Recently I have come across the most current John MacArthur controversy and it has concerned me greatly. Not necessarily what MacArthur has said or done, but the fact that no one is standing up to it. As of this writing I have yet to find one major reformed pastor speaking out against MacArthur’s comments.
For those who may not know, John MacArthur’s comments from 2002 about abusive marriage have resurfaced, and rightfully so. In those comments, MacArthur states that abuse is not a reason for divorce. In fact, he encourages the wife to remain with the husband in this situation. Some of the answers he gives are here below. (For a full transcript, please visit the site here)
From MacArthur “How should a wife respond to a physically abusive husband?”
Still, while Scripture does not specifically instruct the battered wife, it gives principles that certainly apply to her. Proverbs 14:16 says, “A wise man is cautious and turns away from evil” (NASB). God gives us wisdom to be defensive and cautious. We duck when something flies through the air at our heads. Common sense tells us to avoid situations where we’re placed in physical danger. And I believe that is what God expects of us.
MacArthur opens up pretty well, stating that we should be defensive and cautious. And I would agree, when we are placed in Physical Danger (even in marriage) we should remove ourselves from that situation. He even states God would expect that of a person. So how does MacArthur recommend this be done? By staying in physical danger.
My advice to women who are in danger of physical injury from their husbands is first of all to try to defuse the situation. Be careful not to provoke any circumstances that will make your husband become violent. Proverbs 15:1 says, “A soft answer turns away wrath.”
Not only does he not make any recommendation to leave, he victim blames. Its the responsibility of the abused to regulate the emotions of the abuser. Its the abused job to “defuse the situation”. On top of this, MacArthur is recommending that the abused walk on eggshells so as to not make hubby mad. Since it is clearly her fault that she didn’t tiptoe through her day around an abuser. He then puts a pretty bible verse bow on the end to make it look right. Forgive the forthcoming seminary lesson.
A Quick Seminary Lesson
Lets talk about Proverbs 15:1. I would operate under the assumption that since MacArthur has run a university he has taken the courses in Old Testament Survey. I did an MDiv at Liberty, and I can tell you even there, they were pretty big on understanding the context of Scripture and not attempting to remove it from context to apply in the modern era. In “Old Testament Survey” by LaSor, Hubbard and Bush, Proverbs as a whole is described as poetry language and is generally broken into different sections. Proverbs 15 falls under the section referred to as “Wisdom of Solomon” and is considered the oldest section in the book. These verses are set up as two line stich, giving a positive and a negative. The trick here is that they are opposites of an argument, not one coherent statement. This verse is not saying “always give a gentle answer, because if you don’t you will stir up wrath”. Rather it is saying “A gentle answer turns away wrath. Being harsh with people will do the opposite.” Its two separate statements, not one coherent statement.
I can guarantee it is not saying “walk on egg shells around your abuser because if you don’t, you will have really put yourself in the ER when he beats you”.
This is how you can take a beautiful wisdom verse, and turn it into a tool that an abuser can use to continue to convince a battered person to stay in a horrible situation. The assumption of the verse is the speaker is the cause of the positive or negative action. This is not the case with an abused victim. It is not there fault and this verse is grossly out of context for that situation. Congratulations John, you have victim blamed and used scripture to prove it. But wait… there is more
Leave the Situation, but you Must Come Back
In the next paragraph again, it starts well:
If a violence-prone husband becomes agitated and abusive, the wife should remove herself from danger, by leaving the home if necessary. God has promised that He will not test us beyond our ability to endure, but will always make a way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13). Sometimes escape is the only way.
I will not bore you with another seminary lesson on 1 Corinthians but I will say this, when you see the verse in its entirety, you find its wholly wrong for this situation. Cherry picking has been the death of modern biblical scholarship. Observe the verse in its entirety:
No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it. 1 Corinthians 10:13
The bold part is what makes this so grossly out of context. The escape referred to by Paul here is from temptations. Desiring to live is not a temptation. Wanting to protect your children is not a temptation. Your rights as a human being are not a temptation. Your not enduring the temptation of getting away from abuse, it is your right both as Christian and American. Again, we are victim blaming here, stating its the abused temptation to leave. How dare they consider the temptation of leaving an abused situation. Absolutely disgusting. This is why no one looks to the pulpit for answers, we have none.
A Death Sentence
But then he drops this little nugget of wisdom in the paragraph above:
If you have children and they are in danger, take them someplace where you will be secure until you feel you may safely come back.
Let me be blunt here, if your children are in danger in a place NEVER go back to that place. You owe nothing to an abuser, especially one who abuses children. If you need a minister to tell you this, I’ve been ordained 12 years… NEVER go back. This last sentence has been a death sentence for many women and children who felt they had to go back. DO NOT GO BACK.
The Worst Advice For Last
MacArthur closes with this gem of horrific advice and thank God he didn’t use any scripture.
Of course, pray for your husband, submit to him in every way you can, encourage him to seek advice and counsel from other biblically-knowledgeable men—and do everything you can to heal the problems that cause him to be angry or abusive.
I cannot argue that scripture says pray for your enemies and those who persecute you. Here is what I can say, forgiveness is for your sanity, not theirs. Their is a difference between forgiving and forgetting. Always forgive, never forget. As a pastor, I would say pray for your abuser if it brings you peace. You are not responsible for their peace, happiness or problems.
Then we tell the abused to be responsible to fix and regulate angry hubby’s emotions again. But who should he see? A psychologist or mental health care provider? No, rather go see Bob, who has read the bible for many years. Biblical scholars are not psychologists. People who are physically violent don’t need the Bible. Many have had it most of their lives and its done nothing, they need professional help. Finally, healing the causes of the anger and abuse IS NOT THE JOB OF THE ABUSED. We are responsible for our own emotions and actions, no one else.
This advice is simply terrible. If you need a biblical reason for divorce of an abusive husband, here is one (although I am convinced you do not need one):
1 Corinthians 7:15
Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace.
Now before you start freaking out, let me plea my case. What is an unbeliever? The Greek word here is ápistos, it means properly, not faithful because unpersuaded, i.e. not convinced (persuaded by God). 571/ápistos (“faithless, unpersuaded”) does not always refer to the unconverted – see Jn 20:27.
An unbeliever can be one who is unfaithful and not persuaded by God. I think that meets the definition of an abuser, who is unfaithful to the marriage vows by being abusive and is not persuaded they are wrong by God. An abuser leaves the marriage vows when they abuse. In this case do what scripture says: you are not under bondage in these cases…LEAVE.