A Cry For Justice

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

A Fellow Who Believes We Are Sinning by Teaching Abuse as Grounds for Divorce

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.


[June 22, 2022: There have been some changes made to this post. For more information, read the Editors’ notes at the bottom of the post. Editors.]

[June 22, 2022: This post by Jeff Crippen was written in response to a person commenting on the post The Abusive Marriage Wrongly Seen as Pious Asceticism (Jeff Crippen’s link Abuse as Asceticism). ACFJ readers and commenters might look for the person’s comment on the post The Abusive Marriage Wrongly Seen as Pious Asceticism since Jeff Crippen uses the phrase “often we do not approve comments such as the following” and think that the person’s comment was actually approved and published on that post. The person’s comment doesn’t appear in the comments on that post. Editors.]

Often we do not approve comments such as the following, but in this case I think that it might be profitable to do so. In response to our post at Abuse as Asceticism he made the following comment. Because his words are the kind of thing that abuse victims so often hear from other Christians and their pastors, I believe we should post the comment here where our readers can more easily see it, and give them a chance to respond. I am going to approach the commenter as if he is not an abuser himself, but I trust that he will come to understand that the language, tone, and points that he insists upon here are going to immediately trigger any abuse victim and they are going to assume that he is an abuser with a Christian facade. Perhaps he will take this point to heart and think more carefully about how he speaks, else he simply is not going to be heard by anyone who has been victimized by an abuser. Here is what he said. My comments follow and I make them in response to the phrases I have highlighted:

Jeff, I appreciate your obvious heart for those in abusive relationships. I must, however, take serious issue with your mishandling of Scripture. Jesus CLEARLY taught that divorce is wrong except in cases of infidelity or desertion (as you pointed out). Your entire premise is based on a faulty exegesis of God’s word. Paul’s letter to the Colossians was specifically addressing food, clothing, and other external behaviors because the Colossians wrongly thought external behavior that was not ALREADY commanded by God would make them righteous. Of course, even following God’s commands that are given will not, in and of itself make us righteous. We need the righteousness of Christ. But Jesus gave clear commands regarding divorce:

“But I tell you, everyone who divorces his wife, except in a case of sexual immorality, causes her to commit adultery. And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery”. Matthew 5:31

You said “So often these kinds of man-made regulations being put off on us as supposedly the Word of God are in fact nothing more than the product of puffed up, fleshly minds.”
Are you seriously saying that the command Jesus Christ gave us is “man-made”? Are you actually teaching people that the word of God is simply to be dismissed except when it reaches a concensus among professing Christians?
You said “All of these man-made regulations about marriage, divorce, and re-marriage which are not agreed upon by Christians who continually debate them as if we were still separate schools of rabbis, are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.”
This is the real crux of your exegetical failure. Jesus commands are not followed because they have been “agreed upon”. They are to be followed because Jesus is LORD and He commands them. Period. Second, following Jesus commands regarding divorce has nothing to do with “stopping the indulgences of the flesh”. Your argument for disregarding Scriptural commands related to divorce is based on the desire to avoid abuse, not the desire to avoid indulgences of the flesh. So, the matter of divorce is completely unrelated to Paul’s instructions in Colossians 2 regarding food, Sabbath days, and other external issues.
You also said “When a pastor or Christian or anyone maintains that God forbids divorce for the reason of abuse, they are really saying that asceticism is good”. No they are not. They are saying that God commands our obedience, even in extremely difficult situations. Is God not able to rescue the godly from trials? Is God unable to bring about good even in bad situations? Are you now going to make human judgment more righteous and acceptable than Jesus’ own words?
I am not writing this to defend abusers. Not in any way, shape, or fashion. I am writing this because Christians are commanded to obey Jesus, and it breaks my heart to see supposed teachers of God’s word declaring God’s word nullified based on their own finite, limited, non-omniscient, non-sovereign view of the world. Please repent of your careless handling of God’s word, and your misleading of others into committing sin.

1) This fellow says more than once that it is very clear to him what Jesus said about divorce. He says that Jesus clearly (with emphasis) taught that divorce is permissible for adultery or desertion. Actually, Jesus didn’t teach about desertion but left that to the Apostle Paul. Paul said, as follows —

(1 Corinthians 7:12-15  ESV)
(12)  To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her.
(13)  If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him.
(14)  For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.
(15)  But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace.

Notice very carefully that Paul’s words in verse 12 demonstrate that Jesus did not teach exhaustively on the reasons for divorce or even in regard to re-marriage. That is why Paul says “I, not the Lord.” He doesn’t mean he is giving his own opinion. He means that the Lord Jesus did not address these matters in verses 12-15, one of which is desertion. Therefore, our commenter has erred in assuming that Jesus’ words in the Gospels were given with the intent of being exhaustive, final, and complete teaching about divorce and re-marriage. This is a very common error Christians make in handling these verses. Jesus was addressing a very specific issue, and you can read more about that context in David Instone-Brewer’s books and also in Barbara Roberts’ book, Not Under Bondage.

2) No one can, or should, make the claim that Jesus’ teaching on divorce and re-marriage is plain, obvious, and clear to all who read it. Our commenter’s opinion of what Jesus meant is clear to him, but I would very much recommend that he re-consider the difference of opinion that exists among real, genuine Christians on this subject.

3) No one here ever said that Jesus’ words are man-made. It is the tradition that men develop and pass on as Scripture that do the damage. And that is indeed the principle that the Apostle Paul sets out in Colossians 2 when he warns against “severe treatment of the body” which man tries to lay upon us.

4) But this is exactly what people do when they insist that an abuse victim must, according to God’s authoritative Word, remain married to their abuser. The argument is that their suffering is something that God desires to use for their own good and for God’s glory. Is there suffering like that? Yes – the book of Job is a clear example. But Job had no options. He was oppressed by Satan at the Lord’s own permission.  Paul’s thorn in the flesh was the same type of thing. But that is God’s doing and His choice. What our commenter is saying is that when MEN bring about this suffering, we are to submit to it in the same way Job and Paul had to. With this thinking we adamantly disagree. Jesus and Paul each escaped the hands of wicked men.

5) Finally, our commenter calls upon us to repent of mishandling God’s Word and thereby leading others into sin. So this means then that unless we agree with this fellow’s take on divorce and remarriage, we are necessarily guilty before God and in need of repentance. I suppose that in some ways this is the most troublesome and sadly typical kind of thing that abuse victims hear from their abusers and from their churches. In spite of the widespread disagreement and confusion among Christians as to the reasons for divorce and the permission of remarriage, people with more zeal than knowledge pronounce judgment upon anyone who differs from their position. Well, in this sweeping condemnation of our position that God does indeed permit and condone divorce for abuse, our commenter has also condemned many other Christians down through church history who have held the very same position as us. Is he so sure he is right and they are all wrong?

Let me close by saying something that might surprise our readers, and perhaps even our commenter. I can see myself saying the very same words that he has said in his comment perhaps perhaps 20 years or more ago. I even seriously considered the permanence view (no divorce for any reason) for a time. I was zealous, but I did not have the understanding of Scripture that I have now, and even more significantly I did not have the understanding of the nature of evil (which abuse is) that I now have. I am glad to say that the Lord has taught me a few things at least, and one of them is that whenever my conclusions in Bible study end up neutralizing the following words of the Lord, then I need to take a long and hard second look at my conclusions:

(Matt 12:7)  And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.

[June 22, 2022: Editors’ notes:

—For some comments made prior to June 22, 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 June 22, 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 June 22, 2022 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (June 22, 2022), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]


  1. Jodi

    I studied theology for years and have the books to prove it, but it’s funny how one’s theology suddenly gets CLARIFIED (:)- through the experiences of life- until then, it’s purely academic and means nothing.

  2. anon

    this seems to be a matter of legalistically interpreting the Bible.

  3. Jim

    The Sermon on the Mount is CLEARLY hyberbolic. It is CLEARLY not meant to be taken literally. It is CLEARLY addressed largely to the Pharisees as a warning against legalism.

    Hey typing CLEARLY is fun! And anybody can do it, even without a degree from a divinity school!

