DID BIBLE TRANSLATORS RETRANSLATE A BIBLE VERSE TO APPEASE THE CHRISTIAN RIGHT’S PRO-LIFE MESSAGE?


Jacob Shelton, writing for Weird History, claims that the translation of Exodus 21:22-25 was altered to support the GOP and the Christian Right because of its anti-abortion stance:

In the 1975 version of the New American Standard Bible, the verse read: “And if men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she has a miscarriage, yet there is not further injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman’s husband may demand of him; and he shall pay as the judges decide.”

In 1995, the verse was changed to read: “If men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she gives birth prematurely, yet there is no injury…

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The words were changed in the 1995 version in order to make it so the fetus doesn’t die in the verse, thus supporting the Christian Right’s pro-life message that killing a fetus is the same as killing a human, and the Bible says so.

Shelton may be “a know it all when it comes to horror movies, serial killers, government conspiracies, comic books, and movies about comic books,” but he does not know much about the Bible and Bible translations.

The goal of translating the Bible into another language is to make it as accurate, readable, and as accessible as possible to people who can’t read the original languages. Every translation has gone through revisions, even the KJV. In fact, every new translation that is published is an attempt to make the original languages of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek a better translation. Some translations try to do this by smoothing out the original language to get the essence of meaning while others try to be as literal as possible without being wooden. That’s why you will see in some translations (e.g., KJV and NASB) words in italic to indicate that they are not in the original language. They are added to make a passage more understandable.

Let’s put Mr. Shelton’s claim that the NASB editors changed its translation of Exodus 21:22 for political reasons to the test:

First, Exodus 21:22–25 deals with a particular judicial case where two men struggle (fight) with one another. We are not told why they are fighting. A pregnant woman is standing near enough that she is affected by the altercation. She goes into premature labor. This case law covers all the “cases,” everything from no harm to the mother and her prematurely born children (plural) to harm resulting in death to the mother and one or more of her children.

Second, the woman is not deciding to have an abortion. At one level, it’s an accident that she goes into labor. At another level, however, the men should not have been fighting, so there is some liability. The woman could be the wife of one of the men.

Third, the text is clear, she is pregnant with at least one child: “And if men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child. . .” (Ex. 21:22). The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew-English Lexicon defines hareh as a pregnant woman with child. It’s clear that she is not carrying around a mass of undefined tissue that becomes a human being when “it” exits the sanctuary of the womb.

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