This challenge centers on Deuteronomy 22:28-29, which at first blush, appears to force women to marry their rapists. It reads:
“If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay her father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.” (NIV)
There are two inductive study questions to consider with this kind of a challenge (and not necessarily in this order): What does the original language say? And What is the context of the passage?
First, the Hebrew word for “rape” in the NIV is a form of the verb “tapas”, which means to take hold of something, to grasp it in one’s hand, and/or to seize something. This verb is used in a number of different ways. It is used when people “play” the harp or flute in Genesis 4:21. It is used when people “take” God’s name in Proverbs 30:9. It is also used for those who “handle” God’s law in Jeremiah 2:8, as well as when Moses “took” the two tablets of the law in Deuteronomy 9:17. None of these passages (or any passage that utilizes “tapas”) connote the use of force.
There is a word in the Scripture that refers to “rape”; as a matter of fact, it’s located directly prior to the passage in question. In Deuteronomy 22:25-27 a scenario is presented that clearly depicts a man raping a woman. In this case the woman cries out (v. 27) but no one is there to stop the act. Because of this, the man is to be punished by death (v. 25) but the woman is to be protected because she did nothing wrong (v. 26). This is an interesting predicament because, the skeptic asserts that vv. 28-29 appear to show that God’s law condones rape; except, in the verses right before vv. 28-29, the law does not tolerate rape. So what’s going on here?
The word for “rape” in Deuteronomy 22:25 is a form of the verb “chazaq”, not “tapas”. “Chazaq” literally means to force and makes much better sense of the description of the scenario, where the woman cries out and no one can stop the act. In vv. 28-29 the verb changes to another word (“tapas”) that does not entail the notion of force while also implying that the sexual act is consensual with the phrase, “and they are discovered” (v. 28). In other words, not only are there different verbs being used between the two scenarios, in the second scenario both parties are “discovered” suggesting the act is consensual between the two.
For these reasons, it is clear that God did not condone rape in the Bible, rather, rapists were prosecuted by death. Whenever there appears to be a problem similar to this in Scripture, a good rule of thumb is to 1) go to the original language for clues as to what specifically is being communicated, as well as 2) study the context of the surrounding verses/chapter. If a skeptic will do this, he’ll find the Bible does not err the way he thinks it does.