Did David rape Bathsheba?

“If reasonable arguments can be made exegetically then perhaps we ought not to anathematize people who believe differently than we do on issues such as this. Perhaps someone can believe that David and Bathsheba committed adultery and still support the #metoo and #churchtoo moments.” - Dave Miller


If you believe the rhetoric coming from #MeToo advocates, this sexual encounter between David and Bathsheba could never be a consensual relationship because of the power dynamics involved. In fact, David’s marriage to her afterwards was probably nothing more than forced sexual slavery.

What a silly, anachronistic question. Do people really not have better things to do?

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

One thing to note for starters is that the Twitter debate, in which I did not participate but which I did read a bit, did not get ugly because one side was anathematizing the other. It got ugly because participants, including Jayson York, accused Mrs. Denhollander of inserting her emotions and experience into the text. Sort of a semi-polite way of accusing her of thinking with her ovaries. Moreover, given the nature of what really happened between David and Bathsheba, I actually think that she probably understates the case about what David did.

(blame my testicles, of course?)

How does it go? Well, the argument that it was rape does not merely depend on the near-certainty that Bathsheba could not say no without risking her life and that of her family, but also hangs on Nathan and Bathsheba’s responses to the situation.

(and let’s start by noting that Bathsheba knows that she can’t refuse David without imperiling the lives of her husband, children, and possibly other family members….it’s not as simple as “well I can die and not sin” here)

If it were adultery, for starters, Nathan owes Bathsheba a rebuke, too. None is found in Scripture; Nathan appears to regard Bathsheba as a rape victim. Moreover, the first recorded communication with Bathsheba after the initial incident is over a month later, when she knows she is pregnant. She has missed her period and starts experiencing morning sickness—usually 5-6 weeks into pregnancy. She may have access to the palace to talk to her uncle Ahitophel, and presumably to inquire about the progress of the war, but stays at home. It’s not the behavior of the lovelorn, to put it mildly.

So I would argue that this is rape even beyond the modern definition of “had no other reasonable choice”; it’s a simple case where if she had, per Moses, “cried out”, the judge was the one who wanted her.

A side note is that one might wonder whether this sort of situation is exactly why God prohibited kings from collecting wives in Deut. 17:17, and why God told men who might want to have multiple wives that they couldn’t diminish the food, clothing, or….loving to any other wife when they took a new one. Suffice it to say that I remember some squabbles among Jacob’s wives over that one, no? Something about mandrakes, if I remember right.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

One wonders whether a king could marry anyone once he is declared king given the power dynamics involved. I guess women are incapable of making informed, self-directed decisions when they interact with men unless they share equal authority and power with men.


What a silly, anachronistic question. Do people really not have better things to do?


I appreciate your sentiment, but this did not start in the twitterverse. It started with Rachel Denhollander pushing this hard at the ERLC Care summit. She then doubled down on a facebook (or twitter) post of a person talking about sin the Bible.

So, it isn’t “the twitterverse” doing this. It is the #metoo camp pushing this.

[T Howard]

One wonders whether a king could marry anyone once he is declared king given the power dynamics involved. I guess women are incapable of making informed, self-directed decisions when they interact with men unless they share equal authority and power with men.

Historically, royalty married royalty for this very reason—it gave the girl some protection because her father was perfectly capable of waging war against her boyfriend/husband if he misbehaved. Many/most of Solomon’s wives were in this category. If both participants are royalty, the power differential mostly disappears. You’ll see a lot of the same dynamics in wealthy families preferring or insisting that their children court and marry from their own social class—no sense squandering family wealth on a gold-digger, after all.

And along the same lines, process the Torah’s restraint on polygamy (Exodus 21:10) and kings (Deut. 17:17) in this light. If a gold-digger came for a date with the king or prince, they should have come to a palace that didn’t have much gold. Yes, we’re talking about you, Solomon. Moreover, the king should have had difficulty feeding a harem, and even if he could (ignoring the “gold” part of Deut. 17:17) feed and clothe them, he was still constrained to give them adequate affection (difficult for David with at least 7 wives plus Saul’s harem, impossible for Solomon), and was prohibited from maintaining a harem like other kings.

So even apart from the question of whether David raped Bathsheba (again, clear and convincing evidence he did IMO), and even apart from the prohibition of adultery, you’ve got a number of Torah prohibitions that ought to have persuaded David to say “gotta do my best to win that war and get Uriah back so he can enjoy that beautiful wife of his!”, prohibitions that will tend to reduce the likelihood of women being taken advantage of.

