THE Biblical Grounds for Divorce

By Danni Moss
Copyright protected, all rights reserved

In a recent dialog in the comments resulting from three posts (Rick Warren and Saddleback Church on Domestic Violence, Transcript of Saddleback Church Teaching on Abuse, and Transcript of Saddleback Church Teaching on Divorce) I made a comment, which generated a question, the answer to which needs its own space. So here they are, with a little amplification.

Original comment: …Yet, when the subject is domestic abuse, which is far more egregious than adultery – and has the same spiritual root – there is no acceptance of the offending spouse’s decision and no acceptance of the offended spouse’s options.

Question: OK, I’m stumped. What is “the same spiritual root” that adultery, abandonment, and abuse have in common?


“Putting asunder” – violation of the marriage covenant by utterly severing the one-flesh/one-spirit bond.

This is one of the “illogics” I see in this piece. The speaker gives permission for a wife to proactively divorce her adulterous husband though he remains under the same roof with her and refuses to get a divorce. This is exactly the same as an abuser.

The violence to the one-flesh/one-spirit relationship is sexual with another person in a sexually adulterous relationship.

The violence to the one-flesh/one-spirit relationship is geographic with abandonment.

The violence to the one-flesh/one-spirit relationship uses a literal spirit of murder (expressed through rage, etc. – not necessarily inclusive of actual murderous actions) to kill the spirit and body of the spouse (in violation of multiple Scriptures) and also demands an idolatrous relationship, which is a direct violation of the Word.

The Word makes the very clear connection that the reason sexual adultery is grounds for divorce is because human marriage is a picture of our relationship with God, with the marital one-flesh relationship being a picture of our worship and one-ness with God. Adultery is equivalent to idolatry — that is why it is grounds for divorce. This is THE reason it matters.

When two are married they become ONE – this is not just a sexual thing. They are ONE unified whole. This is why abandonment has the same root as adultery. Two cannot be one if one has abandoned the other. The reason abandonment is grounds for a divorce is not because the Bible says “here is an exception to the rule.” It is because abandonment is the same sin as adultery.

This matters because of what Jesus said repeatedly about the spirit of the law being more important than the letter of the law. Abandonment and adultery are the same violation – because it is a violation of the spirit of the law; of the one-flesh marriage covenant. Further, it is a violation of fact; not just the opinion of a whining spouse who wants an excuse for a divorce.

And this is also true of abuse. It is the same root of “putting asunder” committed by the abusive spouse, who has utterly violated the one-flesh/one-spirit relationship, though s/he continues to reside under the same roof and professes a desire to remain married. The spouse of an abuser – even a verbal and emotional abuser – is literally in far more physical danger than the spouse of a sexual adulterer! And this danger, which extends to the levels of spiritual authority (principle outlined in I Cor. 6:15-20), persists even beyond the boundaries of a marital separation. But the church is oblivious to this fact.

I thought many times that I wish my husband would have an affair. That would have been far less painful, far less damaging to the children, far less ruinous to all of us for the rest of our lives! AND the church would have blessed the dissolution of our marriage. It is a conundrum.

10 Responses

  1. I agree the bond is broken.

    The part I never understood – barring war – the bible speaks out against violence, verbal and emotional abuse all over the place. It also speaks of the damage it can cause. The church at times says it BAD, but undermines the true danger of it.

    The tongue:

    Jas 3:6 And the tongue is a fire; it is the power of evil placed in our bodies, making all the body unclean, putting the wheel of life on fire, and getting its fire from hell.

    Jas 3:8 But the tongue may not be controlled by man; it is an unresting evil, it is full of the poison of death.

    That is just one place in the bible. I mean I see these portions that speak of how this is from the fire of hell, and the poison of death. YET you get told how you need to just basically let it slide off your back. Don’t let it effect you. Don’t take it that way.

    I guess because God’s word says that the tongue may not be controlled by man – those that are the target need to learn to deal with it better. That’s the message you get so often.

