The Old Testament and Rape

Sam Shamoun

Some Muslims claim that the following passage from the Holy Bible condones rape:

"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 the girl's father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the girl, for he has violated (anah) her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives." Deuteronomy 22:28-29 NIV

There are two points to note here. First, even though the verse may seem to be instructing the rapist to marry the victim the passage nowhere sanctions, condones or even approves of rape. This is simply a gross misreading of the text. The injunction is intended to instruct the Israelites on how to deal with and address a rape situation if and when it occurs.

Second, by taking a careful look at the context and consulting the original languages of the Scriptures a strong case can be made that this citation isn’t even addressing a rape case at all. We must remember that the Holy Bible was not written in English. The OT was written in Hebrew, with parts of it being written in Aramaic. The NT was written in Koine or common Greek. This means that if we want to know whether an English translation has faithfully and accurately translated the inspired author’s intended meaning we must turn to the original language of the sacred text. Once this is done, it will become quite apparent that the Holy Bible does not sanction that a rapist marry his victim.

With this just said, the word which the NIV translates as rape comes from two Hebrew words, taphas and shakab. Here are the meanings listed by the Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew Lexicon in reference to these two words:

taphas -

# 08610
1) to catch, handle, lay hold, take hold of, seize, wield

a) (Qal) 1) to lay hold of, seize, arrest, catch
2) to grasp (in order to) wield, wield, use skilfully
b) (Niphal) to be seized, be arrested, be caught, be taken, captured
c) (Piel) to catch, grasp (with the hands)

AV - take 27, taken 12, handle 8, hold 8, catch 4, surprised 2, misc 4; 65
(Source: Blue Letter Bible)

Here is one example of how this word is used:

"The priests did not ask, ‘Where is the LORD?’ Those who deal (taphas) with the law did not know me; the leaders rebelled against me. The prophets prophesied by Baal, following worthless idols." Jeremiah 2:8

shakab -

# 07901
1) to lie down

a) (Qal) 1) to lie, lie down, lie on
2) to lodge
3) to lie (of sexual relations)
4) to lie down (in death)
5) to rest, relax (fig)
b) (Niphal) to be lain with (sexually)
c) (Pual) to be lain with (sexually)
d) (Hiphil) to make to lie down
e) (Hophal) to be laid

AV - lie 106, sleep 48, lie down 43, rest 3, lien 2, misc 10; 212
(Source: Blue Letter Bible)

As Brown-Driver-Briggs demonstrates, the word can be used in relation to sexual intercourse as well as for other things. The following examples help demonstrate that shakab does not necessarily imply a forced sexual act:

"And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘If any man's wife goes astray and behaves unfaithfully toward him, and a man lies (shakab) with her carnally, and it is hidden from the eyes of her husband, and it is concealed that she has defiled herself, and there was no witness against her, nor was she caught—" Numbers 5:11-13 NKJV

Here, the word shakab refers to a voluntary sexual act between two consenting parties, in this case to a woman who voluntarily chooses to commit adultery. It is clear that the woman in question wasn't forced into having sex. Again:

"If a man lies with a woman so that there is a seminal emission, they shall both bathe in water and be unclean until evening." Leviticus 15:18

These examples clearly demonstrate that these terms do not in and of themselves necessarily imply that rape is in view. This is reflected in the way Deuteronomy 22 has been translated by the following translations:

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; KJV

If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, who is not espoused, and taking her, lie with her, and the matter come to judgment: DOUAY-RHEIMS

If a man shall find a damsel [that is] a virgin, who is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found; WEBSTER BIBLE

If a man find a lady who is a virgin, who is not pledged to be married, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found; WORLD ENGLISH BIBLE

When a man findeth a damsel, a virgin who is not betrothed, and hath caught her, and lain with her, and they have been found, YLT

When a man findeth a damsel that is a virgin who is not betrothed, and layeth hold of her and lieth with her, and they are found, ROTHERHAM

If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, that is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found; JPS 1917 OT

"If a man find a damsel who is a virgin who is not betrothed, and lay hold on her and lie with her, and they be found, THIRD MILLENNIUM

If a man find a damsel, a virgin, who is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found, DARBY

If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, that is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found; AMV

If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, RSV

If a man meets a virgin who is not engaged, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are caught in the act, NRSV

If a man finds a girl who is a virgin, who is not engaged, and seizes her and lies with her and they are discovered, NASB

