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Does Deuteronomy 22:28-29 command a rape victim to marry her rapist?

Deuteronomy 22:28-29 marry rapist audio

Deuteronomy 22:28–29 is often cited by skeptics as evidence that the Bible is backwards, cruel, and misogynist—and thus not the Word of God. It is a difficult passage to interpret. In the NIV, Deuteronomy 22:28–29 reads like this:

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 her father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.

How is this fair to rape victims? It’s not, if we are talking about rape. Unfortunately, the NIV’s translation is a poor one at this point, and the word translated “rape” can mean other things. The late apologist Greg Bahnsen explains: “The Hebrew word . . . 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. 1 Kings 11:30), even as Moses ‘took’ the two tablets of the law (Deut. 9:17)” (“Premarital Sexual Relations: What is the Moral Obligation When Repeated Incidents are Confessed,” Covenant Media Foundation,, cited by Butt, K., in “Deuteronomy 22:28–29 and Rape,” Reason & Revelation, August 2015, Apologetics Press). In other words, the Hebrew word itself does not suggest force of any kind and should not be translated as “rape.”

It is necessary to take Deuteronomy 22:28–29 together with Exodus 22:16–17, which says this:

If a man seduces a virgin who is not betrothed and lies with her, he shall give the bride price for her and make her his wife. If her father utterly refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money equal to the bride price for virgins.

These two passages cover the same situation: a man sleeps with a virgin who is not betrothed. Note that, in Exodus 22, there is no hint of force or rape—there is only enticement or seduction. The penalty is that he must pay the dowry and marry the girl; if the girl’s father doesn’t like the match, he can refuse to allow the marriage. According to the halakha, the girl had a similar right of refusal. But the man who fooled around must still pay the dowry. And so, in the words of Old Testament scholar Sandra Richter, “‘Walk-away Joes’ were required to ‘man up’ as regards the woman they had compromised and the potential children they had created” (“Rape in Israel’s World . . . and in Ours: A Study of Deuteronomy 22:28–29,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 64.1, 2021, p. 75).

Stepping back from our passage in question, it’s helpful to view the context of Deuteronomy 22:13–29. The entire passage is devoted to offenses involving women. Verses 13–22 deal with crimes involving a married woman:
1) a bride is accused of premarital promiscuity but is innocent; result: the bride and her family receive damages (verses 13–19)
2) a bride is accused of premarital promiscuity and is guilty; result: she is executed (verses 20–21)
3) a man and a married woman commit adultery; result: both are executed (verse 22)
Then, verses 23–29 deal with crimes involving an unmarried woman:
1) a man and a betrothed woman commit (consensual) fornication; result: both are executed (verses 23–24)
2) a man is found guilty of rape; result: he is executed (verses 25–27)
3) a man and a non-betrothed woman commit (consensual) fornication; result: damages are due to the girl and her family (verses 28–29)

The fact that Deuteronomy 22:28–29 deals with consensual sex, not rape, is proved four ways:

1) A comparison with the parallel law in Exodus 22:16–17 (see above) shows that no force is involved. The “seizing” of the girl, as the ESV and NKJV say in Deuteronomy 22:28, has more to do with seduction than coercion.

2) The verses immediately preceding Deuteronomy 22:28–29 have already dealt with rape (verses 25–27). The penalty for that crime is specified: the rapist is executed. There’s no reason to deal with rape again in verses 28–29. Further, the penalties are different: in one, the man dies; in the other, the man lives. Obviously, different crimes are in view.

3) Deuteronomy 22:28 contains an important statement that cannot be overlooked: “and they are discovered.” In other words, it’s not just the man who is “found out” (NKJV); it’s both of them. It’s a case in which both the man and the woman somehow share a portion of the blame. Therefore, “there is no force involved, and it is not rape. But their action has been discovered. . . . The man cannot walk away from his sin. He has put the young woman in a very difficult life situation, in which there would be few (or no) other men who would want to marry her. . . . God holds both the parties accountable, instructing them to get married and stay together” (Butt, op. cit.).

4) There are two distinct Hebrew words used in the same passage. The word translated “rapes” in Deuteronomy 22:25 is the Hebrew word chazaq. But verse 28 contains a different verb, translated “seizes” in the ESV: taphas. The different verbs suggest different actions.

No, the Old Testament never commands a rape victim to marry her rapist. The irrevocable marriage contract was reserved for men who had mistreated a woman in some way and damaged her ability to marry. The New Living Translation of Deuteronomy 22:28–29 probably comes the closest to the law’s original intent:

Suppose a man has intercourse with a young woman who is a virgin but is not engaged to be married. If they are discovered, he must pay her father fifty pieces of silver. Then he must marry the young woman because he violated her, and he may never divorce her as long as he lives.

Dr. Richter sums up: “In Deuteronomy, victims of sexual misconduct were constitutionally protected from the economic consequences of assault and seduction. ‘Walk-away Joes’ were required to ‘man up.’ . . . [the young woman was shielded] from the economic and social fallout of the encounter. . . . Rape victims were assumed innocent. Women so abused were expected to report. Convicted rapists were executed” (op. cit.).

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Does Deuteronomy 22:28-29 command a rape victim to marry her rapist?
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This page last updated: May 26, 2023