In his notoriously legalistic book What Jesus Demands From the World, John Piper makes this assertion:
….marriage is the work of God himself whereby he creates a new reality of ‘one flesh’ that surpasses human comprehension and portrays to the world in human form the covenant union between God and his people.” (p 301)
I want to announce quite loudly that this is absolutely false in the sense Piper means it. Why? Because Piper means it absolutely and thus he means abusive marriages as well. As we know, he presses his “permanence view” of marriage upon us — no divorce ever for any reason. You can see The Persistent Widow’s critique of his three chapters on this subject posted earlier here at ACFJ (Part 2 of her critique here). Piper means that EVERY marriage, even an abusive marriage, “mirrors God’s covenant with us.” As an abuse victim stays in the marriage, refusing to divorce, the victim mirrors God’s covenant with His people. Or, if her abuser divorces her, she continues to consider her marriage covenant still binding, even if the abuser takes up with another woman. We cannot help but conclude that Piper would see a victim who “chooses” to live with the abuser and suffer at his hands as practicing saintliness, mirroring God’s endurance of the sins of His people. Just to refresh our memories as to exactly how absolute Piper is on this subject, here is Mr. Piper himself. All the following quotes are from his Demands #41 and #42 in his What Jesus Demands…. book:
Here Jesus seems to call all remarriage after divorce adultery. These are strong words.
Nevertheless, any man who marries this abandoned woman, Jesus says, ‘commits adultery.’ This is a hard saying. The woman who is forsaken by a man who leaves to marry another is called by Jesus to display the holiness of her marriage vows and the nature of the marriage covenant by not marrying another.
So Matthew 5:32 does not teach that remarriage is lawful in some cases. Rather, it reaffirms that to remarry after divorce is to commit adultery, even for those who have been divorced innocently, and that a man who divorces his wife is guilty of the adultery of her second marriage, and that a man who marries a woman who is put away by her husband, even innocently, commits adultery.
That is, whether you have ears to hear — or whether you have grace to receive this call to radical respect for marriage — is the mark of being a follower of Jesus. ‘My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.’
What then would Jesus expect from one of his followers who has sinned and is divorced and remarried? He would expect us to acknowledge that the choice to remarry and the act of entering a second marriage was sin and to confess it as such and seek forgiveness….a marriage that was entered sinfully….remains less than ideal, but it is not a curse.
Here is a test for his lordship over our lives.
Is that enough? Get the full feel of it?
Alright then, to return to our main theme. Piper says that every marriage mirrors God’s covenant with us. (Whether he means a Christian marriage or all marriages including those of non-Christians is not clear because Piper tends to lump all humanity together in this book.) Really? Mr. Piper, have you not read your Bible? What exactly does God do with people who claim to be in covenant relation with him, but who give no heed to the terms of that covenant? “Oh, well, bless you all anyway. Enter my kingdom which you so richly deserve.” Yeah. Let’s all keep in mind that to be in covenant with Christ in the New Covenant (unlike in the Old Covenant) IS to be justified, regenerated, joined to Christ, indwelt by His Spirit, having a new heart that loves God and loves one’s neighbor, and on the unbreakable, unstoppable path to the resurrection and glorification. So that union is what John Piper says marriage mirrors.
And as a God-created union of ‘one flesh; this man and this woman are in a covenant analogous with God’s covenant with Israel. [MY NOTE: Christians are not in the Old Covenant. We are in the New Covenant, though even in the Old Covenant God divorced His people.] Through marriage God fills the earth with (mostly unwitting) witnesses to the relationship between him and his covenant people. This is one of the main reason that divorce and remarriage are so serious. They tell a lie about God’s relationship to his people. God never divorced his wife and married another. There were separations and much pain, but he always took her back. (p 303, ibid.)
….I believe Jesus considered the marriage covenant breakable only by death and therefore forbade remarriage while a spouse is living. (p 305, ibid.)
But God most certainly did divorce Israel (Jeremiah 3:1-8). Not only does Jeremiah speak of it, but the New Testament does. Jesus spent much time in the Gospels announcing to the Jews that He was rejecting them for their unbelief and would be turning to the Gentiles. You see the same thing reiterated in Acts and in the Epistles. The Gospel will now go to the Gentiles – that’s the announcement.
All marriages do not mirror God’s relationship with His people. No way, no how. Let me state right out that DIVORCE of an unfaithful, unrepentant, covenant-breaking spouse is what mirrors God’s covenant with people who falsely claimed to love Him, NOT the remaining in a meaningless marriage covenant. Because that is what Christ does with those who profess to be married to Him by faith, but who are in fact hypocrites. To say that every marriage mirrors God’s covenant with His people and thus divorce must never happen is to say that a marriage in which one spouse is a wicked abuser also mirrors God’s covenant with His people. Christ does not pretend there is a covenant between Him and hypocrites.
Check it out:
(John 6:70 ESVUK) Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.”
(John 8:44 ESVUK) You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
(1 Cor 5:11-13 ESV) (11) But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler — not even to eat with such a one. (12) For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? (13) God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”
(Rev 3:14-16 ESV) (14) “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation. (15) “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! (16) So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.
Therefore our thesis stands. Loving faithfulness to one’s marriage covenant does indeed mirror the love of Christ for His Bride, the church, and for His Bride’s love for Him. But it is divorce that mirrors the New Covenant relationship of God with those who make vows to Him (i.e., profess faith in Christ) but who are only Israelites (Christians) externally, not internally by genuine faith and regeneration. Does this mean that every abuse victim MUST divorce their abuser? No. They may choose, for a time, to be forbearing and patient and in that sense model God’s patience with the wicked. But that is their choice, just as issuing warnings and setting firm boundaries is their choice. In the end, when they choose to divorce such a spouse, they can rest confidently in the fact that such a divorce also mirrors the character of God.
(Rom 2:28-29 ESV) (28) For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. (29) But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.
[July 31, 2022: Editors’ notes:
—For some comments made prior to July 31, 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 July 31, 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 July 31, 2022 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (July 31, 2022), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]
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.
