A Cry For Justice

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

The “root of bitterness” in Hebrews — it isn’t unforgiveness – by Rebecca Davis

The following excellent article was written by our friend Rebecca Davis. She originally published it on her blog at Here’s the Joy but it was then moved to BJU Grace.

To maximize the exposure of the article with Rebecca’s permission we are also posting it here for you. Here is a perfect example of how Scripture is horribly mishandled to the harm of the oppressed and to the enablement of the wicked. Many, many thanks to Rebecca for cutting the Word of God straight and showing its wonderful, powerful truth here.



Hebrews 12:15 is one of the most often preached-on passages of Scripture to tell victims and survivors of abuse that their primary—and perhaps only—problem is unforgiveness. Here it is:

See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God;

that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble,

and by it many become defiled;

People are told that their continuing to be troubled by their abuse is evidence of a “root of bitterness” in their lives, which will defile others.

So . . . how can we avoid being like the sermonizers and writers who simply assume that the “root of bitterness” there is unforgiveness? How can we figure out what it really is?

We can do this by looking at the Old Testament passage it’s referring to, by looking at the grammar, and by looking at the context.

The Old Testament allusion

Throughout church history, commentators have pretty much universally acknowledged that the Hebrews’ author was here alluding to a passage from the Old Testament. After all, Hebrews is full of quotations from and allusions to the Old Testament. It was written to the Hebrew Christians — those people who had been converted from the faith of their fathers to faith in Christ. The book was written in part to show them more clearly how the New Covenant fulfilled the Old and far surpassed the Old. It was written to show them that Jesus is Better, so don’t give up when things are hard.

Throughout the New Testament, when a writer quotes or alludes to a passage from the Old Testament, studying that passage can often shed more light on what he’s saying. In this case, Deuteronomy 29:18-19 also refers to metaphorical roots and bitterness:

Beware lest there be among you a man or woman or family or tribe, whose heart turns away this day from the Lord our God to go and serve the gods of those nations; lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit [in the KJV it’s “gall and wormwood,” which suggest not only bad taste, but poison], one who, when he hears the words of this sworn covenant, blesses himself in his heart, saying, ‘I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness [twisted obstinance] of my heart.’ This will lead to the sweeping away of moist and dry alike.[1]

In this passage the root bearing “poisonous and bitter” fruit is not the feeling of bitterness. Rather, it is an individual, an actual person (or persons), in the midst of the congregation who produces something bitter. This person is one who

  1. turns away from the Lord God to other gods,
  2. blesses [exalts] himself in his heart (essentially treating himself like a god), and
  3. thinks he will be safe, even though he walks in the twisted obstinance of his heart.

This description has nothing to do with unforgiveness. The poison Moses warned against (the literal meaning of the term), the poison that could potentially infect the people of God was a person who would turn to his own way, following a false god, exalting his own self, and thinking himself untouchable.

Unless this person was rooted out, it would result in the people being “swept away,” causing them agony and grief (the “bitterness” that is found throughout the Old Testament).

The grammar

This passage has invariably been presented as if it is addressed to individuals: “You” (individually) should check for that root of bitterness in your (individual) heart.

But that’s not the way it is. It’s addressed to the group, which is important, because the root of bitterness is a person within the group. (By the way, it’s easy for the non-Greek-scholar to see if a “you” in a passage is addressed to an individual or a group by looking at the King James Version. One of the brilliant things those translators did was to use “you” when the Greek pronoun was plural and “thee” or “thou” when the Greek pronoun was singular. That makes it a no-brainer to discern which the writer was talking about.)

There is no hint here of a directive to an individual. Anyway, the entire book of Hebrews was written to a group — the Hebrew Christians. That is who the writer is still addressing in this brief passage.

The context in the book

First, the immediate context.

Hebrews 12:15-17

See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God;

that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble,

and by it many become defiled;[2]

that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal.

For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing,

he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.

The immediate context of the “root of bitterness” is a description of Esau: as the writer of Hebrews describes, he was a fornicator and profane person. Not only did he marry women from idolatrous nations (a source of bitterness — agony and grief —for Isaac and Rebekah, as Genesis 26:34-35 says), but also he despised his inheritance and instead wanted to fulfill his own fleshly desires.

Here in the Hebrews reference to Esau, you can see echoes of the Deuteronomy passage:

  1. turning away from the Lord God to other gods,
  2. exalting himself in his heart (essentially treating himself like a god), and
  3. thinking he would be safe, even though he walked in the twisted obstinance of his heart.

So this passage is saying . . .

If fornicators and profane people who despise the inheritance of Christ are allowed to have ascendency among the people of God, this will poison the congregation, and many will be defiled.

(You think that doesn’t happen? Perhaps you’d be surprised.)

The larger context of this entire passage in Hebrews 12 is that of our being surrounded by great heroes of the faith (ch 11) as we run the race looking to Jesus as our Pioneer and Completer (ch 12:1-4), allowing for the disciplinary correction of the Lord (ch 12:5-14), and understanding that Mt. Zion is greater than Mt. Sinai (i.e., the New Covenant is better than the Old, ch 12:18-29).

