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What the Bible Says About Domestic Violence

When someone hears the words “domestic violence,” many think of a battered wife in an impoverished neighborhood. While this is sometimes true, abuse can happen in many forms, to many women of all races and financial status. Even worse, domestic abuse also occurs in the homes of Christians, including pastors and leaders.


Domestic violence is an act, or threatened act of violence upon someone with whom the perpetrator is or has previously been in an intimate relationship. Physical injury is the most obvious form. But it also refers to emotional, psychological, sexual, financial, and/or spiritual abuse. And they are all extremely harmful with long-term impact on victims.


Although distressing to realize, “Christian” families are not immune. And too often Christian women suffer in silence because the church fails to appropriately address the issue. This heartbreak is well-documented within police departments and counseling offices. Yet the one place it is ignored is the place that’s supposed to be safest – the church.


Misconceptions About Domestic Violence


There are several misconceptions which may keep church leaders from recognizing the problem exists.


  • Domestic violence doesn’t happen in Christian homes. Christians might look great on the outside but can hide dark secrets inside. No one wants to believe the hardworking church leader is in fact treating his wife, and even his children, in such a sinful way. Yet, the struggle is real. These women are being treated unspeakably by husbands who promised to honor and cherish them.


  • Submitting would solve the problem. Too often, women who seek counsel from their pastors are frequently subjected to guilt and shaming. Misusing passages like Ephesians 5:22, 1 Peter 3:1-6 or Titus 2:3-5, these victimized wives are encouraged to submit, to pray more, to have a quiet spirit and stop disobeying. These are unhealthy suggestions. By only affirming a man’s role as the head of a home without addressing the sin behavior, merely sanctions it.


  • It’s always the woman’s fault. This misconception is an accepted segue way from submitting. There sometimes is an unspoken belief a woman experiences abuse because she isn’t being a good Christian wife. The blame game started in Genesis 3:12 when Adam blamed Eve (and even God) for his choice to eat the fruit. Telling women to just “give their spouse more sex,” lose weight,” or even just to “pray more,” is not addressing the real problem.


  • It’s not abuse if there are no bruises. For some reason, church leaders do not consider name calling, shaming, criticizing, controlling the finances, or even forcing a wife to have sex is abusive. Counseling a woman to accept these behaviors as “okay” is not biblical, wise, or healthy.


  • If an abuser apologizes, forgiveness should be extended and the relationship reconciled. Women statistically return to a destructive relationship over seven times before they leave for good. Often, they are suffering psychologically and exhibit signs of PTSD. Many pastors urge women to accept an apology when offered without discussing the evidence of true remorse. Forgiveness can help the victim release bitterness, but reconciliation without repentance can put women right back into a dangerous situation.


  • The Bible doesn’t really address domestic violence for Christians. This is the last and worst misconception church leaders often hold when it comes to domestic violence. And, if you’ve skimmed through the Bible, especially the Old Testament, it is hard to ignore the stories of brutality, rape, war, and unhealthy relationships. Yet, there are plenty of places in God’s Word where domestic violence is addressed. Unfortunately, many church leaders either ignore the truth, are unwilling to tackle the real problem, or have not been trained to deal with abusive relationships.


What The Bible Says about Domestic Violence


Often sermons about marriage start by quoting Genesis 2:24, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.”  This early Biblical passage clearly forms the foundation for the Bible’s understanding of marriage.  However, it is very important to understand how the sin of Adam and Eve impacted God’s ideal for the relationship He created.


The moment Adam and Eve sinned, God’s creation for the marriage relationship was corrupted. One minute in time, one act of disobedience and the trajectory of God’s plan for this world was changed forever. And the impact has never been felt more than in marriage relationships.


God intended for the marriage relationship to have security, trust, oneness, peace, kindness, and partnership.  Instead, marriages are wracked with insecurity, suspicion, division, strife and a “me first” attitude. Why? The answer is SIN. Narcissism, alcohol addiction, abandonment, anger, deviant behavior, and abuse run rampant. This was never God’s plan.


