Unmasking the Domestic Abuser in the Church

Saul of Tarsus was not an Abuser – Let me show you why

Act 9:13-15  But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem.  (14)  And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.”  (15)  But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.

Quite often when I tell people that abusers never change, they will ask about the case of Saul, later the Apostle Paul. After all, he was assaulting the early church and then the Lord appeared to him and converted him wonderfully. Should that not give us hope that even the worst domestic abuser could one day be born again?
My answer is, no. Let me show you why.

Saul of Tarsus was never an abuser. Remember now how we are defining abusers here. Who are the kinds of wicked people we are dealing with in this blog and ministry? They are people who have a remarkable sense of entitlement to the possession of power and control over their target, and who feel quite justified in using an arsenal of evil tactics in order to gain and maintain that control. We are not talking about just any sinful, even a very sinful, person who we want to present the gospel to and pray that they be saved. We are dealing here with domestic abusers, most of whom are wearing a “saintly” disguise, appearing as fine Christians in their local churches.
Now, who was the Apostle Paul before Christ appeared to him that eventful day? Paul tells us:

Php 3:5-6  circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee;  (6)  as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

Paul had not been a hypocrite. He was what he was. He genuinely sought to serve God and he went all out in doing so. He was not one person in the synagogue and another at home. He was wrong, of course. But he was, shall we say, “sincerely wrong.” Listen to him again:

1Ti 1:12-15  I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service,  (13)  though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief,  (14)  and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.  (15)  The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.

I would like you all to think carefully about that phrase, “But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief.” Christ chose Paul. Christ saved Paul. Paul was radically transformed. It was all of mercy, but notice that this mercy was shown to a man who had acted ignorantly in unbelief. Paul was ignorant of the fact that Christ was the Messiah. He was blind to it. He zealously served God, he believed. He was unbelieving of the gospel message these early Christians were preaching, but his unbelief was in ignorance. Christ corrected that ignorance gloriously on the road to Damascus.
Now, think about the abuser. The kind who puts on the Christian facade. Is he acting “ignorantly in unbelief”? That is to say, is he convinced in his own mind that he is zealously serving Christ both at church and at home? I think the answer is plain to see. Of course not. He knows the gospel. He has even tasted of its goodness (see Hebrews 6:4-6) as he sees Christ in his wife or other genuine believers around him. But he doesn’t want it. What he wants is self-glory. He wants power and control. He wants to oppress. And, do not miss this, he knows full well what he is doing! He is not acting ignorantly in unbelief as Paul was. Paul was shown mercy. God does not show mercy to willful evil people who have heard the gospel over and over and yet only yield the thorns and briars of wickedness in their lives.
No, the Apostle Paul was not an abuser. His goal was not self-glory. His purpose was to be zealous for God, for God’s Law, for God’s people and Temple. He was wrong of course. But when Christ came to him and removed the scales from his eyes-

Act 9:18-20  And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized;  (19)  and taking food, he was strengthened. For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus.  (20)  And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”

So I encourage everyone not to be misled in this regard. Many times victims will tell me that their pastor or Christian friends have told them that it is God’s will for the victim to remain in the abuse, because after all, they say, “Paul was an abuser once too.”
No, he was not.


