Kyle Worley planted and serves as one of the pastors at Mosaic Church in Richardson, Texas. Alongside Jen Wilkin and JT English, he serves as one of the hosts of the Knowing Faith podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @kyleworley.
As a kid growing up in the church, I certainly heard a lot about Jesus. But just short of the Savior, I heard countless stories about King David: stories of bravery, courage, power, trust, risk, battle, war, triumph, and conquest.
Christians have always recognized David’s brokenness to an extent, particularly his pursuit of Bathsheba, which has typically been considered (and decried as) adultery. Lately, there has been quite the debate over what exactly happened between David and Bathsheba, and whether it should be characterized as rape.
This is not a new conversation, which is always important to remember in our age of hot takes. Denny Burk, Boyce College professor and president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, points to a journal article by Alexander Abasili that addressed this question in detail in 2011, years before the scrutiny of the #MeToo movement.
Not all interest in this issue is a result of current cultural pressure or capitulation; there is a legitimate, significant question over how we understand David in this story.
I agree with Abasili’s analysis that the story doesn’t include the details that seem to be specific to instances of a Hebrew understanding of rape—namely, the use of direct physical force and the victim crying out in anguish for help. And yet, the story of David and Bathsheba appears to many modern readers, including me, to meet contemporary definitions of rape.
So how should we think of it? Did David indeed rape Bathsheba? And why does it matter that we, as Christians, get this right today?
Jesus Expands the Law
While Abasili establishes that the David and Bathsheba story does not meet the criteria of rape detailed in biblical law, Old Testament professor David Lamb previously wrote for CT describing a basic argument that David was guilty of “power rape rather than adultery” since Bathsheba had no choice.
But the question is not just a matter of whether we go by the Old Testament laws or our own modern ones. Scripture itself points us to a deeper look at the heart behind David’s behavior.
In the New Testament, Jesus Christ doesn’t diminish the impact of the law, he expands and intensifies it: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:28).
According to a basic reading of Old Testament law, looking upon a woman with lustful intent doesn’t meet the criteria of adultery. But, when we read the command against adultery through the lens of Christ’s instructions on the law, we find that looking upon someone who is not one’s spouse with lustful intent is, and has always been, adultery.
Jesus moves the focus from the details of the law to the intent and motivation of the heart. And Jesus doesn’t just do this with adultery. He does it every time he discusses the law.
If we approached the Old Testament law on rape the same way that Jesus addresses various aspects of the law, we would have to look beyond the explicit details enumerated in the law code and ask: What is happening in David’s heart and mind when it comes to Bathsheba?
Thinking of the question this way, the defense that David’s actions don’t meet the criteria for rape weakens considerably, and in fact, misses the point.
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Source: Christianity Today