Friday, April 20, 2012

The Bible and rape

An atheist friend of mine just accused the Bible of gross immorality regarding rape, citing this website:

So, I thought I'd respond to it a bit.

Go back and look at the website yourself, first.  I am not going to quote it all out here, but I will assume you will either look at the website or look up the verses.

Judges 21:10-24:  First, go back and read the whole context, Judges 19-21. is not honest enough to give you the context themselves.

One of the main points in the Book of Judges is the incredible declension in morality of the people of Israel during this time in their history.  The constant refrain of the book is, "In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes" (21:25).  I see no indication in the text that the actions of the Israelites in destroying Jabesh Gilead was sanctioned by God, nor the giving of the women of Jabesh Gilead to Benjamin, nor the kidnapping of the virgins of Shiloh.

As a matter of fact, unless God had expressly sanctioned these acts (for which I see no evidence), they were contrary to biblical law.  See Deuteronomy 20 for the rules of warfare.  I see no evidence that warfare was justified against Jabesh Gilead; but even if it was, it was not lawful to kill the married women.  See Exodus 21:16, which forbids kidnapping (and commands it to be punished with the death penalty).  The kidnapping of the women of Shiloh was contrary to the law of God.

Numbers 31:7-18:  The earlier context of this is Numbers 25.  The attack on the Midianites was quite justified, as God ordered it.  The people did nothing wrong here.  God is the owner of the lives of all, and when he commands people to be instruments of his justice, as he did here with the Midianites, this is perfectly ethical.  God's values and commands are the source of the objective moral law of the universe. suggests that the captive women were commanded to be kept to be raped.  Actually, what the text is saying is that these women can live in Israel and be available to be married to Israelites.  This situation is described in the law in Deuteronomy 21:10-14.  There is nothing said there about the woman being forced to get married.  The NAB translation used by is misleading on this point, for the phrase translated there "she was married to you under compulsion" actually means "you have humbled her."  You can read about the meaning of the Hebrew word here:  What the text is saying is that the person who has taken a wife from the captives, if he later rejects her, he must not sell her or treat her wrongly, because he has humbled her--that is, he has afflicted her or brought her low.  He is being warned not to mistreat her, because her low situation was brought upon her by himself.  The text does not even approve the wife being put away or rejected; it merely states that if this happens, she is not to be mistreated.

Nowhere in the text is it stated that this captive woman could be taken forcibly against her will and married.  Granted, she is a captive, and as such she may not be able to simply go or do as she wishes.  However, there is no indication here that it would be morally proper to take a woman by sheer force against her will and force her to live as one's wife.  The Israelites were commanded to "love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:17-18), and they were also commanded to love their enemies and treat them well (Exodus 23:4-5).  We recall also the law against kidnapping.  The text describes how one might marry a captive woman, but it does not sanction the use of force to bring about a marriage.

As a matter of fact, when the Bible does actually explicitly discuss the issue of a woman's consent in getting married, it assumes that her consent would be required and that she would not be forced into a marriage against her will, confirming our sense from the general principles.   See the story of finding a bride for Isaac in Genesis 24, particularly focusing on v. 8 and v. 57-58.  Proper love and respect for our fellow human beings involves not forcing women into unwanted marriages.  The Westminster Confession picks up on this same principle in its discussion on marriage in chapter 24, section 3, when it says that " it is lawful for all sorts of people to marry, who are able with judgment to give their consent" (emphasis mine).

Deuteronomy 20:10-14:  I already cited this passage above.  This chapter deals with laws regarding warfare.  Israel was never authorized to attack its neighbors except in self-defense (or in special cases specifically approved by God, such as the killing of the Canaanites).  Contrary to, no murder is condoned here, for the killing of the men of the city is not murder.  Rather, they are casualties of a just war.  If God authorizes killing, it is not evil and therefore is not murder.  The city is to be given opportunity to surrender in peace before it is attacked.  If it does not surrender, then all the men are killed as dangerous enemy combatants.  But the women and children are not killed, because they aren't combatants.

When the text says that the Israelites may keep the women, children, and plunder for themselves, we have already seen that this is not an authorization of rape, but rather a command that the women should be allowed to live in Israel and are available to be married by Israelites.  The children will be allowed to live in Israel as well, and they will be subject to all the protections given to strangers in the law.

Deuteronomy 22:28-29:  Read the broader context, 22:22-29. think that this passage is saying that the consequences to the man for rape is that he must pay a bride-price and marry the woman.  The NLT translation takes this interpretation as well.  But the passage itself is not so clear on this reading.  The word translated "rape" in the NLT can be read about here:  It can mean to take someone captive, so as far as the word itself by itself goes, the idea of rape could be suggested by it.  It is also used to refer to grabbing a sword when one is about to use it, and for other things.  It basically means to "seize" or to "grab" or to "take hold of."

