What Does the Bible Say About Abuse in Marriage?

Since I’m in the midst of writing my series on When a Husband Doesn’t Love His Wife with Christ-Like Love, I felt that  now would be a fitting time to answer this reader’s question.

Dear Jolene,

I attended a church many years ago that taught some things I still wrestle with: I know God frowns upon divorce, but what does the Bible say about getting out of abusive relationships? Regardless of the abuse (physical, mental, emotional,) the above mentioned church taught that you stuck it out, ”If God wanted you out of the marriage, you would not survive the beatings”.

My sister is currently going through a divorce from a man who has been abusive to her & my nephew for a number of years.  In the case of physical abuse, what does the Bible have to say?

Also, I recently read a book that backed up some other church teachings on sex. I understand that the Bible says our spouse is to have access to our bodies and to refuse our spouse is a sin (because of this there is no such thing as “marital rape”).  Could you shed some light on this?                 ~email has been edited

Well, I must say when I read this email my heart broke for the ungodly counsel that some wives are receiving from the Church!  Abuse is so contrary to Scripture and here’s why.

The Gospel message is a message of love.  Jesus Christ IS love.  He embodies it.  It’s who He is.  Therefore, when a church does not frown upon abuse in marriage, then they don’t understand the love of Christ.  They don’t understand what a biblical marriage looks like and they don’t realize how what they are advocating is bringing shame upon the love that Christ has for His children.  And yes, God hates divorce.  His Word is very clear on this!  But, God is also a God of love.  And again, His Word is very clear on this. :)

If God would advocate abuse in marriage, then why on earth would a woman want to get married and subject herself to such nonsense?  The logic here doesn’t add up.  And let’s not forget that God is not the author of confusion.

For God is not the author of confusion but of peace.  1 Cor. 14:33

God can not endorse and embrace abuse in marriage because it contradicts His character. And since marriage is designed to represent Christ, the teachings of such churches embracing abuse is heretical and it is blasphemous to the Word of God.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” John 13:34

“As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love.” John 15:9

“This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” John 15:12

“These things I command you, that you love one another.” John 15:17

God does not condone abuse.

And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful.  Luke 12:42-46 (ESV)

Based on these verses, the case could be argued that a husband who beats his wife is not a believer.

Now regarding marital rape…

It’s already been established that God is a God of love and therefore He doesn’t approve of abuse, and marital rape is abuse!  So let’s get that straight right now!

God has never given the husband the right to force his wife to do anything. Also, there is no example in the Bible when God forced anyone to do anything.  A perfect example of this is the prophet Jonah.  God asked him to go to Ninevah and he didn’t want to go.  Jonah fought God on this and therefore there were consequences to his actions.  God has always given us free will to do as we please.   (God even gave Satan free will; He never micro-manged him.)  Of course if we make the wrong choices we will have consequences just like Jonah did.  But here’ where the free will that God has given to us will end.  At the end of everyone’s life, every knee shall bow to the Lord.

For it is written: “As I live, says the LORD, Every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall confess to God.” So then each of us shall give account of himself to God.  Romans 14:11,12

Yes, our bodies belong to our spouse but that doesn’t mean they can violate us.

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.  Ephesians 5:21

The teachings that the Apostle Paul gave in the verses of 1 Corinthians 7:3-5  are designed to protect our marriage and to keep us from sexual temptation.

The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.  Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.  1 Cor. 7:3-5

Paul shared these words for the benefit of our marriage and the relationship with our spouse.  These teachings were not to harm us.  Marital rape is harm.  It’s violent force. And nowhere in the Bible does it state that a husband has a right to force his wife to have sex with him.

Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband.  1 Corinthians 7:3

There’s absolutely NO affection given to the wife when she is being raped!

The reason why Paul addressed this issue with the Corinthians was because sexual immorality was rampant.  He wanted the husband and wife to delight in one another and not go outside of the marriage to fulfill their sexual desires.

