Did David Rape Bathsheba? Plus Why the Answer Matters

by | Mar 15, 2023 | Theology of Marriage and Sex | 78 comments

David raped Bathsheba.
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For the last week, social media has been debating whether David raped Bathsheba. 

It erupted anew when Owen Strachan, a staunch patriarchalist, called out abuse advocate and lawyer Rachael Denhollander, saying that she was wrong to say that the David/Bathsheba story was one of rape. 

Owen Strachan believes David didn't rape Bathsheba

This was part of Owen Strachan’s larger attack on Rachael Denhollander last week, warning people not to listen to her (likely because she had just written a very striking and specific thread addressing the abusive teachings of John MacArthur).

I had some huge threads in that larger discussion, and so I’d like to run a post today that encapsulates all the different arguments in one place, and then sum up why this debate matters.

I actually wrote this originally four years ago when this came up (it seems to surface big on Twitter every year or so), and I’d like to run it again.

So let’s go over some of the elements of the narrative in the David and Bathsheba story, found in 2 Samuel 11-12, that suggest the encounter was rape.

1. David was not where he was supposed to be.

The framing of this story, before anything else unfolds, was that David was not where he was supposed to be:

In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem.

2 Samuel 11:1

The story opens with David in the wrong.

2. Bathsheba was performing ritual bathing after her purification from menstruation.

In verse 4, the text says that “she was purifying herself from her monthly uncleanness.” This tells us a few things: she wasn’t pregnant already; and she was a devout follower of the law. The story opens with David in the wrong–and Bathsheba being a faithful believer.

Also, many have said that she should not have been bathing there; that she was deliberately enticing David. However, many scholars argue that bathing in one’s courtyard was normal. It would have been private–except from the palace. David’s palace was on a hilltop, where he could overlook the city. She was going about her normal business, in her own home. He was snooping.

3. He sent for her and “took” her

David sent messengers for her. And you can’t say no to a king!

Those arguing against that used arguments like, “the Bible said it’s only rape if you cry out!” But the Law also said that women weren’t required to call out when there is no one who can rescue you. In this case, no one could rescue Bathsheba. She is in the palace with all of the king’s servants. She has no choice.

Nevertheless, some were arguing that she should have said no, even if it meant her death, because a righteous woman would have resisted to the death. 

That argument is repulsive. The men who are saying it are admitting they would rather their wives and daughters be dead than raped. That is vile. 

It also allows them to claim that if she isn’t dead, then it couldn’t really have been rape. It ignores the fact that the choice is not usually between death and rape (she can be incapacitated). It ignores the normal trauma responses. And if women are supposed to fight to the death, then it gives perfect strangers the power of life and death over women, entirely at these strangers’ whims. 

I wrote a longer post about this recently: How some pastors would rather women be dead than raped. 

And to say that rape has to be violent to count as rape? Please stop that. Please. Rape can even happen in marriage.

4. After everything, Bathsheba went back to her home, and she wailed and mourned for Uriah.

Bathsheba immediately returned to her own home; she did not stay in the palace. And after Uriah was killed, she mourned for him (verse 26), and the verb there denotes excessive wailing. Her allegiance was always with Uriah.

5. Bathsheba was compared to an innocent lamb.

When the prophet Nathan confronts David about what he did, he compares Bathsheba to a little ewe lamb (2 Samuel 12:3). In that allegory, David took the ewe lamb; it did not go to him willingly or wander off with him. In Jewish custom, a ewe lamb represents innocence.

6. Her male relatives, who were loyal men of God, turned against David during the civil war.

Bathsheba was the daughter of Eliam who was the son of Ahithophel the Gilonite (2 Samuel 11:3 and 2 Samuel 23:4). Ahithophel, Bathsheba’s grandfather, was painted as a man of God: “In those days the advice Ahithophel gave was like that of one who inquires of God” (2 Samuel 16:23). Yet Ahithophel turned against David when his son Absalom rebelled. Why would someone with so much wisdom and insight turn against God’s anointed king? Perhaps it’s because Ahithophel was outraged at the way David had treated Bathsheba. Would he have been so outraged if he thought what David and Bathsheba did was consensual?

I can list a number of other suggestions from the text that it was rape, but I don’t want this to get too lengthy or too scholarly when others have done it better. If you want more information, I highly recommend this article:

Did King David Rape Bathsheba? from Richard M. Davidson.

Why Does Interpreting the David and Bathsheba Story as Rape Matter?

Many people were eager to say to me on Twitter something to the effect of, “We know David was a sinner; we know that he repented and he was restored. That’s what really matters. Why be so divisive?”

I’d like to answer that, because that’s really the point of this post. So here, then, are two reasons why our interpretation of this story matters.

If we can’t recognize power-rape here, we’re unlikely to see it when it’s right in front of us.

Here’s actually my second biggest tweet of all time:

When people don’t recognize that a person in power coercing someone into sex, while that person has no way to say no, is rape, then what will those people think when a 16-year-old girl says that her youth pastor sexually assaulted her, but the youth pastor says it was consensual?

Understanding the power dynamics involved in sexual assault are really important, because it’s playing out right in front of us, right now. When we don’t understand how men in power can use that power to compel women to have sex (rape), then we won’t see it when it happens in our churches and communities as well. That’s why Rachael Denhollander is so passionate about this, and I support her in that.

