brewer and he makes sense, based upon sound study of Scripture in a full understanding of the historic and cultural context. That book is very, very freeing and everyone should read it. Have you read Barbara Roberts’ book, Not Under Bondage? It is excellent too and is written by an author who is an abuse survivor and the recipient of all of the really bad counsel the church gives to abuse victims. There is a link to it at the top of our blog page. Thank you again for visiting here and for commenting. Very encouraging to everyone.

  7. Diane

    Yes Jeff…agreed. Thanks for speaking out!

    And one more thing I forgot to ask about this JM says, “If you are not truly in any physical danger, but are merely a weary wife who is fed up with a cantankerous or disagreeable husband–even if he is an unbeliever who is hostile to the things of God–God’s desire is that you stay and pray and sanctify that husband by your presence as a beloved child of God (1 Corinthians 7:10-16). The Lord will protect you and teach you in the midst of the difficult time.”

    How will the Lord protect you? How can he say that? Someone abused reads that and does not feel very protected. If I understand JM correctly, he says if you are not “truly in danger” (as opposed to just “in danger”), but merely living with a cantankerous husband, that you stay and God protects you and teaches you. But if he is physically abusing you, you return when it is “safe.” But evidently God doesn’t protect you from physical abuse? Just from a mean and cantankerous husband? God can protect you then but not from the other?

    • Jeff Crippen

      And so the “logic” goes, right? Notice also, as we have in our book (still waiting for it to be published), that for MacArthur and others that share his thinking, there are only two categories here. Physical abuse (which to MacArthur is the only thing that is truly abuse), and having a disagreeable husband. He makes no room for verbal, emotional, or spiritual terrorism abuse. He is clueless, and it seems to me, willfully so.

      • joepote01

        “He makes no room for verbal, emotional, or spiritual terrorism abuse. He is clueless, and it seems to me, willfully so.”

        Yes…the result of rigidly legalistic application of God’s word specifically in regard to the topic of marriage and divorce…

        When we convince ourselves that divorce is sin (something the Bible never states) and is only “permissible” (when is sin ever permissible?) in certain conditions meeting narrowly defined criteria, we wind up in these sorts of self-contradictory perspectives where we feel compelled to find a proper “category” for every situation, based on hard legalistic rules.

        It is a form of spiritual blindness…

      • Jeff Crippen

        Joe- I know full well that whenever we say that someone like MacArthur has a hermeneutic that is “woodenly literal,” we are going to immediately be accused of being one of those lousy, unbelieving, liberals who deny the inerrancy of Scripture. I am a biblical literalist. I believe we are to interpret Scripture in a historical-grammatical way. Jesus is coming again – literally. We are going to have resurrection bodies – literally. But when the Bible uses metaphors, and it does, we must look for the literal meaning that the metaphor is meant to communicate. In addition, a wooden, unbending, literal treatment of Scripture is given to making a particular verse or phrase into an absolute, universally-binding principle, which the Lord never meant it to be.

      • joepote01

        “…accused of being one of those lousy, unbelieving, liberals who deny the inerrancy of Scripture.”

        I firmly believe in the inerrancy of scripture. I also hold a literalist interpretation of scripture.

        I do NOT believe in the inerrancy of any given pastor, preacher, teacher, or tradition outside of the biblical canon of scripture.

        When our theology leads to accept and promote behavior that is clearly ungodly, by any scriptural interpretation, we may rest assured that we have grossly overstepped the boundary between “literal interpretation” and “blind legalistic bondage.”

      • Jeff Crippen

        Joe – your statement here really helps me. Thanks for saying these things. Blind, legalistic bondage is really the best term for it. And that legalism colors a person’s entire view of Scripture, and of God Himself.

      • joepote01

        “…that legalism colors a person’s entire view of Scripture, and of God Himself.”

        Yes, it does. God used many years in an abusive marital relationship and countless hours of prayer and Bible study to help me see that…and today I count it well worth the cost.

        My prayer for John MacArthur, and others like him, is for God to do whatever it takes to open their eyes to see past the blindess of their legalistic bondage.

        Thank YOU, Jeff!

