Troublesome Topic: Why Was the Death Penalty for Sexual Acts Inconsistent? Part 2

Lesson 5 of 9

Deuteronomy 22:28


If a man finds a young woman who is a virgin, who is not promised to a man, and he catches her and has sex with her, and the act is found out


If a man finds a young lady who is a virgin and is not promised to a man, and he catches her and rapes her and she presents the bloody evidence of having been raped, or she gets pregnant,

Deuteronomy 22:29


then the man who had sex with her shall give the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver,

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and she shall become his wife because he has caused her shame. He is not permitted to divorce her all his days.


The man who raped her must give the young lady’s father a restitution penalty of one year’s wages, before she can become his wife because he has caused her to be seen shamefully by the community. He is not permitted to divorce her the rest of his life.

Why was there no death penalty in this case?

Here the line of authority violated was that of the father because there was no husband.

Fifty shekels of silver is thought by some to have been close to one year’s wages for an average wage-earner (think poor laborer).

A guy could not use a girl and throw her away. He had to marry her, and he could not divorce her the rest of his life.

Exodus 22:16 sheds some light on this subject by indicating that “if a man seduces or deceives a virgin who is not promised to a man, and has sex with her, he must certainly pay the bride-price for her to be his wife.” By putting these two passages together we learn that the penalty listed in the Deuteronomy passage is above and beyond the bride-price. The girl’s father could set the bride-price as high as possible and the guilty young man had no choice but to pay both the penalty and the bride-price and take her as his wife. What’s more, in the case of rape it was the young man, not his father, who paid the bride price. This means he was indebted to his father-in-law for many years.

This was also incentive for the father to protect his daughter from undesirable young men so that he would not end up with a son-in-law he did not like.

These were the reasons why guys did not see rape as a cheaper way to get a wife. It wasn’t worth it. The total price to be paid was enough that rape was very rare in ancient Israelite culture. Most young men controlled themselves so they could do this the right way with their father paying the bride price for them.

Because a girl’s virginity was seen as her greatest treasure, she would protect it at all costs. Very few girls in ancient Israel would agree to premarital sexual intercourse and they would attempt to fight off an attacker with everything they had. The girls would go places in groups whenever possible to be able to protect each other.

If we compare the situations described above to our present day (thinking of America), each society has its strengths and its drawbacks. I am convinced there were fewer rapes, unwanted pregnancies, and divorces in ancient Israel, but marriage was not always pleasant for a young woman. Sometimes she felt stuck. Today marriage is not always pleasant either, and many women and men alike feel stuck (though not as permanently stuck as back then). Rapes are more common today, as are the cases in which a man uses a girl and then discards her like trash, and he does so with impunity. The fact that there were harsh punishments for things like rape and other sexual indiscretions back then meant that there were fewer of them. The fact that a woman had few options without a man in her life meant that a woman’s situation in ancient times appears more austere from our perspective. However, she was also more protected. So each society has good and bad aspects to it regarding consequences for sexual misconduct.

What Did These Regulations Teach?

Even though the death penalty was not involved in the examples given above, the punishments were severe and lasted a lifetime. This was intended to make young men think and choose a wiser path. The difference in penalty, with some acts of improper sexual relations being punished by death and some punished by other means, taught that not all lines or authority are equal and not all relationships are equal.

The next lesson in the full series on Covenants is: Why Did God Allow Polygamy?

The next lesson in Why Is That in the Bible? is: Was God Harder on Some Sexual Deviations than Others?



Someone has shared calculations that lead me to believe that in Old Testament times, 50 shekels of silver would be 1 year’s wages for an average wage earner. However, others make calculations which are much lower than that. It seems to me that the 50 shekels of silver was shooting for something significant, and when I heard the 1 year theory, it sounded about right. But I cannot be sure about any of this.