We need to stop saying things like “the youth pastor had an affair with a student” or “the teacher slept with her student” or “the football coach had sex with the players.” We need to stop saying, “the pastor resigned because of an inappropriate relationship.”

It’s not an “inappropriate relationship”, it’s not “having sex”, it’s not “having an affair”, it’s not “sleeping with” when there is power involved.

When someone cannot say no, then they also cannot say yes. That means consent is not possible. That means it is rape. And in many/most jurisdictions in North America today, a pastor cannot have consensual sexual relations with a parishioner (just like a counselor or doctor can’t).

If we can’t see the David situation as rape, though, there’s no way we’ll ever recognize rape from a pastor or someone else in authority or power.

2. When we think rape has to be done by violent force, we won’t recognize rape.

So many on Twitter were conceding three things:

  • Bathsheba was innocent
  • David was guilty
  • David sent for her, and she couldn’t say no to a king.

At the same time, they were claiming it wasn’t rape.

I couldn’t understand this. If they agree that she was innocent (that God didn’t hold her guilty for the adultery), then the only possible interpretation is that she was raped! But they wouldn’t concede that.

Then I finally figured out what the issue is. Too many people can’t see it as rape unless physical force is involved. 

They do not understand coercion, power dynamics, the trauma freeze or fawn response, or what consent really looks like. They think the only “real” rape is if she is being held down.

I wonder if there is a reason that so many men especially seem unwilling to call non-consensual sex rape? Could it be that this would hit too close to home–that if you realized that you don’t have to physically force someone to have sex with you for it to be rape, that this has larger repercussions for their past relationships, and even their marriages? 

Many are also claiming that if it was rape, then God would have said so explicitly. 

I see two problems with this.

1. In the Old Testament, rape is usually inferred by circumstances, not described by a word.

In fact, there isn’t a Hebrew word for “rape” as we would see it. Here’s a great Twitter thread that expands on this.

2. It’s likely the ancients wouldn’t have seen it as rape. 

In Bible times, rape wasn’t even a crime against a woman; it was a crime against her husband or her father. The rapist was expected to marry the victim (as David actually did with Bathsheba). But even if the ancients would not have understood it as rape, that doesn’t change the fact that it was coecive, and Bathsheba didn’t consent.

Power-rape is actually quite common in Scripture, even if not explicitly named. For instance, the Bible does not talk about Hagar as a rape victim, but I believe she was. She had no choice when Sarah handed her to Abraham, and she was treated very badly.

And you know what? God saw and took care of her. And she was given the honour of being the first person recorded to give God a name–El Roi, “The God who sees me.” (Genesis 16:13).

God does see sexual assault victims. He does care. And even if culture at the time didn’t call something wrong, or our culture now doesn’t call something wrong, God still saw then–and He still sees today.

Sexual assault is deeply traumatic and deeply evil.

Saying that David sexually assaulted Bathsheba does not change how we see David; we know that he was a terrible sinner, but that he repented and he was restored. But we also see in the Bible that God took the sexual assault seriously. And God does not condone the sexual violence that appears in the Bible. Rather, I think it’s there to show us that He does indeed notice it. It is not just backdrop to Him; it is an essential part of the story which He one day wants to fully redeem.

I have never seen the David/Bathsheba argument blow up so much on social media. 

It has been debated before, but never like this. I hope that the tide has turned, and that people are now recognizing the dynamics of sexual assault, and how this has always been the backdrop of our history. 


David raped Bathsheba, and that matters

What were you taught about David and Bathsheba? What do you think today? Let’s talk in the comments!

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. Nessie

    I’m no biblical or academic scholar- these are just some ponderings of mine.

    One argument I saw on twitter was- wives of soldiers were issued a divorce certificate when their husbands left for war in case their bodies could not be found to prove the marriage was over (which displays an intention to take care of widows.) They equate having that “ability” with it being her “desire” to divorce from Uriah (I find it interesting that these men assume a spouse would desire to “trade up” at the first opportunity.)

    Another connotation of a little ewe lamb is as a sacrifice. Sure seems to me David was willing to sacrifice the purity of her marriage bed for his lust. “Little” implies the weaker party, too.

    If the law said that men had to marry the women they raped, then it shows there was a level of caretaking involved in the law- that a woman would be provided for. Women mattered then. Women matter today- at least in God/Jesus’ eyes.

    There isn’t a word for “rape” in Hebrew… this was a culture that also would not speak the name for God meaning, “I AM” as it was too powerful. Words meant something. That there wasn’t a word for rape might suggest it was too heinous to think that a Hebrew man could do such a terrible thing.

    • Nessie

      Crimes of passion happen (still wrong) but David had time to rethink his actions (implying premeditation)… he could have changed his mind while the servants were headed out to take Bathsheba or while they were on the way back. And why did these men obey the king to take this young woman, *possibly* knowing David’s intention? Because they had to because of the power dynamic. Yet they argue SHE was at fault for not refusing/fighting him off when all these men had failed to protect her. (*I don’t want to assume the servants knew why, but it is possible at least someone suspected yet said/did nothing but OBEY.)

      By calling this rape, and knowing David was forgiven after repenting, it shows more of God’s mercifulness, not less. Rom. 5:20 ” But where sin increased, grace increased all the more,” Why is it so terrible to acknowledge the fullness of David’s sins and thus subsequential forgiveness as a greater gift from God?

      I look forward to reading Mr. Davidson’s article.