    There are TONS of verses speaking against a rage filled person, and yet we are told to learn to deal with that as well.

    Spouses get treated the opposite fashion of scripture in very CRUEL ways.

    Change yourself, and pray for them. Make sure they feel honored and loved and cared for.

    I agree change yourself, but NOT in the way they mean it. I agree PRAY for them – goodness knows they need it! The honored, loved and cared for? Their version enables them to continue their behavior.

    I have seen – LEARN to communicate! lol then when the rage starts………..BUT don’t get them ANGRY! PLACE those boundaries down and they get ruthless…….ARE YOU sure didn’t do it in a vindictive manner?

    This benefit of the doubt crud, and constant counterdictions are what are killing families. The mininizing of the Word of God is what is allowing the coruption to continue.

    I think the fear of dealing with that is killing the church.

    • This is another great point! It was probably one of the early things that I could not theologically reconcile. Why is the Word FULL of this constant instruction against mistreating people, admonitions for God’s people to stand for the afflicted and needy, do not go with an angry man, etc. — over and over and over, across the entire Word — but all the sudden there is ONE exception.

      God cares about the well-being of every human on earth — except wives and children? Does this make any sense? This idea is fundamentally against both the nature of God and the entirety of the Word.

      Not to mention the fact that the OT gives the very specific direction that a woman purchased as a slave to be used as a sexual partner was allowed to go free if her master deprived her of sex, food or housing (if I remember the three correctly) AND a sex slave such as this who had been seriously wounded by a master was also allowed to go free.

      What?! So if he buys her and doesn’t marry her she has rights? But if he marries her she’s stuck with no recourse? Where’s the reason, logic, and heart of God here?

      Again, those who attempt to say the Bible doesn’t say anything about abuse are reading with their eyes shut. It’s all over in the Word.

      — Danni

    • “I think the fear of dealing with that is killing the church.”

      I completely agree. It is easier to take the head-in-the-sands approach than to actually have to get hands dirty and deal with it. If we can minimize it and say it “rarely” happens, or justify the present course under the banner of not “opening the floodgates of divorce” — most people won’t think past what the leaders tell them as confident truth. We trust the leaders to tell the truth! And – to give them due – I think they think they are telling the truth — because they are repeating what they have been told……. in perpetuity back hundreds of years. People don’t think to seriously evaluate the issue and the Word for themselves because this tarnished appearance of credibilility remains unchallenged.

      And, shoot!, if it is hard for one of us, as a real victim of abuse, to dare to go against the “establishment” and get a divorce because of abuse – how likely is it that church leaders who have no personal reason to change their viewpoints are going to risk gaining the censure of their colleagues over an issue they think is minor, at best?

      All we can do is keep crying out until the outcry raises the need-level to something the church realizes it must address.

      — Danni

    • As Christians we are suppose to have forgiving hearts.This does not mean that we should stay in an abusive marriage .To pray for them to be honored,I would disagree,to pray for them to be loved and cared for,certainly! When you genuinely pray for someone that has caused you pain it helps you release the bitterness that was a result of their abuse.If you carry bitterness in your heart then it will take root and destroy you.

  2. I will tell you ANYTIME you bring up the OT you will get the message that it doesn’t count. THAT was before the NT, and before Jesus. They take bits and peices that sound GOOD to their side of viewing things. If you bring up the OT – yours doesn’t apply. I have to wonder where that rule book is so I don’t keep making that same mistake! Ya know – picking those that DO and DON’T apply! I remember asking once why they bother printing the OT with the bible anymore if that was the case. sighhhhhhhh!

    I remember a pastor telling me about a portion of the bible in which was instucting the slaves to treat their masters well even if they were mistreated. Then told me that applied to wifes of domestic violence as well. I reminded him that in that same verse he had already addressed wifes, husbands and slaves separately. He told me I missed the point. You are to endure suffering with grace. I wanted to knock my head against the wall. I asked him – so slave and wifes instructions apply to both of them EVEN when addressed separately…and what husband’s part stands alone? He told me YEP! Isn’t that nice?