The Bible views all violence as an offense against God. Time and again it is associated with wickedness and denounced as “detestable to the Lord.”  Psalm 11:5 indicates, The LORD tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence. Several other passages in the Bible make it clear God strongly condemns abuse and taking advantage of others. (Psalm 73:6; Romans 1:28-31; Exodus 22:22; Isaiah 10:2)


One of the most helpful passages in the Bible describing behaviors often seen in domestic violence is Galatians 5:19-21.  “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” The sins listed in these verses often accompany domestic violence. They are:


  • Jealousy. Progressive jealous behavior is often one of the first warning signs of an abusive personality. At first it may be excused as love and care, but it can quickly become a form of abusive control and coercion.

  • Fits of Rage. An abuser's rage can effectively intimidate and control his partner and children. By being scary and threatening, he can have his way.

  • Discord and Dissension. Even in the absence of physical abuse, verbal, emotional, and psychological abuse destroys relationships and homes.

  • Drunkenness. Though alcohol and drug abuse are not always the cause of domestic violence, they are frequently present in that situation. An abuser may use them as an excuse for battering, claiming the addiction "made him out of control." 

  • Selfishness. Abusers are often self-centered and narcissistic (lover of self).

  • Sexual Immorality, Impurity and Debauchery. Sexual abuse is frequently found in domestically violent relationships. Abusers may also have "affairs" or engage in pornography due to an accompanying sexual addiction, or a desire to hurt and demean their partner.


Another place where the Bible addresses abuse is found in Colossians 3:8. “But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.”  This verse addresses physical, emotional, and verbal abuse.  The Greek word here for malice means “DESIRE TO INJURE.”  If even the desire to injure is wrong, it goes without saying injuring someone (physically, emotionally, verbally) should also be stopped


Proverbs 3:19 (and Matthew 18:15) encourage us to speak up.  “Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy." In an unhealthy marriage (one where there is extreme issues) you may be the one who is poor and needy so you can certainly stand up for yourself. Then in Leviticus 19:17 we find: " ……. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt.” The Hebrew word here for “neighbor” means relation or neighbor.  Thus, it can absolutely apply to a spouse and encourages confrontation of the sin.


The most important way the Bible addresses abuse can be found in John 13:34. God commands us to “love one another.” Abuse disregards others and is the opposite of this command. This is further explained in Ephesians 5:1-2: “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Nowhere, in any circumstance, is domestic violence or abuse loving someone as God loved us.


Responding to Domestic Violence Victims


The following are Scriptural guidelines for responding to domestic violence.


  • Proverbs 27:12 indicates it is right to protect yourself from violent people. David fled from King Saul when he acted violently against David; the angel of the Lord warned Joseph to flee to Egypt with baby Jesus because Herod was trying to kill him; and Paul escaped from those who sought to stone him.

  • Ephesians 5:11 says it is good to expose the abuser. Bringing evil deeds into the light is the only way to hold the abuser accountable and get help for the victim.

  • Matthew 18:15-17 says we are to speak the truth in love. When someone grievously sins against us and will not listen, it is good to bring the matter before wise counsel for additional support and accountability.

  • Galatians 6:7 indicates what we sow, we reap. One of life’s greatest teacher is consequences and those who are violent must experience the consequences of his/her sinful behavior. A person who uses violence at home does so because he gets away with it. Don't let that happen. (Prov. 19:19).

  • In Acts 22:24-29, Paul appealed to the Roman government when he was being mistreated. God has put civil authorities in place to protect victims of abuse. Don’t hesitate to get local law authorities involved when you are in danger.



So how should a Christian respond to abuse (personally or in general)? First and foremost, call abuse what it is: SIN. Then, stop giving in to it. When the apostle Paul encountered some spiritually abusive leaders in 2 Corinthians, he told the believers not to put up with it (2 Cor. 11:20). And in Romans 12:21 he says “not to be overcome by evil, but to overcome evil with good.” Though both situations don’t specifically say “domestic violence,” they still apply.


Domestic violence must be recognized and dealt with as sin. The marriage relationship is meant to reflect God’s love for us and these behaviors do just the opposite. God’s Word encourages Christians to recognize the evil conduct and stand up for the victims.



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