      • Christina Braes

        “By calling this rape, and knowing David was forgiven after repenting, it shows more of God’s mercifulness, not less. Rom. 5:20 ” But where sin increased, grace increased all the more,” Why is it so terrible to acknowledge the fullness of David’s sins and thus subsequential forgiveness as a greater gift from God?”

        This right here. Wow. So well said. And 100% is some of the words I was looking for regarding the sermon in my church this week. Thank you. Yes!!

        • Laurie Edinger

          In the late 90s/early 2000s, I worked in a juvenile Sex Offender Tx Program for 5yrs. I am a certified juvenile sex offender counselor. We would periodically teach “The 4 Cs” in group therapy. Coercion, Compliance, Cooperation, Consent. We would require the boys to identify which of the 3 sexual offense tactics they used on their victims. If a victim is coerced, or she complies/ cooperates by his persuasion -the sexual abuser is absolutely still guilty of being abusive. Sadly, most of these teenage boys could not explain more than a few examples of what CONSENT looks like. We need to teach more about consent (also, partnering explorations should only be with consenting age appropriate, emotional maturity and life experienced equals…. respecting boundaries should not be lost in the name of teenage or adult sexual drive)

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            That’s fascinating. That must have been such a difficult job though.

          • Bonnie

            Laurie,Thanks for bringing these 4 C’s to our attention. Should be incorporated into all teaching on this subject. Including education in the church

      • Lizzie C

        I’m curious how Mr Strachan brings in the term “Marxist power dynamics”. I’m not a scholar on Marx, but I definitely know the term “Marxist” is thrown at people who aren’t Marxist, but are rather challenging a narrative (usually a rigid, fundamentalist one). It’s like you can call anyone you disagree with a Marxist, and that makes them scarier and more bad than anything they’re trying to discuss, you know?

        Anyway, I absolutely agree with you on this post, and I’m glad that there are people who are challenging the narrative that Bathsheba was just as guilty.

        • Codec

          You are right. As I pointed out in an earlier comment David is in no way trying to invite the proletariat to violent revolution.

          People like to throw out words.

          • Lizzie C

            I read your earlier comment (after posting mine), and I really appreciated it!

            I’m probably not a Marxist, but it really annoys me when people use terms like that incorrectly! It’s inaccurate, and it feels like it’s trying to oversimplify a concept when we should actually be trying to understand its complexities. (Oversimplify it AND turn it into something it’s not!)

        • Lisa Johns

          He brings that in because Marxism is based on calling out power differentials between groups of people. (Their response to it is bad, but anyway.) So it has become very fashionable to label people who advocate for those with less power “marxists.” Therefore people who advocate for the poor are Marxist, people who advocate for those of color are Marxist, and people who call out rapists are marxists. It’s a despicable straw man argument designed to devalue the protection of people who confront those in power with their complacent selfishness.

          • GodsPeach

            You hit the nail on the head!

  2. Jane Eyre

    It isn’t Marxist to point out that if one person cannot refuse consent, they cannot consent. There is a reason why the military has rules against sleeping with subordinates. Statutory rape is illegal, precisely because we understand that sometimes, saying yes isn’t consent. There is a reason those statutory rape laws have exceptions when all parties are underage.

    • Codec

      Marxist? Where is David advocating for a violent revolution of the proletariat? I understand that the lenses of power dynamics were used by the Frankfurt school, but they are also used by just about everyone else.

      What David did was use his power to force a woman to have sex with him and then he tried to cover it up through premeditated murder which mind you killed far more people than just Uriah. So yeah rape and several counts of homicide.

      What I find amazing is that Solomon was born at all. Bathsheba knows her husband is dead, sees her child die, sees the king get publicly rebuked and then mourn, and sees an outbreak of civil war. Yet somehow Solomon is still born and becomes king.

      • Hope

        I truly get your amazement about how was Solomon even born after all this and then make it to king. I’ve offered the same thing!! So, I feel like God has this gift of redemption He gave to sweet Bathsheba. As you read later, she advocated for the promise made to her that her son Solomon be made king. I feel like she figured after all she’s been through, he better get the throne! God did truly see her and He elevated her! The Queen mother! Honor for ashes. Her strength, integrity and dignity AMAZE me.
        Satan has really used our culture of an unbiblical derived patriarchy to really throw the Bible and what is actually showing out of whack!!!

        • Hope

          *pondered* (not offered)

    • Andrea

      Jesus criticized hierarchies of power waaaay before Marx came around! Seriously. If anything, Marx learned from Jesus. Seriously, again. As an educated 19th-cen. German guy, Marx would have been familiar with the Bible. He might have thought that religion was the opiate of the masses, but he certainly drank some of it himself, the good parts it seems. And ask any survivor of a megachurch, like anyone who goes on the Bodies Behind the Bus podcast, who cannot believe they drank the KoolAid/opiate, and especially if you consider the insane wealth of these megachurches… people, Marx was on to something, which is why the Driscolls, Chandlers, Hawthornes, etc. who are making millions of dollars from their religion while excusing slavery and propagating marital rape, use Marxism as a slur. They know what they’re doing and they were really really good at selling the opiate. Their victims are waking up, though, en masse, the masses are waking up, and this makes them nervous. But it also gives the rest of us a glimmer of hope.

  3. Nathan

    Bathsheba was raped. The whole thing about it having to be physically violent, and the woman has to call out and fight back is all a smokescreen. Unless both parties consent, it’s rape. Also, children cannot give consent. An unconscious person cannot give consent. Somebody under the influence of drugs or alcohol cannot consent.