82 thoughts on “Abusive Marriages Portray God’s Covenant With His People? – Really?”
Piper is just wrong here, right from the get-go:
Jesus gives an exception right in the text. Piper, however, blows past it and acts like it isn’t there. He’s flat-out misrepresenting the text. Even the strictest interpretations that don’t allow for divorce for abuse, have to allow for divorce for adultery or they’re just illegitimate and ridiculous on their face.
He’s also ignoring the fact that huge numbers of Christians (including the Puritans he supposedly admires so much!) and courts over the centuries have allowed for divorce for abuse, abandonment, neglect, etc. That’s easy to establish not only from church history, but also court records. So he can’t call this a “test of lordship” for Christians, unless he wants to say that thousands of Christians over the past two millennia were not submitting to God.
Hester – In my opinion, anyone who teaches something soooo dogmatically and binding as Piper teaches his no divorce no remarriage stuff, in spite of the fact that they know full well that even the majority of Christians in history concluded otherwise, is just plain, what? Egocentric? Enslaved to legalism? It is one thing to hold an opinion personally, but to preach it from a pulpit and to write about it authoritatively in books and thus bring thousands of people into bondage is, well, I have to call it spiritual abuse. And don’t forget that some of these guys – I don’t think Piper did in his church (not even his full church board agreed with his permanence position as I have read) – but some of them even effect church discipline/ex-communication on members who violate their teaching!
” . . . . is just plain, what?”
Here, Jeff, let me just spill it: A FALSE TEACHER!
If someone showed Piper a death certificate from a Christian domestic violence victim who stayed with her man because of that “covenant,” I suppose it’s because God is Sovereign and not because of false teaching?
Often, when there’s a conflict between their views and historical consensus, they resort to manipulating or misrepresenting the historical record to make it seem like theirs has always been the majority opinion. For instance, the patriarchal-inclined fellow (I believe Russ Moore?) who claimed that our ancestors would have called it “feminism” for a married couple to come to a mutually negotiated decision. Presumably, according to him, they would have just let the husband make all the decisions, all the time, and this is what all Christians have done since forever. Except we can easily prove, from mountains of primary source documents (including at least one well-known Puritan’s diary), that couples made mutual decisions all the time, and sometimes even handing decision-making power over to the wife in certain areas. Or when Doug Phillips pulls out historical incidents like the sinking of Titanic to make it seem like everyone has always subscribed to his hyper-strict take on gender relations.
Or when Doug Phillips pulls out historical incidents like the sinking of Titanic to make it seem like everyone has always subscribed to his hyper-strict take on gender relations.
Hester, what was this about? How did Phillips relate the sinking of the Titanic to gender relations?
Doug is obsessed with “women and children first” and preaches it every chance he gets. Vision Forum Ministries even used to have something called The Christian Men and Boys’ Titanic Society which I believe would have a fancy dinner every year on the anniversary of the sinking. Basically Doug sees Titanic as the last gasp of Christian masculinity before it was killed by feminism – he doesn’t believe women should have the right to vote, so he makes a big deal out of the sinking happening during the debate over women’s suffrage. I explained this in more detail here [Internet Archive link] because there was an entire lecture about “women and children first” in my Big Box. I also provide statistics that show it was really more like “first class women and children first,” rather than women across the board, so the historical idea itself has some pretty big flaws (though of course Doug would never admit that).
Also, once you know enough about the details of Phillips’ beliefs, the fact that he preaches “women and children first” becomes highly ironic, given that he tells women who initiated a divorce for abuse to return to their husbands, and doesn’t believe in terminating ectopic pregnancies (which are nonviable and will kill 99.999% of mothers if they attempt to carry them to term). There are also very disturbing structural things in some patriarchal homes that reinforce the “God-ordained hierarchy” I mentioned earlier. I’ve even heard stories of some families not letting the wife and daughters eat a meal until after the husband and sons have finished (like lions on a nature special). Sounds a lot more like “women and children last” to me.
he doesn’t believe women should have the right to vote, so he makes a big deal out of the sinking happening during the debate over women’s suffrage.
Oh for crying out loud. 😡
Very disturbing stuff. 😦
this “no divorce for any reason ever” is as silly as the “no abortion for any reason ever” because it has similar results. My neighbor had an ectopic pregnancy a couple years ago and she was rushed to the hospital when she started to bleed out – she’s lucky to be alive and they just adopted a baby.
I don’t know why I got on that tangent it’s just that…..these psycho dogmatic rule followers… they always lead to DEATH. And it’s funny how it always seems to be the woman with the death sentence in these scenarios.
Well said, Hester! Piper avoids this charge by simply never engaging with people like us who point out how ridiculous his view is when pushed to its logical conclusion. He just keeps reiterating his no divorce no remarriage view like a stuck record, and slathering on the [faked-]compassion that he thinks he has for those who are in difficult marriage situations.
I know that Piper does countenance i.e. suffer/permit/tolerate/maybe even at times recommend that a victim of abuse separate from her abusive husband. But he does not agree with divorce. And never once have I heard him spell out what he would do for the victim of abuse, apart from waffly statements like ‘the victim should report the abuse to the church leaders and then they (the leaders) should work with the abuser’. But it’s never spelled out what exactly that ‘work’ would look like. . . those statements always tail off into vagaries. Never once have I heard of Piper expelling an abuser from church membership and 100% supporting the victim who had been driven to separate from the abuser.
Another defect in Piper’s interpretation of Matthew 5 is that he seems to ignore the fact in Jesus’ saying, “Whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery;” the verb denoting adultery is passive, not active, which is an unusual construction. To render this verb in English as ‘commit adultery’ gives a very inaccurate picture of what Jesus was conveying. We do not have a single word in English to express adultery as a passive verb (unless we used the word ‘adulterize’ for what the man does to the woman). The best rendering I have been able to come up with is to change the word ‘commit’ to ‘suffer’ or ‘undergo’. Viz:
“Whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to suffer adultery.”
“Whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to undergo adultery.”
