Wayne Grudem used to hold the biblical belief that divorce is only permissible in cases of infidelity and abandonment. However, in an interview with Christianity Today, he revealed that he now believes there is Scriptural proof that allows divorce in the case of physical and emotional abuse.
Up until 2018, Grudem stood firm in the traditional belief that divorce is only acceptable for two reasons: adultery and desertion by an unbelieving spouse.
In fact, in his latest textbook Christian Ethics: An Introduction to Biblical Moral Reasoning, he asserts that although physical abuse may break the marriage covenant, neither Paul nor Jesus spoke of “covenant-breaking” in relation to divorce.
However, less than two years later, Grudem has changed his mind completely due to real-life examples that he and his wife have witnessed.
“My wife Margaret and I became aware of some heartbreaking examples of such things as severe sexual humiliation and degradation… and another case of physical battering that had gone on for decades,” Grudem told Christianity Today.
“In all these situations the abused spouse had kept silent, believing that a Christian’s duty was to preserve the marriage unless there was adultery or desertion, which had not happened.”
A week before Thanksgiving, Grudem presented a new paper detailing his latest position at the Evangelical Theological Society meetings in San Diego, CA, entitled Grounds for Divorce: Why I Now Believe There Are More than Two.
In it, he explained how his interpretation of 1 Cor. 7:15 had changed after further research and investigation. The verse says: “But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases, the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace.”
Originally, Grudem believed that the phrase “in such cases” referred to cases of desertion by the unbelieving partner. As he examined the Scriptures, he discovered that the phrase did not occur anywhere else.
However, after looking up 52 different uses of the phrase in ancient Greek literature, he noticed that “in such cases” was used in reference to similar incidents not just the one within the immediate context.
“These examples led me to conclude that in 1 Cor. 7:15, the phrase “in such cases” should be understood to include any cases that similarly destroy a marriage,” Grudem confessed.
Although Grudem has altered his “only two cases” approach to biblical divorce, he still emphasizes that reconciliation between partners should always be the main goal. Counseling, church discipline—if the abuser is a Christian—and restoration should always be sought first before discussing divorce.
However, if the abuse continues, whether it’s physical or emotional, Grudem believes the church has a responsibility and the support of God’s Word to pursue legal action in the form of a divorce.