I have noticed in a couple of different places where people have objected to the Bible because they claim it forces a woman to marry her rapist. This is, of course, a false accusation. Although I have dealt with it in another article [How Does The Bible View Sex Crimes], I thought it was worth looking at again in more detail.
The people who make such wild accusations have no real interest in the Truth and what the Bible really teaches. For them it is just an immature “justification” to reject the Scripture, live however they want to, and indulge the fantasy that they will never have to answer to God for it. Whether it is worth answering them or not depends on individual situations; however, Christians and those interested in the Truth should know the answer.
Before we look at the specifics, lets look at some general principles. God does not reward lazy people and if we want to understand what the Bible teaches on any subject it will take work and effort. We have to see the entire Scriptural teaching on a topic and then see how each piece of information works together. A person can “prove” anything they want from the Bible if they just quote miscellaneous verses out of context. So we must study to understand what God is really saying on any given topic and not superimpose our preconceived ideas on Scripture.
We also need to understand how Biblical Law works. I have written an entire course on this called Master Life. If you haven’t taken it, suggest you do. However, there are two concepts we need to know now. Biblical Law works on the basis of Case Law and Minimum Case Law. Case Law is when an concrete example of a principle of Law is given. Using the example we discover the principle and can then apply it in different situations. What this means is that God’s Law does not have to cover every specific situation but can work with general principles and concrete examples. This is why God’s Law can be contained in the Bible and doesn’t require an entire library of law books! Minimum Case Law takes this one step further in that it shows how far the law will reach. For example, Deut. 25:4 states that you are not to muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain [pay for work] - even animals must be treated fairly. Paul uses this exact scripture in 1 Cor. 9:8-10 and 1 Tim. 5:17-18 to prove that people should receive honour and be paid fairly [or generously!].
The two sections of the Bible which would be used for the hideous accusation that a woman must marry her rapist are:
"If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found; Then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife; because he hath humbled her, he may not put her away all his days. [Deut. 22:28-29]
"And if a man entice a maid that is not betrothed, and lie with her, he shall surely endow her to be his wife. If her father utterly refuse to give her unto him, he shall pay money according to the dowry of virgins." [Ex. 22:16-17]
Let’s start with who this rapist or seducer is.
First, He is not a professional criminal or a repeat offender. We know this because of Deut. 21: 18-21: If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. They shall say to the elders, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.” Then all the men of his town are to stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid.
The son in this case is either an older teenager or adult son who has rejected all the efforts of his parents to correct his rebellious ways and who has no intention of being any use to society. If this person, who has deliberately chosen a useless life, is to be executed then [because of minimum case law] we know that any who deliberately chose a life of crime would be executed. If a person who committed the serious crime of rape was not executed the first time [as we will discuss below], he certainly would have been on the second offence.
Second, This person is not a stalker and did not pre-meditate the crime. We can see this in the Deut. passage where it is definitely a rape. It says, “If a man find…” This is not premeditation but a crime of opportunity by a first time offender. The Exodus passage is a little different in that “enticing the maid” could involve pre-meditation; however, this is not a rape but a seduction where the woman is tricked or deceived into actions she would not normally have taken. It is still a crime, and the woman is still considered innocent, but there was no force used.
Third, This man is neither married nor engaged to a different woman. If he was then this would be an act of adultery on his part which was also punishable by death [Lev. 20:10].
Fourth, most likely this is a man who considers himself a suitor for the lady’s hand but gives into sexual temptation either through rape or seduction.
Fifth, [I want to say this carefully] this was not a crime of violence. I do not mean to imply that rape in itself is not violent - it is. The point I am trying to make is that, first, violence was not the motivation for the rape as is often the case today and second, that the rape did not involve hitting, beating, torture, etc. In that case, this crime would move automatically to the capital offence stage.
So who is the rapist/seducer in the above Scriptures? He is a single man who has never done this before and who sees a single woman, in most cases one he is already involved with, and overpowers or tricks her against will for sex. The Bible still views this as a serious crime, but not a capital one.
