What Does The Bible Say About Rape?

There’s no other way to say it: rape is evil.  The pain goes far deeper than the physical assault; it shatters a person’s sense of safety and leaves invisible scars that may never fully heal.  The Bible was written in a very different time with very different ideas about the world.  This means parts of it, especially when it comes to the awful subject of rape, make us deeply uncomfortable.

While there are clear condemnations of rape within its pages, other stories depict sexual violence that we desperately need to understand. I believe that even though these disturbing accounts exist, we have to read the Bible with a discerning heart. The Bible includes some terrible acts, but its heart beats with justice and compassion. That’s why, for anyone who believes in those values, sexual violence can never have a place.

Dinah in Genesis 34

Dinah, daughter of Jacob, ventures out to interact with local women when Shechem, the son of a Hivite ruler, sees her. Consumed by lust and a sense of entitlement, he forcibly takes and rapes her (Genesis 34:2). Despite Shechem’s later overtures for marriage, attempting to legitimize his actions, the narrative makes it clear that his initial act was one of violence and a severe violation of Dinah.

The horror of this crime didn’t end with the assault on Dinah. Her pain rippled through her family, poisoning her brothers’ hearts with a thirst for revenge. While Jacob initially appears passive, his sons resort to vengeful deception. Feigning acceptance of Shechem’s marriage proposal, they manipulate him and his city to undergo circumcision. Then, when the men are weakened and vulnerable, Simeon and Levi mount a brutal attack, slaughtering every male in the city (Genesis 34:25-29).

The Levite’s Concubine in Judges 19

Judges 19 offers a particularly horrifying narrative of gang rape and murder. A Levite and his concubine journey together, and a group of men in the region demands the Levite surrenders his companion for their sexual gratification. In a chilling act of brutality to appease the mob, he pushes his concubine out to them. She is abused all night and found dead at the door in the morning.

Tamar and Amnon in 2 Samuel 13

The story of Tamar and Amnon isn’t just about rape. It shows how horribly trust can be broken when someone in power forces themselves on the vulnerable, even within a family.  Amnon, consumed by an obsessive and illicit desire for his half-sister Tamar, plots to isolate her. Feigning illness, he manipulates Tamar into entering his chambers, a violation of a space that should have been safe (2 Samuel 13:5-10). Despite her pleas for him to stop and her reasoning that such an act would be a shameful sin (2 Samuel 13:12-13), Amnon overpowers and rapes her.

The aftermath is devastating. Amnon, fueled by his depraved desires, then cruelly casts Tamar out, his lust immediately transforming into hatred (2 Samuel 13:15). Tamar’s physical and emotional violation is symbolized by her tearing of her robe and scattering ashes on her head, outward symbols of deep mourning (2 Samuel 13:19). This story shows how rape shatters a person from the inside out. It’s knowing your body was used against you, and that fear echoes in your mind long after.

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Sodom and Gomorrah

The story of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19) is a source of complex interpretation. Two angels, disguised as men, visit Lot in Sodom. When the men of the city discover his guests, they violently surround Lot’s house, demanding he release them for sexual purposes. Just imagining that kind of attack, the fear… it’s unimaginable. That’s not aggression, it’s monstrous. However, it’s vital to note that the primary sin of Sodom and Gomorrah repeatedly emphasized in the Bible is a lack of hospitality and general wickedness (Ezekiel 16:49-50). Guests in those times were incredibly vulnerable, completely reliant on the honor of their hosts.

While this story is used to debate homosexuality, we shouldn’t forget the very real terror of those men facing the threat of rape. This is pure evil. To think someone could do this… it makes me afraid for this city. Jude 1:7 connects Sodom and Gomorrah with “sexual immorality and perversion,” indicating their sin encompassed a multitude of issues, of which the attempted rape was a horrifying symptom. It’s important to remember the world was different back then, but that doesn’t make rape less horrible, or change the harm it does, even in a story.

Deuteronomy 22:28-29

Deuteronomy 22:28-29 depicts a troubling scenario: “If a man finds a young woman who is a virgin, who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found out, then the man who lay with her shall give to the young woman’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife because he has humbled her; he shall not be able to divorce her all his days.” This law presents a complex dilemma. 

Some try to excuse it as ‘offering protection’ for women, but that just reveals the twisted logic of a society that sees women as property. The payment to the father and forced marriage might be seen as compensation for damaging her marriageability and forcing the perpetrator to take responsibility.

However, several concerns arise. Did the woman have any genuine choice? Today we recognize the importance of consent, but this is absent from the text. The passage may reflect a situation closer to statutory rape, where an older man takes advantage of a younger woman. In that era, a woman’s value was closely tied to her perceived purity and potential for marriage. This law may have been an attempt to mitigate the social damage, yet ultimately falls far short of modern standards of justice.

Rape in Warfare Narratives

Certain passages within the Bible, particularly those involving warfare, depict the seizure of women as spoils of conquest. These accounts, such as passages in Numbers 31 and Deuteronomy 20:10-14, are undeniably disturbing to a modern reader. While acknowledging the brutal realities of ancient warfare, we cannot excuse or minimize the acts described. This is undoubtedly rape. It’s hard to read those stories of rape and reconcile them with what we believe about a just and loving God.  It’s important to be honest about that struggle, and to examine them closely. It’s these higher moral values that the Bible consistently upholds.

