Why does the bible require a rape victim to marry her rapist? Stay tuned and find out on Unapologetic.
If you ever hear about the bible and it’s stance on rape, you’ll probably hear about it from an atheist. This is one of the arguments that they will generally tout out against the Bible, and God, and Christianity, to show that Christianity is immoral because the bible condones and seems to even endorse rape, “it requires a rape victim to marry her rapist, right?” Actually, no.
You probably guessed that was going to be the answer, and that is the answer but we really need to cover why that is the answer. This objection comes from a superficial reading of some Old Testament passages. We’re going to look at a few different Old Testament passages that talk about rape and sex outside of marriage. The first that we’re going to look at is Exodus 22:16-17, which says,
“If a man seduces [patah] 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.”
Now, this word seduces, it’s the Hebrew word “patah”, I’m not a Hebrew scholar, I’m relying on the work that other notable people who are experts in their field have done in this area. “patah” is not the strongest word that could be used here as we will see.
What we do see is this man seduced this woman who was a virgin, and was not engaged. Now, unless the father absolutely refuses, they’re going to have to marry each other. That’s one passage that we’re going to look at. Why would this be the case? Well, a non-virgin is going to have a very hard time in that society getting married in the future. What’s also noteworthy is he could not divorce her – the man that seduced this woman – he could not divorce her after they got married. Which is contrary to the fact that generally divorce could happen in that culture though it was not looked favorably upon and certainly not God’s design, but he was paying for his crime. You might say, “He seduced her, why does she have to stay with him for the rest of her life?” Well, it’s not an ideal system, that is for sure. However, this at least provides for her physical security, she’s going to be married, she’s not going to be on her own; it’s going to provide for her financial security which she would also not have necessarily, if she were on her own.
It’s making the best of a not great situation, but it’s not rape. The word there is not as strong as the word might be for “forces”, when the word that’s used is “seduces”. Let’s look at another passage, Deuteronomy, chapter 22,
“If there is a girl who is a virgin engaged to a man, and another man finds her in the city and lies with her, then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them to death; the girl, because she did not cry out in the city [i.e., where her screams could be heard], and the man, because he has violated his neighbor’s wife. Thus you shall purge the evil from among you.”
This is not rape, that’s not what’s being described here, this is adultery that’s being described, sex outside of marriage.
You’ll see that no-one is having to marry someone else in this case, because they’re both going to be dead at the end of the story. Adultery was a capital crime. It warranted the death penalty in the Israel theocracy. You might say “well, how do you know that this was consensual?” The passage says she didn’t cry out. “Oh, so she has to cry out in order for it to be consensual?” No, it does reason that a woman might not cry out if she’s being raped. However, this was a standard in place that tried to do the best it could in a day where there weren’t security cameras, and cellphone cameras, and DNA tests, because the standard is, if she cries out she could be heard. The easiest way to get help in the city is to cry out. That’s the standard used here, it’s not perfect, that’s certainly the case. No system of law is perfect but this at least tries to apply a balancing test in the set of circumstances to determine what type of event this was. Also, since this was known to be the law, if you’re having sex and you don’t cry out it’s assumed to be consensual, then women would have known to cry out if indeed they were participating in a non-consensual sex act. That’s the second passage we’re going to look at, let’s look at another one and this is just a couple verses later.
“But if in the field [i.e., where the girl doesn’t have much chance to be heard] the man finds the girl who is engaged, and the man forces [chazaq] her and lies with her, then only the man who lies with her shall die. But you shall do nothing to the girl; there is no sin in the girl worthy of death, for just as a man rises against his neighbor and murders him, so is this case. When he found her in the field, the engaged girl cried out, but there was no one to save her.”
What we see here is the circumstance and the location has a lot to do with how the law is applied. Because it does make sense, if you’re in a field, there’s no one there to hear you if you were to cry out, the woman’s innocence is assumed here. Isn’t this a far cry from saying a woman has to marry her rapist? This passage makes it quite obvious that the woman’s innocence is assumed and the man is very guilty. He’s going to pay for his crime and the woman is not involved in that at all. The only payment she has to do is in terms of the physical or emotional toll that the rape will have inflicted upon her, but she’s not punished, she’s not marrying anyone. The man is bearing the full weight of the responsibility.
You’ll notice that the word used there is different than seduces, it’s forces “chazaq” in Hebrew. It’s a different word than the first passage we looked at. One last passage,
“If a man finds a girl who is a virgin, who is not engaged, and seizes [tapas— “takes/catches”—a weaker verb than “forces” in v. 25] her and lies with her and they are discovered, then the man who lay with her shall give to the girl’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall become his wife because he has violated her; he cannot divorce her all his days. “(vv. 28–29)”
You might think seizes is a pretty strong word, and it is a stronger word than seduces, it can also mean take or catches, but it is certainly a weaker word than forces. This would not have been a mistake since these words occur within the same passage, the same chapter in fact. This thought describes a girl who is a virgin who has sex with a man, at the minimum that’s what is described here, and the man is supposed to marry her, and he cannot divorce her all of his days.