In other words, the New Covenant people of God are being encouraged to persevere, with the foundation of their confidence in their standing in Christ. The allusion to the Old Covenant people of God reminds them that even as they seek to persevere, even then, in their very midst can arise a person who will be a “root of bitterness.”

With Esau, as with the passage in Deuteronomy, this root of bitterness is extremely important  . . . but it has nothing to do with unforgiveness.

So what exactly is the bitterness in the “root of bitterness”?

In the larger study I’m doing, I’m working on showing how there are three ways the concept of bitterness is presented in the Bible. Only one of the three is a destructive force coming from within a person, or caused by a person. It’s certainly legitimate to say that this one falls into that category.

But not because of unforgiveness.

This kind of bitterness is not a “secret root” within the hearts of individual Christians that individual Christians should constantly be searching their hearts for, or asking others to point out to them, the way so many preach.

It is a person causing destruction within a congregation by exalting himself and leading them astray.

This “root of bitterness” in Hebrews 12 causes bitterness the way poison causes bitterness — it makes the people who are subject to it feel agony and grief. If the people of the congregation follow the destructive path of this person, they will experience the agony and grief of going astray, and will find the hand of the Lord against them for allowing this ungodly person to stay in their midst.


[1] Jesus may have been hinting at this Scripture when on the way to the cross. He turned to the people who were mourning and lamenting to warn them that the utter and complete destruction of their nation was coming. Then, alluding to the work of the Pharisees who had had Him assigned to death—those who thought, “I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart”—He said in Luke 23:31 (KJV), “For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?”

[2] This clause in Hebrews, “and by it many become defiled” corresponds to the end of that passage in Deuteronomy: “This will lead to the sweeping away of moist and dry alike.”


Rebecca Davis and Jeff Crippen co-authored Unholy Charade.

Rebecca Davis’s second post in her series on bitterness:
The “gall of bitterness” in Acts — it isn’t resentment 

Thursday Thought — Have you ever felt afraid of your partner?

Have you ever felt afraid of your partner?  If so, take those feelings seriously.  Notice whether you tell yourself things like:

  • “I’m overreacting — he would never really hurt me.”
  • “He gets extremely angry, but he won’t hit me.”
  • “Yes, he has harmed me in the past, but he swears he won’t do it again.”
  • “He pushed me into having sex when I didn’t want it, but it isn’t like he assaulted me or anything.”

These are all danger signs.  Women’s intuitions about their partners are crucial.  As Gavin de Becker explains in his book The Gift of Fear, those scary feelings are there to alert you to dangerous situations.

Women get subjected to a stream of societal messages saying that they’re too sensitive, that they perceive problems where none lie, and that they have nothing to be afraid of.  This cultural training tells you, “Don’t trust yourself, go ahead and walk right into danger.”

An intimate relationship is a place where you should never be frightened, no matter how furious or hurt your partner feels.  If he’s telling you that your fear is coming from somewhere else — such as your childhood experiences, or your supposed hypersensitivity — don’t buy it.  Ditto for anyone else who tells you that your fear of him is your own issue.


[Entry from Lundy Bancroft’s book, Daily Wisdom for Why Does He Do That?* p96]

*Amazon Affiliate link:  ACFJ gets a small percentage if you purchase via this link

You have heard that it was said “God hates divorce,” but I say unto you…

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-19)

Those who bend the laws of God and teach others to do the same… who could Jesus be talking about? Firstly the Pharisees and scribes and priests and whoever invented manmade laws which actually flouted or ‘trumped’ the laws and precepts of God. Secondly, those who had a laissez faire approach to the law (“she’ll be right mate!” as we Aussies say). And both of those groups were suppressing the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18).

You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. (Matthew 5:21-22)

Abusers: when you insult your victims, whenever you call them fools or fruitcakes or dimwits, you are making yourselves liable to the hell of fire. The same goes for all those church leaders who dismiss the reports of victims.

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother [or sister], and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. (Matthew 5:23-26)

Jesus is speaking to abusers here, not to those who are rightly accusing the abusers for their wrongdoing.

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. [Husbands who are indulging in porn, Jesus is talking about you!] If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. (Matthew 5:27-30)

Porn users must do whatever it takes to quit indulging to porn. If they don’t, they can’t be received into the Kingdom of God.

It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. (Matthew 5:31-32)

Jesus was pouring scorn on the scribes and Pharisees:  Okay Pharisees, you think you’ve found a loophole in Deuteronomy 21:1 that allows you dismiss your wives at will?  Your loophole doesn’t wash with God. You’ve cherry-picked verse one and twisted it out of all recognition.  In Deuteronomy 24:1-4, Moses didn’t condone male divorce, let alone make indulgent concessions to men. Moses knew that men were divorcing their wives despite all God’s guidance about how personal relationships ought to be conducted. He only narrated the ‘case study’ in verses 1-3 which mentioned the practice of male divorce in order to promulgate the law in verse four.  Moses’s regulation was to prevent an abominable end-product that sometimes ensued when men hard-heartedly engaged in divorce.