    And the whole belief of “I would prefer to have my wife and daughters be dead rather than survive a rape” is so horribly sick that I don’t have words to analyze it.

  4. Angharad

    I have heard so many preachers over the years talk about how Bathsheba was ‘flaunting’ herself and how poor, innocent King David was led astray by this evil woman. Putting aside the fact that if he’d been where he was meant to be (at battle) instead of lazing around at home, he wouldn’t have been there to see her in the first place, why is there not ONE instance of Bathsheba being spoken of harshly in the Bible. Every reference is either neutral or comparing her to an innocent and helpless victim. Sorry preachers, but if the Bible doesn’t condemn her, you’ve got no business condemning her either!

    As to why male preachers are so reluctant to acknowledge it was rape, I think it’s deep-rooted in the desire to blame women for men’s sexual sin. Pointing out that Bathsheba was an innocent victim strikes at the very heart of one of their most treasured beliefs – that all sexual sin is the fault of women, and men therefore get a free pass for being ‘tempted’. The same preachers who jump up and down yelling that Bathsheba wasn’t raped are the same ones who are excusing sexual assault and unfaithfulness on the part of men because ‘if that woman hadn’t…’

    • Amy

      Wow – everything you’ve said sums this up so well! I agree!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire


    • Sarah

      This makes me think, how many other women in scripture had not one word spoken against them, even though they were raped or otherwise put in impossible situations involving a man’s neglect or unfaithfulness in sexual relations? Rachel and Leah fought for Jacob’s attentions, they used their servant women to get heirs (like Sarah did with Hagar). Jacobs daughter Dinah was raped and a whole town paid for it. Or like when Sarah was taken and enslaved by an Egyptian pharaoh because her husband had the bright idea to say she was only his sister. Or when Tamar played the harlot to call out Judah for neglecting her in her widowhood. He even said she was more righteous for her actions! When does the Bible call out women who were being sexually assaulted or neglected by men in power over them? Where does it say they are “partly to blame?”

      • Sha

        As a kid, my mom was the driving force exposing my sister and me to religion. It seemed then like church was boring and not fun or interesting.
        As a teenager, the stories didn’t seem to be positive or uplifting. I wasn’t very religious anyway but I abandoned even trying because I felt like the Bible, and God, viewed women in a negative and expendable way. It appeared blatantly obvious to me that God held men in a higher regard than women based on the fact (in my mind then) that God “allowed” things to happen to women and did not protect them. Every story or situation involving women seemed to indicate that simply mentioning them at all, let alone their safety, was an afterthought. Stories like David and Bathsheba helped me stay away from church for decades and believe God didn’t like women as much as men.
        Now, I’m a little more opened-minded but I still struggle with my interpretation of those stories even reading the Bible on my own and for myself. Men sinned by murdering and were punished but women sinned by “allowing” themselves to be raped and were punished. Both situations are horrible. Both take lives. One is more acceptable than the other though.

  5. Jen

    Some men in the Church want all of the power but then require women to share the responsibility. Women are allowed little to no power but are held equally or more so accountable for men’s choices. We see it over and over again , and the Bathsheba/adulteress interpretation is just another example. His addiction/affair? Her fault for not having enough sex. His anger issues? Her fault for not being submissive enough. His lust? Her fault for being too beautiful. His emotional neglect? Her fault for being too needy. It goes on and on.

    There is a definite link between power and sin. So many sins are committed because we have power or because we want to have power. It’s not surprising then that the Bible spends so much time giving examples of men’s sins. Women had no power. Of course women sin too, but I’ve seen men push to label women as culpable in biblical stories and I think those men are maybe struggling against owning the temptations of the very power they so long to wield.

    Why is it that men commit more crimes than women? Is it because they are more inherently sinful? No. The Bible says we have all fallen short. Perhaps it’s because men have historically had more power/entitlement and therefore more opportunities. And as we come closer to equality in society it’s natural that the self defense knee-jerk takes place. I understand the cry of ,”BUT WOMEN SIN TOO!”, and I think that outcry is somewhat behind the Bathsheba debate. The history of the patriarchy is a terrible burden for modern men to bear and make sense of.

    But let’s also not forget that it’s a really, really, really big deal when someone with power behaves correctly. Enter Jesus.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I actually think this is very true–that men tend to commit more crimes because they feel more entitled, and they have more power. And when you have power, it can be taken away or you have to jockey for power, so the impetus is also there.

      I do think that if women had had all the power historically, we would also be doing that. I don’t think it’s anything inherent in being male.

  6. Nathan

    > > that all sexual sin is the fault of women, and men therefore get a free pass for being ‘tempted’.

    while sexual sin is the fault of the person sinning, temptation (or sexual desire itself) isn’t really a sin. On the other hand, David went out of his way to see her, and THAT was wrong, at least.

    Please note, though, I don’t hold Bathsheba responsible for any of this, and she WAS raped, and it’s all on David for what he did.

    • Angharad

      Sorry, I wasn’t clear enough in my phrasing. The same guys who blame women for tempting men to sin are usually the ones who portray men as unable to resist sexual temptation – ‘all men lust’, ‘you’re made to respond this way’ etc, etc, etc. So in their world, ‘women tempting men’ = ‘men helpless to resist sinning’. You are, of course, quite right that there is nothing sinful about being tempted in and of itself – the sin is in giving in to the temptation.

