The Bible Endorses Abortion, Round 2 (Exodus 21:22-25)

pro-choice-christianI always find it interesting whenever I come across an argument that pro-abortion advocates find in the Bible that supposedly supports the killing of babies in the womb (as if they were really concerned with what the Bible has to say on the issue). But what is even more interesting (and sad) is when “Christians” buy these lies.

(See the first round of “The Bible Endorses Abortion” here)

My introduction to this argument came as I was working on a response to a piece on abortion in which the blogger (who shall remain nameless at this point) links to an article on the CNN belief blog claiming that evangelical Christians used to be pro-choice. The main premise of the article is based upon a 1968 issue of Christianity Today dedicated to contraception and abortion. In the leading article, former Dallas Theological Seminary professor, Bruce Waltke, stated that:

God does not regard the fetus as a soul, no matter how far gestation has progressed. The Law plainly exacts: ‘If a man kills any human life he will be put to death’ (Lev. 24:17). But according to Exodus 21:22-24, the destruction of the fetus is not a capitol offense… Clearly, then, in contrast to the mother, the fetus is not reckoned as a soul.”

Being the amateur, pro-life apologist that I am, I was dumbfounded by Waltke’s statement because I am very familiar with the Exodus 21 passage, and always knew it to be a very pro-life passage. How someone (especially an Old Testament theologian) could come to the opposite conclusion struck me as incredibly odd.

Since many of these discrepancies can be traced back to a mistranslation issue, I got out my Bible app and started looking through the various versions in order to understand this confusion. The vast majority of the versions read like the NKJV:

If men fight, and hurt a woman with child, so that she gives birth prematurely, yet no harm follows, he shall surely be punished accordingly as the woman’s husband imposes on him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. But ifany harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

The part of the translation of verse 22 that reads “…that she gives birth prematurely” has been altered for clarity from the KJV, which ambiguously reads, “so that her fruit depart from her.” Likewise, the English Standard Version reads, “…so that her children come out.” Again, an ambiguous rendering on the surface.

In contrast, The Message paraphrase reads:

“When there’s a fight and in the fight a pregnant woman is hit so that she miscarries but is not otherwise hurt, the one responsible has to pay whatever the husband demands in compensation.

And the Amplified Bible reads:

If men contend with each other, and a pregnant woman [interfering] is hurt so that she has a miscarriage, yet no further damage follows, [the one who hurt her] shall surely be punished with a fine [paid] to the woman’s husband, as much as the judges determine.

In my search, I also discovered that the NIV reads, “…and she gives birth prematurely…” and contains a margin note that says, “or she has a miscarriage.” I also discovered that the 1995 version of the New American Standard Bible also translated this phrase to read, “…so that she has a miscarriage.”

The abortion advocates are big fans of the versions that use “miscarriage” for the translation because they argue, as Waltke, that the value of the mother is more than the value of the fetus because less punishment is given if the fetus dies than if the woman dies. They then conclude that abortion is therefore justifiable.

The problems with their logic are numerous. Possibly the most glaring problem is that abortion advocates also say that the the Bible says nothing about abortion, thus justifying that abortion is, at least, not Biblically immoral (a fallacious argument from silence). And then they use this Bible passage to argue that abortion is morally justifiable. But how can the Bible justify abortion if they have already claimed that the Bible says nothing about abortion? Furthermore, this passage cannot be used to justify abortion because it is clearly about accidental injury, and abortion is intentional not accidental.

Beyond that, there are numerous translation issued to be examined. The word translated “fruit” (KJV), “children” (ESV), or “child” (NET) in verse 22 is the Hebrew word ילד (yeled) and is the same word used for babies and young children throughout the Old Testament. Thus there seems to be no distention in Moses’ mind between a child in the womb (fetus) and a child outside of the womb.

The word for “miscarriage” is יצא (yatsa’) and literally means to “come out,” hence the reading of the KJV and ESV translations. Contextually, the meaning is usually in relation to a live birth, as in Genesis 25:25, the first came out red, all of him like a hairy robe; and they called his name Esau” (See also Gen 38:28-30). The translation to “miscarriage” is curious here because no where else in the Old Testament does either the Amplified Bible or The Message translate this Hebrew word to mean “miscarriage.” Also, this rendering is curious because the same writer, Moses, uses another word for miscarriage just two chapters later: “None shall lose her young by miscarriage or be barren in your land” (Exodus 23:26, AMP). The word employed here is שכל (shakol), and is often translated as “miscarriage” in modern translations.

Now that we have established that the correct interpretive view is that which gives equal status to both mother and child, let’s examine the implications of this passage.

The word “injury’ in both verses 22 and 23 in indefinite, in that it does not designate either the mother nor the child and can be applied to either the mother or the child or to both, whatever the individual case may be.

Interestingly, this is the only place in the entire Bible where the death penalty and lex talionis is enforced in the case of accidental death or injury. This is significant because it underscores the high value that God places on both the life of the mother and the child.

If abortion advocates really want to apply this passage to the abortion conversation they really ought to know what they are saying first, because if the accidental death of either mother or child ought to result in capital punishment, how much more ought we to apply capital punishment in cases of intentional death of the mother or child?