    The road blocks of fear stand in our way. They can’t humble themselves to see the difference. You are correct – standing alone is to scarey! Jesus stood alone…aren’t they suppose to be like him? hmmmm.

    Okay – I’m starting to get mad again! I’d better stop here!

    • Re: OT – yes, I’ve experienced that. But what changed was relationship through the sacrifice and victory of Christ. All the aspects affected by that have changed. One huge example is how prominent God’s wrath is in the OT, while the NT clearly states that God’s wrath is being stored up for the end – at which time believers will be excluded. For believers, our lives are hidden with Christ in God and God’s wrath is not ever directed toward us. This is commonly misunderstood and mistaught in Christianity. This does not negate the principle of the fear of God (one of those ironic exceptions to what is valid still in the OT, according to most churches; they keep that!) but the fear of God is frequently taught inaccurately.

      BUT the OT has not ceased to be relevant. For one thing, God’s character has never changed and will never change. So what we learn of His character in the OT still applies.

      Universal principles remain universal principles as well – OT vs NT doesn’t change them. Some of those principles are how God views abuse, how God view intimate relationships, how God views women, etc.

      It might be one thing if the NT directly contradicted the OT on any of these. But, in fact, the NT underscores and repeats these principles, even though the exact examples are not repeated. Therefore, it is erroneous to selectively exclude inconvenient passages because they don’t mesh with your pet theology – no matter how dusty from centuries of use. That is simply sloppy scholarship and irresponsible avoidance.

      — Danni

    • Another passage that I am frequently told “doesn’t apply” is the fact that God got a divorce. “But that was different!” “That was in the OT and it doesn’t apply.” “That was God, and it was a spiritual thing! That doesn’t apply to human marriage.”

      I say these are all invalid statements. Human marriage is a picture of our relationship with God — not the other way around! If anything, this order would give increased weight to the validity of the argument, not the reverse.

      But it is inconvenient to think rationally, because it tampers with established theology. It is alot easier to just say, “Oh, that doesn’t apply!”

      — Danni

  3. Hannah: ” I wanted to knock my head against the wall.”

    Shucks. I thought you were going to say that you wanted to knock HIS head against the wall. I would have like to see something like that. He’s the one that deserved it for being so dense, not you.
    Did the thought even cross your mind?

    Who is mostly non-violent but does get hot around the collar once in a while when clergy display so much off-balance, male-serving doctrine.

  4. Hannah, read Isaiah 54. I LOVE that scripture. It shows the heart of God in the OT. God is love but he is also just and it’s hard for us to understand what that means sometimes. He doesn’t change, that is so awesome! The Lord led someone to show me that scripture at a time that I really needed a revelation of God’s love for me. There is still alot of scars that God has to mend in me but he is and it’s a process but I know that I can’t do it on my own. I found that out the hard way. I heard someone say once “You can either learn to trust God or go crazy!” I have to agree. He is the sanity that holds me together!

  5. O, and DO NOT let anyone tell you that it is just meant to refer to Israel! True that God did refer to Israel as his bride, and the church today(us) is the bride of Christ. But He actually compares His love for Israel as that EQUAL of His love for a woman with many children who was rejected! “Your Maker is your husband!” How awesome is that! He really loves us! It also says in Isaiah that he holds the oppressed close to his heart- actually, it says that all through the scriptures. Isn’t it wonderful how God uses the broken? Isn’t it wonderful how everything he does is the opposite of what human kind thinks “should” be done? Isn’t it wonderful that he loves us too much to leave us where we are? That no matter how deep we fall into that pit He can pull us out. Those times that we take one step forward give praise, then fall three steps back and curse Him, he’s there to grab our hand and pull us four steps forward and embrace us as we cry in shame.- (well, at least that’s how it always felt for me.)

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