      • Nathan

        Gotcha, and agreed.

  7. Andrea

    I think that the reason the David/Bathsheba argument blew up on social media with more fervor than ever before is because we JUST dealt with the rape apologetics of Josh Butler’s book (currently trending as #1 in Christian Ethics, but maybe that’s just the bad publicity and there will be even more negative reviews than of Gary Thomas’ recent book). Butler’s writing on the hospitable vagina propagates non-violent rape and this is what it has in common with the David/Bathsheba situation. Same with the power differential, if husband is Christ who penetrates his wife/Church. Don’t even get me started on how messed up this gets when you consider that the writer and his cohort are Reformed, which means they do not believe in free will, which means the Church/wife does not get to say no. JUST like Bathsheba. No violence involved, which is why the Strachans etc. won’t call it rape, as Sheila explained, and yes I totally believe they are doing that to their wives.

    A while ago, probably a few years, I responded on here to a blog about Aunt Matilda and I’d like to rehash that as I remember it. Tim LaHaye wrote that in the 1970s, which is when marital rape began to be discussed for the first time. This scared the s**t out of him. He did not label what happened to aunt Matilda “rape” directly, but he did describe Matilda herself telling her niece that marriage was nothing but marital rape. This was LaHaye’s way of saying that it’s only rape if it’s violent. But if your husband goes through aaaallllll the foreplay shenanigans he outlines in his book, you better offer him a hospitable vagina to penetrate. And if it hurts, you don’t say anything (just like Tim Keller’s wife) and you decide that pleasure is not the primary purpose of sex, and you would probably still claim that your husband did enough foreplay if you ever took one of Sheila’s surveys.

    • Andrea

      Sheila, this may be too much fan-girling, but The Great Sex Rescue has caused SUCH a stir, I was already convinced that Gary Thomas’ book was meant to be an answer to it (that’s why he smartly co-wrote it with a woman, to give him credibility, he probably got the idea when he read and refused to endorse your book) and now I’m wondering if Josh Butler’s book is the same. These people cannot be unaware of how badly it went for Gary Thomas, so I really don’t know what they were thinking, except perhaps that if they spiritualized it (more holy places, less make-up brushes) they could get away with it. THEY HAVE NOT.

      • Viva

        (at risk of spiritualizing)

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        I was actually very much wondering that as well! I don’t think they like the fact that the best-selling sex books are written by a woman who doesn’t believe in power-over marriage.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, I think that’s definitely what happened. I think Owen Strachan decided to raise it again because he was trying to get at Rachael, and it’s been seen that women have had too many “wins” lately in social media about marriage/sex, so he tried to beat her down.

      But we’re seeing it and we’re not standing for it anymore, and it went even bigger than usual.

      • Sarah

        I think the comp/patriarchal world is panicking and speaking and acting irrationally because up until recently they were actually able to force women to be silent, but social media has roundly removed such influence over women and they don’t know how to save themselves anymore. But sadly, they have no “thus saith the Lord” for this one, so they’re outta luck.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          I think that’s definitely true.

  8. Cynthia

    There are passages that assume a woman would not be in a position to refuse in some circumstances.

    With the story of Jacob’s daughter Dina, we are told that Dina was taken by the King of Shechem. Her brothers Simon and Levi didn’t want her to marry the prince, so they came up with a plot to tell everyone to get circumcised and then slaughtered them while they were in pain. It’s a gory story with some ambiguity – their father is furious at the brothers, but they defend their actions as necessary to save their sister. The implication is that it would literally take killing everyone to rescue a woman who was taken by a ruler, because everyone around would be defending that ruler.

    Similarly, the town vs. field distinction with the “she cried out, but there was no one to save her” passage isn’t really about geography. It’s about whether a refusal could have been made and respected. Without a realistic ability to say no, she is not considered morally responsible for the encounter.

    I also agree with you that this isn’t really about an ancient Biblical passage, which would go back about 3,000 years, but about how people today understand that there can be coercion without violence leaving visible marks.

  9. Wild Honey

    Regarding the “it has to be physically violent for it to be rape” idea:

    The Bible leaves out a lot of details that those of us used to 24-hour news cycles and hand-held recording devices in everyone’s hands would probably wish were there in Scripture.

    The Bible may not explicitly say that the encounter was physically violent. But it also does not say that it was NOT. It is a reasonable assumption that David was physically much stronger than Bathsheba. For those who think she was a willing participant, it is just as likely that David asked the armed guards who escorted her to stay and hold her down. The Bible doesn’t explicitly say one way or the other.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, I was thinking that too.

  10. Angela

    I agree with you completely, but rape is just an English word also, and to these people it means only violent rape. Which is why we already have modifiers like date-rape and statutory rape. Maybe instead of arguing over a word we should just coin a new term for power rape and work toward making it considered just as immoral. We are talking about the same evangelicals and fundamentalists who go to the mat over terminology all the time.

    Owen apparently thinks Nathan the Prophet is a Marxist since he emphasizes the power differential between no only Bathsheba and David, but also Uriah and David.

    • Mara R



      These are scare words that these guys use in their propaganda to influence people.
      In order to control the narrative in Christian circles, they employ fascist strategies to vilify those who don’t agree with them, just like Hitler did to the Jews.
      In order to lead a culture war, you have to have enemies. Unfortunately these Reformers have to change the world through propaganda modeled after the greatest fascist regime of all.

      I guess the Reformer’s gospel isn’t strong enough by itself to change the world without making threats and using scare words to vilify people.

