Why would God’s law command a woman who is not a virgin on her wedding night to be stoned to death?Question: "Why would God’s law command a woman who is not a virgin on her wedding night to be stoned to death?"
Answer: The Mosaic Law provided strict requirements regarding sexuality. In Deuteronomy 22:13–30 there are many laws focused on violations of the marriage covenant. Verses 20–21 address the case of a woman who presents herself as a virgin in marriage to a man but is not really a virgin. In such cases, the woman was sentenced to death by stoning: “If . . . the charge [that the bride was not a virgin on her wedding night] is true and no proof of the young woman’s virginity can be found, she shall be brought to the door of her father’s house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death. She has done an outrageous thing in Israel by being promiscuous while still in her father’s house. You must purge the evil from among you.”
The reasons for this command, as noted in Deuteronomy 22:21, include the fact that the disgraced bride had 1) done an “outrageous” thing and 2) been “promiscuous” while living in her father’s home. In other words, the woman in this situation had engaged in premarital sex and then lied about her virginity—or at least allowed her husband to assume she was a virgin, thus lying by her silence; either way, she had entered the marriage under false pretenses. Her stoning was to be carried out at the door of her father’s home, rather than outside the camp, because of the shame attached to her family’s name.
The Law of Moses had addressed fornication and its penalty in Exodus 22:16–17, and the prescribed penalty was not death. This fact has led many commentators to conclude that the situation described in Deuteronomy 22 refers to adultery, rather than fornication. In other words, the woman’s immorality had occurred after she was betrothed to her husband; thus, she had broken a marriage covenant already in place.
The Mosaic Law held high standards regarding sexual practices and emphasized the purity and sanctity of marriage. Deuteronomy 22:21 says that the punishment was to “purge the evil from among you.” The breaking of the marriage covenant was not to be taken lightly. God wants His people to take sexual purity seriously. Sex is key in the “one flesh” union of husband and wife. Throughout the Bible, marriage is used as a metaphor to describe God’s relationship with His people. His covenants are unbreakable, and violations to marriage misrepresent Him.
Children of God are no longer bound to observe the Law of Moses, but the Law’s underlying principles remain true. For example, marriage is still a sacred union of a man and a woman for a lifetime, and adultery is wrong. The New Testament teaches believers to flee from sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 6:18). The options for Christians are 1) remain single and celibate or 2) get married and remain faithful within that marriage (1 Corinthians 7:1–3). Today, God does not demand that we stone those who are not virgins on their wedding night—that was a specific law for a specific nation in a specific time period. At the same time, sexual purity should be held in high esteem. Sex is too important and meaningful a gift to be used outside of its intended purpose in marriage.
Skeptics may ridicule the Bible’s teachings regarding marriage and sexuality. However, those who seek to please the Lord will be focused on discovering His wisdom on the subject and how to apply that wisdom in life. Though we are no longer under the strict consequences of the Mosaic Law, we still have the universal truth that “a man who commits adultery has no sense; whoever does so destroys himself” (Proverbs 6:32). Also, “marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral” (Hebrews 13:4).
Recommended Resource: Undefiled: Redemption from Sexual Sin, Restoration for Broken Relationships by Harry Schaumburg
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What is a biblical view of sexuality?
What does the Bible say about sex before marriage / premarital sex?
What is sexual immorality?
Premarital sex – why are Christians so strongly against it?
What does the Bible say about an open marriage? Does the Bible address polyamory/swinging?
Questions about Deuteronomy
Why would God’s law command a woman who is not a virgin on her wedding night to be stoned to death?