A Cry For Justice

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

Isn’t adultery the only ground for divorce?

People often think Jesus said adultery was the only grounds for divorce, but we’ve misunderstood what Jesus said in Matthew 19 because we haven’t understood the cultural background. When the Pharisees tested Jesus by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?” they were alluding to a dispute between two rabbinic schools, the Hillelite school and the Shammaite school. If we listen to the phrase “any cause” as if we were Jesus’ audience in the first century AD who were familiar with that dispute between the rabbis, it makes an enormous difference to our understanding of the passage.

To understand another society takes time and thought, so bear with me while I describe the cultural background. It’s important to realize that both schools of rabbis (Hillelites and Shammaites) assumed the first verse of Deuteronomy chapter 24 was an entitling law which expressly permitted a man to divorce his wife. Their only difference was this: Hillelites said it allowed a man to divorce his wife for “any matter”, whereas Shammaites said it only allowed a man to divorce his wife for adultery (sexual immorality).

David Instone-Brewer has shown how in Jesus’ day, the Jews saw rationale for divorce in a number of different scriptures:

(1) Exodus 21:10-11 the Jews said this gave rationale for divorce if one spouse seriously mistreated the other (and this applied to either sex)

(2) Genesis 1:28 (be fruitful and multiply) permitted divorce for a wife’s infertility

(3) Deuteronomy 24:1 permitted men (but not women) to initiate divorce for either
a) any cause – according to the Hillelites, or
b) sexual immorality – according to the Shammaites

In Jesus’ day, “divorce for any cause” or “any-matter divorce” was thus an expression meaning “divorce based on the Hillelite interpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1.”

To obtain Hillelite divorce on the ground of Deuteronomy 24:1, the burden of proof was non-existent — “any cause” being so all-embracing that divorce was granted even if the wife burnt the dinner. In contrast, Shammaites required proof of the wife’s adultery before granting a divorce based on Deuteronomy 24:1.

The custom and practice with dowry is another important thing to understand about that culture. When a woman got married, her father gave a dowry to the woman’s husband. It was money or assets to be held in trust by the husband as head of the household, but was generally considered the wife’s property in the event of the marriage breaking down. But different types for divorce had different consequences for how the dowry was handled. In Hillelite (“any matter”) divorce, the dowry went to the wife — one of the main purposes of the dowry was to give the woman a kind of nest egg; she could rely on it for her financial security if the marriage terminated. But if the wife was convicted of sexual misconduct in a Shammaite divorce, the woman was penalized by forfeiting her dowry and the dowry was given to the husband as compensation. Thus, because the different interpretations of Deuteronomy 24:1 had different financial implications, the term “any-matter divorce” would have been an extremely well known expression in Jesus’ day. It was probably more familiar to first century Jews than the term “no-fault divorce” is for us.

Men did not always use the Shammaite method when seeking divorce for a wife’s adultery. A man might use the Hillelite method if he suspected his wife had been sexually unfaithful but didn’t have enough evidence to prove it in a Shammaite court. He might also go the Hillelite route if he couldn’t be bothered proving adultery just for the sake of being awarded the dowry (a dowry might be too small to justify expensive litigation). He might even choose the Hillelite route to avoid shaming his wife in a public trial (it appears Joseph contemplated this when Mary became pregnant). Thus, a man might use either Shammaite or Hillelite methods when obtaining divorce for adultery: the Shammaite method for proven adultery; the Hillelite method for unproven adultery.

When the Pharisees asked Jesus “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?” they meant “Who has the right interpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1 – the Hillelites or the Shammaites?”  They tried to trap Jesus into saying publicly that one side was correct, because they had figured that whichever side he favored, it would have given them ammunition with which to confound his enterprise. Jesus was facing a trap question from enemies. Moreover, their question dealt only with competing interpretations of Deuteronomy 24:1, and not with the other scriptural rationales for divorce recognized by the Jews. For these two reasons, it is highly unlikely that Jesus would have answered them with a comprehensive teaching on all aspects of divorce and remarriage. So we must not think that Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 19 is a global teaching about all kinds of divorce, or that it trumps all other Bible teaching on divorce.

I agree with Instone-Brewer thus far.

