how to justify embarrassing bible verses – part 1

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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 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. (Deuteronomy 22:28-29)

This verse is one of the worst of many of the truly awful verses in the Bible. This law is a continuation of the man and woman becoming ‘one flesh’ when the penis magically connects in the vagina. Interestingly enough, if a man rapes a betrothed women, he is to be put to death. The unbetrothed virgin is fair game though and can be bought with a hefty fine to cover any embarrassment or inconvenience to the family.

This verse, for anyone outside of the Christian religion, is just yet another piece of nonsense from a very old book written by a random group of men who believed in invisible deities and treated women like property. However, for Christians, this verse needs to be explained. It needs to make sense and be consistent with the existence of a benevolent, eternal being.

Here is one Christian’s desperate attempt to make sense of this verse and explain that the god God was doing the rape victim a favour with an infinitely benevolent and eternally just law. This explanation is so painfully desperate and so desperately painful, I don’t think I can muster a response. It’s annoyingly long too …

First, we look at the spiritual condition of the Israelites under the Mosaic Law: God has not yet revealed to them His Will in Its entirety yet, so He just set down some ground rules. The Israelites were not entirely obedient, and He knew that if He set down the extensive rules that Jesus did in the New Testament (His entire Will), they would complain and might have even been more disobedient. At the same time, the Israelites had their personal culture.

So what happens when a virgin woman gets sexually abused? First and foremost, she has been wronged terribly (“for she has been violated” Deuteronomy 22:29) but she has also lost her virginity. Considering the culture and attitude of the Jews at the time, an unmarried woman who lost her virginity was not desirable for marriage, and their first thought would have been that she had had consensual premarital sex. Arranged marriages were the norm in those times (although there were a few cases where the partners married for love), and families judged people for marriage based on such things like virginity.

Now what was life like for unmarried women? Also taking into account Israel’s culture at the time, women did not work for money, as they mostly worked for their family, and if they did get work they would not be paid well. So when her parents died, the unmarried woman who was considered undesirable by her culture would have nowhere to go and no support. The only thing she could possibly get was to become a prostitute, but then she would be further isolated from her society.

A man had sex with her against her will, and now God knows he has to pay. An arranged marriage would force the man to provide for the woman (note how the verse says nothing about the man having to consummate their marriage – his wife could ignore him for the rest of their married lives and he would not be allowed to divorce her, as stated in the verse, for he had to pay for what he did by supporting her for the rest of her days, and he could not marry any other woman); he also has to give her and her family fifty shekels of silver. But, was she really forced to marry him?

The answer is no, because in that culture, her father was the one who gave blessing for a man to marry his daughter. And what father would give his daughter over to a rapist? There is no account in the Bible of any woman actually being forced into marriage with her abuser – Jacob didn’t allow his daughter Dinah to marry Shechem and God did not tell him to do so.

A Jewish family in that time would be looking at the situation like this: unless another man fell in love with their daughter and would marry her without her virginity, which was rare, their daughter would have no support when her parents died. If they forced her rapist to support her through marriage (which was what marriage really was at the time – not for love, but for the economic benefits of a couple/family), then the support issue would be solved. But since most fathers (and all GOOD fathers) would not agree to marriage between their daughter and the man who violated her against her will, the man would still have to pay up fifty shekels of silver, which in today’s currency is about a couple of hundred dollars. That was a lot in those days, and I’m sure their daughter would have some significant support from it.

All of this keeping in mind that that was in the Mosaic Law and that rule for when a woman gets raped does not apply to today. The rule was only in place to fit the culture of the time. God was putting His Will into the context of the Israelites’ culture until He revealed to them the full extent of His Will. Today, arranged marriages are most certainly not the norm, and men won’t normally refuse to marry a woman they love because she isn’t a virgin. Also, the payment for a man’s crime against his rape victim today is time in prison. And since the Bible referred to rape as the man violating the woman, it is certainly considered a sin that demands retribution – it is simply that the payment for that sin was different in that time.

Conclusion: rape is a sin, the distressed rape victim has comfort available to them in Jesus Christ and should be comforted by all those around her, and the rapist should be punished for his crime.

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