Moses didn’t give this teaching in Deuteronomy 24 to license male divorce. He gave it because men were divorcing in hardness of heart and he was trying to restrain an abominable end-product of such conduct. From the beginning it was not so. Listen up, religious leaders! The point of Deuteronomy 24:1-4 is not verse one, but verse four. If the rabbis (both Hillelites and Shammaites) had faithfully interpreted Deuteronomy 24 in the light of Genesis 2, they would never have drawn the conclusions they had. They only created this interpretation to serve themselves.

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

… You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. (Matthew 5:38-41)

One way that victims can maintain their dignity and personal power in the face of oppression is to give the oppressor more than he demanded. This demonstrates that he has not cowed you and you still have the power of choice in your own actions. And by giving him exceedingly more than he demanded, you are subtly mocking his demands. 

of all the bad men, religious bad men are the worst

Now, kindly allow me now to paraphrase our Lord’s sermon style…

You have heard that it was said “God hates divorce,” but I say unto you that is a notion invented by your religious leaders. Scripture says:

…the Lord is the witness between you and the wife of your youth. You have been unfaithful to her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant.

Has not the one God made you? You belong to him in body and spirit. And what does the one God seek? Godly offspring. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful to the wife of your youth.

“The man who hates and divorces his wife,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect,” says the Lord Almighty.

So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful.
(Malachi 2:14-16, NIV 2011; emphasis added)


Related posts:

Isn’t adultery the only ground for divorce?


Bruce Ware teaches that a wife’s lack of submission threatens her husband’s authority, and he responds to this threat by abusing her (ERAS part 3)

Here is what Bruce Ware teaches — When women challenge their husband’s authority by wanting to have their own way rather than submitting to their husbands, one of the ways husbands respond to that ‘threat to their authority’ is by becoming abusive.

Ware explains male-on-female domestic abuse as follows: Wives threaten their husbands’ authority by not submitting to them, and husbands respond to that threat either by becoming abusive, or by acquiescing and sinfully abrogating their authority.

We know this because of what Ware said in his talk A Complementarian Vision of Creation which he gave at Denton Bible Church on June 22, 2008. Why am I writing about this now, eight years later? Because Ware has never retracted that teaching, and it is appropriate to spotlight what he thinks about domestic abuse because Ware has been in the headlines recently due to his doctrine that there are Eternal Relations of Authority and Submission within the Trinity (ERAS).

Ware maintains that

The Father is supreme over all, and in particular, he is supreme within the Godhead as the highest in authority and the one deserving of ultimate praise. (link)  

The authority-obedience relation of Father and Son in the immanent [eternal] trinity is mandatory if we are to account for God the Father’s eternal purpose to elect and save his people through his beloved Son. (link)

Ware has been displaying a determined resistance against changing his doctrine of ERAS, despite the sound arguments which many respected scholars, pastors and teachers have made against it, and despite the grave concerns many people have about ERAS.

Bruce Ware’s notion of male authority in marriage is bulwarked by his belief that the Son is eternally submitted to the Father. His doctrine of ERAS is dangerous.

One reason ERAS is dangerous is that it is used to coerce women into submission to abusive husbands. Here is a quote from Bruce Ware’s book for children, Big Truths for Young Hearts: Teaching and Learning the Greatness of God:

The Father is highest in authority, the Son is under the Father, and the Spirit is under the Father and the Son. But there is not the slightest hint of discontent in this order. Rather, there is joy and fulfillment both in each being fully God and in each working in the proper lines of authority that exist forever in God. A lesson we can learn from this is that lines of authority and submission are true in our human relationships because they are a reflection of what is true in God (see 1 Corinthians 11:3). The Father, Son, and Spirit are fully equal as God, yet they live gladly within lines of authority. So, too, we humans should live both as equals of each other, yet gladly in God-given lines of authority. (link)    

Did you notice how Bruce Ware used the S word? (should)  He says that in our human relationships we ‘should’ live gladly, without any discontent, in God-given lines of authority. Need I spell out how this becomes coercive to the wife who is being abused by her husband, or the child who is being abused by his or her parent(s)?  — (trigger warning“You seem to be discontent with God-given lines of authority. You should be respecting the authority of your husband/your parent(s).  You should be glad to submit to their authority. If you love God you will gladly submit to their authority, just as the Son has always been in submission to the Father.”

As I mentioned above, Bruce Ware delivered an address on A Complementarian Vision of Creation at Denton Bible Church on June 22, 2008. Later in this post I’ll give a partial transcript of his address, but first I want to give you a time line of articles related to Bruce Ware’s address.

In 2008, Denny Burk was the editor of the Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. (He is now President of CBMW). On June 24 (two days after Ware’s talk at Denton Bible Church), Burk wrote an article highly praising Ware’s talk — Bruce Ware’s Complementarian Reading of Genesis.

On June 27, Bob Allen, managing editor of EthicsDaily.com, reported on Ware’s address — Southern Baptist Scholar Links Spouse Abuse to Wives’ Refusal to Submit to Their Husbands.  In his opening sentence, Bob Allen noted that Bruce Ware made a causal link between wives’ behavior and their husband’s responses—

One reason that men abuse their wives is because women rebel against their husband’s God-given authority, a Southern Baptist scholar said Sunday in a Texas church.

