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Sat May 18, 2013
by Hugh Whelchel
What Does the Bible Say About Sexual Assault?
Far from being a peripheral issue in the Bible, sexual assault is:
- clearly depicted as a sin against the victim and God
- mentioned frequently throughout the Bible
- referred to as a symbol of how badly sin has corrupted God’s good creation
- understood as a severe distortion of God’s plan for sex
Sexual assault is sin against people
It is clear in the Bible that sexual assault is a sin against another person involving a physical, psychological, and emotionally violation. Marie Fortune describes sexual assault four different ways:
- It is a bodily sin. Sexual assault is a violation of bodily boundaries and distorts one’s sense of body image.
- It is a sin against relationship, violating the command to love one’s neighbor as oneself.
- It is a sin betraying trust and destroying relationships between victims and those who should have cared for them but instead caused them harm. The consequence of this sin is that it can create barriers of distrust between victims in their future relationships.
- It is a sin not only against the victims but the community surrounding that victim.
Sexual assault is a sin against God
Sexual assault is a sin against God because the blessing of sexuality is used to destroy instead of build intimacy and because it is an attack against his image in his image-bearers. The ability of sexual assault to obscure internal and external relationships makes it a cosmic affront to the Creator and the order of his creation (Genesis 6:1-3). Sexual assault is a sin against God because it violates his most sacred creation—human beings made in his image.
Biblical evidence against sexual assault
There are explicit passages calling sexual assault sin—a violation of God’s law. Deuteronomy 22:25-29 addresses non-consensual sexual acts and show concern for the welfare of the violated woman. The perpetrator is put to death by stoning, and it is stressed in the text the woman is innocent of any wrongdoing and no harm should come to her.
The victim’s experience of assault is not ignored by God, minimized by the Bible, or outside of the scope of healing and hope found in redemption.
There are also depictions of sexual acts that the Bible characterizes as sexual assault resulting in emotional trauma. Passages such as 2 Samuel 13, Hosea 2:1-13, Jeremiah 13:20-27, and Ezekiel 16 and 23 demonstrate an understanding that such acts of sexual assault result not only in emotional trauma for the victim, but also in humiliation and a debilitating loss of sense of self. These passages depict sexual assault as deeply traumatizing and resulting in devastating emotional and psychological consequences for the victim.
Sexual assault is a symbol of sin
Sexual assault is a common and disturbing symbol of sin in the Bible. It is a complete distortion of relationship, a mockery of the original intent of being made for relationships with God and others. References to sexual violence is a way that God, through the biblical authors, communicates that sin and depravity have progressed so far that sex, an expression of union, peace, and love, is now used as a tool for violence.
God's intent for sex
God intended humankind to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28), spreading divine image-bearers throughout his good world. This multiplying of offspring and exercising of dominion was to happen through the God-ordained sexual union between husband and wife (Genesis 2:24-25).
God meant for sexual feelings, thoughts, and activity to be pleasurable and intimacy-building in marriage. In the Bible, sexual intimacy is also a reflection of unity and peace between man and woman. It is a picture of two becoming one.
Sexual assault is a distortion
But sin inverts mutual love and harmony into domination of and violence against each other. Sex, the very expression of human union and peace, becomes a weapon of power and control against others after the Fall. Sexual assault is uniquely devastating precisely because it distorts the foundational realities of what it means to be human: sexual expression is perverted and used for violence, intra-personal trust is shattered, and disgrace and shame are heaped on the victim. Sexual assault creates in the victim’s mind a tragic and perverse linkage between sex, intimacy, and shame.
God has the last word
By calling sexual assault sin, we know God is against it. He is also active in healing the effects victims experience.
The victim’s experience of assault is not ignored by God, minimized by the Bible, or outside of the scope of healing and hope found in redemption. God’s response to evil and violence is redemption, renewal, and re-creation. God’s response to the victim is to impart grace and brings peace.
Justin and Lindsey Holcomb are the authors of Rid of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault.