The topic of divorce can be a very sensitive subject in the body of Christ. There are clear Scriptures that describe God’s hatred for divorce (c.f., Mal. 2:16). So how does the believer, specifically a biblical counselor, deal with divorce and remarriage, specifically within the context of domestic violence? Is it permissible for a man or woman to get remarried after a person has been a victim of domestic violence? Let us observe two specific Scriptures for the consideration of this particular topic. The first Scripture for our examination is Matthew 19:3-9:
3 Some Pharisees came to Jesus , testing Him and asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?” 4 And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” 7 They said* to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give her a certificate of divorce and send her away?” 8 He said* to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. 9 “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality , and marries another woman commits adultery.” (NASB).
In Matthew 19:3-9 the Pharisees approach Jesus to ask Him a question: Is it permissible for a man to divorce her for any reason at all? (vs.1-2). Jesus answers the question of the Pharisees specifically from the Law of Moses discussing that God joining man and woman in marriage (vs. 3-6). The Pharisees then asked why Moses commanded the nation of Israel to give the wife a certificate of divorce (lit. “send away”). This particular command is observed in the Old Testament (c.f., Deut. 24:1-4) (v. 7). Jesus answered the Pharisees saying that Moses permitted this because of the hardness of their heart but from the beginning, it was not to be this way (referring back to the creation account before the curse of the Fall of mankind). Then Jesus, speaking authoritatively mentioned that whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another commits adultery (v. 9).
There are four things to note concerning this certain passage above: First, the general audience Jesus is addressing is the Jewish people, specifically the Pharisees, not the body of Christ (i.e., the church). Second, Jesus is addressing the Pharisees with a specific argument found in the Law of Moses. Third, Jesus points to the real issue of the matter with the Pharisees: The action of divorce is just the effect, the cause of divorce is the hardness of heart, which answered the Pharisees initial question. Fourth, Jesus’s answer to the Pharisees addressed, in particular, the man in the marital relationship that has initiated the sending away of his wife, which was also a part of the Pharisees question. Jesus was pointing out the question concerning the men who did this saw their wives as expendable, and not as gifts given by God to them (c.f., Gen 2:14-15).
The second Scripture that discusses this topic is found in the book of 1 Corinthians 7:10-16:
But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband 11 (but if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife. 12 But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13 And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away. 14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy. 15 Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace. 16 For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife? (NASB).
In this context, Paul is writing to the saints who live in an idolatrous society. The inhabitants of Corinth worshipped one of the false deities known as Aphrodite who was the goddess of eros (sexual love) and beauty. Her temple stood at the top of the Acropolis so one would see it when they arrived at the city of Corinth. Paul addressed in his letter Gentiles who have come out of this pagan ritual and practice, and are doing good works within this culture. In addition, Paul also wrote to people who were once unbelievers and are now believers having to deal with the reality of being married to one who engaged in this act of worship at the temple (i.e. unbelievers)(vs. 12-13). If one chooses to leave the marriage, Paul instructed them to remain unmarried, not for justification sake, but for sanctification sake (by contrast to the idolatrous culture they were living in) (vs. 10-12).
There are several things to note in the above passage in contrast with the passage in the Book of Matthew: First, Paul did not specifically mention the Law of Moses when addressing marriage to the Gentiles in the church (in contrast to the subject of marriage in the Gospel of Matthew where the Law of Moses was explicitly mentioned). Paul’s audience in 1 Corinthians were mostly Gentiles who would have no reference to the Law of Moses unlike the Pharisees (Jesus’s audience in Gospel of Matthew’s was particularly Jews). Second, Paul was addressing both the husbands and the wives in Corinth (specifically dealing with willing and unwilling unbelieving spouses), whereas Jesus was handing only the husbands in the passage in Matthew. Third, while Jesus addressed why divorce takes place (i.e., the hardness of the heart) in the Book of Matthew, Paul promoted progressive sanctification by proper sexual conduct amongst Christians living in an idolatrous society. In short, the issue of violence within a marriage was not discussed in either text.
So how are we to address the issue of remarriage and divorce concerning domestic violence? Before the author answers this question, several points must be underscored:
- The person who has committed violence in a marriage has failed to serve their spouse: Scripture has laid out the conduct of husbands and wives in a marriage. Wives are to respect their husbands and husbands are to love their wives (Eph. 5:22-33; Col. 3:18-19). The standard is Christ, in that He is God in human flesh who served mankind by giving His life willingly for the forgiveness of our sins (Eph. 5:21). When a husband or wife, engages in domestic violence they are failing in their responsibility to honor and love their spouse as Christ served us.
- The person who has committed violence should suffer the due consequences for their actions: There are many verses in Scripture that discusses how one who is wrathful is destructive (Prov. 16:32; 19:19; 22:24; 30:33; Eph. 4:31-32). One who chooses to exercise their anger in this manner will bear the consequences of this anger. They will experience a lack of trust from the person who they have violated. This violent interaction that occurs in the marriage is not the fault of the person who has been offended. This is a natural consequence when one has chosen to violate their spouse in this manner, and this consequence includes the ultimate loss of trust (i.e., divorce), especially for the safety of the victim.
When it comes to domestic violence grace must be extended to the one who was violated by the person who abused them if one chooses to remarry. This is not an issue where one is divorcing their spouse for just any reason. This is also not the case where both are living in an idolatrous country and to keep them from worshipping false gods with sex there should be sexual intimacy between them. This is about the violation of a person who was made in the image of God. It is because of this one may suffer the consequences and this may include divorce (and rightly so) due to their wrathful and destructive behavior. In the context of domestic violence, the biblical counselor can remind counselee of God’s grace and that the remarriage can be one of true joy, companionship, and service for God’s glory.
When it comes to serving those who are victims of domestic violence let us do so in a manner that is gracious and kind, encouraging the faint-hearted as Paul described (1 Thess. 5:14). For this is our objective as Paul writes to do good to all, and especially those in the household of faith (Gal. 6:10).
Until next time…
Soli Deo Gloria!