In Piper’s characteristic double-speak, he at one stage talks about how the divorcing husband is responsible for the woman’s adultery, but at another stage he points his legalistic finger at the woman by asserting that:
Callous legalism delivered with velvet gloves is still callous legalism.
I’m trying to look at this logically, and my head is spinning trying to make sense of Piper’s position.
If an abusive marriage displays Christ and the church, then is the abuser supposed to be the picture of the church? But what about regeneration? So believers treat Jesus the way an abuser treat’s his spouse?
Does this put the victim in the place of Christ? So now the wife is supposed to be like Jesus in terms of His suffering but she still has to stay in her place? But isn’t Christ’s suffering unique because it was for the purposes of securing our salvation? Does God put any human being in a position to do what only Christ can do?
These are all rhetorical questions, but IMO his position does not compute either logically or biblically.
Persis, I think the head-spinning is inevitable if one tries to make sense of Piper’s teaching on divorce and remarriage. His illogic so permeates both the warp and the weft of his argument that the whole cloth should be thrown on the scrap heap in my opinion.
Piper teaches that marriage — the institution of marriage and therefore all actual marriages — displays and portrays the covenant-keeping love of God. And he most certainly teaches that the husband is head of the wife as Christ is head of the church (Ephesians 5). Piper never sees the husband as the church in that Ephesians 5 analogy; he sticks to the script that he thinks he sees in Ephesians 5. He says the wife represents the church / bride-of-Christ and the husband represents Christ / the bridegroom.
He never inverts that Ephesians 5 metaphor in how he applies it to men and women; he never talks about an abusive husband as being the picture of the church, because the husband, in Piper’s concrete mind, can only ever represent Christ. Piper just seems to ignore the fact that abusive husbands are pictures of Satan persecuting the church and keeping her in bondage, rather than pictures of Christ caring for the church.
I guess if you could push Piper and nail him down on this, he might readily concede that abusive husbands are displaying Satan not Christ, but he would never say that that allows the wife of an abuser to divorce and remarry a true Christian husband if she so chooses, because for Piper, the principle that trumps all other principles is that The Chief Purpose of Marriage is to Display the Covenant-Keeping Love of God for the Church (have I told you enough times?). Nothing can uproot this fixity in Piper. He is so single-minded on it that he devoted THREE CHAPTERS to it in What Jesus Demands of the World.
And guess what? In that book, Piper devoted one skimpy shallow paragraph to the command of Jesus that we not put our pearls before swine.
Hello? I thought Piper was really keen to explicate Jesus’ commands (oops! — Demands!).
Thank you, Jeff. There are times that I still struggle with guilt. Reminders that my ex broke the covenant are helpful. Our past conditioning can really mess with our heads. I have remarried, as you know. He is a godly man who has taken on my past and gently worked to help me through the guilt and fog. At the same time my ex leads a double life. He continues to go to church and bible study, all the while taking trips with a girlfriend that I’m fairly sure his church family are ignorant of.
I am grateful that I can take all of my hurts, tears, and sins to my Father who sees me through His Son. I will never, ever again allow anyone from any church dictate my life to me. It is not their business! I am a daughter of my Lord. I know when the Holy Spirit is at work in my heart to warn and convict. I certainly don’t need Mrs. Busybody or any Pastor tell me how to live my life. That goes for John Piper and his ilk.
Speaking of John Piper, his views of marriage, divorce, and remarriage are nothing but repackaged Roman Catholicism. My mother divorced my dad for adultery and never remarried. All because of the church doctrines. The closer we get to His return we see the Church of Rome being welcomed with open arms by Evangelicals. Never in a million years did I expect to see this when I became a believer in 1980. But it’s here, lock, stock, and barrel! I suppose it’s one way to see how the wheat and tares are dividing.
I still remember vividly my mom’s guilt, shame and torment over how she was treated by the Catholic church when she divorced my bio dad who was a drunkard, pervert, wife beater, and more. She felt such deep shame because the church she held dear dismissed her as no better than a harlot because she could no longer stand the beatings and finally left him. As a very small child, I remember seeing her taken away in an ambulance a number of times, and I remember calling the police once while she was being beaten. But to the church, she was the sinner because she divorced him.
Sadly, as is so often the case, she married another abuser. She did finally see the error in the Catholic Church, put away her Mary statues, and trusted Christ as her Savior, and I am so very grateful for that, but I grieve so much for the pain she endured in her life.
Sadly, fiftyandfree, another casualty of such great legalism and control. This is not what Jesus came to do here. But man twists and binds people to human deception. This is what Piper is doing.
These are dangerous views. I know of instances where spouses have been violently physically attacked. The views expoused by Piper essentially tell men that they can do anything that they want to do. Love must constrain us to be our best. Religion should never be used as an excuse to allow abuse to continue. Knowing that my wife can divorce me has helped me to be the best man possible. I was never abusive but I know what behaviors are off limits to me. I am expected to be helpful, loving kind , a good father and support the family to the best of my ability. I have grown and I do what’s right because I love my wife and family. The rest of the loss of my wife made me stop sulking and trying to always get my own way. I found other ways to cope because I knew that my wife would not tolerate rubbish from me. I have been challenged to be my best. I have a buddy whose wife is very long suffering. He has physically intimated her and may use porn. He has no incentive for growing. Now their daughter is starting to act up. The decision to stay with an unfit spouse effects many people and cause intergenerational problems.
Thank you for those insights, searcher. I think that both the blessings and the curse (sanctions) of the marriage covenant need to be made very clear to people before they marry and in some way I wonder if sanctions should not be mentioned in the wedding ceremony? For the benefit of everyone present. Blessings for loving your spouse and fulfilling your vows. Curses and sanctions for violating them. It would make everyone there think long and hard – or at least it should.
Searcher said, “Knowing that my wife can divorce me has helped me to be the best man possible.” Wow. I was stuck with absolute awe when I read that.
