Militant atheists of the 21st century delight in accusing God of condoning the most heinous immoralities. They insist that the God of the Bible, especially of the Old Testament, was a murderous villain guilty of far worse than His human subjects. Richard Dawkins accused God of being a “misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully” (2006, p. 31).
One attempt that has been made to bolster these unfounded accusations is to suggest that in the Old Testament God condoned rape. Dan Barker commented: “If God told you to rape someone, would you do it? Some Christians, ignorant of biblical injunctions to rape, might answer, ‘God would never ask me to do that’” (Barker, 1992, p. 331, emp. added). If the honest truth seeker were to ask to see the “biblical injunctions to rape,” he would be struck by the fact that no such injunctions exist.
The passage that is most often used to “prove” that God condones rape is Numbers 31:25-40. In this passage, the young women who were taken captive after Moses destroyed the Midianites were divided between the Israelites and the priests. The priests were given responsibility for 32 of the women. Skeptics often suggest that these women were supplied so that the priests could abuse them sexually and rape them. But nothing could be further from the truth. The skeptic errs greatly in this regard either due to his ignorance of God’s instructions or willful dishonesty.
In Deuteronomy 21:10-14, Moses specifically stated what was to be done with female captives:
When you go out to war...and you see among the captives a beautiful woman, and desire her and would take her for your wife, then you shall bring her home to your house, and she shall shave her head and trim her nails. She shall put off the clothes of her captivity, remain in your house, and mourn her father and her mother a full month; after that you may go in to her and be her husband, and she shall be your wife (emp. added).
It is important to understand that God has never condoned any type of sexual activity outside of a lawful marriage. The only way that an Israelite would be morally justified in having sexual intercourse with a female captive was if he made her his wife, granting to her the rights and privileges due to a wife. Notice that the Israelite male could not “go in to her” (a euphemism for sexual intercourse) until she had observed a period of mourning and cleansing, and he could only “go in to her” with the intent of being her husband.
When the skeptics’ allegations about God condoning rape are demolished by the very clear instructions in Deuteronomy 21, the attack is usually shifted, and God is accused of being unjust for allowing war prisoners or slavery of any kind, regardless of whether or not rape was permitted. While these allegations about slavery have been dealt with decisively in other places (Butt, 2005a), it is important not to lose sight of the fact that shifting the argument to slavery is a red herring to draw attention away from the original accusation that God condoned rape.
For the skeptic to imply that God condoned rape, using Numbers 31, without mentioning Moses’ instructions in Deuteronomy 21, is unconscionable. It is simply another instance of dishonest propaganda designed to discredit God and the Bible. The irony of the skeptics’ position is that if atheism is true, the skeptic has no grounds upon which to claim that rape is morally wrong (Butt, 2005b). In fact, in my debate with Dan Barker, Barker admitted that fact, and stated that under certain circumstances, rape would be a moral obligation (Butt and Barker, 2009).
In reality, God’s ways and actions have always been fair, equitable, and just. But the errant thinking and self-contradiction of the skeptical worldview continues to show itself to be unjust in its criticism of God, and immoral in its practical application.
Barker, Dan (1992), Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist (Madison, WI: Freedom From Religion Foundation).
Butt, Kyle (2005a), “Defending the Bible’s Position on Slavery,” [On-line], URL: http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/368.
Butt, Kyle (2005b), “Rape and Evolution,” [On-line], URL: http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/306.
Butt, Kyle and Dan Barker (2009), The Butt/Barker Debate: Does the God of the Bible Exist? (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press).
Dawkins, Richard (2006), The God Delusion (New York: Houghton Mifflin).
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