A Thoroughly Just View: Deuteronomy 22:23-29

This passage of Scripture reminds me of a conversation concerning Date Rape that I had a few years back.  The gist of the conversation revolved around the question of who is at fault in this mostly college-prevalent crime.  The opposing viewpoint coming from another employee was very clear on the matter – the male is 100% at fault, every time.  Whether the girl says no, or says yes, if she states the next day that she was in no position to make that kind of choice, the boy is at fault.  The male, sober or blitzed, must make the call between a “yes” that means “yes”, and a “yes” that means “no”.  I took the position that each case must be examined differently.  While rape of any kind is a crime, the question that I posited is does the girl bear any kind of responsibility in this matter?  Was she drinking excessively?  Was she dressed provocatively?  Did she knowingly place herself in a position where such a devastating thing could happen?  Did she cry out?  If we are to hold men to such high standards, I asked, should we not hold women to some kind of code of conduct as well?

Scripture is very clear on the matter of forced sexual relations – “for just as a man rises against his neighbor and murders him, so is this case.” (Deut 22:26)  The penalty for rape at all times is death.  It is violent, it is deviant, and it flies in the face of the Covenant of love and law that God so clearly outlines for His people. Deuteronomy 22: 23 – 29 speaks of two kinds of sexual encounters.  The first case involves a man finding a girl “in the city”, who is a virgin and engaged to another man, and “lies with her”.  The penalty for this infraction is that both are put to death in order to “purge the evil from among you.” (Deut 22:24)  A horrifying, and some would say unjust,  outcome.  The location for this event, though, is important.  The cities of the Hebrews were not the cities of today – bastions of individual fortresses surrounded by sound-proofed walls of steel and concrete.  These ancient cities were open and bustling with activity.  If this action had truly been rape, such a violent act would have been noticed, the screams of help would have been heard, aid would have been rendered.  There are always exceptions, and Scripture provides a just way to handle them.  (Deut 25:1)  But barring any exceptions, this episode is not considered rape, but an encounter between two willing parties.  Since sex outside the covenant of marriage is taboo, the penalty for both is death.

Verse 25 is the second case, one where there is no possibility of hearing a call for help.  If this event happens “in the field”, then “you shall do nothing to the girl; there is no sin…”. (22:26)  Verse 27 states, “there was no one to save her.”  This encounter is clearly unplanned on the part of the woman, in a place where she cannot get aid.  Clearly, Scripture considers this event “rape”, with all the violence and trauma associated with that crime.  The girl is not held accountable, as justice requires.  The man is put to death, being held solely liable for his actions.

In cases of clear rape, where the woman was alone and unable to get aid, Scripture mandates a prosecution of the man only  – the woman is to be held sinless.  Whether or not rape should be a capital offense is another discussion, but Scripture does mandate a pretty stiff penalty for this crime.  (For an excellent discussion on capital punishment, see Daniel Van Ness’s article “What’s the Bible’s Position On The Death Penalty”.)

Yet, if there is no clear distinction between the guilty parties, if no cries for help were ever made, if the situation entered into was such that a sexual encounter of some sort was bound to occur, then how can only one party be held 100% accountable?  Though adultery is no longer a capital offense, the results of marital infidelity or sexual promiscuity have dire consequences.  Scripture is calling for a mantle of responsibility to be placed on both parties.  Far from holding the woman accountable for the man’s actions, Scripture holds each party individually responsible for their own  actions.  The man must not have sex outside of marriage,  not be in a questionable area with a woman, be in charge of his faculties.  The woman must also have some sense of self control – does not get drunk, watches her surroundings, be aware of who she is with, be committed to sexual fidelity.  Such vigilance on the part of both parties will greatly reduce the chance of any illicit encounter, as well as decrease the probability of charges of rape.

To go back to my conversation, how we address the issue of Date Rape reflects upon how well we know and apply the Law of God.  If we see the Law as merely a set of rules and restrictions, then we will spend a great deal of time inventing ways to circumvent those laws in order to have complete license in all that we do. The result, of course, is the moral anarchy that we are experiencing today.  Far from merely being restrictive, the Law is God’s gift for righteous living and healthy human interaction.  Once we begin to see that there is no action outside of the Law, we can also begin to see how God has already addressed difficult issues such as Date Rape.  Will we continue to measure these matters by human varying standards, codes of conduct that change with the times and political pressures?  Or,  will we submit ourselves to live according to how God would have us live?

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