Update: [added Dec 2020] — Since I first published this post I am less certain that Exodus 21 gives grounds for divorce because I have learned that Exodus 21 has probably been mistranslated in many Bibles. [end of update]

In my book Not Under Bondage I argue that Jesus took neither side of the Shammaite / Hillelite debate; rather, he condemned both sides.

Jesus showed that both the Hillelites and Shammaites were wrong to assume that verse one of Deuteronomy 24 was an entitling law, an express permission for a man to divorce his wife.

To do this, Jesus first quoted the “one flesh” teaching from Genesis 2:24 and declared its implication: “What God has joined together, let no man separate.”

Secondly, Jesus said, “Because of your hardness of heart, Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” Let us read that sentence again with some words in bold: “Because of your hardness of heart, Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” By the words Jesus chose, he was clearly referring to men’s hardness of heart. The gender of the sentence is clear. And this is consistent with the Mosaic regulation, for if we read the passage in its entirety – Deuteronomy 24 verses one to four – we find it was designed to prohibit a heinous, extreme, scenario: when a man divorces his wife and then remarries her after she’s been married to someone else and her second marriage has terminated.

Let’s say Bill divorces Mary. Mary then marries Tom but that marriage also ends (either Tom dies or he divorces her). Bill then remarries Mary. Such behavior on Bill’s part would be trashing the institution of marriage and showing callous disrespect for Mary. The fact that he was prepared to re-marry her indicates that she hadn’t done anything worthy of dismissal in the first place and he’d been a perfidious scoundrel to dismiss her. God does not want the institution of marriage to be treated so lightly. No wonder Moses said, “That is an abomination before the Lord. You shall not bring sin upon the land.” (Deut. 24:4)

In Deuteronomy 24:1-4, Moses did not condone male divorce or make indulgent concessions to men; he merely recognized that men were divorcing their wives despite all God’s guidance about how personal relationships ought to be conducted. He narrated the ‘case study’ in verses 1-3 (which mentioned the practice of male divorce) in order to promulgate the law in verse four: the regulation aimed to prevent an abominable end-product that sometimes ensued when men hard-heartedly engaged in divorce.

In effect, Jesus told the Pharisees: “Moses did not give this passage in Deuteronomy 24 to license male divorce, but because men were divorcing in hardness of heart and he sought to restrain an abominable end-product of such conduct. From the beginning it was not so. The point of Deuteronomy 24:1-4 is not verse one, but verse four. If you (both Hillelites and Shammaites) had interpreted Deuteronomy 24 in the light of Genesis 2, you would never have drawn the conclusions you have!”

Can you hear Jesus outrage at the Pharisees? He wasn’t siding with the Shammaite school, as so many commentators have supposed; he was pouring scorn on both schools of Pharisees, the Hillelites AND the Shammaites. No wonder the disciples were so dismayed that they said, “If that is the case, it would be better for a man not to marry!” The Pharisees had crafted loopholes of male privilege from Deuteronomy 24:1, and Jesus had just closed the loopholes tight. Jesus’ declaration left no wriggle room, and he shamed the Pharisees for their twisting of the scriptures. If any Pharisee had a mite of conscience left, he would have been red faced. But most of the Pharisees probably just burned with inward fury.

After delivering that bombshell to men, Jesus went on, “Whoever divorces his wife except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” Reading this in the light of the explanation above, we can tease out and paraphrase Jesus’ meaning as follows:

The Hillelites and Shammaites both allow divorce for a wife’s adultery. I [Jesus] agree with the Jewish consensus that adultery is a legitimate ground for divorce and the innocent partner may remarry without guilt. But that doesn’t mean I completely agree with the Shammaites, because they’ve twisted scripture when they say Deuteronomy 24:1 expressly permits divorce for adultery. Deuteronomy 24:1 in itself permits nothing: it is merely pre-law narrative; the law is laid down in Deuteronomy 24:4.

All of you know that Hillelites put no restrictions on men divorcing their wives because they count “any matter” as ground for divorce. I’m telling you that, generally speaking, this “any matter” interpretation is a wicked pretext that men are using to divorce good wives.

When a man uses the “any matter” system to divorce an adulterous wife, he’s obtaining a legitimate divorce in that the grounds are adultery, but except for such cases, this “any matter” system is illegitimate. A man who casts off his wife using “any matter” as a pretext for illegitimate divorce, and then marries another, is guilty of adultery no matter how nicely the divorce papers have been drawn up and signed by smug Hillelite lawyers!

