A Cry For Justice

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

Instone-Brewer’s Views on Divorce Compared to Mine: Part 2, Differences.

To most outsiders, the person who leaves the marriage looks like the deserter. If a victim of domestic abuse leaves their abusive partner or in some other way declares the marriage over, and (as is so often the case) the abuser effectively manipulates the perceptions and opinions of the congregation, the church will definitely think that the spouse who left is at fault for deserting the marriage.

Should the victim of abuse leave their partner and refuse to refuse to return, bystanders who are using Instone-Brewer’s words as their guide may think that because this person is refusing to reverse the desertion, this person must be an unbeliever. Instone-Brewer doesn’t sufficiently take that scenario into account. So while he teaches that abuse is grounds for divorce, his wording unfortunately (and I’m sure inadvertently) leaves the door open to the church condemning an abuse victim for leaving the marriage and refusing to return to their partner.

This post spells out the points on which I differ from David Instone-Brewer. In part one of this two-part series I explained my appreciations and agreements with Instone-Brewer.

Unless otherwise stated, the indented quotes below are taken from Instone-Brewer’s scholarly book (Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible).  Quotes taken from his simplified book are cited as DRIC (Divorce and Remarriage in the Church). 

I address abuse more than Instone-Brewer does

Instone-Brewer does not address abuse in as much depth as I do. In his scholarly book he talks about neglect more than he talks about abuse. He does not offer a definition of abuse (or of neglect). In contrast, I define and describe abuse in some detail because I know that without a robust definition of abuse my teaching could be used to open the door to divorce for trivial or self-centred reasons.

It seems to me that Instone-Brewer is less aware of the peculiar dynamics of domestic abuse than I am. Perhaps because of his relative lack of awareness, he says some things that might inadvertently compound the plight of victims of abuse. For example:

Jesus and Paul both emphasized that believers should hold marriages together even at great cost to themselves. (p 297, emphasis in original) 

It seems to me that when Instone-Brewer wrote this he was not aware of how damaging that sentence could be for victims of domestic abuse. Why could it be damaging to victims? Because they would feel he was pressuring them to keep holding the marriage together no matter what it cost them, no matter how much the abuser mistreated them.

We deal with Malachi 2:16 differently

“God hates divorce” is a subhead in Instone-Brewer’s simple book, and he gives this explanation:

God does not criticise the legal process of divorce, or the person who carries it out — otherwise he would criticise himself because he had to divorce Israel. God hates the breaking of marriage vows which result in divorce. (DRIC  p 31, emphasis in original)

He also says (in an endnote in that book just cited) that the ESV and other recent translations are better, because they don’t say ‘God hates’ in Malachi 2:16.

Since I know how harmful the ‘God hates divorce’ saying is to victims of marital mistreatment, I deplore any use of that saying, even when the author gives the caveats Instone-Brewer gives. I wonder whether Instone-Brewer was aware of how often people use ‘God hates divorce’ to coerce victims of abuse to refrain from divorcing their abusers.

We understand Deuteronomy 24:1-4 differently

Instone-Brewer believes the commonly-held assumption that in verse one of Deuteronomy 24, Moses was giving a law that allowed divorce. Commentators often call this ‘the Mosaic concession’. That assumption is one which has been passed down for millennia and accepted as given, but I don’t think it stands the test of exegetical logic.

I don’t believe that in verse one of Deuteronomy 24, Moses was giving a law that permitted divorce. Rather, I believe that in verses one to four of that chapter, Moses was giving a law that prohibited one particular type of remarriage after divorce. That law prohibited a man remarrying a woman he had previously divorced if she had married another man after he divorced her and if that subsequent marriage of hers had terminated (either by divorce or by the death of her second husband). I read verses 1 to 3  as the case study example which sets out the particular and limited conditions in which remarriage after divorce is not allowed.

In a nutshell:– I do not believe that verse 1 is a law giving grounds for divorce. Neither is it a ‘concession’ to divorce that Jesus later tightened up on. I believe verse 4 is the law Moses laid down. And that law prohibited remarriage-after-divorce only in the particular circumstances delineated in verses 1-3.

