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Rape or Sexual Abuse and the Victim's Sexual Purity

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Dr. Derek Carlsen

One of the scourges of our day is the crime of rape or sexual abuse. Many people live in fear of becoming the next victim. The horror and trauma of being sexually abused is known first hand by an excessive number of people. Even worse, the shame and stigma that society associates with such crimes means that the victims suffer in almost solitary confinement. This ought not to be!

My desire in this article is to address the sense of guilt and moral pollution that often attaches to victims of rape or sexual abuse. I believe God’s word provides instruction so that these victims might be set free from their feelings of guilt and moral pollution (John 8:32). For the church to be able to minister to these victims in a godly way, believers need to have their thinking conformed to the mind of Christ. While what I say will appear obvious, the stigma that too often follows the rape victim shows that the church’s understanding on this matter is in need of reformation. My position comes from my own wrestling with the Scriptures for the purpose finding healing-balm for those who have been sexually violated. There is a great need for it today.

Thesis Stated

If a maiden—that is, a virgin—is raped, believers ought to look upon her and treat her as a virgin. Why? Because, according to Scripture, she is still sexually pure. [2] I believe this is what the Scriptures teach. It is then a natural and necessary consequence to apply this same reasoning to other forms of sexual abuse.

Thesis Defended

Scripture teaches that, “If a man entices a virgin who is not betrothed, and lies with her, he shall surely pay the bride-price for her to be his wife. If her father utterly refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money according to the bride-price of virgins” (Ex.22:16-17 NKJV).

We see that when an unmarried couple engages in intercourse, both the man and the woman are guilty before God. According to Scripture, fornication, on the civil level, results in shame for the girl and her family and legal/financial ramifications for the man, who is fined. The fine is a way of making restitution for dishonouring the girl and her family and also helps to secure her future, which the seducer’s actions have threatened. The girl’s father has the responsibility to decide whether to allow his daughter to marry this man or not. The seducing man has no choice about marrying the girl at this stage—his responsibility was to have said no long before this. If the father says yes to the marriage, then the seducer has to marry the girl and is not allowed to divorce her all his days (Deut.22:28,29).

If a virgin is seduced and her father refuses to give her in marriage to the man who seduced her, the seducer still has to pay a dowry. The dowry is the “bride-price of virgins” (i.e., the price of a virgin’s dowry) and is to ensure that the girl’s lack of sexual purity would be outweighed by the economic gain to be had. The dowry would make the girl, who was no longer a virgin, “attractive” to some future husband who would be marrying a fairly rich wife and these riches would benefit the whole family unit. Or, the dowry penalty would serve as security to help the girl survive should no man want to marry her due to her lack of sexual purity.

Deuteronomy 22:25-29 records two sexual cases next to each other—one dealing with rape and the other dealing with seduction. Scripture does not regard rape as a light issue, but places it on a par with murder. Murder and rape are both capitol crimes, worthy of the death penalty. [3] At the very least then, we should expect rape and murder to receive the same penalties in our societies.

In the above passage we see that if a man rapes a woman, he is to be executed; but what is interesting is the fact that no monetary payment is given to the raped woman: no restitution is given to her. It makes sense in the case of murder that the murdered person gets no restitution—other than the murderer being executed. The victim doesn’t need restitution since he is dead. In contrast, the raped person still has a life to live and yet shall receive no economic restitution in a society where sexual purity was held in high regard.

In the Bible, when the living are actually defrauded, the guilty party is forced to give restitution to them (Ex.22:1-4). We even see that when a maiden is seduced, she has been defrauded and thus receives restitution to help her deal with the real-life ramifications of her loss. Despite the fact that a fornicating girl defiled herself, Scripture still made provision for her in her impure state—she received a dowry.

Here is the dilemma: if rape sexually defiles the victim, then why is the girl who is raped not compensated for her real-life loss? Why did she have no dowry to make her attractive to a future husband or to provide for her should no man want to marry her? If the raped girl and the fornicating girl are both tainted with sexual pollution, then why does the innocent rape victim end up worse off (in an economic sense), than the fornicating girl? The girl who commits fornication is “rewarded” while the rape victim is not.

My explanation for no dowry (restitution) being given to the rape victim is because she has not been polluted. Thus, she is still regarded by her family and the community as sexually pure—there is no difference between her and any other virgin. According to Scripture, the rape victim does not need an extra dowry in order to make her attractive to a possible husband. Let me try and explain why this is so.

