23 If a man happens to meet in a town a virgin pledged to be married and he sleeps with her, 24 you shall take both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death—the young woman because she was in a town and did not scream for help, and the man because he violated another man’s wife. You must purge the evil from among you.
25 But if out in the country a man happens to meet a young woman pledged to be married and rapes her, only the man who has done this shall die. 26 Do nothing to the woman; she has committed no sin deserving death. This case is like that of someone who attacks and murders a neighbor, 27 for the man found the young woman out in the country, and though the betrothed woman screamed, there was no one to rescue her.
28 If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, 29 he shall pay her father fifty shekels[c] of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.
These verses can be difficult to deal with. Rape has been around since the beginning of man but how we have dealt with rape has been different throughout nations and generations. It’s getting harder and harder as women even in today’s time scream “rape!” 20 years later and the men are confused saying it was consensual.
Make no mistake, rape is traumatic. It has been said that 1/4 women on earth today have been raped. Not sure where that statistic can be validated but from my own personal network of friends and acquaintances, I would have to agree that the statistic holds.
Regardless, in Scripture rape was no small matter. Rape was the death penalty. But in order to be able to prove that it was not consensual sex, a woman was expected to cry out for help and defend herself.
And if you’ve ever been to the ancient cities in Israel, homes were built with adjoining walls in about 10’x10′ rooms. Rich people had homes that were probably 20’x20 but again, almost all adjoining walls. A screaming woman would easily be heard unlike in our homes today.
But if the woman did nothing to attempt to escape, cry out, or call for help, then the woman was suspect. But if he violated her out in the country where screams would be useless, then she was not held responsible.
v. 23-24 – If a man takes a woman and sleeps with a married woman, both are to be stoned. For the man because he violated her. And for the woman because she was in town, had the ability to scream or alert others, and did not. So there’s not proof that it wasn’t consensual.
v. 25-27 – If the sexual event happens out in the country where he rapes her and her cries for help cannot be heard, only he is to be punished by death. She has done no wrong as she couldn’t alert anyone.
But what about the next verses?
v. 28-29 – If she is a virgin, as in unmarried, he is to marry her?
Lost in Translation
There are two keys here that help understand the text that I’ll highlight in black.
If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered,
- “Rape” – The NIV translates this “rape” but it is not translated as this anywhere else. It’s different than the word “rape” in v. 25. The word in v. 28 is “lays hold of her” where as the word in v. 25 is “forces her.” The KJV, NASB, ESV and other translations do not use the word “rape” to interpret this Hebrew word.
- “They are discovered.” This part is really key. It no longer has become about a man and a woman separately, but about a “they.” “They are found out.” This is not the violent rape in the previous 2 instances but appears to be a consensual pre-marital sexual encounter. And because she is not married, the man must now must marry her as he has defiled her. Because in those times, and even in southeast Asia today, a woman’s virginity is a key factor in marriage. If she is not a virgin, her likelihood of marriage is dismal, thus leaving the woman completely destitute. The man cannot have irresponsible sex but rather must marry her and take care of her all the days of her life. He is never allowed to divorce her for any reason.
- Context is key here and affirms this. Rape is clearly the death penalty in the previous verses if it could be shown that it was clearly rape and not consensual. In this flow, it appears that the sexual encounter was consensual and so they had to get married since she was single. One had to be responsible sexually.
- Exodus 22:16-17 has a similar verse. If a man seduces the woman and they sleep together, the man must pay the bride price. But her father can refuse the marriage, and the man must still pay the bride-price for virgins (dowry) for violating her.
At the end of the day it was about sexual responsibility. For both parties. If a woman was being violated, she was expected to fight back, cry out and get help. A man likewise couldn’t do what he wanted without risking the death penalty because rape was that evil. And if there was consensual sex, responsibility had to be taken there as well. There was no such thing as a one-night stand and then leaving the woman utterly destitute. In those times a woman could not survive on her own without the help of her father as a child and then her husband as work options were different.
It was about responsibility. Protection. And provision. Rape was not to be dealt with lightly.