My anti-husband had the opposite view which he in no doubt picked up from the church, “You cannot divorce me and therefore I can do anything I want and treat you in any way I choose. You are bound to me for life no matter what I say, or do to you.” “Oh, and you MUST forgive me no matter what I do because that’s what the Bible says you must do.”
This is very good and Piper’s theology is very bad. It is like he just sits and thinks about a verse and whatever pops into his head about it, he writes down and makes it into a book. I wonder if he ever goes back and reads his writings and thinks he may have been erring. This is very sad for those of us who have endured decades of abuse, trying to be long-suffering and waiting for a turning of the heart. When we finally come to a decision, in Christ, not to stay and take abuse any longer, we have theology such as Piper’s, to leave us guilt ridden and confused. I believe it is just error to compare Christ’s covenant with us to marriage in this way. Christ’s Covenant with us is based on His perfection and there is no marriage with perfect people in it.
Perhaps we all need to step back a little from the association of marriage and God’s relationship with us. It is a METAPHOR, meaning they are like each other in some comparative way, but they are not equivalent. When the scriptures speak of God divorcing Israel, God did not file paperwork in the courthouse.
It is typical of legalists to make wooden interpretations of scripture. When the Pharisees condemned Jesus for his disciples casually picking grain on the Sabbath, He responded by telling them that “the Sabbath was made for men, not men for the Sabbath.” It is the spirit of the law that is important, not blindly observing the letter. It is the same with the marriage metaphor. Marriage was made for men and women, not men and women for marriage. The marriage metaphor was meant to be an encouragement and a sobering guideline, not a chain that binds you to a diseased corpse.
Very well said LorenHaas.
What I can’t figure out is how he can say this:
That is, whether you have ears to hear –or whether you have grace to receive this call to radical respect for marriage — is the mark of being a follower of Jesus. ‘My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.’
And also say men more Godly than him have come to different conclusions. Wouldn’t “coming to different conclusions,” or let’s just say rejection of this/not having ears to hear this, because that’s what it is, mean you are not passing this test of whether you are a Christ follower and are therefore certainly less Godly, if not outright unsaved — which I think is the closet conclusion here?
Right on Baranabas. Indeed. That is what The Persistent Widow pointed out in her review of these same chapters in Piper’s What Jesus Demands from the World. Piper is saying that whether or not you “hear” HIS view on marriage, divorce, and remarriage reveals whether you are a Christian or not. I mean, what in the world? Out there in the real world people would ask “Hey dude, what were you smoking when you wrote that?”
Yes indeed, BIT. I conclude that Piper does not really think all those other men are more godly than he. I suspect he thinks they are all wrong and they have not heard Jesus’ voice and followed Him, so they are likely to not be saved at crunch time when their works (according to Piper) will be assessed and if the works don’t accord with their faith they will be relegated to the goats pile not the sheep pile.
So I suspect Piper’s great displays of humility (‘men more godly than me’) are all for show. I suspect he is trying to kid himself that he’s humble. But his arrogance can’t help but leak out.
We canaries in the coal mine can detect the whiff of arrogance at a thousand paces! And the best double-check of whether our sense of smell was correct is if the person who has claimed humility and willingness to be corrected (and that’s Piper) is actually willing to be corrected. So far, the double-check test shows that our olfactory nerves are correct. Would that Mr Piper would actually rethink his doctrine!
God did write down the divorce certificate, in Hos 2:2, when read in cultural context.
On Piper treating the world the same as believers, this is an astonishing amount of arrogance on his part, Paul is 1 Cor 7 discusses when a believer is married to an unbeliever, and a believer is not to divorce for no cause, but if an unbeliever does this, the believer is to accept it as a divorce, for the sake of peace. So mashing believers and unbelievers together is not Biblical in any way, Paul can expect a believer to recognize what Paul says is correct, but cannot expect this of an unbeliever, exactly because they do not accept God in their life.
The fundamental mistake Piper makes is the thoroughly misunderstand how a covenant works and from there all kinds of errors spout like weeds. A covenant is an agreement where vows are made, when one keeps one’s vows, it is called keeping the covenant, when one breaks a vow, it is called breaking the covenant. When one party breaks a covenant, the other party can declare the covenant terminated for cause or decide to keep the covenant in force. Another way to break a covenant is to declare it terminated for no cause at all, this is one thing Jesus spoke against in Matthew. Beware false teachers that deny the way a covenant works, as a lot of bad teaching will almost certainly follow, along with harm to members of the body of Christ, to the shame of the teacher. Piper needs to repent of his false teaching that harms members of the body of Christ.
Thank you Don. Excellent insights!
“When one party breaks a covenant, the other party can declare the covenant terminated for cause or decide to keep the covenant in force. Another way to break a covenant is to declare it terminated for no cause at all, this is one thing Jesus spoke against in Matthew.”
Very interesting. I hadn’t thought of it that way before but it makes perfect sense.
50Free – If you read David Instone-Brewers book on Divorce and Remarriage in the Church [Affiliate link], you will be even more convinced that this is true. Top notch book. And if you read Barbara Roberts’ book Not Under Bondage [Affiliate link], things will get clearer for you still.
Yes, it is. I actually did read the book but it was so heavy and so dense with information that I had forgotten much of it. I remember the gist of it (I am FREE, Praise the Lord!!!), but do not remember much detail. I should really reread it.
50Free- Instone Brewer has two books of very similar title. One is Divorce and Remarriage in the Church [Affiliate link], and the other is Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible [Affiliate link]. The “in the church” one is not as heavy as the “in the Bible” one, but covers much of the same ground. You will find Barbara’s book thorough, but easier to read I suspect.
Yep, Fiftyandfree. That’s the basis of my distinction between disciplinary divorce and treacherous divorce. In disciplinary divorce the mistreated spouse takes out a divorce on the valid grounds of abuse, adultery or desertion, or any combination of them. In treacherous divorce, one spouse divorces the other without any valid ground.
In disciplinary divorce, the spouse who has broken the covenant is the spouse who committed the abuse or adultery or who unjustifiably deserted the marriage.
In treacherous divorce, the spouse who takes out the divorce without any valid ground is the one who breaks the covenant.