      • Codec

        “Marxist” “Feminist” “Fascist” “Nazi” These words are all very charged and in my opinion they are thrown out far too easily.

        • Mara R


          I probably threw out fascist too easily.
          Sometimes I do it to make a point. If you name call using terms like “Marxist” don’t get all offended when I counter with “fascist”. Don’t expect to blast with both barrels and then get all offended when people respond in kind.

          But seriously, this sort of name-calling, vilification, scare tactics are far too common. And they are used to manipulate the masses and mobilize their pawns to actions that benefit those in power to keep themselves in power.

          And I, for one, am tired of it.

          • Codec

            I agree the name calling is ridiculous.

            The meme of ” Everyone I disagree with is Hitler” is supposed to help us see where we fall short it is supposed to be ironic not a truth statement.

          • Mara R

            I would like to see that meme:
            “Everyone I disagree with is Hitler”

            I would also like to see a meme made:
            “Everyone I disagree with is a Marxist”

            And I would like to see someone apply that to Strachan in order to make that point.

            Calling Bathsheba’s encounter with David rape does not a Marxist make.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s an interesting idea!

      • Hope

        Another line added to your book “Warning” labels
        Love it!

  11. Laura

    As a survivor of marital rape, the act is not always violent. Also, it can be dangerous to fight back. I would be asleep when he started assaulting me sexually and the one time I pushed him away, he angrily stormed off. I was afraid that the next time I pushed him away, he might hurt me.

    It was probably that way with Bathsheba who I’m sure was awake throughout the whole unpleasant experience.

  12. Boone

    I’m seeing a parallel to Harvey Weinstein here.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, most definitely!

  13. Jo R

    Perhaps the theobros defend one another for their sexual abuses because David kept his throne. 🤔

  14. JoB

    I agree 100% that we need to change our attitude, language and response to situations where there is a power difference and the more powerful person or institution uses that power for selfish purposes.

    Some of the discomfort (generally speaking, not defending people who think that youth pastors have “affairs” with students) comes from applying 21st century definitions of consent to events that happened in 1000 BC. We can say, by today’s standards, Abraham & Sarah committed rape (of Hagar), Jacob, Leah and Rachel did, too (of their 2 handmaidens/concubines). If having the ability to say “no” is the prerequisite for sex not being rape, David and Solomon were serial rapists – who says “no” to the king’s marriage proposal/concubinage, or to a summons to the royal bedchamber?

    The concept of consent has evolved rapidly in my lifetime- for the better! In 1998, everyone was talking about an “affair” between a star-struck 24 yr old White House intern and the most powerful man in the world, who was old enough to be her father. Only in the last few years have I read some commentary re-evaluating that interpretation of the scandal.

    I always imagined David/Bathsheba as being more similar to Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky. David was extraordinarily handsome, a gifted warrior, athlete, musician and poet, not to mention the most famous and powerful man in the land. I don’t see him needing to summon his guards to physically restrain Bathsheba. Which isn’t to say it wasn’t rape- just that we still need a lot of education about the role of power dynamics.

    • JoB

      A couple other things I have pondered: I don’t think I’ve ever heard teaching that contrasted David’s and Uriah’s measures of sexual self control. David tried to cover up his crime by sending Uriah on a brief leave where he could “lie with his wife”, but Uriah refused (even though it had definitively been more than 72 hours!), out of a sense of solidarity with his men and devotion to his mission. Funny how that is never emphasized… the more righteous man was the one who knew when it was appropriate to abstain from sex, even when he was totally “entitled” to it as a “hard working soldier.”

      Another thing that has always bothered me about this story is, we can debate rape vs consensual adultery, but it’s clear that David was as guilty of Uriah’s death as if he had inflicted the fatal blow himself. Yet, even though guilty of murder, David did not lose his life, or even his position. His child died instead, which was also Bathsheba’s first and only child, we assume. We know David was affected by that loss, but wouldn’t it have been even more devastating to Bathsheba? I must say I have always been bothered by the administration of justice in that situation.

      • Nessie

        For anyone arguing that it wasn’t a power rape, my husband pointed out Bathsheba didn’t have the option to disobey and not come to him, the proof later being that Uriah “disobeyed” king David by not going to “lie with” his wife and was covertly killed for his disobedience.

        If Bathsheba refused to “go” to the king, might he not have killed or punished her, or (still) killed or punished her husband? In that case, these same critics would be blaming her for NOT being obedient to the king. Almost always a “darned if you do, darned if you don’t” in the case of women to them folks.

        And I figure if the king, who knew my husband and dad personally and whom they trusted, called me to his palace, I would go willingly thinking that he had news about my husband or something similar. I likely never would have guessed it was to be forced into intercourse.

  15. Amy

    I had to write Owen Strachan off after the first time I’d ever even heard of him, as I watched a series of discussions he participated in with a progressive Christian where he ultimately stated that there are people who God and Jesus do not love.

    Here’s the link: https://bit.ly/3yHzcLH

    Please listen for yourself. Starting at minute 28:29, he says: “To be very clear, he (Jesus) has come to save a people for himself. Absolutely. And he loves that people. But then, there are others that he does not, he does not love.”

    If he has the basic belief that God (who IS love) does not love some people, then it’s no surprise that he takes the stance he has taken.

    And for the record: It was rape!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, Amy, I can’t believe he said that! How did these people even purport to be Christians?