**Thoughts on Wolves Hiding Among the Flock


In My Father's House – new book by Jeff Crippen


  1. Rowan on the high mountain

    It’s heartening to find a Christian who understands the difference between weakness or ignorance and willful evil. In my community, there are too many apparently decent people who think being meek and merciful means choosing blind stupidity over wisdom, that we should trust everyone’s motives and just be “nice”–how I’ve learned to dislike that word!–or even that the inability to see evil is somehow in itself a sign of goodness.
    “They are people who have a remarkable sense of entitlement to the possession of power and control over their target, and who feel quite justified in using an arsenal of evil tactics in order to gain and maintain that control.”
    This is the core of the issue that so many Christians miss! Abuse isn’t a “mistake” or series of mistakes, especially if that’s what the abuser claims–no one mistakenly harms others over and over again whlie knowing it’s a mistake. When Paul realized he’d made a mistake, he changed his life. My takeaway from your brilliant “loan shark” analogy from an earlier post is that abusers are actually trying to control everyone–it just happens to be easier to maintain control over their image in public and get what they want from people who don’t spend as much time with them. They resort to abusive control with those who are close enough to see through their fundamental dishonesty or those who dare to set boundaries and refuse to do their bidding.
    And I’ve grown weary of the argument that the abuser might be saved. I don’t know what God might or might not do, but that has no bearing on our own humbler choices. What matters is what we can do and how we’ll best use the years allotted to us on this earth–we don’t have infinite time even to pray for everyone, except in the most general way. I’ve grown to believe we should focus our limited energy on what will make a real difference in people’s lives, so if our honest attempts yield no fruit with someone abusive, we should move on to feeding the hungry, helping victims of abuse, and working for those whose hearts have not become too hardened to hear us. Isn’t it excessive pride not to entrust an abuser’s future to God when our own efforts have failed?

    • abigailismyhero

      Rowan, thank you! “inability to see evil is somehow in itself a sign of goodness.” OH MY that is the lie I believed. I somehow thought that calling evil, evil made me judgemental. So, for years I put up with emotional and spiritual abuse.
      “They resort to abusive control with those who are close enough to see through their fundamental dishonesty or those who dare to set boundaries and refuse to do their bidding.” When X began talking (in detail) about killing people, I finally found my voice and stated I would not silently listen to that kind of talk, and how in the world could he think that was OK?? I pointed to the open Bible sitting on his desk and said, “I believe that book!!! and what your are saying is not OK with God!”
      I was told I was not being respectful, and that is when the rage began to escalate to physical threats.
      “Isn’t it excessive pride not to entrust an abuser’s future to God when our own efforts have failed?”
      Hard to believe, but I kept trying to “save” him and pray for God to intervene, etc. Thankfully I had good pastoral advice and I was told to “let him go.” It took repeated times, but finally through the simple words of one pastor I finally understood that God is big enough to do what He knows is best and God knows if X is reachable (or not) and it is not up to me.

  2. Amen! Amen!! AMEN!!!
    Abusers know exactly what they are doing! Wolves in sheep’s clothing abuse in spite of knowing the truth of God’s Word. They are evil, evil, evil and will never change regardless of how much prayer, ministry, or “help” they are given the opportunity to receive.
    Thank you, Pastor Crippen, for addressing another lie that victims are repeatedly being told about Saul/Paul to keep them in bondage.