Withholding sex from our spouse is not what is best for the marriage.  The Bible is clear on this.  But a husband forcing himself on his wife for his own pleasure is not Christ-Like love.  There is nothing in this action that represents the Lord.  So, if one’s actions are not representing love, then Christ would not endorse it, therefore, it’s not Biblical.

A wife does not have to stay in an abusive marriage, nor should she!  She can get out and separate from her husband.  This does not mean she is divorcing him.   It merely means she is establishing boundaries and protecting herself and/or her children.  The abusive husband needs to be held accountable and he needs to get help.  If he truly has a repentant heart, then the couple could seek reconciliation.  If the husband is unrepentant then he’ll most likely seek to satisfy his lusts by being unfaithful to his wife while they are separated.  And if he is unfaithful, the wife is no longer bound to him and she could then seek a divorce without being outside of the will of God.

A related post on this subject matter:  Help!  I’m Married to an Unrepentant Husband.

Live a poured out life for Christ,

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Written by Jolene Engle

Jolene Engle

Jolene loves Jesus, her husband, and her boys. She has dedicated her life to searching the Scriptures and applying God’s truths to help Christian women, wives, and moms around the world experience a deep and abiding faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. She shows women how to apply practical and biblical truths that encourage and inspire them to live a life that is poured out for Christ like the perfume from an Alabaster Jar (Luke 7:37). She’s the author of the books, Wives of the Bible: 25 Easy Lessons You Can Learn from these Imperfect Women that Will Radically Transform Your Marriage and How to Create a Christ-Centered Christmas for Your Kids.

21 Comments on What Does the Bible Say About Abuse in Marriage?

  1. Jay Dee - SexWithinMarriage.com
    January 24, 2013 at 5:30 am (1 year ago)

    It’s interesting to note that while “Marital Rape” is still sort of a new concept to Christian culture (as in the idea that it’s rape, not that it happens, it’s been happening “legitimately” for centuries), in Jewish culture this concept has existed for a long time. The Rabbis had decided that sex was the woman’s right, not the mans. Everything in their teaching lends itself to that. If a husband raped his wife, that’s it, she was out free and clear with settlement. In fact, in Jewish tradition the husband has a marital duty to ensure his wife is sexually satisfied!

    Now, for me, I don’t think divorce is ever a valid option, but separation definitely is. Considering how much abuse God takes from His bride (the Church), heaven-for-fend that He ever decides to divorce us.

  2. Jolene Engle
    January 24, 2013 at 8:21 am (1 year ago)

    That’s interesting to know about the Jewish culture, Jay. And yes, separation is the path that I’d take as well. If the husband’s ways are not changed and no reconciliation comes to the marriage, he’ll probably go outside of God’s will for his life (like he already has) and engage in sexual immorality or file for divorce on his own.

  3. Iris @ The Blue Birdhouse
    January 24, 2013 at 8:37 am (1 year ago)

    Very good article and your view on divorce and remarriage is correct….sadly many Christians get it wrong and put such a burden on people going through problems like this.

  4. J (Hot, Holy & Humorous)
    January 24, 2013 at 8:16 pm (1 year ago)

    I agree completely that abuse, including rape, is absolutely not part of God’s plan. You do a fabulous job, Jolene, of showing us how that is true from Scripture. Moreover, some scholars believe that Malachi 2:16 refers not only to God hating divorce, but also to husbands who hid their physical abuse of their wives with garments. (“I hate divorce,” says the LORD God of Israel, “and I hate a man’s covering himself with violence as well as with his garment,” says the LORD Almighty. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do break faith.”)

    I do wonder, however, about the encouragement to simply separate and not divorce a repeatedly abusive husband. Divorce is separation; it’s the legal form of it, but separation nonetheless. I’ve heard abused wives encouraged to remain legally attached to men who have beaten them, and even their children, for years in the hopes that something will turn around. I am absolutely an advocate for marriage and would suggest all avenues before considering divorce, but sadly I’ve known too many wives who have been crushed by staying or remaining attached to someone who abused them over and over. Spouses who are continually violent to their mate have broken faith.

