Deuteronomy, rape, sexual violence and a deeper approach to application

In the last article we had a close look at Deuteronomy 22 but any preacher reading should have been screaming “You’ve only one part of the job.” You see, in the first article we didn’t touch too heavily on application. And yet this is so important. I have been strongly critical of a more liberal approach to Scripture that discourages the deep interaction with the text that it wants to claim. However, my own conservative evangelical constituency can miss out too if we simply look at these texts as apologetic problems and when we see them think purely in terms of “How am I going to explain that one.”

In the same way that we have seen how the Doctrine of the Trinity is not so much a difficult concept to explain and defend as it is wonderful good news about the God who is eternal love, so we should see these challenging verses and passages as rich in application – the heavy lifting is worth it.

But first, there’s still a little exegetical lifting to do

  1. Patriarchalism and fatherhood

Ian Paul of Psephizo gave one small piece of feedback about the first article which was that it didn’t engage with the cultural context of a patriarchal society. Such a society would work with different assumptions to a modern liberal, western society.

This is a good point to raise.  The challenge of course is having the time and space to cover everything in one blog post. Additionally, there’s a lot of scholarly literature on this area which I don’t have access to from my study in Smethwick. Talking about patriarchalism would mean discussing the imperfect nature of societies that create hierarchies based on gender and suppress women and girls to the status of servants at best and property at worst.  That was probably the prevalent danger in Moses’ day.

This reminds us that conservative evangelicals do believe in progressive revelation, that God in Scripture did not reveal everything at once and that Scripture whilst having timeless application was written into specific historical, social and cultural contexts.

However, I think it is worth making two further points here. The first is that whilst I’ve just said that a particular view of society, women and girls was a prevalent danger in Moses’ day and whilst there is a strong emphasis on equality in our contemporary legal codes, political and academic culture, the reality, whether or not we want to admit it is that most of us live in at least an informal culture where women and girls are treated as objects still.  If you don’t believe me, just have a glance at the twitter feed from some of our tabloid newspapers. More than that, this remains the reality globally and has been the challenge throughout history.[1]  So the culture of the Bible might not be that far away from the culture of 21st Century Britain.  This means that the whole of Scripture read together will challenge and speak to our culture just as much as it spoke to ancient Israelite culture.[2]

Secondly (and this is where I wish I had a bit more access to more Biblical studies material), some authors have challenged our assumption that the Biblical world culture is simply patriarchal.  It is very clearly what they have termed “patrio-centric” so that it is the father who is wronged and the father who has the rights and responsibilities with regards to deciding about marriage.  However, that may be different to our classic understanding of patriarchy.  So for example before we talk about people being treated as property and/or slaves remember that the household servants and the strangers in your midst were to be treated as under God’s Law including doing things like sharing in the observance of and blessings of the Sabbath.

Now, this obviously requires more detailed consideration but at least for now, it has got our attention and that’s important for application.

We apply the Old Testament through Christ and here’s the first thing I want to say. The New Testament reveals Jesus as the Son and because we know The Son, it means we can know God as Father. I want to suggest that if we see a patrio-centric society in the Old Testament then our response should not be to scrub that out and replace it with something more individualistic.  Rather, I need to ask “Are we centred on the right father?” You see, there Is a father who takes responsibility for his family a father who has rights and sin is an attack on those rights.  We cannot talk pastorally about the damage of sexual sin without both challenging the culprit about the seriousness of their offence against the Father and encouraging the victim to find love, comfort and care in the one who is a true and perfect Father.

  1. The Church is the bride of Christ

We will also want to think about how we as the church are Christ’s bride. One thing to remember here is that the Bible talks about sexual immorality and adultery not just because it is a sin itself but because of how it points to the sin of spiritual unfaithfulness. Idolatry is spiritual adultery.  Which means that those who seek to seduce the church away or to attack and despise it or to break that precious bond between God and his people through his word have a serious charge to answer before God.

This also takes us to the seriousness of sexual sin in and of itself.  It is certainly a horrendous attack on the individual, as I said in the previous article, the issues of consent, force and shame do matter.  However, it isn’t just that.  The sexual predator’s sin against the whole body. When one member suffers harm we all suffer harm.  #Metoo and #Churchtoo means that we are all diminished, we all carry shame.

Sexual sin says that I believe that I can take someone who belongs to The Father and to Christ, who is precious to them, who is made in God’s image and treat them as my property.  Sexual sin is rooted in a low view of who God is as well as a low view of humanity.

A Couple of pastoral implications

  1. Churches that tell a victim that they must just forgive and then stay silent on these matters miss the full seriousness of sin. Church discipline matters.
  2. Sexual violence and harassment should never be down played as “boys will be boys”, “something getting out of hand” or “just a bit of fun.” It is serious because it is a sin against an individual, against the body of Christ and against God the Father himself.
  3. We cannot ignore pornography or the struggle with lust that many of us will admit to on the basis that these are “victimless sins.” Apart from the question of harm and exploitation of porn actors and the kind of culture that lust creates, these are still sins against God.

[1] We may also want to think about this challenge in terms of race and class too.

[2] Progressive Revelation differs from a Redemptive Movement Hermeneutic. The latter assumes that there is a progressive trajectory beyond Scripture which means we now have further light from outside scripture enabling us to pick and choose which passages were limited to their own time culture and which are applicable now. Progressive Revelation says that I need to apply the whole Revelation to my situation now to understand God’s will on the matter.

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