    Unfortunately this is the kind of teaching you get at most churches. Guys who can repeat phrases and slogans, but don’t have any understanding of real human life.

  4. Diane

    I thought your reply to the commenter was an excellent one, Jeff. I have nothing to add except the commenter’s remarks reminded me of an article I read and I would like to make this comment about it.

    I happened across an article from The Christian Post entitled, “John MacArthur On Divorce: We Can’t Edit God” (May 17 2012) and read it with interest. Some quotes, if I may:

    “Pastors should not be afraid of offending their followers with the message that God hates divorce despite churches having congregations that often reflect the same alarming rate of divorce as the general population, said theologian and pastor John MacArthur.”

    “We have one responsibility as pastors and that is to teach the word of God. We don’t have an alternative. We can’t edit God. That’s the wrong thing to do,” said MacArthur during a recent broadcast on Focus on the Family Daily.”

    “MacArthur answered, “The bottom line when we talk about this is to remember the first person comment from God himself: ‘I hate divorce.’ And that’s the bottom line. God hates it because it is a violation of the one flesh for life union by which righteousness is passed from one generation to another, and also by which the relationship between Christ and the Church is demonstrated and symbolized in the world.”

    “Marriage is an act of God. It’s a work of God even between unbelievers,” MacArthur explained. “God has ordained marriage – one man, one woman for life for the well-being of society. Even as a common grace it’s the best for a culture and a society in any case, whether or not they become Christian.”

    “MacArthur said the Scripture is clear on the only justifications for divorce.
    One is adultery – that is sexual sin in the marriage – sexual relationships with someone other than your spouse. The other one is when an unbeliever departs. The Lord recognizes that there may be an absolutely impossible situation,” he said.”
    John MacArthur on Divorce: We Can’t Edit God [Internet Archive link]

    It seems to me JM is pretty clear about divorce. We cannot edit God, after all.
    I disagree with him, and found much of his article troubling (especially the claim that marriage is a work of God -whatever that really means- between unbelievers???) However, i was able to read what JM thinks, teaches and declares is God’s word about divorce (in this article and others by him) and come away with confidence that he is firm in his position and believes he is teaching exactly what the word of God is saying. JM is not in the business of editing God and he knows what God has said.

    I was listening to a recent sermon by Rick Holland, who used to work for JM as an elder and left GCC a year ago and is now pastoring his own church in Kansas. Holland’s sermon was on how God hates divorce and, in my opinion, was quite shallow, but that is not my point. At the 9 minute mark of this sermon Holland said the following:

    “I remember hearing one of my heroes in the faith John MacArthur in a very vulnerable moment, he was doing a q/a with Phil Johnson, looking back at 43 years of pastoral ministry, and Phil asked him a really interesting question. He said, “If you could ask Jesus for one bit of clarification on any passage in the bible, what would you ask? That’s a pretty interesting question, isn’t it? If you could really get the final word on some passage that’s confused you, what would you ask Him this side of heaven?” John MacArthur didn’t even blink or hesitate. He said, ” I would ask Him not one question, but a lot of questions about divorce and remarriage.”” (Mission Road Bible Church, June 17, 2012)

    Interesting he would have “a lot” of questions concerning something about which he is so authoritatively teaching-even saying we cannot edit God and here is what God has said.

    • Diane, thanks SO much for sharing that with us. When men like John MacArthur come across so black and white on divorce, while harboring in the back of their minds so many questions about what Jesus really meant when he spoke about divorce, it really bothers me.

      How are people like MacArthur able to keep their moral disquiet hidden from their public persona? It bespeaks a man who is not authentic, not integrated in his understanding, splitting off different parts of himself and hiding them behind masks.

      Jesus was not like that. He was wholly, transparently and utterly himself, consistent in every respect; and while Jesus disclosed more to his inner circle than his wider audience or his enemies, what he disclosed to each audience was not contradictory with what he disclosed to other audiences.

      So, something is wrong with men like MacArthur, if they evince a public certainty but have a private disquiet on such an important issue as divorce. I don’t like blowing my own trumpet, but if MacArthur would read my book he might find his public stance became modified, and his private disquiet got dispelled. I believe my book would shed enough light on the exegesis of the divorce scriptures for his private and public views to come more into alignment.

      When I was researching for Not Under Bondage [*Affiliate link], I found a quote in “Divorce and Remarriage” by Theodore Mackin (New York / Ramsey: Paulist Press, 1984, pp. 383-4.)
      I can’t lay hands on my photocopy of Mackin right now, because it’s over in Australia and I’m in the US at present, but basically, Luther expressed his distress and perplexity over questions of divorce and remarriage, especially cases of desertion. So that’s much like what MacArthur said in that ‘vulnerable’ moment.
      Maybe MacArthur could take a leaf out of Luther’s book and make it well known that he is perplexed over questions of divorce and remarriage. That would at least be more honest than the hard-line stance he’s propounding at the moment.

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


        I received your book in the mail yesterday and am looking forward to reading it. I also thought of all the things one could ask Jesus this side of heaven, his question(s) would be about something about which he so dogmatically
        teaches. I

        That is something that gives me great pause. May God bless your efforts.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Indeed, a very telling moment for sure! Thanks Diane.

  5. Tending Weeds

    The commenter asks, “Is God not able to rescue the godly from trials?” He does! He sends helpers and listeners so the victim can see the light and leave. Doesn’t forcing a woman to stay in a violent marriage because someone thinks that the right interpretation of the Bible eliminate God’s ability to “rescue the godly from trials”? I’m sure his response would be that both parties are sinners, but I disagree. How can it be when someone is helping to save a life God put on this earth?

    • Jeff Crippen

      Yes. And also what this line of thinking does is force people (victims) to stay in abuse (along with their children), not taking common sense self-defense steps such as leaving and divorcing. I wonder if the commenter thinks it is ok for a person to defend themselves against violence. I think he would probably answer, “yes.” But that seems rather inconsistent to me to hold to self-defense and yet refuse to permit a victim to divorce. I wonder where in Scripture any of us find the authority given to us to demand that abuse victims stay in their marriages? Because people like this are not only saying that they believe the Bible does not authorize divorce for abuse, they go further and pressure and insist that victims adhere to their opinion and it will be for the glory of God! Who in the world are any of us to demand this of victims?

      • Jodi

        What if it were anyone else doing these things to you? These same people would never expect you to sit around and take it or submit to it-they would tell you get away from such a person-but if your are married to them, the rules are suddenly different and your suffering is suddenly noble somehow. What if someone was trying to set fire to your house everyday? Would you be expected to “love them through it?”- There is no logic in such a position.

      • Tending Weeds

        I would like to think he would answer “yes” it is ok to defend yourself against an attack, but I have a feeling it would lean more toward “turn the other cheek.”
        Where is God’s forgiveness and mercy in this line of thinking? I’m not advocating that we do as we wish and just ask for forgiveness, but if it really is a sin to divorce abuse, and God really doesn’t want to see us save our lives and the lives of our children, and we do it anyway, are we exempt from forgiveness?
        I’m guilty, too, of arguing with half of the knowledge necessary, but I didn’t have to reach out to condemn anyone for divorce because I could do it to myself. I had a hard time reconciling my divorce until I found Barbara’s book. I still struggle with it, but I know more now. And that, that has made all the difference.

      • Anonymous

        I was told that the reason I could not defend myself or protect my home by asking him to leave, was because marriage is different, due to the covenant. That, I was told, changes everything. If someone else was trying to kill you, then you may protect yourself, but not when there is a covenant involved. This advice was astounding to me, seeing as how both of the people counseling me, were divorced and remarried. They made it okay for themselves by using “adultery” and “desertion”, but yet demanded that I allow my abuser to stay in the home with me and the children and call them when the abuse happened. They guilted me beyond belief, telling me to make certain I made it easy for him not to sin. They made huge assumptions, that somehow I was provoking him. They would not listen to me or his own children tell them about the abuse, even though they had evidence. I was just thrown into another nightmare, almost as nightmarish as the one I was already living. Whenever I would try to use Scripture to support my decisions, they would tell me that I could not use that Scripture, either because it was a historical narrative, or because it wasn’t talking about marriage in the passage, and therefore it did not apply to my life.