  8. Thanks for everything everyone has said so far.
    I’d like to respond to only a few things, since others have already articulate magnificently most of what I would have said.
    Ben, I am glad you have some personal experience as a bystander re abuse (having your mother-in-law’s experience to reflect on. I would like to encourage you to learn more about the nature of abuse and abusers, which you can do from this blog and the links it recommends. That way you may be better able to support your mother-in-law.
    And please can you answer Jeff’s question that he put to you?

    “mush, marshmallows and wet noodles” – thanks for that brilliant phrase, Barnanbasintraining!

    John MacArthur DISCOUNTS THE SERIOUSNESS OF ABUSE. He does this subtly but surely, in multiple ways. I’d like to spotlight them.
    Here’s how he represents a victim’s disclosures/complaints about her husband’s conduct:
    ‘“This man has committed incest with my child and he beats me up and etc. or beats up the children and so forth and so on. … And the chairs on my head, and the stuff he throws at me, and the cigarette burns on my arm, and battered wives and all this stuff?”

    To me, the words “and etc, … and so forth and so on… and all this stuff” are a backhanded way of painting the victim as whining, moaning, complaining to the point she bores the pants off everyone she talks to. I can imagine MacArthur thinking “Get that woman out of my hair! She lays it on too thick! She’s making mountains out of molehills! I wish she’d just shut up!” So as a victim-survivor, I feel discounted and belittled by MacArthur’s choice of words.

    “… the chairs on my head…” – why did MacArthur choose that example? Yeah, some victims have certainly had chairs thrown at their heads; but I would venture to suggest that it’s one of the less common examples of abuse. I think MacArthur might have chosen that illustration as a way of making victims’ complaints sound exaggerated or ludicrous.

    Then MacArthur portrays an abuser as “a violence-prone husband [who] becomes agitated and abusive…” This minimises the husband’s sin. Calling him ‘violence-prone’ is a way of diminishing the man’s CHOICE to be violent and abusive.
    We say some people are ‘accident-prone’ when they lack the spatial relations or cognitive or mobility skills to avoid accidents. But an abuser doesn’t lack the skills of respectful relating: he possesses those skills in abundance when it comes to enlisting allies in the church. He CHOOSES to relate disrespectfully and abusively to his target victim. So we should call it that, not excuse him with weasel words like ‘violence-prone’.

    “….if you’re in an abusive situation, there’s not adultery involved, it’s just abusive, cruelty, or something like that–…” The word “just” in this sentence is atrociously disrespectful to abuse survivors. It shows MacArthur is clueless.

    And the icing on the cake, the confirmation of all I’ve said about how MacArthur discounts the seriousness of abuse, is the following:
    “[if you] are merely a weary wife who is fed up with a cantankerous or disagreeable husband–”
    Did you catch that word “merely”? How belittling! Clearly MacArthur doesn’t understand that because abuse is a PATTERN OF CONDUCT designed to exercise power and control over the victim, every victim will inevitably end up feeling incredibly weary and exhausted, and will be fed up. But JM never says that weariness and fed up-ness can be red flags for abuse, so victims of abuse who read his words will stay longer in the fog, because they not been helped to identify whether they are Victims of Abuse.

    Lastly, I want to note that a spouse can be cantankerous and disagreeable in order to deliberately exert power and control over his partner. So even (“just”) cantankerousness and disagreeableness can be abuse, IF they are a deliberate pattern designed to maintain power and control. This kind of abuse is often seen in more elderly abusers. They don’t have the violent rages they displayed in their prime, but they can still exercise abuse by maintaining a tiresome cantankerousness and disagreeableness.
    Many survivors have said, “He didn’t hit me often. He didn’t have to. Fear is a powerful weapon.” And others say, “He never hit me. He didn’t have to. Fear is a powerful weapon.”

    • donaldbyronjohnson

      I am greatly encouraged that people are rebuking the false teachings of MacArthur in this area. Thanks.

      • Jeff Crippen

        Donald- And it is a huge boost to us to hear those encouraging words from you. I mean, we are finding that MacArthur and big names like him have become “untouchable” in the conservative, Bible-believing church. We don’t write our articles on this with joy. I have probably read as many of MacArthur’s books as anyone over the years and I have even used some in the classes I have taught. I wonder just how many Christians truly know that MacArthur is teaching what he teaches on no divorce for abuse? I am suspecting that many don’t. I mean, when you read MacArthur’s words, as we have quoted them, and then set them side-by-side with the description of the terrors that many Christian women are going through in secret at the hands of their abuser, I cannot fathom how normal people are going to be solidly confident in MacArthur’s teachings that she can’t divorce the guy. They often won’t speak up, but that may be out of fear, shock, or simply denial. I hope and pray that a real groundswell of people will begin to be raised up by Christ now so that those who are teaching these absolutely unbiblical, legalistic, enslaving things won’t be able to continue to stand in their position.