After Bob Allen’s June 27 report was published, Denny Burk added an update to his article, labelling the Ethics Daily June 27 report as a “scurrilous, patently false” account of what Bruce Ware had said. Burk also called on Ethics Daily to retract and apologize for their story which he claimed had ‘borne false witness’.

Was the Ethics Daily report scurrilous and patently false? Did it bear false witness? Let’s examine the evidence for ourselves.

Here is my partial transcript of Ware’s talk at Denton Bible Church

The transcript starts from 8:35 in the audio. See for yourself whether Ethics Daily misinterpreted what Bruce Ware said:

The complementarian view holds that God created us as men and women with a design in which, yes, we are equal in essence, we both are fully human, male and female, equally image of God. And yet, God designed that there be an authority and submission relationship in that male/female structure.  So that God intended in creation for there to be male headship in the relationship between Adam and woman in the garden, and he [Adam] had authority, he had ultimate responsibility.

What happens in sin is that that very wise and good plan of God, of male headship, is sought to be overturned — as women now (as sinners) want instead to have their way, instead of submitting to their husbands to do what they would like to do — and [women] seek to work to have their husbands fulfill their will, rather than serving them.

And the husbands on their part (because they’re sinners) now respond to that threat to their authority either by being abusive —which is, of course, one of the ways men can respond when their authority is challenged — or, more commonly, to become passive, acquiescing and simply not asserting the leadership they ought to as men in their homes and in churches.

Later in the talk, Ware used very much the same phraseology when discussing Genesis 3:16. He interpreted the woman’s desire in Genesis 3:16 exactly as Susan Foh* interpreted it — a desire to usurp her husband’s authority. And then he said this explains why a husband abuses his wife.  Let’s pick up the audio from 46:47 —

Go back to [Genesis] 3:16. Here is what God is saying. The curse is this: that the woman, though she is created to be helper to her husband, assist her husband, submit to her husband, though that’s her created design, what will she want to do because of sin? Her desire will be to usurp her husband’s authority. Her desire will be to have her way rather than his way — because she’s a sinner.

Now what will he do because he’s a sinner? He will have to rule, and because he’s a sinner this can happen in one of two ways. It can happen through ruling that is abusive and oppressive (and of course we all know the horrors of that and the ugliness of that). But here’s the other way in which he can respond when his authority is threatened: he can acquiesce, he can become passive, he can give up any responsibility that he thought he had to be the leader in the relationship.

I think it is clear. Bruce Ware definitely taught that a wife’s lack of submission threatens her husband’s authority, and he responds to this threat by abusing her.  

Can anyone honestly deny that Ware wasn’t talking about cause and effect? No! He was implying a causal link. He was saying that A is the reason for B. In fact, he was inferring that a husband almost can’t help himself because “he will have to rule”.

Trigger warning… this is a paraphrase of Ware’s formulation —

Wives want to have their own way, and husbands respond. Wives sinfully desire to USURP their husbands’ authority, and husbands RESPOND.  The problem starts with the wife. The wife’s attitude explains the husband’s conduct. Her behavior explains his behavior. A gives rise to B — if she were properly submissive to him, he wouldn’t feel threatened. He felt threatened because of how she interacted with him. (She started it!) And if he becomes abusive, well…it’s because she threatened him. She was not being submissive. She was usurping his authority. She was falling short of her duty, her creation-ordained role of being his helper and assistant and following his lead.

v.i.c.t.i.m   b.l.a.m.i.n.g

Did Ethics Daily retract and apologize? Not at all. On July 9 they published another article by Bob Allen, Texas Church Says ‘Egalitarian’ View Not an Option for Evangelicals, which reported again on Ware’s talk and noted how favorably it had been received by Denny Burk from CBWM. Here is an extract from that article —

Bruce Ware, professor of Christian theology at Southern Seminary, suggested women wouldn’t have to worry as much about spousal abuse if they were more obedient to their husbands.

In marital relationships marred by sin, Ware said, wives are tempted to have their own way instead of submitting to their husbands. The man’s natural response, he said in remarks reported previously by EthicsDaily.com, is either to become abusive or to acquiesce.

Critics said that blames women for their own abuse and gives men an excuse for battering their wives. Defenders said Ware wasn’t condoning domestic violence but merely explaining it is a fact of life.

Denny Burk, editor for the Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, called Ware’s sermon “one of the finest, most succinct presentations of the Complementarian point of view that I have ever heard” in a June 24 blog posting that prompted more than 1,500 responses.

Then, on July 18, Ethics Daily published An Open Letter to Dr. Bruce Ware by Kate Johnson, president of the Christian Coalition Against Domestic Abuse. Kate’s letter was very courteous; she only very lightly questioned a couple of scriptural interpretations Ware had made. Her primary aim was to enlighten Bruce Ware as to how sermons are heard (a) by wives who are being abused and (b) by husbands who are doing the abusing.

Kate pointed out that an abusive husband in the congregation would hear Ware’s phrases “rightful jurisdiction” and “rule over” and come away believing that Ware had endorsed his tactics of bullying and coercive control over his wife. And his wife, sitting next to him in the pew, would hear Ware admonishing her for “not submitting” and for “threatening her husband’s authority” — so whenever she got abused, it was her own fault. Kate put the outcome in a nutshell:

He leaves church telling her, “See, even the pastor says I have a right to take control in my house and that it is your fault I have to be so tough.”
She leaves church thinking, “I will never be good enough to please God.”
He leaves the church very happy. She leaves the church in despair.