Let’s pull together the key points from our study of Matthew 19:

  • Jesus noted that adultery was a valid reason for divorce, but strongly refuted the idea that this was verified by Deuteronomy 24:1.
  • Jesus condemned the treacherous divorce enabled by the Hillelites which was granted without question to men, for any trivial reason.
  • Jesus’ answer was directed only at the rabbis’ two distortions of Deuteronomy 24:1.
  • Jesus made no comment on the other scriptural rationales for divorce which were followed by the Jews.
  • Matthew 19 is not a global teaching about all divorce. Therefore it does not trump all other Bible teaching on divorce.
  • Jesus never said adultery was the only grounds for divorce. It is very sad that this has been misunderstood, giving rise to immense confusion, stigma and hurt.

To find out more about my book Not Under Bondage, see Not Under Bondage.


  1. MeganC

    Wow. Wow . . . I will re-read this again later this afternoon to let it all sink in. I have been afraid of this passage for a long, long time. And it has been used to condemn me over and over . . . Last Sunday, I was afraid the pastor was going to preach on it and I immediately began to panic, but it was a mistake — they mentioned the wrong chapter. I calmed down. I do not want to be afraid of any passage of Scripture because it has been so twisted in our ‘c’hurch culture. Thank you, Barb. Truly.

  2. Carmen

    Truths We Confess: A Layman’s Guide to the Westminster Confession Of Faith…written by R. C. Sproul
    Volume Three ( The State, The Family, The Church, And The Last Things)
    Chapter 24: Marriage and Divorce (p 39):—

    Added to that is the teaching of Paul in 1 Corinthians, where he allows a believer to be freed from an unbeliever in the case of the desertion by the unbeliever (1 Cor. 7:15). Those churches that seek to be confessional and biblical in the matter of divorce generally reduce the legitimate grounds for divorce to two: adultery and desertion. Some people include physical abuse within the scope of desertion, arguing that the abuser has in effect deserted the spouse. That becomes a matter for church courts to interpret.

    On many occasions, the church must establish the innocent party and the guilty party in a divorce case. If there is a married couple in the church, and one spouse files for the divorce without biblical grounds, the church has the responsibility to step in and say, “You can’t do that.”

    Even if there are just grounds for divorce, be it adultery or desertion, it does not mean that a person must dissolve the marriage. It simply means that he or she may seek a divorce. When God gives the right to a Christian to dissolve a marriage, the person who exercises that right ought not be criticized by the rest off the community.

    If a man commits adultery and then pleads for forgiveness from his wife, it is her Christian duty to forgive him. She has no other option. But that does not mean that she must stay married to him. His behavior radically undermined the trust that is foundational to an intimate marital relationship. If she cannot continue in such a damaged relationship, God gives her the freedom to dissolve it. I have seen the Christian community criticize the innocent party in such circumstances for going ahead with the divorce. But that person has the right, and it is wrong to condemn the Christian for exercising his or her rights.

    I personally know of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church deposing one of their ministers for abusing his wife, and then re-defining desertion to include abuse in order to allow her to biblically file for the divorce. Yes, it’s looking like the OPC is very rare in the church world, but please, be assured that there are churches that hold to God’s Word.

    • Thank you very much, Carmen.

    • EPH320

      Thank you, Carmen!
      This is very helpful!

  3. Anonymous

    I am in agreement with Megan. So many churches have preached on this. I have been afraid of that passage, too. But thank God for this website and other resources that tell us that abuse in any way is also grounds for divorce. I’m very thankful for Barb’s research on this subject, because it has helped me immensely.

    I do want to add that the use of pornography (in my opinion) is just as much adultery as physically cheating. I found it on my ex husband’s computer (he angrily denied it) and… I hate to sound gross, but this is the truth.. I would find pubic hairs on the keyboard. His excuse? He was plucking them. No man in his right mind would sit there and do that. I believed him at first, but some family members reminded me of how painful it would be to do that – and that definitely was not how they ended up on the keyboard. I would also find videos of things that might not be considered “porn,” but were very scantily clad women doing provocative things. In my book, that’s just as bad, because it feeds a man’s lust just the same. He especially seemed to like pole dancing videos… and of course, would ask me to do things like that for him (which I have no clue how to do).