This means I don’t believe that in Deuteronomy 24 Moses gave a law permitting or enabling men to divorce their wives. Rather, I believe Moses gave a law prohibiting men from remarrying women they had divorced (when the woman had been married a second time and that marriage had ended). This law mentioned cases of men divorcing their wives, but that was only part of the pre-law narrative. It was not a positive ‘permission’ or a ‘concession to divorce’. It simply described what many men were doing already—divorcing their wives.

We disagree about the meaning of ‘erwat dabar’

Another point on which I disagree with Instone-Brewer is his view that erwat dabar (Hebrew) = porneia (Greek). Jesus used the word porneia in Matthew 19:9 and porneia means sexual immorality.

Moses used the words erwat dabar in Deuteronomy 24:1. And the school of Shammai in Jesus’ day thought erwat dabar meant sexual immorality. Many Christians including Instone-Brewer have followed suit with the school of Shammai and assumed it means sexual immorality. But I am not persuaded that erwat dabar = sexual immorality and only sexual immorality. I think it is more likely a generalised and vague phrase that men in Moses day were using when getting rid of their wives for a whole range of reasons. Some of those reasons might have been sound, like a wife’s adultery, but others could have been trivial reasons. “I’ve found some uncleanness in her” is so vague it could mean almost anything.

I see no reason why erwat dabar must refer only to sexual immorality. The phrase is used in just one other place in the bible and there it refers to human excrement that ought to be buried outside the camp, which has nothing to do with sexual immorality but is simply a matter of hygiene and infection control.

By Moses’ report, men in his day were saying, “I’m divorcing my wife because I find some uncleanness in her.” That could been rather like a man saying, “My wife’s disgusting. I’m divorcing her.” And come to think of it, “My wife is disgusting” is rather typical of the disparaging language abusive men use when they are speaking to people they’re not afraid to show their true colours to —particularly other men who share their entitlement mentality. Most of our readers here can think of similar put-downs that have been levelled at them ( fat b*#* … something the cat dragged in … nutcase … fruitcake… ).

We view Jesus’s words about “hard-heartedness” differently

Even if there is unfaithfulness, the Christian should attempt to forgive. Jesus disagreed with the rabbis who said that divorce was commanded in the case of adultery. Jesus said that divorce was merely permitted and that it should be used only if the adulterer is “hard hearted.” … Jesus taught that we should forgive seventy times seven times, though this is dependent on repentance (Luke 17:4). Jesus permitted divorce only if someone hard-heartedly refuses to repent. (p 297)

I think when Instone-Brewer stipulates that divorce is only valid if someone hard-heartedly refuses to repent, he is going beyond what Jesus said in Matthew 19. To give an extreme but plausible example, consider the possibility that a spouse had been unfaithful only once, but on that occasion he or she contracted HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) and then he or she had become profoundly repentant. This example proves that it’s ludicrous to argue that “we should forgive seventy times seven times” in the case of adultery. In Matthew 19, Jesus didn’t stipulate that divorce was only permitted when the other spouse was hard-heartedly unrepentant. Jesus simply noted that divorce was permitted (though not obligatory) for sexual immorality. And He didn’t place restrictive conditions. He didn’t say it was only permitted for repeated, non-repented, hard-hearted sexual sin.

Instone-Brewer thinks Jesus said that Moses permitted (condoned) divorce for hard-heartedness. I do not think Moses condoned divorce for hard-heartedness. I think Moses reluctantly tolerated (suffered) the conduct of hard-hearted Jewish men who were dismissing their wives for trivial reasons — but Moses laid down the law that if a man did that, he could not remarry the wife he had cast off once she had been married to someone else.

I  believe that when Jesus said to the Pharisees, “because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives,” Jesus was referring to the fact that Moses suffered men divorcing their wives but drew the line against a man treating his wife as disposable and then re-marrying her after she’d been married to another man. It was this mentality that Moses forbade. Moses only had to institute that law because some men were so hard-hearted as to treat their wives as objects to be discarded like a piece of rubbish but later picked up again. If a man discarded his wife and, after her second marriage had ended, he married her again, it would show he’d been very hard-hearted to have discarded her in first place! It was that kind of male hardheartedness which led to Moses laying down the law in Deuteronomy 24.

