I want to explore what the Bible says about divorce in instances of spousal abuse. Every now and then, I’m asked about this. More often, I have to endure listening to others spout their ill-informed opinions to people with even less Biblical awareness than the “prophet” claiming to speak for God. The problem lies in the absence of clear Biblical direction, as we understand it. The Bible says nothing directly in straightforward language, leaving many to speculate that there is no Biblical justification for divorce in the midst of an abusive marriage.
God fearing wives put their allegiance to God over their own well-being. For the sake of obedience to scripture, they remain imprisoned in their own suburban hell. They’d rather live in misery than risk disobedience to God. Does God really want His daughters imprisoned by a decision they made years ago? Perhaps they married out of fear to begin with! I plan to write a few different posts exploring a few different angles on this topic.
Keep in mind, multiple posts will eventually all fit together. Each individual post is far from conclusive or exhaustive. I want to give food for thought. Ultimately, the difficult decision will rest in the heart and mind of the victim.
THE “PLAIN” TEACHING OF JESUS
31 “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
This is often considered one of the most straightforward teachings from Jesus on divorce. It is also thought to be exhaustive. Put simply, “If no one cheated, divorce is a sin.” Divorce is usually understood to be a massive unforgivable wedge between a person and God. The Bible says God hates divorce, it’s true. I’ve been asked. “Pastor, am I going to hell because I got divorced.”
For this first post, I want to take a look just under the surface. The details would have said more to an ancient crowd than they tell us today.
Whenever Jesus launches with the verbiage, “It has been said… but I tell you…”, He’s invoking an awareness of a common understanding, and then taking it to another level with His new interpretation.
By mentioning a certificate of divorce, Jesus is immediately drumming up the ancient Jewish understanding of divorce. Moses had told the Israelites they could divorce, so long as they gave a certificate that made it legal. We’ll talk more about that in future sessions. All I want you to know right now is that there was an ongoing debate about whether or not a man could divorce his wife for any reason, so long as he gave her a certificate.
Only men could initiate a divorce in those days. Horrifying is it was for a woman, she was her husband’s property. She had no rights. She could not choose to leave her husband. Did you notice that Jesus only addresses a man divorcing his wife? That’s why. That doesn’t mean it was the way it should be. It just means that’s how it was back then. Had Jesus talked to women about cause for divorce, it would have been cruel because they simply didn’t have that option.
THE RAMIFICATION FOR WOMEN
Many in the day believed they could, for any reason, send their wife packing so long as they provided a legal certificate. This left the woman with few options, especially if her father wouldn’t take her back. She was essentially damaged or used goods in that world. Some rabbis speculated that if a woman burned dinner, or simply because someone came along half her age and twice as hot, since you were no longer pleased with your wife, you could dump her.
Can you imagine the hell this would have created for many woman? Be there to do for your husband whatever he wanted whenever he wanted it! Not to mention the fact that most women had no say in whom they married. Awful.
JESUS PROTECTED WOMEN
“You’ve heard it said, ‘You can divorce your wife by giving her a legal certificate.’, but I’m saying it’s only a real separation in God’s eyes if she’s cheated on you!”
This at least provided domestic protection for the woman with no other rights. At the very least, she could no longer be thrown out on the street for no reason! Now a husband has to make the best of his situation because he can’t just hand her a certificate and find a replacement. I’m sure this is far from God’s dream for a marriage! Do you see, though, how this one teaching would have actually offered reasonable protection for the well-being of a wife.
What if, all this time, a teaching that was meant to offer women just a little bit of protection in its original context has actually been used to imprison wives in an abusive relationship? Should we necessarily assume that, if women had had the right to divorce back then, that God would have expected them to stay in an abusive relationship? Jesus was trying to protect women’s well-being with this teaching, not imprison them!
More to come…