“There is NO mention of abortion in the Bible,” says Gus diZerega at “A Pagan’s Blog” posted on the Beliefnet site. How would you answer his claim? Abortion was unthinkable to a Jew. Barrenness among women was thought to be a sign of disfavor (Gen. 20:18). Consider Sarah (Gen. 11:30), Rebekah (25:21), Rachel (29:31), Manoah’s wife (Judges 13:2-3), Hannah (1 Samuel 2:5), and Elisabeth (Luke 1:7, 13, 36). There doesn’t need to be a direct command for a woman not to kill her unborn child when one of the earliest commands in the Bible is to be “fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28; 9:1). “Children are a gift of the LORD; the fruit of the womb is a reward…. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them” (Ps. 127:3-5).
How can the command to be fruitful and multiply and children being a blessing be realized if a woman kills her unborn babies? Abortion would be a self-maledictory curse.
In Israel and among oriental peoples generally barrenness was a woman’s and a family’s greatest misfortune. The highest sanctions of religion and patriotism blessed the fruitful woman, because children were necessary for the perpetuation of the tribe and its religion. It is significant that the mothers of the Hebrew race, Sarah, Rebekah and Rachel, were by nature sterile, and therefore God’s special intervention shows His particular favor to Israel. Fruitfulness was God’s special blessing to His people (Exodus 23:26; Deuteronomy 7:14; Psalms 113:9). A complete family is an emblem of beauty (Song of Solomon 4:2; 6:6). Metaphorically, Israel, in her days of adversity, when her children were exiled, was barren, but in her restoration she shall rejoice in many children (Isaiah 54:1; Galatians 4:27). The utter despair and terror of the destruction of Jerusalem could go no farther than that the barren should be called blessed (Luke 23:29). (Bible Study Tools)
DiZerega tries to support his position by referencing Exodus 21:22-23 by claiming that the passage rebuts the claims of anti-abortionists. Let’s see if he is right:
First, in Exodus 21:22–23 a pregnant woman is standing near enough to two men fighting 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 to harm resulting in death to the mother and/or one or more of her children.
Second, 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 he or she exits the sanctuary of the womb.
Third, the Bible attributes self-consciousness to unborn babies, something that modern medicine has studied and acknowledged. Jacob and Esau are said to have “struggled together within” their mother’s womb (Gen. 25:22). The New Testament offers a similar glimpse into prenatal consciousness: “And it came about that when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb” (Luke 1:41). “Struggling” and “leaping” are a conscious response. The fighting of Jacob and Esau inside their mother’s womb is indicative of their continued fighting outside the womb. John leaps in reaction to Mary’s pregnancy.
Fourth, some commentators claim that in Exodus 21:22 killing an unborn “fetus” is nothing more than a property crime rather than the killing of a human being. This is absurd. Their operating premise is that a preborn baby is not defined as a person. The Bible teaches otherwise. The original Hebrew reads: “And if men struggle with each other and strike a pregnant woman so that her children [yeled] come out…” Notice that the text uses the word “children,” not “products of conception.” The Hebrew word for “children” in this verse is used in other contexts to designate a child already born. For example, in Exodus 2:6 we read:
When Pharaoh’s daughter opened [the basket], she saw the child [yeled], and behold, the boy was crying. And she had pity on him and said, “This is one of the Hebrews’ children [yeled].”
Since in the Exodus case law these are “children that come out,” they are persons, not body parts like an appendix or a kidney. For example, “And the first came forth [way·yê·ṣê] red, all over like a hairy garment; and they named him Esau. And afterward his brother came forth [yā·ṣā]” (Gen. 25:25-26, also, 38:28-30.)
Fifth, if there is no injury to these individuals (the mother and/or her prematurely delivered child or children) then there is no penalty. If there is injury, then the judges must decide on an appropriate penalty based on the extent of the injury either to the mother and/or her children because both are persons in terms of biblical law. The most severe penalty is death: “life for life.”
Sixth, some translations have “so that she has a miscarriage.” This is the translation that diZerega follows, and it is incorrect. For example, the 1977 edition of the New American Standard Bible translated the text using “miscarriage.” The 1995 translation is better (“she gives birth prematurely”), but it still does not capture the literal rendering of the Hebrew. In a marginal note, the NASB translators recognize that the literal rendering of the text is “her children come out.”