It’s hard to read those passages, knowing what we know now about rape. I can’t even wrap my head around those stories. How could anyone ever think rape was okay? Thank goodness basic human decency has finally caught up. Seeing rape in history like that…it’s a kick in the gut.

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The Bible’s Silence on Rape

While the Gospels don’t contain the word “rape,” the ethical foundation laid by Jesus leaves no room for condoning this heinous act. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus elevates the status of women in profound ways counter to the prevalent culture of his day.  Even in a time when women were often marginalized, he valued their voices in theological discussions and saw them as equal partners in his work.

This respect for women’s inherent dignity and personhood stands in direct opposition to the objectification and violation inherent in rape. Furthermore, in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:27-28), Jesus goes beyond condemning outward acts of adultery to addressing the root of sinful behavior – lustful desires. Jesus taught us that our thoughts matter, and that’s important: rapists don’t just act, they plan and fantasize. This kind of thinking – fixating on power and control – is the first step towards violence like rape.

Jesus on Marriage and Moral Purity

Jesus radically emphasized the importance of sexual purity, understood as faithfulness and sanctity within the exclusive bond of marriage (Matthew 19:4-6). This purity extends beyond physical acts and encompasses inner desires and intentions. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus states, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28).

Jesus highlights that sexual sin originates within the heart and mind. Lust objectifies the other person, reducing them to a means of self-gratification rather than recognizing their inherent worth and dignity.

The act of rape violently expresses this dehumanizing lust, disregarding the victim’s consent and inflicting physical and emotional trauma. It violates the sanctity of the body, which the Bible frequently portrays as a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Furthermore, Jesus explicitly upheld the sacred nature of marriage (Matthew 19:4-6). 

Rape undermines this covenantal bond, representing an utter betrayal of trust and a destructive intrusion of violence into a space intended for love and intimacy. Jesus teaches us to protect the vulnerable, and by saying that even lustful thoughts are wrong, he shows that there’s no excuse for violating another person, ever. Rape is the ultimate betrayal of that.

Can Love Overcome Sexual Assault?

It’s hard to reconcile the New Testament’s emphasis on love and compassion with the brutal acts of sexual violence found in other parts of the Bible. The concept of agape love, as exemplified by Jesus, emphasizes selfless sacrifice and care for others – the very antithesis of rape, which is founded on the pursuit of self-gratification at the profound expense of another. Jesus’ teachings echo this sentiment, stating, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). Rape inflicts deep wounds, making it the opposite of this agape love intended to nurture and bring wholeness.

Jesus wasn’t afraid to challenge the way things were. He saw the pain of those society ignored, especially the women and vulnerable people who were so often victims of violence, including rape. He treated women with kindness and respect, completely different from the way most men acted back then. He famously defended the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11), prevented her stoning, and offered her the possibility of redemption.

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Jesus didn’t just tell us to be kind – he challenged us to build a better world. “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31) – that means we can’t ignore rape. It means creating a world where everyone knows this is wrong, where we protect each other, and those who commit rape know their actions have serious consequences. There’s no place for that kind of violence in the world Jesus envisioned.

Conclusion

The Bible contains a complex tapestry of narratives and laws around the issue of rape. Some accounts offer clear condemnations, illustrating the severe consequences and inherent wrongness of such violence. However, other passages are deeply troubling and need careful interpretation. A modern reading requires a hermeneutic of justice, always returning to the core themes of compassion, respect for bodily autonomy, and the call to protect the vulnerable. One powerful verse embodying this is Micah 6:8 – “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Despite these contradictions, the Bible can empower modern efforts to promote healing for rape survivors and advocate for systemic change against sexual violence. This means embracing narratives that unequivocally denounce rape, and critically approaching passages that might seem to condone it. The Bible’s themes of love and justice become tools for building a world where sexual assault cannot be justified or ignored, and where survivors receive support and a pathway to restoration.

FAQs: What Does The Bible Say About Rape?

Does the Bible condone rape?

No. The Bible contains some disturbing accounts of sexual violence, but its core message of justice and compassion stands firmly against rape. Many passages clearly condemn rape, while others need careful interpretation with a modern understanding of consent and the horrors of sexual assault.

Why does the Bible contain stories of rape?

The Bible reflects the realities of the ancient world, including violence and injustice. These stories can be deeply disturbing but serve as cautionary tales and calls to action for creating a better world where rape is never justified.

What does Jesus say about rape?

Jesus never directly uses the term “rape,” but his teachings fundamentally oppose it. He emphasized respect for women, sexual purity within marriage, and even condemned lust – the harmful mindset that fuels rape. Jesus’ message of love and protection for the vulnerable offers a foundation for rejecting sexual violence.

Are there contradictions in how the Bible discusses rape?

Yes. Some passages explicitly denounce rape, while others present situations of sexual violence that seem to lack clear moral judgment. These require careful analysis, always prioritizing modern understandings of justice, bodily autonomy, and the deep harm caused by rape.

How can the Bible be used to help survivors of rape?

The Bible’s themes of love, compassion, and justice can be a powerful source of support for survivors of sexual assault. Stories like Jesus protecting the woman accused of adultery can offer hope and strength, while the Bible’s overarching message empowers us to speak up against sexual violence and build a world where it is never tolerated.

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