If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, ESV

If a man finds a girl who is a virgin, who is not betrothed, and he seizes her and lies with her and they are found, AMPLIFIED

Suppose a woman isn't engaged to be married, and a man talks her into sleeping with him. If they are caught, CEV

Now someone may want to argue that the preceding examples do not combine the two words together as is the case with Deuteronomy 22. Hence, the use of the word taphas in conjunction with shakab in Deuteronomy implies that the sexual act was forced upon the maiden without her consent. A careful reading of both the passage itself, as well as its surrounding context, dispels such a notion. We quote the passage again, yet this time adding the surrounding context for further clarification:

"But if a man finds a betrothed young woman in the countryside, and the man forces (chazaq) 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. If a man finds a young woman who is a virgin, who is not betrothed, and he seizes her and lies with her, and THEY ARE found out, then the man who lay with her shall give to the young woman's father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife because he has humbled her; he shall not be permitted to divorce her all his days." Deuteronomy 22:25-29 NKJV

Although vv. 25-27 refers to a woman that is betrothed, the point is still clear. By screaming, the woman indicates that she is being forced to have sex without her consent. Hence, when the woman does not scream this indicates that she willfully chose to engage in the sexual act with the man. This is further seen from vv. 28-29 where both the man and the woman are held accountable, i.e. "and THEY ARE found out." This is unlike the woman of vv. 25-27 who is said to be not guilty.

Also notice that in v. 25 a different word is used when signifying rape, namely chazaq. If the inspired author wanted to imply that the woman in vv. 28-29 was being raped, he could have used this same word chazaq; especially since this is the word he uses in the preceding verses to refer to an actual rape incident. The fact that he didn't use it should further caution us from reading rape into vv. 28-29.

This is supported by other OT passages. In the places where rape is mentioned none of them use the word taphas with anah. Rather, the authors use the word chazaq (or some similar word) with anah to convey this notion:

"Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to see the women of the land. And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land, saw her, he seized (laqach) her and lay (shakab) with her and humiliated (anah) her. And his soul was drawn to Dinah the daughter of Jacob. He loved the young woman and spoke tenderly to her. So Shechem spoke to his father Hamor, saying, ‘Get me this girl for my wife.’ Now Jacob heard that he had defiled his daughter Dinah. But his sons were with his livestock in the field, so Jacob held his peace until they came. And Hamor the father of Shechem went out to Jacob to speak with him. The sons of Jacob had come in from the field as soon as they heard of it, and the men were indignant and very angry, because he had done an outrageous thing (n’balah) in Israel by lying with Jacob's daughter, for such a thing must not be done." Genesis 34:1-7 ESV


"Then Amnon said to Tamar, ‘Bring the food into the chamber, that I may eat from your hand.’ And Tamar took the cakes she had made and brought them into the chamber to Amnon her brother. But when she brought them near him to eat, he took hold of her and said to her, ‘Come, lie with me, my sister.’ She answered him, ‘No, my brother, do not violate (anah) me, for such a thing is not done in Israel; do not do this outrageous thing (n’balah). As for me, where could I carry my shame? And as for you, you would be as one of the outrageous fools in Israel. Now therefore, please speak to the king, for he will not withhold me from you.’ But he would not listen to her, and being stronger (chazaq) than she, he violated (anah) her and lay (shakab) with her. Then Amnon hated her with very great hatred, so that the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her. And Amnon said to her, ‘Get up! Go!’ But she said to him, ‘No, my brother, for this wrong in sending me away is greater than the other that you did to me.’ But he would not listen to her. He called the young man who served him and said, "Put this woman out of my presence and bolt the door after her.’ Now she was wearing a long robe with sleeves, for thus were the virgin daughters of the king dressed. So his servant put her out and bolted the door after her. And Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the long robe that she wore. And she laid her hand on her head and went away, crying aloud as she went. And her brother Absalom said to her, ‘Has Amnon your brother been with you? Now hold your peace, my sister. He is your brother; do not take this to heart.’ So Tamar lived, a desolate woman, in her brother Absalom's house. When King David heard of all these things, he was very angry. But Absalom spoke to Amnon neither good nor bad, for Absalom hated Amnon, because he had violated (anah) his sister Tamar ... But Jonadab the son of Shimeah, David's brother, said, ‘Let not my lord suppose that they have killed all the young men the king's sons, for Amnon alone is dead. For by the command of Absalom this has been determined from the day he violated (anah) his sister Tamar.’" 2 Samuel 13:10-22, 32 ESV

