What Does the Law Say About Rape of an Unmarried Woman?

What Does the Law Say About Rape of an Unmarried Woman?

Deuteronomy 22:28 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;
29 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.

Those who are anti-Bible will often bring up this passage to say that the Bible required women to marry their rapists. Some modern defenders of the Bible will say that this passage does not mean rape at all. I believe that both of these camps are wrong. The second argument is the one I am addressing in this critique, but the anti-Bible people are wrong because a marriage is not formed biblically until at least three people consent to it: the man, the woman and the woman's father. In the case of rape, only one person (the man through his actions) has consented to the marriage so far. The woman and her father still may veto the marriage. Read 1 Samuel 18:26, 1 John 4:19, Genesis 24:5-8, 56-58, 2 Corinthians 11:2-4, Exodus 22:16-17 and Numbers 30:3-5 if you want to see that this concept is indeed found in the Bible. The second idea, that this passage is not about rape at all, is what I will address here. First, lets look at more of the passage to get an idea of the context leading up to this.

Deutoronomy 22:22 If a man be found lying with a woman married to an husband, then they shall both of them die, both the man that lay with the woman, and the woman: so shalt thou put away evil from Israel.
23 If a damsel that is a virgin be betrothed unto an husband, and a man find her in the city, and lie with her;
24 Then ye shall bring them both out unto the gate of that city, and ye shall stone them with stones that they die; the damsel, because she cried not, being in the city; and the man, because he hath humbled his neighbour’s wife: so thou shalt put away evil from among you.
25 But if a man find a betrothed damsel in the field, and the man force her [Heb. chazak], and lie with her: then the man only that lay with her shall die:
26 But unto the damsel thou shalt do nothing; there is in the damsel no sin worthy of death: for as when a man riseth against his neighbour, and slayeth him, even so is this matter:
27 For he found her in the field, and the betrothed damsel cried, and there was none to save her.
28 If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold [Heb. taphas] on her, and lie with her, and they be found;
29 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.

The Progression

The question is, are verses 28-29 speaking of a case where the woman was willing or unwilling? The first thing we can do is examine the order of the situations addressed and see if there is a logical flow.

  • v22 is about a woman who is married and who is willing.
  • (After changing the status of the woman and retaining her willingness...)
  • v23-24 is about a woman who is betrothed and who is willing.
  • (After retaining the status of the woman and changing her willingness...)
  • v25-27 is about a woman who is betrothed and who is unwilling.
  • (After changing the status of the woman and retaining her [un]willingness...)
  • v28-29 is about a woman who is single and who is unwilling/willing.

In this step by step progression, the situation being described changes either in the status of the woman OR whether she was willing but not both. If v28-29 follow that pattern, then since the status of the woman in the situation is different (single) her willingness should be the same, which would mean that v28-29 are about her being unwilling (rape). The contexual pattern shows that we should see v28-29 as being about rape, but some will argue that the pattern in the previous verses was just a coincidence. What other evidence do we have?

The Hebrew Words

One of the major arguments for saying that the last scenario in the passage is not rape is based on the fact that in the situation where the betrothed woman is raped in the field it uses a different word. When the betrothed woman is in the field it says the man "chazak" her and lies with her. In verse 28, it says that the man "taphas" the virgin and lies with her. There is no question that when "chazak" is used in verse 25 that it means rape. The argument is that God must mean something different when He uses a different word in the following scenario. While I think that argument is unsound (why can't God use two words to describe the same thing?), I agree that there is a slight difference in meaning. So what does "taphas" mean?

"Taphas" is used to mean people physically manipulating objects or people. In this verse, it is a person that "taphas" is applied to, so we'll stick with that type of usage. There are 29 passages where "taphas" is used against another human (You can see the whole list here if you want.) and the very consistent theme is one of taking another person captive by force. For instance, Elijah, in 1 Kings 18:40, commanded Israel to "taphas" the prophets of Baal and then they were taken to the execution location. It is highly doubtful that the prophets of Baal wanted to go, they may have been taken screaming and fighting, or they may have seen that resistance was pointless and gone along to their deaths as dignified as possible.

When we take this concept and apply it to Deteronomy 22:28-29, we get a scenario in which the man has grabbed the virgin and is going to lie with her. The virgin might resist, or might just accept her fate passively. In this we see that "taphas" does have a slightly different meaning than "chazak." The scenario of the rape of the betrothed woman, where "chazak" is used says that she resisted, so it describes straight rape. "Taphas" on the other hand has a little bit wider meaning in that it definitely includes rape, but it can also include the woman choosing not to resist. The idea of it being a different word is that the penalty for the man doesn't depend on the woman's resistance level, only on his own perverse action.

When we examine the meaning of the word "taphas," we see that it does mean forcing someone against their will, but the wider meaning explains why God used a different word than "chazak." In effect, it means the last scenario covers both the willing and unwilling virgin possibilities. By using "taphas," it covers them with a single statute. So the language of the passage definitely points to v28-29 including rape.

