Examining The Text in Question
One of the frequently listed objections by atheists, liberal theologians, and progressives to the validity of the Scripture is their assertion it condones rape. They vehemently detest rape as an objectively evil value and therefore cannot see how the Bible could condone it. To be clear, I am a Bible-believing evangelical Christian who explicitly concurs that rape is a horrific evil. However, to say that the Bible condones it is to misunderstand what is going on within the text itself. The arguments centers around Deuteronomy 22:25-29, which says:
25 “But if in the open country a man meets a young woman who is betrothed, and the man seizes her and lies with her, then only the man who lay with her shall die. 26 But you shall do nothing to the young woman; she has committed no offense punishable by death. For this case is like that of a man attacking and murdering his neighbor, 27 because he met her in the open country, and though the betrothed young woman cried for help there was no one to rescue her. 28 “If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, 29 then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her. He may not divorce her all his days. -Deuteronomy 22:25-29
Now, before we begin to refute this alleged objection to the texts, let’s first examine what is happening within this passage. In the first instance, a man sexually assaults a woman who is pledged to be married, and the death penalty is prescribed. The woman is not to be punished, however, because she has done nothing wrong. This is a specific case of a forcible action against her will, which is the very definition of rape. Reading the second passage with our English Bibles, it appears as though the second man, who according to our critiques, allegedly sexually assaults a woman who is not betrothed yet receives a different penalty. How are we to understand this fact?
A Lesson In Original Languages
It is important, dear friends, to remember the Bible was not actually written in English. I hear awful rumors that Moses did not use our fine language to detail the wondrous events of Israel, shocking, but nonetheless true! Therefore, we need to consider the Hebrew words in the book of Deuteronomy. In the first instance of verse 25, where the man “seizes” the young woman, the word used is châzaq. Definitively, it has reference to a violent seizing in this passage. The young woman is being raped by the man in this verse, seeing as the act is against her consent and he is assaulting her. However, once we come to the second instance of verse 28, the word “seizes” is the Hebrew word tâphaś, which has a wide range of meanings.
For example, this word is used in Genesis 4:21 to talk about Jubal being “the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe.” That word “play” in this text is the same word tâphaś translated as “seizes” in verse 28 of Deuteronomy 22. The text is not saying that men violently handle the harp demonstrating it has a bit of a wide range of uses. Another example would be Genesis 39:12, which says that Potiphar’s wife “caught him by the garment” referencing Joseph. This “caught” is, of course, much more violent and forceful than a musician playing their instrument. So, what we see is that this word can be used in a couple of different ways. Should we understand it as referencing rape in Deuteronomy 22?
The Evidence of Cross References
There is every reason to believe the usage of this word in Deuteronomy 22 is not referencing rape but coercion through false promises. How do I know? Simple, part of the law given in Exodus 22:16-17 is a parallel passage that says this:
16 “If a man seduces a virgin who is not betrothed and lies with her, he shall give the bride-price for her and make her his wife. 17 If her father utterly refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money equal to the bride-price for virgins. -Exodus 22:16-17
The idea to this parallel situation with Deuteronomy 22 is that the man is seducing the woman into sexual relations by false promises and enticement, it can also mention being flat-out silly. Deuteronomy 11:16-17 states, “Take care lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them; then the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you, and he will shut up the heavens, so that there will be no rain, and the land will yield no fruit, and you will perish quickly off the good land that the Lord is giving you.” That word “deceived” is the same one used to reference the seduction of the virgin in Exodus 22:16. Clearly, the passage has reference to being seduced, not violently seized or assaulted. Judges 14:15 records the request given to Samson’s wife to “entice” him into solving a riddle. Same word again, and Samson’s wife assuredly is being asked to persuade the man into giving the answer, not violently assaulting him.
Consequently, given the semantic range of the word used in Deuteronomy 22:28 and the cross-reference of Exodus 22, there is no reason to believe the instance of the unbetrothed woman in verse 28 is talking about sexual assault or rape. It is discussing a scenario whereby the woman is enticed into sexual activity by the man. The man is held responsible for his actions and must fulfill the covenant of marriage if the father agrees. Death is prescribed for the instance in Deuteronomy 22:25. Far from condoning rape, the Bible says the man who commits rape should be put to death. Those asserting the Bible is soft on the topic of rape, I must humbly assert, need to rethink their position!
We see in this example that the criticism levied against the Bible is dealt with simply by understanding the context of the passage, digging into the original languages, and undertaking a bit of cross-reference work. As Christians, we can have 100% confidence in the Word of God as the authoritative, sufficient, inspired, inerrant, and infallible revelation from Him. May we know it so that we will be ready to answer those who bring up such questions as this one!