Did David Rape Bathsheba? And Why it Matters

The progressive reinterpretation of one the Bible’s most infamous and powerful stories and how it is being leveraged for a godless end.

By Larry Taunton Published on July 14, 2022

At least twice in recent days, “Bathsheba” has trended on Twitter.

Perhaps you’re thinking this is about a remake of the 1951 Hollywood blockbuster starring Gregory Peck and Susan Hayward. Or maybe you’re thinking it’s the name of a new Nicki Minaj-like hip-hop artist.

But it is, in fact, an on-again, off-again theological debate about the biblical story of King David and Bathsheba. Typically, debates of this type occur in seminaries while Twitter is a place for social media political blood sport. So, why then, has this ancient story of passion, failure, and restoration taken Twitter by storm?

The story about the story of David and Bathsheba is a very modern one of Me Too, so-called social justice, sexual politics and national politics, and power. And as those seeking earthly power within the church have always known, be it the Pharisees of Jesus’ day or the Spanish inquisitors of the Late Middle Ages, the key to obtaining it is bending the scriptural narrative to meet the political needs of the moment.

King David as Political Weapon

A straightforward reading of the story of David and Bathsheba will not lead you to the conclusion that this is an instance of rape. At least it hasn’t led two millennia of theologians there. Indeed, I spent a morning poring over no less than twenty pre-2000 Old Testament commentaries, many of them revered classics, and not one of them leveled the rape charge. (1) Among these there was some difference of opinion as to the degree of Bathsheba’s guilt — did she, for instance, bathe on the rooftop knowing the king could see her? — and there was much speculation as to her motives. But that she, along with David, was guilty of the sin of adultery, there was universal agreement. (2)

So, why the sudden reinterpretation of this well-known story? Have archaeologists uncovered a trove of Dead Sea Scrolls that overturn the historic reading of this passage?

No. But that hasn’t stopped some from rushing in where angels fear to tread.

A New Gospel

In a startling article — startling for both its audacity and its lack of biblical evidence — for Christianity Today titled, “Why It’s Easier to Accept David as a Murderer than a Rapist,” pastor and church planter Kyle Worley casually dismisses two thousand years of biblical interpretation in favor of his own:

Perhaps more intriguing than determining David’s motives is our own determination to spare him from disrepute. We don’t want David to be a rapist. We actually find it easier to stomach him being a murderer of a man than an abuser of a woman. And, if the preponderance of sermons is any indication, Christians have historically been willing to slut-shame Bathsheba to keep any stink (beyond adultery) off of David. It’s nonsensical, particularly because in Scripture, Bathsheba is never accused, indicted, or even maligned in any way for what happened.

This is a very telling representation of not only the story of David and Bathsheba, but of the debate over the story of David and Bathsheba. In Worley’s (and the progressive’s) “nonsensical” view, to reject the rape narrative is to embrace the “slut-shaming” of Bathsheba. In rhetoric, this is called the false dilemma fallacy. It is dishonest, and it finds no resonance in scripture, in any of the aforementioned commentaries, and therefore also not in the historic understanding of this story. I’ll explain further on that momentarily.

Worley is determined to alleviate Bathsheba of any culpability whatsoever, not by her subsequent repentance, but by progressive fiat. That’s not how the Bible tells it, though. Far from holding her guiltless, Lord rendered His judgment on her through David’s and her progeny: The child of this sinful relationship would die, and calamity would be visited upon their house.

A Power Grab Among Southern Baptists

Even so, this new interpretation picked up steam the following year at the Caring Well Conference sponsored by the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the public policy advocacy branch of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). This conference came of struggle, at a time when the future direction of the SBC was up for grabs. Conservatives and progressives within America’s largest Protestant denomination were — and still are — fighting it out.

Providing a backdrop to this drama were accusations of sexual abuse against prominent men within the SBC. Committees were formed and investigations conducted. The word at first was that their purpose was to protect children. But children received little attention in subsequent reports. That alone might have signaled to close observers that there was an altogether different agenda here. Most, it seems, still haven’t realized it.

The Caring Well Conference was chaired by Christianity Today’s “public theologian” Russell Moore, arguably the most progressive voice within evangelicalism. And not, I think, coincidentally, it was at this conference that the David-as-rapist narrative went from a largely obscure theological debate to a broader cultural discussion trending on Twitter. Secular progressives outside of the church seized upon it and championed it, thrilled at this fracture within Christendom.

Blood in the Water, and a Feminist Feeding Frenzy

Consider the recent tweet below by a woman named Natalie:

Natalie self-identifies as transsexual. Note the frequent likes, quotes, and re-tweets of her David-the-rapist tweet. Note also the LGBTQ+ flag on her Twitter profile. Just as that flag is a perversion of the rainbow symbolizing God’s promise to mankind, this interpretation perverts the biblical narrative, recasting it to be acceptable to those of Natalie’s sexual-political convictions.

