The church has historically not been very supportive of women–or children, for that matter. Because the church promotes the husband as head of the household, they seem to think he gets to use his authority as he sees fit. Often, men use this position to get what they want at the expense of their family. But that is not what God meant by the husband being the head. So what does the Bible say about abusive husbands? And what does it say about how husbands are actually supposed to relate to their family?
Although you can find a few verses in the Bible that speak about abusive husbands, there are many more verses that speak to other kinds of abuse because husbands’ abuse toward their wives is no different than any other type of abuse. So when you see verses that speak about anyone being treated wrongly, you can take that to mean that it includes men who are abusing their wives as well. And when you do that, there are a very large number of passages from the Bible that speak to what abuse looks like and how to deal with it. Let’s take a look at some of the most important ones.
Table of Contents
What Does the Bible Say About Physically Abusive Husbands?
The Bible does not specifically say what to do about physically abusive husbands. But that does not mean that it has nothing to say about the subject. In truth, the Bible says a whole lot about this level of abuse in the marriage.
The Bible says a lot about abuse. Actually, the Bible clearly teaches that all abuse is never acceptable and always sin. Let’s take a look.
Proverbs 3:31 says, “Do not envy the violent or choose any of their ways.” The husband (or anyone else for that matter) is not to choose any of the ways of physical abusers. He is not to envy or have any appreciation for the ways of them either. Even the thought of physical abuse is never acceptable.
Psalm 11:5 says, “The LORD examines the righteous, but the wicked, those who love violence, he hates with a passion.” This speaks so clearly for itself. I can’t add anything to it to enhance its meaning. Except for maybe that if God feels this way about wicked people in general, how much more does He hate what men do to the wives they have pledged to love and cherish for life?
James 4:1-2 says, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive because you ask with wrong motives that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” This is about what is in our hearts. We can try to hide what we really feel and think, but it will come out eventually.
What Does the Bible Say About Emotionally Abusive Husbands?
The Bible doesn’t really distinguish much between physical and non-physical abuse. It’s all considered violence against another person. I found this incredibly comforting that God has always called emotional, psychological, financial, and verbal abuse violence.
The church is just now starting to catch up to that concept. It’s heartbreaking to know that for many years church leadership has actually thrown out the victimized instead of the evil. It took a long time for my church to understand that non-physical abuse is just as damaging if not more so than physical abuse.
Many churches are still not on board. A close friend of mine was excommunicated from her church when I was going through my separation/divorce. They told her they were praying for her and hoped she would repent and become a Christian. All because she asked for help in her abusive marriage. Her now ex-husband is still a member in good standing at that church.
Psalm 34:12-14 says, “Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies. Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” This speaks warning to abusers, emotional and otherwise, just by saying that if you expect God to be on your side, you had better be an upright person. This passage goes on to say, “…the face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth. The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” If only the church would come alongside the abused in their midst and comfort those who are crushed in spirit!
What Does the Bible Say About Angry Husbands?
If I wrote about just this topic alone, I would have a huge book. Maybe that’s a good idea! The Bible says so much about anger. While many of those verses are not specifically spoken to abusive husbands, they certainly apply.
Since many of these verses don’t need explanation, I’m just going to drop them here and let you take them in and meditate on them as they stand.
Psalm 37:8-9 “Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret–it leads only to evil. For evil men will be cut off, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.”
Proverbs 14:29 “Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.”
Proverbs 22:24 “Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man.”
Proverbs 29:22 “A man of wrath stirs up strife, and one given to anger causes much transgression.”
Ecclesiastes 7:9 “Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the heart of fools.”
Ephesians 4:31 “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
Colossians 3:8-9a “But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other…”
Colossians 3:19 “Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.”
What Does the Bible Say About Husbands Respecting Their Wives?
The Bible actually speaks a ton about how husbands should honor and respect their wife. And once again, I’m going to just put the verses here and let them speak for themselves.
Ephesians 4:32 “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
Ephesians 5:28-29 “In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church…”
Colossians 3:19 “Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.”
1 Thessalonians 5:11 “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”
1 Timothy 5:8 “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
1 Peter 3:7 “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.”
And the Verses That Say it All About Love
This chapter in the Bible is known as the love chapter because it summarizes up everything perfect love is and does. With it comes the realization that opposite behaviors snuff out love.
1 Corinthians 13:1-13 “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
Are Abused Wives Really Called to Suffer?
Abused wives are absolutely not called to suffer abuse in their marriage for the sake of the Gospel of Christ. This is a prominent belief in the church and it is against nearly everything the Bible stands for.
So what does the Bible mean when it talks about suffering for Christ? It means that if you are suffering for the literal gospel of Christ, then you are standing for God. It means those times when you are bullied for carrying your Bible, told you cannot exercise your faith, or mocked or persecuted for your religious beliefs.
Suffering for Jesus has nothing to do with submitting to abuse in your household. The Bible says abusive husbands are in sin. And it says you are to walk away from evil and expose it so others will not suffer. Here are a few verses on that:
Proverbs 22:24 “Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man.”