Notice that neither passage uses the word taphas, providing additional support that this word in of itself doesn’t necessarily imply the use of force. It also demonstrates our point that if the inspired author had rape in view he could have simply used chazaq, or even laqach, since these are the very words he used elsewhere to indicate that a rape had occurred.(1)

The final line of evidence demonstrating that Deuteronomy 22:28 does not condone rape comes from Exodus:

"If a man entices (pathah) a virgin who is not betrothed, and lies (shakab) 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 bride-price of virgins." Exodus 22:16-17

Note that in this passage the word pathah is used in place of taphas. Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew Lexicon defines pathah as:

# 06601
1) to be spacious, be open, be wide

a) (Qal) to be spacious or open or wide
b) (Hiphil) to make spacious, make open
2) to be simple, entice, deceive, persuade a) (Qal) 1) to be open-minded, be simple, be naive
2) to be enticed, be deceived
b) (Niphal) to be deceived, be gullible
c) (Piel) 1) to persuade, seduce
2) to deceive
d) (Pual) 1) to be persuaded
2) to be deceived

AV - entice 10, deceive 8, persuade 4, flatter 2, allure 1, enlarge 1, silly one 1, silly 1; 28
(Source: Blue Letter Bible)

As can be seen, the word can mean entice, persuade, deceive etc. The following passage uses the word in a slightly similar fashion to that of Exodus, namely how God will allure or draw Israel back to his love:

"‘Therefore I am now going to allure (pathath) her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. There she will sing as in the days of her youth, as in the day she came up out of Egypt. In that day,’ declares the LORD, ‘you will call me "my husband"; you will no longer call me "my master." I will remove the names of the Baals from her lips; no longer will their names be invoked. In that day I will make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field and the birds of the air and the creatures that move along the ground. Bow and sword and battle I will abolish from the land, so that all may lie down in safety. I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the LORD.’" Hosea 2:14-20

It is clear from the context that Exodus is referring to a man persuading or enticing a woman into having sex. Hence, this passage lends support to the fact that the woman in Deuteronomy 22:28-29 consented to the sexual act, and wasn't forced into having sex. In other words, there was no rape involved between the man and the woman.

As the following Study Bible puts it:

22:28-29 Preceding legislation dealt with cases of rape involving a woman already married or engaged. The ruling outlined here is addressed in cases of seduction IN WHICH IT IS ASSUMED THAT THE WOMAN WAS, OR MAY HAVE BEEN, CONSENTING TO THE SEXUAL RELATIONSHIP. The fact that such a relationship had taken place was nevertheless regarded as of vital concern to the community and therefore required that a requisite sum of money be paid to the woman's father. It is assumed that the bride's father's rights have been violated by what had taken place and that appropriate compensation was necessary to offset the loss of the expected bride-price. A further stipulation required that the couple should then marry and that no subsequent divorce was to be permitted. In Exodus 22:16-17 the closely comparable law allows that the father need not consent to giving his daughter to the man, in which case the compensation was still to be paid to the father. Fifty shekels was a significantly large amount and may be assumed to have been equivalent to the average bride-price. (The New Interpreter's Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha [Abingdon Press, Nashville TN 2003], pp. 278-279; underline and capital emphasis ours)

Or, as the late renowned Bible expositor John Gill explained it long ago:

If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed…
That is, meets with one in a field, which is not espoused to a man; and the man is supposed to be an unmarried man, as appears by what follows:

and lay hold on her, and lie with her,
she yielding to it, and so is not expressive of a rape, as (Deuteronomy 22:25) WHERE A DIFFERENT WORD FROM THIS IS THERE USED; which signifies taking strong hold of her, and ravishing her by force; yet this, though owing to his first violent seizure of her, and so different from what was obtained by enticing words, professions of love, and promises of marriage, and the like, as in (Exodus 22:16,17) but not without her consent:

and they be found;
in the field together, and in the fact; or however there are witnesses of it, or they themselves have confessed, it, and perhaps betrayed by her pregnancy. (The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible; online source; capital and underline emphasis ours)

And this is what the late great Christian philosopher and apologist Dr. Greg L. Bahnsen wrote concerning this issue:

... “If a man finds a girl who is an unbetrothed virgin, an he lays hold of her and lies with her, and they are found, then the man lying down with her shall give to the girl’s father fifty pieces of silver, and she shall be his wife because he has humbled her; he may not put her away all his days.” [Deuteronomy 22:28-29]

This is the literal translation of the Hebrew. Unfortunately, some commentators and Bible translations … make the mistake of interpreting these words as referring to the use of force and thus to raping a virgin. Such a view is quite unacceptable, for a number of reasons. (1) This would lay a burden and penalty on the woman who had no part or consent in the act, which is as unfair and senseless as punishing the victim of attempted murder.