  3. Z

    Thank you Pastor Crippen for addressing this. Such an important distinction to make.
    I heard a sermon via podcast by Pastor and abuse victim advocate Jimmy Hinton which used the Scripture in 1 Tim. 1:12-14 to also explain the concept of “Forgiveness”.
    Paul explains in those verses WHY he was so thankful that he was forgiven by the Lord for his persecution of early Christians. He knew it was a mercy he was given because he’d acted out of “IGNORANCE AND UNBELIEF”. He acted out of his misplaced zeal for God as he wrongly believed it was his mission as a good Hebrew. He was NOT an abuser and did not act out of that wicked mindset or evil heart. It’s always about the heart!
    Pastor Hinton explained that we are to forgive the same way. If someone acted sinfully toward us out of ignorance and/or unbelief, we can show mercy as the Lord did with Paul.
    He said we are NOT under obligation to forgive those who knowingly are unrepentantly sinning against us and/or harming us-as abusers ALWAYS do. They KNOW it is sin and wrong whether they are falsely claiming to be our “Christian brother or sister” or not. It’s about their mindset and heart. Abusers all have the same mindset and wicked heart. And there is no such thing as a “Christian Abuser” as Pastor Crippen has made clear.
    The Word of God even says it will go BETTER for those who DO sin out of ignorance of God. Those who know or once knew of God and His Power will be held to a higher degree of accountability and punishment by God.
    I believe the same is true of those who “fake repent” and call themselves “Christians” falsely to dupe outsiders. The Counterfeits. Using the Name of Jesus to pull off a scam of “fake salvation” to fool people and get away with their knowing sin of abuse (or any other knowing, habitual, unrepentant sin) has got to be special degree of abominable to God. They are not our “brothers and sisters”. They are not the objects of “forgiveness” that “Forgiveness” Scriptures refer to about our TRUE brothers and sisters in Christ. But they pull their con jobs on other (weak, gullible, undiscerning and maybe abusive too?) Christians who all too easily fall for their con and then become their allies in evil and lobby for blanket forgiveness for the abuser, embracing them with open arms and no real fruit of repentance necessary. And those willfully deceived, undiscerning “Christians” then heap false guilt and condemnation upon the victims of abusers! And round and round it goes. The abusers and satan laugh and dance at the obtuseness or willful blindness of these “Christians”.
    The TRUE Christians with discernment and knowledge of Scripture and with the fortitude strong enough to face the hardships (or even just inconveniences or unpopularity) that they may know they will face (but not to the DEGREE that they WILL face with betrayals and rejections on just about every side…), when they set boundaries and consequences with abusers and their easy allies/“apologists in evil”, those who are Scripturally obedient and expose them, shun them…, when they decide they will endure the opposition-THEY are the ones left abandoned and isolated without support. Guilt trips. Manipulated Scriptures. Condemnation. Betrayals. Abandonments. Shunning. All these and more they will face.
    Comfort others? Weep with those who weep? And all the other commands in Scripture to do as Jesus did-bind up the broken-hearted and care for their wounds? Nah. These counterfeits have no shame in their open and obvious disobedience to God’s commands. They are happy to be deceived and to deceive others. And satan is more than satisfied.

  4. Innoscent

    Interestingly the Bible presents two Sauls to serve as a warning to us. Both King Saul and Saul of Tarsus were born among God’s people, of the tribe of Benjamin, educated by godly leaders, men of influence in high positions, but also proud and blinded, and turned out to be zealous persecutors of God’s people. They also pursued their wrong course until both had much stronger warnings from God, King Saul through the prophet Samuel, Saul of Tarsus through the witness of Christian martyrs like Stephen and ultimately from Christ Himself.
    It is sad to read that King Saul continued in disobedience, jealousy and rebellion, and became a persecutor and abuser, especially of David. King Saul made his final choice and sealed his fate when he preferred to consult a witch rather than listening to God’s entreaties through Samuel and David. He’d had plenty of opportunities!
    Saul of Tarsus, in contrast, eventually yielded to God, repented and from murderer became the zealous apostle Paul for Christ. He eventually untangled himself from the Pharisaical system and saw for himself the True Messiah and could hardly forgive himself for the evil his misled mind perpetrated.
    Interesting that church people, preachers, hardly talk about King Saul the real abuser… who never repented. He never changed.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Innoscent- thank you for these excellent insights!

      • Innoscent

        Thank YOU Jeff for the opportunity to share, for your insightful posts for us to learn, get wiser and heal. The Lord continue to inspire you and keep you.