In Matthew 5 and Matthew 19, Jesus was condemning the men in Israel who were treacherously divorcing their wives using the loophole excuse concocted by the the rabbi Hillel who claimed that Deut. 24:1 gave permission for a man to divorce his wife for any matter — even if it was just a trivial thing like she burned the dinner. Jesus was not condemning disciplinary divorce. Instone-Brewer demonstrated this very clearly in his book Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible [Affiliate link], and relied on Instone-Brewer’s explanation of the any matter divorce when I was writing my book.
Don, your views on the breaking of the covenant have been what God has led me to see, also. It is two-sided and if one breaks his or her vows the other has the “right” to abandon the covenant since it was already abandoned by the one that broke the vows in the first place. In my particular instance, when my ex turned from the altar where we spoke our vows and lusted for a woman from his past experience who was present, God revealed that ex broke the covenant from the beginning (committed adultery when he had just sworn to be faithful) and that despite all the children that we had or the piece of governmental paper that declared we were legally married, IN GOD’S EYES WE NEVER WERE. All the years of abuse afterward were only confirmation of that fact. I was not in bondage to keep a covenant that, after ex promised he had been “changed” and “repented,” he refused to renew with me but continued in abandonment and abuse.
Thank you for affirming this truth.
Oh what a gut wrenching story, Laurie. Adulterous lust right after saying his vows at the altar.
I feel for you.
Oh, Laurie, that’s awful. I know what it’s like to be abandoned at the altar. It happened to me too and I know how painful it is. I’ve always maintained that my so called “marriage” was never a marriage in the true sense of the word because the vows he spoke at the altar and during the courtship were actually fraud. I spent 12 years in an abusive relationship, NOT a marriage. I’m so glad that you are no longer in bondage.
So many contradictions it’s hard to know where to start…
First of all, by Piper’s own theology (which I disagree with), if I understand it correctly, he claims a justified believer may fail the test of final justification due to lacking works to support their faith (in accordance with their works). Now, I disagree with Piper’s theology on this point…but what would that be if not a divorce based on failing to keep covenant vows? Piper’s theology self-contradicts…and the contradiction is sharpest on the two points in which he is most extreme (furthest from orthodox doctrine).
On the point of comparing marriage with God’s relationship with Israel, Piper wants to skip right over Jeremiah 3:8 saying the divorce didn’t count because God took Israel back. He is either not reading the complete sentence or else he doesn’t know history. In Jeremiah 3:8 God says that He divorced the kingdom of Israel, composed of the ten northern tribes, but that He did not divorce the kingdom of Judah, composed of the two tribes of Judah and Benjamin. As a matter of historical fact, the descendants of the kingdom of Judah (called Jews derived from the word Judah) returned to the land of Israel and still exist today as a people-group. However, the ten tribes of the kingdom of Israel were dispersed among the nations and no longer exist as a distinct people-group…historians today refer to them as the ten lost tribes of Israel.
So…Piper says no-divorce-ever because marriage is a picture of God’s relationship with His people…but this is itself a contradiction as Piper is imposing rules on God’s relationships that don’t exist.
And, as you have pointed out Jeff, an abusive marriage clearly is NOT a picture of God’s covenant relationship with His people. What does an abusive marriage mirror? Satan’s slavery of mankind thru Adam’s covenant with the kingdom of darkness…the covenant from which Jesus Christ has redeemed us!
“Therefore thus says the Lord God,
“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a tested stone,
A costly cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed.
He who believes in it will not be disturbed.
“I will make justice the measuring line
And righteousness the level;
Then hail will sweep away the refuge of lies
And the waters will overflow the secret place.
“Your covenant with death will be canceled,
And your pact with Sheol will not stand; (Isaiah 28:16-18)
Jesus cancelled the covenant with death! What is a cancelled covenant if not a divorce?
Joe – yes, thank you. And here is another related thought. When Romans 11 speaks of God one day grafting Israel back into the tree (the line of promise, Abraham), He is NOT going to do that by maintaining the original Old Covenant! He will effect it by bringing them to repentance and faith and joining them to Christ in the NEW, the BETTER, and ANOTHER covenant! It is a new marriage! The old “marriage” is over and done with.
“Piper’s theology self-contradicts…and the contradiction is sharpest on the two points in which he is most extreme (furthest from orthodox doctrine).”
Well said, Joe. I’d never seen it like that before but it’s true. False doctrine will always always lead to ridiculous conclusions that contradict the full counsel of God — conclusions which scrape like a proverbial fingernail-down-the -blackboard of the souls of those who love the Lord.
Dr. Geehardrus Vos ( 1862-1949) is sometimes called the father of Reformed Biblical Theology. Vos went to Princeton Seminary to do post-graduate work, and he later accepted appointment as professor of the newly created chair of Biblical Theology at Princeton Seminary. Among his students was J. Gresham Machen, the founder of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Dr. Loraine Boettner (1901-1990) was a theologian, teacher, author, and a member of the OPC. The following is from his book Divorce, Nutley, NJ, 1972, page 13, where Dr. Boettner provides an illustration written by Dr. Vos:
I like this illustration, Carmen. Yes, there is a difference between ‘not intended to be broken’ and ‘unbreakable.’
Along those lines, I’ve wondered about people saying “divorce is sin” and also saying “remarriage is adultery.” To me, this is completely illogical. They cannot both be true.
Remarriage at some later date following divorce could only be adultery if the original marriage covenant were still binding, which would mean the divorce was not effective…had not actually changed anything. Therefore, if remarriage is adultery then the divorce could not be sin…it would be, at most, a wasted exercise with no meaning.
Or, to put it another way, it cannot be a sin to break something that is unbreakable, because if it is unbreakable then it cannot have been broken. If, on the other hand, it has been broken, then it is no longer binding and it cannot be sin to act as though it doesn’t exist, because it no longer does exist.
Thank you Carmen. A very apt illustration.
We have taken something that should be beautiful and made it a burden to many because we have injected our own selfish designs into the institution of marriage.