      • Well said, Anon. I’m glad you can see it so clearly now.

  6. Anonymous

    Well now, that comment seems all too familiar. You disagree with my interpretation, because I could not be wrong, and I will cast down condemnation on you! Is that sin? I find the mercilessness in this comment, to be very sad and disturbing. It amazes me, the amount of Pharisees that exist in the Church and they don’t even know they are one. It also amazes me, that these supposed Christians, are so cruel and fixed on acting without any mercy, all at the same time, commending themselves for upholding God’s Word. I think they have forgotten that “those who show no mercy, will themselves be shown no mercy”. That doesn’t mean that we should break our obedience to God’s Word in order to show mercy to people, but it does mean that we ought to be asking ourselves how Christ would react to someone who is being abused.

    I love how you answer this Pastor Crippen, because that is an eye opener to me concerning the difference between Job’s suffering and Christ’s, and the suffering inflicted by the evil of abuse! That has made my day and freed me just a little more, to take another step in the opposite direction from the abuse I am suffering. I had never seen the difference, until now. Thank you for sharing that and for being faithful to God and for showing mercy to those of us who are really hurting and cannot find a pastor to comfort us, let alone help us.

  7. Don Johnson

    It takes me a day to explain the cultural context of the NT passages on marriage and divorce. The thing to see is that both Jesus and Paul were Torah-obverving Jews and Ex 21:10-11 are the verses that allow divorce for abuse or neglect. But they need to be understood in cultural context. Jesus made 7 corrections to the teachings of the Pharisees in Matt 19 and many people do not even understand the question in Mat 19:3, let alone the answers. If you wish to know more about this, see David Instone-Brewer’s books or contact me.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Thank you Don. Well said.

    • Don, how can I contact you? If you don’t want to put your email online here, just email me at barbara@notunderbondage.com

      • Don Johnson

        I sent you an emaill with the contact info and link to my teaching materials.

  8. Rebecca

    Very well discussed, Jeff. I think it shows alot of integrity on your part post the commenter’s post, review it and give opportunity for additional comments. There’s so much truth within the explanations you and the others have provided….a hearty Amen and thank you.

    What’s always been contradictory to me, which is part of a legalistic perspective is the issue of adultery in general. Adultery, (as I was taught in a legalistic upbringing) is a ‘physical’ act and the only grounds for divorce. But then how do the legalistic’s explain the verse:

    Matthew 5:28
    “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

    Why isn’t this explained in the commenter’s point of view on adultery? It’s as though ‘nothing else counts’ (like pornography, for instance) if a person to person encounter doesn’t happen. No offense gentleman, but I’d bet every man (and many women) have committed adultery, and there are many Christian marriages that have ‘Biblical grounds for divorce’ if this verse is the truth. I just find it inconsistent when those argue ‘adultery’ as sole grounds, yet leave this out. I fully believe that abuse does provide Biblical grounds for divorce. Praise God that you are shedding the light of truth on this issue.

    • Jodi

      Even adultery isn’t enough for most people. They still think the marriage should be saved regardless- suddenly a wife’s desire to get out is a much bigger sin than multiple counts of adultery on it’s own-no to mention all the other abuse. I will never understand that.

      • Rebecca

        You’re right Jodi. The ‘save the marriage at all costs’ mentality has kept many women and children in bondage, and danger for many years.

      • Anonymous

        Let me explain it for you Jodi. They do that because the spouse says he has “repented” and the wife now just becomes the unforgiving, unloving, bitter, nasty, hateful woman she really has been all along, which is why he committed adultery in the first place, so who could really blame him? Now, he comes to repentance and she won’t even forgive and reconcile with him. Poor guy. He is now off the hook and she is on it. Now, doesn’t that all make sense? You see, some pastors just don’t really understand abuse or the Word of God, so they just blame the woman for everything. I mean, after all, isn’t she the reason we are all in this mess in the first place? Interesting, since that is exactly what happened all the way back in Genesis, when Adam blamed the woman for his own sin, because she made him do it and it was all her fault. But, let’s not forget what God had to say about all of it.

    • Rebecca, I agree there’s a problem of double-think when it comes to adultery. Nobody wants to say that lusting with the eyes is grounds for divorce. (Hey, there’s one thing EVERY Christian agrees on in the divorce debate!) But what about when it is entrenched and habitual and progressing into worse and worse eye-lusting? When it’s not just passing someone in the street and thinking a wee bit too long about how attractive they might be as a sexual partner, but when it is indulgence in pornography? Is that grounds for divorce? I discuss this a little in my book [*Affiliate link]. Here’s the passage (pp 84-5):

      A question we might ask today is: does porneia [sexual immorality – the word used in Matthew 5:32] include pornography? The word “pornography” derives from porneia, yet we cannot necessarily leap to conclusions from this. Pornographic art was available in Gentile areas of the Roman Empire, but nothing like the flood of pornography available in our day. In our current context it is possible to argue that the habitual use of pornography might come within the term porneia for the purposes of our discussion of Matthew. This should not be taken to mean that a wife may divorce her husband if, for example, he is accidentally exposed to pornography and gets drawn into brief self-indulgence.

      If a man does get drawn into pornography, we must distinguish between falling into sin and living in sin. The quality of a man’s response to being “caught” by his wife will indicate a lot, as will the quality of any repentance he shows. A sincerely repentant person will “turn from his sin with grief and hatred, and turn to God with full resolve and effort after new obedience”. If the man who has fallen into pornography does not show real effort in struggling against this sin, then his repentance has to be questioned. Local church leaders may need to decide on individual cases, but surely if a man is addicted to pornography one could argue that this comes within the ground of porneia. If his indulgence in pornography defiles his wife and children (either by being exposed to the material themselves, or by becoming objects of the man’s fantasy-directed lust), then this is probably an indication that the wife has put up with or hidden from the problem for too long.

      And I would say that if it gets that bad and the guy won’t change when confronted with his sin, the woman has grounds for divorce.

      *Amazon affiliate link — ACFJ gets a small percentage if you purchase via this link.
  9. Honestly, I really appreciate the commenter taking the time to post this and I mean that most sincerely. He/she very clearly presents the same argument I would have made for years and years with the same tone of authority and/or judgment. Gives me a chance to see my own heart attitude from years ago and repent once again.

    I thought I knew everything. I thought I understood the scripture when all I had was an inch thick, surface-only understanding. My mind and heart were closed. And because I was living in hell, I believed I had earned the right to tell everyone else to buckle down and endure until the end, even if the end meant death. “He who endures to the end shall be saved.” Right?

    So much easier to just say, ‘God’s ways are mysterious and beyond finding out– the scriptures are plain, end of discussion’ than to really give full consideration to the many legitimate differences of opinion on this subject (or any other for that matter.) Truthfully, I just didn’t know my Savior very well, so how could I possibly understand the scripture?

    I didn’t understand my Father’s loving heart, blended so majestically with a perfect righteousness that required a sacrifice to cleanse the fallen human heart. I didn’t understand a Man who would scribble in the dirt and refuse to stone a woman caught in adultery without ever once hinting that perhaps adultery was off the naughty list. (“Who condemns you? Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” Such a beautiful mercy.)

    And I did not understand a living, resurrected Christ who sat at the right hand of God Almighty, forever making intercession for this broken heart, who would literally break through my own hard-headed, Pharisaical blindness and set me free from thirty years of torment. A risen, living, breathing God who still speaks tenderly to His children, opens blind eyes and leads His children into rest.

    I just have to spend a little time thanking God for that this morning.

    • Cindy Burrell

      Amen and Amen. Our God’s divine word helps us to know Him, but it cannot replace knowing Him.

  10. Don Johnson

    What the person quoted in the original post and what MacArthur are actually doing is taking Scripture out of context, once you do that, all bets are off. They do not think they are doing that, but that is what they are doing. MacArthur by his question at least suspects that something else might be up, but he cannot come out and admit that he might be missing something when he is actually botching it quite badly.

    It is true that one needs to find a way for the gospel accounts and the letters in the NT to not contradict each other. It is very unfortunate that the way some try to do this is such a bad method as MacArthur uses. What he really shows is that he does not know how to handle Scripture, it is actually a form of disrespect of Scripture to mishandle it so badly.