Ephesians 5:11 “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.”
1 Corinthians 15:33 “Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.”
There are plenty more, but I’m sure you get the point.
As for the church or organization that tells you it is godly for you to “suffer for Christ” under your husband’s abuse, Romans 16:17 says, “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.” Do not let others heap more abuse on you by saying that you need to stay with your abusive husband if you feel unsafe or unhealthy and need to leave.
Does the Bible Say Wives Required to Stay With Their Abusive Husbands?
Malachi 3:16 is probably the most quoted verse in the Bible by Christians who refuse to support a woman getting a divorce for abuse. Unfortunately, the people who do that don’t bother to read the rest of the verse or even many parts of the Bible that speak about protecting yourself and others from abuse. Let’s take a look at the whole verse first:
“The man who hates and divorces his wife,” says the LORD, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect,” says the LORD Almighty. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful.
While this verse does not directly speak to husbands physically abusing their wives, it does speak about abandonment, which is a form of abuse. It is telling husbands to love their wives and treat them well. But in some translations, including this one (New International Version), it does allude to the fact that the man who hates his wife is doing violence to her through that hate. The contempt that happens when a marriage is in trouble can cause physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual, verbal, financial, or sexual abuse. They are all insidious ways to treat the one you have pledged to love.
It is important to note here that when the husband hates his wife and treats her contemptuously, he has broken the marriage covenant already. So if she chooses to take herself and her children to safety, she is not the one breaking the marriage covenant. She is just acting out of the fact that it was already broken.
At the end of the verse, it tells husbands to be on guard and do not be unfaithful. If the husband continues to keep the covenant of marriage, he will love and honor his wife. There will be no abuse that causes the violence that breaks the covenant.
The One-flesh Issue
One factor that makes it hard for some people to comprehend that God allows for divorce is the one-flesh terminology. Once a couple has come together in marriage and is one-flesh, it is physically impossible to undo that. And for that reason, many think that the marriage cannot be undone in God’s eyes “until death do us part.” But the Bible itself gives counsel regarding the justification for divorce. And this verse, among others, tells us that while God hates divorce, it is not the divorce itself that He really hates, but the behavior surrounding it. He certainly isn’t letting abusive husbands off the hook.
In addition to the one-flesh argument, people also say because the Bible only speaks about adultery and abandonment, those are the only forms of abuse that He condones. While I openly admit that I am not a Bible scholar, I do see based on other verses in the Bible that just because those are the only two situations mentioned that they are the only two permissable reasons for divorce.
There is nothing about attempted murder being justification for divorce. So should a wife that almost died at the hands of her husband remain married to him? Combining this concept with the verse in John 21:25 that says, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.“
Jesus Chose Not to Play Captain Obvious
While this verse says there would not be enough room in the whole world to write down everything Jesus did, I think the same can be said for what He said and taught. I also think there were many things Jesus didn’t say because He didn’t feel it necessary to state the obvious. Maybe divorce because of abuse or attempted murder were too obvious for Him to waste His breath on.
The secular historical documents of Jesus’ time indicate that culturally it was normally acceptable for women to get a divorce when abused or neglected. Because this was a well-known part of life at the time, it would make perfect sense that Jesus wouldn’t need to elaborate on it. It was a given.
The type of divorce that Jesus was most verbal about was when men just got tired of their wives and wanted to trade them in for a “younger, more preferable model.” In His day, when a man threw his wife away, she couldn’t just get a job or alimony payments. Her life and livelihood were essentially destroyed. The only thing she could do was get a new husband. That is likely what the verse in Matthew 5:32 is referring to when it says, “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 not placing the blame on the wife who was victimized by the husband and forced to be supported by another man. Unless she was the one who committed sexual immorality. What this verse seems to say is that the original husband is responsible for his own adultery in putting away his first wife and getting remarried to another woman, plus the woman he put away, plus the man she married.
In Jeremiah 3:8, God talks about Israel’s unrepentance and His decision to divorce Israel. The fact that God divorced His chosen people because of repeated sin with no sign of repentance is our example that while God certainly grieves for the sinful condition of His own, divorce is not the sin when it is done to protect the wife/children of an abusive husband.
Just so you can see, here is Jeremiah 3:8: “I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries. Yet I saw that her unfaithful sister Judah had no fear; she also went out and committed adultery.”
The Bible says abusive husbands must turn away from their abuse, not just to their wives, but to all people in their life. But if they don’t, then you must do what is necessary to keep yourself safe. If you feel like you are in immediate physical danger, call the National Domestic Abuse Hotline at 800-799-7233 or visit them online.
If you do not feel like you are in immediate danger, here is a great resource to help you determine the extent of abuse in your marriage, or if it is just a difficult marriage that you and your husband need to work through It starts with a test to determine the type of marriage you are in. Then it will help you to decide how you want to navigate going forward. And finally, it will help you to walk whichever path you chose. It is such a perfect start-to-finish guide. It was given to me by my counselor at the beginning of my journey and was the book I went to the most. I hope it can help you as much as it did me! Click to check it out here:
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