    Abuse is spiritual abandonment, plan and simple. And as blunt as I’m being here, the fact is that 99% of those men just don’t change.

    • Anewanon

      Porn is better defined any ANYTHING that a person uses for lustful purposes. Normally a picture of a child would not be considered porn … and yet … to some it is. 😦

  4. LorenHaas

    Thanks for this teaching again. I have had a difficult time getting people to understand this meaning of Mt 19. Sending them to Instone-Brewer or your book is not practical for most people. I think I will print this up (with full a full citation) and keep in my files. This succinct description is invaluable. It would be helpful if you could further expound on Ex 21:10-11 in a similar way.
    Great job Barbara!

    • Good suggestion, Loren.

      And to all our readers: I would be happy for you to share this post on social networking sites and other blogs you might follow. I’m not the greatest at social networking; I use FB, Google+, Pinterest and have just set up my YouTube channel, but I’m not nearly as active on social networking as some people are. There are many other places to share material like this.

      • MeganC

        I posted it on FB this morning. 🙂

      • EPH320

        I am confused.

        We recently received our updated church statement of Doctrine and Theology.

        It states “we teach that God hates divorce, permitting it ONLY where there has been UNREPENTANT sexual sin or desertion by an unbeliever.” (caps mine)

        Am I OBLIGATED to stay married to an adulterer, even if he repents?????

      • Jeff Crippen

        EPH320 – Any so-called “church” that dominates and binds people like yours is doing is a place you want to see in your rear view mirror as soon as possible. Scripture nowhere limits the right to divorce for adultery (for example) to “unrepentance” by the adulterer. Nor does Scripture deny the right to divorce for abuse. So that church fits under the category of the enslaving false teachers that Paul confronts in Galatians. They really are presenting a false gospel.

        For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
        (Galatians 5:1)

      • EPH320

        Hi Jeff.

        Thank you for responding!

        One of the Bible references used in the document to support this IDEOLOGY is:

        1 Corinthians 7:12-15 (New International Version )
        (12) To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. (13) And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. (14) For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.

        (15) But if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace.


      • twbtc


        I believe Barbara Roberts in her book, Not Under Bondage [*Affiliate link], argues that 1 Cor 7:15 is THE key text which gives liberty to a victim of abuse to divorce their abuser. If you haven’t already, I recommend you read her book to help you think this through.

        If you are strapped for cash or if it is unsafe for you to purchase her book (your abuser may see the credit card purchase, etc.) please contact me (twbtc) at twbtc.acfj@gmail.com and we can send you a copy.

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

        I agree with Barbara as she explains in her book. 1 Cor 7 tells the abuse victim she is not under bondage, not bound to remain in the marriage in other words. This text is typically misused by “wooden” Bible interpreters who fail to see the spirit of the text and demand that every situation adhere to the exact words used in a particular Scripture. Jesus refuted that kind of mishandling of God’s Word when He told the Pharisees that the Lord requires mercy, not sacrifice.

      • 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.


        Hi EPH320, in addition to what Jeff and TWBTC have said to you, I encourage you to read this page on our blog which is part of our FAQs.
        What Does The Bible Say About Divorce? It will give you a glimpse into the arguments I present in my book.

      • EPH320

        Thank you, Twbtc!
        I am just concerned that people are being told that divorce is only allowed in the case of “UNREPENTANT” sexual sin.
        What if the spouse contracts AIDS?

      • EPH320

        Thank you, Barbara, for this link.

        What about divorce?

        It was very helpful.
        I am attending a church that STRONGLY follows JM [John MacArthur].
        A man who attended JM’s system is currently one of our “pastors.”
        They have switched over to “Elder rule.”
        An Elder said that the congregation has “too much authority.”
        They are implementing a “shepherding structure.” [Shepherding structure]
        Our job as “members” is to “serve” and “submit to leadership.”
        Some of their jobs are “church discipline” “correct for specific sin” “confront sin.”
        9 marks book [9Marks]
        “tulip” [T.U.L.I.P. – The theology of Calvinism: The five essential doctrines of Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and Perseverance of the saints.]
        I have not signed their “membership” document.
        Things are changing……………………..

      • 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.


