Can you Rape your Marriage Partner?

We are an outrage generation. I have been very reluctant to air my opinion on the recent outbursts on social media regarding rape. All my generation ever does is to look for something to be outraged about on social media, rant about it and go back to living their normal lives, only to find something else to be outraged about and go back to rest. I hate to be associated with such reactivity. 

Hardly a week goes by without some social media backlash over an issue, and once the trending issue has lost its steam, we often go back to our normal lives, waiting for the next outrage bandwagon to jump on. This is partly because no other generation has been afforded the technological tools needed to communicate their opinions on virtually any matter instantly,  across diverse global media platforms. This is a good thing and it can also be a bad thing. Somewhere in the psyche of my generation, all it takes to bring about change is to rant or comment on issues, change a few personal messages, or display pictures, get into Twitter fights, and sit on our bum.

True, constant communication is a vital link in the chain of change, but more important than all the noise are well-thought-out strategies, dynamic policies and plain old fashioned hard work. Yes, very hard work! Let us not confuse mere online comments and aggressive opinion sharing with the work it really takes to bring about the changes we are touting.

Sandwiched between all the outrage are some poorly conceived debates. One blogger posted a throwback picture of a hijab-wearing rape victim and started an outrageous debate over the role that dressing plays in the rape dilemma. Few were quick to detect that the picture being debated about vigorously could not have been what the rape victim was wearing, during the occurrence of the tragedy. 

I often withhold my comments, because it is very easy for sound reasoning to be swallowed up by the anger of overwhelming social media backlash and outrage. Now that the noisemakers have gone back to the business of their normal lives, I want to share a few thoughts on this rape menace.

Why am I speaking now? I feel an overwhelming obligation to clear the reputation of God on this issue because a certain camp online was using biblical theology to justify their position of the occurrence of rape in marriage. This substantiation of vice with scripture is as old as scripture itself. My intent is to debunk this position with scripture. 

Historically, scriptures have been a very potent weapon in the moulding of human behaviour for good or for evil, depending on the nature of the individual handling them. The adage “the letter kills but the Spirit gives life” suggests that there is a dual component of “letter and spirit”  in scripture. The fruit of the letter of scripture is death but the fruit of the Spirit of scripture is life. 

A holistic study of scripture will reveal that the scriptures can be used to justify pretty much anything, and everything,  you want to do in life, either good or bad. Therefore, our interpretation of scripture must always align with the Spirit of the scriptures. But to get the Spirit of life out of scriptures, they must not be handled in an isolated fashion, but in an integrated fashion. This means studying the scriptures as a whole to find out how scriptures were written in the past and align with what God’s Spirit is saying in the present. To milk the life of scriptures, therefore, requires a holistic study of scripture and a vibrant relationship with the Spirit of God – two things that my generation are usually too busy with their opinions to develop. 

One only needs to study history to see the atrocities committed under the auspices of the word of God ranging from the Crusades to the Spanish inquisition. Even slavery was justified by scripture. It is therefore of little surprise to the enlightened that marital rape should be justified by the same. The scriptural justification for rape revolves around the 7th chapter of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. I will quote it to ensure we aren’t in doubt. 

The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. But I say this as a concession, not as a commandment.

1Corinthians 7:4 — 1Corinthians  7:6

The first thing I must bring to your attention is that Paul was saying this as a matter of “CONCESSION” and not “COMMANDMENT”. It is, therefore, dangerous to misconstrue a commandment of scripture for a concession in scripture. Let us see another area in which this concession occurs.

Now concerning virgins: I have no commandment from the Lord; yet I give judgment as one whom the Lord in His mercy has made trustworthy.

1 Corinthians 7:25

We see this concession again in Paul’s advice to virgins. Notice that whenever Paul did not have express commandments from the Lord, he resorted to giving his personal opinion on the basis of the mercy he had obtained of the Lord to be found faithful or trustworthy in the ministry. Once again, a concession in scripture must never be misconstrued for a commandment of scripture. 