It’s frustrating to read translations that include marginal notes that tell us what it says literally. Translate it literally, and then use a note to offer an explanation if needed. Other translations have a more word-for-word translation. Here’s one example:
When men get in a fight and hit a pregnant woman so that her children are born [prematurely] but there is no injury, the one who hit her must be fined as the woman’s husband demands from him, and he must pay according to judicial assessment” (Holman Christian Standard Bible).
Notice that it’s “so that her children are born.” Here’s a reading from Young’s Literal Translation (1898):
And when men strive, and have smitten a pregnant woman, and her children have come out, and there is no mischief, he is certainly fined, as the husband of the woman doth lay upon him, and he hath given through the judges.
Seventh, there are two Hebrew words that fit the circumstances of miscarriage or premature birth: “There shall be no one miscarrying [shakal] or barren in your land” (Ex. 23:26; also, Hosea 9:14). The Hebrew word for “miscarriage” was available to Moses since it appears just two chapters later (Ex. 23:26). Another example is found in Job: “Or like a miscarriage [nefel] which is discarded, I would not be” (Job 3:16). Meredith G. Kline offers a helpful summary of the passage:
This law found in Exodus 21:22–25 turns out to be perhaps the most decisive positive evidence in scripture that the fetus is to be regarded as a living person…. No matter whether one interprets the first or second penalty to have reference to a miscarriage, there is no difference in the treatments according to the fetus and the woman. Either way the fetus is regarded as a living person, so that to be criminally responsible for the destruction of the fetus is to forfeit one’s life…. The fetus, at any stage of development, is, in the eyes of this law, a living being, for life (nephesh) is attributed to it…. Consistently in the relevant data of Scripture a continuum of identity is evident between the fetus and the person subsequently born and Exodus 21:22–25 makes it clear that this prenatal human being is to be regarded as a separate and distinct human life.1
Umberto Cassuto, also known as Moshe David Cassuto (1883–1951), was a Jewish rabbi and biblical scholar born in Florence, Italy. In his commentary on Exodus, he presents an accurate translation of the passage based on the nuances of the Hebrew:
When men strive together and they hurt unintentionally a woman with child, and her children come forth but no mischief happens—that is, the woman and the children do not die—the one who hurts her shall surely be punished by a fine. But if any mischief happens, that is, if the woman dies or the children, then you shall give life for life.2
Oher commentators follow a similar approach. The following is a translational commentary on the passage under study from the 19th-century Old Testament commentary set known as Keil and Delitzsch:
If men strove and thrust against a woman with child, who had come near or between them for the purpose of making peace, so that her children come out (come into the world), and no injury was done either to the woman or the child that was born, a pecuniary compensation was to be paid, such as the husband of the woman laid upon him, and he was to give it by arbitrators. . . But if injury occur (to the mother or the child), thou shalt give soul for soul, eye for eye….
George Bush (1796-1859), professor of Hebrew and oriental literature at New York University, offered the following comment in his two-volume commentary Notes, Critical and Practical, on the Book of Exodus (2:19):
If the consequence were only the premature birth of the child, the aggressor was obliged to give her husband a recompense in money, according to his demand; but in order that his demand might not be unreasonable, it was subject to the final decision of the judges. On the other hand, if either the woman or her child was any way hurt or maimed, the law of retaliation at once took effect.
The King James Version takes a different translation approach, but it is consistent with the text that “children” are “coming out.” The KJV reads, “If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman’s husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine” (Ex. 21:22). The use of the word “fruit” is a descriptive euphemism for a born child in the Old Testament (Gen. 30:2) and the New Testament (Luke 1:42).
Gus diZerega could have found all the above information on the internet if he wanted to write an accurate article.
- Meredith G. Kline, “Lex Talionis and the Human Fetus,” The Simon Greenleaf Law Review, 5 (1985–1986), 75, 83, 88–89. This article originally appeared in Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (September 1977). Also see H. Wayne House, “Miscarriage or Premature Birth: Additional Thoughts on Exodus 21:22-25,” Westminster Theological Journal, Vol. 41, No. 1 (Fall 1978), 108–123. [↩]
- Umberto Cassuto, Commentary on the Book of Exodus (Jerusalem: The Hebrew University, 1967), 275. [↩]