Having stared Divorce Minister: Taking Adultery Seriously just last summer, I have had the opportunity to read and hear a variety of faithful spouses’ horror stories with the church. Literally thousands of individuals visit this website monthly from over 110 unique countries around the globe. Themes are starting to emerge.
The following are the top 3 most misused passages utilized to cause considerable spiritual distress to already distressed survivors of adultery:
1. Malachi 2:16–i.e. the God hates divorce verse.
This verse is usually utilized to control the faithful spouse and unbiblically limit his/her choices after discovering their spouse’s adulterous betrayal(s). To be clear: God and Jesus allow for divorce following even just one instance of sexual infidelity per Jesus’ own words (see Mt 5:32 and Mt 19:9). However, this verse from Malachi may be the first thing a faithful spouse is told after discovering adultery. And such a focus communicates to faithful spouse that the divorce is more shameful than the lies and adulterous betrayals, which actually destroyed the marriage. This is really backwards. Furthermore, the focus on God hating divorce exudes shame after the fact of divorce for any Christian must be a second-class Christian or pastor if he/she did something God hates!
It breaks my heart to see how God’s Word has been so twisted in the church so that Christians attempt to prohibit an action even God executed metaphorically (Jeremiah 3:8) in response to adultery thereby declaring it not sin. This is done while practically ignoring the always sin, adultery. Somehow, the evangelical church has forgotten–or never understood–that God hates adultery more than divorce.
Finally–and most importantly–this use of Malachi 2:16 forgets the context of the verse. God is calling Jewish men to account for abusing the mercy of divorce to legitimize what amounts to adultery in the eyes of God. Remember, the prophet Malachi would not be talking to them if they had committed adultery in the traditional way as they would have been killed (e.g. Deut 22:22). Malachi is addressing the wickedly inventive ways of humans who would obey the letter of the law while violating the spirit. So, the objection here is really over Jewish men choosing to commit adultery and God calling them to account. Adultery is the primary issue; not divorce.
2. Ephesians 5:22-33–i.e. the passage calling for wives to respect their husbands and husbands to love their wives.
I tackle the misuse of this passage here and here as well as other places on the blog. Essentially, this abuse of Ephesians suggests the marriage survives or dies based either upon the performance of the wife in executing her submission/respecting duties or the performance of the husband executing his loving leadership duties. This is a lie. Christian marriage is a covenant not a contract honored only for duties rendered! Personally, I see this misuse of Ephesians 5 as just a religiously dressed up version of the “Share Responsibility Lie.”
Furthermore, I will point out nowhere in Ephesians 5 is a guarantee from God that your marriage will be adultery free or safe from divorce even if you do love and respect the way it outlines. Also, I cannot think of a more disrespectful or unloving act than committing adultery against one’s spouse and God (as God is always party to a Christian marriage). This fact is usually absent in the discussion of this passage among evangelicals as well.
3. Hosea–i.e. the Bible book where the Prophet Hosea is told by God to take back his adulterous wife, Gomer.
This book is often invoked to manipulate faithful spouses into taking back adulterous spouses. The reasoning is that God takes back us, adulterous sinful people, as Hosea took back Gomer; therefore, a faithful Christian spouse must do the same to be godly. This is an abuse of the book, in my opinion, and constitutes spiritual abuse when employed in this way.
I say this because such Christian leaders misuse their spiritual authority to control in a way that is inconsistent with the full witness of the Bible or even this specific book itself. They fail to pay attention to the copious amounts of verses in Hosea calling for repentance from the adulterous “spouse.” Furthermore, verses where God divorces Israel over adultery are usually conveniently ignored (Jeremiah 3:8 and Isaiah 50:1). Such verses teach us that Hosea’s buying back Gomer–which is another discussion in itself–is not the only response God has to adultery.
Most glaringly missed is how this call on Hosea’s life is unique and given to him by God. It is an error to imply a special call on a person’s life is therefore normative for everyone else. The same reasoning used to do this with Hosea could be applied to the story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac. We do not teach Christian fathers to offer their sons as physical sacrifices as Abraham was called to do. And we do not make this a test of “godly” fatherhood either. I suggest we adopt the same sort of sanity when it comes to the book of Hosea. It is past time we realize this was a very unique call given to only one prophet in the Old Testament. I share more extensive thoughts on this book here.
When these texts are employed to manipulate and shame faithful spouses, Christian leaders using them are participating in spiritual abuse. They are misusing their spiritual authority and the texts to control and wound already wounded people. This is unacceptable in God’s people and doubly so in His anointed leaders.