(2) The Hebrew word tapas (“lay hold of her,” emphasized above) simply means to take hold of something, grasp it in hand, and (by application) to capture or seize something. It is the verb used for “handling” the harp and flute (Gen. 4:21), the sword (Ezek. 21:11; 30:21), the sickle (Jer. 50:16), the shield (Jer. 46:9), the oars (Ezek. 27:29), and the bow (Amos 2:15). It is likewise used for “taking” God’s name (Prov. 30:9) or “dealing” with the law of God (Jer. 2:8). Joseph’s garment was “grasped” (Gen. 39:12; cf. I Kings 11:30), even as Moses “took” the two tablets of the law (Deut. 9:17). People are “caught” (I Kings 20:18), even as cities are “captured” (Deut. 20:19; Isa. 36:1). An adulterous wife may not have been “caught” in the act (Num. 5:13). In all of these instances it is clear that, while force may come into the picture from further description, the Hebrew verb “to handle, grasp, capture” does not in itself indicate anything about the use of force.

This verb used in Deuteronomy 22:28 is different from the verb used in verse 25 (chazak, from the root meaning “to be strong, firm”) which can mean “to seize” a bear and kill it (I Sam. 17:35; cf. 2 Sam. 2:16; Zech. 14:13), “to prevail” (2 Sam. 24:4; Dan. 11:7), “to be strong” (Deut. 31:6; 2 Sam. 2:7), etc. Deuteronomy 22:25 thus speaks of a man finding a woman and “forcing her.” Just three verses later (Deut. 25:28), the verb is changed to simply “take hold of” her – indicating an action less intense and violent than the action dealt with in verse 25 (viz., rape).

(3) The Hebrew word anah (“humble, afflict,” emphasized above) used in Deuteronomy 22:29 can sometimes be used for forcing a woman (Gen. 34:2; Jud. 20:5; 2 Sam. 13:12, 14, 22, 32; Lam. 5:11) but need not indicate a forcible rape, which is clear from the Deuteronomy passage itself at verse 24. It can simply mean to dishonor, mistreat, or afflict (e.g., Ex. 1:11; Gen. 16:6; Ex. 22:22; Deut. 8:2; Ps. 119:67), and in sexual settings can denote other kinds of sin than rape (Ezek. 22:10, 11).

We can agree with the reasoning of James Jordan: “At first sight, this seems to allow for rape of an unbetrothed girl. In Hebrew, however, the verb ‘seize’ is a weaker verb than the verb for ‘force’ used in the same passage (v. 25) to describe rape. This stronger verb is also used for the rape of Tamar (2 Sam. 13:11). Implied here is a notion of catching the girl, but not a notion that she fought back with anything more than a token resistance. Modern random rape would not be excusable under this law, and would have to come under the death penalty of Deuteronomy 22:25-27” (The Law of the Covenant, p. 149).

Accordingly, one will find that many competent authorities in Biblical interpretation understand Deuteronomy 22:28-29 to apply to cases of seduction, not forcible rape. For instance:

Meredith Kline: “The seducer of an unbetrothed virgin was obliged to take her as wife, paying the customary bride price and forfeiting the right of divorce” (Treaty of the Great King: The Covenant Structure of Deuteronomy, p. 111).

Matthew Henry: “... if he and the damsel did consent, he should be bound to marry her, and never to divorce her, how much soever she was below him and how unpleasing soever she might afterwards be to him” (Commentary on the Whole Bible, ad loc.).

J. A. Thompson: “Seduction of a young girl. Where the girl was not betrothed and no legal obligations had been entered into, the man was forced to pay the normal bride-price and marry the girl. He was not allowed, subsequently, to send her away (Deuteronomy: Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale Series, p. 237).

In Israel’s Laws and legal Precedents (1907), Charles Foster Kent (professor of Biblical Literature at Yale University) clearly distinguished between the law pertaining to rape in Dt. 22:25-27 and the law pertaining to seduction in Dt. 22:28-29 (pp. 117-118).

