Why did the methods of testing chastity differ?


Numbers 5:11-22 Then the Lord said to Moses, "Speak to the Israelites and say to them: 'If a mans wife goes astray and is unfaithful to him by sleeping with another man, and this is hidden from her husband and her impurity is undetected (since there is no witness against her and she has not been caught in the act), and if feelings of jealousy come over her husband and he suspects his wife and she is impure - or if he is jealous and suspects her even though she is not impure - then he is to take his wife to the priest. He must also take an offering of a tenth of an ephah of barley flour on her behalf. He must not pour oil on it or put incense on it, because it is a grain offering for jealousy, a reminder offering to draw attention to guilt. The priest shall bring her and have her stand before the Lord. Then he shall take some holy water in a clay jar and put some dust from the tabernacle floor into the water. After the priest has had the woman stand before the Lord, he shall loosen her hair and place in her hands the reminder offering, the grain offering for jealousy, while he himself holds the bitter water that brings a curse. Then the priest shall put the woman under oath and say to her, "If no other man has slept with you and you have not gone astray and become impure while married to your husband, may this bitter water that brings a curse not harm you. But if you have gone astray while married to your husband and you have defiled yourself by sleeping with a man other than your husband" - here the priest is to put the woman under this curse of the oath - "may the Lord cause your people to curse and denounce you when he causes your thigh to waste away and your abdomen to swell. May this water that brings a curse enter your body so that your abdomen swells and your thigh wastes away." Then the woman is to say, "Amen. So be it."'"

Deuteronomy 22:13-21 If a man takes a wife and, after lying with her, dislikes her and slanders her and gives her a bad name, saying, "I married this woman, but when I approached her, I did not find proof of her virginity," then the girl's father and mother shall bring proof that she was a virgin to the town elders at the gate. The girl's father will say to the elders, "I gave my daughter in marriage to this man, but he dislikes her. Now he has slandered her and said, 'I did not find your daughter to be a virgin.' But here is the proof of my daughter's virginity." Then her parents shall display the cloth before the elders of the town, and the elders shall take the man and punish him. They shall fine him a hundred shekels of silver and give them to the girl's father, because this man has given an Israelite virgin a bad name. She shall continue to be his wife; he must not divorce her as long as he lives. If, however, the charge is true and no proof of the girl's virginity can be found, she shall be brought to the door of her father's house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death. She has done a disgraceful thing in Israel by being promiscuous while still in her father's house. You must purge the evil from among you.

The law of jealousy in the Number's passage uses the "curse of the oath" and the possibility of a woman's stomach swelling to determine a woman's faithfulness. If guilty, the woman's stomach would swell and ultimately she would not be able to bear children (Num. 5:27); but if innocent her stomach would not swell and she would be cleared of any guilt and be able to bear children (Num. 5:28).

The Deuteronomy passage refers to blood-stained sheets (Deut. 22:15-17) from the wedding night as evidence of chastity. If this evidence reveals a lack of blood and the husband's charges are thus true, the new wife could be stoned to death. But if the husband's charges are false, he would be heavily fined and not be able to divorce her.

The Numbers passage is a test for alleged unfaithfulness AFTER marriage. The Deuteronomy text deals with alleged unchastity BEFORE marriage. So, the methods differ because the situations differ.

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).