    • I agree Don. There are many things wrong with the arguments that the fellow put forward (which Jeff has rebutted so cogently).
      To me, the thing that stands out like a sore thumb is the way he quotes just Matthew 5:32 and acts as if that’s the final word on the divorce in the Bible. Elevating the words of Jesus above the writings of Paul is one of the ways people make errors when interpreting Scripture. Even a teenager can see the danger in that kind of exegesis.

      • Don Johnson

        His biggest mistake is think that by extracting some text (verses) he can just quote this text by itself as an absolute truth statement. This is not true, but is commonly thought to be true. All text has a context and taking it away from its context can lead to gross misunderstandings, as in this case. The context in this case is all the other texts on marriage and divorce in the Bible One needs to consider ALL of them and find a way that they all make sense together.

      • I agree completely.

  11. Another thing the male commenter said was:

    Your argument for disregarding Scriptural commands related to divorce is based on the desire to avoid abuse, not the desire to avoid indulgences of the flesh. So, the matter of divorce is completely unrelated to Paul’s instructions in Colossians 2 regarding food, Sabbath days, and other external issues.

    I beg to differ. Jeff’s application of the Colossians 2 passage about asceticism is a valid one. Yes, Colossians 2 doesn’t actually mention marriage or divorce: it talks only about questions of food and drink, festivals, new moons, the customs of Sabbath observance, asceticism and worship of angels, Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch; and it concludes that “These [restrictions] have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.”

    We often infer applications of a scriptural instruction that apply more broadly than the bare words of the instruction, so long as our applications are harmony with the rest of scripture. Jeff has made such an inference in this post, and here’s why Jeff’s inference is correct:
    If we tell a victim of domestic abuse that she must remain in the abusive marriage because there is no grounds for divorce, we are ipso facto allowing the abuser to continue indulging his fleshly impulses – his totally selfish and narcissistic impulses to mistreat his wife and demand services from her without regard for her safety, dignity, welfare or personal integrity.
    Stopping victims of abuse from divorcing their partners promotes indulgence of the flesh.

    So here’s my paraphrase of Colossians 2:23 ––

    These restrictions against wives divorcing their abusive husbands have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh because the abuser will continue to indulge his flesh at his wife’s expense, and sin will multiply upon sin.

  12. Susan McKenzie (@SusanMcKenzieWY)

    The Bible also says, “Thou shalt not murder,” and if a husband is murdering his wife on a daily basis – slandering her, verbally assaulting her self-worth and dignity, accusing her, threatening to mutilate her body… and then saying to her, “This is fun. I’m not even touching you. No bruises. No one will ever know.” The abuser gets away with murder on a daily basis and guess what happens when the wife sincerely and appropriately asks for help from her pastor? He doesn’t know how to deal with a sociopath, so years and years go by and her husband’s verbal violence and threats escalate.

    I’m sure the commenter must not be a woman who has been subjected to daily violence for years and years, until she feels there is not a shred left of her original soul. She’s but a shell, just barely surviving from day-to-day. Her hopes and dreams are shattered. She hangs on by a thread, living moment-by-moment, literally, by the Word of God… I mean literally, that is how she survives… with her tattered blue leather pocket Bible, reading it dozens of times a day.

    She begs for every penny and is never certain she can eat food from day to day. He is plump, even obese. She’s down to a size 0. finally, her body cannot take the abuse any longer and she finds herself dying physically. The doctor tells her she’s in serious condition. The husband is a life insurance agent and says it’s better for the family if she dies. He’s an elder, a treasurer, in the church, too by the way.

    This woman prayed, after seeking counsel from 3 different counselors, saying to God, “You hate divorce – why would you allow it in my case?”

    His reply, “I hate divorce, but I hate even more the violence done to helpless victims.”

    To the commenter: I used to believe as you do. Divorce was never an option for me. But in the end, I began to see that I was coming into agreement with something very vile and evil: murder and violence. That is not true justice. So I divorced, and the violence ended. I got help and my body got well. He condemned me to die, but God said no, that He wanted me to live. I chose Life, even though it meant divorce. I don’t feel I sinned, in that.

    What would you do if your husband told you in a very calm voice, “I want to get some piano wire and slice off your breasts?” And then he goes into greater detail, with things I cannot print here? We were the “ideal Christian couple” in the eyes of our church, having both graduated from a Christian college prior to getting married.

    I don’t claim to understand everything… and I’m open to learning.

    • Don Johnson

      FWIIW, it is a translator’s interpretation that God hates divorce, the actual Hebrew is literally “He hates divorce …” and some scholars think the He is referring to the husband who is divorcing for the reason of no good reason (called hate). Even assuming God hates divorce, God got a divorce, see Jer 3:8. This is seldom taught and often papered over when it is. This is why it is important to seek out all the info on the subject.

    • Cindy Burrell

      I still find it incredible that there is so little distinction even in the most educated circles regarding the difference between divorce and the treacherous act of “putting away,” which is often wrongly translated “divorce.” When the correct terms are used, both Malachi 2 and the NT references make complete sense.

      On another note, one of the crippling comments from pastors focuses on “’til death do us part.” I clung to that one, too. But what of the other vows? Don’t both spouses commit to love, honor, and cherish? How do those somehow get misplaced in the mix? When you are not being loved, honored and cherished, but rather tormented, harassed, and treated with contempt on an ongoing basis, that is a violation of the marital vows as well as God’s heart for marriage – a compelling image of the love between Christ and His bride, the church. Jesus made it clear that such even the most well-equipped legalist cannot hide behind the law. “So, why did Moses allow us to divorce our wives?” the Pharisees queried – trying to corner Him. “Because of the hardness of men’s hearts,” Jesus said. He was speaking directly to the legalists who wanted Jesus’ stamp of approval on their treacherous treatment of their wives. It didn’t work. Why do you think they were so furious with Him? Biblical divorce was provided to protect (primarily) women from traitorous spouses.

    • Dear Susan, thanks for sharing. I think you will find help from reading my book especially chapter 8 where I explain that the slogan “God hates divorce” should be thrown in the trash bin because it is based on a dubious translation of Malachi 2:16.

  13. prophetshrek

    Wow excellent discussion. That guy sounds like the one that came to our blog and said Cindy shouldn’t be encouraging men in her latest article.

  14. prophetshrek

    Interesting how a biblical legalist says the only grounds for divorce is adultery according to Jesus. The problem is they do not understand the context, culture and the heart of the people Jesus is talking too. So the legalist cites verses without understanding. Furthermore, if it was about citing verses then we would all have committed adultery by the lust of our eyes that Jesus spoke of. According to that logic we are all able to divorce and remarry. Doesn’t make sense too me.

    • Jeff S

      I think just about everyone recognizes that Jesus is using hyperbole when he talks about lusting equating to adultery. That is, while it is in some respects it is the same as adultery (both are offensive to God because we are not staying faithful to our spouses), treating the two sins exactly the same would become quite ridiculous very fast, as no marriage would last for any meaningful length of time.

      But it’s much easier to minimize the seriousness of Christ’s words when it is something you are are guilty of, and easier to hold to a ridged interpretation when it’s not something that affects you. And THAT I think is the real issue here with divorce theology in the modern church. People don’t think about it too hard until it happens to them, and then of course everyone else claims they’ve lost objectivity. And they are right- but maybe losing objectivity isn’t a bad thing. For what reason did Jesus become man except to identify with us and help us to identify with Him? We do not serve a cold god who doesn’t understand our suffering. Christiantiy is the only religion I know that can offer an answer to human suffering with a sufferER- Jesus took on flesh and experienced what our pain is like. That is truly amazing.

      I’m not actually saying we should interpret scripture based on our situations, but sometimes situations drive us to dig deeper and understand more than we would have if left in a blissful, unaffected state. So subjectivity really isn’t the answer- is’s more that the Holy Spirit appears to use our circumstances to focus our objectivity.