What should be obvious is that the Bible gives a very strong protection to women. In the majority of cases the rapist would be executed on the first offence. The greatness of the penalty, as we will see below, would provide strong motivation for even single men to exercise self-control with single women. In a Biblical system rape and seduction would be rare crimes. It is the humanist system - promoted by many who reject and mock Christianity - that has lead to the tragedy of rape being almost common place.
Now that we have looked at the background a bit, lets look at specifics.
So this rare crime has been committed, is the victim forced to marry her rapist/seducer? The word “force” gives a wrong impression. It is looking at the question the wrong way around. It is the rapist/seducer who is forced to marry the woman IF she and her father will still have him. It is the rapist/seducer who has no say in the matter. He is guilty. He must make restitution. By raping/seducing this woman he is no longer in control. IF she and her father agree to the marriage, he MUST provide and care for her as long as he lives and no matter what she does he can never divorce her.
Must she marry her rapist? Must a marriage take place? No. Why does the Bible give the final decision to the father of the woman? Remember, the social context. This is a farming-based society. Single women usually lived at home under the care and protection of their father. [In the very rare case where a single woman was out on her own - no longer under her father’s care - then the decision would be hers alone.] Any normal, loving father is always looking out for the best interest of his children especially his daughters. No Godly father [which was the norm in this society] would force his daughter to marry against her will. Therefore, if she said no, that would be the end of the matter. However, she may have already “lost her heart” to this young man. She may still want to marry him [either out of love or because she knows she will have more than normal control over him]. Now her father examines the young man. Is he basically a good young person who has done a terrible thing in a moment of weakness [and will never do it again!] and has genuinely repented or is there hardness of heart, unrepentance, and still more serious character flaws which a girl emotionally involved might be overlooking? After an objective evaluation, the father would decide whether to give his daughter her wish to marry her rapist or to deny it in her best interest.
So let’s look at the results of this man’s action from both if they married and if they did not marry.
If the woman did marry her rapist [the girl and her father’s choice, not his], he in many practical ways would be the servant of his wife. He would have to care and provide for her and no matter what she did or did not do now or at any time in the future, he could never divorce her. By refusing to exercise self-control he had in many ways given up the right to self-control. You can guarantee that the girl’s father [and mother!] would be watching him like a hawk to make sure he did not mistreat their daughter. He also had to pay a dowry of 50 shekels of silver. It is hard to determine what this would be in modern times because a] silver changes value and b] in a barter-based community money [silver] is harder to get and more valuable. It has been estimated that this represented the gross wages for 200 days work. This functioned as a type of life insurance policy and was given to the girl’s father for save keeping so that as a husband he could not manipulate his wife to regain control over it. It should also be noted that 50 shekels for a dowry was more than the average dowry usually was. So this was a high penalty for his crime.
If they did not marry, he was still required to pay the high 50 shekels dowry price without the benefit of having a wife. [This gives a legal reason for rape victims being able to sue their rapists for sizeable financial returns.] Now his own marriage plans would be delayed [in a society where getting married and raising a family was extremely important] as he would have to work and slave to save up another dowry for another woman…if he could find one that would have him.
Especially in a Jewish society the risks and costs for this rapist/seducer were so high that very few would give into such a temptation.
So does the Bible say a woman is forced to marry her rapist? No. It is a hideous and ridiculous idea put forward by ignorant people who hate the Bible. In fact, it is usually total hypocrisy for the people who charge that the Bible is hurting women usually promote humanism. It is humanistic courts which humiliate the rape victims and try to make them responsible for the crime! It is humanism which allows - if not promotes - porn and the sex trade which aggressively pushes abuse and violence of women and children.
Any society which has practiced Christianity has always had a high respect and honour for women. Jesus, Himself, went against the traditions of His society by treating women as equals, ministering to them and even allowing them to be the first witnesses of the resurrection - the greatest event in history!