        EPH320, I’m very glad to hear you haven’t signed their membership document. John MacArthur’s views on divorce are quite dangerous for abuse victims. I’ll be writing more on that in time to come, but here is our TAG which contains all our posts about John MacArthur.

        The shepherding structure / system has been around for decades and wherever it has been used it has done great harm to many in the flock.

        9Marks is also known for enabling lording-it-over attitudes from the elite. We don’t write about that, but other sites like The Wartburg Watch and Spiritual Sounding Board do.

        Jeff Crippen and I having nothing wrong with ‘tulip’ which is an acronym for the doctrine of salvation (soterioloy) which is held by those who believe in Reformed Theology. However, not all who believe in the ‘tulip’ of Reformed Theology are safe for victims of domestic abuse. In fact, I would say that only a minority of them are. There are many who call themselves Reformed in their theology who are NOT treating the abused with justice. But in our view, it’s not because of ‘tulip’ — it’s for other reasons.

      • EPH320

        We recently emailed the pastor.

        On page…….., it states that divorce is only permitted for “unrepentant” sexual sin or desertion by an unbeliever.
        Does this imply that a spouse is required to stay married to a “repentant” adulterer?
        Or, is divorce still an option?

        Here is the response that we received today.

        Personally, I think the question is more complicated than, “Can they or can’t they?”. I know it’s easier on us if there are black and white answers on some of these things, but sometimes the biblical guidance is more about seeking the heart of God than it is about following a specific rule or guideline.

        First, the word “unrepentant” was added intentionally, because we do believe that the response of the spouse caught in sexual sin is important in these circumstances. Obviously, if the one caught has no remorse, or continues on in the sin, then the response of the spouse is fairly simple to discern. Pastorally, I would always recommend to do nothing out of haste or without thoughtfulness and under wise counsel, and I will get to that again in a second. But, if after multiple attempts to confront someone caught in sin with no repentance at all, the remaining spouse is left with little choice. That one is at least clear, but there should be at least some amount of time involved before the sinned against spouse decides upon divorce.

        However, in the case of a repentant person, we believe that there is a place for biblical counsel and a process of attempted reconciliation. As I will speak about this week during the message, once the physical defilement of the body takes place, the marriage covenant is violated, and thus, the spouse would have biblical grounds to divorce. But, even with that, we believe that the heart of God in this matter is to see repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation, and ultimately restoration. Does that mean that a spouse can’t divorce a repentant partner? Not necessarily, but, as I said before, its much more complicated than a “Yes, they can” or “No, they can’t”.

        Rather, what I see in scripture is a call for us as believers to be long-suffering and forgiving with each other, inasmuch as possible. In the case of adultery and then repentance, there are times when the sinned against spouse just can not get past the sin that occurred and the effect it has had on him or her. This is a real and horrible consequence of sexual sin, and often the reason is that the circumstances of the situation are such that other factors come into play. When this occurs, even in cases of a repentant spouse, divorce may be the only option. Experientially, I find these situations to be very rare, but I believe that it is possible.

        On the other hand, often during a period of time of healing and receiving counsel, if both spouses commit to seeking reconciliation if possible, the one who is sinned against can often not only offer forgiveness, but can begin the process of restoration for the marriage. This is why the word repentant was included. If repentance is real and genuine, demonstrated over time, then the power of God to work in healing and restoring can be evident in a marriage. This is what I see as the desire of God.

        Does God allow divorce in these cases? Yes, at times. Is it his desire? No, not at all, even in cases of adultery.

      • Jeff Crippen

        EPH320- That pastor is absolutely butchering God’s Word. He is talking off the top of his head and passing what he says off onto you as God’s Word. That is pastoral malpractice and qualifies him to be the legalist Paul warns against in Galatians. In all that he has said, bottom line is this – the REAL fault in a divorce for adultery lies with the VICTIM, not the perpetrator. Because if she were a REAL Christian, she would dismiss the whole thing and stay married to the fraudster. That pastor is infecting the entire church body, enabling the wicked, wronging the oppressed.

      • Raped By Evil

        Pastor Crippen, is this the type of stuff you see all the time? Letters like this from pastors yammering on and on about the abuser and how we have to wait and see and blah blah blah?