Not to be outdone, Slate, a far-left standard-bearer, suddenly had a deep interest in the nuances of biblical interpretation, and put wind in the sails of the progressive power play by lending sympathy to the rape narrative.

A Cudgel for a Faction

With such strange bedfellows, you’d think SBC progressives might have reassessed their position. The SBC isn’t an LGBTQ-affirming denomination. And the fact that Slate had also endorsed fast-tracking the sexualization of children while, at the same time, redefining rape to give it the broadest possible meaning, ought to give any Bible-believing Christian pause. But “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” proverb — not a proverb of Solomon, by the way — trumped any such considerations.

Slate readily perceived what many within the SBC did not: “But the debate [over David and Bathsheba] itself illuminates — and may even change — the ways that evangelical Christians think about gender, sex, power, consent, and abuse.”

That, of course, was the point.

If it was sex that enticed the masses both within and without the church with titillating headlines and prying eyes, this was about much more than sex. Progressives within the SBC understood very well that if David could be reinterpreted as a predator, the story might be wielded as a cudgel, with apparent biblical authority no less, not only against those accused of misconduct, but against traditional biblical interpretation, structures within the denomination, and, potentially, well-beyond it.

How They Get There: David vs. the Goliath of Intersectionality

This brings us to our modern-day Goliath, intersectionality. Intersectionality is cultural Marxism by another name. What does Marxism have to do with biblical interpretation? Nothing good, I assure you, but let me explain:

Karl Marx divided society economically between proletarians and bourgeoise — that is, haves and have-nots. That model, while successful in Russia, China, and half the world besides, got little traction in the United States. America was simply too prosperous, and with opportunity for social and economic advancement, the proletarian masses had little taste for revolution.

Realizing a different strategy would be necessary to overthrow the existing social, economic, and political paradigm, Marx’s ideological heirs developed intersectionality. Intersectionality breaks down the whole of society into ever-smaller “hegemonies,” that is, “power structures,” in which someone is always on top, i.e., the oppressor, and someone always on the bottom, i.e., the oppressed. Like the perverse, cynical ideology from which it derives, intersectionality distorts the world for those who view it through that lens. One sees only evil and injustice, victimizers and victims:

  • Wives are victims of “patriarchy.”
  • Non-whites are victims of “white supremacy” and “white privilege.”
  • LGBTQ+ people are oppressed by “heteronormativity.”

You can probably guess where this train is going. When the story of David and Bathsheba is strained through the intersectionality colander, we are left with only one conclusion: David is a rapist and Bathsheba bears no guilt for her own actions.

Intersectionality is ultimately about retribution, not redemption. It’s about leveraging never-ending guilt to gain power. It is Marxism masquerading as justice. It has nothing to commend it biblically. Nothing.

Rape Redefined

Revisionists say David forced himself on Bathsheba, reading that meaning into the words of 2 Samuel 11:4: “David sent messengers and took her …” But, as I have pointed out, not one of the twenty commentaries I perused does so. (3)

Some have alleged that the Bible doesn’t call it rape because, as one pastor put it to me, the writer of 2 Samuel was “too bashful” to discuss such matters.(4) Still others have suggested the Bible is misogynistic and, as a consequence, doesn’t take rape as seriously as we take it today.

Neither argument is biblically defensible.

Contrary to being misogynistic, the Bible records and names several instances of rape and prescribes death for the offender. To that extent, the Bible takes rape much more seriously than we do.

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As for the bashfulness of the author of 2 Samuel, (5) what is the likelihood that a writer, who was willing to chronicle highly unflattering stories about David that include adultery, murder, and conspiracy, was reluctant to discuss rape? Regardless, supporters of that view might have refrained from championing it had they read the whole of 2 Samuel.

Just two chapters after the story of David and Bathsheba, the author records possibly the most notorious account of rape in the Bible: Amnon’s rape of Tamar. 2 Samuel 13:14 says: “… and being stronger than she, he raped her.” Amnon’s egregious sin is named again in 13:32: “… Amnon raped his sister Tamar.” The language is unambiguous.

Proponents of the view that David raped Bathsheba simply ignore this or label it “biblical rape,” meaning, rape as the Bible defines it but not as we now define it. One might have thought that how the Bible defines rape (and everything else) is where Christians are supposed to take their cues. Nope. In a bit of linguistic sleight-of-hand, they simultaneously discard biblical meaning and impose their own meaning.

This interpretation says that whether David physically overpowered Bathsheba or not is irrelevant. In the intersectionality model outlined above, rape is understood to be about an inequality in power. It would still be rape even if Bathsheba “came to him” (2 Samuel 11:4) of her own will as the historic interpretation maintains. But according to intersectionality, Bathsheba, a woman, could not say no to David, a powerful man and king. A consensual relationship, they say, was impossible. His was a “power rape.”