  5. Sheila

    i often read that a person who abuses his wife does it deliberately and intentionally and that he is not a good person at all. That even when he does good, it is just camouflage and it is not the real him. Does this mean that a husband prone to abusing his wife is all bad and that there is nothing good or decent in him?
    I have been married to my husband for thirty years. My marriage has not been a bed of roses but I was taught that most marriages have problems and can be rocky at times. I find it very difficult to describe my husband as he does not demand submission and does not seem to be controlling me in the way that I read other husbands do. He is quite helpful around the house and with the children and he lets me go out to work and have friends and all that. The one negative thing about him is I think he is either lazy or has no confidence to find work. He prefers to be a house husband and is quite happy for me to be the breadwinner. However he wants me to continue working. He handles all the money and does not tell me what he does with it. Once I found out that he had used my money to pay off his girlfriend’s debt. It was about three thousand dollars. He was really mad when I asked him about it. I am by nature a timid and introverted person and have now become worse after marrying him as he gets very angry when confronted, and I hate it when he raises his voice and starts to shift blame to me.
    He seems to think that he can do anything with the money. He hardly saves because in his mind I will continue bringing in the income. I am getting really worried now as I am getting close to retirement age. He keeps tabs on the account and he will know if I have accessed my account.
    My grandmother died last year and left me her house as I am her only grandchild. We already have our own house so I want to put it up for rental and earn some money there. My husband however wants me to sell the house and deposit the money into a bank account. I am afraid that if I do that, he will start using the money. Our close friends tell us that I am bound to share the house or the proceeds with my husband as we are both one in God’s sight. I have tried to look up financial accountability and most christian books advise husband and wife to pool all their money and share. But my instincts tell me that I cannot really trust him. It is not that I do not want to share my blessing with him. I just do not want him to decide for me what to do with my inheritance. I was thinking of using the rental to travel by my husband is dead against my idea. Please help.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Sheila – I am very sorry that you have had to endure this abuse all these years. You have worked very, very hard to make the marriage work. One of the hardest things to grasp when married to an abuser – and you are indeed married to an abuser – is the realization that he never did love you. You asked – “Does this mean that a husband prone to abusing his wife is all bad and that there is nothing good or decent in him?” The answer is, yes. The Bible says that none of us are born into this world “good,” but that we are dead in our sin, that we hate God and His Word. It is only by His saving mercy in Christ that any of us repent and believe the gospel and are saved.
      Your husband may at times appear to you be Dr. Jekyll (the good guy) and then at other times Mr. Hyde (the evil guy). In such cases, you can be sure that the bad guy is who he really is and all the apparent good he does is all energized by an evil motive. His goal, like all abusers, is to own you, to have power over you, to use you for his own selfish ends.
      His chosen and chief tactic he is using to abuse you is a common one – economic abuse. He has other tactics as well, but perhaps his most powerful one is economic. His control of the bank accounts and of your paycheck. His demand that you hand over your inheritance (and that inheritance will, you can be assured, be gone. He will use it on his own evil desires).
      He is an adulterer, as you know. All of this means that you have God’s blessing on divorcing him. Your close friends are naive and are serving as his allies in his evil. Their counsel to you that you are required to share the house proceeds with him is absolutely false and foolish. Do not believe it at all.
      Your instincts about not pooling your money are right on. Follow them.
      I understand that these things can be difficult to digest. It is hard for people like us to grasp that someone we have loved could really be so evil. But count on it – your husband is an abuser and quite evil.
      I know that it is not always easy to get free of such a marriage, but I can say that you will continue to be the target of his abuse as long as you remain with him. I recommend that you talk to your local women’s crisis center and that you disregard most everything you read in the typical “Christian” marriage books.
      May the Lord bless you, give you his wisdome, and keep you safe and may you find real freedom.

  6. Sheila

    Thank you so much Pastor Jeff for your prompt and encouraging counsel. It is very enlightening, especially when most people are supportive of my husband and his “sad tales”.
    May God Bless you and your family in all things and always.

    • Jeff Crippen

      You are very welcome. Feel free to comment or ask questions anytime.

    • Innoscent

      Sheila, I feel sorry for what your “husband” is putting you through. Jeff has given you the best answer possible. Your “husband” is a real abuser and manipulates you through finances. He’s orchestrated his life around you being the slave working for his own needs, managing and using your money secretly for selfish purposes. It’s pure entitlement and evil. A true Christian husband would be working, sharing the load and having financial matters transparent with mutual management and planning.
      When the abuse of my ex-“husband” escalated, by God’s leading I realised the relationship had no future, that he was a typical narcissist, and the only way out was getting out. At that very time, the Lord provided an inheritance which I tucked away in my personal business account. I knew it was going to be crucial to my surviving once out. And it was.
      May God help you Sheila as you look at your options with God’s wisdom and establish a strategy to find freedom from someone who’s been sucking the life out of you like a parasite, instead of providing abundantly and be a blessing to you as a wife.

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