The Logical Proof

However, assuming with the opposition for a moment that this only refers to the seduction of a single woman rather than rape, we raise another question. If this verse does not address rape, that would mean that nowhere in the Torah is rape of a single woman addressed! The two closest scenarios addressed are rape of a betrothed woman and seduction of a single woman. If we start with the assumption that v28-29 are about a seduction, can we deduce which one of the other penalties the rape of a single woman would be categorized with? Let's try.

Step 1: We setup our base chart with what we know about the six different combinations using verses 22-29 as well as a couple other similar passages in Leviticus 20 and Exodus 22:16-17. Remember for this exercise, we are treating v28-29 as if it is a seduction, not a rape. This means that it is the same situation as Exodus 22:16-17 which gives the father a right to refuse giving his daughter in marriage and requires the man to pay the 50 shekels (a hefty fine) regardless of whether he is forced to marry the woman. Here is the initial chart with what is directly stated in the passages filled in, and with blanks in the places that we will have to deduce as we go.

References Woman's Status Woman Consents? Man's Penalty Woman's Penalty
Deut 22:22, Lev 20:10 Married Wife Yes Death Death
[None] Married Wife No
Deut 22:23-24 Betrothed Wife Yes Death Death
Deut 22:25-27 Betrothed Wife No Death None
Deut 22:28-29, Ex 22:16-17 Virgin Yes Fine and/or Forced to marry None
[None] Virgin No

Step 2: Since a virgin, even when she consents to seduction is not punished, it is obvious that she wouldn't be punished if she did not consent. So we fill in the Woman's Penalty with "None" in that case.

References Woman's Status Woman Consents? Man's Penalty Woman's Penalty
Deut 22:22, Lev 20:10 Married Wife Yes Death Death
Married Wife No
Deut 22:23-24 Betrothed Wife Yes Death Death
Deut 22:25-27 Betrothed Wife No Death None
Deut 22:28-29, Ex 22:16-17 Virgin Yes Fine and/or Forced to marry None
Virgin No None

Step 3: Since a man gets the death penalty, even when a married woman consents, it is obvious that if she did not consent his punishment would still be death. So we fill in the Man's Penalty with "Death" in that case.

References Woman's Status Woman Consents? Man's Penalty Woman's Penalty
Deut 22:22, Lev 20:10 Married Wife Yes Death Death
Married Wife No Death
Deut 22:23-24 Betrothed Wife Yes Death Death
Deut 22:25-27 Betrothed Wife No Death None
Deut 22:28-29, Ex 22:16-17 Virgin Yes Fine and/or Forced to marry None
Virgin No None

Step 4: Since both a betrothed woman and a virgin get no punishment when they are raped, it seems obvious that a married woman who was raped would not be punished. So we fill in the Woman's Penalty in that case with "None."

References Woman's Status Woman Consents? Man's Penalty Woman's Penalty
Deut 22:22, Lev 20:10 Married Wife Yes Death Death
Married Wife No Death None
Deut 22:23-24 Betrothed Wife Yes Death Death
Deut 22:25-27 Betrothed Wife No Death None
Deut 22:28-29, Ex 22:16-17 Virgin Yes Fine and/or Forced to marry None
Virgin No None

Step 5: At this point, we can see that it is the death penalty if a man lies with a wife (either betrothed or married) consensually, but not if he does so with an unmarried virgin, so we can see that it is the woman being a wife that makes the penalty death, not her lack of consent. Thus we know that in the last case, the penalty is not death. It seems ridiculous that a man who forced a virgin would have no punishment when the a man who seduced a virgin does, so in the last case there must be a penalty of some type that is at least the same as the seducer, but is not death. That means that it must be the same as the case right above it and we fill in the last box in the chart.

References Woman's Status Woman Consents? Man's Penalty Woman's Penalty
Deut 22:22, Lev 20:10 Married Wife Yes Death Death
Married Wife No Death None
Deut 22:23-24 Betrothed Wife Yes Death Death
Deut 22:25-27 Betrothed Wife No Death None
Deut 22:28-29, Ex 22:16-17 Virgin Yes Fine and/or Forced to marry None
Virgin No Fine and/or Forced to marry None

As we see from the final chart, even if we say that Deuteronomy 22:28-29 is NOT including rape, what the law says about rape of a virgin still comes out to the same thing! So whether it specifically addresses rape or leaves us to deduce the answer, the conclusion is going to be the same. A raped virgin has all the same rights as a seduced virgin and the rapist gets the same baseline punishment as the seducer. (If he caused other injuries such as breaking an arm for instance, he would also be liable to pay her health care costs and be subject to a lashing by the judges, see Exodus 21:18-19 and Deuteronomy 25:2-3.)

Conclusion

In conclusion, the scripture does not force a woman to marry her rapist, but she and her father are given the option to force him to marry her! As far as Deuteronomy 22:28-29, whether it is rape or not, it comes out to the law saying the same thing either way. We and our culture may not like it, but that is what the law shows to be God's best solution if a virgin has been raped. And if we think about it, wouldn't we agree? She can decide not to marry him, and still gets a hefty monetary restitution. If the rapist was put to death, she would get nothing. That is not better for her. As always, God's ways are the best.

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