The context of the passage, however, suggests to me that rape is likely not in view here.  Rape of a betrothed woman is discussed in v. 25-27, and the word used to indicate the rape there can be read about here:  It is a stronger word, and indicates clearly the use of force.  In v. 26, this rape is punished with death.  Now, granted, that doesn't clench the matter, for the rape of a betrothed woman would be a form of adultery, which is clearly to be punished with death, while the rape of a non-betrothed woman would not involve adultery.  However, the fact that the word used in v. 28 is different from the one in verse 25, combined with the fact that there is no mention in v. 28-29 that the woman cried out and there was no one to hear her (in contrast to the rape discussions in v. 23-27), combined with the law against kidnapping alluded to earlier, combined with the fact that the requirement of marriage makes far more sense if we are talking not about a kidnapping (which is what rape is) but a voluntary sexual encounter (it is hard to imagine a father approving of a marriage between his daughter and her kidnapper, or if he did it would hard to see how such an attitude could be morally justified in biblical terms), makes me think that it is more likely that this is not speaking of rape at all but a man taking a woman who does not resist.  I think, therefore, that this is the same sort of situation envisioned in Exodus 22:16-17, where the woman is said to be "enticed" rather than "forced."  Notice that the consequences in Exodus 22:16-17 are the same as in our text, reenforcing the sense that the same situation is in view.

Deuteronomy 22:23-24: has completely missed the point of this passage.  We already cited this passage with its context above.  This passage is not talking about rape at all, but about a voluntary sexual encounter where one of the individuals (at least) is betrothed.  They both die because they are both guilty of voluntary adultery, which received the death penalty.  The idea that the woman didn't cry out is a way of saying that the encounter was consensual.  I do not think the text is suggesting that a woman can always escape a rape in a city, although the text might superficially suggest that.  That would obviously be against common sense, and there is no reason to attribute this absurd notion to the text as another explanation is easily available.  What we have here is rather a description in colorful, descriptive language (as is often used in the law and in the rest of the Bible) to describe a non-resisted encounter.  The next verses, 25-27, are talking about rape, and the penalty is death to the rapist and no penalty to the victim.  And says that the law does not care at all for the rape victim, but 25-27 clearly suggest otherwise.

2 Samuel 12:11-14: This passage indicates that God ordained that David's wives would be given to his enemy, and that his child would die, as consequences of his sin.  I see nothing immoral here.  God has the right of ownership over the lives of all, to do with as he pleases.  And all people deserve death and hell because of sin.  And God has designed the world and the human race such that everything affects everything else.  So if God wishes to bring about some harm upon someone as a response to someone else's sin, I see no moral problem with that at all.

Deuteronomy 21:10-14:  I've already dealt with this above.

Judges 5:30:  This is taken completely out of context.  It is a part of a poem describing women among the enemies of the people of God consoling the mother of the captain of these enemies.  There is no indication that anything here is sanctioned as moral by God.

Exodus 21:7-11: The meaning of this passage is basically this:  There are certain circumstances where a man might sell his daughter to be married to another person.  In other words, the person might pay money in order to marry her.  Perhaps this might be done if the family of the girl is short on money, or something like this.  There is nothing said here about this taking place against the girl's will.  If the man who "buys" her decides not to marry her, then he must let her be bought back by her family.  He can't just treat her as his personal slave to sell to anyone, even foreigners.  He might have "bought" her to marry his son, in which case he must treat her as a daughter.  If he fails to do any of these things or if he mistreats her in any way, she is released from her relationship to him without him getting his money back.  The text doesn't indicate whether this arrangement is a good idea or not, or recommend it, but only gives instructions in case it should happen, and the instructions are designed to protect the rights of the girl.  Again, nothing is said here about the girl being forced against her will to be involved in any of this.  If she enters into one of these arrangements, she is to be treated fully as a wife or as a daughter, as the case may be.  Also, see Deuteronomy 23:15-16.

Zechariah 14:1-2:  This is similar to 2 Samuel 12.  Here, God is ordaining evil consequences to come upon Israel for the nation's sins.  I see nothing immoral about this.

So, there you have it!  I see nothing immoral in any of this, understood correctly.


Mariano said...

Self styled “skeptics” fall for because they are, in reality, pseudo-skeptics. is generally written in the format of presenting a malicious Bible besmirching statement, then a fragmented verse or two and then a statement whereby the author tells the reader what they should think about what they just read.
They bank on the fact that 99% of their audience will not look up the original text and read it for immediate context, greater context, historical context, grammatical context, cultural context, etc.
Incidentally, condemnation of rape, murder, the Bible, Christianity, etc. without ever offering a justification, a basis, a premise upon which their condemnation is base in the first place.

Keep up the good work and the God work,

Mark Hausam said...

Mariano, thank you for your comments. I looked up your website ( It looks like you've been doing a lot of interesting things!

I was surprised to see your comment, as I didn't know that anyone (besides a few atheist friends) knew my blog existed! There is a whole world of Christians doing apologetics that I am only peripherally familiar with, so I am excited to meet more like-minded people.

Adam Isom said...

Thank you for this post.

I can see what some Christians (such as yourself) mean when they say Bible verses are taken 'out-of-context'.

(It may be unwanted advice, but regarding your blog readership, if you want to make it higher, you could consider strategies like leaving comments on other blogs with a link to a relevant post of yours, guest-posting, publicizing to Facebook, etc.)

Mark Hausam said...

Thanks, Adam! I haven't really tried to publicize the blog as of yet, as I've been putting most of my energies into other things. I hope to really begin working with it more this summer. Thanks for the advice!

wakawakwaka said...

hold on though if your interpreation of deutronomy 22:28-29 is correct wouldnt it mean that there is no punishment for those that rape girls who are not engaged?

Mark Hausam said...

Hello Wakawakwaka,

As I explained in the article, I think that Deuteronomy 22:28-29 is not talking about rape about a man "taking" a woman who does not resist. I think that's the best reading, for reasons I gave in the article. I think that rape would fall under the category of kidnapping, since rape involves stealing a person. Kidnapping receives the death penalty in biblical law.

Mark Hausam said...

Sorry for the typo--it should say, "I think that Deuteronomy 22:28-29 is not talking about rape but about a man "taking" a woman who does not resist."

wakawakwaka said...

but thats the problem mark the law dealing with rape is Deutronomy 22:22-25 and it only talks about punishing those that rape women that are engaged. So if your interpretation is correct then there is no punishment for raping a non-engaged girl

Mark Hausam said...

Rape involves kidnapping (man-stealing), and kidnapping is punishable by death (Exodus 21:16).

wakawakwaka said...

but even if that was true your interpreation of the verse is still rather awkward rape doesnt always invovle kidnapping,and god sees them as two different situtations in the bible anyways.

In the passages that lead right up to Deutro. 22 28-29 it talks about what to do when a engaged girl is raped and to jump to what happens when a non-engaged girl who sleeps with someone who doesnt resist is rather awkard

Mark Hausam said...

I would say that rape does always involve kidnapping, because kidnapping is exerting force over another person in order to take away that person's freedom, using that person as if he/she was one's own property. Rape always involves this.

Deuteronomy 22 discusses both consensual (unresisted) and non-consensual sexual encounters. For example, it talks about a situation where a betrothed woman does not resist a sexual encounter with someone other than her husband (the one she is betrothed to). Passages of biblical law often involve a bit of jumping around (see, for example, Leviticus 20, or Exodus 22, where there are sudden jumps between unrelated topics), and often similar ideas are linked together, suggested by each other. It does not seem that strange that in Deuteronomy 22 we have laws that deal with both rape and consensual sexual encounters.

It does seem to me that my reading is the best reading, although I acknowledge that the other reading (where 22:28-29 is talking about rape and saying it is punishable by a requirement of marriage and payment of the bride-price) has plausibility as well. It does seem to me that we ought to consider rape kidnapping, because kidnapping always occurs as a part of it. What I would say, in the end, is that 28-29 does not, by itself, clearly distinguish between consensual and non-consensual but merely focuses on the sexual aspect of an encounter between two non-married-or-betrothed persons. In order to know how the aspect of force would play into this, we have to look elsewhere, to laws dealing with the forceful taking of people against their will--i.e. the kidnapping laws.

Mark Hausam said...

I would add also that Deuteronomy 22, our part of it, is focusing on the distinction between how sexual relations are viewed when one person is betrothed/married vs. when neither persons are betrothed/married. It points out a consensual / non-consensual distinction in cases of one person being betrothed/married, but it does not address that distinction when speaking of a situation where neither are betrothed, because in that case the sexual encounter is not, per se, punishable by death. The passage, focusing on the sexual aspects, leaves untouched the question of whether other elements might be involved in the encounter between the two non-married people (such as force--kidnapping) that would warrant other punishments.