The very idea of forced sexual intercourse is disgusting, and it’s even worse for the victims whose rapist is never brought to justice. Many skeptics claim the Bible condones rape. A closer inspection of the Bible concludes this could not be farther from the truth.
The Mosaic Laws of the Old Testament were written to the ancient Israelites after they were freed from slavery in Egypt. These laws were created to allow order, define priestly duties, to set Israelites apart from other cultures, and to enforce punishment on those who do wrong. There are many laws put in place that some would say are inhumane, but what they are not seeing is that this is just the law. The Bible is not telling us these things happened; rather, the Bible is telling us the punishment for those who do such things. In other words, the phrase “A speeding ticket will cost you $100” simply means you will be punished for speeding—not that you are actually speeding at this moment.
Let us consider the issue of rape:
In Deuteronomy 22:13-29, we read the Mosaic Law stating that forcing a woman into a sexual encounter against her will was forbidden. This law was put into place in order to protect women. We also find in this passage that the punishment for men who raped women was death by stoning. There were only a few of the laws that required death, and many of them were sexual in nature (bestiality, incest, etc.). The rapist earned his death through his horrible crime.
There have been many attacks against this passage as it orders a rapist to marry his victim. Actually, the rapist had to pay the father the “bride price” (50 shekels of silver) before he could marry her. The father had the ultimate authority in this scenario, and he could refuse the marriage, but the rapist was still required to pay the hefty financial cost.
While we could all agree that if we were raped, being married to such an evil person would be an awful arrangement. However, we can’t be ethnocentric but instead we should consider the culture at that time. The laws were written to the Israelites a few thousand years ago. This was a different time and a different place. Virginity was held in high esteem, and men would not want to marry someone who lost their virginity prior to marriage. Women who did lose their virginity outside of marriage were frowned upon. Women would anticipate marrying a man who would provide for them, so if a woman was deemed unworthy of marriage due to her previous sexual involvement, who would provide for her? She would be the outcast of the whole community and would struggle to even find a meal for the day. That being said, the rapist, who chose to violate the innocent victim, would be required to provide for her needs since the rapist’s actions significantly decreased her chances of being married.
That may not be the best arrangement, but remember, no one wins when there is crime. For instance, a person may burn down a house, get arrested, and then go to prison for the crime of arson. Although justice was served, the family who lost their home still suffers. They lost their cherished possessions and are now homeless. Or consider the family who lost a relative to murder. The murderer gets arrested and is sentenced to life in prison, but the family is still without their loved one. Sin has quite a trickle-down effect.
What about the passages in the Bible where Israelites took virgins from others during wartime? There are a few events in the Old Testament where the Israelites were at war with other people groups, and in some instances, the Israelites put to death everyone except the virgin women. The following passages discuss two such events: Judges 21: 10-24 and Numbers 31: 7-18.
If you read those passages, you will never see where the virgin women were raped. The Israelites knew rape was punishable by death. In addition, in verse 19 of Numbers 31, the soldiers were ordered to purify themselves and their captives, so they could not do that and also rape a person. What most likely happened here is the virgin women were taken into the Israelite community to live, marry, and to have someone to take care of them. If they were left in the country where all the men were killed in the war, who would take care of them? They would perish from starvation, or perhaps another nation would take them captive as slaves or rape them. The Israelites took the women to protect them and marry them. By being their husband, they were obligated to provide for their daily needs.
Let me pause here and discuss some cultural issues. The people groups with whom Israel went to war with were quite evil. They sacrificed their children in fire. They were known for doing horrendous and perverse activity. They were idol worshippers and committed atrocities. Because of their sexual depravity, there is little doubt many of them, including the children, carried sexually transmitted diseases (STD). What if the Israelites also brought the children back with them? The children would have that violent and perverse nature with which they were raised. In addition, if disease was widespread, the children would bring the disease into the Israelite land. Many theologians believe children who die before a certain age go to heaven, so those children who were killed in battle got to be with the Lord immediately, thus ending their earthly suffering. For the same reason, the virgin women would not have had the STDs, so they would be suitable as wives.
God forbids rape. Rape is a horrible crime, and in the end no one wins, even if the rapist is in prison for life. The victim carries the trauma from having been violated. It is no wonder God ordered rapists to be put to death. The Bible does not condone rape. Women are held in high esteem. They are to be protected, and laws were put into place so they would be protected.