      • prophetshrek

        exactly, and that is what Cindy says in her books. Exactly the same thing. That is why we don’t go tit for tat with scripture with abusers and legalists. My point was that people who haven’t experienced the trauma of separation or divorce just quote “God hates divorce” without embracing the hurting victims of this awful circumstance. This paints a picture of God that isn’t consistent with His character. A loving God who seeks restoration in all things. Who yearns for our healing. Who sent His son that we can enjoy an abundant and full life. Quoting scripture without understanding the intent of scripture nor the victims circumstance can become actually hurtful if misused. That is what happens all to often. Many times a couple on their second marriage is ostercised by the church and made to feel like second class citizens. I remember well when I was a young christian while married to my first wife. We both said the word divorce wasn’t in our vocabulary.

        We even used to quote “God hates divorce”. But we never understood what it really meant, nor were we aware of the pain we caused others who were on their second marriage.

        Anyway, that hyperbole you mentioned is just that but people have conveniently chosen to not make that a truth for them. In the same wisdom they have chosen to say divorce is a sin. People have become so dogmatic that they have lost the Fathers heart!

      • Also excellent Mr. Shrek 🙂 Couldn’t agree more–

      • Well said, Jeff 🙂

      • joepote01

        “We both said the word divorce wasn’t in our vocabulary.”

        Shrek, I used to say the same thing…because I had been taught that should be a Christian’s position on divorce….

        Claiming a reduced vocabulary did not prevent me from experiencing divorce.

        Such statements are of no help whatsoever to someone who finds themself in a failed marriage relationship.

      • Yes indeed. It would have made as much sense for Adam to say, “Thorns and thistles aren’t in my vocabulary, so I’ll ignore how they are taking over my wheat field.”

  15. Jeff S

    Good stuff- having other people agree with any of this is new to me- I’ve been pretty much on my own save for reading David IB’s book (the best I’ve gotten is empathetic pastors and elders at a new church who don’t get it, but want to be supportive).

    As an aside, I’ve never gotten “God Hates Divorce” as an “end of the argument” verse. OF COURSE God hates divorce- I do too. Having to go through that was the most miserable experience of my life. I’ll bet God wasn’t so thrilled at divorcing Israel either. Before I was even married I couldn’t stand watching movies like “Hope Floats” because the whole concept of coping with divorce was too painful for me to contemplate. So yeah, God hates divorce. Why is it people think He hates the one who files rather than the one who causes it?

    • Jeff, I’m making two replies to you because in this second one I just want to say what I’ve said several times before on this blog (which you may not have read yet, so I’m not annoyed at you) — the slogan “God hates divorce” is based on a mistranslation of Malachi 2:16. I would like to see that slogan shredded and put into the rubbish bin.

      • Don Johnson

        I agree with Hugenberger and Instone-Brewer on the better translation being “He hates and divorces …” but some people will not accept that this is a possible translation and for those it is still possible to work with “God hates divorce…” and discuss the many other verses. There is SO MUCH false teaching on the subject of divorce that I do not want the student to dismiss the whole teaching because he does not accept that some translators could be “God hates divorce” wrong.

      • Thank you, Don! That’s the most useful and insightful comment on my position on Malachi 2:16 that I’ve ever had. Really appreciate it, and will take it on board.

      • Jeff S

        I am aware of the translation issue, but my take has been like Don that a lot of people will shut down and stop listening, assuming you are allowing bias to cloud your exegesis.

        I think my POV can be summed up as “It doesn’t say what you think it says, and if it did it wouldn’t mean what you think it means”.

      • Anonymous

        Barbara, with the new NIV translation quoting Mal 2:16 as “he who hates and divorces…” it isn’t that hard to debunk that in a debate with another Christian now. Most people don’t even know where that “God hates divorce” verse is in the first place, so what I do is challenge them on where it is, and when they give me that exasperated look of “you know, THAT verse somewhere in the Old Testament”, I say, “Oh, you mean Malachi 2:16?” then I give them my NIV bible and tell them to look up the verse and watch their faces contort in confusion. One person even said to me, “Huh? I swear I’ve seen it say God hates divorce!” and I shrug my shoulders and say, “I don’t know. I haven’t seen it anywhere in MY Bible!”

      • LOL!

    • My impression is that when a person says “My spouse is an abuser, so I’m filing for divorce,” bystanders don’t believe the victim’s testimony about the abuse. The judgement cascades from there:
      a) they don’t really believe the victim was abused, or they can’t conceive of how bad it really is to be abused in a marriage
      b) so they think there was not enough reason to file for divorce
      c) so they think God must see it the way they see it
      d) so they think God must be angry at the person who filed for the divorce.

      It’s all pretty logical really: if you believe the first proposition (that it wasn’t abuse; it wasn’t that bad), everything else flows from there.

    • joepote01

      I am in total agreement with you, on this, Jeff. In fact, I’ve used almost identical words, myself.

      For the oft-quoted passage in Malachi, men were being rebuked for dealing treacherously with the wife of their youth. There was no rebuke or condemnation for the wife against whom treachery was committed, though she had also experienced divorce.

      Clearly, the sin being dealt with is the sin of treachery!

  16. joepote01

    Great discussions!

    I started to comment on individual comments that I thought made outstanding points…but there were too many…

    Thanks, all, for great discussion!

  17. Jeff S

    “we often see a higher value placed in the marriage relationship than on the well-being if the people in the relationship”- I have said nearly the same thing many, MANY times. “A ‘High View’ of marriage ends up being a low view of individuals” became my mantra.

    The scary thing is, this was actually AGREED with by my church. They said my importance was secondary to the holy union of marriage. The crazy thing is, Jesus was the absolute master at empathizing with individuals and the scripture is full of stories of God “seeing” individuals when no one else did.

    And since I’m on the subject, the so called “high view” of marriage really seems like a “low view” to me, because the only defining characteristic of marriage in that view is commitment. Everything else in a marriage can be lost- faithfulness, love, trust, respect, intimacy, safety- but as long as commitment endures the marriage is still a marriage. And THIS is why people blame the one who files- breaking all of the other aspects of what defines a marriage is forgivable because they are not essential. The church not coming along side the couple and bolstering their ability to to everything else is forgivable because, again, those aspects are not essential. But the REAL essential thing, commitment- that is the unforgivable sin and if you break that one suddenly the uninvolved church becomes involved, people start talking church discipline, the fieler is rebuked harshly, and the one whoe broke every other aspect of the marriage is lifted up, encouraged, protected, and defended.

    I do not believe this is a “high view” of marriage at all.

    • joepote01

      “…the so called “high view” of marriage really seems like a “low view” to me, because the only defining characteristic of marriage in that view is commitment.”


      In fact, it is not even commitment to the marriage relationship that is being elevated by such a position, but rather commitment to divorce refusal.

      The standard of commitment to solemn sacred vows to love, honor, cherish, and forsake all others are all reduced the level of “do not divorce.”

      Refusal to divorce is a far cry from the loving relationship of commitment to consistently love, honor and cherish one another. By negating the value of the individual, we negate the value of the marriage that is based on a commitment to honor and cherish the individual.

      And, the position that, “…my importance was secondary to the holy union of marriage,” undermines the foundational principle of redemption. Carried to its logical conclusion, it negates the very basis of our salvation in Christ. By that standard, there was no basis for Israel’s redemption from Egypt and the nation of Israel is still legally enslaved to the nation of Egypt. And, by that standard, where is the basis for our redemption from the kingdom of darkness?

      Clearly, thankfully, God sees it differently and places a very high value on us as individuals, “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

      Our Redeemer Lives!

      • Jeff Crippen

        Joe and Jeff – Great to see you two interacting here! I really appreciate reading your insights. Excellent stuff and I am sure very helpful to everyone.

      • Cindy Burrell

        Commitment. Yes. I was similarly committed. And my abuser knew it. He believed he could treat me any way he wished, and there was nothing I could do about it. It was the Lord Himself who released me. And no legalist can ever take that away from me.

    • Cindy Burrell

      You got it exactly right. I’m gonna remember that one. It makes the issue quite clear.

      • joepote01

        “It was the Lord Himself who released me. And no legalist can ever take that away from me.”

        Amen! I had a lot of issues to deal with while going thru divorce, but had the peace of a complete confidence from God of a full release from that covenant.

        He is so good!

