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What the Bible Says About Rape

Christians of many stripes are scrambling to distance themselves and their religion from Republican comments about rape. But a literal interpretation of the Bible is quite disturbing.

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God’s purpose for women in the Bible is childbearing. Martin Luther, who brought us the concept of “ sola scritura” meaning Christianity based solely on the authority of the Bible, had this to say: “Women should remain at home, sit still, keep house and bear and bring up children. If a woman grows weary and, at last, dies from childbearing, it matters not. Let her die from bearing; she is there to do it."  He drew his scripturally informed opinion from the biblical record broadly but most specifically from the words of Paul’s letter to Timothy: “Women will be saved through childbearing--if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety” (1 Tm. 2:15).

Virtually all Bible books, like almost all Hollywood movies fail to pass the  Bechdel Test (Are there two named female characters who talk with each other about anything other than men?). In the Bible, as in Hollywood, women exist largely as props in plotlines about male protagonists. Biblical plotlines are even more homogenous than Hollywood, however, in that the vast preponderance of females exist simply for the purpose of producing male offspring. It all starts with Eve, who, after she defies Yahweh and eats from the Tree of Knowledge, is punished thus:“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (Gen. 3:16). After Eve’s curse, we encounter Abraham’s wife Sarah and the slave girl Hagar who Sarah sends to “lie with” her husband when she herself cannot conceive. Then come the pathetic deflowered daughters of Lot who  get him drunk and have sex with him so they can fulfill their purpose. Then come the archetypal bitch sisters Rachel and Leah who  compete over Jacob’s bed and pump out the twelve tribes of Israel with the help of a few mandrake roots. The New Testament leads with the story of Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist who is barren in her old age until an angel promises her the best thing that can happen to a woman. Her unborn son leaps in her womb when the pregnant Mary comes into her house, prompting one of the most repeated songs of joy in the whole Bible, the Magnificat ( Luke 1:40-55). And then, of course, there is the Virgin Mary herself. They are made to do it. It is as God intended.

In the Bible, children are counted as assets belonging to men. Children, like women, in the Bible are treated primarily according to a property ethic. In the Old Testament stories of Jepthah’s daughter and the sacrifice of Isaac, scholars glimpse a  residual of child sacrifice in the early Hebrew religion. This in turn leads to the New Testament notion of God giving his only begotten son as a sacrifice—all of which make sense only when we think of children as property which a father can dispose of as he pleases.  When Yahweh is pleased with men he multiplies their flocks and their offspring. When he is displeased, he may  kill their firstborn sons, as he does to the Egyptians in the Moses story. When Yahweh and Satan agree to play out their cosmic competition in the life of Job, Satan tests Job’s loyalty to Yahweh by taking away is riches including his livestock, children and wives, and Yahweh later  replaces them with new ones.

There is no sense, ever, in the Bible, that a woman might prefer a choice about having a child; that wise parents might think about when is best to bring another child into their family or how many children they can nurture; or even less that bringing a child into the world should be an matter of thoughtful and mutual decision making. The only Bible story in which someone declines to produce a child is the one about Onan refusing to father a son for his deceased brother. He spills his seed on the ground instead, and God kills him for it. Whether the widow wanted the seed inside her plays no part in the account whatsoever.

 
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