Thursday, February 6, 2020

Is The Old Testament Derogatory Towards Women?

  • Discussion:
          -This article serves as interaction with some claims made by an atheist regarding so-called incidents of female suppression during the Old Testament in a comments thread of another post:

          "Women were regarded as little more than property. We know that because the Bible has rules on how to sell your daughter (Exodus 21:7). There is no such rule for selling sons, because men are important!"

          This law concerning slaves ensured release upon six years of voluntary service. The individual could choose to become a permanent slave. This was not an act of coercion but of love (Exodus 21:5-6). Permanent and forced servitude of Jewish slaves to Jewish masters was foreign to that culture (Leviticus 25:39-55). Conditions were set forth to make certain that female slaves were not abused and neglected. They were not to be mistreated by their masters. The Reformation Study Bible has this note:

          "The Lord sets forth the ordinances of His covenant in this section. Civil and penal laws are presented at 21:1–22:15; laws controlling morality at 22:16–27; 23:1–9; laws of worship at 20:22–26; 22:28–30; 23:10–19. Through 22:17 the statutes are in the form of case law (“If . . . then,” with appropriate penalties); afterwards laws of the unconditionally imperative type (“you shall not”) predominate. The purpose of these social codes was to regulate Israelite life in the Promised Land."

          "Leviticus 21:9 says unchaste daughters of priests are to be put to death. Not the sons of course. The law about adultery is all about the other man adulterating your property; it is comparable to the prohibition against theft."

         The context of this passage centers on the administration of the priestly law code. The daughters of the priests who committed adultery were put to death, not because they were personal property, but that she put the office of her father to an open shame. The Law frowned upon licentiousness and thievery. Both are violations of God's Law.

          "Deuteronomy 22:13-22 is all about virginity. A man wants to ensure his property has not been handled previously by another man. Obviously it is fine for the man to sleep around all he like, before or after marriage."

          This passage does not say that it is permissible for a man to "sleep around all he likes." That is an assertion devoid of contextual support. Indeed, elsewhere if a man has relations with a betrothed or married woman, he is prescribed the death penalty. The above verses are addressing a man who defames a woman and the punishment that he has to undergo.

          "Perhaps the worst of this is Deuteronomy 22:28-29, which demands that a rapist marry his victim. Shameful in our culture, but if you consider women as property, this is like a shop saying "You broke it, you pay for it." The woman is damaged property, so the rapist has to pay the full price for her."

          "The verb used to explain what happened to the woman is תָּפַשׂ (tāpas). Tāpas means to “lay hold [of],”[2] or “wield.”[3] Like חָזַק (ḥāzaq, the word for “force) used in vv. 25-27, tāpas can also be translated as “seize.”[4] Unlike ḥāzaq, however, tāpas does not carry the same connotation of force. As one Hebrew scholar explains, tāpas does not, in and of itself, infer assault; it means she was “held,” but not necessarily “attacked.’[5] There’s a delicate difference between these two verbs, but it makes all the difference. Tāpas is often used to describe a capture.[6] Tāpas also appears in Genesis 39:12; when Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph, she seized (tāpas) him to wear down his resolve. This is distinct from ḥāzaq, which describes a forcible overpowering. Daniel Block notes that, unlike the law in verses 25-27, this law has neither a cry for help, nor an account of male violence.[7] It’s likely that the woman in verses 28-29 experienced overwhelming persuasion, perhaps an erosion of her resolve, but not necessarily a sexual assault. This does not mitigate the seriousness of the act. This woman was indeed violated; she was dishonored and humiliated.[8] However, verses 28-29 do not necessarily indicate she was raped. Had the author of Deuteronomy, Moses, (and the Holy Spirit who inspired him)[9] intended to depict this as a sexual assault, it seems unlikely that he would have chosen tāpas instead of ḥāzaq – the verb used just before it. Given the lexical differences between ḥāzaq and tāpas, and how closely they appear in these two consecutive laws, it seems more likely that these two distinct verbs are meant to convey two distinct scenarios. Further, tāpas does not appear in either of biblical stories describing sexual assault that were written after the Law.[10] When later biblical authors depicted a rape, they used the ḥāzaq (which appeared vv. 25-27) rather than tāpas. We can reasonably conclude that the biblical narrators (and again, the Holy Spirit) knew the difference in meaning between ḥāzaq and tāpas within the context of sexual violence, and they used these verbs with their meanings in mind.[11]" (

          "In Numbers 1:2 a census is taken of the men. Women do not count."

           "That women, children, and the elderly were not included in the census its purpose as a military tool in preparation for the conquest of the promised land." (Women's Evangelical Commentary: Old Testament, p. 239)

           "Leviticus 12:2, 5 explain how a woman is unclean longer after giving birth to a girl. Here we get very a clear statement that women are worth less - and exactly how much less (Leviticus 27:3-7)."

           The Law is talking about ritual impurity, not moral impurity or women being inferior to men. As for the latter passage, the valuation is not conditioned on women being less made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26-27). That factor in of itself gives human life objective value. The estimation is based on the effectiveness of productive effort. In the Ancient Near East, men were responsible for more and were potentially able to do more vocationally and militarily. 


  1. Very interesting post Jesse. Those skeptics usually try to equate the "slavery" in the bible with the kind experince here in america a couple hundred years ago. There really is no comparison.

  2. Another way to prove that the bible wasnt saying a girl was to marry her rapist is to also check 2 sam 13 and judge 20 as well as deut 22. We can tell that force/forced meant rape by the context but the passage about marrying the "rapist" didnt use force. You are right Jesse