I was asked a question about marriage, divorce, and remarriage. It was asked, “I know Matthew 19:9 says that one cannot divorce except it be for fornication, but what if your spouse is physically abusive, should you not be able to divorce and leave that person?” Sadly, some people have been trapped in terrible situations with the one person who was supposed to be their loving partner in life. Fear and social pressure have pushed people to retaliate in terrible ways to get out of abusive marriages. Wouldn’t it be better to just part ways than to be pushed to the edge? Many have said, “No!”
A common misconception Bible readers teach from Matthew 19:9 is that one cannot divorce except it be for fornication. The verse actually doesn’t forbid a person from divorce (even when fornication has not been committed), it only forbids divorce and remarriage except in cases of fornication. Christ states, “And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery” (Matthew 19:9). The verse conjoins two actions, divorce, and remarriage. One must do both to commit fornication in the context. Matthew 19:9 deals with remarriage, not divorce. Matthew 19:9 would not apply to the question, “Should a person leave or divorce a spouse who is physically abusive?” The question that Matthew 19:9 answers is “Can a person remarry if the spouse does not cheat?” Jesus says, “No.” What Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 7:10-15 has more to do with the main question than Matthew 19:9.
The church in Corinth dealt with many forms of division and fracturing, especially in the homes of Christians. Paul wrote, “And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife” (1 Cor. 7:10,11). First, Paul echoed what the Lord said in Matthew 19:6b: “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” However, Paul then explained that if a spouse was determined to leave or was not happy to dwell with their spouse then that person has two options. The spouse either leaves and remains “unmarried” or the spouse can “be reconciled” to their husband/wife (vs. 11). In either case, remarriage was not an option for Christians. Only two things broke the marriage bond, death (Rom. 7:1-3) and fornication (Matt. 19:9).
In Corinth, it had happened that one marriage partner had obeyed the gospel while one did not, which created great strife in the marriage (1 Cor. 7:12-14; Matt. 10:34-36). Paul explained that a spouse should not divorce or leave his/her spouse if they were pleased to dwell with their believing or unbelieving spouse, but in the case in which one spouse was not pleased to dwell with their believing or unbelieving spouse and one leaves or demands that the believer leaves the church, then the believer was “not under bondage” or obligation to go with their infidel spouse (1 Cor. 7:15). The marriage bond did not take priority over the bond with Christ. There has never existed a bond that takes precedence over the bond with Christ!
There exists a point in which the Lord doesn’t obligate a Christian to stay with his/her spouse. If a husband or wife has such great influence or power over their Christian spouse that the unrighteous spouse leads the Christian away from the church or makes it impossible for the Christian to be a Christian, then the Christian must depart (2 Cor. 6:14-17). One should never separate themselves from God to keep a partnership with an infidel.
There are many ways in which a wicked spouse can pull a Christian away from their relationship with God. If an unrighteous spouse’s physical abuse has created such fear in his/her Christian spouse that the Christian cannot go to worship, read or study the Bible, teach others about Christ, then it is time for the Christian to “come out from among them, and be ye separate” (2 Cor. 6:17). No Christian should tell their brothers or sisters in Christ to stay in a marriage in which they are being spiritually and physical abused to the point that they are being led away from God!