Yikes this post is so important and interesting to me and I’m sure I’ll want to make lots of comments in the thread but am busy today. I’ll get onto as soon as I can. In the meantime, I envy you all having this discussion!
In the Father’s Day ( 2005) tribute that he gave to his father, Piper said that if you wanted to see Daddy angry, let one of his children sass our mother. Piper’s father not only knew the command of God to honor our mothers, but he also knew the extraordinary debt that every child owes a mother. TIME AND TIME AGAIN HE WOULD COMPARE TRUE LOVE NOT TO MARRIED LOVE BUT TO MOTHER’S LOVE. He knew the price my mother paid for him to be away so much. Therefore, he would tolerate no insolence or disrespect towards her. I trembled at the fierce gaze in his eye if I said something sarcastic to my mother.
Piper’s father was a traveling evangelist, schooled at Bob Jones University, and gone from the home two thirds of the year in order to put food on the table. Doesn’t Piper care that mothers are being abused? Yes, Julie Anne someone should show him the death certificates. There’s one man who remains on the FBI list of “ten most wanted” from my state. Adam Walsh did a show featuring him. He murdered his wife and children and then set the house on fire. The “perfect” family, no one suspected, especially their church, even the woman’s father said that they were mistaken….his son-in-law was “the nicest person”. The truth came out…the woman was planning to divorce her abusive husband and he killed her.
Thanks Carmen. I didn’t know Piper said that about the love of a mother.
But for all that, his whacky concept that the chief purpose of marriage is to display the covenant keeping love of God for the church is so bad and so oppressive to victims of abuse, I cannot understand why other leaders are not calling him out on it with more force.
For centuries the Protestant church taught (because the Bible teaches) that marriage has three main purposes: companionship, procreation, and the restraint of fornication and its associated evils. Piper downplays all these, and replaces them with a chief purpose of his own invention: “the display value of marriage”. He takes Ephesians 5 —let the husband love his wife as Christ loves the church — and turns ‘as Christ loves the church’ from a metaphor or analogy into the primary all embracing purpose and meaning of marriage. Marriage, in Piper’s mind is primarily to display God’s covenant love for the church. And he even says that unbelievers who are married are displaying this covenant love of God. Its so silly, so foolish, that it would be ridiculous and laughable were it not doing such harm to the church and to victims of covenant-breaking spouses.
I ask Piper: when and where did the word “DISPLAY” become so prominent in instructions to Christians. It’s one of Piper’s most used words, but it’s not a frequently used word in the Bible.
“the display value of marriage”
Even if we gave him the benefit of the doubt on this, he still gets it wrong. The substance is Christ, therefore we are not to let anyone judge us on the mere shadow. We see how Christ teaches on the observance of the Sabbath “shadow” when he condemns the Pharisees’ harsh hard hearted interpretation to the point it perverted God’s nature by denying the doing of good on the Sabbath and denying the compassionate nature of God who desires mercy and not sacrifice. And oh, by the way Christ is the Lord of the Sabbath. He gets to decide the Sabbath rules. If He says it is lawful to let someone out of a covenant to a wicked person, and clearly He does as so many testimonies here prove, then who are we to demand He conform to our Pharisaical expectations?
Marriage is not a place to demonstrate the sacrifice Christians make in being sheep slaughtered by the wicked Christ rejecting world with whom Christ does not have a covenant. If marriage is a demonstration of Christ’s relationship to His blood bought bride, then it must look like it from both ends.
Reblogged this on Tùr Làidir [This link is broken. Click here [Internet Archive link] for a copy….you’ll need to scroll down the linked page to find the reblog of Abusive Marriages Portray God’s Covenant With His People? – Really?, February 22, 2014. Editors.].
. If marriage is a demonstration of Christ’s relationship to His blood bought bride, then it must look like it from both ends.
BIT, this statement sums it up. Piper would have us believe that all we have to do is our half of the relationship and not think twice about what the other half is doing. Just life with it until death, which could be sooner than later in many cases.
Jeff you wrote a wonderful article. I don’t understand anyone’s way of thinking that says a marriage mirror’s Christ and the church if their is any form of abuse in the relationship. Christ abused no one. I know of no one who took a vow saying I will love and honor you while you are hitting me or the children, belittling me, cursing me, isolating me from people I love or those I would like to get to know, etc….. The opposite words were said, we agreed to love, honor, cherish. The covenant was broken years before I finally allowed myself to feel God’s urging to leave.
Brenda, many of us here continued to love, honor, and cherish regardless of the abuses and adulteries. We just finally saw the truth of what that meant. It was one sided and in some cases did indeed lead to tragedy.
My eyes are opening more and more. Truthfully, and with all due respect to Jeff and good pastors like him, I find that I no longer want to belong to a local church. I no longer trust them.
I did as well continue my vows for many years, until I came out of the fog. X never loved, honored or cherished and states that he never made vows. There are choices that we all have to make. If you feel that staying is where you are lead to be, then so be it. I don’t see a marriage where only one is carrying out there vows as mirroring what God created it to be, but we all must choose and discern what God wants from us.
There was a time that I didn’t belong to a local church, while I was with X but it was because of the isolation, not because I didn’t want to. There is never going to be a perfect Local Body and I am sorry that your experiences have lead you not to trust any church. I hope that changes for you in the future and you find a scriptural body where you can feel safe. I am finding that many people will attend regularly, give their time and money to the church, but choose not to join for a variety of reasons.
I like what Leslie Vernick says, “If you stay, stay well; If you leave, leave well.” I think above all be well and in Christ.
In my case, Brenda, I left both the marriage and my home church. It is so much better now. My eyes are open.
In reference to the “display” purposes of marriage, what is the value in displaying something that is false for the world to see? If an unbeliever feels a longing for something more in their life and starts seeking in a church, wouldn’t uncovering hypocrisy via these sham marriages cause this person to turn away?
Just Me, That is my thought.