  9. Marianne Lordi

    For anyone to say that if you are abused you should leave and come back when you feel it is safe, obviously does not understand the heart of the abuser. When is it safe? Rarely is there ever a one time abuse whether physical, mental or emotional. The man who does it once, usuallly will do it again and again, often escalating in anger and what he does. How many woman are were killed when the felt it was “safe” to come back to their abuser?

  10. Kim

    I am grateful for this discussion although I am a few months late. 🙂 One question that I have as I study biblical divorce. I come from a conservative Christian background and have cherished JM’s teachings in the past (LOL). So when my current church and my current circle of Christian friends are not ok with divorce for abuse but are ok with separation how can separation be justified biblically? Isn’t that abandonment on my part if I would separate but not divorce my husband for abuse? I guess that is my current question in this debate and in preparation for my future struggle with my church fellowship when I finally and ready to leave; unless my husband repents of course.

    • Hi Kim, have a look on our Resources page (in the top menu bar) and you will see a couple of links to articles I wrote on my solo blog (before I joined ACFJ) which summarize my teaching on divorce. And yes, there will be opposition, finger-wagging, etc, if you separate from and /or divorce your husband. But if you expect it and are armoured in protection against it, by knowing in your own mind the biblical basis and validation for what you are doing, then you will be less thrown off balance when the admonishers try to dissuade you from your course. Be strong and of good courage!

      • Jeff S

        I had a lot of people suggest separation instead of divorce. The way I looked at it, in a separation that is not actively working toward reconciliation there is no way to honor any of the commands we are given about how we should behave in a marriage. There is no love or mutual submission, there is no “coming together”- there’s no interaction at all. I would be living in sin every day I claimed to be in a marriage in which I wasn’t doing all of those things.

        I knew that to choose separation I would be appeasing men, not God. For if God demanded me to remain married, He would not be appeased by a marriage in word but not deed, and if He allowed for me to flee my marital obligations in self protection then no appeasement would be necessary- I’d be working to earn what I already had.

      • Jeff S

        And what I meant to get to with all of that, lest I be misunderstood, is that I believe that we should not get roped into separating when divorce is the healthier answer. I wrote the following in another forum and I’ll reiterate it here because I felt like it really captured my thoughts on this topic:

        “I think legal separation in the case of abuse is extremely dangerous. You are asking an abused person, who has repeatedly had his or her boundaries violated, to remain in some form of a relationship with an abuser, anticipate reconciliation at some point, and then used sound judgement and discernment to determine if the abuser is truly repentant. Abusers are masters of deception and can easily (and will) feign repentance in order to get what they want. And even if the victim does not believe the repentance, the church often will and will pressure her to return.

        The “cycle of abuse” pattern that abusers follow does include times of peace where no overt abuse occurs, but this is NOT repentance. This is still a way to controll the victim and get what the abuser wants.

        Intone-Brewer suggests (though I don’t believe he says this is the only conclusion) the the phrase “hardness of heart” means the standard for divorce is unrepentant behavior- that is, a single act of infidelity repented of with a sincere heart would not be valid grounds for a divorce. In this light, by the time an abuse victim has made the decision to leave, it will have become quite apparent that the abuser is exhibiting a consistent pattern of behavior that comes from a place of entitlement, power, and control- this is not just sin, but an unrepentant heart. While future repentance is certainly possible, I think it is fool hearty for a victim to bank on it, and I do not think this is the situation either Paul or Jesus are talking about when they discuss divorce.”

      • I agree Jeff but would want to put a caveat in there that a “single act of infidelity repented of with a sincere heart” might indeed be grounds for divorce under some circumstances. I wouldn’t want to try to spell out ALL the circumstances that might ‘tip the balance’ on this one, but one example would be where the single act of infidelity had resulted in the unfaithful partner contracting an incurable disease like HIV.