        Not one word to this woman about looking for identifying markers from 2 Tim 3, or Romans 1:29 or Jude–nope! Just keep plugging along lady, keep twirling in circles, spinning plates on the end of a stick, smiling through the pain. We want to keep you shackled to an Antichrist for as long as we can cuz, you know, our pickens are gettin’ slim these days as so many of you seem to be escaping our clutches–BIBLICALLY!

        All the marriage counseling, all the praying and reading and trying so hard did NOTHING but keep me locked up longer. So that I could have more children with less chance to escape. So he could plunge us heavily into debt AGAIN pretending it was for our benefit. So all the children could have HPV and the youngest severe PTSD.


        NOPE! Cuz we are NEVER SUPPOSED TO QUESTION SOMEONE WHO CLAIMS TO BE SAVED EVEN THOUGH THEY DON’T ACT LIKE IT. We might offend an Antichrist hiding in the church if we do that! And we know JESUS would NEVER OFFEND ANYONE, RIGHT? Oh wait, He offended LOTS of people, IMPORTANT people in the church! And in His word there are lots of forewarnings about just this thing. But we’ll just push those teachings to the side and focus on whether or not this woman should hastily try to escape from this abuser or whether she should judge him too harshly or at all!

        EPH320, I’m so sorry for the ridiculousness of this pastor’s rhetoric. For the wasted words he’s written to you. Luke 17:2, “It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble.” Not only is he causing you to stumble by forcing you to waste brain cells reading this, and then letting it into your heart too! That you are confused and still trying so hard to do God’s will and this man knows this and keeps you on a string because of it!

        Please do this yourself. Compare these Bible verses to your spouse (or anyone you want to seek God’s truth about). 2 Tim 3 attributes. Do they fit hubby? Be brutally honest and ask God to show you the truth.
        Romans 1:29-32, the book of Jude, all the wicked ones from the Psalms. Give God a chance to show you, and give yourself the chance to know the truth through His (God’s / Jesus’s / the Holy Spirit’s) word…..let them show you and give yourself permission to see it. Those of us who have tried so hard to follow all the rules–to color inside the lines–are neon flashing signs for pastors like this. They know how we want to please and serve God and they use this very thing to destroy us.

        I just wish ONE PERSON had ever cared enough about me and the damage that was being done to my relationship with God and with myself by evil teachings like this, to say what I just wrote. To give me permission to not think this man, just because he was a pastor, had God’s and therefore my (because I belong to God) best interests at heart. His entire letter is about the abuser and you not being too hasty and a “repentant” abuser needed more time still. I’d like to ask this pastor what his definition of repentant is. But it doesn’t matter to me because after this letter I wouldn’t ask this man for advice on how to cross the street. His heart was displayed and his heart cared NOTHING for the victim and ONLY about keeping the game in play.

      • Jeff Crippen

        RBE – Yep. This is exactly the kind of thing we see all the time.

      • EPH320

        Hi Pastor Jeff.

        This morning, my husband told the pastor that he does not agree with meshing the 2 issues of the adulterer and the spouse……the ideology that the victim is obligated to work towards reconciliation! YIKES!

        we teach that God hates divorce, permitting it ONLY where there has been UNREPENTANT sexual sin or desertion by an unbeliever. (caps mine)

        My husband has a friend who waited around for YEARS for his wife to “repent.”
        The pastor then told my husband that he is not able to unmesh the 2 “Biblically!!!!!”
        This is starting to REALLY concern me!!!

      • The pastor is dangerous! He probably won’t answer you if you put this to him, but you could try saying to him, “What about the man who commits adultery, catches the HIV virus from the person he sleeps with, and then repents of his adultery? Should his wife stay married to him?”

      • Jeff Crippen

        That pastor is a legalist. He is trying to usurp control over people’s lives that the Lord has not given him. For myself, I have concluded that I will never ever again be in a church that teaches and compels such things.

      • EPH320

        I’ve thought about that very concept-

        What about the man who commits adultery, catches the HIV virus from the person he sleeps with, and then repents of his adultery? Should his wife stay married to him?

        My husband tried to reason with the pastor, to no avail………..

      • Lea

        Reading this pastor’s letter about the ‘repentant’ adulterer…does he not realize that cheaters are liars?

        Why do they act like it’s only getting over the one betrayal that is difficult, rather than re-establishing trust with someone who has lied to you?

      • Lea

        His entire letter is about the abuser and you not being too hasty and a “repentant” abuser needed more time still.