    • Jolene Engle
      January 24, 2013 at 8:22 pm (1 year ago)

      I hear you, J! And that’s a great verse! Thanks for sharing it. Yes, spouses who are continually abusive and unrepentant of their sins need to be held accountable. I’ll have to add the post I wrote on that subject matter to this post as well. Thanks for the comment!

      • miriam
        May 24, 2013 at 6:18 am (11 months ago)

        Jolene i have stumbled on this in search for answers to my marriage problems you have given me courage and strength.My husband lusts on all women.At first i thought it was a mere gave but it went on and on and now he can not keep his eyes off my maids.It is so disturbing that i want out now.I have talked with him and seen a pastor over it but in vain.eHe will long to stare at any women despite of age and looks.HE will do anything to watch them nomatter what.He will whistle ,ham,sing to draw attention of these women.Women who work in my house are just low class girls and sometimes older women but that wont stop him,Suprisingly even his niece who had come to helpwith our second daughter ,he was doing the same to her.What can i do about this.Its ashaming that even beleivers who come to our house for fellowship he does that to them,He prays and reads the bible alot but i think its all hypocrisy.He denies it and abuses me of accusing him.I have had numerous fights over that and now i seem to give up and find .my soul.I have become bitter and angry for the last 8years of our marriage.

  5. Glenis
    July 6, 2013 at 3:13 am (9 months ago)

    Hi Jolene. I was a severely abused wife for 25 years. Just 5 weeks after leaving my unrepentant (unbeliever) husband, he met and slept with his present partner. Does this constitute adultery seeing as I left and told him I would not try yet another reconciliation? Just wondering if my current 15 year marriage is biblical or not… Thanks for any responses.

    • Jolene Engle
      July 6, 2013 at 9:34 am (9 months ago)

      Hi Glenis,
      God looks at the heart and your motives for leaving your husband. Based on what you shared here, it sounds like you left so you could protect yourself. “Not seeking another reconciliation’… what was your heart motive behind this? What it said because of the years of constant abuse and you got fed up? If so, I totally get it! (I will always advocate a woman to leave her home if she is being abused.) Or did you say it because you wanted a new life/man/marriage? Or, would you have remained single if your ex never committed adultery? Biblically, if a spouse commits adultery, the other is permitted to remarry. I hope this helps.

  6. Glenis
    July 6, 2013 at 3:08 pm (9 months ago)

    Hi Jolene. I left my ex husband because in the end I was so ill with fear that I couldn’t keep any food down. He refused to go to marriage counselling and when I told him if he didn’t go to marriage counselling I would be leaving in the morning, he told me to go. He said he didn’t do anything wrong. I left to save myself but I did hope to remarry one day, which I did four years later. My ex alternatively threatened and pleaded for me to return which I refused to do as after each reconciliation in the past…(and there were many), the abuse would recommence with worse injuries and disrespect for me, and the “honeymoon” phase was constantly less each time. I just couldn’t take it any more…. My new husbands’ wife left him for her boss….

  7. Kristin Smith
    July 23, 2013 at 11:13 pm (9 months ago)

    Hello I need some advise. I have been married for almost five years. I was 17 when my husband and I had our daughter. Well I have been pushed around, slapped, he has talked dirty to me and try’s to control me on what I can and can’t do. We have gone to concealing and he always promises he will change. I love my husband and I always would stay with my parents when it got really bad but, then would go back to him in hopes to fix our problems. He has threaten me many times and went as far as holding a knife to me and my two friends then threatening to kill himself in front of our daughter. She isscared if him. She says things like “My daddy is nean, he hits me”. I finally got the nerve to leave. I have been home for 4 months. In this time we have filed for a divorce and are right now separated. I have meet a new guy. And I have became very close to him, and we have kissed and stuff. I know this is an afultry but, family keeps telling me God will forgive me bc if my husband never abused me then I would still be with him. I don’t wanna disappoint God. Do you think God would want me to go back to my husband or continue with this divorce and move on? Please don’t think I’m a bad person. I want to do the right thing.

