Does Deuteronomy 22:28-29 command a rape victim to marry her rapist?Question: "Does Deuteronomy 22:28-29 command a rape victim to marry her rapist?"
Answer: Deuteronomy 22:28-29 is often pointed to by atheists, skeptics, and other Bible attackers as evidence that the Bible is backwards, cruel, and misogynist, and therefore, not the Word of God. At first glance, this passage seems to command that a rape victim must marry her rapist. Is that the correct interpretation of the text, and if so, how is that not horribly unfair to the woman? This issue is actually addressed in two passages, both of which are below:
Deuteronomy 22:28-29 “If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her. He may not divorce her all his days."
Exodus 22:16-17 “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."
Together, these passages clearly state that if a man has sex with a virgin who is not betrothed (regardless of whether or not it was rape or consensual) he is obliged to marry her. He should have sought her father's permission first, negotiated a bride-price, and taken her as his wife. Because he did not, he is punished for this—he now must pay up (he can't opt out any more) and marry her (which could be a major punishment in itself if this was a foolish, spur-of-the-moment act and she really wasn't the right woman for him!).
Also note that "he may not divorce her all his days" – this initially doesn't seem significant but is actually a major punishment. Deuteronomy 24:1-4 (restated more clearly in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9) allowed for divorce, but only in the case of sexual immorality (the word "uncleanness" refers to this and was translated as such in the LXX). This man now may not divorce his wife even for this reason, but is obliged to continue to support her all his life whatever she does.
But her father is ultimately in authority over her, as her head, until he hands this authority over to her husband. If the man is unsuitable, the father can refuse to give his daughter to him. How many fathers would give their daughter to a rapist? Not many. So, in general, a rapist would actually have to pay a 50 silver shekel fine to her father, and not get a wife at all.
The answer to the question is in Exodus 22:17 - the woman does NOT have to marry a rapist, she must only do what her father says.
Note that throughout the Old Testament no rape victim is ever recorded as being forced to marry a rapist. However it is plausible that there could be circumstances in which a father would choose to have his daughter marry a rapist. In 2 Samuel 13, Amnon, a son of David, rapes his half-sister, Tamar. Tamar was not forced to marry Amnon. Interestingly, though, Tamar seemed to have wanted to marry Amnon after the rape (2 Samuel 13:13-16). Why would she desire such a thing? In that culture, virginity was highly prized. It would have been very difficult for a woman who was not a virgin, and especially a woman who had been raped, to find a man to marry her. It seems that Tamar would have rather married Amnon than live desolate and single the rest of her life, which is what happened to her (2 Samuel 13:20). So Deuteronomy 22:28-29 could be viewed as merciful to the woman, who, because of the rape, would be considered unmarriageable. In that culture, a woman without a husband would have a very difficult time providing for herself. Unmarried women often had no choice but to sell themselves into slavery or prostitution just to survive. This is why the passage leaves marriage to the discretion of the father, because every situation is different, and it is better to be flexible than have a blanket rule.
Also note that the penalty for having sex with an unbetrothed virgin is completely different from the penalty for sex with a married or betrothed woman. Sex with a married or betrothed woman is adultery and was to be punished by the death of both if consensual, or the death of the man if it was rape (Deuteronomy 22:22-27).
Recommended Resource: Deuteronomy, Holman Old Testament Commentary by Doug McIntosh
More insights from your Bible study - Get Started with Logos Bible Software for Free!
What does the Bible say about rape?
Is God cruel?
What does it mean that God is a God of justice?
What is rape culture?
How accurate was the virginity test mentioned in Deuteronomy 22?
Questions about Deuteronomy
Does Deuteronomy 22:28-29 command a rape victim to marry her rapist?