  18. joepote01

    Okay, I’ll go ahead and add my two-cents-worth to all the thought-provoking comments on this post…

    During His earthly ministry, Jesus consistently exposed the vanity of legalism. He consistently demonstarted that we cannot attain righteousness thru adhereance to legalistic rules, nor avoid guilt thru legalistic loopholes. Time and again, Christ demonstrated that righteousness is a matter of heart condition attained thru right relationship with God and lived out in love.

    This is the central theme of The Sermon on the Mount, as well as Christ’s responses to the attempts of the religious leaders to trap Him in legalistic debate. Most Christian pastors, teachers, and theologians are in agreement on this, and could point to numerous supporting examples.

    Yet, when it comes to the topic of Divorce and Remarriage, many of those same pastors, teachers and theologians suddenly do a complete reversal, turn all of the consistent teachings of Christ upside down, and choose (for this topic alone) to apply a very rigorous legalistic interpretation to Christ’s words. For this one topic, rather than correctly seeing that Jesus was consistently demonstrating that rightesousness is about heart attitude, they choose instead to interpret the words of Christ as adding yet another layer of legalistic rules and legalistic loopholes on top of what the religious leaders had already adopted.

    This is a major area of blindness within today’s church…so much so that we often see a higher value placed on the marriage relationship than on the well-being of the people in the relationship…which is completely contrary to the central theme of Christ’s ministry, “A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another.”

    Our bent toward legalism runs disturbingly deep…

    • Cindy Burrell

      This has been our experience exactly! Legalism is truly the refuge of the lazy, the oppressive and the Spirit-less. It seems easier to draw stark lines in the sand than to relish and walk in a dynamic relationship with a living God. But the latter is real and personal and powerful and all-encompassing. Galations 5:18 “But those who are led by the Spirit are not under the law.” Legalism causes so many to miss it.

      • Jeff Crippen

        Yep. Dead on, Cindy. And the legalist has no heart, no empathy. It is that Pharisee thing all over again. I dread to say that I was of that ilk many years ago. I hope there are no remnants of it in me now. I hope.

  19. Don Johnson

    The basic misunderstanding is that many people do not understand what a covenant is, as there is so much bad teaching about it. A covenant is an agreement including an emotional component between parties that is instituted by covenant vows (promises of what to expect by being in the covenant). When a covenant vow is not kept, it is called breaking the covenant. When a covenant is broken, it is up to the other party to decide whether to continue with the covenant or terminated the covenant. By claiming that ONLY adultery allows divorce, that person is claiming whether they know it or not, that the covenant’s only vow is one to not commit adutery. Everyone knows a marriage is intended to be much more than that.

    • joepote01

      Well put, Don!

      And for those who hold a “permanence view” of marriage, by which they mean no divorce ever for any reason, they are claiming by their stance that there are no marriage vows…or that the vows mean nothing…

      • Don Johnson

        To be more precise, they are claiming that “breaking the vows” means nothing. The divorce verses are puzzling to try to put together into a coherent and comprehensive teaching, but it can be done. However, there is a Hebrew-thinking way and a Greek-thinking way to do this, the Greek way in its logical conclusion claims there are NO reasons for divorce, that is, it is a null set.

      • prophetshrek

        Oh that’s good

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for that, Don. I am wondering where that teaching comes from which states that the marriage covenant is not a contract and cannot be broken, even if the other person doesn’t adhere to it. My pastor’s wife once gave a seminar where she said that even if the other person broke their vows, we are not allowed to break the covenant because the marriage covenant is one initiated by God and God’s covenants cannot be broken. We were told to give 100% whether the other person gave 0% or 100%. They recently drew the line at physical abuse, after a lot of debate, but it had to be “severe” physical abuse and not “just yelling”, whatever that means!

      • joepote01

        Anon and Anon,

        If we are talking about the daily miscommunications, disagreements, personality conflicts, and unintentionally hurt feelings that are a part of every marriage, then I would agree that each partner is to wholeheartedly live out their covenant vows and daily renew their commitment, whether or not they view their partner as doing the same.

        This is what the marriage commitment and sacred vows are all about.

        However, these sorts of daily issues, unintentionally hurt feelings, and honest mistakes are one thing. Intentional, willful violation of sacred vows with no regard for the well-being of the partner one has sworn to love, honor, and cherish is something completely different.

        The problem comes in a failure to recognize the difference between these two. Sometimes, it is not easy to discern, because of deception. However, the difference is very distinct once recognized for what it is.

        As for the questions about covenant, I have a page on my website titled, “What is Covenant?” in which I explain my understanding of biblical covenant. In my view, marriage is a biblical covenant. Here is a link to the page: What is Covenant? [Internet Archive link]

        I also have a page titled, “What is Redemption?” in which I explain my understanding of biblical redemption. In my view, divorce from a covenant of abusive bondage is one form of biblical redemption. Here is a link to that page: What is Redemption? [Internet Archive link]

        I hope this helps.

        God bless you both!

      • Anonymous

        So, in other words, you have to be really, really beat up physically, and probably not just once either, in order to protect your God given body, that He made and gave you, but you can be beaten up mentally and emotionally everyday, even multiple times a day, for the rest of your life, because your mind and emotions are not part of your body? Oh now that makes complete sense, doesn’t it?

        I always thought that two people decided to get married, so they were the ones who initiated the covenant of marriage. Am I wrong? Could someone please give some more detailed explanation of “Covenants” in the Bible, that would pertain to our covenant of marriage? I like the responses above, about one person breaking covenant and the other having to decide if they will then remain faithful or end the covenant. So, do they expect that we remain faithful at all cost, because they teach that even if we break covenant with God, He remains faithful to the covenant He made with us, so we should always do the same? I was in a Church that referred to marriage as “Covenant Marriage”, not just marriage. They were heavily into covenantal thinking in all areas of life and I am now wondering how much of this is truth and how much is just another “adding on” to God’s Word. I think this is also why that Church is so big on disciplining everyone for everything, (ie discussing your own views of teachings, saying you disagree with an interpretation of Scripture a leader has, not allowing them to choose your counselor, setting boundaries within your marriage, etc.) because they see that you have made a covenant with their Church and the leaders thereof, and they will enforce that covenant you made, and you will not be released by them when you leave, until you have chosen another Church that they approve of and that meets their criteria for a “true” Church. From my own insight, there was a lot of Pharisaical activity going on in that Church. They just see that they are being good overseers and you are just rebellious, and not really a Christian at all. I think they have forgotten the definition of what it means to be a Christian. However, I do not wish to be in error and would like someone to correct me, if I am wrong.

        I am going through a really difficult and confusing time right now, so please bear with me, if this sounds all over the place.

        Anyone out there able to help answer the above questions?

      • The idea that the marriage covenant is not a contract and cannot be broken comes from wooly thinking among Christians. The steps they follow to reach this conclusion are:
        (1) God never breaks His covenant of redemption and salvation for the elect.
        (2) Ephesians 5:25 says Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, so the Bible tells us there is a parallel between the Christ’s covenant with the church and the covenant between spouses in marriage.
        (3) Even when Christians sin against God, this does not break the covenant of redemption in Christ, because Christ is faithful to the covenant of redemption and forgives the sins of Christians.
        (4) In a parallel fashion, when one spouse sins against the other spouse, this does not break the covenant of marriage.
        (5) Therefore, a spouse who has been mistreated in a marriage should behave as Christ behaves to the church: he or she should overlook and tolerate any amount of sinful behavior by the opposite spouse.

        Why is this series of “logical steps” illogical? Because there is a crucial difference between the the covenant of redemption In Christ and the covenant of marriage between two spouses. The problem is that these wooly-thinking Christians have read TOO MUCH into the parallel between the covenant of marriage and the covenant love of God for the church. God’s covenant of redemption is unilateral (one sided). God instituted the covenant of redemption entirely of His own volition without any involvement or consciousness on our part:– while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). But the covenant of marriage is a bilateral covenant between two parties who each independently and with conscious fore-knowledge agree to bind themselves by promise (contract / covenant ) to each other.

        God’s covenant of redemption with his bride the Church will be kept unilaterally by Him, because of His amazing love for us which we certainly don’t deserve. Although the bride sometimes/often dishonors God, God will not break his covenant of redemption. He made the promise solely on His own, and He chooses to uphold the covenant solely for his own glory.