    • Lisa
      December 6, 2013 at 7:07 pm (4 months ago)

      Hi Kristin, I wanted to make sure you knew your post was important. You tried to make your marriage work and God does not want us to be hurt and abused. Like Jolene said before, the wife is to be loved like Christ loved the Church, NOT abused. Not ever. You should never feel obligated to go back to someone who physically hurts you or your child. It would be putting your child in harm’s way and as a mother I am sure you know that is the exact opposite of the right thing. But if you feel questions about moving on to a different man, you don’t have to be with another man just because you are divorced. Maybe taking some time to work on building yourself back up is just what you. I hope you are well. You did the right thing for your daughter and yourself and you should be proud of your courage.

  8. Trina
    October 2, 2013 at 4:23 pm (7 months ago)

    Hi

    I am so lost right now, so lost….. I have been battling emotional and verbal abuse since early on in our marriage. Each time I tried to get us help, he threatened to leave and then things would get “better”. My pastor just preached about how wrong divorce is and how he is totally against it. Finally my husband relented to get help and in both cases he has shut down further. He is not involved with our children (which may be a blessing) but it is awful. I am spiritually, mentally and emotionally done. Each time I try and “talk” he shuts me down. I have tried everything, aside from not literally turning myself into a replica of him…I am so lost. God has never left my side, which I am so thankful for. I am a SAHM, homeschooling and just don’t know what to do. He has told me I have no where to go, and what would I do, who would hire me…..man I never thought a Christian marriage would be this way.

  9. Mandy
    December 12, 2013 at 9:32 am (4 months ago)

    What do you think about verbal abuse? Is that really a valid form? And what of a husband who always asks for forgiveness after he speaks harshly? What does the bible say about this?????

  10. Jojo
    January 14, 2014 at 8:53 pm (3 months ago)

    Hello i need help ! I been married four years now. We have an amazing two year old girl. But i filed for divorce finally a month ago. My husband started hitting me a year after we were married and does drugs. The cops havr been to are home plently of times. On top of that he would dissappear for days( partying). He does drugs. I cant trust him with are girl he gets so high and passes out.He has hit her twice by accident trying to hit me. Hes brought me to my knees with a gun well are daughter was there!! I left so many times and he would swear he changed. I prayed and begged God , i even fasted to help bring me closer with God, to try to get my husband to change.He finally left us 8 months ago well now that i filied for divorce hes calling begging for me back. He swears he has changed , which i have heard before. But he texted me saying he is praying to Jesus for us to get back. Im to scared to get back with him. I cant be with him i can forgive but i want to move on. Im to scared, the thought of being with him again brings tears to my eyes and makes me sick to my stomach. Im on meds and in therapy cause of him, Can someone give me advice? I been reading the bible on divorce and im not sure if i should go through with it though God dosent want divorce? Should i stay with my monster of a husband?

    • Jolene Engle
      January 15, 2014 at 8:56 am (3 months ago)

      Jojo,
      I’m so sorry for all that you’re going through. You are wise to get out of your situation. I’d stay out to protect you and your daughter. You should go to your pastor or his wife to get some counsel on your situation. Your husband says he’s changed be there needs to be proof. He should be in some type of accountability group that has nothing to do with you. And this change needs to watched over a period of months, not days. If Jesus has truly transformed him then he should be willing to get help without you living in the home.

  11. reshma naidoo
    February 7, 2014 at 8:44 pm (2 months ago)

    im in an extremely abusive marriage…husband and mistress playing havoc in my life..i have two kids who are severely affected. my husband is not afraid of the law…pays his way out with the police..the girlfriend wants me and my kids out of my marital home..

  12. Dugald 28
    February 23, 2014 at 7:34 am (2 months ago)

    I’m a 29 year old wife and mother of four I am a Christian woman and have been since I was very young . My abusive ex is not and never has been he is a atheist I have prayed for many years and tried to set a example but the abuse has gotten worst to the point I couldn’t live under the same roof with him anymore we have been separated for over a year and going for a devorse he is already with a nother woman and they in total now have 8 children . My question is that how can god forgive me for my devorse ?

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