Another place where Paul gave his personal judgement was in regard to his judgement regarding widows. Here, he premised his judgement on the fact that he had the abiding presence of the Spirit of God. Hear him:

A wife is bound by law as long as her husband lives; but if her husband dies, she is at liberty to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. But she is happier if she remains as she is, according to my judgment — and I think I also have the Spirit of God.

1Corinthians 7:39 — 1Corinthians 7:40

Again one must never mistake the commandments of scripture with the concessions of scripture. The commandments of scripture are undebatable but the concessions of scripture are debatable. They are subject to human debates because they were given by human judgement based upon the abiding presence of the Spirit of God in them or the mercy they have obtained to be found faithful in the Lord.  That said, we turn to the central concept of ownership in marriage.

The scriptures suggest that in a marriage,  there is a mutual transfer of the authority over each other’s body to the respective couples. Ownership here means that in marriage,  the couples serve at each other’s pleasure and are not to withhold or defraud one another of their sexual conjugal rights. This is a valid scriptural concept but does this preclude the couples from having their individual choices? 


The earth is the LORD’s, and all its fullness, The world and those who dwell therein. For He has founded it upon the seas, And established it upon the waters.

Psalms 24:1-2

“If I were hungry, I would not tell you; For the world is Mine, and all its fullness.

Psalm 50:12

for “the earth is the LORD’s, and all its fullness.”

1Corinthians 10:26

All of the above scriptures suggest that God owns everything and everyone. It is scripturally pointless to debate that fact. However, what matters to us is this. Does His ownership of us make room for our personal choices? Or does He just violate our wills and rape us, because He owns us?  I believe that God always gives us a choice to serve Him or not. Though He owns us, He seldom forces Himself on us.

And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”

Joshua 24:15

I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live; that you may love the LORD your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days; and that you may dwell in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them.”

Deuteronomy 30:19-20

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

John 3:16

All of the scriptures above suggest that God’s love is a love that doesn’t impose itself on us but rather His love is the kind of love that gives us a choice.  I often reference the garden of Eden in this regard. He could have created man, a robot, without the option of choosing him or not. Rather, He respected man enough to allow him to make the choice, even the choice not to choose him. This, in my view, is authentic love.

Love is not love if it doesn’t give its beloved the option to choose. The proof of love is giving the object of love liberty,  even the liberty not to be chosen. I cannot prove that someone loves me if the person had no options. The availability of options and their preference to love me is what ratifies their love for me.

Therefore, to suggest that the concept of ownership in marriage means the right to rape or force your spouse to have sex with you, giving them no options, is alien to the spirit of scripture.  It is putting the marriage partner in a class above God, who gives us a choice to either serve him or not. Marital rape is in essence wrong and cannot be justified by the concept of mutual ownership in marriage. 

God’s love and Christ’s love for us is a brand of love that makes itself available but prefers to be chosen. It is this brand of responsible love that we are supposed to model in marriage. I sincerely believe that you cannot genuinely love a person and force yourself on them. Conversely, I believe you cannot genuinely love a person and withhold yourself from them. You cannot love a person and derive pleasure in having them beg for you either. The desire to please another comes with the residence of love.

In conclusion, though love respects personal choices including the choice not to have sex in marriage, there is an inherent danger in starving your partner sexually in marriage. The Bible suggests that to the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet. This means that a sexually starved partner is likely to be susceptible to any and every sexual temptation in their space. And if your sexual denial and reluctance, facilitated your partner’s fall into sexual temptation, you dug your marital grave with your own hands. Also, if the person your spouse yielded to is sexually better than you and more willing to sexually engage your spouse than you, you have sealed your marital grave with your sexual reluctance. A word is enough for the wise. 

A satisfied soul loathes the honeycomb, But to a hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet.

Proverbs 27:7

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