Does the Bible force a woman to marry her rapist? – by George Athas

The bottom line: the Bible does NOT force a woman to marry her rapist. Rather, it holds the rapist accountable for everything he’s got.
—George Athas

George Athas says it is wrong to claim that the Bible forces a woman to marry her rapist. Below are the opening paragraphs of his blog post Does the Bible force a woman to marry her rapist?


It’s sometimes claimed that the Old Testament forces a woman to marry her rapist, and that this demonstrates just how repugnant the Bible can be. The claim often forms part of an argument that seeks to disqualify the Bible from moral discourse in our modern world, or at the very least limit it.

Those wishing to defend the Bible against such a vile stance are often at a loss. There is sometimes an attempt to “soften the impact” by arguing that the laws do not deal with rape (non-consensual sex), but with seduction in which one partner brings the other around into consenting to sex.

Neither angle really grapples with the issues or the logic of the biblical data.

The relevant laws about sexual misconduct come from Deuteronomy 22:13–30. These laws deal with a range of circumstances, and rape is certainly among them….The reference to “rape” is conveyed by the use of the Hebrew word תפש (tapas), which means “to hold onto” or “to hold down.” This is not a neutral word referring metaphorically to someone convincing another to their point of view, as perhaps a conniving seducer might convince a would-be partner to sleep with him. It is the language of violence, and it does not allow for consent. The word is used to describe the action of Potiphar’s wife on Joseph — not of her words to persuade him to sleep with her, but of her grabbing his clothing without his consent, and which he then had to abandon as he fled from her. She was not letting him go, forcing him to squirm out of his clothing and run off naked to escape her.

Nonetheless, the claim that the Bible forces a woman to marry her rapist is incorrect. It misunderstands the purpose and contours of the laws about sexual misconduct and, unfortunately, twists them into the rhetoric of misogyny….  [Emphasis original.]

Click here to read the full post.

George Athas published this blog post in 2018. It is an excerpt from his book Deuteronomy: One Nation Under God (Aquila Press, 2016).

George Athas is Director of Research and Lecturer in Old Testament at Moore College Sydney. Read his bio here.




[April 21, 2023: Editors’ notes:

—For some comments made prior to April 21, 2023 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be an exact match.
—For some comments made prior to April 21, 2023 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be found in the post.
If you would like to compare the text in the comments made prior to April 21, 2023 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (April 21, 2023), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]


Further reading and listening

Does the Old Testament Dehumanise Women? — An interview with Dr Sandra Richter. Note: I, Barb, do not like the interviewer (Preston Sprinkle) much, but Sandra Richter’s scholarship and interpretation is admirable. (Added April, 2023.)

What about sexual abuse? — An FAQ at this blog.

Do you tell others about the sexual abuse? — There are 280 comments on this post! (As of April, 21, 2023.)

Sexual abuse in marriage — what should a Christian wife do?

She did not cry out while being raped … so is she guilty?

The Bible’s view on premarital sex — is the remedy always “get married”?

God’s Rules of Evidence are Often Misapplied, to the Harm of Abuse Victims

Is God gender biased? Does the Bible warn against men’s sexual sins more than women’s?

2 thoughts on “Does the Bible force a woman to marry her rapist? – by George Athas”

  1. Personally, I found George Athas’ article interesting. Maybe it’s a timing thing, maybe it’s all the prior explanations I’ve encountered, but his article made total sense to me….and he included a few things I had never considered or encountered.

    To keep my comment short, I’m omitting quotes from the article that I had originally intended to include….parts of my comment might not make sense unless you read his entire article.

    And I hope ACFJ readers read the entire article, as I suspect there might be some who might feel some relief after reading it….and perhaps reading George Athas’ article will lead some ACFJ readers (some of whom who might be those who might feel some relief after reading the article) to a clearer understanding of the background and / or history of some of the usual “Christian” (i.e. bad) Bible teaching.

    Two things that are important to keep in mind when reading George Athas’ article: a) The actual culture and history of the times (which George Athas includes in his article), and b) there was no DNA testing during Biblical times ( 🙂 ).

    Two things that were “Duh” moments for me, but some (many?) others had possibly already thought of….

    First. In his (George Athas’) description of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife….Maybe it’s because George Athas included the words “rape”, “violence”, etc., in his description, but it’s the first time I had thought of the incident with Potiphar’s wife as being rape….Potiphar’s wife raping Joseph. (And I don’t remember encountering that particular explanation and / or teaching before….)

    Second. When he (George Athas) wrote —

    This law also does not deal with a woman who had been previously married and, therefore, would no longer be a virgin on her second marriage.

    ….I had not thought about the issues that might arise around virginity and a second marriage.

    Another point I had not thought about before….When George Athas describes the man’s right to divorce….And he makes it clear that it doesn’t mean the woman’s right to divorce is revoked. He also provides a good explanation of why the woman is not likely to divorce the man.

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