Does Biblical law require a girl to marry her rapist?

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Answered Questions

No. But some modern Bible translators want to make you think so.

28 If a man finds a lady who is a virgin, who is not pledged to be married, grabs her and lies with her, and they are found, 29 then the man who lay with her shall give to the lady’s father fifty shekels of silver. She shall be his wife, because he has humbled her. He may not put her away all his days. Deuteronomy 22:28-29WEB

This is not a case of rape, despite the fact that certain translations (e.g. NIV, HCSB, ISV, NET) choose to translate the Hebrew verb "taphas" (meaning "catch" or "lay hold of") as "rape." Woods writes:

While the NIV and many other versions treat this as a case of rape too, the terminology here is different, which points rather to a case of seduction with the expression and they are discovered (v. 28b).[1]

The previous case (vv. 25-27) -- which actually is rape -- uses a different Hebrew verb[2]: khazaq, which indicates "overpowering by strength." Greg Bahnsen writes:

The Hebrew word tapas ... simply means to take hold of something, grasp it in the hand, and (by application) to capture or seize something. It is the verb used for handling the harp and flute (Gen. 4:21), the sword (Ezek. 21:11; Ezek. 30:21), the sickle (Jer. 50:16), the shield (Jer.46:9), the oars (Ezek. 27:29), and the bow (Amos 2:15). It is likewise used for taking God's name (Prov. 30:9) or dealing with the law of God (Jer. 2:8).[3]

Additionally, the verse specifies that this act is “discovered.” The girl did not report this as a rape, but the couple is “found out” in some way. Further, this case does not indicate that the girl “cried out”, as in the parallel case of rape. If this were rape, the girl would have testified that she cried out, it would be indicated in the case summary, and the rapist would have to be stoned. Instead, the case is treated similar to another law on fornication (Exod. 22:16-17). The girl in the case is considered as complicit in the sin, because she did not cry out.

Interpreters have gotten this verse wrong for a long time. The jurist William Blackstone promulgated the "marry her rapist" interpretation in his Commentaries in 1769, misinforming generations of prospective lawyers about God's law:

[Rape] by the Jewish law,19 was punished with death, in case the damsel was betrothed to another man; and, in case she was not betrothed, then a heavy fine of fifty shekels was to be paid to the damsels’s father, and she was to be the wife of the ravisher all the days of his life; without that power of divorce, which was in general permitted by the Mosaic law.

Blackstone's interpretation was included verbatim into the article on “Rape” in the Third edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica (1796)[4] where it lasted up to (at least) the Eleventh edition (1911).

  1. Woods, Deuteronomy [Tyndale Old Testament Commentary], 242
  2. despite the fact that it is translated with the same Greek verb in the Septuagint translation
  3. Bahnsen, "Pre-Marital Sexual Relations: What is the Moral Obligation When Repeated Incidents are Confessed?" Online at
  4. Macfarquhar, Encyclopedia Britannica, vol. 16, p.7