Justin Holcomb

What Does the Bible Say About Sexual Assault?

August 28, 2013

Biblical Counseling and Sexual Abuse - What Does the Bible Say About Sexual Assault

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Justin Holcomb

Biblical Counseling and Sexual Abuse - What Does the Bible Say About Sexual Assault

BCC Staff Note: You’re reading Part One in a three-part BCC Grace & Truth blog mini-series on Biblical Counseling and Sexual Abuse/Assault. In this series you will also read Amy Baker’s post, What Do You Say to a Woman Filled with Hate from Past Sexual Assault or Abuse? as well as Bob Kellemen’s post Beauty for Ashes.

Far from being a peripheral issue in the Bible, sexual assault is:

  •  Clearly depicted as a sin against the victim and God
  •  Mentioned frequently throughout the Bible
  •  Referred to as a symbol of how badly sin has corrupted God’s good creation
  •  Understood as a severe distortion of God’s plan for sex.

Sexual assault is sin against people.

It is clear in the Bible that sexual assault is a sin against another person involving a physical, psychological, and emotionally violation. Marie Fortune describes sexual assault four different ways:

  1. It is a bodily sin. Sexual assault is a violation of bodily boundaries and distorts one’s sense of body image.
  2. It is a sin against relationship, violating the command to love one’s neighbor as oneself.
  3. It is a sin betraying trust and destroying relationships between victims and those who should have cared for them but instead caused them harm. The consequence of this sin is that it can create barriers of distrust between victims in their future relationships.
  4. It is a sin not only against the victims but the community surrounding that victim.

Sexual assault is a sin against God.

Sexual assault is a sin against God because the blessing of sexuality is used to destroy instead of build intimacy and because it is an attack against his image in his image-bearers. The ability of sexual assault to obscure internal and external relationships makes it a cosmic affront to the Creator and the order of his creation (Genesis 6:1-3). Sexual assault is a sin against God because it violates his most sacred creation—human beings made in his image.

Biblical evidence against sexual assault.

There are explicit passages calling sexual assault sin—a violation of God’s law. Deuteronomy 22:25-29 addresses non-consensual sexual acts and show concern for the welfare of the violated woman. The perpetrator is put to death by stoning, and it is stressed in the text the woman is innocent of any wrongdoing and no harm should come to her.

There are also depictions of sexual acts that the Bible characterizes as sexual assault resulting in emotional trauma. Passages such as 2 Samuel 13, Hosea 2:1-13, Jeremiah 13:20-27, and Ezekiel 16 and 23 demonstrate an understanding that such acts of sexual assault result not only in emotional trauma for the victim, but also in humiliation and a debilitating loss of sense of self. These passages depict sexual assault as deeply traumatizing and resulting in devastating emotional and psychological consequences for the victim.

Sexual assault is a symbol of sin.

Sexual assault is a common and disturbing symbol of sin in the Bible. It is a complete distortion of relationship, a mockery of the original intent of being made for relationships with God and others. References to sexual violence is a way that God, through the biblical authors, communicates that sin and depravity have progressed so far that sex, an expression of union, peace, and love, is now used as a tool for violence.

God’s intent for sex.

God intended humankind to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28), spreading divine image-bearers throughout his good world. This multiplying of offspring and exercising of dominion was to happen through the God-ordained sexual union between husband and wife (Genesis 2:24-25).

God meant for sexual feelings, thoughts, and activity to be pleasurable and intimacy-building in marriage. In the Bible, sexual intimacy is also a reflection of unity and peace between man and woman. It is a picture of two becoming one.

Sexual assault is a distortion.

But sin inverts mutual love and harmony into domination of and violence against each other. Sex, the very expression of human union and peace, becomes a weapon of power and control against others after the Fall. Sexual assault is uniquely devastating precisely because it distorts the foundational realities of what it means to be human: sexual expression is perverted and used for violence, intra-personal trust is shattered, and disgrace and shame are heaped on the victim. Sexual assault creates in the victim’s mind a tragic and perverse linkage between sex, intimacy, and shame.

God has the last word.

By calling sexual assault sin, we know God is against it. He is also active in healing the effects victims experience.

The victim’s experience of assault is not ignored by God, minimized by the Bible, or outside of the scope of healing and hope found in redemption. God’s response to evil and violence is redemption, renewal, and re-creation. God’s response to the victim is to impart grace and brings peace.

Join the Conversation

How does the Bible’s teaching on sexual assault impact your thinking and your ministry?

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  • Genevieve Borges Simpson

    what does the new testament allude to when it comes to sexual assault, do you think? is there anything to be read between the lines of what jesus said, anything that references sexual abuse, do you think? i am searching for it and i haven’t really found much besides the adultery is committed with your eyes scripture. so i guess we can even assault someone with our eyes? is that what he meant? I’m not the authority, but i’d continue in a discussion if you have some critical thoughts on that.

  • Genevieve Borges Simpson

    i’m also interested in your thoughts on why we don’t talk about sexual abuse (or sexual exploration of children) in the church

    • Lynn B.

      Genevieve: I am not certain I understand your question entirely and what it is that you want the church to discuss and in what context but a couple of thoughts… sexual abuse of children is a crime and we do not typically preach/teach about murder, selling drugs, prostitution, child abuse, etc. There is also a generational dynamic, fifty years ago sexual sin was not spoken of in “proper company” the church included and if one knew of a child being exploited there really was no way to help – there were no prosecutions especially within a family. Thankfully, today that is changing and there are mandatory reporting laws that apply to the church. The biblical counseling movement is also returning the church to the place of being equipped to counsel all those involved in these matters from the Word – which is the only lasting life-changing answer for both the abuser and the abused. Beyond that I would say the church today is discussing how to protect children while they are at church and there have been books and blogs published on that even in the past year. Titles written for church leadership do not immediately come to mind but there was this one for teaching children:


  • fab4mattmarklukejohn

    It’s because the church as we know it is pretty well committed to keeping things shallow. But every sort of sin is in there in the rich Christian tradition, including the Law parts. Paul in his letters said that the Law is a good resource for people who do bad things, and it’s also a good resource for training everyone, so that every person would be fully equipped.

    The way I see church life go, the only way to get more than the shallow version is to be in a group that asks an awful lot of commitment from you, to the point where they get charged with being cultic, or legalistic, or heretical. Keeping shallow (sermons, refreshments, music ministry, finances ministry, home group) will keep those charges of weirdness away. Unfortunately, it also keeps teaching on abuse, and every other important thing, away too.

    • Lynn B.

      I don’t think there is a commitment to being shallow but a lack of understanding on how to make scripture practical and with the biblical counseling movement that is changing quite a lot.

  • GuestN

    Thank you for your post, what does the bible say the victim of child abuse should do? I undrsyand forgiveness is one, but what other acts should the victim do