      • Jeff S

        Barbara, yes, and I probably should not have used that as my example for that reason. And as I noted, that interpretation of “Hardness of heart” is also not necessarily the only way to understand that verse.

        I was trying to make The real point is that we are almost always dealing with unrepentant hearts in abuse situations, so taking middle ground kinds of approaches is not likely to do anything useful except keep the victim tied to her unrepentant abuser longer than necessary.

      • Yes. That point is very true.

      • Kim

        I thank all of you so very much. I feel so warmly welcomed here and I am agreeing with everything all of you are saying. One way of affirmation from the Holy Spirit.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Dear Kim – we are also conservative Christians, so we identify fully with you. My own background is Bible churches and now Reformed Baptist. We hold to the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture. We aren’t in this abuse battle because we have rejected any of those doctrines. So you are among like-minded folk here.

      As to separation, some people argue that there is no biblical basis for it. They say you are either married or not. Jay Adams teaches that. But Jay Adams is no real hero of mine since he is the one who unleashed nouthetic counseling on us! He’s not always wrong though. I think that separation can be biblically justified simply through the idea of self-defense. Jesus removed Himself from His enemies when they wanted to kill him. As to abandonment – 1 Cor 7 desertion is effected not so much by the person who actually physically departs the house, but by the one who refuses to live together with his/her spouse according to the marriage vows they took. So don’t let anyone guilt trip you for leaving/separating. And yes, they are going to try.

    • Don Johnson

      God divorced Israel and separated from Judah for a time, see Jer 3.

      • Jeff Crippen

        Indeed He did! Thanks Don.

  11. Anon

    I agree with Marianne here . My poor mom went back numerous times when she thought,it was safe . My dad would be on his best behavior for a short time and then his violence and mental abuse would escalate to levels that we had not seen before . She also did have the “biblical” reason for divorce as my dad cheated on her hundreds of times ( by his own admission to me , years later) but somehow the pastors that she was counseling with still told her to go back ? Maybe it was all for our “santification” !

  12. Wayne Boyd

    JM does not believe in psychology. He does not think with or by or in psychological categories. For him they don’t exist. That is why he communicates such dangerous nonsense.

  13. Anonymous

    Sitting here. Numb. Tears streaming down my face. After the Lord graciously saved me in 1980 and snatched me away from the influences of charismania …. I was relieved to be fed by the ministry of John MacArthur, Albert N. Martin, Paul Washer, etc. R.C. Sproul came into the picture later but I must confess that JM had the greatest impact. There were times I felt uncomfortable but felt it was just my own selfish nature arguing with a Biblical giant of God’s Word. AND it was MacArthur and pastors which often quoted him that influenced my falsely saved husband. My husband has used the teaching of “no divorce” to control the fact that even though he admits to being the reason for the havoc in our marriage; still he believes “it is wrong to divorce” … I have felt myself crazy at times and emotionally lashing out’ only to find myself crying and asking the Lord to forgive me for my being so obstinate with my husband.
    When I didn’t apologize after an argument, my husband would later accuse me of never apologizing or ever thinking I was wrong. I would often be so confused and then defend myself by saying, “I will not apologize for speaking out against sin.” I would often be scorned and told that I thought I was always right, etc. My daughters, following after their Dad’s “wide road” thinking also ridiculed me.
    Forgive me for rambling … but as I continue to study the many resources on ACFJ and the books that are recommended; well, I’m feeling rather overwhelmed.
    Thank you for this valuable confirmation. I have been doubting some teachings from the Macarthur ministry and now I have more confirmation. I guess, I’m not imagining it?

    • Barnabasintraining

      I second that. You are not imagining it.

      • Anonymous


    • nup you’re not imagining it, Anonymous.


  14. loves6

    I am in the same place Anonymous. I understand. Praying for you right now.
    Our old church showed a lot of Mr McCarthy’s videos. This teaching is one that I have lived for years…praying for God to set me free from the prison, feeling like I had no way out, as I was not physically abused.
    Hugs Beverley

  15. loves6

    My silly iPad…. Was meant to read… I am in the same place Anonymous xx

    • Jeff Crippen

      loves6 – Ha! We thought you were flying together! I fixed the typo.