The Roman Catholic Church considers marriages between non-Catholics, of whatever religion, to be valid. But in the Catholic Church there are two kinds of marriages: normal ( ordinary) marriages and supernatural ( sacramental) marriages. Supernatural marriages may only exist between baptized people, so marriages between two Jews or two Muslims, etc., would be normal ( ordinary) marriages. Only supernatural ( sacramental) marriages are indissoluble. Remember that John Calvin said that marriage was an ordinance, not a sacrament.
In Jeremiah 7, Jeremiah stood at the gate of Judah’s place of worship to proclaim its falsehood.
Times haven’t changed much…we should NOT conceal (Deut 13:8), but rather expose, the false teachers who speak “…lying words that cannot profit” (Jer 7:8). I’m thankful for those (ACFJ team and others) who are proclaiming the truth loud and clear and setting the captives free.
God’s message through Jeremiah to the false prophets was this: “Amend your ways and your doings and I will cause you to dwell in this place…IF you thoroughly amend your ways…IF you thoroughly execute judgment…IF you do NOT OPPRESS the stranger, the fatherless, the widow, and DO NOT SHED INNOCENT BLOOD in this place, or walk after other gods to your hurt, THEN I will cause you to dwell in this place…” Clear instructions. What’s also clear is that there are conditions.
As many have mentioned, Piper’s quotes above numbs readers to the consequences for their actions and blatantly ignores the conditions or IF-THEN principle all throughout the Bible in both the Old and New Testament. IF obey, THEN blessing, IF disobey (without seeking true repentance), THEN cursing, IF faith, THEN works (and good words), IF tree, THEN fruit. And IF God requires, THEN He enables us…through His Spirit…to strive toward good…NOT ignore it.
Piper’s teaching encourages this mindset: “IF I treat my spouse however I please, even if it is according to the dictates of my evil heart (Jer 7:24), no matter what, THEN I’m reflecting God’s covenant to His people and have nothing to fear.” Crazy-making, illogical, and harmful! When intolerable conditions or abuse is rampant in a marriage, it is oppressive and kin to shedding innocent blood, and to imply that consequences for the abuse such as church discipline, separation, divorce, jail, etc, do not need to occur, this only breeds more abuse and turns hearts AWAY from God. It’s better to have a millstone wrapped around the neck and be thrown into the ocean than to mislead children by teaching these lies.
God, who hears and sees, is the same God yesterday, today and forever. He sounded an alarm through Jeremiah. His warning still applies: “‘Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of thieves in your eyes? Behold, I, even I, have seen it,’ says the Lord” (Jer 7:11). Because the “thieves” did not listen or hear or answer, God executed judgment: “I will cast you out of My sight” (Jer 7:15).
It’s better to have a millstone wrapped around the neck and be thrown into the ocean than to mislead children by teaching these lies.
My friend’s children were so disheartened by how she, and by extension they, were treated at their church that they do not want to go to church anywhere now.
Brightsunshinin – What I find is that these guys with their “permanence view” nonsense will be quick to remind us that, “oh no, we certainly allow for separation from an abuser, and for church discipline of the abuser and even imprisonment of the abuser. We just don’t acknowledge it is grounds for divorce.” But in REALITY when it gets right down to it, they are very reluctant to advise separation, they are sluggish about church discipline against the abuser (very quick to use it against a victim who won’t listen to them), and they will do their best to discourage a victim from filing criminal charges. The former is their theoretical world. The latter is reality.
I’ve seen this with my own eyes.
This is just pitiful. Piper is giving a pass for men and even pastors to just lay this burden for the woman. We don’t want to get our hands dirty with that whole Matthew 18 thing. These guys are worse than the abusers. They are suppose to be our shepherds. If this is a huge part of their job description to protect God’s bride from ravenous wolves, then any other profession they would be fired for not fulfilling their basic job description. This is shameful stuff.
Yes Denise, it is shameful and those who teach it should be ashamed. It is one thing for a person to decide for themselves, for their own reasons, to remain in an abusive marriage (though we would not recommend doing so forever) – the consideration of finances, of children, and so on. But to come to that conclusion and then lay it dogmatically as a command from God upon everyone else? Shameful indeed.
Here’s where one word makes a big difference. In anabusive marriage the abuser is willing to sacrifice their spouse….not sacrifice FOR their spouse as Christ did for the church.
Good point Valerie.
Jeff, thank you for this clarification. You are right…that “these guys” (many church leaders) will be quick to SAY they allow separation from an abuser (theoretical world), but in reality, are RELUCTANT to advise separation in the counseling room when abuse is happening. Instead, they somehow turn around and threaten church discipline on the victim.
In my own experience, some pastors and elders have said to me that if I came to them any more “complaining” about my husband, church discipline for me (in reality, I was CRYING out for help). If I shared any more stories with some of my friend counselors (which they considered to be “gossiping”), church discipline for me. Other pastors and elders who did advise separation, later came back and said that if I did not respond to their emails and take their advice, church discipline for me. Why was I reluctant to email them? Because they were “forcing” their advice on me which was to reconcile with the (unrepentant) abuser.
I anyone who wants to share, why are “these guys” so blind to help the oppressed and so quick to buddy up with the abuser?
I understand there are many reasons why. One reason you shared in your book, A Cry for Justice, is that some church leaders themselves are abusers. I couldn’t agree more. Also, many in the church have a misunderstanding of forgiveness. They equate forgiveness WITH reconciliation. These two are NOT equal. Reconciliation requires (true) repentance.
Along the same lines of misunderstanding forgiveness and reconciliation is a misunderstanding of the concept of judging one another. Recently, I heard on a Christian radio station that “…we are to FORGIVE which is the way of Christ, but NOT TO JUDGE which is the way of the world.” No wonder abusers find such a comfortable home in many “c”hurches today since many leaders are teaching its sheep to “forgive,” “reconcile,” and “not to judge” while the abusers are saying in their heart, “God will NOT require an account” (Psalm 10:13). So while many are “forgiving” and “not judging,” many victims are running for their lives to be safe.