The Spiritual Nature of Sexual Purity

Sexual purity is spiritual not physical in nature. Sexual purity applies to both the married and the unmarried. When sexual activity is conformed to God’s word, then it is pure and those engaged in such activity remain sexually pure even though they are sexually active. On the other hand, impurity in the sexual realm involves the giving of oneself in a way that is outside of God’s ordained boundaries for sexual expression.

A virgin is someone who has not given themselves sexually to another person. Virginity applies to a state of sexual purity prior to legitimate sexual activity. A person’s sexual purity is lost when he or she consents to sexual activity that is outside God’s defined boundaries.

When someone is seduced, that person consents to the seduction; but when someone is raped, no consent is given. Because virginity is primarily spiritual rather than physical, when a girl is raped, although she has been violated physically, she has in no way been polluted spiritually. Thus, the maiden who is raped cannot but continue to be sexually pure, for if she was a virgin prior to this act of violence against her, that act doesn’t change her state in God’s eyes. She remains sexually pure as far as God is concerned and therefore ought to be regarded as such by those who call upon the name of the Lord.

Sexual purity and virginity have to do with spiritual and moral integrity in the sexual realm. The way this purity is preserved is by not giving oneself sexually to another person until it is morally right to do so. When unmarried people give themselves sexually to each other, they violate their sexual purity and are no longer to be regarded as virgins—they are sexually polluted. On the other hand, when a man and a woman give themselves sexually to each other on their marriage day, they remain sexually pure because their actions are in accordance with God’s ordering. The term virgin then ceases to be applicable or relevant in their context, though their sexual purity continues, to the degree that their sexual expression remains within God’s defined boundaries.

To lose your sexual purity, you have to self-consciously give it up—it is not something that can be taken from you without your consent. A person’s sexual purity cannot be lost without that person having willingly embraced an illicit sexual union. This is something the church should proclaim loudly and clearly.

There is great comfort here too for those who have been sexually molested as children. In the case of children who are sexually molested, the “consent” aspect is not exactly the same as in the case of adults. The reason for this is because mature people can fairly easily manipulate children due to their immaturity.

Someone might look back upon their own experience of being sexually abused as a child and feel that they allowed it to happen or that they willingly participated in it. The reality is that, in most cases, the victim’s immaturity at the time of the abuse “overpowered” them. Due to their intellectual and emotional immaturity, they were unable to resist the advances, manipulation or threats of the older person. A child’s natural respect for and trust or fear of adults as well as their natural desire to want to please adults, renders them extremely vulnerable—vulnerable because children are unable to effectively resist a perverse adult.

In a real sense, the molested child’s situation is comparable to that of the adult who is physically overpowered and raped. This issue requires further explanation and development, but this is not the place to do it. All that I want to make clear is that there is an accountability difference between a child’s consent and an adult’s consent to sexual activity. I am convinced that sexual abuse of minors is comparable to the rape of adults and thus the same Biblical perspective applies to both, namely, their sexual purity has not been violated.

Spiritual Pollution Moves in Only One Direction: From Inside to Outside

Paul’s point to the Corinthians is that spiritual pollution leads to the pollution of the body. He says, “Or do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her? For “the two,” he says, “shall become one flesh.” (1 Cor.6:16 NKJV). The man who has sexual intercourse with a prostitute is as defiled as the prostitute, since both came from the same “spiritual cloth,” so to speak. From Paul’s words we learn that the pollution brought about by illicit sexual union is both spiritual and physical. But this is when they both seek that perversion. When our hearts consent to sin, our whole being is polluted, resulting in both spiritual and physical pollution. The reverse, however, is not true: something done to us physically does not automatically taint us spiritually.

While Christ applied such ideas to the question of clean and unclean foods, His words are clearly applicable to the sexually abused victim. He said, “There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man…Are you thus without understanding also? Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him” (Mk.7:15,18 NKJV; see vv.15-23).

It is not possible to be polluted if your heart does not first turn toward the perversion (Prov.4:23). For example, we are in the presence of evil spirits often (if not always); but until we turn our hearts towards them, we remain undefiled by their touching and enticing (Lev.19:31; 20:6; Eph.4:27; 6:11; James 4:7). Likewise, Christ’s death in our place further supports this idea. Consider the great difference between the animal sacrifices in Leviticus and Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. The animals had to be without physical blemishes in order to qualify as a suitable sacrifice for sin (Lev.22:20-25, esp.vs.24; Deut.17:1). The law said any imperfection, wound, etc., on the animal’s physical body rendered it defiled. These animals were a picture of Christ’s spiritual perfection and the way they pictured this was by being physically perfect. When they did not correctly portray this (i.e., by being physically imperfect) they were disqualified from serving as suitable sacrifices.