Have either of these men changed?

Bruce Ware has never retracted or apologized for what he said at Denton Bible Church. He has denied that his teaching blames women who are victims of spousal abuse. Denny Burk has not retracted his praise of Ware’s talk. Furthermore Denny Burk recently said that while he doesn’t hold exactly the same view of the Trinity as Bruce Ware, he believes that Ware’s concept of the Trinity is not heretical, and that anyone who affirms the Danvers Statement (as Ware does) is welcome in CBMW.

Anything that can be perceived to promulgate domestic abuse is unacceptable 

Ware’s teaching can be perceived to promulgate domestic abuse. Kate Johnson’s Open Letter to Bruce Ware made this clear. She was trying to enlighten Ware. Good for her! But as we have so often observed, men like Ware seem to be resistant to being enlightened on this stuff.

Abusive husbands can use Ware’s teaching to excuse the sinful ways they treat their wives. Abusive men can use it to justify their belief that they are entitled to disrespect and hurt women, and to coerce or pressure women into submission.

The ideas held by Ware are often used by pastors to coerce women into submitting to their abusive husbands and keeping silent about their suffering.

The concept of domestic abuse taught by Ware can be perceived and used by ‘biblical counselors’ to minimize male abuse of women, and to lay the blame on the women.

Ware’s teaching on domestic abuse can be used by any Christian to pathologize and blame women who are victims of abuse.  It can be used by any Christian to compound the suffering and entrapment of victims of abuse.

And perhaps most importantly of all, how are Christian women likely to perceive Ware’s teaching? A woman can think Ware’s teaching means that God so firmly endorses husbandly authority that she must submit to her husband’s authority no matter how much he may be controlling her. An abused woman will hear Ware’s teaching as meaning that if she doesn’t submit, she will be defying not only her husband but God — she’ll be flouting the proper lines of authority for human relationships which reflect the lines of authority that exist forever in God. Ware’s teaching is certainly perceived by the abused Christian woman to endorse the claims to authority which her husband and her pastor and all those pink women authors are making when they tell her she must submit.

Anything that can be perceived to promulgate domestic abuse is unacceptable. Bruce Ware’s teaching can be perceived to promulgate domestic abuse; therefore it is unacceptable. 


*Here is my post that rebuts Susan Foh’s interpretation of the woman’s desire in Genesis 3:16

And here are a couple more articles about Bruce Ware’s talk at Denton Bible church —

SBC Professor blames wives for husbands’ abuse Danni Moss (June 30, 2008)
Danni was a survivor of domestic abuse; she died of breast cancer some years after escaping her abuser. After Danni’s introduction and comments, the rest of the post reproduces Bob Allen’s June 27 article.  (Note: because Danni has passed on, no-one is moderating or approving comments at her blog, so comments are effectively closed there. Since commenting on her post back in 2008, I have changed my interpretation of the woman’s desire in Genesis 3:16, and I would no longer approvingly quote to CBMW’s statement as I did back then.)

Posts in this ERAS series:

Part 1 It’s vital to talk about motivation in the debate about ‘Eternal Relations of Authority and Submission’ 

Part 2 The ceiling came down, so it’s time to inspect the whole building

Coming up Part 4 Why I think Wayne Grudem is motivated by an unwillingness to accord full respect to women

They…weave a spider’s web — Charles H Spurgeon


See the spider’s web, and behold in it a most suggestive picture of the hypocrite’s religion. It is meant to catch his prey: the spider fattens himself on flies, and the Pharisee has his reward.

Spider has trapped caterpillar

Foolish persons are easily entrapped by the loud professions of pretenders, and even the more judicious cannot always escape. Philip baptized Simon Magus, whose guileful declaration of faith was so soon exploded by the stern rebuke of Peter. Custom, reputation, praise, advancement, and other flies, are the small game which hypocrites take in their nets. A spider’s web is a marvel of skill: look at it and admire the cunning hunter’s wiles. Is not a deceiver’s religion equally wonderful?

How does he make so barefaced a lie appear to be a truth? How can he make his tinsel answer so well the purpose of gold? A spider’s web comes all from the creature’s own bowels. The bee gathers her wax from flowers, the spider sucks no flowers, and yet she spins out her material to any length. Even so hypocrites find their trust and hope within themselves; their anchor was forged on their own anvil, and their cable twisted by their own hands. They lay their own foundation, and hew out the pillars of their own house, disdaining to be debtors to the sovereign grace of God.

But a spider’s web is very frail. It is curiously wrought, but not enduringly manufactured. It is no match for the servant’s broom, or the traveller’s staff. The hypocrite needs no battery of Armstrongs to blow his hope to pieces, a mere puff of wind will do it. Hypocritical cobwebs will soon come down when the broom of destruction begins its purifying work. Which reminds us of one more thought, viz., that such cobwebs are not to be endured in the Lord’s house: he will see to it that they and those who spin them shall be destroyed for ever.

O my soul, be thou resting on something better than a spider’s web. Be the Lord Jesus thine eternal hiding-place.