Could this “permanence view” really be nothing more than a manipulative teaching from the pulpit to prevent spouses from cutting bait and fleeing? Dress something up to look right and even twist Scripture to fit the theories and many will be enslaved out of mere guilt. Why don’t these preachers (and others) face the huge reality of our day that abusive marriages are rampant IN the church and show God’s character by providing help for the oppressed and confront the abuser?
Psalm 10:12, 14,15,17, 18 —
BrightDay – I think there is little question that divorce is seen as something that makes the local church look “bad.” And in a sense it does. But in cases of abuse it is because of the ABUSER’s hypocrisy when he/she claims to be a Christian. The no divorce “theology” is really just a cover up to a much deeper problem. Force victims to stay. All looks good. No divorces. Look and see how perfect and holy we Christians are.
In regards to the “display” aspect of marriage, does it not relegate marriage to being performance-based?
exactly. A performance-based enterprise.
With the Patriarchal-view of marriage, husbands become idols in the home and the wives become idolaters. Jesus Christ is the Savior of the Church, the husband is not the savior of the wife. It’s a metaphor, an analogy. Piper grew up in the 50s and 60s. He’s repented of his racism, but what about sexism?
Wow, Carmen! You are exactly right!
The Wedding Supper of the Lamb is still in the future. Christ and the Church are not yet married. Human marriage cannot be a “display” of Christ’s relationship to the Church. But is Paul pointing to what New Covenant marriage should look like? Paul did not speak of Christ leading the Church, he spoke of Christ laying down His authority in order to lift the Church up. Jesus spoke of not lording it over others in His Church. Under absolutely no circumstances can it be said that Jesus Christ would give a husband the authority to abuse their wife. Do not call evil good.
Excellent comment, Carmen. What does the text say versus what man wants it to say?
Very well stated, Carmen!
[…] alleged purpose of marriage is not listed on at least one major Protestant confession. See also here for some other harmful consequences of this […]
I previously commented that Christ is the Savior of the Church and the husband is not the savior of his wife. If a husband is called a savior, this puts him in the place of a god, an idol. The following link was posted over at Spiritual Sounding Board:
John MacArthur, “The Role of the Husband”, (1979!!!)
“We said that a woman’s submission is intial, it’s just God’s beautiful design, and she submits to his provision, to his headship ( verse 23), “For the husband is head of the wife as Christ is head of the church.” To his “Saviorhood” if you will, as a preserver, Christ even to the church as the Savior as well. So, she, in verse 24, is told that as the church is subject to Christ, so is she to be to her own husband in everything, in a beautiful submission to the husband who is a savior, a preserver, a provider, a head who cares for her.”
When you see this being preached, it isn’t much of a leap to see why the father as a priest…or a prophet, priest and king…is being pushed.
John MacArthur: The Role of the Husband [Internet Archive link]
Thank you VERY much, Carmen (and SSB). Often people subtly infer that the husband as head of the wife includes the husband being savior of the wife. But rarely do they state it so blatantly as John Macarthur does in this statement of his. It’s disgusting. It’s heretical; there’s no other word for it. The Lord Jesus Christ is the only Savior of sinners.
And as has been noted on this blog before, Mormonism teaches that the husband is the savior of his wife. In Mormon doctrine, the only way a wife can be resurrected from her grave is if her husband calls her out from the grave. What incredible power and control that gives to abusive husbands! UGH.
I just found that the link Carmen gave above should end in htm rather than html. Here is the correct link: John MacArthur: The Role of the Husband [Internet Archive link]
I still maintain that MacArthur is verging on heresy to use the word ‘savior’ for the husband’s relation to his wife.
When you read MacArthur’s statement in context, you see that he is coming down pretty heavy on husbands who do not love their wives well. But even so, his use of the word ‘savior’ was not wise. Even though he explained that by ‘savior’ he was referring to Christ’s protective attitude towards his bride, he should have made it much clearer that the husband is not the wife’s savior in the sense of saving her from the guilt and penalty of sin.
The most common meaning of the word ‘savior’ in Christianity is Christ’s saving those who come to him and rest upon him in faith — saving sinners from the guilt and penalty of sin that was justly due to them as sinners; and MacArthur needed to make crystal clear that that meaning of ‘savior’ that does NOT apply to the husband’s role with his wife. In my opinion, he failed to spell that out to safeguard and double-lock his words against them being twisted by abusive husbands. And therefore, this teaching of his was dangerously inadequate. He probably has / had no idea of how dangerous it is. Most men in his position seem to be fairly ignorant of the degree of evil and conniving that abusive men do while professing to be upstanding Christians.
The Subordination and Equality of Women (John MacArthur, 1976)
The Subordination and Equality of Women
I don’t think he verged on heresy calling the husband savior. I believe he stepped right over the line.
Has the cliche “hate the sin, love the sinner” been used so often that we have lost sight of what love and hate really are? Did Jesus tell the woman, “You know, you should stay and be stoned because it will bring glory to God.” Spiritual abuse is always a component of abusive in Christian homes because it damages the person’s view of God.
[…] pursuit of joy in God is urged on the victim of domestic abuse simultaneously with Piper’s no-divorce teaching, the victim is cow-prodded into a corner and made to lie on a bed of nails while trying to […]
[…] for wives that reeks of abuse, and heresy. Part of the problem here is that, along godly men like John Piper, Voddie Baucham, they believe that divorce is wrong. They believe in the Permanence View of […]
For me, this is the most important take-away:
I have been patient and I have confronted him about our marriage issues for nearly thirty years, it is now time to go. Oh, I could write an entire book on this, just as all of you could! My health is ruined, and I have found a therapist who quickly cut to the reason why – an abusive, neglectful marriage that never was allowed to be a covenant marriage in the first place. It actually never happened, though until recently I was unaware of this, being constantly kept off balance and told I was imagining it all. It’s amazing to me how easily I was deceived, and how ignorant and confused I remained!
Thank you Pastor Crippen and Barbara and all that comment here, it has helped me so much and continues to do so. I can only imagine the countless others that are also helped and do not dare to comment. God Bless you all.
and thank YOU, Hope, for your encouragement 🙂