Christ’s sacrifice was in stark contrast to the animal sacrifices, for when He was sacrificed, His body was almost unrecognisable due to it being so physically disfigured (Isa.50:6; 52:14; 53:4-6; John 19:1). Despite being so physically broken, Christ maintained His moral and spiritual purity. His moral perfection is exactly what sinful people needed; thus Christ, despite the great physical abuse he endured, is the perfect sacrifice needed to make atonement for sinful people. No amount of mistreatment of Christ’s body could affect His spiritual integrity. Thus, all the humiliation and brutality against Christ’s physical body did not pollute Him in any way. The only way He could have been defiled was by His heart turning toward sin.

While there is a clinical, physical definition for “virginity,” this doesn’t have anything to do with God’s focus and standard of moral purity. His focus has to do with the heart and holiness! True virgins are persons who have not given themselves sexually to someone else outside of God’s boundaries. Others cannot defile us no matter what they do to our physical bodies. We are defiled by our own hearts lusting after strange flesh, not by strange flesh lusting after us or even abusing us (Matt.10:28).

It is our own fleshly lusts that war against our soul and defile us (Mk.7:21-23; 1 Pet.2:11). We are to fight against these lusts (Titus 2:12) because it is these lusts that lead to sin and death (James 1:14,15; 4:1). Christ’s people need to communicate this message to those who have been the victims of rape and sexual abuse as well as relate to them in a way that demonstrates this truth. If Christians communicate any kind of stigma towards those who have been sexually abused, then they ought to feel the same toward Christ’s abused body that hung on the cross. They will also need to feel the same sense of disgrace about the memory of innocent people who were murdered. The Bible, however, compares the raped person with the murdered person in the sense that they are both without fault. That is, they are completely innocent of the wrong committed against them and therefore cannot be regarded as defiled or polluted by it in any way (Deut.22:26). [4]

Doesn’t the Bible Call the Rape Victim ‘Defiled?’

There is a danger that some passages about rape could lead us to think that the victims are actually polluted by what is done to them. This is because the words humbled, afflicted, defiled and violated are used for both the rape victim and the fornicator/adulterer (Deut.21:14; 22:24,29; Lam.5:11) and this can make us place them both in the same “pollution” category.

It is not a simple matter to translate what is being communicated by these texts because in Hebrew, as in English, words can have more than one meaning. This means that our own perceptions will often influence which meaning we will give to a word in a particular context. The King James Version, for example, uses the word defile in connection with what some commentators regard as rape at Genesis 34:2,5, but is this telling us that the raped person has been spiritually defiled?

The broader evidence, I believe, shows that we should not rush to such a simplistic understanding. Greg Bahnsen alluded to the difficulty of determining the meanings of such words when he wrote, “The Hebrew word anah (“humble, afflict,”…) used in Deuteronomy 22:29 can sometimes be used for forcing a woman (Gen.34:2; Jud.20:5; 2 Sam.13:12,14,22,32; Lam.5:11) but need not indicate a forcible rape, which is clear from the Deuteronomy passage itself at verse 24. It can simply mean to dishonor, mistreat, or afflict (e.g., Ex.1:11; Gen.16:6; Ex.22:22; Deut.8:2; Ps.119:67), and in sexual settings can denote other kinds of sin than rape (Ezek.22:10,11).” [5] So, does the word ‘defile’ in Genesis 34:2,5 mean ‘spiritually polluted’ or could it mean ‘afflicted’ or ‘humiliated?’ Our understanding of the rape victim’s purity or lack thereof must rest upon more than words whose meanings may have been shaped by our misperceptions and prejudices.

Conclusion

As members of Christ’s body, we need to live and relate in terms of God’s word. This means that those within our communities, who have been violated sexually, must not be made to carry around shameful skeletons, dreading the day when others might find out about them. For the innocent who have been violated to be healed, both physically and psychologically, they must know that what happened to them is nothing to be ashamed of. They have not been polluted in God’s eyes and therefore mere men must not regard them as polluted. Christ’s people need to insist upon holding to a Biblical definition of shame and thus show unwavering support for and total acceptance of those who have been sinned against sexually. The victims of such abuse need to be assured that no distinction is made in the eyes of Christ’s followers between them and others who have not suffered such things.

