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God's Laws on Sexual Sins--Part 3

Mar 12, 2009

I recall from my high school class that two couples "had to get married" before graduation, because the girls were pregnant. They were partially following God's law--the penalty for seduction--probably without realizing it. Exodus 22:16, 17 says,

" (16) And if a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged, and lies with her, he must pay a dowry for her to be his wife. (17) If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money equal to the dowry for virgins."

The normal procedure for extra-marital relations is that the man must marry her if the woman's father (or guardian) demands it. The woman's father is given authority in this situation to determine if his daughter must marry the man who seduced her. Marriage is NOT mandatory, however. The father ought to talk to both of them to determine the best course of action, rather than act out of anger.

The Dowry

If he decides that they should get married, then the man should give the normal dowry to the woman's father. The dowry was the seal of true marriage, and without it a woman was considered a concubine or a slave-bride. The underlying purpose of the dowry was to be like a trust fund in case her husband were to die or if he divorced her. The dowry was held in trust by her father, and presumably, he would invest it wisely, so that the longer she were married, and the more children she had, the greater would be the trust fund. This was the biblical Social Security fund, and in case of divorce it would serve as her alimony and child support.

The advantage of this, of course, is that she received it before marriage, so the funds were guaranteed. In our modern system alimony or child support depend upon the ex-husband's ability and willingness to provide. The biblical system protects a woman and her children.

For this reason, Jacob was to pay a dowry to Laban when he wanted to marry Rachel. Isaac had sent Jacob to Padan-aram to find a wife (Gen. 28:2), and there is little doubt that Isaac sent a sizable dowry with him for this purpose. Yet we find that when Jacob arrived, he was penniless and had to work seven years as a dowry to Laban for each wife. The book of Jasher tells us that Esau sent his son Eliphaz to kill Jacob along the way, but that Jacob convinced him to take the money and leave him alive. The story shows that Jacob was to give a dowry to Laban.

In most other cultures, however, the woman's father must give a dowry to her husband-to-be. This is a reversal of the biblical principle and is often the cause of many problems. Not only is the woman unprotected from divorce (or her husband's demise), but husbands have later used blackmail to extract more money from his wife's family. If he does not receive more money, the wife often has an "accident."

The amount of a dowry was negotiable, but in case of penalty for rape, the dowry amount was set legally at 50 shekels of silver (Deut. 22:29). This appears to be the legal amount for a dowry that is applicable in various situations. In cases of court-mandated marriage, it was necessary to establish a legal dowry amount in case the two parties could not agree.

This figure also shows up in Lev. 27:2, 3, where, if a man made a vow giving himself to God, he was redeemable for 50 shekels of silver, for that was his legal value. In marriage, a man and a woman are bound in marriage by vows, and so a man was to give 50 shekels of silver as a pledge in case he divorced her, breaking that original vow.

So in conclusion, biblical law states that if a man and a woman have sexual relations outside of marriage, the penalty is for the man to pay a dowry. In addition, the woman's father has the right to decide if the two should marry.


If a man rapes a woman who is married or engaged (by dowry), the rapist is to be put to death. Deut. 22:25, 26. says,

" (25) But if in the field the man finds the girl who is engaged, and the man forces her and lies with her; then only the man who lies with her shall die. (26) But you shall do nothing to the girl; there is no sin in the girl worthy of death, for just as a man rises against his neighbor and murders him, so is this case."

Capital crimes are based on the fact that restitution is not possible to enforce in an earthly court. One cannot restore two lives in case of premeditated murder. Neither can a man restore the virginity of the girl that he has raped. Because of the inadequacy of the earthly court and the weakness of the law to right the situation, the case is essentially appealed to a Higher Court and judged at the Great White Throne.

In Deut. 22:28, 29 we read,

" (28) If a man finds a girl who is a virgin who is not engaged, and seizes her and lies with her and they are discovered, (29) then the man who lay with her shall give to the girl's father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall become his wife because he has violated her; he cannot divorce her all his days."

This is a case of rape, rather than consensual relations, but the two have similar penalties. For this reason, this law should be seen in the context of Exodus 22:16, 17 (quoted earlier). Just as Deut. 22 defines the dowry as 50 shekels of silver--a detail left out of Exodus 22--so also does Deut. 22 leave out the detail that the father of the woman has the right to decide if the man must marry his daughter or not.

If the father decides that the offender must marry his daughter, "he cannot divorce her all his days." That is, he does not have the right of divorce. He must provide for her basic needs for the rest of his life. Those basic needs are specified in another context in Exodus 21:10, as "her food, her clothing, or her conjugal rights."

Of course, the man might be unrepentant and may make life miserable for her. In such a case, she might leave him and return to her father's house, but he would have to maintain her support. And like all cases of biblical law, any refusal to comply with the sentence of the law is treated as contempt of court, rebellion, and treason against God Himself. Such cases call for the death penalty (Deut. 17:9-12), so it is not likely that anyone would refuse to comply. Further, if such a complaint were to be filed, the offender would be given ample opportunity to comply with the court decision. Only in extreme cases would the death penalty actually be applied.


In a case of adultery, where a married woman is seduced by a man, both are guilty of a capital crime. Deut. 22:22 says, "If a man is found lying with a married woman, then both of them shall die." The passage leaves unanswered the question of a married man lying with an unmarried woman, because polygamy was allowed in those days. Thus, in such a case, the man would have to pay the price of a dowry to the woman's father, and her father would decide if he should marry her or not.

Because so many laws are related, we cannot understand any particular law without knowing all the laws that form its context. It may be surprising to many to discover that a divorced man or woman is allowed to remarry without being considered an adulterer. The Church has totally misunderstood Jesus' words, due to a key mistranslation, giving the impression that Jesus put away the law written in Deut. 24:1-4. We will explain more on this next time.

This is the third part of a series titled "God's Laws on Sexual Sins." To view all parts, click the link below.

God's Laws on Sexual Sins

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Category: God's Law

Dr. Stephen Jones

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