Did OT Men Treat Their Wives Like Property?

By Amy Hall

Did OT Men Treat Their Wives Like Property?

Every once in a while, I’ll hear someone throw out the idea that men in the Old Testament treated their wives like property as if it’s an obvious, accepted fact. I’m not convinced it’s true. Granted, I’m sure there were some men who did, just as there are terrible husbands now; but in the main, the passages I read in the Bible about husbands and wives don’t look at all like men viewing their wives as property. Here are a few verses that come to mind.

The first is a law in Deuteronomy:

When a man takes a new wife, he shall not go out with the army nor be charged with any duty; he shall be free at home one year and shall give happiness to his wife whom he has taken. (Deut. 24:5)

By law, a newly married man had to be free for a year in order to “give happiness to his wife.” It seems significant that the stated goal is to make the wife happy. For a year. By law. If women were considered property, I could imagine a law saying the husband should be free to enjoy his wife for a year, but not one saying he should be free to make her happy for a year. And the fact that this was a law means it was a society-wide value. The whole society would have to be behind this in order for it to work—in order for a man to stay at home for a year, bringing happiness to his wife.

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