Rape And Sexual Laws In The Bible: God’s Law Is Still Holy
Many critics of the Bible love to fallaciously point out that God commanded a rapist to marry the woman he defiled in Deutoronomy 22:28-29 (ONLY if she was an unmarried virgin not promised to another man). They state “question begging epithets” to prove their point of view. They will say things like, “The Bible is full of evil and commands that a woman who gets raped must mary her rapist! God is sick!” or something like “Your God forces women to mary a man who has raped her! Rape is a horrible thing and forcing a woman to mary a sicko who raped her is completely wrong!” The truth that the Bible states is nothing even close to such claims. Let’s look into the Scriptures deeper.
Christ fulfilled the law
One needs to understand that the social laws (not the moral and spiritual laws) of the Old Testament were applied to ancient Israel as God’s chosen nation and commanded by God for them and them only. Since ancient Israel does not exist anymore we do not follow their social laws anymore. People worldwide who come to Christ are bound by the laws of their nations (As Jesus taught in Matthew 22:15-22, Mark 12:12-17, Luke 20:20-26; and Paul emphasized in Titus 3:1, Romans 13:1-7). However, the laws we still follow are the moral and spiritual laws of the Old Testament which transcend the laws of national governments. This is because of what is called progressive revelation where God has revealed more things that progress further knowledge of His nature and fulfillents of His law. Jesus Christ has fulfilled the law of sin and death and has freed believers from slavery to it.
While it’s self evident that we should live morally correct lives and be spiritually inclined to follow and obey God, some Old Testament laws are now void. Laws like sewing different kinds of seed in the same field (Leviticus 19:19), wearing clothes made of two different types of thread (Deuteronomy 22:11), refraining from certain foods (Leviticus 11) and celebrating certain holidays (Leviticus 23) were specific to ancient Israel (not to mention that Jesus revealed to Peter in a vision that the food laws are now different, Acts 10:9-16). In the New Testament, Colossians 2:16 says, “Therefore don’t let anyone judge you in regard to food and drink or in the matter of a festival or a new moon or a sabbath day.” This is why we don’t have to celebrate sabbath days or go to church only on Saturday like the Seventh Day Adventist cult claims, or why we can eat any kind of animal we want now. We also live in different economies and cultures and are no longer strictly herdsmen or agricultural people. Today many cultures’ only food comes from sources that were unclean to the Jews in ancient times, but now all Christians everywhere can eat anything as it was revealed in Acts 10. God has also revealed that He is also the God of the gentiles and offers them salvation as well and that includes everything in their culture that has to do with day-to-day living and survival.
God has changed specific social laws and through Jesus Christ He took the punishment for sins and made a way for us to gain righteousness outside of the law by fulfilling it for us. The law was made to show how holy and perfect God is and what He demands, yet no one can keep the law. Only Christ who is God over all (Romans 9:5) could be perfect enough to fulfill it while taking on our sins and dying in our place in order to give us righteousness. We are now set apart spiritually and morally; not socially and politically inside a country as ancient Israel was set apart in the Promised Land. Now let’s get to the main point of this discussion.
Adultery in the Bible
Sexual laws are not social/political laws, but moral laws. Adultery is and was sexual immorality, and it was punishable by death as explained in Deuteronomy and Leviticus. There are various strict sexual laws commanded by God in the Old Testament that call for the execution of the offender by the Israelite community (read Leviticus 18 and 20). God desired holiness in His nation and preserving sexual purity was very important to God. Adultery in the Old Testament is explained as someone who was married and was having sex with someone they were not married to, or a woman who is promised in marriage to one man and was having sex with another man. This was very serious and God commanded the Israelites to “purge the evil from among [them]” (Deuteronomy 22:23 and 24).