Instone-Brewer and I both agree that Jesus was critical of hard-heartedness. But I don’t agree with Instone-Brewer’s view that Jesus was saying divorce is only valid when the vow-breaking spouse shows hard-heartedness in failing to repent.

We disagree about how Jesus stood re Shammai’s doctrine of divorce

Okay, I know this is heady stuff, but I have to say it to make this a thorough explanation of my differences with Instone-Brewer. So bear with me briefly.

I think that Jesus saw fault in how the School of Shammai interpreted Deuteronomy 24. Instone-Brewer thinks that Jesus agreed with the Shammaites. But I don’t believe that.  You really need to study my book to get your head around my argument. I am sad that most people don’t seem to have bothered to grasp the intricacies of my argument.

Why is my argument so intricate? The argument only had to be intricate because the multiple misunderstandings of the scriptures relating to divorce had been so convoluted, so inter-woven, so multi-layered … not to mention how many of them had been traditionally accepted and passed down for centuries millennia.




These misunderstandings were like a complicated wooden puzzle that tests your IQ. Disassembling all the misunderstandings of the scriptural passages on divorce, and then working out where the pieces must correctly go to fit the whole counsel of God, requires brainwork!


 We interpret 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 differently

Instone-Brewer thinks that in these two verses Paul was condemning Greco-Roman ‘divorce-by-separation’. He says:

Paul did not allow any Christian to use the Greco-Roman procedure of divorce by separation.  (p 201)

Paul added that if divorce by separation had occurred, believers must do everything they can to reverse it.  (p 199) 

In verses 10-11, I don’t see Paul telling two believing spouses that they must do everything they can to reverse the separation. Paul gives two options for the spouses in such circumstances:

  1. remain unmarried (= Greco-Roman divorce by separation)
  2. or reconcile.

He does not say one option is better than the other, and he certainly doesn’t demand or require reconciliation of the marriage. I don’t understand how Instone-Brewer thinks that Paul is telling the spouses to “do everything they can to reverse the separation”.  While that may be an allowable inference/application from other parts of Scripture, it is not spelled out by Paul in 1 Corinthians 7.

We interpret 1 Corinthians 7:15 differently

Instone-Brewer think this verse only refers to ‘simple’ desertion — when the unbeliever walks out, or throws the believer out/tells the believer to leave. He does not seem to consider the scenario that often occurs in domestic abuse, where a believer might leave an unbeliever because of abuse. He is therefore silent on the idea of constructive desertion as an application of verse 15.

EXPLAINER: In a case of constructive desertion, spouse B separates from spouse A, but the behaviour and attitude of spouse A is what caused spouse B to separate.  The legal term ‘constructive desertion’ points to the fact that although B appears to be the one who left, A is construed as having the caused marital breakdown.

Paul emphasised that the believer should try to maintain a marriage even if the spouse was not a believer. He was writing when some believers had already separated (i.e., divorced) their unbelieving partners, and he told them to seek reconciliation. It was only when their unbelieving partners divorced them against their will that Paul allowed them to regard the marriage as ended in divorce. (p 297)

Consider the typical scenario that occurs in abuse, where the victimized Christian wants to divorce the abuser, but the abuser—the nonbeliever who masquerades as a Christian—is all the time protesting that he wants the marriage to continue.  Now think about how that scenario configures with Instone-Brewer’s rule cited just above, that “It was only when their unbelieving partners divorced them against their will that Paul allowed them to regard the marriage as ended in divorce.” Instone-Brewer seems to have been unaware that his rule would deny the victim the liberty to divorce her abuser. I’m sure Instone-Brewer didn’t mean to deny victims of abuse their freedom. I think he was simply unaware of how his rule would affect victims, because he hadn’t understood enough about the inverted dynamics that characterize abuse. And I’m deliberately speaking in the past tense in this paragraph because for all I know Instone-Brewer is now more aware of the inverted dynamics of abuse. After all, he read my book and wrote an endorsement of it which I was very glad to feature on my back cover! (Thanks, David!)

