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Moses’ Misogynic Law?

August 19, 2011

Question

When my friends tell me the Bible is misogynistic, they’re not talking about Genesis or New Testament stuff, but stuff in the Old Testament where God wanted women stoned if they were raped, or have them married to their rapist. Women are unclean and segregated because they’re on their period? This is the sort of thing that shows Christianity to be misogynistic moreso than other stuff, I think.

General Answer

We must keep in mind what Moses’ law was intended for. It was not intended to make Israel into God’s perfect, ideal nation. It was intended to keep them from sliding into the ways of the pagans around them. It was not an elevating force, it did not make them better…it was a check. Like Paul says in 1 Tim 1:9-10, the law is not made for righteous people, but for those without rules and the disobedient.  The law makes nothing perfect, only Christ can. Heb 7:19

I always thought these verses meant that it was impossible to KEEP the law, but if you could somehow achieve that, then you’d be perfect. But that is not what it means. Moses’ law was NOT perfect. We know this because Jesus amended it. He made it stricter in parts and more lenient in others. Jesus also said that unless a person’s righteousness is better than the Pharisees, who prided themselves on keeping the law, he could not enter heaven. (Mat 5:20) Moses’ law is not the full will of God.

So what is it? Katharine Bushnell describes it like this:

Let us show the province of legislation by the aid of a homely illustration: A heavily loaded cart is being dragged, laboriously, by a man, up a hill. That cart will represent human progress. The man pulling, will represent moral and religious instruction, including such means of grace as God has put forth for our help, such as conversion, etc. Only one step is gained at a time, and there are many pauses, in other words, the progress of the human race has interruptions. Now human legislation, as aid to human progress, may be compared to a stone, which is being used by a boy (the body of legislators), as a brake, so that when the pull ceases the cart will not run backward down hill again. At each pause in front, the boy pushes his stone close up against the wheel behind, and so he greatly helps the man in front.

 It requires some skill on the part of the boy, in order to give the utmost help to the man in front. So the genius of the statesman consists, largely, in his gift of divining public moral opinion,  in other words, in knowing the precise moment when, and the precise point at which, to apply legislation. The stone will do no good if placed too far behind the cart; in fact, it will do some mischief, for when the cart pauses, its action will be reversed for the want of a stay, and the cart will run backwards, and perhaps gain such momentum as to over-ride the stone entirely, and plunge to destruction. This is the sort of mischief which results from lax laws. Good laws may not make men good; but bad laws certainly demoralize men. A legislative enactment is “good,” not necessarily because it is ideal,  it may be far from ideal but when it precisely meets the need of a brake, and prevents a nation from backsliding. And that law keeps “good” only as it keeps pace with the progress of the nation. (Katharine Bushnell, God’s Word to Women. para 567-570)

Moses’ law was written for the Israelites immediately after they spent a few centuries in slavery. Consider what kind of people they were. Uneducated? Dependent? Childlike? Irresponsible? And the women usually fared worse than the men in slavery.  Like children, they required many rules to keep them from killing themselves, and each other. “These commandments indicate the lowest level, not the highest, for the foundation of character.” (Katharine Bushnell. God’s Word to Women. par 580) Also note the world they lived in. Most historians I’ve read agree that Moses’ law was more humane to women than even Hammurabi’s which makes little provision for justice regarding women as either the victim or the perpetrator.

All that to say… Moses’ law is not God’s law for all people, for all time. It is hard to look down the hill from where we’ve progressed (farther along in kingdom) and judge it fairly. The fact that we’ve come a long way from it is precisely what God intended. Christians, compared to the Israelites, are like adults… with the Spirit of God to guide us. His TRUE law is written on our hearts. Christ came to fulfill the law… He showed us what God’s law truly was. Jesus altered and course-corrected Moses’ law.

So, it may be possible to look at Moses’ Law and conclude it was unfair to women. But, that law was not God’s eternal ideal. It served to stop the Israelites from sliding into even worse behavior that was normal for that day and age.

Specific Answer

Specifically about rape and menstural cycles, I think a thorough reading will show the law is fair.

  • Sure, women were unclean while on their periods, but men were also unclean if they had any discharge…semen, blocked bowels, blood (STDs). (Lev 15) The first part of the chapter covers men, the second half the women. The law is fair. The law also takes the health of the woman into account by regulating marital relations in this way.
  • The repercussions of harming a woman is the same for harming a man. Eye for eye. Tooth for tooth. (Ex 21:20-27) *Notice the husband serves as witness before the court for the harm inflicted to his wife and child. This is not a case of fined reimbursement for destroyed property as in verses 30- 36.*
  • Maligned wives are protected under Moses’ law. If her husband lies about her, she is to live with her parents yet remained married and not disgraced. Her husband provides for her still. (Remember virginity was important  because lineage was figured through the man’s line, and the only way to insure a child had a certain father was to guarantee the faithfulness of the wife or the virginity of the bride. See my post on female lineage to understand this concept better.) These laws erased illegitimacy. (Deut 22:13-21)
  • In cases of rape where consent is questioned, the law is again fair. If a woman screams or fights back or there is no one near to hear her, the man is charged. If there is no sign of struggle or its obvious they both agreed, both of them are punished. (Deut. 22:22-27)
  • In cases of rape where a virgin maiden is involved, marriage is required. Why? A “spoiled” woman was a drain on her father’s income because she had no way to provide income as an umarried woman, and it was hard to find a husband for a non-virgin. So the rapist is required to provide shelter and provision for the woman he stole. He is never allowed to divorce her. Remember, this was a hand-to-mouth society. A woman not under protection of a man, has no way to support herself. Happiness is not a factor compared to staying alive. The law provides a just solution for a horrible crime that destroys her chances of marriage, shelter, children and even food. The law was written to protect the virgins by preventing rape , not to harm them by requiring them to marry their rapist. (Deut 22:28-30)

Here are some other ways Moses’ law elevates the plight of Israelite women.

  • God gave women their father’s inheritance and allowed them to earn their own income. Number 27
  • Single or widowed ladies could marry who they wanted within their own tribe (probably due to economic reasons). Number 36:6 and 1 Cor 7:39
  • Maidens gave their consent to marriage patterned after Rebekah’s choice in Genesis 24:57-58.
  • You shall not commit adultery is another way to reinforce God’s ideas about marriage: one flesh/unity. (Exodus 20, Genesis 2) In ancient times, this protected the wife since a roving husband was a danger to her well being. It also protected children from illegitimacy and being a societal outcast.

Yes, this ancient law was primitive. It could have done more to lift the position of women. But compared to the laws of the land of the time, Moses’ law revealed that God cared for justice for women and children as well as the men.

One Comment leave one →
  1. August 19, 2011 10:24 am

    More on that Deut 22:28-30 part:
    The common translation of that verse is not to contain the word rape. The Hebrew use a word, tabas/taphas, first used in Gen 4 for what Jubal did with musical instruments. In may mean to handle skillfully, as in seduce.

    And compare Deut 22:28-30 to Exodus 22:16-17: Exo 22:16 And if a man entice a maid that is not betrothed, and lie with her, he shall surely endow her to be his wife.
    Exo 22:17 If her father utterly refuse to give her unto him, he shall pay money according to the dowry of virgins.

    Her father (and probably she himself) could refuse the marriage, but he will pay her the money . She’ll need it, for reasons you mentioned.

    This may interest you too: http://www.mandm.org.nz/2009/07/sunday-study-does-the-bible-teach-that-a-rape-victim-has-to-marry-her-rapist.html

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