Does God Condone Rape?

29 Nov

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Some view Deuteronomy 22:28-29 as God excusing the act of rape or at least not being sensitive to the victim—a young woman. Is this true, and how can we answer such a charge? First of all, we should never take a few lines of Scripture out of their context and think to make an accurate appraisal of the intended meaning. The judicial decision in Deuteronomy needs to be placed within the context where it is found in order to understand its meaning.[1] The whole Scripture to be considered is Deuteronomy 22:23-29:

If a young woman that is a virgin be betrothed unto a husband, and a man find her in the city, and lie with her; Then you shall bring them both out unto the gate of that city, and you shall stone them with stones so that they die; the young woman, because she cried not, being in the city; and the man, because he has violated his neighbor’s wife: so you shall put away evil from among you. But if a man find a betrothed young woman in the field, and the man force her, and lie with her: then the man only that lay with her shall die: But unto the young woman you shall do nothing; there is in the young woman no sin worthy of death: for as when a man rises against his neighbor, and slays him, even so is this matter: For he found her in the field, and the betrothed young woman cried, and there was none to save her. If a man find a young woman that is a virgin, who is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found; Then the man that lay with her shall give unto the young woman’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife; because he has violated her, he may not put her away all his days. (Deuteronomy 22:23-29 KJ2000)

Here we find three cases of varying degrees of the charge of rape. In the first case (Deuteronomy 22:23-25) both the man and the woman were to be executed, because it is assumed that the woman would have been heard in the city had she cried out. Therefore, it is assumed she is a willing participant. However, in the second case (Deuteronomy 22:26-27) only the man was to be executed, because in the country it is assumed the woman’s cry for help could not be heard. Therefore, we understand from these two instances that rape is not excused by God, and those guilty of adultery were punished.

In the third case (Deuteronomy 22:28-29) we find that the context is one of seduction. The male forces (“lay hold” – H8610) the woman, but the idea is not as violent as the force (H2388) found in Deuteronomy 22:25. In verse-28 the woman’s desire may have been initially violated, but she was won over by the man. She was seduced. Another Scripture that scholars believe to be a variation of the same theme is Exodus 22:16-17:

If a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged, and lies with her, he must pay a dowry for her to be his wife. If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money equal to the dowry for virgins. (Exodus 22:16-17 NASB)

Here we find that the man must pay the price of the dowry (cf. Deuteronomy 22:29),[2] and the crime is specifically one of seduction. That is, the woman, though initially uncooperative, gave in to the desire of the man. Both the man and the young woman sinned, but this is not considered ‘adultery’ because she is not engaged (i.e. another man’s betrothed wife). Yet, the male is the one bearing the greater responsibility for the wrong committed. If the father of the young woman agrees, the two will marry but the man may never divorce her, because he humbled her. If the father will not permit his daughter to marry the man, the dowry price is still paid. It is assumed that the daughter would have influence in her father’s decision either way.

Frankly, I don’t see any grounds for the accusation that God permits rape. When viewed in its context, Deuteronomy 22:28-29 is seen as protecting the honor of the more vulnerable woman (in a patriarchal society). Even though she ultimately cooperated in the act, she was seduced to do so, and she is viewed as being humbled and restitution must be made under the Law.


[1] As I said HERE, this current theme about “making sense of the Old Testament God” is based upon the book: Is God a Moral Monster by Paul Copan. These are my thoughts about his book. He may or may not agree with the impression his book has made upon me, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading what Paul wrote and recommend his book to anyone who is looking for a good read concerning defending our faith.

[2] Some presume that this is a bride-price (one is Christopher Hichens), indicating the woman is the father’s property. However, this point of view is a modern one and more western than eastern. Consider, for example, that in India the bride’s family pays the groom’s family a dowry! Who would try to say that such a practice makes the male property in India to buy from the father of the groom? Such an assumption is ridiculous, so why insist upon it for the woman in ANE Israel?

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Posted by on November 29, 2015 in apologetics


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