Modern Adaptation by Jim Reimann

A spider’s web is the symbolic picture of a hypocrite’s so-called faith. It is designed to catch his prey, so just as the spider fattens himself on flies, the hypocritical Pharisee gets his reward. Foolish people are easily entrapped by the loud declarations of false believers, and even the most discerning does not always escape. Philip baptized Simon the Sorcerer, whose false profession of faith was quickly exploded by the stern rebuke of Peter (See Acts 8:9-24) Tradition, reputation, praise, advancement, and other “flies” are the small prey hypocrites trap in their nets. Look at the spider’s web and admire the cunning craftiness of the hunter, for the web is skillfully and wonderfully woven. Doesn’t a deceiver’s false faith appear equally wonderful?

How does he make such a bald-faced lie appear to be truth? How can he make his flimsy foil of an answer seem to be as pure as solid gold? The spider’s web comes completely from within its own bowels as opposed to the bee that gathers its wax from flowers. The spider takes nothing from a flower yet spins out the material for its web to any length it needs. Likewise, hypocrites find their trust and hope only within themselves. Their anchor is forged on their own anvil and the anchor’s chain is twisted into shape by their own hands. They lay their own foundation and fashion the pillars of their own house, rejecting with disgust the idea of being a debtor to the sovereign grace of God.

However, a spider’s web is fragile and frail. Yes, it is wonderfully formed, but it is not made to endure. It is not a match to someone’s walking cane or even a janitor’s broom. The hypocrite needs no battery of Armstrong artillery guns to blow his hope to pieces, for a mere puff of wind will do it. Hypocritical cobwebs will be quickly removed when the broom of destruction begins its purifying work, which brings up another thought, namely this: such cobwebs of deception will never be tolerated in the Lord’s house. The Lord Himself will see to it that the cobwebs, along with those who spin them, will be destroyed forever.

“O my soul” (Ps 103:2), rest on something better than a spider’s web. May the Lord Jesus be your eternal hiding place.


Thanks to MaxGrace, one of our readers, for bringing this devotional to our attention!

I’m Nobody Special; What Can I Do To Help Lazarus?

In the 1950’s through the 1970’s I was nurtured in a healthy Christian home by parents who have just now celebrated 63 years of marriage.  I’ve had the joy of being married 30+ years to a most wonderful husband.

Domestic abuse was quite hidden in decades of the past; it was hushed.  I know my eyes did not see nor comprehend the damage inflicted upon some spouses.  Since then I’ve encountered abuse’s ugly face as I walked for years with a friend on the brutal path to emancipation.  Through that experience and others, the study of the topic, and the divulgences of survivors, my eyes have been opened.  As I have learned their stories I can now count a minimum of 12 women* who were, or are, the targets of domestic/intimate partner abuse and post-divorce harassment.

These women were not walking in Biblical disobedience by petulantly deciding they just didn’t want to be married anymore or because they found someone more attractive.  On the contrary, most were trying their hardest to be the best wives possible and uphold their vows before their Lord. Though details differed, most were living with an enemy who shot them with various projectiles, then jeered at them for having the nerve to bleed and/or cry for help while burying the victim in wretched disgust!

Many had children in the tomb of abuse with them.  These moms saw their children contracting diseases of the soul; yet another reason to escape so as to remove them from the contamination of abuse or show the adult children a better way.

Sadly, some escapees are scorned in unmerciful judgement by critics who lack the facts, the desire to know details beyond gossip level, have little compassion, and even less understanding of the nature of abuse, to say nothing of right dividing of Scripture.

Recently I pondered Jesus calling Lazarus forth.  Yea!  A brother brought back to his grieving sisters!  High five!  All is well!  But the story doesn’t end there.   Come learn with me.

John 11:44 reads that at the command of Jesus The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

Can you imagine the scene?  Onlookers stand in stunned silence as Lazarus somehow gets off (out of?) the place where his body had lain.  No doubt fearing the expected stench, the spectators probably took a step or two backwards.  Lazarus stumbles, hops, falls (?!?) through the tomb opening bound like a mummy at a cheesy high school haunted house.

This scene is comparable to an abused woman fleeing an already broken marriage.  Her head is wrapped in the fog deliberately created for her by the abuser to keep her off balance.  She is bound both by the tactics of abuse and the PTSD resulting from the continual trauma.  Surprised observers sometimes step back from the unmistakable odor of death and, quite frankly, so as to not be in the path of the death angel (abuser) that sometimes pursues her beyond the tomb.

In verse 35 Jesus wept.  While God foreknew the sin that would bring death to mankind, He did not ordain death.  Sin brings death.  Death brings anguish to the living.  Death wasn’t supposed to be and it brings Jesus sorrow.

So it is with marriage.  God never designed marriage to be one partner habitually lording domination, manipulation and control over the other… all three being evidences of the spirit of witchcraft in operation (1 Sam 16:23). Our loving Father established marriage as a type of the cherished relationship between Jesus and His Bride whom He laid down His life for. God weeps over the cruelty one spouse directs at another. Abuse is sin in any relationship. In marriage the sin of continual abuse breaks covenant, and it brings death.

