Did God Require A Women To Marry Her Rapist?

Did God Require A Woman To Marry Her Rapist?

Did God require a woman to marry her rapist?  The Old Testament can be challenging reading.  Many of the passages seem odd and outdated to modern sensibilities. The moral code given to the nation of Israel in the Mosaic covenant can seem particularly cruel and harsh at first glance.  It’s only by looking at their historical and cultural context that we can make sense of what’s taking place.  Deuteronomy 22:28-29 is one of those verses.  But does this verse actually require a woman to marry her rapist?   

How Is Rape Different From Other Physical Crimes

First, we need to understand that rape is one of the most heinous acts one human being can do to another. Our culture has reduced the meaning of sex to simply a physical act and ignored the spiritual and emotional aspects of it.  But rape is more than physically hurting someone.  Rape leaves emotional and psychological scars.  Our laws reflect this understanding.  We don’t treat rape cases the way we treat other physical assaults. The penalties are much stiffer, and they should be.  God understands this as well, and accordingly, makes the punishment in the Mosaic law more severe than it might first appear.

Do Rapists Get Off Easy In The Old Testament?

The Mosaic law does not go easy on rapists.  The consequence for raping a woman engaged to be married is death by stoning.  Let’s take a look at that passage from Deuteronomy:

25 “But if a man finds a betrothed young woman in the countryside, and the man forces 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; there is in the young woman no sin deserving of death, for just as when a man rises against his neighbor and kills him, even so is this matter[1]– Deuteronomy 22:25-26

As you can see from this passage, God does take rape very seriously.  He even prescribes the most severe penalty, death, for those who commit the crime. While some may not be in favor of the death penalty, you still cannot say that this crime is treated lightly by God.

But What About Deuteronomy 22:28-29?

Deuteronomy 22:25-26 seem pretty clear, and objections to the death penalty aside, I don’t think many people would have a problem with God’s attitude towards rape based on this passage. But what about our so called “Problem verses”, Deuteronomy 22:28-29 which reads:

28 “If a man finds a young woman who is a virgin, who is not betrothed, and he seizes her and lies with her, and they are found out, 29 then the man who lay with her shall give to the young woman’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife because he has humbled her; he shall not be permitted to divorce her all his days.[2]– Deuteronomy 22:28-29

These verses are the ones that make people shift in their seats a bit.  They’re not quite as neat and tidy as the preceding verses.  50 shekels?  Is that how much a woman’s virtue is worth to God?  And then she has to marry her rapist?  What is going on here?  How did we get from the death penalty in one case, to having to marry your rapist in the next?

Care For The Victim Takes Priority

The key to understanding the second set of commands lies in the status of the woman, and how she is best protected and cared for. In the first instance, the woman is betrothed.  And according to the law, she is not considered unclean or at fault for the rape. Therefore, she can continue with her wedding.  The rapist can be dealt with in the harshest sense because the future of the woman is secure.  She will be cared for and supported by her husband.

In the second case, the woman is not engaged. She had no husband, and in that culture was now unlikely to find someone that would marry her since she was not a virgin.  Once her father died, this would have meant a life of hardship, poverty and loneliness. She would have had few resources to fall back on.  This is the key to understanding what happens next in the law.

Far from letting the rapist off the hook, he is now required to care for the woman, who’s life he ruined, for the rest of his life. He must provide security for her and her children and may never divorce her or kick her to the curb.  He now has a lifetime commitment to take care of his victim. We may rightly want to see a more stringent punishment placed on the man, but priority is given to care for the victim, not revenge.  

But Is A Woman Required To Marry Her Rapist?

Also, the woman was not required to marry the rapist.  If the girl’s father thought she had prospects for a better life away from the rapist, then there were provisions in the law to allow for this.  Exodus 22:16-17 explains this:

16 “If a man entices a virgin who is not betrothed, and lies with her, he shall surely pay the bride-price for her to be his wife. 17 If her father utterly refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money according to the bride-price of virgins.[3]Exodus 22:16-17

Lastly, I think we need to realize that when it comes to the act of rape, there is no perfect solution for a person that has been violated in this way.  We live in a fallen world.  No laws created can truly repair or compensate for the act of rape.  Perfect justice is not attainable in this life. Only God can exercise perfect judgement. The best we can do is try and help the victims of rape as best we can and try to ensure they have the resources they need to recover from the awful things that were done to them.

For further reading, we suggest “Is God A Moral Monster“- By Paul Copan

This is a difficult and emotional subject to discuss. What are your thoughts?

Discuss your thoughts on this post on our Facebook Group here.  


[1]The New King James Version. (1982). (Dt 22:25–26). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[2]The New King James Version. (1982). (Dt 22:28–29). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3]The New King James Version. (1982). (Ex 22:16–17). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

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