        As for being too ‘hasty’, maybe there would be less cheating if the consequences were immediate?

      • EPH320

        AMEN! Lea!

        Reading this pastor’s letter about the ‘repentant’ adulterer…does he not realize that cheaters are liars?

        His entire letter is about the abuser and you not being too hasty and a “repentant” abuser needed more time still.

      • EPH320

        PASTOR JEFF,
        I started reading your book, “UNHOLY CHARADE.”

        Chapter 6-The church Has Enabled Abuse
        This is EYE-OPENING!!!
        Chapter 7-pages 149-150
        Going beyond Scripture!!!

        Thank you for this wonderful resource!!!!!

      • EPH320

        Hubby is still determined to go to this “church.”
        My stomach hurts……………………..

      • Jeff Crippen

        You have every right to find another church yourself.

      • EPH320

        Thank you, Pastor Jeff.
        At the church we attend, we are to unconditionally SUBMIT!
        So I am the rebellious one!

      • EPH320

        Our “pastor” is a person who was a salesman, and then decided to be a “pastor” in a faltering church.
        sales to pulpit……..
        thinks his opinion is THE right way!

      • EPH320

        Dear Friends,

        I suddenly got sooooooooo many cards and emails from the church since I had not been attending………..where are you?????

        I attended last Sunday-
        We had a guest speaker, and I thought it might be a little safer.

        An Elder of the church (a JM [John MacArthur] and Jay Adams follower) was talking about how a local church allows the pastor’s wife to decide what the women study!
        The ELDERS DON”T DECIDE what women study.
        bad! bad! bad!
        He said that only the Elders should be doing this. ??????????????????????????????

  5. Heather2

    Wonderful, Barbara. The more I read oN ACFJ and the more The Lord shows me His truth the more I hurt over the wrong teaching I had.

    I soooo appreciate your work and the way you clearly show us the truth.

    • EPH320


  6. Katy

    I JUST had to explain this to another victim who is struggling today. The faster this spreads the better.

  7. Brenda R

    I’ve read your book and believe in the 3 A’s for divorce, but it is always good to be reminded.

  8. fiftyandfree

    Thanks for posting this Barbara. I will save this for my files in case I need to share it with someone one day.

    I’m curious; are there other things that you don’t agree with Instone-Brewer about? Would you mind sharing and explaining if there are differences? Thanks.

    • Hi Fifty, my differences with Instone-Brewer are not as important as the other things I have to write about (which I never have enough time to do already), so I would rather not spend time on them. If you read my book and his scholarly book to compare it with mine, you can see where we differ.

  9. Conundrum

    I was in a relationship with a divorced woman for 4 years, and lived with her for 3 of those years. As we both started to become more and more spiritual, we decided to end our sinful co-habitation and get married.

    It was then that we discovered Jesus’ teaching on divorce. The reason for my partner’s divorce was irreconcilable differences/her former husband’s refusal to start a family/emotional abuse. Because my perspective was that Jesus only allowed adultery as a legitimate reason for divorce, I told her I couldn’t marry her since God still recognized her former marriage as valid.

    After reading Instone-Brewer’s book and reviewing Exodus 21, I am starting to believe that other grounds may also be valid (food, clothing, marital relations).

    In your opinion, would her former husband’s refusal to start a family coupled with emotional abuse constitute grounds for divorce based on Exodus 21 (specifically marital relations)?

    • Jeff Crippen

      Conundrum – Our position, which we believe is biblical, is that abuse is grounds for divorce. Why? Because it is a violation of the marriage covenant and while we all violate our marriage covenant in some way on occasion, abuse is (as we define it) a habitual, ongoing, unrepentant quest to have power and control over one’s spouse, which emanates from a mentality of entitlement. Also, we would conclude that sinful withholding of conjugal rights and/or refusal to have children (if it were agreed in the marriage covenant that both desired children) is also a breaking of that covenant. With all of that said, you are the ones who need to work through Scripture on this and we are glad you have found Instone-Brewer’s books. Barbara Roberts’ book Not Under Bondage [*Affiliate link] should be a help to you as well. Thank you for askng. Oh, and by the way, a little tip: You may not have intentionally meant anything by it, but I would suggest that you not speak of your fiance as “a divorced woman.” She is simply a woman:) I get it that you wanted to let us know that she had been divorce, but you might be surprised how much she would appreciate not being referred to by that adjective, “divorced.” You get what I mean I’m sure. Blessings on you both.

