Few words carry more emotional charge than rape. The act most frequently associated with that term is among the most heinous crimes humans can commit. The serious nature of the subject means any use of words like rape should be considered carefully. Modern culture is increasingly using phrases such as power rape when pressure or persuasion, but not outright violence or threats, are involved. As part of those discussions, some ask if 2 Samuel chapter 11 implies that David raped Bathsheba. Oversimplifying a response would be dangerous. A simplistic “yes” or “no” is unfair to Scripture, facts, reason, and rape victims alike. A careful look at the biblical account clearly condemns David’s behavior, but more aggressive interpretations are not supported.
The most common error in Bible interpretation is eisegesis: “reading in” facts or ideas. This is the opposite of exegesis: reading what the actual text says. One form of eisegesis is assuming nefarious deeds when the text does not include them. It’s true the Bible doesn’t always provide minute details, but we need to be careful not to assume something is true unless Scripture gives us overwhelming reasons. In the case of David and Bathsheba, limited details result in limited conclusions.
The matter of David and Bathsheba is recorded in 2 Samuel 11:1–5. David was walking on his palace roof while his generals were off fighting in a war. From that vantage point, he saw an especially beautiful woman bathing. He sent for her and had sex with her, and she became pregnant with his child. David then attempted a cover-up that brought consequences lasting the rest of his life. Bathsheba later became one of David’s wives and eventually the mother of the next king, Solomon.
Many different interpretations can be “read into” this account. Some are more plausible than others. Some are inconsistent with the context of the story and the persons involved. Before using terms like rape to describe what happened, we must have an accurate understanding of biblical facts regarding both David and Bathsheba. Various interpretations offered include the following:
Claim: David raped Bathsheba. Using the common understanding of rape to mean one person violently forcing himself on another, this interpretation is not supported by the Bible. There is no indication from the text that rape led to Bathsheba’s pregnancy. Other Old Testament passages depicting violent rape (Genesis 34:1–2; 2 Samuel 13:14) use different terminology than this account. Nothing in Scripture supports the idea that David overpowered Bathsheba and forcibly defiled her.
Claim: Bathsheba seduced David. Some suggest Bathsheba’s choice to bathe naked in a place that David could see was deliberate: that she was intentionally seducing King David. This is extremely implausible, according to the context of these Scriptures. His nighttime walk on the roof seems to have been spur-of-the-moment, making it extremely unlikely Bathsheba would know of his presence. Bathsheba was bathing late at night, most likely in an enclosed courtyard or garden of her home, and only someone from a higher vantage would be able to see her at all—she was not flaunting herself in public.
Further, the text of 2 Samuel seems to go out of its way to ascribe all actions to David. Bathsheba bathes, obeys the king’s summons, and later tells him she is pregnant. All other actions are overtly credited to David. That may be because David is seen as the spiritually responsible party, much as Adam is considered the responsible party at the Fall (Genesis 3:17–149; Romans 5:12). What’s more likely is the Bible is being crystal clear that David, no one else, initiated this encounter.
Claim: The sex was consensual. Another suggestion is that sex between David and Bathsheba was entirely mutual. This implies their initial encounter was simply (and sinfully) casual sex between consenting adults. It is possible Bathsheba gladly slept with David. The text does not say Bathsheba ever expressed interest in David. In the end, it’s impossible to say with certainty how interested Bathsheba was in sleeping with David. Their later marriage seems to have been close (2 Samuel 12:24) and loyal (1 Kings 1:28–31).
Claim: David “power raped” Bathsheba. This theory suggests Bathsheba did not say “no” to David, but neither did she say “yes.” In other words, she was not truly willing to sleep with him, but he was the king. Those favoring this view point out that King David sends lackeys to collect Bathsheba and bring her to his home, where they have sex the same night. Without question, there is a tremendous imbalance of power between David and Bathsheba. As with the prior scenario, it is possible that Bathsheba felt pressure, even fear, and submitted to sex rather than actively sought it.
Further, the unique phrasing of the text seems to deliberately emphasize David’s actions and downplay those of Bathsheba. When Nathan eventually confronts David about his sin, the allegory he uses depicts the guilty party—David—as making a predatory choice to take something that did not belong to him (2 Samuel 12:1–7). The consequences suffered as a result of this event seem to fall entirely on David, as well (2 Samuel 12:10–14).
Conclusion: Read from the Bible, not into it. There is no question but that the Bible strongly condemns David concerning this incident. There is no sense in which Scripture defends his actions. Nor is there any indication in Scripture that Bathsheba initiated the sin or was considered overtly complicit in it. At the same time, there is nothing in the Bible indicating that David applied force, threats, or violence against Bathsheba.
Rape is an awful subject, and modern discussions of rape often force an awkward distinction. Today’s culture has a confusing habit of applying established words to new ideas in order to leverage emotional impact. For example, words like genius and forever have been applied in so many contexts that the literal meaning of those words is all but forgotten. This is not always done with evil intent; the objective is usually to seize attention or to comment on the morality or immorality of the new idea. However, burdening words with new definitions can blur formerly distinct concepts.
A consequence of this is dilution in the language. When lesser acts are consistently labeled with an extreme term, the original word starts to lose potency. For example, rape has a traditional meaning, but some people today claim that “rape” could be any sex for which one feels regret after the fact. Such an application of the word rape lessens the impact of the word. As the meaning continues to be diluted, victims of rape, as originally defined, may find less initial sympathy for their claims.
All this is to say we must be extremely careful about saying things such as “David raped Bathsheba.” Based on the historic use of the word rape, implying violent, forcible, or threat-coerced sex, the claim that “David raped Bathsheba” is entirely false. Nothing in Scripture hints at such a thing. Use of the word rape without extensive context is certain to cause misunderstanding. Worse, it can contribute to dilution of the seriousness of the term rape as used in other contexts.
Saying “David took advantage of Bathsheba” is much more accurate. The royal power David wielded and the rapid nature of the encounter argue strongly for that view. It is likely Bathsheba was submitting to the experience much more than seeking it. Given her era’s state of women’s rights and David’s role as king, there is no question David was in position to apply extraordinary pressure on her.
The least-flattering interpretation one can reasonably apply to Bathsheba is that she relished the attention of a powerful man. But that only vaguely answers why the narrative seems to blame David—and only David—for what happened. The far more plausible interpretation is that she obeyed the summons of a king and yielded to his desires in a state of vulnerability.
For those reasons, any use of the term rape in connection to this incident should be avoided. Words can change their meaning over time, and the concept of rape seems to be experiencing such an evolution. For now, however, the word most often evokes a particular act, one that Scripture does not support having occurred.