But let’s follow the “power rape” definition to its logical conclusion. Why stop with Bathsheba? Such an interpretation would mean King David could never have a consensual relationship with any woman outside of, say, Michal, who was the daughter of a king and married David before he was king himself. We must conclude that David “raped” Abigail, too, since she was a woman powerless to deny the marriage proposal of a man who, at that time, rode at the head of a band of armed outlaws. And what of David’s many concubines? How about those of Solomon? This is not sound biblical exegesis, it is eisegesis: reading meaning into the text that simply isn’t there.

Marx in Bad Drag, Complete With the Beard

This is not to say that all who take this view are Marxists. I would argue that most have little idea what Marxism is, much less intersectionality. Many are, I am sure, well-intentioned, while others are simply virtue signalers. But that they have unwittingly been influenced by Marxism is evidenced by their support of this interpretation.

Of course, not everyone has succumbed to this version of things. Some, possessing greater Christian wisdom than most SBC delegates, weren’t buying the story as those of Worley’s ilk were now telling it. A woman named Carrie Balliet, reacting to this and the SBC’s muted response to the overturning of Roe v Wade, tweeted incisively:

Still another thoughtful woman posted:

And Daily Wire’s Megan Basham rightly observed:

To Mrs. Basham’s excellent question, I will add that the “I was following orders” defense sounds oddly similar to the defense of the Nazi war criminals. It wasn’t accepted at Nuremberg, but the SBC is not only prepared to entertain it, but to essentially codify it in its de facto prosecution of the accused without due process.

Why it Matters

In sharp contrast to Worley’s gross mischaracterization, the importance of defending David from the revisionists has nothing whatsoever to do with a “determination to spare him from disrepute” or because some “find it easier to stomach him being a murderer of a man than an abuser of a woman.” It is important to defend “the man of God” from this interpretation for four primary reasons:

It Isn’t in the Text

We are instructed to “rightly handle the Word of Truth.” I am more than a little taken aback that some would so nonchalantly slander David, a man much loved by God. Perhaps it is the historian in me that says scholarship requires a higher standard of evidence than that exhibited by the revisionists. Regardless, I cannot imagine this pleases the Lord. I Kings 15:5 says: “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.” This is the Lord’s opinion of David. Far be it from me to think otherwise. If this isn’t your view, recalibrate. Intersectionality, cynical and hateful, threatens to poison your mind. Because if David is now to be understood only through the darkest moments of his life, you should not expect any better. Thankfully, this is not how the Lord sees any who repent.

It Undermines Our Confidence in the Bible

This sort of interpretation turns the Bible into a house of mirrors where nothing is as it seems, and a straightforward reading of scripture will get you nowhere. Worse, when you start using phrases like “biblical rape” to say that the scriptural definition does not apply to a modern context, it’s only a short step to redefining other sins: “biblical theft,” “biblical murder,” “biblical lying,” and so on. When you reject biblical definitions of sin, you reject the Lord who can forgive your sin.

It Undermines Repentance and, With it, Redemption

Whereas David didn’t victimize Bathsheba, this version of the story surely does. Had she taken the view of her sin that some would now urge upon her, she might have gone the way of Delilah who wielded extraordinary feminine power over the strongest man in the Bible, betrayed him to his enemies, was paid handsomely for it, never repented of it so far as we know, and is among the most detested figures in scripture. Indeed, she might be in Hell.

Instead, Bathsheba’s story, like that of the man with whom she conspired against her husband, is one of sin and powerful redemption. She became a revered queen, confidante of the king, and mother of Solomon. She stands near the head of the line of Jesus. Her redemption was real, but redemption is meaningless without something from which to be redeemed: sin, in other words. How many women (and men) today feel the Holy Spirit convicting them of sin, only to be told by (bad) counselors they bear no guilt for their choices? This isn’t compassionate. It isn’t virtuous or liberating. It leads sinners away from the Cross rather than to it.

It Undermines the Whole of Scripture

Seeing how seductive and destructive Marxism was not only to the souls of his own countrymen, but those of Westerners, too, Alexander Solzhenitsyn warned that this ideology’s purpose is “to destroy your social order.” And that is precisely what intersectionality, Marxism’s demon child, does. It destroys from within. When scripture is filtered through it, it undermines the whole of biblical interpretation. The patriarchs are all rapists. Abraham is a sex trafficker. Such thinking was also behind Valerie Tarico’s article in Salon, arguing that the Holy Spirit raped Mary. And that is a logical conclusion within an intersectionality framework.

What, then, does such a reading of scripture make God?