        But the covenant of marriage between two human spouses involves two parties who each made promises, not one party. And when one spouse breaks the promises, the other spouse can declare, “This covenant has been broken / my spouse broke it, not me / and I’m therefore not bound to the promises.”

        Readers may also find this link helpful: Still Married in the Sight of God?

        [This link is was corrected to reflect the new URL. Editors.]

      • Jeff Crippen

        Good stuff, Barbara!

      • joepote01


        You make some very good points.

        I would add that anyone who makes the argument against divorce for abuse on the basis of modeling the marriage after Christ’s love for the church has a very poor understanding of our covenant with Christ.

        Here are the words of Jesus from Matthew 7:

        21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22 Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’

        Covenant is not about saying the right words. Covenant is about heart attitude and relationship.

        What Jesus says in these verses about those who say “Lord, Lord” yet practice lawlessness can be directly paralleled to a bride or groom taking sacred marriage vows then violating the vows as though they meant nothing.

        Jesus does not embrace in covenant those who say the right thing but do not act on what they say. Why would anyone comparing the marriage covenant to our covenant with Christ expect the marriage covenant to be any different?

        Covenant is not about the words said in the covenant ceremony. Covenant is about the whole-hearted keeping of the vows in relationship.

      • Spot on, Joe.

    • A covenant is an agreement including an emotional component between parties that is instituted by covenant vows (promises of what to expect by being in the covenant).

      Interesting. From my memory of when I read Instone-Brewer I don’t remember him including the phrase “an emotional component”. I thought he only talked about how the words English words “covenant” and “contract” were interchangeable when it comes to our interpretation of Scripture.

      By claiming that ONLY adultery allows divorce, that person is claiming whether they know it or not, that the covenant’s only vow is one to not commit adultery.

      Well said, Don. Thanks for putting it so starkly. That’s exactly what they mean when they say adultery is the only grounds for divorce. So we need to be pointing out the inconsistencies of their position.

      When Mr or Mrs Pharisee says “Adultery is the only grounds for divorce,” I shall respond,: “So are you saying that the promise not to commit adultery is the only binding promise in the marriage vows?” That should get them thinking…

      • Don Johnson

        I sat next to a Jewish couple on an airplane and asked them for the meaning of berith and they were the one who pointed out the emotional component. My teaching is based primarily on DIB’s books, but are my own based on my own studies.

      • Thanks Don. I’ll email you soon, when my inbox chaos allows me to.

  20. Jeff S

    Anonymous, I am sorry to hear that you are going through a difficult and confusing time, especially if the Christians surrounding you are making or have made it worse.

    The teaching at my church was that a “covenant” is different from a “contract” in that if a contract is violated by one party, the other party has the option to leave the contractual obligation or not. In a “covenant”, however, they say that violating the covenent does not give the aggrieved party the option to leave the obligation. They told me the pattern for this is Christ’s covenant with the church and how He will never leave or forsake us, regardless of how much we break our end of the obligation. I was told after I said my wife had exhibited unrepentant violation of our marriage vows that “Jesus does not have conditions on your salvation”.

    David Instone-Brewer in his book Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible [*Affiliate link] does an excellent job of debunking this belief about “covenants”. They are not by nature unbreakable – our covenant with Jesus is indeed unique and special.

    My church specifically taught that no divorce was permissible for any reason ever – only death left someone free to remarry (In fact, the pastor told me “If God wants you to remarry He can take [your wife] at any time” – how disturbing is that statement?). In the case of abuse they believed the abused person should absolutely remove him or herself physically and seek reconciliation (a view which completely underestimates the effects and power of abuse).

    Note: I believe there is a movement now for a new type of legal marriage called a “covenant marriage” that makes divorce much, much more difficult.

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

      I need to get that book and also look at the links offered in the above comment.

      My Church told me that I was not allowed to “separate” from the abuser, because how would I ever know if he had changed, if I did not continue to live with him. They told me that I was not even to put a boundary in place, that was their job, if they thought it needed to be done. I did put a boundary in place, which removed him from the home, until I was able to see true repentance and change, and I also put a time limit on it. This is when things turned really ugly for me and my children with our pastor.

      I think it is interesting that I have never met a victim of abuse in marriage, who is a Christian, who thinks there is no room for divorce. It seems the only people who advocate for a permanence view of marriage, are those who have never had their covenants broken by their spouses in this way. It is ridiculous to say that you are teaching the Bible and then teach a permanence view of marriage, because God allows for divorce. You would think that alone would be evidence enough, that you were not preaching the truth.

      When we place marriage in this high view, then I believe we are doing nothing more than worshiping the covenant/marriage. It is idolatry. Then, after we begin idolatry there, it just runs over into everything else and as said before in this blog, it is no longer about the people, but about the things, the works, the whatever, but it is no longer even about Christ. It is actually more self-centered than ever, because Christ and His desires get put on the back burner, while we make our “saintly” demands for works unto Salvation. it is about our lives and not about His Kingdom anymore.

      I listened to a message yesterday on line, from a Church that we were thinking about visiting while looking for a new Church. The pastor there was preaching about divorce and he said this, “We must say that anyone who has ever been divorced, is not a Christian”. Very, very sad. However, I instantly thought of all the Christians I know, that are divorced and even (cover your ears) remarried. I hate divorce and I hate what causes divorce. I don’t believe anyone here, is advocating for careless and treacherous divorces. We are talking about covenants that have been broken and, if anyone is like me, (which I am certain there are plenty of you out there) people who are just so devastated that they cannot even begin to pick up the pieces and make sense of their life anymore. That’s where I and my children are. Broken and still being counseled to love, trust and, I love this one the most, “think and believe the best”. I believe that is where I went wrong. It is like lying to yourself and your children. I continued to “think the best”, while I was being abused and I was just vanishing into a dark, thick mist of nothingness. I believe this type of counsel is actually not Christian, because it is sort of like “mind over matter” thinking. If I just close my eyes and think hard enough, poof everything will be like a garden of roses! People who just have normal problems in their marriages are not counseled that way, so why do abused people get counseled that way?

      Sorry for the long post…and thank you for your answers.

      • Jeff S

        A couple of points- the pastor of my church DID tell me “we live in the real world recognize divorce happens- we would just ask that you not remarry”, so in some ways their position was more moderate. I also know that they accept remarried folks as members and do not ask (as some people do) them to leave their new spouses and return to their original spouses. The believe remarriages can be redeemed.

        Their “moderate” view was not moderate enough for me, however. I am not going to subject myself to a second-class Christian status because of something someone else did to me.

        I’ll also mention that one of the people in the church calling me to repentance offer to put me in touch with a friend who had suffered in a marriage like mine for years and felt it was glorifying to God, so certainly there are people who have stuck it out and believe it was for the best. I told her I’d be willing to talk to this person, but only if I was not going to be pre-judged that my situation and decision was like her situation and decision. That is, what was right for her need not necessarily be right for me. I did not hear back.

      • joepote01

        “When we place marriage in this high view, then I believe we are doing nothing more than worshiping the covenant/marriage. It is idolatry.”

        Yes, I agree, completely. When we start treating temporal human covenants as though they are as significant as our eternal covenant with Christ, that is idolatry.

    • Jeff S

      So I was curious about my last statement and I did a quick Google search which came up with the following- it’s apparently a Louisiana State Law. People can voluntarily enter into a “Covenant Marriage”. There ARE valid reasons for divorce which include physical/sexual abuse. Other forms of abuse appear to be grounds for separation only- not divorce.

      Covenant Marriage [Internet Archive link]

      • Don Johnson

        There is a difference between divorcing under no fault law and divorcing for the reason of no fault. In Matt 1:19 Joseph had a very good reason to divorce Mary, he knew he had not had sex with her, yet she was pregnant and he needed to divorce her to end the betrothal covenant. But he planned to use the Hillel “Any Matter” divorce so that it would not bring shame on Mary, that is, until an angel intervened and told him the real deal.

      • joepote01

        Jeff S (thanks for adding the S…two Jeffs was confusing at first),

        A couple of things on a more personal note…

        I’m sorry your church leadership was so incredibly insensitive to your situation. That had to have made a painful experience even more difficult.