Finally, one more reason to suggest it was rape; what did Ahitophel, Bathsheba’s uncle grandfather, do when he had a chance to cross David when Absalom rebelled? He took steps with Absalom that, had Absalom listened, would have gotten David killed. You didn’t cross a king like that unless you had a very good reason—like your niece granddaughter got raped by the man. When his advice wasn’t taken, he want home and took his life—he knew David would know exactly what he was about. Many of these things are not said explicitly, but if you understand Middle Eastern culture, you’ve got a very strong likelihood that you know what really happened.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

CT has an article on it, with some good links. I believe the question is not trivial, but I don’t believe it’s answerable with a high level of certainty. So, with the writer of the blog post above, I would say people should settle down about it.

Still, some perspective worthy of thought…

Why It’s Easier to Accept David as a Murderer than a Rapist

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

I think the article that SI linked to is actually a very good recap and discussion of the entire debate. As the writer noted, it kicked off when Rachael Denhollander replied to Matt Smedhurst and escalated from there. I was one of the people that asked for textual evidence to support the position that Bathsheba was raped or at least given “an offer she couldn’t refuse”, as I have seen this theory but never heard support for it. Given some of the articles and grammatical study, I think that one can make the case that it was rape fairly conclusively. The journal article by Davidson is a great place to start studying for those so inclined. I’ve read Abasili as well and continue to research the text.

That being said, I want to circle back to something TylerR said. It absolutely does matter, I think, how you interpret this text. It’s important that we exegete the Word properly. It’s important that this kind of abuse of power by David is clearly called out. It’s important that women know that (at a very minimum) the King of Israel forced a woman into a situation where she had no real options, whether or not she wanted to commit adultery or not, as many women face that kind of dynamic at work, in stores, and yes, even in churches and “christian” ministries, as we have seen repeatedly in the news lately.

But for me, the most depressing realizations of all of this are the following:

  1. There is a lot of casual misogyny thrown at women like Rachael simply because she is a woman or she raised this topic. Others claim that that she can’t clearly able to think or exegete because of her experiences. These kinds of things so easily bandied about on Twitter should have been met with a slap in the face or a punch from her husband. But because they’re said online, under a veneer of anonymity, they are liked and retweeted as “standing on or for truth” regardless of whether or not they followed Eph. 4:29 or Eph. 5:3-5. It is disgusting and reprehensible. I was embarrassed for those, some of whom are fairly high profile, that seemingly decided to exempt themselves from Christian orthopraxy simply for cheap shots.
  2. The vitriol directed at Rachael within the SBC and even some quarters of Baptist fundamentalism is utterly out of control, and what I used to think of as biblical complementarianism seems to be morphing into something far more ugly and misogynistic. I remember and believe/support John Piper’s definition of Biblical Masculinity (see page 29) from the mid to late 90’s, when I was first exposed to it. Some of what is coming out of Baptist quarters lately, however, is a far cry from that, and I would join with others in expressing my concern not in complementarianism per se, but in what the doctrine of the Eternal Subordination of the Son and especially “biblical patriarchy” is doing to both the men who are buying into it and also the women and children they will be responsible for. I’m also increasingly concerned that certain ideas or concepts are elevated to levels of importance that they simply shouldn’t have (cf. 2 Timothy 2:22-24).
  3. As the article that Aaron linked to noted, we are all certainly uncomfortable dealing with the fact that David abused his power to perpetuate a sexual encounter with another woman, one who was married to one of his thirty Mighty Men, the son of one of his Thirty Mighty Men, and the granddaughter of his advisor. In most of the journal articles and defenses of the adultery position, all of them freely admit that David used his power and authority to exploit Bathsheba. So why, then, is it so difficult to swing over from ‘abuse of power by sexual intercourse’ to ‘rape’? One of the more ridiculous arguments I’ve seen is that because David isn’t recorded as physically overpowering her and forcibly entering her body over protests (as described in Deut. 22), then we can’t really call it “rape” (I’ve been tempted to mock this position by calling it “rape-rape” after Whoopi Goldberg’s infamous speech). No, it just proves that David “carried on an affair” despite no textual support that Bathsheba was looking for sex with the king and, as the CT article notes, no recorded blame of her within the Scripture itself. Even in 1 Kings 15:5, David is described as “For David had done what was right in the eyes of the Lord and had not failed to keep any of the Lord’s commands all the days of his life—except in the case of Uriah the Hittite.” Is that really the type of pastoral counsel that we should be giving? Sorry, what happened to you isn’t “biblical rape”?
  4. If a woman who were trapped and forced into sex with someone like Matt Lauer, Harvey Weinstein, or Kevin Spacey came to you and admitted that they were coerced into having sex with them in exchange for whatever reason, we could (and should) define it as rape. So why is it so hard to say that when the exact same dynamics occured in David’s home that it couldn’t possibly have been that? As one journal author noted - “If a woman is crying out for help in the King’s own bedchamber, who is going to go in it to stop him?”

