First of all, thank you dear readers, I hope this site blesses you as much as it is already blessing us. The question I'll be answering today is:
“The question revolves around a specific passage in the Old Testament saying how raped women should be legally obligated to marry their rapist. The passage is Deuteronomy 22:28-29, which says that if a man rapes a woman, she must marry him even against her wishes.
Many skeptics view this as a huge assault on Christianity; because it:
1. Appears to contradict other passages in the Scriptures that offer more tolerate and "loving" commands.
2. Any religion that commands such a horrible thing like a woman being forced to marry a rapist is wrong.”
This can be a tough nut to crack, at first glance. Before we dive in, I'd like to provide the verse in question: “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.”(Deuteronomy22:28-29, New International Version)
I believe the most important thing to establish when reading this verse is context. The first context we must look at is the doctrinal context, or more simply put, how does this affect us today? What needs to be remembered when we read most Old Testament Law is that while the concepts discussed(rape, murder, lying, cheating, stealing) are still sins, the punishments discussed(stoning, banishment, etc.) are not meant for us to keep in this day and age. As established in Jeremiah 31:31-34, we are living under the New Covenant, outside of Old Testament law. This is further collaborated in Luke 22:20. There are a few reasons for this, the first being that the Old Covenant was flawed, for as Hebrews 8:7 says, “For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.”
This is not to say that God designed a poor covenant, but rather that man cannot live up to the standards set, yet still requires them. The people of Israel were not inherently lawless, indeed they often clamored for a more centralized government, such as in the last days of Samuel when the reign of the Judges ended. I will address the nature of the Nation of Israel more in just a moment, but first let us finish the examination of the doctrinal context. As this is an Old Covenant verse, we must recognize that it no longer applies to us today. God does not ask women to marry their rapists in this age, as the time for that has passed. It is no longer a necessity.
This brings me to the second context we must examine: The Historical Context. We'll be addressing several points under this, but we'll start with the nature of Israel itself when this law was established. Deuteronomy is part of the Pentateuch, the books written by Moses. During this time period, Israel was less a nation and more a set of nomadic tribes, working their way towards the Promised Land. This is one of the reasons that the punishments in Old Testament Israel were so strict, they were such a relatively small community that one small group of criminals could unravel the entire tribe. Traveling on the fringes of civilization, with scarce supplies and harsh living conditions, made them an easy group to prey upon from the inside, thus the harsh punishments served as a hefty deterrent to any wrong-doing. Let me put this in context: There are nearly eleven million crimes committed in the United States every year. In the last ten years, roughly four out of over 100 million crimes have affected me on a personal level to the point that I can remember them. None of these crimes were related, making them completely isolated incidents. That's because in the U.S., our crime rates are spread across a vast landmass where we have a dedicated group of people constantly trying(and succeeding) to lower them. In the relatively rare case that a crime is committed, the culprits are caught the majority of the time, and locked away from the rest of us.
Not so in Ancient Israel. There was no lock-up for criminals, and no police force outside of what everyone else would report. The only hope to contain criminals was generally execution, banishment, or deterrent fines. This is one of the exceptions where only one of these three qualities is applied to a severe crime. As is stated, the offending man must pay a fine to the victim's father, and then he must marry her. As our keen questioner has pointed, this appears horrid at first, for how could you ask a woman to marry her rapist? Quite simply, in that time it was what's best for her and for the community. We must recognize that with this rule in place in conjunction with other laws of Israel, there is no such thing as a “serial rapist.” Once a man is caught, he is forced into marriage. If he is caught again, he is no longer a rapist, but an adulterer, and is to be stoned immediately. Thus the deterrent penalty of death keeps him from becoming a repeat offender.
What may be entering your mind at this moment is a somewhat obvious question: Why not simply make the penalty for rape death? To explain this, we must consider the role of the woman. Unfortunately, the Israelites did not share our modern ideas on the independence of women, and as such the foremost job of any woman of that age was to become married and have a family. However, a victim of rape would be seen as unclean or defiled, not by law but by the mindset of the times. Even today there are those who feel the same towards rape victims, and the problem was magnified in ancient times. Thus, to be the victim of rape leaves you essentially alone, save for your family. But isn't it better to be alone than married to someone who took something so precious from you? Not in Ancient Israel. Once your family is gone as a young widow, you're only recourse is to work for the rest of your life to try and fulfill a meager existence. The difference in forcing the rapist to marry her is that not only is he deterred from repeat crimes, but he must provide for her under the law. Not only must he provide for her, but he must pay her father 50 shekels of silver, which would be about five years labor in wages. This compensation nearly guarantees an at least stable life for the woman in question. There are valid concerns that perhaps the relationship could become abusive, but spousal abusive is openly condemned in many verses spread throughout the Bible, and would be punished severely.
Obviously, this law is far from perfect in light of human nature, and could be subject to exploitation. However, that bespeaks the evil in the hearts of men, not in the nature of God. As is well-documented in the Bible, Israel was not the most obedient nation, and its people's transgressions were frequent and increasingly depraved. Unfortunately, as pure as God's laws are objectively, they are insufficient on their own to completely halt sin. They require men and women living within the full peace and glory of God to believe in and enforce them, for without these they are little more than words on a page in this life. While judgment will be granted by God in the afterlife, it is at the very least partly our responsibility to make sure that peace and safety are upheld across the Earth. So we are commanded in Psalms 8:6-8, and so we are called to fulfill even in modern times. We must remember that God's laws were created to protect and serve mankind, not to bind and destroy it. Deuteronomy 22:28-29 is a perfect example of this, even if it doesn't appear so on the surface. Such laws were not placed in Israel to torture the lives of innocents, but rather to call the people to action against the corruption within their ranks, and to mete out sufficient compensation. As Edmund Burke once said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is good men doing nothing.” While there is no need to be as zealous and harsh today as we were required to be in the past, we must remain vigilant against injustice in this world, and protect our fellow man with all of our collective strength.
May God Bless You,
Wesley E. Freeland