Does the Bible Really Force a Woman to Marry Her Rapist?

Many atheists argue that the Bible is evil because it forces a woman who has been raped to marry her rapist. Too many Christians also accept this lie, which is based on a mistranslation of Deuteronomy 22:25-29. In truth, the old Hebrew law dictates that rapists are to be put to death, and the victim is not to be harmed.

Here is the passage (Deut. 22:28-29) in the New King James Version:

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.

The meaning becomes even more clear when this passage is contrasted with the one directly before it (Deut. 22:25-27).

But if a man finds a betrothed young woman in the countryside, and the man forces 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.

In context, it is clear that this second scenario is rape. The woman cried out, and this man’s crime is considered similar to “when a man rises against his neighbor and kills him.” Yes, the Bible actually compares rape and murder, and clearly gives the punishment of death to a rapist.

The problem is, not every Bible translation explains it this way. Both the Revised Standard Version (RSV) and the English Standard Version (ESV) translate verses 25 and 28 identically: “seizes her and lies with her.” The New International Version (NIV) even translates the phrase in verse 28 as “if a man… rapes her …”

There are reasons beyond context to prove that the RSV, ESV, and NIV translate this passage wrongly, and that the Bible is emphatically not forcing a woman to marry her rapist.

The verb in verse 25 is chazaq, which means “to prevail upon” or “to strengthen.” It carries the connotations of forcibly taking something. It is also used to mean “to seize a bear and kill it” (I Samuel 17:35, 2 Samuel 2:16, Zechariah 14:13), and is used to describe how the famine in Genesis “waxed sore” and “prevailed” in the land of Egypt (Genesis 41:56, Genesis 47:20) after it came following Joseph’s prophecy. It is also the word used when God “hardens” Pharaoh’s heart in Exodus. In verse 25, it indicates a man taking a woman and “forcing her.” Given contextual clues, it means rape.

Verse 28 uses an entirely different word, however. That word is taphas, which means “to catch” or “to wield.” It is used to describe kings “taking hold” of other kings and cities in battle (Deut. 20:19, Joshua 8:8, 2 Kings 14:13, 2 Kings 16:9). It is also used in Psalms 10:2, “The wicked in his pride doth persecute the poor: let them be taken in the devices that they have imagined.” While chazaq means to take by force or strength, taphas means to take by skill, through planning and artifice. In context, Deuteronomy 22:28-29 is describing a man wooing or seducing an unbetrothed virgin, something very different from rape.

In the passage involving marriage (as opposed to the one involving death), the man is not raping the woman (sorry, NIV, you’re totally off the mark here), but seducing her. She does not cry out or resist, and as PJ Media’s own Jeff Sanders put it, “certainly seems to be a passion-of-the-moment love chase.” What does God say about such a playboy? He must pay a fine and marry the girl he bedded. It is also important that the man cannot divorce the woman (a general right men were entitled to under Jewish law).

Now, Christians are not bound by the Old Law — Jesus’ death and resurrection freed them from the bounds of Mosaic Law. But this law, even while it is outdated, seems remarkably sensible, especially for the times. If a man rapes a woman, he should be put to death. If a man seduces a woman, he should marry her. It seems rather traditional and archaic, but the basic moral message is not as irrational as many atheists argue.

By the way, there is a place where women are pressured to marry their rapists, and it’s the Middle East and North Africa.