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Are Wives Obligated to Submit to Physical Abuse?

Patsy Rae Dawson

Many religious teachers deny victims of spouse abuse the right to protect themselves. They offer platitudes such as you should suffer as Jesus or slaves suffered. Some tell wives if the husband gets too bad, God will strike him dead as he did Nabal.

Copyright © 2008 by Patsy Rae Dawson LLC. All rights reserved. See Permission to Reproduce below.

Contrary to this advice, self-protection is a theme all the way through the Bible. Notice these verses of wisdom from Solomon:

The highway of the upright avoids evil;
He who guards his way guards his life. (Proverbs 16:17)

A prudent man sees danger and takes refuge,
But the simple keep going and suffer for it. (Proverbs 22:3, 27:12)

In the paths of the wicked lie thorns and snares,
But he who guards his soul stays far from them. (Proverbs 22:5)

Below is a short list of scriptures that deal with self-protection. This is only a sampling, not an exhaustive study, of scriptures that demonstrate that an abused woman has the right to defend herself and that God does not expect her to just submit to physical abuse.

Protection of Slaves

Job 31:13-14: "If I have despised the claim of my male or female slaves when they filed a complaint against me, What then could I do when God arises, and when He calls me to account, what will I answer Him?"

The law of the Old Testament closely regulated the relationship of a master to his slave. For example, in Exodus 21:7-11, a slave who was also a wife enjoyed the right to expect food, clothing, and conjugal rights. If the man refused to provide these three things, she was to be granted freedom. The basic difference between a slave who was a wife (known as a concubine) and a free woman who became a wife was that the free woman possessed even more rights and privileges.

The Old Testament also legislated beatings and mistreatment of slaves. Exodus 21:20-21 gave the master certain rights because the slave was his property. However, the Bible nowhere speaks of a wife being her husband's property. In Exodus 21:26-27, male and female slaves were granted freedom if their master just knocked out a tooth. Even an escaped slave was not supposed to be turned over to his master (Deuteronomy 23:15-16).

Protection of Free Persons Including Wives

God regulated the punishment for anyone who injured a free person in Leviticus 24:19-20:

And if a man injures his neighbor, just as he has done, so it shall be done to him: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; just as he has injured a man, so it shall be inflicted on him.

A free wife received protection from her family. If her husband mistreated her, this obligated her father and brothers to punish him with exactly the same treatment. Indeed, many wives report that the abuse from their husbands stopped when a son or other relative stepped in and rendered unto the abuser as he had done to the woman.

The Bible contains no indication that God permitted mistreatment of either slaves or wives. Instead, God provided restitution for both slaves and the wives when they were harmed.

Self-Protection in the Old Testament

David--I Samuel 18ff

Repeatedly, when King Saul tried to kill David, David fled to protect himself from harm.

Abigail--I Samuel 25

Abigail defied her husband's instructions to not give food to David and his men. She eventually told Nabal what she had done, but she didn't tell him while he was still drunk and belligerent. She carefully picked a time when he would be better able to deal with it. Since lots of drunks are abusive, there is no reason to think he was a kind, reasonable drunk. In fact, God said Nabal was evil and harsh. His servants said he was in a state where no one could talk to him.

Abigail acted in such a way as to save her own life and the whole household including the servants from David's wrath. Then when she came home and saw the state Nabal was in, she protected herself from him. God praised her wisdom. God struck Nabal dead AFTER Abigail defended herself from both David and her husband.

Self-Protection in the New Testament


God warned Joseph to take the infant Jesus to Egypt to escape harm--Matthew 2:13-15

Certainly, God could have miraculously protected the baby Jesus when Herod slew all the male children who were two years old and under. Instead, he instructed Joseph to protect his family by fleeing the country.


Jesus willingly died for the sins of mankind. However, he did not submit to abuse that was not part of God's divine plan and practiced self-protection when it was within his power.

Jesus refused to put his life at risk to test God to save him--Matthew 4:1-11

When Satan tempted Jesus to jump from the pinnacle of the temple and let the angels rescue him, Jesus refused, quoting scripture about not testing God.

Jesus escaped when people attempted to throw him off a cliff--Luke 4:28-30

When the people in Jesus' hometown became angry with him and would cast him down a cliff, Jesus did not submit to them, but escaped.

Jesus corrected the officer who struck him on the night he was betrayed--John 18:21-23

Even though Jesus was submitting himself to God to die for mankind's sins, when the officer struck him for telling the high priest to bring forth witnesses against him, Jesus pointed out the injustice.

Saul--Acts 9:22-25

When the Jews plotted to kill Saul and tried to prevent him from getting away, the disciples lowered him down the wall in a basket.

Christians--Acts 9:26-27

Later when Saul tried to join himself to the Christians in Jerusalem, they still thought he was a Christian killer. They protected themselves from him until Barnabas vouched for him that he had really become a Christian himself.

Paul--Acts 22:22-29

Paul quickly appealed to the Roman government to step in and protect him from the Jews who wanted to kill him.


An abused person should trust her/his gut instincts and avoid harm.

Contact Women's Shelter

The counselors at a women's shelter will help an abused person protect her/himself. When they know the details about the abuse, they can offer specific advise. They may even advise a wife to just secretly leave and get away from the abuser.

Statistics show that a woman is in more danger of being murdered when she is in the process of leaving than at any other time. However, if she stays in a violent situation, she is also in danger of being murdered. So whether she stays or leaves, she is in danger and needs to take precautions.

  • The hotline for spouse abuse and domestic violence in the United States is 1-800-799-7233. They can refer you to women's shelters and other services in your area.
  • Search on "violence against women" in the various search engines to find information in the United States and other countries.

Use the Handcuff Cure

God ordained the civil government to punish the wicked, Romans 13:3-4 and I Peter 2:13-14. For a wife to file an assault charge against her husband is as righteous as her partaking of the Lord's Supper. However, she needs to continue to be extremely cautious.

Protect Self from Electronic Surveillance

Electronic greeting cards can put spyware on a computer and transmit all e-mails and other data to a another computer. Hardware can be attached to the computer for remote access. An abused person needs to take care that information on the computer cannot be gathered by the batterer in an effort to find out what steps the victim is taking for protection. If a secure computer is unavailable, a computer at the library or a friend's should be used.

Those Helping the Abused

Friends of the abused need to be concerned for their own safety and that of their family. Abusive men are often illogical and feel vindictive toward those who are trying to help the battered spouse. Discuss your involvement with a counselor at a women's shelter to get their recommendations for your safety and that of your family. Tell your family to be suspicious and act accordingly.

Are Wives Obligated to Submit to Physical Abuse?

This small sampling of scriptures demonstrates that God expects abused people to defend themselves and to not blithely walk into danger expecting him to rescue them inspite of their actions.

The audio series Challenges in Marriage: What to Do When Sin Inhibits Love by Patsy Rae Dawson teaches about self-protection. For more information, click here.  

Permission to Reproduce Are Wives Obligated to Submit to Physical Abuse?

Are Wives Obligated to Submit to Physical Abuse? by Patsy Rae Dawson. Copyright © 2008 Patsy Rae Dawson LLC. All rights reserved.

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