We differ on Church discipline in relation to 1 Corinthians 7:15

Here is what I believe: an abuser cannot be a Christian.  Why do I  believe this? A regenerate person  who has been born again by God’s grace, could not continue to exert the patterns of coercive control which abusers engage in without being driven to repentance by the Holy Spirit.

When I wrote my book, I advocated for Matthew 18 to be used to determine whether a covenant-breaking spouse who professes Christ is actually an unbeliever and can thus be divorced by the believing partner (1 Cor 7:15 /constructive desertion).  Later I changed my mind (link). I now think that 1 Corinthians 5:11-13 is the most appropriate text when dealing with heinously sinning spouses such as abusers.

Instone-Brewer rejects as ‘legalistic casuistry’ the notion that a person who refuses church discipline is to be treated as a nonbeliever — bringing the situation into the purview of of 1 Cor 7:15. And he doesn’t discuss 1 Corinthians 5:11-13 at all.

He says that 1 Corinthians 7:15 allows divorce for desertion by a nonbeliever OR a so-called believer. He thinks verse 15 applies to any desertion that cannot be reversed.

If believers are deserted by believing partners, Paul commands the deserters to return. There appears to be no doubt that the believers will obey this command. Paul says it is not his own command, but that of Jesus (v. 10: “not I, but the Lord”). Paul therefore does not even discuss the possibility that believing deserters will not return to their partners. If believers did refuse to obey this command, and thereby refuse to obey the direct command of Jesus, the church would presumably be forced to excommunicate them. 

Therefore verse 15 applies not only to desertion by an nonbeliever, but to any desertion that cannot be reversed. Paul assumes that this will occur only if the deserter is a nonbeliever, but in a secular minded church, even a so-called believer disobeys the direct command of Christ.  (282, emphasis in original)

In light of his mention of the church being “presumably forced to excommunicate a deserting believer who refused to reconcile,” I find it strange that Instone-Brewer pretty much dismisses the idea of church discipline as a preliminary to obtaining a valid divorce.

But my more serious concern is this: Instone-Brewer’s teaching in the above quote is dangerous for victims of abuse. It doesn’t take into account that abusers tell everyone they want the separation reversed, which makes the victim looks like a deserter who is sinfully refusing to reverse the separation. (My first two paragraphs in this post highlighted this problem.)  So Instone-Brewer’s interpretation unfortunately—and I’m sure inadvertently—leaves the door open to the church condemning an abuse victim for leaving the marriage and refusing to return to her partner. And many churches DO condemn victims in that way because they do not think the person is a victim of domestic abuse, they only think the person is a sinful for deserting the marriage and refusing to reconcile.

We differ in how we talk about remarriage after divorce

Due to his not taking into account that abusers typically say they want the marriage to continue when their partner decides to divorce, Instone-Brewer says some things that are likely to hurt victims. Here is an example —

Paul’s gives very clear instructions in 1 Corinthians 7:11 that the person who has separated from their partner must remain unmarried and attempt to be reconciled with the person they have divorced. … Few people who divorce someone against their will would bother to obey this command unless, like these Corinthians, they were convicted they had done something wrong soon after the divorce. (DRIC, p 103-4)

In reality, a sincere Christian who divorces an abuser against the abuser’s will has not only ‘bothered’ to try to obey verse 11, she or he has felt intense conviction at the very prospect of disobeying verse 11 by taking the radical step of divorce. Instone-Brewer’s words above would convict victims of wrongdoing for divorcing against their partner’s will. That’s not helpful at all! It increases the false guilt of victims, rather than liberating them from false guilt.

Instone-Brewer does not try not to judge who is the guilty and who is the innocent party. The result is that sometimes he uses mutually blaming language.

Instone-Brewer states that he does not try not to judge who is the guilty and who is the innocent party:

(DRIC p 114)  I have come across too many instances where the innocent partner is ostracised by a church — wives of highly respected ministers who, in private, are abusive or unfaithful, or husbands who are assumed to be guilty of some unknown sin because their wives walked out on them. Only God can reliably judge who is the guilty and who is the innocent partner. In any case, by the time most marriages break up, both partners have broken their vows to support each other.