Keil and Delitzsch classify Deuteronomy 22:28-29 under the category of “Seduction of a virgin,” comment that the crime involved was “their deed” – implying consent of the part of both parties – and liken this law to that found in Exodus 22:16-17 (Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 3, p. 412).

Even if one has some question about the applicability of Deuteronomy 22:28-29, the clear and decisive command from God when a man has seduced a virgin is found in Exodus 22:16-17: “If a man seduces a virgin who is not betrothed and lies with her, he shall surely pay her dowry to make her his wife. If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he shall weigh out money according to the dowry for virgins.”

In this text there is no question whatsoever of forcible rape. The Hebrew verb used to describe the sin (italicized in the quotation above) is patah, used elsewhere for “coaxing” (Jud. 14:15), “luring” (Jud. 16:5; Hos. 2:14), and “enticing” (Prov. 1:10; 16:29). When a man gets a virgin to consent to have sexual relations with him, he is morally obligated to marry her – as the following commentators indicate:

John Calvin: “The remedy is, that he who has corrupted the girl should be compelled to marry her, and also to give her a dowry from his own property, lest, if he should afterwards cast her off, she should go away from her bed penniless” (Commentaries on the Four Last Books of Moses Arranged in the Form of a Harmony, vol. 3, pp. 83-84.

J. C. Connell: “Although she consented, it was still his responsibility to protect her from lifelong shame resulting from the sin of the moment by marrying her, not without payment of the regular dowry” (“Exodus,” New bible Commentary, ed. F. Davidson, p. 122).

Adam Clarke: “This was an exceedingly wise and humane law, and must have operated powerfully against seduction and fornication; because the person who might feel inclined to take advantage of a young woman knew that he must marry her, and give her a dowry, if her parents consented” (The Holy Bible ... with a Commentary and Critical Notes, vol. 1, p. 414).

Alan Cole: “If a man seduces a virgin: ... he must acknowledge her as his wife, unless her father refuses” (Exodus: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale Series, p. 173).

James Jordan: “the punishment for the seducer is that he must marry the girl, unless her father objects, and that he may never divorce her (according to Dt. 22:29)” (The Law of the Covenant, p. 148).

Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.: “Exodus 22:16-17 takes up the problem of the seduction of a maiden who was not engaged .... Here the seducer must pay the ‘bride-price’ and agree to marry her” (Toward Old Testament Ethics, p. 107).

(Bahnsen, Pre-Marital Sexual Relations: What is the Moral Obligation When Repeated Incidents are Confessed?, PE152, Covenant Media Foundation, 1992)

In light of the foregoing, we feel the following rendering best captures the intended meaning of the passage which has nothing to do with a woman having to marry her rapist:

“Suppose a woman isn’t engaged to be married, and a man talks her into sleeping with him. If they are caught, they will be forced to get married. He must give her father fifty pieces of silver as a bride-price and can never divorce her.” Contemporary English Version (CEV)

This concludes our exegesis of Deuteronomy 22:28-29. We prayerfully hope that by the grace of our risen Lord and eternal Savior Jesus Christ, this short paper will be of great help to those Christians who have been confronted by Muslims with the accusation that the Holy Bible condones the raping of women. Hopefully, both Christians and Muslims will see that the Holy Bible nowhere condones rape.

In the service of our great and eternal triune God forever and ever. Amen. Come Lord Jesus, come. We will always love you, risen Lord of eternal Glory.

Further Reading

He done her wrong


(1) The word anah is used elsewhere without any notion of rape being attached to it:

"When you go to war against your enemies and the LORD your God delivers them into your hands and you take captives, if you notice among the captives a beautiful woman and are attracted to her, you may take her as your wife. Bring her into your home and have her shave her head, trim her nails and put aside the clothes she was wearing when captured. After she has lived in your house and mourned her father and mother for a full month, then you may go to her and be her husband and she shall be your wife. If you are not pleased with her, let her go wherever she wishes. You must not sell her or treat her as a slave, since you have dishonored (anah) her." Deuteronomy 21:10-14 NIV

The man didn’t humble the captive by raping her since he had to lawfully marry her before he could touch her sexually. Rather, he dishonored her by taking her captive or for letting her go either before marrying her or by divorcing her since all of this would imply that the man found something unbecoming or unfavorable about the woman in question.

Similarly, in the context of Deuteronomy 22:28-29 anah is being used to convey the idea that the man has brought humiliation to the maiden because he slept with her without marrying her first, something which would have been considered shameful to do.

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