        I’m thankful for the wisdom and insight God has given you in this area. It sounds like you are in a position to be a real encouragement to others.

        Although everyone’s story is different, mine was similar enough to yours to have some understanding of the pain and difficulty.

        Also, in reading your comments, I found myself thinking you might enjoy an article I wrote a while back, after watching the movie Courageous: Courageous Divorce [Internet Archive link]

        God Bless!

      • joepote01

        Okay…maybe I’m looking at this all wrong…or maybe not…

        By making a distinction between a “marriage” and a “covenant marriage,” and giving a “covenant marriage” more teeth from a legal perspective, so as to make a divorce more difficult to obtain…

        Doesn’t that, in fact, have the opposite effect? By giving it more legal teeth, they’re relying more heavily on the legal system…which means they are relying less on each other’s integrity. All of that is a step away from the sense of covenant being relationship-based toward reducing it to merely a legal contract.

        They make it less dependent on relationship, more dependent on contractual legal language…and then distinguish it by calling it “covenant marriage”???

        It’s all backwards…and it reduces the sanctity of marriage rather than elevating it…

      • Jeff S

        Well, I think the idea is to take a stand for what they perceive to be a Biblical definition of “marriage” and this is a way to put their money where their mouths are. It’s a pretty evangelical notion to take a “stand for the truth” and expect that to be a transforming power in the culture.

        Evangelicals put the blame of the high divorce rate squarely on the shoulder of “no fault” divorce law. And in fact, it seems that Jesus and Paul were both alarmed at no fault divorces and spoke out against them so I don’t know that the idea is completely off base. However, it seems to me neither called for political reform, but rather for believers to take a different view of marriage than the culture. We are called to submit to one another and love selflessly. That was certainly counter culture to a world where a man could divorce his wife for any displeasure or simply say “I’m leaving you” and be done with it. It would be counter culture today in a world where people say “there comes a point where a marriage is no longer meeting your needs and it’s time to move on.”

        I would suggest the real cause for the rise of the divorce rate is probably more complex than many evangelicals want to admit and can’t solely be boiled down to selfishness and a lack of commitment. I’d definitely include domestic abuse as one cause (and the fact that the church is not helping diminish cases of domestic abuse is not helping). It would be foolish to think that no fault divorce law came along and suddenly husbands and wives started having difficulties in marriages. The difficulties were always there, but the divorce laws have put a spotlight on them. Now as the church, is our responsibility to stop divorces or to be salt and light in marriages?

        As Instone-Brewer points out, Paul doesn’t address avoiding divorce near as much as he addresses the building up of marriages. Yet in my situation I was the worship leader in my church, very high profile, and I sat alone on the front row for 95% of the services for four years. Only after I told the elders I was desiring a divorce did they become at all interested in my marriage.

        Now I don’t know in my case what could have been done to really save the marriage. I fought for it as hard as I knew how. In the end, she would have had to change and I don’t know that the church could have made that happen- but maybe with their involvement her heart could have been transformed. Maybe God wanted to use the church that way. We’ll never know.

      • joepote01

        I can’t say I’ve given it a lot of thought, at this point.

        However, it struck me as odd that someone would attempt to strengthen a sacred covenant by relying more heavily on secular courts for enforcement…

      • Jeff S

        Yeah, I was talking about “according to this specific law”- perhaps I should have made that clear.

        My own divorce was a no fault divorce because my state does not recognize neglect or emotional abuse as grounds for a fault divorce, yet I do believe my divorce was valid Biblicaly.

      • Anonymous

        I agree completely with you, Jeff S, that the church is fixated on the rising divorce rate and blame it on the no-fault divorce law. In one church I attended, they tried their best to halt this rate by preaching incessantly on the permanence of marriage and not allowing the thought of divorce to even enter one’s mind. It did nothing to the divorce rate, so they started a divorce recovery ministry and they welcomed divorced people into ministry, but they would not help abused spouses to divorce or separate. Once they were divorced, they would welcome them to the divorce ministry because they didn’t want to lose volunteers.

        I used to puzzle over this myself, but now it is so obvious that if abusive marriages eventually break up (apparently 75% of them do), and abuse occurs at the rate that it does, then the rate of divorce would be somewhere around 33% to 50% of marriages. Some marriages dissolve over other issues (that probably could have been resolved) so that counts for maybe 10% of divorces.

        Just a few weeks ago, I heard a sermon on communication in marriage where the pastor praised the Indian philosophy of loving the person you marry (because the marriages tend to be arranged) and compared it to the Western way of marrying the person you love. That was precisely why I stayed in my marriage for as long as I did, because I figured that love had nothing to do with it – you simply learn to agape the person you happen to marry. That was also the reason why I married him – I couldn’t break off the abusive relationship because of harrassment and intimidation, so I concluded that I would marry him and learn to love him in spite of the abuse and since divorce was out of the question, I had to make it work. It seemed my leaders and mentors agreed with me because nobody warned me of the consequences of living with abuse in spite of hearing my concerns. They probably didn’t recognize his behavior as abusive because it was not that uncommon.

      • Jeff S

        Yes, I’m also a card carrying member of the “agape the person you marry” and “love has nothing to do with it” clubs. I also arrogantly went around obnoxiously telling people “love isn’t a feeling, its a choice- one you have to make every day” and “divorce isn’t in my vocabulary”, because, you know, at 20 you are so wise to these things, much more so than all of those sinners who get divorces.

        I’m pretty sure I’d have been wildly excited about signing up for a “covenant marriage” too if I had the chance. I’m so glad I didn’t.

        The other club I’m a member of: the “God knocked me off my high horse” club” And as much as I hate to admit it, I’m glad He did. I’d rather be the person I am today than the man I was before.

        The crazy thing was, I was so into the idea of focusing on her with no regard to myself that I swore up and down to my family as recently as two and a half years ago (which was 10 years into my marriage) that I was happy, fulfilled and excited to be married. I had no idea the emotional damage I’d sustained, even though my family was watching me crumble.

        When everything did fall apart I got soooo angry because I’d done “the plan”. Everything in every marriage conference and sermon I’d followed as faithfully as I could, believing I was reaping the rewards the whole time. And when it did fall apart I got to hear “you need to learn to love with agape love, because agape love never fails”.

      • Jeff S

        Joe, thanks for the link. I understand exactly what you are talking about there- people don’t even realize they do it. Cast off comments and you get crushed- no one thinks twice. I’ve given up on Christian culture stuff for the most part, only recently adding worship music back into my listening routine (as it was kind of hard to hear all those songs after being asked to step down from leading them). The Christian culture is filled with really simplistic stuff (I like the “Bumper Sticker Theology” in the comments) that can be really hurtful if you end up on the wrong side.

        It indeed takes great courage to do what we have done- my therapist has insisted that divorcing took strength and I know that in my head, but in my hear I STILL feel it was weaknesses.

  21. Don Johnson

    God divorced Israel, yet God never ever violated any vows that God made. God divorced Israel due to the continued violation of the covenant vows that Israel had made. This by itself shows that the “never divorce” teaching is not Scriptural. It is actually very harmful to people who are in the body of Christ.

    • joepote01

      And…since God never acts outside His own will, clearly divorce is sometimes God’s perfect will for a given situation.

      • Don Johnson

        Also, God told Abraham to listen to Sarah who told him to divorce Hagar.

  22. Don Johnson

    The word covenant is the Hebrew berith, it is used for a treaty, agreement, or contract with emotional content. (Just buying something is NOT a covenant.) Every marriage is already a covenant, the so-called covenant marriage idea is bogus as it supposes there are 2 types of marriage, there is only one type, all are covenants. They mean well, but should teach the right ideas.

  23. Don Johnson

    Another point is that no one is every required to get a divorce, they can decide to NOT terminate the covenant. This was contrary to the teaching of the Pharisees’ who said that for adultery of your wife one was required to divorce her. In Matt 19 Jesus corrects seven misinterpretations of Torah on marriage and divorce that the Pharisees made. Many people do not even realize what the question in Mat 19:3 is and so they do not realize when it is answered. It is a good bet if one does notunderstand the question, they will not understand the answer.

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