Sexual intercourse consummated the marriage
In ancient near eastern culture marriage was not affirmed through ceremonies like the ones seen in western culture, such as the modern wedding ceremony and then the “hunny-moon” vacation; nor was it affirmed through signing a marriage license with a government. Marriage was consummated at once by sexual intercourse. There was no legal effect without sexual intercourse and the Bible states that “the two become one flesh” which shows that union in marriage was not simply an emotional attachment between two people, but a physical and literal attachment between two bodies. Sex before marriage did not exist because having sex was equal to getting married in Israelite culture as there was no ceremony ritual before sex that legally confirmed a union between the man and woman as we see in the modern marriage ceremony. They did have celebrations before the sexual intercourse, but that is not what made them married. In western culture the man and woman are pronounced “man and wife” before the hunny-moon sex. Contrary to this, the bride and groom of ancient-near-eastern cultures would go into a tent together and come out married the next morning after having sex. An example of this is in Genesis 24:67 which says, “And Isaac brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah and took Rebekah to be his wife.” Evidence of the woman’s virginity would be soaked onto a cloth as proof of their consummation (Deuteronomy 22:17). This showed evidence of proper moral behavior in the community.
In the Old Testament, if a man seduced a virgin (not promised to another man) who willingly had sex with him, she was considered his wife and the man had to pay the bridal price for her with no exceptions and treat her as his wife. Exodus 22:16-17 states,
“When a man seduces a virgin who was not promised in marriage, and he has sexual relations with her, he must certainly pay the bridal price for her to be his wife. If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he must pay an amount in silver equal to the bridal price for virgins.“
It should be noted that verse 17 implies that the male was the instigator and at fault for leading the virgin into seduction, and his punishment was paying the bride price as she had become his wife because of the sex. He had to pay the bride price even if the father of the girl refused to let her live with him. It is also important to understand that the father had the option of keeping his daughter from living with the man who seduced her. Obviously, if the female liked the male and wanted to be with him then they could live together in their marriage, unless of course the father still refused for some reason (which could be a result of many different situations such as his character). Even if the woman did not live with the man, the man still could not marry someone else. If he tried or had sex with anyone else he would be killed.
Rape punishment in the Bible
Rape was punishable by death and was considered equal to murder in the Bible. Deuteronomy 22:26 says that raping a woman is a case “just like one in which a man attacks his neighbor and murders him.” Rape was not seen as something small, but a huge deal deserving the execution of the one who committed it (Now days, rape is not seen as big of a deal and rapists are never executed, and are barely given any time in jail). The death penalty happened when a married person or someone promised in marriage committed adultery with someone they were not married to and vice versa (this applied to both males and females who were involved with adultery). Both people involved in the adultery were put to death and rape falls under this category of adultery; but in the situation of a rape only the rapist was punished because only the rapist committed the sin. The victim was not punished as it was not their fault. A different situation where the rapist was not put to death was when a virgin who was not married or promised to another man for marriage was raped. This is where many anti-Christians and atheists get excited and start making their baseless claims. The passage many Atheists and people who hate the Bible love to make mention of is Deuteronomy 22:28-29 which says:
“If a man encounters a young woman, a virgin who is not engaged, takes hold of her and rapes her, and they are discovered, the man who raped her must give the young woman’s father 50 silver shekels, and she must become his wife because he violated her. He cannot divorce her as long as he lives.“
One must take a very close look at this passage and apply it to the other scriptures about sexual morality. The Bible does command that a man who commits rape is forced to treat her as his wife and pay the bride price (50 shekels if and only if she was an unmarried virgin who was not promised to another man), but that does not mean the woman is forced to live with him or even have sex with him. This can be understood from Exodus 22:16-17 mentioned above which is the law for seduction. The father could “absolutely refuse” to allow his daughter to be given to the rapist, but the rapist still had to give the bride price. To suggest that a woman seduced (being seduced implies a willingness to engage in sexual activity by giving into temptation) does not have to live with her seducer, but a woman who was raped (an unwilling participant in the sex act) is forced to live with her rapist is absolutely absurd! So no, the Bible does not command that a woman is forced in marriage and forced to live with and treat a rapist as her husband with sexual intercourse for the rest of her life. It is simply wrong and illogical to get that out of the text and is a weak argument.