All of this to say, yes, it does matter, and we need to be especially careful that we are driven by solid exegesis and fact instead of ideas, theories, or deeply-cherished but possibly inaccurate ideas.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

At least some of the vitriol is because when someone like Denhollander makes a statement about David that implies that if we don’t agree with her take on it (i.e David absolutely raped her), that we are misogynistic. We can’t ask questions or do exegesis. We must accept. Any vitriol she gets for that is well-deserved, IMNSHO.

This quote from the article at the top of this thread pretty much covers it:

“A debate has raged on Twitter in recent days that strains credulity – not that the topic is being debated but the force with which it is being argued. The question is whether David’s sin with Bathsheba was adultery or did it constitute rape. Did David rape Bathsheba? That is a valid discussion, but as is often the case, social media has turned it into a free-for-all. If you do not share my opinion on the topic your biblical bona fides are called into question. If you believe that David raped, you are putting your emotion ahead of biblical exegesis and don’t really love God’s word. If you don’t believe that Bathsheba was raped, you are an opponent of the protection of women and are supporting abusers.”

Either side described there deserves the criticism that comes their way, and that included Denhollander. Her experiences are important, but they don’t give her the authority to not be questioned or criticized.

Dave Barnhart

Dave, if that were true, yes. But it’s not. Here’s Jacob Denhollander’s (Rachael’s husband’s) response:


To quote: It’s not misogyny to disagree on the interpretation of Scripture. It is evidence of misogyny when you immediately react to a woman’s interpretation of Scripture by assuming she is emotional, reading her experience into the text, & pushing a political agenda.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

[Bert Perry]

Dave, if that were true, yes. But it’s not.

Here’s her exact statement: “David raped. It is important that we get that right.” She even takes the kindergarten teacher, 1st-person plural voice “we” that teachers use to talk down to students in an instructional tone that’s meant to brook no disagreement. Her opinion, like those of others, is subject to criticism, and if the opinion can’t stand up to criticism, then its worth is self-evident.

It’s easy for her husband to claim that disagreement with her is not misogynistic, but her tone leaves no question that disagreement is agreement with abusers. I’m sorry, but we don’t need to be lectured to by her or anyone else with her experiences, and when that tone is used, those using it should expect some pushback. I don’t care whether she was emotional or not, and the motivation for her comment has no bearing on my disagreement with its attempt to claim “right because I say it is.”

(And, though I shouldn’t have to say it, I also disagree with those who claim she’s wrong because she’s emotional, etc. That argument is just as stupid.)

Dave Barnhart

My thoughts:

  1. OC law sees rape as being done by physical force.
  2. Our modern understanding of rape, from secular law, is more broad and could, in some way, cover implicit coercion.
  3. To apply these more nuanced understandings to an OC context is anachronistic
  4. David was not rebuked for his sexual sin with the woman. He was rebuked for murder.

Let’s not put something in the text that isn’t there.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

let’s parse out what she actually said in that first comment. Anything on misogyny? Nope. It merely says that it’s important that we get what happened right.

Like I said, the allegations of misogyny follow well behind. It’s important we get this right. Moreover, when you basically say she deserved it because of being unduly emphatic or in a “kindergarten teacher voice”, what are you saying there? Think about it a moment. Note as well that when you follow the thread, she does—unlike most of her detractors—actually offer arguments for that position. Most of the detractors simply shout “eisegesis”, falsely allege a liberal agenda, and yes, assert that she’s speaking from her emotions and experience.

Now we can quibble over whether it’s overt misogyny or just extremely poor handling of a debate by people who (if their Twitter handles/bios are indicative) ought to know better, but let’s not pretend that she “deserved it”. If she does, everybody on this forum deserves the same kind of blanket party for doing the exact same kind of thing.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

[Bert Perry]

…everybody on this forum deserves the same kind of blanket party for doing the exact same kind of thing.

I’ll agree with this much — if I use poor argumentation or insult people with the tone I use in my arguments, I deserve to be called on it, and I would expect some degree of vitriol.

Dave Barnhart