A Cry For Justice

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

The One-Flesh Covenant as a Key to Understanding Abuse as Grounds for Divorce

Genesis 2:21-25 So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. (22) And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. (23) Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” (24) Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (25) And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

Commenting upon these foundational words about the very first marriage, the Apostle Paul wrote:

Ephesians 5:28-31 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. (29) For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, (30) because we are members of his body. (31) “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”

I have been thinking lately about why Jesus especially focused in on adultery as a valid reason for divorce.  I realize that there are numbers of reasons for this and scholars more scholarly than myself have written about those reasons in detail (and some not so scholarly!).  The context in which Jesus was asked about divorce by the Pharisees is vital to take into consideration, and often it is not.  When that neglect happens, much harmful ink is spilled that brings abuse victims into bondage.

But what I have been considering is this matter of adultery, and specifically how it relates to the essence of marriage.  Namely, the one-flesh union between husband and wife.  Of all sins, adultery most obviously violates that one-flesh union.  Paul points this out again in the following passage –

1 Corinthians 6:16 Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.”

I mean, you can only be “one body” with so many other bodies, right?  If an adulterer is joined as one body to a woman not his wife, that would imply that his one body union with his wife is broken, right?  That is my take on it anyway.  Adultery is an evident example of breaking the one flesh covenant with one’s spouse.

Now, consider Paul’s words to the Ephesians as quoted above: In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.  I suggest that the Apostle’s words here lead us to still another principle which arises from the one flesh nature of the marriage covenant:

Treatment of one’s spouse which, if practiced upon one’s own self would be considered hatred of one’s self, is covenant-breaking.  The one flesh union necessitates nourishing and cherishing our spouse as we nourish and cherish ourselves.

Like adultery, abuse of one’s spouse breaks the very nature of the marriage covenant because of the one flesh nature of that covenant.  Therefore, I propose, abuse is biblical grounds for divorce just as adultery is.  It kills the one flesh union, and thus kills the marriage.

5 Comments

  1. Pippa

    “Modern times” have brought us to the new reality of people who don’t even love themselves. Was this less common in Bible times? I am thinking so. These passages seem to speak with the assumption that one loves one’s own body. Other new testiment scripture speaks of not giving our child a snake when he asks for a fish (even an “evil person” would not do this). I think it is fairly common for us to give our children snakes instead of fish these days. So why don’t we love our own bodies and our own children? Because we don’t respect ourselves as being in the image of God. Because we don’t love God first.

  2. Anonymous

    Ps Crippen, your line of argument is very similar to that put forward by the late Danni Moss (Because it matters website), the inspirational survivor and courageous pioneer of domestic violence awareness on the net (for women of faith). I think it is almost 2 years since she found eternal rest.

    • Danni’s site Because It Matters was one that gave me great hope years ago, when I first started working on this stuff. I warmly recommend it. Thanks for reminding us of it.

  3. Pippa, as a mental health worker, I’m pretty sure you think quite a lot about people who are consumed with self-loathing, self-mutilation, self-destruction, self-sabotage, etc. Who knows whether it was more prevalent in olden days than now? But you’re right: my self-respect goes hand in hand with recognising that I am made in the image of God.

    I like the line, “Treatment of one’s spouse which, if practiced upon one’s own self would be considered hatred of one’s self, is covenant-breaking.”
    Funny how so many church leaders don’t see this, but it’s so obvious when you put it that way. Sometimes I think we read bible passages like we chant nursery rhymes: they rattle off our tongues with familiar ease, but we rarely get a full grip of what they actually mean. A bit like it must be for Muslims who memorise the Koran (in Arabic of course) but because they don’t know Arabic, it’s all mumbo jumbo for them. I’m sure they get a nice buzz from thinking how spiritual they are for reciting the Koran. And Christians seem to get a nice buzz from Ephesians 5:28-31, but can’t use straight common sense to apply it to domestic abuse.

  4. Raped By Evil

    Malachi 2:14-16 You ask, “Why?” It is because 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.

    Why is God concerned about keeping the covenant of marriage clean by reminding His male children to keep it in their pants? GODLY OFFSPRING. Is God only referring to the human children that will be conceived and born as a result of this union or is He speaking to the adult “children” who are considering doing the nasty (or have already completed the act) with a hot new young and worldly chick who is not burdened down by the laws of the Lord? Is God trying to reach these “adult” offspring by REMINDING them that they are HIS children claiming to be OF HIM but are acting against the very nature of God by chasing after other women and abusing their real wife?

    This passage is meant to point God’s judgement AT THE ABUSER, while also providing protection and justice for the victim of this evil abuser. But as is so often done by these same abusers – it is instead turned around and used against the very victims that GOD is trying to protect! God DOESN’T hate divorce! Hear that folks? Let me repeat it: GOD DOES NOT HATE DIVORCE! But as this passage of scripture LOUDLY PROCLAIMS, he DOES HATE abusive men who treat their wives treacherously by running after other women. And God DOES HATE when these same abusive and selfish men come whining to Him and pretending that they are “godly” by lamenting and groaning with tears on His altar as though they even CARE about God’s heart. And God hates that because of their arrogance and self-worship he is forced to administer JUSTICE by providing protection to the victim in the FORM OF divorce.

    As per the usual, God is judging us by our HEART. Heart, heart, heart, heart, HEART! The actions He’s pointing out represent the HEART of these people. The reason He MUST mercifully allow for divorce is to protect the people who are being harmed by the evil HEART of abusive people. Heart, heart, heart, heart, HEART!

    For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it…”

    Or we SHOULD feel this way but often due to abuse and scripture-twisting, many of us end up mistreating bodies (eating disorders, self-medicating, not taking care of our health due to no money, being told that our sacrifice should include denying our bodies necessary care as a reflection of our “faith” in sacrificing for our family etc. etc. etc.), so that we DON’T cherish our bodies as GOD desires that we should because they are temples that house HIM. But let’s look at how these ABUSERS feel and treat themselves:

    These are the ones who are like dangerous reefs at your love feasts. They feast with you, nurturing only themselves without fear. Jude 1:12

    Thank you again Pastor Crippen for leaving up the original posts!

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