Did David Rape Bathsheba?

by John Ellis

If this article’s title is the first time you’ve ever been confronted with this question, count yourself lucky. Please don’t misunderstand; I’m not dismissing the question. It contains and touches on important points of application. By “count yourself lucky,” I’m referring to how this question has roiled the internet, specifically Twitter, in absurd and highly uncharitable and slanderous ways. But, before getting to that – before getting to the reason I’m writing this article – I’m going to attempt to address the actual question. In other words, I’m going to bury the lede.

If I were asked this question, and I have been asked this question in the past, I would respond with a very qualified, “yes, I think so.” To be clear, I’m in agreement with those who claim that David raped Bathsheba, I’m just trying to communicate (and hold to) some level of epistemic humility about a situation we have limited knowledge of. In our current sociological and psychological lexicon, he did, in fact, commit rape; that’s undeniable. A king, who was already acting faithlessly towards his people by staying home from battle, saw a woman, wanted her, and then ordered her brought to him. In that day and age, “no” wasn’t a particularly safe option for a woman to say to the king. Add in Nathan’s parable, and all the textual signs point towards rape.

For those who disagree with the charge (and long, run-on sentence warning), and I’m not talking about those who merely disagree on the exegetical level, but for those who seem to have a felt need to defend David’s honor, and getting closer to my lede, while making a current political point about the encroachment of toxic feminism and intersectionality into the church, the rebuttal – their rebuttal to the belief that David raped Bathsheba – is that since it happened in the city, the Bible requires the woman to cry out. Since Bathsheba didn’t cry out, they insist, she wasn’t raped.

Well, not so fast.

For starters, that’s an argument from silence. The Bible doesn’t say that she didn’t cry out. The deeply felt need to assume that she didn’t reveals far more about those who make this argument from silence than I think they realize. Or, maybe they realize what it says about them, and they just don’t care.

For another thing, the tricky task of interpreting ancient Jewish law aside, the context has to be taken into account. David was the king. If she did fight back and yell out, and there’s no way to prove that she didn’t, what do you think would have happened?

Well, what would’ve happened, did happen. Nothing. Well, the rape of Bathsheba happened.

David was the king. There was no House of Representatives eager to hold impeachment hearings over his crimes. David was the king with the full power of the sword. Whatever word you want to use to describe what happened, Bathsheba had no say in the matter. If the context isn’t enough, read Nathan’s rebuke of David recorded in 2 Samuel 12. The story Nathan tells absolves Bathsheba from any guilt. Because, again that pesky context, David was the king and Bathsheba had no say in the matter.

Alright, that’s my answer to the question. The more important question, though, is why do I have the felt need to address this?

While speaking at the Caring Well Conference organized by the SBC’s ERLC, Rachael Denhollander made the comment that David had raped Bathsheba. Nearly three years old now, that clip has resurfaced thanks to Owen Strachan and his “theobro” followers who are currently in the midst of an intense campaign to slander Denhollander. I’m assuming that out of all the things she said at Caring Well, Rachael would never have guessed that’s the comment that would stir up so much strife and rancor.

But, my word! Based on the backlash she’s received, you’d have thought that she had denied the divinity of Jesus.

Accused of exegetical malfeasance, often couched in terms saying, “see, women shouldn’t be allowed to interpret the Bible,” those who already hate her have been busy denouncing her over this. For them, her claim that David raped Bathsheba is further proof that she has a nefarious agenda to sow feminist and intersectional heresies throughout Christ’s Church.

It’s sad and frustrating to watch as a sister in Christ is demonized and slandered by those who claim to be her brother in Christ. Per usual, her response, like they were nearly three years ago, continues to be gracious and charitable.

The criticisms and slanders that Rachael Denhollander has had and continues to endure reveal a rottenness in much of white evangelicalism. A rottenness that has been exposed by publications like The Houston Chronicle and the brave women (and men) who have begun to come forward with stories of the abuse and sexual assault they’ve suffered and continue to suffer at the hands of those called to shepherd Christ’s flock. The responses to Rachael Denhollander unmask the ugliness that is the face of wide-spread misogyny that exists in white evangelicalism in this country. Many of the men in the movement cannot stomach allowing women to have a voice. While they may believe that they are opposed to physical acts of violence, their slander of women like Rachael Denhollander is evidence that they encourage a misogynistic system that often turns a blind eye towards abuse.

At one point during the initial firestorm in 2019, Richard Pierce, the president of Alpha and Omega Ministries, asserted that saying David raped Bathsheba is demonic. And it’s demonic according to Pierce because it deconstructs the Son of God. Claiming that Jesus came from the line of a rapist undermines Christology, he argues – that’s the sinful slander being directed towards Rachael Denhollander. She is being accused of attempting to undermine the divinity of Jesus. You see, when I wrote above that, based on the level of fury her comment generated, you would’ve thought that she had denied the divinity of Jesus, I did so for a reason. Because that’s an accusation/lie that she’s had to endure. That’s intolerable. And, frankly, it’s also stupid (the accusation, not the people making it, to be clear).

Setting aside the discussion about David raping Bathsheba, a murderer and a prostitute (Rahab), at the very least, are in the line of Christ. What’s more, we know that every other person in that line were awful sinners, too. There’s no telling what kind of sins we’d uncover if we had the ability to read the autobiographies of everyone in the line of Jesus. And that’s the point! The promised seed of Genesis 3:15 had to be different from us. We are all sinners needing a sinless warrior-king to save us from our enemies of sin and death. King David wasn’t him.[1] Only Jesus, the Son of God, is the warrior-king we need; Jesus is the promised seed and no one else from the line of Christ. David being a rapist (or not) does not change our Christology.   

It’s one thing to disagree with Rachael Denhollander’s interpretation. It’s another sinful thing altogether to slander her like this. Sadly, and more importantly to me, I have friends and acquaintances who agree with Owen Strachan, Richard Pierce, etc. Not only am I writing this to publicly stand by a slandered sister in Christ, I’m writing this for my friends who are tempted by the self-serving rhetoric of Owen Strachan and those who are demonizing Rachael Denhollander. Please don’t succumb to self-serving lies. Please don’t participate in the slander of faithful women who are serving Christ’s church. You don’t have to agree with their answer to this article’s title/question, but agreement isn’t needed to recognize that answering “yes” is not theologically dangerous or even problematic.

Saying that David raped Bathsheba is not a new, feminist twist on the story. It’s a position that’s been taught for years by respected and conservative theologians and preachers (the arch-complimentarian John Piper, for one). It’s a discussion that I’ve had many times way before the #MeToo movement started. It’s an interpretation that’s been taught and believed in the very conservative and complementarian churches of which I’ve been a member in the past. It’s not a far-out interpretation. Disagree with it if you’d like, but don’t succumb to the temptation to slander a sister in Christ over it.

Soli Deo Gloria

[1] That’s one of the interesting tensions in the Book of Ruth. The author intends for us to feel the sexual tension/danger in chapter 3. We’re meant to ask: will Boaz be a faithful redeemer, or will he be proven to be a self-serving lord who uses others for himself? When David is faced with a similar tension/temptation, he proves to be the latter. Alas, as we read the Bible, David is revealed to not be the promised seed of Genesis 3:15. The reader needs to keep looking. Mercifully, Jesus is revealed to be the faithful Redeemer who always serves his people, even to the point of death.

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