Verse: (NLT)”If a man has sex with a slave girl whose freedom has never been purchased but who is committed to become another man’s wife, he must pay full compensation to her master. But since she is not a free woman, neither the man nor the woman will be put to death. 21 The man, however, must bring a ram as a guilt offering and present it to the Lord at the entrance of the Tabernacle. 22 The priest will then purify him before the Lord with the ram of the guilt offering, and the man’s sin will be forgiven.”

Verse 20 establishes that, “Since she is not a free woman, neither the man or the woman will be put to death.” However, shouldn’t the man be put to death for his act because of Deuteronomy 22:25?

(NLT): “But if the man meets the engaged woman out in the country, and he rapes her, then only the man must die.”

The slave woman was engaged, and the man had sex with her like in Deuteronomy 22. How is it then, that the man does not get the death penalty for his act?

  • 1
    In Lev 19 the sex is not rape and so, presumably, consensual.
    – Dottard
    Jul 30, 2023 at 7:01
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    – agarza
    Jul 30, 2023 at 14:11

3 Answers 3


The Deuteronomy law has got nothing to do with any slave-girl. It deals with a virgin still living in her father's house who is given in marriage to a man who dislikes her then tries to divorce her after sleeping with her. (No rape involved, either.) But he then claims she was not a virgin when he married her. Should that be true, she would be liable for the death penalty. But if it is false, the man must give the father a hundred shekels of silver "because this man has given an Israelite virgin a bad name". Further, he will not be able to divorce her all the days of his life. Now, that would be a very strong incentive against falsely accusing a new wife of not being a virgin at marriage.

A few verses on, it is likewise made clear that raping a virgin pledged to be married when out in the country (where her screams for help would not be heard) results in only the man being stoned to death. And if the virgin is not pledged to be married and is raped, he must pay her father fifty shekels of silver, and the rapist must marry the female, being unable to ever divorce her. Again, that would be a strong deterrent against rape. (A point about these laws is that if a virgin was raped or her new husband swiftly wanted rid of her, that female would unlikely to be able to ever get married. Virginity was a vital prerequisite for marriage in those days.)

Compare that with the Leviticus law. Neither the man nor the betrothed slave woman are to be put to death. She is not to be punished. The man's punishment is to sacrifice a ram for a guilt offering. Why is only the man punished 'lightly' compared with the punishment of being stoned to death? The only reason given is that his victim was a betrothed slave at the time of the rape (but still a virgin). Here is a comment on that:

"If she had not been espoused, the law appointed no punishment at all; being espoused, if she had not been a bondmaid, the punishment had been no less than death; but, being as yet a bondmaid (though before the completing of her espousal she must have been made free), the capital punishment is remitted... It was for the honour of marriage, though but begun by betrothing, that the crime should be punished; but it was for the honour of freedom that it should not be punished as the debauching of a free woman was." Matthew Henry's Commentary, p. 137, middle column) Hendrickson, 2014 (though written by Matthew Henry before his death in 1714. Bold emphases mine.)


Leviticus 19:20-22 and Deuteronomy 22:25 are addressing different situations. The situation in Leviticus involves a slave woman who is betrothed to another man, but not yet married, and the man who has sexual relations with her is not put to death. The situation in Deuteronomy involves a betrothed free woman who is raped in the country, and the man who rapes her is put to death.

The difference in consequences appears to be due to the difference in the social status of the women involved. In Leviticus, the woman is a slave, and the text explicitly states that neither the man nor the woman are put to death "because she is not a free woman". This implies a societal hierarchy where the rights and protections for slave women were different from those for free women.

So to cut the long story short, what's the difference? The status of the woman.

These books were written in a time and place that had vastly different societal norms and values from our own. They reflect a culture that accepted slavery and viewed women, especially slave women, as less than men in terms of their rights.

  • Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics! and thank you for your contribution. When you get a chance, please take the tour to understand how the site works and how it is different than others. I also recommend going through the Help Center's sections on both asking and answering questions.
    – agarza
    Jul 30, 2023 at 15:09

Though the verse did not explicit say whether the slave girl was an Israelite or a gentile, but as she could be redeemed, she should be an Israelite. According to Exodus 21:7-11 regarding the law of woman slave, it said;

7 “If a man sells his daughter as a servant, she is not to go free as male servants do.

8 If she does not please the master who has selected her for himself, he must let her be redeemed. He has no right to sell her to foreigners, because he has broken faith with her.

9 If he selects her for his son, he must grant her the rights of a daughter.

10 If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights.

11 If he does not provide her with these three things, she is to go free, without any payment of money. (Exodus 21:7-11 NIV)

Now let's see the man and the slave girl described in Leviticus 19:20-22

20 “‘If a man sleeps with a female slave who is promised to another man but who has not been ransomed or given her freedom, there must be due punishment. Yet they are not to be put to death, because she had not been freed.

21 The man, however, must bring a ram to the entrance to the tent of meeting for a guilt offering to the Lord.

22 With the ram of the guilt offering the priest is to make atonement for him before the Lord for the sin he has committed, and his sin will be forgiven.

The slave girl was not to be put to death because she was not a free woman. This had been answered clearly. But what about the man, why was he not put to death? Who was the man?

As the event was taken place in the master house, the man was either the master, or the master's son, or the male slave/servant. It was unlikely to put the master or the master's son to dead, for in the situation, the slave girl was still deemed as a property of the master. So the law was likely to protect the male slave/servant. Why was it a protection to him? For him was still a property of the master, that would be killed by his master for a reason.

The male slave, unlike the female, was allowed to leave his master in the seventh year (Exodus 21:2), back to their clans and inherited the land of their own (Levitus 25:41). If he was killed illegally, his bloodline would be cut off that was forbidden by the Lord.

Then, did he commit a crime that could be killed? Review the law about this in Deuteronomy 22:13-30, in below was the law regarding unmarried women;

23 If a man happens to meet in a town a virgin pledged to be married and he sleeps with her,

24 you shall take both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death—the young woman because she was in a town and did not scream for help, and the man because he violated another man’s wife. You must purge the evil from among you.

25 But if out in the country a man happens to meet a young woman pledged to be married and rapes her, only the man who has done this shall die.

26 Do nothing to the woman; she has committed no sin deserving death. This case is like that of someone who attacks and murders a neighbor,

27 for the man found the young woman out in the country, and though the betrothed woman screamed, there was no one to rescue her.

28 If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered,

29 he shall pay her father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.

The man should not be put to death because

  1. The slave girl was likely not a virgin anymore as Exodus 21:8 implied
  2. It was not a rape crime as Levitus 19:20 did not say so

Deuteronomy 22:28 may be the closest law, but she was a slave girl and not a virgin of free woman. Even was that, he was not put to dead according to this law.

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