6 Controversial Bible Passages the Skeptics Love to Hate—Explained


I occasionally find articles that like to poke fun at some of the more "unusual" passages in the Bible. Often the authors use these stories or commands to show that the Bible is ridiculous or anti-women or anti-science or just downright immoral. Here are six passages that seem to make the rounds on skeptics' websites, with my accompanying explanations.

1. Did God actually command rape victims to marry their rapist? (Deuteronomy 22:28,29)

No, He did not. The verses say:

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. (New King James Version)

The KJV and the New American Standard Version (literal translations) pretty much say the same thing. Does "seize" mean "rape" in verse 28? We need to compare it with the word "forces" in verse 25 where rape and its penalty actually do take place.

In verses 25-27 Moses is discussing rape and its penalties. There the word for "forces" is hazak. In Hebrew it consistently means violently overwhelming someone (Brown/Driver/Briggs Hebrew-Aramaic Lexicon, p305). The person who "forces" (hazak) himself on another (rapes) gets the death penalty. But, we have a different story in Deuteronomy 22:28. There the operative word is "seizes" and in Hebrew it is taphas, which does not have the consistently violent meaning of hazak. The popular New International Version mistranslates it as "rapes" in this verse. However, the word generally means "to acquire, to handle, to catch, and even to do something skillfully" (Brown/Driver/Briggs Hebrew-Aramaic Lexicion, p1074).

So what's happening here in Deuteronomy 22:28,29? Notice, there is no death penalty for anyone. The penalty is merely paying a fine, and the two must get married and they cannot get divorced. Here a guy finds a girl, chases her, catches her and they have sex. She is not crying out, she is not resisting. Certainly seems to be a passion-of-the-moment love chase. What does God say to do for these two who are not engaged? Pay a fine and get married. There is no rape, no woman is forced to marry her rapist, and these two kids get married.