    • Amy

      When a person doesn’t believe that God loves all people, all of the other non-loving things they say make total sense.

      If God doesn’t love all people, then why would He ask us to?

      And if God doesn’t love all people, then what would it matter if it was consensual, adultery, rape or…well, without love, it makes no matter what one calls it.

    • Shoshana

      Amy-Owen Strachan is what is know as a new Calvinist. They believe in predestination where God only saves people known as the elect. The “elect” are predestined to be saved from the beginning while someone not “elect” will be damned no matter if they come to Jesus or not. I’m sure Strachan believes he is the elect. I can’t stand this guy.

  16. S B

    I think part of the difficulty that people have with labeling what David did to Bathsheba as “rape” is the idea that rape (like abuse) is only done by “monsters over there” rather than by everyday men (and sometimes women) who feel entitled to other people’s bodies and lack empathy for the person themself. It makes me think of this NY Times article where someone interviewed rapists, and when asked if they had “penetrated against [the victim’s] consent,” they had said “yes.” But when asked if they had committed “something like rape,” those same men said “no.”

    Here’s the article if anyone’s interested: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/30/health/men-rape-sexual-assault.html

    • Amy

      So good and well-said!

    • Lisa Johns

      It reminds me of counselors interviewing domestic abusers: the ones who are very covert and constantly work to put their partners down claim they aren’t “abusers” because they’re not shouting and cussing; the ones who are shouting and cussing aren’t “abusers” because they’re not shoving or slapping; the ones who are shoving or slapped aren’t “abusers” because they’re not leaving bruises or broken bones; and the ones leaving bruises and broken bones aren’t “abusers” because, well, “she asked for it.” It’s tone deaf, to say the least. And ridiculous.

      • Hope

        Nailed it!

  17. SteveA

    She was on her roof. He was at the palace. How far away was that? I’m guessing it was not close. Would she have had an expectation of privacy (from distance alone)? There were no telescopes before 1600.

    Had he watched her bathe before? Did he regularly ogle the women on the roofs around the palace? Another word for Peeping Tom, er, David, is pervert.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      She wasn’t actually on the roof. HE was on the roof. She was likely in the center of her house where the bath would have been, and he was looking down on her.

  18. Chloe Marie

    I wrote down my quick thought about this subject before I read your article, Sheila. And I appreciate your perspective and other commenters’ too.

    Here was my thought: “So, Owen Strachan (et al.) are assuming that all women WANT to have sex with a king (or president or someone in a leadership position or someone in power).”

    (now just shaking my head….)

    • Lisa Johns

      If so it’s obviously because God made us to be attracted to power and might and we really can’t help ourselves. Those guys really need to work on covering up their strength so we aren’t made to stumble.

      • Meredith

        Love it!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, I think that’s such an important point! These high ups in theological seminaries and pastors assume that all women WANT to have sex with powerful men. My goodness. Let that realization sink in for a moment.

  19. Rachel

    I’m surprised no one else has mentioned this. Well, maybe it was mentioned on social media, but I didn’t follow that. I think a major reason why people don’t believe David raped Bathsheba is that they don’t want to believe it. David was a man after God’s own heart! He defeated Goliath when everyone else was too scared to try! He’s a favourite Bible ‘character’ and the hero of so many stories! He wrote dozens of psalms!

    I think Christians idolise him a bit, and they don’t like to think that he could have been a rapist–and a murderer. I remember the first time I heard someone say he was a rapist. I had an almost visceral reaction (denial), quickly followed by grief because I realised it was true. A lot of us have very simplistic, children’s Bible story images of these heroes of the faith when, in reality, they were complex, deeply flawed, real, live human beings–just like us. And yes, many of them did horrible things. The point of the story is not humanity’s goodness, but God’s love.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, I think this is a big part of it! I just find it interesting that people can admit he’s a murderer, but not a rapist.

  20. M S

    How I experience this story is a bit complicated.
    Based on the evidence in the text and historically, I believe that David raped Bathsheba. But I don’t want to. Why? Because I am also a survivor of rape. And if David is “a man after God’s own heart”… if he can be fully restored and honored in the way that the Bible describes… then I hate that. I hate how God responds to rape, according to this story. Sure, David was “punished”, but part of that “punishment” involved killing David and Bathsheba’s baby!? And then he goes out to battle and God allows him victory, and for the enemy’s crown to be placed on his head? Honestly, it sounds more like Bathsheba was punished just as much as David was!

    So yeah, I don’t want to believe that David raped Bathsheba. Mainly because I don’t like what it says about God. How do we reconcile that?

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I understand that. Yep. What I would say is that God called him that early in his life, not later in his life. And there is some talk that the Hebrew is more referring to God than it is to David; like it could be translated “a man that God’s heart chose”, as opposed to a comment on the state of David’s heart. Does that make sense?

      • JoB

        What about the question of the baby being the one who died? That seems like more of a punishment of Bathsheba than David- she was the one who had been recently widowed, was grieving for Uriah, was post partum, and only had one child. David had many wives and many children at that time.

        Do you think that when David had sex with Bathsheba again , and they conceived Solomon, was that also rape? Arguably she would have even less consent, because now as his “lawful” wife/property, she was obligated to have sex on demand with the man who had raped her.

        And the Bible doesn’t say that David followed God when he was young and then went astray when he was older. 1 Kings 15 says “David did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, and had not turned aside from anything that He commanded him all the days of his life, except in the matter of Uriah the Hittite.”