To some people this sounds like rape – seizes, takes, catch – and I can understand that impulse right off the bat. However, this must be talking about a different situation from the preceding verses. It would not have been lost that two verses earlier the word forces is used, and it carries with it a very different penalty for only one person, the man, whereas here, the word takes is used and it’s a very different circumstance where the woman is going to end up marrying the man that she had sex with.
These are three different situations that we’ve all looked at. We’ve looked at adultery between two consenting adults, a man and an engaged woman. We’ve looked at the forcible rape of an engaged woman whose innocence was assumed, we looked at the word forced in that, and we’ve looked at what was most likely in this last example, the seduction of an unengaged woman.
The best way to read this is as an expansion of Exodus 22:16-17. That was the first passage we looked at, we’ve said, “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.”
What we do see is that it was not considered rape because it was not forced. You could think of this possibly as statutory rape. One of the reasons and the clues for reading it like this is the passage actually says, “If a man finds a girl who is a virgin, who’s not engaged and seizes her and lies with her, and they are discovered.” They, not he is discovered. There are two people being described as participating in the action here a ‘they,’ the man and the woman. It does seem like this was consensual. Maybe she went against her better judgement, but it doesn’t say he alone is discovered. Both in the eyes of the law are culpable and responsible for this action. Maybe this could have been more like statutory rape, it could have been, she consented but was too young or went against her better judgement. While the woman gave in, in this case, the man would still bear the brunt of their responsibility. He has to pay a dowry for her, he more importantly has to take care of her for the rest of his life. He can’t divorce her as long as he lives. He has to take care of her well, he has to treat her well.
We haven’t looked at how women were supposed to be treated in ancient Israel, we will look at this in future weeks. What I will just say at this point is, God’s track record on women’s rights is extremely strong. He sees women as having equal dignity and worth and are equally valuable and worthy of respect just like men are. This doesn’t always mean that people have treated women this way. This doesn’t mean that women are treated this way in the United States, and it doesn’t mean women were treated like that in ancient Israel. That’s not a refection of God’s design, intent or moral will, that’s a reflection of the fallen nature of men.
What we see in these circumstances is that rape in never condoned, the forcing of a man onto a woman is never condoned. What the Bible and specifically the Old Testament law seeks to do in the circumstance, and the surrounding circumstances is get the best form of justice that it can in a day in age where there were no witnesses, potentially, there was certainly no DNA evidence, there were no security cameras or any of that type of thing.
What we must affirm, and what the scripture does seem to affirm, is that this is a horrible situation all the way around in every case. What the law seeks to do in this case, if you read the text with an open mind and you try and piece together these three different situations that are described, it seeks to protect the woman. It punishes the man alone with death when he forces himself on her.
That is stronger than most of the states penalties in the United States for violating a woman, for sexual assault against a woman. That’s what the Bible prescribed, a harsher punishment than we have today.
I want to bring up the concept we looked at briefly last week, “chronological snobbery”, it’s really easy for us today to look back at this laws and say they’re so primitive, gosh, look at how they mistreated women, but think of what the alternative would have been, how should it have been done? How could it have been done better? I don’t think that there is a better option for these three different circumstances. What we need to understand is, why does a rape victim have to marry her rapist? She doesn’t. What’s described in that passage is not rape.
The bible translation you used to read that passage could potentially lead you to believe that it is rape that is described. This is why we don’t just read our Bible on an island and come to conclusions. We do this as part of the larger community of faith, as part of the 2000-year-old tradition of the church and in this case where we’re dealing with the Old Testament law, we’re reading this also with the understanding of an additional 1000-plus years of Judaism. We need to understand these things in their context and the best way to do that if you’re an English speaker and you don’t read Hebrew, as I do not, is to use multiple translations, is to use commentaries to seek to understand that passage in it’s original context. When we do that in this case, we see that a rape victim doesn’t have to marry her rapist. A rape victim has no punishment levied against her, and her rapist is killed. I hope you better understand this very sensitive Old Testament issue. I want you to understand that I am sensitive to this issue, but I’m also sensitive to God’s Word being misrepresented, as it so often is by some in our culture today who want to use this issue to argue against God.
I hope you’ll join me next week as we continue to look at some Old Testament issues that are often brought up as arguments against God, the Bible, and Christianity. I’ll talk with you next week, on Unapologetic.