Deuteronomy 22:28-29 says “If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay her father 50 shekels of silver. He must marry the young woman for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.” On the surface, this sounds like what God is saying is “Ladies, if you get sexually assaulted by a man, no big deal because all that guy has to do is simply pay your father off some cash and according to the law, he is obligated to marry you, he cannot divorce you for the rest of your life, which means your grand prize is that you get to spend the rest of your life with a man who sexually assaulted you.” As a result, many skeptics against Christianity try to use this verse and other verses like it to discredit the word of God and to suggest that God is some moral monster. What kind of loving God would force a woman to spend the rest of her life married to the very man who sexually assaulted her. As a result, they will try to discredit God and his word. But could this verse mean something else? Could there be something else going on in this passage of scripture that we need to look at to suggest another interpretation?
Today’s video underscores the importance more than ever of putting a verse in its proper context so let’s look at the verses that come before Deuteronomy 22:28-29 to see if they shed any light on the passage that we’re looking at today. Going back to verse 23, it says “If a young woman, who is a virgin, is betrothed to a husband and a man finds her in the city and lies with her, then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city and you shall stone them to death with stones, the young woman because she did not cry out in the city, and the man because he humbled his neighbor’s wife, so you shall put away the evil from among you.” Here is scenario number one. You have a man and you have a woman who is engaged to another man and they have some sort of sexual interchange but it happens in the city, which the implication is that the woman has the opportunity to cry out for help and if she cries out for help in the city, then there should be other people around her that would be able to hear her crying out and therefore come to her rescue. But the fact that nobody heard her cry seems to indicate that she did not cry out for help, which means she was consensual in this act and therefore just as guilty as the man and therefore guilty of stoning.
It then says “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, 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 for he found her in the countryside and the betrothed young woman cried out but there was no one to save her.” In this scenario, we see that the man and woman have some sort of sexual interchange that happens out in the countryside, which is the idea that even if this woman does cry out for help, the assumption is made that she does cry out for help, because it happens so far out in the country, nobody is there to hear her cry for help and therefore cannot come to her rescue. Notice it clearly says here that the punishment for this man is death by stoning, but not only that. We see here that God compares or equates this act of rape or forcible sexual assault to the act of murder, letting us know how serious God takes this issue of rape. It is very clear from these verses that the penalty for rape in the Old Testament is death by stoning, which therefore makes it impossible for any woman to marry her rapist because according to this verse if she gets raped, then that man is dead. Therefore, he is not able to marry the woman that he assaulted.
What about Deuteronomy 22:28-29? How do we explain them? The word “deuteronomy” actually means “second law” and they call it the second law because 40 years prior, Moses gave the same type of commandments to the older generation but they didn’t listen to Moses. As a result, they wandered around the wilderness for 40 years and died. Now there’s a younger generation that is emerging that is getting ready to go into the promised land and God, through the Holy Spirit, gives Moses the law a second time to give to this younger generation. If he gives this command in Deuteronomy 22, we also have to remember that he gave a similar command 40 years prior, and that happens to be in Exodus 22.
If we go to Exodus 22:16-17, most scholars believe that this is a parallel passage of scripture which would then shed light or explain further what was happening in Deuteronomy 22. It says “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. If her father utterly refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money according to the bribe price of virgins.” From this verse once again, it’s very clear what’s happening here. You have once again a man and then an unmarried woman who have some sort of sexual interchange and as a result, this man now must pay a price to marry the daughter. But what we see in this text that was not explained in Deuteronomy is that the father has the opportunity or the choice to reject this young man’s offer of paying the bride price and marrying his daughter. So the question that we have to ask is “what loving father would give his daughter into the hands of the very man who sexually assaulted her?”. But then you say “Why would there even be a choice? Then it doesn’t make any logical sense why a father would do this?” We have to remember that any time a woman had sex before marriage, she was considered violated. She was considered in an unmarriable state and so it could be the fact that that father thought that it would be a better situation long term for his daughter to be taken care of, if he just gave her into the very man that she had a sexual relationship with. The point is: As her father, he had a choice as to which direction he wanted to go.
The second consideration that we need to look at in our verse is that there is no indication anywhere of there being any screaming or crying out by this woman for help, which would indicate or suggest that there was no actual foul play going on and this wasn’t something that the woman was being forced into doing. If you do a little bit of research, you will see that there are actually multiple words used in the Old Testament to refer to forcible sexual assault. One of those words is actually in the verses that come before here that we read earlier which is the Hebrew word “chazaq”. But that is not the word that Moses used under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in verses 28 and 29. It is another word named “taphas”, which actually just simply means “to lay hold of” or “to grab” or “to seize” but does not actually indicate or suggest anything forcible in any way. There’s another word that we see used in 2 Samuel 13:14, which is the story where David’s son Amnon raped or sexually assaulted David’s daughter Tamar. We see here that word is “anah”, which literally means to “sexually assault someone against their will”. So if that was really what was happening here, then it would stand to reason that Moses would have chosen to use either the Hebrew word “anah” or “chazaq”.
A third consideration is that if you look closely at this verse, it clearly says that the man and the woman were discovered. It doesn’t say anywhere that the woman issued a complaint, which would indicate some sort of foul play but rather the fact that this scandal was uncovered or discovered. If we once again pair this with the parallel passage of scripture in Exodus 22:16, it would suggest that this woman was enticed or seduced by this young man, which once again does not indicate any sort of foul play. Not only that, if verse 28 was really talking about rape, then we have to ask the question “Why would there be clear punishments for the man in verses 25-27 and no punishments at all in verse 28, if indeed it is the same exact act that’s going on? With all of that being said, it is my belief and the belief of many biblical scholars that the word choice “rape” in the NIV and some other translations is simply a poor translation or a poor choice of words to correctly indicate what is and is not happening in this verse. But why does this verse refer to this act as being a violation? Any sort of sexual activity outside of marriage in God’s sight is a violation and because this is a male-dominated, male-headship society, then the responsibility to protect the woman and her virginity falls on the man. Therefore, if the man had sexual intercourse with the woman, even if it was consensual, it was still seen as him humbling that woman or him taking something that didn’t belong to him, whether it was another man’s wife or another man’s daughter. Therefore, he was violating her because in this culture she was going to be seen in a way that was going to be shameful and in a situation where other men may not want to marry her because she was not a virgin. By setting this law up, some scholars have seen it to suggest that it’s actually the grace of God because it’s saying “Man, I’m going to hold you accountable, I’m going to hold you responsible. If you can’t keep your pants up and you decide to have sex before marriage with somebody, you need to think long and hard about it because you are going to have to marry this woman and you’re not going to be able to divorce her for the rest of your life.” It also makes sure that the woman is able to be financially protected if she is violated or gives herself over to a man before marriage.