My own practice therefore is to not attempt to judge who is the innocent and who is the guilty. I feel that it is better to leave justice and forgiveness to God. This does not mean that we should ignore the sin of breaking up the marriage,  but we should remember that we are not the ones against whom the sin has been committed. The person who breaks their marriage vows has sinned against their partner and against God before whom those vows were made, and they should ask forgiveness from both of them. I therefore always have a Service of Repentance for broken promises before any marriage involving a divorcee…

How can he acknowledge the injustice of churches ostracising the innocent partner, but not be prepared to come down and say that Lesley is the innocent partner and Lindsey is the guilty partner? (I chose gender neutral names on purpose.) It doesn’t make sense to me. It’s contradictory. His practice means he can end up mutualizing the blame when it ought not be mutualized. He doesn’t wholly see that in the vast majority of abuse situations, the blame is only, wholly, to be laid on the abuser for breaking the covenant.

And here is another example of him mutualizing the blame; he is writing in response to a victim of abuse.

God loves you and knows that you are a victim, as well as knowing the ways in which you may perhaps have contributed to this marriage breakdown. (DRIC p 166) 

The victim of abuse cannot be held guilty for breaking their marriage vows, just as the Christians in concentration camps couldn’t be held guilty for working on the Sabbath when the Nazis forced them to. I deal with marriage vows in chapter 7 of my book. And unlike Instone-Brewer, I would never suggest a victim of abuse who has divorced the abuser and is going to remarry ought to partake in a Service of Repentance for breaking marriage vows. In my view, that would be laying false blame on the victim.  If the victim asked for that kind of Service, it’s a different matter, but I don’t think it’s up to the pastor to suggest it.


Related posts:

David Instone-Brewer, The Westminster Confession, and Judging Divorce — by Jeff S

Defining domestic abuse by a list of behaviors is never going to capture it – by Barbara Roberts

How to Spot an Abuser Who Claims to be the Victim – by Jeff Crippen

Thursday Thought — The Slow Build of Harm

I have heard the effects of living with an abusive partner compared to (get ready for this) a frog being boiled alive.  They say that if you threw a frog into hot water, it would jump back out immediately, alive and with only minor injuries.  If, on the other hand, you put the frog into water at room temperature and then very gradually warmed it up, the frog would adapt to each incremental addition of heat, and wouldn’t perceive the danger until it was too late and it had cooked.

The point of this comparison is that emotional harm can creep up on you gradually. As a result, it’s hard to even tell that your partner’s behavior is what is causing your difficulties.  It just seems like life is getting harder, or like you aren’t the same person you used to be, but you aren’t sure why.

Some women don’t realize how badly they’ve been affected until the relationship ends, and they discover what normal life is like; suddenly they aren’t tense and worried all the time, they aren’t afraid to talk to people, they aren’t constantly apologizing.  Women have said to me, “It was like I could suddenly breathe again, and I hadn’t even noticed I was gasping for air.”

Remember the person you were before this relationship started.  Was she a happier person? Did she have more friends and social relationships?  Was she calmer?  Did she feel better about herself?  Did she have ambitions and dreams? Was she in better health?

[entry from Lundy Bancroft’s book, Daily Wisdom for Why Does He Do That? pp377-8]

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

Instone-Brewer’s Views on Divorce Compared to Mine: Part 1, Appreciations and Agreements.

I have been pretty silent on my view on Instone-Brewer’s work up till now, because compared to most other writers on divorce, he is excellent. So why am I now speaking up? Because one of our readers said —

I am curious as to your views and differences with Instone-Brewer’s book. I felt a lot of his arguments from the NT section were just arguments from silence. His responses seemed to really leave the door wide open as well. I am in agreement with you on the idea of constructive desertion of 1 Cor. 7.  

So here are my thoughts about Instone-Brewer’s work on divorce. Part 1 is what appreciate about his work and where I agree with him. In part 2 I’ll be spelling out my differences with him.