The Biblical perspective is that the virgin who has been raped is as attractive and accepted as the virgin who has not been raped. Christian men, when looking for a wife, ought not to look upon a sexually pure person who has been raped any differently than they would look upon a sexually pure person who has not been raped. No distinction is to be made between such people with respect to pollution or stigma. God saw no need to try and increase the incentives for men to marry girls who had been raped (i.e., through an extra dowry).

The Christian’s view of people who have been sexually abused or raped should be no different from our view of those who have been assaulted, mugged, robbed, persecuted or tortured. The pollution associated with rape or sexual abuse rests wholly upon the rapist/abuser—no pollution from that perverse act is communicated to the victim. Since God does not distinguish, with respect to sexual purity, between someone who has been raped and someone who hasn’t, we are foolish if we contradict His view on the matter. We ought to offer help, show compassion and manifest real understanding toward people who have been raped or sexually abused. This will include strongly communicating to them that they have nothing to be ashamed of. Our way of relating should demonstrate to them that no stigma follows them around and that they have nothing to be embarrassed for. The reason for this is simple: the raped person’s heart was not turned towards the sexual perversion committed against her and so she cannot be polluted by the physical abuse committed against her body. An external act done to a person against their will cannot defile their spiritual integrity. Virginity and thus sexual purity are ultimately spiritual in nature. That means a person’s heart and will must consent to the perversion in order for them to be polluted by it. [6] This is God’s eternal perspective and all people are expected to bring their thinking into line with Him about all things, including how He views the victims of rape and sexual abuse.

Finally, it is necessary to restate that those who engage in sexual activity within God’s boundaries remain sexually pure—they are undefiled. The celibate Christian is no more holy or sexually pure than a Christian man and woman who are engaged in sexual union within the bounds of marriage. “Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge” (Heb.13:4 NKJV). It is vital that Christians clearly promote the beauty of sexual expression that takes place within God’s boundaries. In a society were sexual perversion is rampant, there is a danger that Christians develop a negative perception or suppressed expression of the godly gift of sex. We do great harm to ourselves, our children and those we seek to minister to, if our communication about sex is only about God’s righteous condemnation of the world’s perversion of sex. Perversion we must condemn, but the beauty of sex must also be held up as something to be cherished, treasured and truly enjoyed. God’s law defines what is beautiful and glorifies Him and what is perverse and destroys lives—both of these need to be spoken about without shame or apology.

 


 

[1] A version of this article first appeared in Christianity & Society: The Biannual Journal of the Kuyper Foundation, Vol.XVI, No.1, Summer 2006, pgs.52-53. www.kuyper.org. It also appeared in Faith For All Of Life, March/April 2007, pgs.22-25. www.chalcedon.edu.

[2] In this essay I am not looking to deal with the real counselling needs that sexual abuse victims require. This does not mean that I minimise these needs. Rather, my objective is primarily to exhort those in the Christian community who are not victims, to relate to victims with Biblical wisdom, understanding and compassion and encourage the victims to view themselves through the lenses of Scripture.

[3] We live in an age that rejects God’s revealed punishments for civil crimes, and often even rejects God’s definition of right and wrong. Unfortunately, too many in the church are guilty of this too and reject the death penalty for those things God says are deserving of death. Nevertheless, one would think that since God decrees the same punishment for both murder and rape, believers would, at the very least, say that both of these crimes ought to receive the same punishment in our legal system.

[4] This does not negate the need for exercising wisdom (i.e., God’s wisdom) in order help reduce the threat of harm being done to us—whether rape or murder. We are to take care where we go and whom we mix with. This means parents need to re-evaluate their views on dating in the light of Scripture. Many “date rapes” would not have happened if parents were relying upon Biblical truth as their wisdom in helping their children find the right marriage partners.

[5] Greg Bahnsen, unpublished paper, “Pre-Marital Sexual Relations: What is the Moral Obligation When Repeated Incidents are Confessed?” pg.4, no date.

[6] It is important to be reminded of the distinction made above between an adult’s consent with respect to engaging in sexual activity and a child’s “consent” since it is possible for a perverse adult to manipulate a child through fear, lies, threats, etc.