The Bible does not address spousal abuse and what the injured spouse should do. Having said that, there are scriptural principles that would suggest he/she should SEPARATE from them until the offending spouse repents and reconciliation takes place. Some may go further than this and teach that one is free to DIVORCE their spouse if they are being physically abused, but there are only two reasons given in Scripture for divorce. The first one is ADULTERY: “But I (Jesus) say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason EXCEPT SEXUAL IMMORALITY causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorce commits adultery” (Matthew 5:32…NKJV). The second one is ABANDONMENT BY AN UNBELIEVING SPOUSE: “But if the unbeliever DEPARTS, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases. But God has called us to peace.” In this second case, the word “departs” has the thought of “desertion” and many believe it includes the thought of the desertion being final; that is, the unbelieving spouse is insisting on a divorce. If he does, the believing spouse should not resist; they are to “let him depart.”

There are some Bible teachers who believe a divorce is permissible for other causes, such as abuse, and they base this on Matthew 19:8, “He (Jesus) said to them, ‘Moses, because of the hardness of your heart, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the but from the beginning it was not so.” In this view, the husband who is abusing his wife is seeking the divorce (because of the hardness of his heart) and those who espouse this view go on to say this is an act of mercy for the wife for the divorce would actually protect her. The problem with this view is twofold: 1) The Lord refers to Moses (the great Lawgiver) and thus this only pertained to those who were “under the Law”; that is, to the nation of Israel; and 2) The Lord goes on to state (in verse 9) what we already saw in Matthew 5:32; that the husband can only divorce his wife if she is guilty of adultery.

I had said that there were scriptural principles that would seem to allow a spouse who is being abused to SEPARATE from their abusive spouse. If the abuse is “criminal in nature,” the injured spouse must “be subject to the governing authorities” (Romans 13:1-4) and report the crime to the authorities. The guilty spouse will then be punished by the law by either 1) being put in jail; 2) having a restraining order against them; or 3) allowing the injured spouse to obtain a LEGAL SEPARATION. Any of these cases result in the same thing: SEPARATION.

Perhaps the abuse cannot be proven to be criminal (i.e. there is no visible evidence of the abuse, such as a black eye, bruises, or a broken arm). In this case the injured spouse should seek the help of her local assembly of believers. If both spouses would be willing to receive counseling, they should seek out those who are known for their spiritual wisdom, discernment, and compassion. Proverbs 11:14 tells us that “in the multitude of counselors there is safety.” If the offending spouse is not willing to receive counsel we read of steps which should be taken in Matthew 18:15-17, “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.” An abused spouse would no doubt confront his/her abusive spouse first, but if he doesn’t repent, then one or two more would also confront the abuser. If there is still no repentance, the whole church would confront the guilty spouse and if that fails to bring produce repentance, the church would have to excommunicate the sinning believer. The Apostle Paul put it this way in 1st Corinthians 5:13, “Therefore ‘put away from yourselves the evil person.’” In the specific case of spousal abuse, I believe that the guilty spouse should not only be “separated from the local church,” but “separated from their innocent spouse.”

Let me end on a positive note. All forms of discipline (whether it be from the government or the local church) has one end in view; the RESTORATION of the sinning believer. This should also be the goal of the injured spouse…to see her guilty spouse repent of the sin of abuse resulting in being restored to fellowship with the Lord. Let us never forget that FORGIVENESS is the end in view. God wants to see them repent so He can forgive them, as we see in 1st John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” We too should want them to repent so we can forgive them, as we see in Ephesians 4:32, “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, FORGIVING ONE ANOTHER, just as God in Christ forgave you.” It should be pointed out that the man who was put out of fellowship in Corinth (in 1st Corinthians 5) ended up repenting and because of this Paul wrote to the saints at Corinth, “This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man, so that, on the contrary, YOU OUGHT RATHER TO FORGIVE AND COMFORT HIM, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow. Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him” (2nd Corinthians 2:6-8). If an abused spouse separates from their abusive spouse and it results in true repentance, FORGIVE THEM and REAFFIRM YOUR LOVE TO THEM. If this happens a true RECONCILIATION can take place and the separation can end. (339.5) (DO)