David Instone-Brewer has two books about divorce and remarriage (link) and the most important one is the scholarly Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible (2002). The second one, Divorce and Remarriage in the Church (2003) is aimed at the average layperson and in its preface Instone-Brewer says: “The readability of this book is due solely to Sheron Rice who edited the book so diligently that she virtually rewrote the whole work and still managed to use most of my  words.”

I read the scholarly book first and studied it repeatedly as I was researching to write Not Under Bondage. Only later did I read the simple book.  I don’t know what I would have thought if I’d read the simple book first.

My appreciation of Instone-Brewer

In my view, the most valuable thing about Instone-Brewer’s work on divorce is his insight into what Jesus’ audience would have understood by His words on divorce. This insight came as a result of Instone-Brewer’s extensive reading of extra-biblical literature from the era of the New Testament. Most importantly, his insight has enabled us to understand what the Pharisees meant by the term “divorce for any matter” and what Jesus meant when he said “except for sexual immorality” (Matthew 19) .

Instone-Brewer explains the accepted beliefs, practices and controversies about divorce in Judaism, and in the pagan Roman Empire, during the first century AD. Here are the facts he presents:

  • The people listening to Jesus’ debate with the Pharisees (Matt 19) would have understood the phrase “divorce for any matter” to mean only this:– the kind of divorce that happened when a man divorced his wife using the Hillite School’s interpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1. The term ‘any matter divorce’ had a very specific meaning at the time of Jesus’ ministry. This meaning was so well known it didn’t need to be explained to any of Jesus’ initial audience. That meaning got forgotten in the ensuing century when the church became largely composed of gentiles after the Jewish temple had been destroyed by the Romans.
  • Greco-Roman ‘divorce-by-separation’ didn’t require a divorce certificate; it was a no-fault divorce that either sex could put into effect simply by separating with intent to end the marriage. It was common among pagans in the Roman Empire of the first century. The Corinthian church would have understood this; Paul didn’t have to explain it to them.
  • In Judaism, divorce required a divorce certificate and the certificate could only be written by the husband.
  • All Jewish divorce certificates gave the woman the freedom to marry another man. The certificate wording was: “You are free to marry another man.”
  • Around the time of the first century, there were two different schools of Jewish law: the School of Shammai and the School of Hillel. The two camps had different views what rights Deuteronomy 24:1 conferred to men to initiate divorce. But when one camp authorised a husband to divorce his wife on the basis of its interpretation of Deut 24:1, the other camp accepted the divorce as a legal fact.
  • Regardless of which legal camp they had allegiance to, the Rabbis were in consensus that Exodus 21:10-11 permitted divorce for neglect (physical, emotional or sexual). And this was common knowledge among Jews in the first century.
  • While the Mosaic Law did not mention a wife writing a divorce certificate herself, a Jewish wife could apply to the court for a divorce by asking the court to order her husband to write her a divorce certificate. Women could, in this indirect way, initiate divorce. A Jewish court could require a husband to write a divorce certificate, which, once written, would free the appellant wife from a marriage in which she had been mistreated (the divorce grounds being Ex. 21:10-11).

I relied on Instone-Brewer’s presentation of the facts of the cultural/historical background. But I didn’t not always draw the same conclusions he drew from those facts (see part 2). I am immensely grateful for his scholarship. I also appreciate his discussion of the NT texts that deal with submission within the family and the household (Divorce and Remarriage in the Church pp 120-124).

Instone-Brewer’s ‘arguments from silence’ are based on the things listed in the bullet points above, which were so commonly known and understood in the first century. And it is important to note that while some arguments from silence are dubious arguments, Instone-Brewer’s are not.

  • The term ‘divorce for any matter’ had a special meaning which didn’t need to be explained to first century Jews so Jesus didn’t explain it. That’s not a flimsy argument from silence: it is actually a robust argument because it finally allows us to make sense of the apparent contradiction between Jesus appearing to allow divorce ‘only for sexual immorality’ and Paul allowing divorce for another ground, desertion by an unbeliever. Instone-Brewer has explained why Jesus’ words meant something different to what we thought they meant.
  • Since Jews accepted that divorce was allowed for neglect (Ex 21:10-11), and since pagans in the Roman Empire saw neglect as grounds for divorce, neither Jesus nor Paul had any need to state that neglect was grounds for divorce.
  • Jesus and Paul didn’t have to specifically say “remarriage is allowed after a valid divorce”. Everyone Jesus and Paul were speaking to knew that remarriage was allowed after divorce. So it was needless for Jesus and Paul to say that — almost as pointless as saying “the sky is above and the earth is below”.

