Faith Seeking Understanding: Deuteronomy 22:28-29
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, then the man who lay with her shall give to the girl’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall become his wife because he has violated her; he cannot divorce her all his days. (Deut 22:28-29 NASB)The Critics' View
The above verses are often cited by critics of Christianity (or those with a low view of the Old Testament) to argue that the Bible teaches that God approves of rape or that the Old Testament Law requires an unengaged woman who is raped to marry her rapist.
But in his article "The Old Testament and Rape," Sam Shamoun rather compellingly argues that it is not "rape" that is addressed by these commandments. Shamoun's argument is based on:
1. a careful study of the original Hebrew words used in this verse, which are translated "seizes her and lies with her;"
2. a consideration of the phrase "they are discovered," which, in contradistinction to the surrounding verses, seems to indicate consent on the part of the woman;
3. a study of Exodus 22:16-17, a parallel passage in which the language is clear that what has occurred is "seduction."
Conclusion: Statutory, Rather Than Forcible, Rape
If Shamoun is correct, then what is in view in Deuteronomy 22:28-29 is not forcible rape, but what we may understand as statutory rape, in which both parties are consenting, yet a crime is considered to have occurred because a proper legal relationship has not been established between the individuals.
Unlike Shamoun, I will concede that the law expressed in Deuteronomy 22:28-29 may have been applied to some cases of forcible rape. The reason for this is expressed in The Reformation Study Bible notes:
Women depended on their marriage relationship for protection and status in ancient Near Eastern society, and the law provides important protections for women. The penalty for forcible rape of a married woman was the death of the offending man (vv. 25-27). The man who violated the honor of a virgin was compelled to marry her, and could not later divorce her (v. 29). (275)In ancient Israel, as seen in the laws under consideration, virginity before marriage was highly valued. A rape, whether statutory or forcible, may, rightly or wrongly, call a girl's character into question, and make it very difficult for her to find refuge in the stability of marriage, as mentioned in the quote above. And so, under the Mosaic Law, the man who takes advantage of the unengaged virgin (in whatever way) was charged with thereafter providing for the woman's well-being for the remainder of his life. This law is in no way meant to penalize women, but to provide a warning to men who would take advantage of women; this law forces the man who does give in to animal passion to assume a proper, manly responsibility toward the woman.
Not 'Forced to Marry'
Some women, however, reading Deuteronomy 22:28-29 are (somewhat understandably) alarmed at the idea that the verses seem to imply that women may have been forced to marry their rapists. This concern may be addressed in three ways:
1. If statutory rape is mainly in view (as argued above), then it must be conceded that the picture is a bit different; the woman would not be required by this law to marry a man who had brutalized her, but to marry her "boyfriend" with whom she had engaged in an immoral relationship. (These verses certainly point to the fact that the sexual relationship is to be reserved for marriage, and that sex outside of marriage is an illicit act.)
2. It should be noted that this law places a responsibility upon the man, not the woman; the intention of the law is not to force the woman to do anything.
3. This law should not be taken in isolation, out of context; when compared to its parallel in Exodus 22:16-17, it becomes clear that the woman's father can refuse the proposal of marriage (though the man must still pay the "bride-price" in any case). Certainly, this assumes a type of patriarchy, but a loving father would surely not disregard the pleas of his daughter if a man had brutalized her and marriage to that man would cause lifelong trauma.
A Final Word About the Law
In what way could a law such as the one mentioned above point forward to the gospel?
How should the Church understand such a law today?
The New Dictionary of Biblical Theology gives some suggestions as to how to answer the questions above:
Because the Mosaic law, considered as old covenant, regulates the people of God only during their years of immaturity (Gal 4:1-11), its social arrangements, although just, are not intended in every respect to be permanently binding. The historical perspective assumed in the law is one that looks back regretfully to the fall, around realistically at the present, and forward in anticipation of greater gifts from God. When applying the law to the NT church, therefore, one must take into account the law's context in the history of redemption. (652)