“Oh, but we are ALL sinners!” parrot the naïve.  Don’t go there with me.  Submitting one’s sin nature to the cleansing blood of Jesus makes us new people.  New in Christ.  Our nature is changed as we submit to the sanctification process.  We sin.  We screw up.  And we know it. We humbly repent and keep offering ourselves to be transformed into His image…and we are.

Habitual abuse is a different animal altogether!  The abuser sees no wrong in his behavior. He knows others may think it is wrong, but he thinks it’s just fine for him to control and abuse his victim. Repeatedly lying to and about the victim, stealing, purposely ruin her credit, subverting, shaming, ridiculing, raging, imprisoning, gaslighting , abusing financially, sexually, emotionally, physically, spiritually, relationally (restricting access to others), parental alienation are the sick tools of domination’s lifestyle.  Such a life is completely opposite the occasional “Oh honey, I was a jerk to you today, I was wrong. I’m so sorry.”

The abuser doesn’t abuse because he’s had a bad day.  He doesn’t do it because of poor upbringing or trauma in his childhood.  He. Does. It. Because. He. Can.  It benefits him.  We know this because, like a light switch, he can turn the malice off and on at will depending upon who is witnessing his actions.  He controls his behavior.  It is a choice.

“Habitual, consistent, chronic, practice, lifestyle.”   These words differentiate between the occasional “jerk” behavior that plagues us all.  Consider the “practice” of medicine. People are doctors because they practice medicine.  It is who they are and what they do.  People are abusers when they practice abuse. Like doctors, they daily hone and practice their skills.  This perpetual lifestyle is evil.  It is immoral.  It is depraved.  It is wicked.

An abused woman is living in a tomb surrounded by death while her essence, her personhood, decays.  When the stone is rolled away and fresh air flows in she recognizes the death around her and in her… she’s infected with it through the choices of another.

The wedding promises of love, cherishing, and fidelity, give a glimpse into the union every bride is longing for and expecting.  Regrettably, many discover that the spouse has worn an impenetrable mask of calculated goodness, yes, even “godliness” that he excels at using to fool everyone.  The mask is conveniently discarded once the vows are spoken.  Marriage made a sham by the vows he spoke under false pretenses.

When she seeks help through the court systems, pointy polluted fingers of family, friends, and/or church members level the accusation that she “broke the marriage”.  How wrong is their utter arrogance! The abuser’s unrepentant, continual ruthlessness leveled against her broke the vows, and thus the marriage, before she ever left the home!  Plainly stated, civil divorce legally ratifies the decision the abuser made to break the marriage.

Unfortunately, there are some who see her staggering out who tell her she must return to the tomb of the dead.  That she has no right to be rescued from the destruction, decay, and death because, after all, SHE chose this life, bad as it may be, when she married this man.  Marriage becomes the idol to be served. The blame is laid upon her for not serving the idol: She made a bad choice; she must have chosen him out of God’s will; she is at fault.  Such logic is akin to blaming a rape victim for the perpetrator’s violence.

Did Lazarus do something out of God’s will to encourage his illness or was it just a result of a sin-cursed world?  Scripture doesn’t tell us.  Yet, Jesus apparently didn’t care what caused the death.  He simply raised Lazarus to life again.  Because that’s what Jesus does.  He brings life out of death and sets the captives free.

If there is exegesis on the remainder of verse 44, I haven’t heard it yet. “Jesus said to them (the onlookers), “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

Lazarus needed help removing his bindings because he did not bind himself!

Thus Jesus commanded the bystanders to release Lazarus from his bindings.  Amid joy at renewed life there were practical needs to be addressed.  As the bindings came off he was naked in front of everyone!  Moles, scars and every private part lay open to be viewed by those who loved him…and those who were merely gawkers.  He needed clothing to cover his nakedness!

His financial dealings, having been rearranged as a consequence of his death, had to be reordered to care for him in his remaining years.  Four days dead with no food?  He could have been famished for a good home-cooked meal and a drink of water!

Jesus calls out the abused wife.  Eyewitnesses are stunned and skeptical – “We never saw that side of him!” “Did you pray about this?” What kind of stupid asks a question like that?  Of course she prayed about it as she cried out to God for help! “But he didn’t hit you, right?”  “But he is a <deacon, pastor, missionary, godly man>, he couldn’t be like you are painting him!” All are inane comments of unbelief equating to “Hey, the tomb couldn’t have been that bad of a place for you to live!”

With the luxury of not living in a tomb, the presumptuous easily reach these conclusions and sanctimoniously spout them.  They are totally ignorant of the shame and fear a woman must overcome just to admit she’s abused…even to herself!

As Lazarus had practical needs, so does the woman leaving abuse.  Because He is in the business of releasing the captives, and we are His hands, Jesus commands us to remove her bindings.  The abuse survivor, too, is naked with the raw pain of broken promises, shattered dreams, rejection, torment, shame, threats, fear, abandonment, and poverty.  She needs “covering” that goes beyond mere clothing, which she may also desperately need.

The woman coming out of an abusive marriage needs to be gently washed, sometimes again and again, with kindness, compassion, and the Word of God!   She must be patiently filled with the assurance of her Father’s limitless and passionate love for her since she unquestionably has been indoctrinated, by words and actions, that she is unlovable, that she is valueless.