My agreement with Instone-Brewer

Although we arrive at our conclusions by slightly different routes, we have broadly similar views regarding valid grounds for divorce. Instone-Brewer sees four valid grounds for divorce:

  1. adultery
  2. desertion by an unbeliever (by walking out or by telling the believer to leave)
  3. emotional neglect
  4. material neglect

However, on his website summary (link) he gives three grounds—  adultery, abandonment and abuse, which is pretty much what I say.  I think there are three valid grounds, with the second and third being different types of desertion:

  1. sexual immorality — adultery, addiction to porn, incest, perversions, etc.
  2. simple desertion by a nonbeliever (= the unbeliever walking out or telling the believer to leave)
  3. abuse (= constructive desertion by a nonbeliever) which can take many forms including neglect


Coming soon: Part 2 of this two-part series.

Related posts:

The Bible DOES allow divorce for domestic abuse

Isn’t adultery the only ground for divorce?

Neutrality is not neutral

With domestic abuse, it’s not okay for pastors to take a neutral stance vis a vis perpetrator and victim. The church ought to fully support victims while holding perpetrators accountable.

Pastors: if you take the neutral stance, you effectively become an ally of the abuser.  It means you are taking the view that both parties are contributing to the marriage problem. Or you are effectively saying It’s not abuse; it’s not that serious. Abusers always seek to deny or downplay the seriousness of their bad behaviour. And they always try to blame the victim. So if you take a neutral stance, you are serving the abuser’s agenda … even though you probably do not mean to serve the abusers’ agenda. Even though you might think you are serving both spouses equally and ministering impartially to both of them, your neutral stance ends up serving the perpetrator’s abusive agenda.

When responding to domestic abuse, the only righteous stance is to fully support the victim, while holding the perpetrator accountable.


Further reading:

There is No Neutrality, No “Innocent” Bystander When We See Abuse

Lundy Bancroft on the Myth of Neutrality

Are all sins equally bad? Are all transgressions of the law equally heinous?

Marks of a pretend victim versus a true victim

How Abusers Use (Mis-use) Matthew 18 to Escape Church Discipline

Church discipline and church permission for divorce — Showing that biblical discipline of abusers should be carried out according to 1 Corinthians 5  rather than Matthew 18.


The Abuser’s Background of Being Abused is no Excuse — Don’t Accept it as Such

He will render to each one according to his works: (Romans 2:6)

It is quite common for abusers to claim that they were abused when they were children and, when cornered, offer this as an excuse for their abuse of others. We must not permit them to do so. Let me explain why.

Firstly, there are many, many, many people in this world who were abused as children but who are not abusers themselves. And there are abusers who were not abused as children. The one simply does not automatically lead to the other (ie, childhood abuse produces abusers).

Secondly, the Lord does not accept this as an excuse for wickedness. Each of us will give account of our own deeds (fortunately for the Christian, Christ’s perfect obedience and atonement have provided us with a perfect righteousness). On that Day, the Lord is not going to accept an abuser’s excuse, “but I was abused as a child.”

Thirdly, the fact is that it really is immaterial from a victim’s perspective as to WHY the abuser abuses. Abusers LOVE to get us all caught up in some sympathy dynamic so that we feel sorry for them and excuse them. “Well, if you knew his background, you would understand.” No. When someone is treating you wickedly, when they are enslaving you, emotionally torturing you, destroying your sense of self, punching you in body or soul, alienating you from family and friends, it eventually dawns on you that WHY they are doing these things doesn’t matter. As a pastor, I really do not care why a man regards women as inferior to men or why he keeps her economically impoverished so she cannot escape him… I only care that he is DOING these things. And they are evil.

