How do you explain Old Testament laws regarding rape?


Deuteronomy 22

1-If a man finds a girl who is a virgin, who is not engaged, and seizes her and lies with her and they are discovered, then the man who lay with her shall give to the girl’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall become his wife because he has violated her; he cannot divorce her all his days.

2-If a damsel that is a virgin be betrothed unto an husband, and a man find her in the city, and lie with her;

Then ye shall bring them both out unto the gate of that city, and ye shall stone them with stones that they die; the damsel, because she cried not, being in the city; and the man, because he hath humbled his neighbour’s wife: so thou shalt put away evil from among you.

  1. In the South, we call that a shotgun wedding.

  2. The second passage is not about rape - it’s about consensual sex.


Ya, I don’t see rape in there. #2 was consensual.


Number two is considering premarital sex as equal to adultry and the punishment for both is death. The first one doesn’t end in death because the woman wasn’t engaged to another man and it holds the man responsible for violating an unengaged girl. Although, I’m not sure how the girl would feel being forced to marry someone that violated her.


Most of the Mosaic Laws which we find difficult were God’s first controls on what was an out of control situation.

People were sacrificing children to the god Molech, burning infants alive. Incest was common, bestiality was part of everyday life, homosexuality, selling their children into slavery, etc. I could cite a boatload of passages from the crowd demanding to have sex with Lot’s male guests to Noah’s son having sex with his wife and on and on.

The OT laws were not intended to be the final fix but were just the first curbs on a world which was completely out of control.



Jimmy Akin has a blog post about this here:

Does God Expect Women to Marry Their Rapists?

I think you might like it.


To understand this, we really need to understand Middle Eastern culture back then. Back then, if a woman was not a virgin, then it was extremely unlikely that she would ever be able to find a husband.

If she couldn’t find a husband, what happened?

She was either doomed to a life of poverty and childlessness, both of which were considered the ultimate shame. Or she could become a prostitute. Also shameful.

So really, this law was there to ensure that the woman, who was an innocent victim, was not forced into a life of destitution and shame. Notice it explicitly says he is forbidden to divorce her. This clearly shows that the law was meant to protect the woman and give her a secure livelihood, not punish her. It was the man’s fault, he needs to fix things.

It sounds harsh to our ears. But marriage was viewed in a utilitarian way back then. Love was secondary and really, when you think of it, this law is actually pretty revolutionary for the time. Instead of the man getting off scott-free and ‘‘honor killing’’ the woman (like still happens in some places today) the man is forced to provide for her for the rest of his life, no way out.

2-If a damsel that is a virgin be betrothed unto an husband, and a man find her in the city, and lie with her;

Then ye shall bring them both out unto the gate of that city, and ye shall stone them with stones that they die; the damsel, because she cried not, being in the city; and the man, because he hath humbled his neighbour’s wife: so thou shalt put away evil from among you.

This text isn’t about punishing rape, but adultery. The next few verses immediately following this one make that clear:
“But if in the open country a man meets a young woman who is betrothed, and the man seizes her and lies with her, then only the man who lay with her shall die But to the young woman you shall do nothing; in the young woman there is no offense punishable by death, for this case is like that of a man attacking and murdering his neighbor; because he came upon her in the open country, and though the betrothed young woman cried for help there was no one to rescue her.”*(Deuteronomy 22:25-27)

Here it says the woman did *. The reason both are put to death in the first case is because it is presumed, if she was in the city, and nobody heard her screaming (remember, cities over there were tightly packed. People would hear things.) then she must have consented. In that case it’s not considered rape but adultery, which was punishable by death under the old law.

But notice if it happened in the countryside, then the woman is presumed innocent. Even though she technically could have decided to rendezvous with the guy outside the city. The law is on the woman’s side here, not the man’s.

So bottom line, the Old Testament does not punish a rape victim for being raped. #1 is about protecting a woman’s livelihood in a culture where she would now be considered undesirable. #2 is about punishing adultery.*




Good question. I think a huge factor in this development was Christ. He’s the one who showed us the dignity of the person, and the fact that sin doesn’t define or enslave us anymore.

Our entire western culture is built on that fact. We take it for granted now and think it’s obvious, but that idea was earth shattering originally.


No. She would only be accused of adultery if she was in the city, because the logic is, if she was being raped, someone would have heard her cry for help. If no one heard it, then the law assumes it must have been consensual. Therefore it’s considered adultery, since she is betrothed.

But if she’s in the countryside when it happens, then the law favors her, because it assumes she did cry for help, even though nobody was around to hear it.

My point was simply that when there’s no witnesses around to say whether she was crying for help or not, there is no punishment for the woman. She’s automatically innocent. Because being raped was never considered a crime punishable by death, even in Old Testament times. Only adultery.

Does that make more sense?


It isn’t rape, it is seduction.


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But if the woman didnt cry out (and thus consented to it), why would she try to press charges against the man in the first place? That verse implies that the witnesses say she didnt cry out, which means that the woman had witnesses who assumed it was consensual.


Then why do some Bible translation say it is rape?


Its pretty simple. They were wrong, and we know better now, so we changed the laws.


Nelka, I hope you are referring to the second example. The etymology of the word “rape” is “to seize”.


The verse doesn’t say anything about the woman pressing charges against the man. I’m not sure what makes you think that was the case. More than likely it was the husband accusing them.

The point of that verse and the ones following it was to differentiate rape from adultery. If she cried for help, she’s innocent and should not be punished. If she didn’t cry out, then that means she was consenting.

Now, we could argue over whether that is really a good method or not. But the point is, it’s not talking about punishing rape. Rape was never considered a crime or a sin.


I don’t know if it is a mistranslation, as I’m not familiar with the Hebrew word for rape. I’m just going off of what the text says. Either way though, it’s the same principle. The man has made the woman no longer desirable for marriage, so he needs to provide for her.

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