Trusting again can be a fearful thing to one whose trust has been deliberately decimated. Her abuser distorted her reality on a regular basis, so disorientation in the real world is more often the rule than the exception.   Thus, her frame of reference for “normal vs not normal” is fragmented.

Often she is penniless because part of the pre-mediated emotional murder committed against her was the intentional manipulation of finances so she would find starting over nearly impossible.

There are many resources available to enlighten the concerned about the hideous patterns of abuse, the excuses offered, and the difficulty escaping it.  Great places to start include cryingoutforjustice.com and lundybancroft.com.  Searches for “narcissistic abuse” on the internet and Pinterest are helpful, too. Not Under Bondage by Barbara Roberts excellently reveals the whole counsel of God regarding the “God hates divorce” misquote. A Cry for Justice* and Unholy Charade*, both by Pastor Jeff Crippen, enlighten regarding abusers using, and hiding in, the church.

Psalms has dozens of passages revealing how God feels about abusers, oppressors and their victims.  Some, like Psalm 82:3,4 below, command our part to play:

Vindicate the weak and fatherless; do justice to the afflicted and destitute.
Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them out of the hand of the wicked.

Here are some ways to partner with Jesus in fulfilling this Psalm and removing the grave clothes of a modern-day Lazarus:

  • Can you listen (over and over again) without judging as she processes through the hurt?
  • Can you discretely press some money into her hand?  Poverty is a favorite tool of the abuser.
  • Can you drive her to court and stand beside her as her knees shake under his venomous gaze?
  • Can you fill a bag of groceries from your own pantry, or give a gift card for food or gas?
  • Can you share a coat from your own closet when it’s cold out if you can’t do anything else?
  • Can you host a GoFundMe account for legal fees she can’t afford?
  • Can you pray?  And let her KNOW you are standing with her?
  • Can you hold her while she cries?
  • Can you assure her that despite the abuser’s claims, she is NOT crazy but suffering from her abuser’s engineered cognitive dissonance?
  • Can you praise her for her bravery in the face of her abuser’s “one step short of arrest” retaliation?
  • Can you offer her the use of your computer if she doesn’t own one?
  • Can you and your friends host a “Love Shower” if she’s not been allowed to take basic necessities from the family home in her attempt to start over?
  • Can you help her figure out a budget when she does earn money?
  • Can you let her know she can call you for emotional support anytime day or night?
  • Can you offer her your extra bedroom while she gets on her feet?
  • Can you watch her children while she meets with a lawyer?
  • Can you believe she wouldn’t do something this drastic without a good reason?
  • Can you go with her when she meets her lawyer to take notes for her to refer to later?
  • Can you help her check her free credit report to see if her abuser has opened accounts in her name?
  • Can you take her to a bank and teach her how to open an account? (A skill withheld in financial abuse.)
  • Can you educate others to put aside their preconceived, and often sanctimonious, biases that threaten to re-abuse her in her time of desperate need?
  • Can you stand up for her if members of her own family declare they are “neutral”? (“Neutral” = neutered where evil is concerned; it is cowardice.)
  • Can you stand with her if weak church leadership sides with her abuser because it’s less messy for them
  • Can you put in a good word for her with a potential employer?
  • Can you use your own healing from an abusive marriage to comfort and encourage her?
  • Can you have her over for meals and holidays, especially if she is bereft of family?
  • Can you help her laugh and forget her troubles for an hour?
  • Can you make her YOUR family?  Even give her a house key?  (She may not have been allowed to have a key in the house she shared with her abuser.)
  • Can you choose to use language such as “Have you considered…” rather than “You should…”?
  • Can you suggest options, but not be offended if she is unable, or afraid, to follow your train of logic?
  • Can you advise, but still support her in making her own decisions?  Decision making may be new to her; she may need help seeing all sides of an issue—but she still must decide on her own.
  • Can you show her what a healthy, God-honoring marriage looks like from the inside…in your home with all your warts, but also all your loving commitment to each other and the Lord?
  • For that matter, does this topic bring to mind your behavior toward your spouse that you need to submit to Jesus and change?
  • Can you stand up for her in the midst of gossip and declare “We have not walked in her shoes; there but for the grace of God go we!  God is her judge, not any us.”?
  • Can you LOVE HER?

You have no idea if you might be the one person standing between that bottle of pills or a razor blade poised over the wrist of an abused woman.  A precious woman who has had her last ounce of emotional blood sucked out of her by the vampire delighting in destroying her.  YOU might be the only one at that moment to hear Jesus command “Take off her grave clothes and let her go.”

So the question really isn’t “Can you…” but “Will you…”?

He who has pity (compassion, mercy, graciousness) on the poor lends to the Lord, And He will pay back what he has given. (Proverbs 19:17)

* * *

* This post is by Harriet Cook. Harriet is a wife, mother of adult children, and grandmother, loving and serving Jesus for 57 years in the Pacific Northwest.  She does not deny there are some male abuse victims.  However, her experience is with the gender usually more easily preyed upon.

For Further Reading and Resources:

Thursday Thought — How to Support an Abuse Victim

Two books for supporters of survivors

Resources for Supporters of Victims of Domestic Abuse


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

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