The common teaching that wives must submit to their husbands, even when they are violent is wrong. Godly submission does not require a woman to be a punching bag.


Every Christian knows that God hates divorce, but few bother to read what the scriptures really say. The passage in Malachi is not really about divorce, but is directed at violent men. These men were complaining because their prayers were not answered. God responds by saying,

The Lord has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth. You have acted treacherously against her, though she was your marriage partner and your wife by covenant (Mal 2:14).
The Lord is a witness to every marriage. He has observed the treacherous way these men have treated their wives, so he gives a stern warning.
So watch yourselves carefully, and do not act treacherously against the wife of your youth (Mal 2:15).
God hates mistreatment of wives, because it leads to divorce.
"For I hate divorce," says the Lord, the God of Israel, "and him who covers his garment with violence," says the Lord of hosts. "So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously" (Mal 2:16).
God does not like divorce, but primarily he hates the husband who puts on a garment of violence and treats his wife "treacherously". Some translations tone this down, but the Hebrew word is a strong one. It refers to "violence or maltreatment". The man who attacks his wife with violence or emotional treachery has broken his covenant with his wife. God is the witness who speaks against him.

The message of Malachi is not that God hates divorce, but that he hates physical and emotional violence in marriage and its treachery to the marriage covenant that often leads to divorce.

Violence cancels Covenants

God does not want a person to be held in a place by a contract or covenant if they will be treated violently. The Law of Moses allows a man who has fallen into debt to bond himself to work as a servant for a person who would pay off his debts in return.
If a man strikes the eye of his male or female servant, and destroys it, he shall let him go free for the sake of his eye. And if he knocks out the tooth of his male or female servant, he shall let him go free for the sake of his tooth (Ex 21:26-27).
This command applies to both men and women. A wife has greater freedom than a female bondservant. So if violence sets a servant free, violence must set a wife free too. Violence nullifies a covenant or contract. When a man is violent towards his wife, his treachery to the marriage covenant annuls it.


In Old Testament times, they dowry provided a way for a woman to escape from a dangerous marriage. The role of a dowry was different from the modern understanding. A young man wanting to marry a young woman paid a dowry to her father as proof of his diligence, reliability and ability to support her.

He must pay a dowry for her to be his wife (Ex 22:16).
The father retained the dowry, as a guarantee of his son-in-law's good behaviour. (In some circumstance, he might loan the dowry back to the son and daughter to pay for a house or business, but he would retain ownership of it in trust for his daughter).

Abraham gave costly gifts to Rebecca's mother and brother as a dowry for her marriage to Isaac (Gen 24:53). Jacob did not have a dowry to give Rachel's father when he wanted to marry her. He was a dodgy character, so Laban demanded a big dowry to cover the risk. Jacob had to work without wages for seven years to earn the dowry Laban required.

A girl's father decides what the dowry should be, depending on the reputation of the prospective suitor. When Shechem wanted to marry Jacob's daughter Dinah he offered to pay a dowry.

Ask me ever so much dowry and gift, and I will give according to what you say to me; but give me the young woman as a wife (Gen 24:12).
Saul was a jealous and foolish man, so he demanded a dowry of hundred dead Philistines as a dowry, when David wanted to marry his daughter Michal (1 Sam 18:25).

When a woman commits to a man and has his children, she puts herself in a vulnerable position. She loses her capacity to earn and by having children she reduces her attraction to potential husbands. The dowry protects her during this time of vulnerability. If the wife has to leave her husband and return to her father, he did not need to return the dowry, but could use it to provide for her financial support.

God recognised that marriage was risky for women and provided a way for them to escape if they were mistreated by their husbands. They could return to their father and know that financial support would be available. It also puts pressure on husbands to honour and respect their wives.

The concept of the dowry was corrupted by the world. It was twisted around and became a payment that a father had to pay to a man to get her to marry his daughter. This was a terrible devaluation of the value of women. It turned women into chattels that could be bought by the highest bidder. It provided no protection for the women once they were married.

Christians should restore true biblical dowry to marriage. It would encourage better behaviour by men, and provide better protection for women.

If a true dowry is restored, this would give the father of the wife authority to decide if a marriage should end. The aggrieved wife could not afford to leave her husband without her father agreeing to withdraw the dowry and use it to support her. He must decide if the physical or emotional violence was sufficient to break the marriage covenant. Because this is a big decision, the father might want to consult with his elders, before making the decision.

Adultery and Violence

The seventh commandment forbids adultery, but the commandment against murder comes first. It forbids all kinds of assault and violence. There is more in the law about violence than against adultery. In fact, Moses did not enforce the penalties against adultery due to hardness of heart (Matt 19:8). Moses never gave the same opt-out for murder and assault. So although all sin is serious, assault and violence is more serious than adultery. Therefore, if adultery is grounds for divorce, so is assault and violence.


The topic of marriage is covered in 1 Corinthians 7. The chapter deals with various themes.

Role of the State

The marriage and divorces certificates provided by government officials are a sideshow and have no status in God's economy.

Human governments do not have authority over marriage. They cannot change something that God has established, so Christians should not allow them to define marriage for them. God has already defined marriage and human governments cannot change God's word. Christian marriage should be based on God's word and not on legislation established by a human government.

When unbelievers get married, God is the witness to their marriage, not the state (Mal 2:14). Their commitment to each other and their consummation of that commitment is what makes their marriage. Isaac was married to Rebecca when he accepted her as her wife and "took her into his tent" (Gen 24:69). He did not have a marriage certificate from the state, but he was married in God's eyes.

In the same way, when a husband commits adultery, or persistently assaults his wife, she is no longer bound to him in God's eyes. It is irrelevant whether the divorce papers have gone through or not. If a woman who is deserted by an unbelieving husband meets another man and commits to him, and cohabits with him, she is already married to him in God's eyes. It does not matter, if the state has recognised the divorce or if they are legally married again.

Getting other believers and elders who know the situation to support the person's understanding of God's witness will be important to avoid making rash mistakes. Agreement of two or three will be important. Once a woman or man has left and begun a marriage with a new partner (in God's eyes) his preference is that they should not go back to a previous spouse (Jer 3:1).


Deuteronomy 22:28-29 has to be taken in context of other similar scriptures. The case in Deut 22:28-29 is different from the verses that precede it where the girl is forcibly raped.

It describes a situation where a man "seizes" a girl and lies with her. The Hebrew word for seize "taphes" is not a strong word. It means to grab hold. The man has used minimal force.

The couple are discovered, so it seems that although she was seized, she did not resist strongly (as described in Deut 22:24), but goes along, perhaps out of fear.

Once they had sexual intimacy, the two becomes one, so in God's eyes, they are married. This is why the man is expected to marry the girl. The only way for the girl to avoid the marriage would be for her to divorce the man and annul the marriage.

The scriptures provide the girl with strong protection. The man has to pay a penalty of 25 shekels to her father. If he did not have that silver, he would have to bond himself to work for the girl's father until he had earned it. The girl is able to divorce the man, but he is not able to divorce her. So the protection lies in her favour.

Ex 22:10 still applies. The man would have to pay a dowry to the girl's father in trust for her well-being (on top of the 25 shekels penalty). If the marriage does not work out, the girl could divorce him and keep the dowry for her financial support. She would also be able to retain the penalty the man paid to her father.

God's law puts protection in place for a girl in a situation where most cultures would have left her vulnerable.