  16. under the waterfall

    I am less than enthused by reading JM’s quote; incest with someone’s child is NOT biblical grounds for divorce – get serious! Does JM not grasp that incest is sexual behaviour outside of marriage, as well as gross perversion, not to mention how utterly impossible it would be to ever desire a man who had violated your own child? How does he read the text where Jesus says that anyone causing a little one to stumble would be better off dead? Surely forcing a woman and the incested child to remain with such an abusive and perverted father would qualify?

    The next thing that got me was that I am well aware of JM’s constant rebuking of others who take scriptures out of context, or use verses to teach things that aren’t true, and here he seems to be doing just that. The verses on God providing you a way of escape are about being tempted to sin, not about escaping abuse or persecution. He is doing exactly what he accuses others of doing.

  17. Triumphant

    I was publicly shamed (church disciplined) twice by John F. MacArthur for protecting my children from their abusive father who is now serving 43 years to life in prison for physically and sexually abusing our children.

    Prior to this I was told by another pastor at Grace Community Church that I was to teach the children to accept his physical abuse for Jesus. “Teach the children to suffer biblically because he will abuse again.”

    I chose to protect my children and John F. Mac Arthur Jr. shamed me for it. By the way, he never discussed the case with me nor talked to me before or after any of the public shaming services. He doesn’t even know me. He has never apologized either. My children’s abuser is still in prison. God sees.

    • Thank you so much, Triumphant, for sharing your story!

      I believe you.

      John MacArthur and his empire — Grace Community Church, Grace to You media ministry, Masters Seminary, Masters University — have all been credibly accused, multiple times, of mistreating victims of abuse. Domestic abuse. Sexual abuse. Child abuse.

      MacArthur and his wanna-be acolytes consistently and repeatedly stigmatize victims of abuse and side with the abusers. And they do it by citing a flourish of scripture to oppress the abused and give ‘grace’ to the abusers.

      You are right: God sees.

      And unless John MacArthur and his acolytes repent (and I don’t think they will), God will vomit them out of His mouth when He comes again and winds up the cosmos and brings in the New Heavens and New Earth.

      And all the unbelievers, the abominable, the murderers, the child sex traffickers, the sorcerers, the idolaters, and the liars, will have their part in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone.

      (Revelation 21:1-8, NMB)
      And I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth were vanished away; and there was no more sea. And I, John, saw that holy city, new Jerusalem, come down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride made beautiful for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them. And they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away all tears from their eyes. And there will be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying; neither will there be any more pain. For the former things are gone.

      And he that sat upon the seat said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said to me, Write, for these words are faithful and true. And he said to me, It is done. I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to him who is a-thirst of the well of the water of life, free. He that overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God, and he will be my child.

      But the fearful and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, will have their part in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.

    • Triumphant, I forgot to welcome you.

      Welcome! 🙂

      We encourage new readers and new commenters to check out our New Users’ Info page as it gives tips for how to guard your safety while commenting on the blog.

      And after reading the New Users’ Info page, you may like to look at our FAQ page.

  18. Joyful Mom

    My daughter was beaten down by her narcissistic abusive ex-husband and was little by little physically, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally “beaten” down. Not physically beaten but in every other way left her reacting to her plight. Within two years of marriage we saw great great changes….weight gain, loss of self, depressed, hopeless, chronic fatigue, panic attacks, hives, rampant severe cystic acne, unexplained muscle and joint pain, suicidal! While the ex never physically touched her, his actions caused great physical reactions. There were no bruises but the physical pain of it all was clearly evident. She was a shell of the vibrant joyful God-loving self, controlled, isolated cut off from loved ones by the ex.

    John MacArthur as are many many other pastors are wrong WRONG! God calls us to stand with and protect the oppressed. If this was a minor they would remove and sever parental rights for this very abuse…. I know I adopted five of them through foster care, why WHY would we expect our adult loved ones to endure this abuse just because they are 18 years or older? Our church and our daughter’s church demanded we send her back! We didn’t, and we have had the joy of seeing our precious daughter regain her sanity, physical and mental health, and more importantly, her spiritual health. We both left our churches to seek ones with a more God-centered approach to abuse victims.

    • Reaching Out

      Hi, Joyful Mom,

      The name you submitted with your comment appears to be your real name. For you and your family’s protection, I changed your screen name to Joyful Mom.

      If you would prefer a different screen name, please email me at reachingout.acfj@gmail.com.

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