It should also be considered that rape in ancient Israelite culture was without the violent influence of modern pornographic media that is a constant pollution (with its instant access on the internet and pay-per-view cable) in the minds of men (and even women!) today. It is plausible to understand that rape in the biblical context of ancient Israel during the time of Moses was based on sexual passion instead of power, hate, and violence. The story of Jacob’s daughter Dinah being defiled by Shechem, who was a Hivite prince is an example of this kind of desire. For it says in Genesis 34:2-4,
“When [he] saw her, he took her and raped her. He became infatuated with Dinah, daughter of Jacob. He loved her and spoke tenderly to her. ‘Get me this girl as a wife,” he told his father Hamor.“
Obviously, if a man brutalized a woman, or was out to commit sadistic torture he would be executed for it. But the rape discussed in the Bible was motivated by passion and not sexual sadism.
Eventually later, of course, Israel went far into the depths of depravity during the time of the Judges and the outrage towards violent, sadistic, rape that resulted from the gang rape and death of a woman is seen in Judges 19. Even though the rape laws were strictly expressed towards men who had sexual desire for a woman, a person has to admit that rape is a horrible offense and in no way is it something to be understood as “not a big deal.” The emotional pain a woman goes through after being raped is terrible. But this in no way proves God to be unjust.
The rape law of Deuteronomy 22:28-29 and the law of seduction in Exodus 22:16-17 go hand in hand and are strictly social laws. This proves that it is not true that the bible teaches that women who are raped should be forced to marry their rapists. That is an atheist myth and an ignorant attempt to discredit God as being immoral. God is holy and just and there was a cultural and social reason for the bride price law which benefited the woman and protected her with provisions for her life, and was a punishment to the rapist. Rape itself is immoral and applies to moral law, but the bride price and marriage consequence is strictly cultural and social; and was commanded only for ancient Israel.
A woman who was not a virgin would not be able to marry another man because of the culture. If she could not get married, no one would take care of her and if her family died no one would provide for her. Also, the bride price punishment and provisions for her was a punishment to the rapist and it eased the burden that would have been left on her family to pay for her provisions for life. So the rapist had to take her as his wife and provide for her, even if the father of the rape victim “absolutely refused to give his daughter to him.” She could live at home and the rapist still had to pay and provide for her. But if the woman was forgiving and the man changed his heart toward her then she could live with him as a wife if her father allowed it. Still, no matter what, the rapist was then unable to marry another woman his entire life. If he tried to, or had sex with another woman, he would be stoned to death. If he decided to stop supporting her with provisions and livelihood he would be stoned to death as well. He had to support her no matter what! This was a strict punishment and it served as a warning for men to behave properly with morally sexual character.
The laws of the Old Testament were so harsh that they would cause fear in people to live correctly. There are no examples of any of the rape laws actually being carried out in the Bible so it is safe to assume that these laws served to put the fear of God in the hearts of men more than anything else. With Christ’s death on the cross, the substitutionary atonement for humanity’s sins, and within the social and political context of the nations a person lives in today, humans are no longer bound by these social laws of the consequences of rape and seduction. They are bound by the current modern nation’s laws (many being less harsh toward the rapist than the Old Testament laws).
In modern cultures, a woman who is raped can still marry someone else, as physical virginity is not a mark of a person’s true purity. A person’s purity is found ONLY in Christ Jesus who paid the penalty for sins that gives people forgiveness. Sex outside of marriage is a sin that deserves death and separation from God (it is adultery), but it is forgiven with a new life born in Christ. Christ came to save sinners from the law’s punishment of eternal death in hell; and humans are not saved into a law of outward works, rituals and social constructs; but a law of freedom in Jesus Christ that wipes away sins past, present, and the future failures people will commit. It gives us a heart that desires to follow God both morally and spiritually which transcends cultural and social laws. Therefore, God is not unjust to command the laws He did in the Old Testament. He is also proven to be a wonderful loving God of grace because of what Christ did in the New Testament. He forgave our sins and no longer bounds us to the social laws commanded to ancient Israel. God’s Law is still holy!