        When Nathan confronts David with his sin in 2 Samuel 12, he doesn’t mention the extramarital sex with Bathsheba – only that David had killed Uriah in order to “steal” his wife for himself.

        This is all very confusing.

  21. Bernadette

    You know what’s divisive? Accusing a truth-teller of being divisive.

  22. Theresa

    I agree with this post that David raped Bathsheba, but I don’t necessarily reach the same conclusion that every woman is raped if the act happened with someone who has more power than her. If my boss coerces me to have sex or threatens to fire me if I don’t consent, that does not result in me being unable to say “NO”. I CAN say no, quit or get fired, or file a complaint against him. This idea actually disempowers women. Am I to believer there is no instance where a pastor and a parishioner engage in consensual adultery? It always must be rape because he holds a position of power over her? I don’t believe that. The aspiring actress was “raped” because the movie producer promised her a leading role if she slept with him, or he threatens to blacklist her if she doesn’t? Goldie Hawn had that very scenario happen and she walked out. Don’t misunderstand, I fully believe pastors, bosses, and movie producers can and do rape women. I’m just saying I don’t believe we can always call it that just because there is a power dynamic involved. If that were so, women could never say no.

    • Bernadette

      Your Hollywood example has a producer leveraging his power over an actor to get sex. It was not consensual. If coercion is involved it is not consensual. End of story.

      And the fact that some people can resist coercion does not mean that everyone can. Different circumstances. One actor is a single lost job opportunity away from being homeless and another has a support network who will take her in if her bank account runs dry.

      Or some people have been psychologically beaten down, is another reason why one person might cave while another walks away.

      Leveraging anything over another person means it’s not being freely given.

      Maybe consent is possible despite a power imbalance. But not when someone is misusing power.

  23. Cee

    Unfortunately, for many of us women (or men) arguing against the men (or women) who don’t think what David did was a vile sin of rape the issue is not whether David raped Bathsheba or not. That is clear. It’s a waste of time to argue that because the person on the other side of the argument has much deeper premises that are wrong and causing them issue with the David/Bathsheba assault. I am coming into the revelation more and more that some men do not see women as full or worthy humans. Why? Because if they did they would have so much guilt around their thought/lust life and other sins of sexual immorality that they may have to try to change. No thank you they say…they want to continue to use women’s bodies for their pleasure. It’s like a dog being forgotten to be fed one day…not too big of a deal compared to not feeding a child. Women are less to some men than their dogs, I’m convinced. There is a hatred of women by many men. I think it boils down to their desire to be victorious and strong and yet, they are lusting, weak fools taken by pornography and all manner of sexual immorality so much so that their consciences are seared and they can’t even utter the word rape when it is CLEAR and OBVIOUS. But the issue, again, is deeper and the argument is not at the David/Bathsheba story…it’s in a man’s consciousness – if he views the other half of the human population as a full, human soul or not. That’s where the issue really lies in my opinion.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, looking at some of the guys arguing on Twitter (including some on the SBC Executive Committee itself) I’d have to agree.

  24. Jonathan

    As a man, I don’t understand other men who would want to defend David on this. It simply makes no sense. And so many of these comments have hit the nail on the head. I think that so much is caught up in wanting to make David a hero. I wanted to when I was young. Then I was met with disillusionment myself when I actually read through the scriptures themselves about David’s entire story.
    I think the bigger question at hand is, if the modern English word “rape” was not in the bible, neither was the modern term “sex addict.” But all those pastors trying to defend the technicality of this not constituting modern day rape, are also teaching that sexual addictions are sinful. If we apply the modern understanding of a sex addict back to what we are told of David’s entire life, he scores a 100%. They will probably try to argue that it was at least legal for him to be a sex addict. But, they would still have to admit that their hero struggled with and gave into sexual addiction his entire life. He was already in violation of the laws for kings in the book of Leviticus, that they should not have many wives. He had several women in his bedroom before he was a king. Then he added more, plus concubines. He was brought a virgin in his old age and no one blushed, because… it was normal for him.
    The Bathsheba incident is just the one instance when his sex addiction took him so far that he had to have another man’s wife, and he was busted for it. Why is that not in the discussion? This was not a one-time sexual slip-up for the man. This was a fuller culmination, the tip of the iceberg, of long-standing sin in his life. He repented of this sexual sin and was forgiven. There is no indication he changed his other sexual lifestyle.

    In the comment above Cee stated: “I am coming into the revelation more and more that some men do not see women as full or worthy humans. Why? Because if they did they would have so much guilt around their thought/lust life and other sins of sexual immorality that they may have to try to change. No thank you they say…they want to continue to use women’s bodies for their pleasure.” – Yes! And how was David different? I am aghast that this is not a fuller part of the entire conversation. But, what would these pastors say if their hero was placed squarely in the non-recovered sex addict category?

  25. Nathan

    For us men, sexual shame is so deep and we don’t live in a day and age where confession and church discipline is viewed as a healthy part of church rhythms. So, our shame goes deeper and we are too afraid to even consider that we could be the source of abuse.
    I am grateful to my wife who has helped me become so much more aware of your work and given me great perspective on sex and marriage.

    “I wonder if there is a reason that so many men especially seem unwilling to call non-consensual sex rape? Could it be that this would hit too close to home–that if you realized that you don’t have to physically force someone to have sex with you for it to be rape, that this has larger repercussions for their past relationships, and even their marriages? “


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