      *Amazon affiliate link — ACFJ gets a small percentage if you purchase via this link.
    • Thanks for the question, Conundrum. I think Jeff C has answered you well. I do hope you read my book as it deals more in depth with abuse than Instone-Brewer’s book (not putting his book down, by the way; I think both his book and mine have their place in this discourse.) And the first chapter defines and describes abuse in quite a lot of detail: your friend may find that chapter helpful when reflecting on her former marriage.

      You might also like to check out the article I have called Still Married In The Sight Of God?

  10. EPH320

    Thank you, Pastor Jeff!
    This is the “ideology” of the pastor AND Elders that was drafted through Elder meetings.
    My husband and I attended a church membership class, and were concerned about the language in the documents given to us (since we both know of others who were in adulterous marriages).
    After recently receiving the updated document, we started questioning the language-
    “we teach that God hates divorce, permitting it ONLY where there has been UNREPENTANT sexual sin or desertion by an unbeliever.” (caps mine.)

    We also received this in response: “hope that helps. I may publish your question and the answer for the whole church, should the Elders think other might benefit.”

    • Hi EPH320, we allow republication of anything we write on this site so long as you cite the source and the URL. (One exception: we have one post which we have given a copyright notice for.)

      You can read our policy about republishing our stuff here: Our publishing policy. (Scroll down to the subheading May I republish something from your blog?)

    • EPH320

      Hi Barbara.
      The reply was from the pastor in response to our question to him.

      hope that helps. I may publish your question and the answer for the whole church, should the Elders think others might benefit.

      He is only talking about the question we sent him, and his response to us.
      We are not publishing anything from this site.
      Sorry for the confusion.
      Have a blessed weekend!

  11. EPH320

    Thank you, Raped by Evil!
    I am not in an adulterous marriage, but am willing to be used by God to be a voice for those who are!!

    ISAIAH 61:1
    The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
    He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners

    The church we attend APPEARS very Biblical (some practically worship JM! [John MacArthur]), but the Doctrinal interpretations are starting to RED FLAG both of us!
    Sometimes this insanity knocks the wind out of our sails, and we need counsel from others to assure us that we are not going crazy!!!!!

    I really appreciate your response!

    His entire letter is about the abuser and you not being too hasty and a “repentant” abuser needed more time still.

    MORE TIME?????

    You expressed the feelings I had when I read the response. (In our church, feelings are GREATLY minimized by the pastor…..even from the pulpit!)
    It’s comforting to know that somewhere out there, someone sees through this!!!
    Thank you, again, for responding.
    You are a blessing!

  12. EPH320

    Thank you, Barbara.
    This website is a GODSEND!!!!

  13. MarkQ


    In our church, feelings are GREATLY minimized by the pastor…..even from the pulpit!

    This is a HUGE RED FLAG. Our emotions are God-given warning flags that something is wrong. For example, if we get angry at someone for a poor reason, that anger might be pointing to the need to correct our own heart, but if we are disrespected, that anger is helping us to understand that it is not okay.

    Telling people to ignore, discount or box up their emotions, no matter how sophisticated it may sound, is simply grooming people to ignore clear signs of abuse. For example, Piper would say, if you’re angry about your job, you need to pray that God would give you joy. He completely discounts your emotions, and he discounts why your emotions might be completely valid (like your boss walks all over you). It’s no surprise then that Piper’s counsel to wives is to submit to abuse.

    I think “anger” is behind virtually all victim-blaming. The victim comes to the church because s/he finally became angry enough to do something about the abuse, but the church cannot see beyond the anger, which they assume to be sinful. So, instead of listening and hearing, they listen with the thought that they are going to put this sinner in her place. When the other spouse comes in cool and collected, they associate that with righteousness, and now they have sided with the abuser.

    Based on the two pieces of evidence (1) that the victim can almost always reconcile even in cases of adultery, and (2) that emotions are being minimized, I would say that this is a church that is a wolf sanctuary.

  14. Beloved

    It has been 16 years since I divorced my abusive unhusband (love that term!). I’m working through many, many issues and this topic is obviously of interest to me. I’m confused as to how Mark 10.12 fits into this.

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