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Top Theologian Changes Position on When Divorce Is Biblically Okay

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In an interview published Tuesday, Wayne Grudem told Christianity Today some new theological research has revealed to him the Bible isn’t as hard-lined on divorce as he spent years claiming it to be.


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Tré Goins-Phillips

After claiming for decades divorce was only biblically permissible in cases of infidelity or desertion, top American theologian Wayne Grudem has conceded abuse is also, in fact, acceptable grounds to dissolve a marriage.

In an interview published Tuesday, Grudem told Christianity Today some new theological research has revealed to him the Bible isn’t as hard-lined on divorce as he spent years claiming it to be. The Bible teacher’s shift lines up well with the cultural awakening surrounding issues of sexual abuse and assault.

It’s worth noting, however, Grudem’s comments to the faith-based outlet are in contrast to his position published as recently as 2018, in his textbook, Christian Ethics: An Introduction to Biblical Moral Reasoning.

Grudem’s opinion change seems to be due, at least partially, to the experiences of abuse he and his wife, Margaret, have heard about.

“My wife Margaret and I became aware of some heartbreaking examples of such things as severe sexual humiliation and degradation that had continued for decades, and another case of physical battering that had gone on for decades,” the theologian explained. “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.”

Grudem, a strict complementarian and co-founder of the very conservative Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, which advocates the belief men and women are called to very different roles in the home, church and society, talked about his shifting understanding last week, when he delivered a speech called Grounds for Divorce: Why I Now Believe There Are More than Two at the Evangelical Theological Society’s annual meeting.

His new belief hinges on his renewed interpretation of 1 Corinthians 7:15, which reads, “But if the husband or wife who isn’t a believer insists on leaving, let them go. In such cases, the believing husband or wife is no longer bound to the other, for God has called you to live in peace.”

Grudem explained that, in most commentaries, “in such cases” is said to refer to infidelity or desertion. But after studying 52 other uses of the three-word phrase in Ancient Greek literature, he concluded the writer rarely intends “in such cases” to refer to the instances already mentioned. Instead, it is meant to refer to situations similar to those already addressed.

“These examples led me to conclude that in 1 Corinthians 7:15, the phrase ‘in such cases’ should be understood to include any cases that similarly destroy a marriage,” he said, concluding divorce is acceptable if abuse is present.

Grudem now joins a very slim majority of evangelical pastors only 55 percent—who believe divorce is the best course of action for those facing domestic abuse, though he did argue reconciliation, if possible, is the most desirable outcome.