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What does the Bible say about abuse in Christian families?

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What does the Bible say about abuse in Christian families?
Posted on November 10, 2020  - By Dr. Scott Shiffer

What does the Bible have to say about abusive relationships in Christian families? What’s the way out, when there seems to be no change after praying for several years?

This is an important question as many people today find themselves in abusive relationships.

Some of these relationships are emotionally abusive; others are physically abusive. In almost all cases of abuse, one finds manipulation and controlling behaviours exhibited by the abusers.

Abuse most often occurs between spouses or between parents and children, though it can come from extended family or take place between siblings.

Types of abuse

Physical abuse occurs when someone inflicts pain, injury, or any other physical suffering onto another person. This can involve pushing, kicking, biting, throwing things, slapping, pushing or pulling, using a weapon, or preventing someone from getting away.

Abuse most often occurs between spouses or between parents and children, though it can come from extended family or take place between siblings

Emotional or verbal abuse is victimising someone through making negative statements meant to define the victim or by withholding responses and not apologising or retracting the statements. When people call others names, use words to shame them, yell and scream at others regularly, use threats, blame the victims (“this is your fault”), tell their victims what to do and what to wear, and dismiss the feelings of the victim, the person is verbally abusive.

Online abuse involves people using online communities to control or humiliate the victim, start rumours about the victim, and/or stalk the victim.

Marital abuse occurs more often than we’d like to admit, unfortunately. Husbands and wives are told in the Bible to love one another, care for one another, be patient with each other, to honour one another, and to put the needs of the other above their own. But abuse even occurs in relationships where the couple is made up of people who claim to be Christians.

Parental abuse is also a sad reality today. The Bible is clear that children are to honour or respect their parents and obey them. Colossians 3:20 reads, “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.”

Child abuse can come in the forms of neglect, physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, trafficking, being in situations where they are around substance abuse, domestic violence, suicide, and/or crime.

What the Bible says

The Bible teaches that we are not to perform malevolent acts of violence against others or abuse them. It consistently promotes love and respect as being key elements of healthy relationships.

  • Psalm 11:5 — The Lord tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.
  • 2 Timothy 3:2-5 — People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God — having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.
  • James 1:19-20 — Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

Practical considerations

What do I do if I am being abused?

Get away and get help! No person deserves to be abused. No person needs to remain subjected to abuse.

If the person who is abusive is willing to get help, you can try to reconcile, but not until the person can show evidence of change.

What do I do if someone I know is being abused?

If you see abuse happening, do something! All people — young or old, male or female — have the right to be treated equally and with dignity. There is no place for abuse in our society and no excuse for idly letting it happen.

All people have the right to be treated equally and with dignity. There is no place for abuse in our society and no excuse for idly letting it happen

Christians view humanity as being created in the image of God. As such, all humans are intrinsically valuable, and we cannot let abuse continue. Look for an opportunity to share your heart with the victim. Offer to help the victim get help. Pray for God to reveal the nature of the situation to the victim, so that he or she does not dismiss the reality of the situation.

Should victims of abuse stay married?

I have heard many say that adultery is the only biblical grounds for divorce. But what Jesus actually says is unfaithfulness. This certainly includes adultery, but I believe the term can be a bit broader in meaning.

One who abuses a spouse is certainly not honouring, protecting, or loving his or her partner. The person is not putting the spouse’s needs above his own, and the person is intentionally inflicting harm on another. I do not believe that God expects victims of spousal abuse to remain in the relationship. They have every right to leave.

I would recommend counselling and attempts to reconcile, if the abuser is willing to change and agrees to seek help. However, I still recommend that the victim be removed from the situation until evidence of change is visible. This is a delicate situation.

Does discipline constitute child abuse?

Parents are to teach their children how to make good choices and to become responsible citizens. To this end, parents are to discipline their children, but that discipline should be founded in love.

Proverbs 22:15 states, “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.” In verse 6 of this same chapter, Solomon provides general wisdom stating that when a child is trained in how to live, when he is older he will continue on that path. Proverbs 13:24 reminds us that involved parents who love their children will discipline them. It states, “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.” Finally, in Proverbs 29:15, parents are reminded that when children are not disciplined but allowed to do whatever they want, those children will bring shame to their families.

This being said, Ephesians 6:4 reminds parents that they are not to be so strict that they actually lead their children towards rebellion. The verse reads, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” This same phrase occurs in Colossians 3:21 where Paul writes, “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.”

Parents are to discipline their children, but that discipline should be founded in love

The Bible expects parents to act responsibly while raising their children. They should not neglect them or physically harm them. They should lovingly teach them how to be responsible human beings. They should seek what is best for their children and not seek their destruction, as it says in Proverbs 19:18 — “Discipline your son, for there is hope; do not set your heart on putting him to death.”

So, if you are a childcare provider or parent, regain control before disciplining a child. If you suspect child abuse, report it. If you struggle with abusing children, seek help through mental health facilities, community centres, or local churches.

No tolerance for abuse

To answer the question in short: If the abuse is child abuse, the way out would be for the child to leave home and live with another person either in their extended family or with friends.

If the abuse is marital abuse, regardless of how long it has been going on, the victim should separate from the abuser. If the abuser is willing to seek counsel and make changes, then the abuser may return home when it is evident that appropriate changes have been made. If the abuser refuses to change, then the victim should remain separated. Abuse is the antithesis of faithfulness in a marital setting.

People lose their temper and say things they do not mean. One argument does not constitute abuse, but repeated verbal, emotional, and physical harm are not to be tolerated. No one being abused should remain in an abusive relationship.

Dr. Scott Shiffer

About Dr. Scott Shiffer

Dr. Scott Shiffer has a Ph.D. in Christian Theology from the B.H. Carroll Theological Institute and has been teaching religion classes since 2006. He leads Faith and Culture Now, an organization to help believers think biblically about culture in America. Scott has given numerous presentations, including one at Oxford. He has spoken at church retreats, youth retreats, conferences, and has taught discipleship classes for many years. Scott is married and has four children. He has a heart for helping believers draw closer to God and for aiding them as they are faced with new challenges every day.



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