The Bible And Rape -- By: Craig S. Keener

Journal: Priscilla Papers
Volume: PP 08:3 (Summer 1994)
Article: The Bible And Rape
Author: Craig S. Keener


The Bible And Rape

Craig S. Keener

Dr. Craig Keener is a frequent contributor to Priscilla Papers. This article is adapted from ‘“Still a Virgin’: Letter to a Rape Victim,” published by CBE, 1993. Dr. Keener’s books on divorce and remarriage, and on Paul’s view of women, are also available from the CBE book service.

When Desiree Washington charged that Mike Tyson had raped her, some Christians retorted that it was her fault for getting herself into the situation. To my horror, the Bible study group at our church was divided on the issue, and paradoxically most of the women support Mike Tyson (I later learned that one of the few women who remained silent was a rape victim herself). I was further horrified that some of the more vocal leaders in our denomination (the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A.) reiterated the same views; although some of us spoke out on behalf of Ms. Washington, it was those who favored Mr. Tyson who garnered the publicity.

But while blaming the victim may accord with some of the ethics of our culture, it does not accord with the Bible. It may be true that some rape victims could have taken better safety precautions, but inadequate safety precautions in no way merit rape. Further, even the best of safety precautions have not always prevented it, and lack of precaution may sometimes follow from virtuous innocence as easily as from carelessness.

Condemning a rape victim makes about as much sense as condemning a murder victim — none. In fact, I would venture to suggest that those who condemn the innocent (the rape victim, the incest victim, the abandoned spouse, etc.) stand under God’s judgment, as the Bible indicates (e.g., Exod. 23:7).

Rape in Israelite Law

Israelite law sometimes fell short of the ethics of the Kingdom, choosing to regulate rather than tolerate structural evil still too entrenched to be abolished outright (e.g., indentured servanthood). Sexual offenses, however, were viewed as unfaithfulness to one’s spouse, betrayal of one’s deepest covenant, and hence merited death.

Yet as strictly as Israelite law forbade sexual relations with someone to whom one was not married, the law was careful to point out that rape was a different, special case. Rape was not an act determined by mutual sinful consent, like premarital sex; rape was a sin imposed by one person on another, like murder or theft. The rape victim had no choice in her situation.

If an engaged woman was raped, the man who raped her was put to death for committing adultery against her impending marriage union (Deut. 22:25). She, however, was not to be punished, for as the Bible exp...

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