This is the crux of the matter. Once one accepts “power rape” as a legitimate biblical template, a great many evils not formerly named suddenly appear. Along the way, many sacred things are annihilated, among them salvation itself. After all, the Lord is the very definition of power, holding as He does the power of life and death, everlasting reward and everlasting punishment. Man “can do nothing” (John 15:5) apart from Him as Jesus himself said. (6) If that interpretation is allowed to stand, logic dictates that a consensual relationship with God is rendered impossible. This destroys more than our social order; it destroys our hope.

The Man After God’s Own Heart

David has long been under attack from a certain type of person: the self-righteous. A self-righteous man hates the story of David’s catastrophic failure, forgiveness, restoration, and elevation to “Christian Hall of Fame” status. A legalistic heart simply cannot bear that he was an adulterer and a murderer, and was yet greatly loved by God and held up by Him as a standard for the kings of Israel. (7) Self-righteous types prefer stories about people who did all the right things because that is how they perceive themselves.

Intersectionality is, at bottom, an ideology shot straight through with self-righteousness. Its proponents arrogantly toss aside biblical meaning and historic hermeneutics in favor of their own confident reinterpretations. Churches possessed by it cease to be communities of grace for the sinner; they instead seek retribution against him. Sinners do not come to the altar, they are put in the dock.

In the final analysis, the story of David and Bathsheba is both a warning and a hope. It warns us of what the very best of men, as David surely was — and women — are capable of when they feed their sinful desires. This frightens me. And it should frighten you. If David could sink to such depths of wickedness, I dare not think myself incapable of the same or worse. And it is a story of hope because we are witness to the amazing grace of a God who will redeem any who repent of their sin.

The story is not about Bathsheba. It’s not even about David.

It’s about salvation.

 

Larry Alex Taunton is a freelance columnist contributing to USA Today, Fox News, Daily Wire, First Things, The Atlantic, The New York Post, CNN, Daily Caller, and The American Spectator. He is also the author of The Gospel Coalition Book of the Year The Faith of Christopher Hitchens, and the just-released Around the World in (More Than) 80 Days: Discovering What Makes America Great and Why We Must Fight to Save It. You can subscribe to his blog at larryalextaunton.com and find him on Twitter @larrytaunton.

 

 

(1) The atheists I have debated—Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, Michael Shermer, etc. — have long seized upon this, asserting that God is a tyrant who demands love or else.

(2) More than once the Lord, his anger kindled, refrained from destroying Israel/Judah “for the sake of David …” I Kings 15 is such a passage.

(3) To be fair, one can arrive at the rape interpretation without the use of intersectionality. While I have disagreed with Pastor John Piper on some things, he is not “woke.” As such, he rejects the power gap interpretation. Writes Piper in response to a question on the subject: “I don’t say [that it might have been rape] because I think the act couldn’t be consensual given the power dynamics at play. It is possible for a woman to be sinfully complicit in committing adultery with a very powerful man.” Piper bases his argument on the phrase “took her” and Nathan’s parable in 2 Samuel 12:1-4. But in doing so, Piper sets himself against the overwhelming weight of historic biblical interpretation. As David Gruzik points out, the writer of 2 Samuel tells the story not as one of rape, but of theft. When David “took” Bathsheba, he stole from Uriah. In confronting David, Nathan frames the story exactly this way. He tells David a parable about a rich man who “took” a lamb that belonged to a poor man. David wasn’t a rapist, he was a thief. This is consistent with the Lord’s words in 2 Samuel 12:10: “… you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.” Moreover, Bathsheba “came to” (v. 4) David and gave him that which 1 Corinthians 7:4-6 says was not hers to give, namely, her body. The sin was against Uriah from beginning to end, not Bathsheba.

(4) The pastor in question did not hold to that interpretation. When I asked if he thought David raped Bathsheba, his response was unequivocal: “Absolutely not.”

(5) Probably Nathan or Gad.

(6) These included Kiel & Delitzsch; Coke’s Commentary; Wesley’s Explanatory Notes; Matthew Henry Complete Commentary; Jamieson, Fausset, & Brown; John Gill Exposition of the Bible Commentary; Parker’s The People’s Bible; The Geneva Study Bible; Lange’s Commentary; The Pulpit Commentaries; Clarke’s Commentary; Preacher’s Complete Homiletical Commentary; Bullinger’s Companion Bible Notes; The Expositor’s Bible Commentary; Matthew Poole’s Commentary; Benson Commentary; Barnes’ Notes; Pulpit Commentary; Ellicott’s Commentary; and The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges. I am not saying there isn’t a pre-2000 commentary that interprets the encounter as rape. I am saying two things: first, if there exists a respected commentary that interprets the story this way, I have not yet found it; second, even if such a commentary exists, the rape narrative did not receive significant support from biblical scholars. This alone should give us great pause in deviating from the interpretations of the historic church.

[7] There was also universal agreement that David bore the greater guilt since he initiated the sinful encounter.

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