“Fred, you are an abuser. You have been playing the phony Christian card for a long time and now your number is up. I am not going to meet with you in a bajillion counseling sessions to try and find out why you are doing these things. Frankly, I don’t care why. I only care that you are wickedly abusing your wife, you are blaspheming the name of Jesus Christ, and Fred, we are going to protect your wife. Go ahead and go off to counseling. Go ahead and get analyzed. Go ahead and work on changing. But those efforts are really no concern of mine. You are an abuser, your wife needs protection from you…and…we are done here.”

A Shepherd Who Does not Know What a Wolf Looks Like is not a true Shepherd

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. (1 Peter 5:8-9)

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. (Eph 6:12-13)

One of the original purposes of the A Cry for Justice ministry was and is to educate pastors and elders and church members about the nature and tactics of the domestic abuser hiding in local churches. But as I suppose most all of you already know, these very people are typically quite resistant to learning.

What we try to explain to them, if we even get an opportunity to do so, is that of all people, pastors and church leaders MUST grow wise about this evil. And then we try to explain to them why this is so necessary.

The verses quoted above tell it. Christians are faced with an enemy whose constant mission is to destroy them. To destroy their faith. To wage war against their souls. To divide and conquer churches. To pollute and pervert the gospel. Prowling, prowling, always prowling and looking for an opportunity.

And what we have said over and over and over again is that if a Christian truly wants to learn about this enemy and his tactics, then get with it and study this thing called abuse and abusers. Because the abuser is one of the most common and clear examples of how the enemy comes against us — the wolf in sheep’s clothing come among the flock. What kind of a shepherd is a pastor if he remains ignorant of our enemy and fails to see him there among the sheep? Many actually become the duped ally of the wolf.

The devil, our adversary, is not of flesh and blood. So how does he come among us? How does he work his evil tactics? Many Christians act like he is to be directly attacked by various means and formulas — spiritual warfare it is often called. But the fact is, our non-corporeal enemy uses very corporeal agents to do his destruction. Let me explain.

In every single local church I have been the pastor of, there were people who craved self-glory and power. People who paraded themselves as the holiest of the holy and claimed to really have an inside track with the Lord. All of them insisted that the pastor (me) exalt them, support them, promote them, and put them first. When I would not, they went to work destroying. It really is the very same thing Paul so often wrote about in the New Testament. Take his letter to the Galatians for instance:

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? (Gal 3:1-2)

Or his second epistle to the Corinthians:

For you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves! For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face. (2 Cor 11:19-20)

Do you see it? Satan comes to us through his servants; through evil people who claim to belong to Christ but who are actually emissaries of the devil, seeking power and control for themselves (and thus for their diabolical master). If a pastor will diligently study the nature and tactics of the abuser, he will surely become wise in regard to the enemy that is trying to destroy him, his ministry, and his flock. If he is arrogant and refuses to learn, he will necessarily become the ally of evil, either passively or actively. Because, you see, evil is evil. Just as the Jewish religious leaders who Jesus confronted were children of their father the devil and shared in his murderous character, so abusers all share certain fundamental qualities that will serve us well in identifying them if we are wise.

And so, if a pastor for example is spending vast amounts of time in what is so often called “spiritual warfare,” by praying or rebuking the devil or other such methods, but all the while remaining ignorant of what his enemy looks like and how his enemy is certainly going to come against him, then all of that pastor’s efforts will be for naught.

After many, many years of frustration dealing with wicked, destructive people in churches, my awakening moments came when I finally had my eyes opened to who these people really were and how they went about their deeds of darkness. They were abusers. They were people who lusted for power and control over others. They were people who paraded as Christians but were not. They were people who ALL used very, very similar tactics to work their evil and oppose Christ’s work. And with help, I was able to learn and NAME these tactics! I cannot tell you how freeing that is as you realize that you are not crazy and that all of the problems you have suffered for so long, for which the abusers have blamed you, turn out not to be your fault after all.

And that is when I was set free, and our entire church was set free. Because that which had been hidden for so many years was now out in the light. The evil of abuse, the nature of abusers, was laid bare before all. And eventually the wicked could no longer stand the light.