Does the Bible Condone Rape?
Atheists love to blindly lob the accusation that the Bible condones rape, and their go-to passage to support this accusation is Deuteronomy 22:28-29. Sometimes they will back up vv23-24, but they seem to selectively ignore the 3 verses that come between them. So, let’s look at the passage from one of the most popular translations available, the New International Version.
23If a man happens to meet in a town a virgin pledged to be married and he sleeps with her, 24 you shall take both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death—the young woman because she was in a town and did not scream for help, and the man because he violated another man’s wife. You must purge the evil from among you.
25 But if out in the country a man happens to meet a young woman pledged to be married and rapes her, only the man who has done this shall die. 26 Do nothing to the woman; she has committed no sin deserving death. This case is like that of someone who attacks and murders a neighbor, 27 for the man found the young woman out in the country, and though the betrothed woman screamed, there was no one to rescue her.
28 If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, 29 he shall pay her father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives. (emphasis added)
Seems clear, right?
Well, since the NIV is a translation we need to look at another to make a meaningful comparison. Let’s take the next most popular translation, the English Standard Version.
23 “If there is a betrothed virgin, and a man meets her in the city and lies with her, 24 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 for help though she was in the city, and the man because he violated his neighbor’s wife. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.
25 “But if in the open country a man meets a young woman who is betrothed, and the man seizes 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; she has committed no offense punishable by death. For this case is like that of a man attacking and murdering his neighbor, 27 because he met her in the open country, and though the betrothed young woman cried for help there was no one to rescue her.
28 “If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, 29 then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her. He may not divorce her all his days. (emphasis added)
Seems to be the same, right? At least they’re rendered the same, but simply because they are rendered the same does not necessarily mean that they are the same. Let me explain.
Notice that both the NIV and the ESV render the Hebrew the same in English in both v25 and v28. So, it would necessarily follow that the same Hebrew word would be used in the two verses in the original text, right? I’ll give you a minute to think about that. The problem is that they don’t.
In verse 25, the Hebrew word is חָזַק (châzaq), which is a word that is often used in the original language in describing military action (cf Deuteronomy 11:18, Judges 9:24, 1 Samuel 17:35). In verse 28 the word is תּפשׂ (taphas), a word that is often used in relation with skill, or skillful manipulation (cf Genesis 4:21, Isaiah 3:6, Amos 2:15), but it can be used in matters of combat (cf 1 Samuel 15:8, 1 Kings 18:40). The fact that the original language uses two different words that have different and distinct meanings, even though they have some syntactic overlap depending upon their usage in a particular context, seems to indicate that they are to be understood in completely different ways. This can also be seen in the fact that v23 and v28 seem to parallel one another in the fact that the first incident that is being used as an example is consensual, it necessarily follows that the second is also consensual. While the first constitutes adultery and is subject to the punishment for adultery, in the second case because the woman is not engaged to anyone it is not adultery, however both parties are still held responsible. In between, however seems to be what is being missed: what is clearly violent sexual assault described in vv25-27.
So, what is the takeaway?
First, it’s an equivocation fallacy. The atheist is assuming, based upon the translation that what is being referred to is the same in both even though contextually they’re clearly describing the same conditions for three different circumstances: a consensual relationship, a violent criminal act, and a consensual act. Second, it’s circular reasoning. The first fallacy is feeding the second, they’re assuming what they want to prove rather than proving it. Lastly, it’s an argument from emotion. Rape is a terrible crime against another human being. I have dear friends and family who have been the victims of violent sexual assaults and abuse, so this issue is extremely close to my heart, and clearly it is close to the heart of God because he commands that those who would violate the physical and sexual sanctity of a woman do not deserve any mercy, but deserve death by equating the act of rape with the act of murder, and seemingly suspending the requirement of two witnesses in light of the event because, “[…]there was no one to rescue her (v27, NIV).”
So, does the Bible “condone” rape? The only answer is a resounding and emphatic “No!”