Saturday, March 27, 2010

Exodus and abortion

Is there a case to be made for abortion in Exodus 21:22? This site comes from Liberated Christians of Phoenix, whose views are, uh, er, out of the evangelical mainstream. Interestingly, the claim has some support from philosopher James Rachels, who writes:

The scriptural passage that comes closest to making a specific judgment about the moral status of fetuses occurs in the 21st chapter of Exodus. The chapter here is part of a detailed description of the law of the ancient Israelites. Here the penalty for murder is said to be death; however, it is also said that if a pregnant woman is caused to have a miscarriage, the penalty is only a fine, to be paid to her husband. Murder was not a category that included fetuses. Clearly, the Israelites regarded fetuses as something less than full human being.[29]

To which his son Stuart Rachels, a philosophy professor (and an International Master in chess) at the University of Alabama, added:

We say that the Bible does not treat abortion as murder: Exodus 21 says that the punishment for abortion is only a fine. (5/e, 65; 6/e, 60) I now refer to three more biblical passages which support the same conclusion: three times the death penalty is recommended for women who have had sex out of wedlock, even though killing the woman would also kill any fetus she might be carrying. (Genesis 38:24; Leviticus 21:9; Deuteronomy 22:20-21; see 6/e, 59-60)  

However, one of the reviewers for Rachels' book on Amazon suggests that this judgment might be exegetically suspect:

Rachels might have a PH.D, but he is no Hebrew scholar. The mistranslation of "yatsa" as miscarriage in the NAS version implies the death of the fetus, but it still takes conjecture and speculation on Rachels part to conclude that the baby definitely died upon leaving the mother early. With easy access to other biblical translations and the Internet (just type Exodus 21:22 in a search engine like GOOGLE) there is no excuse for Dr. Rachels shoddy academic discourse on such a salient issue in today's society.  

 I'm guessing that the Amazon commentator is right. If there's a biblical case to be made on either side of this issue, it's going to take more work than Rachels has put in.



Blaise Pascal said...

Either way it gets penalized. Even today you may only get a fine for killing accidentaly. Whether it is murder or not depends on the intent.

There is also another interpretation of the same passage in Ex. which is against abortion:

What concerns the other passage that an unlawfully pregnant women should receive the death penalty: It doesnt necessarily mean that the live of a fetus is worth less than the life of a fully grown human. At best it means that the life of an unlawfully conceived fetus is worth less than that of a grown human, which is more consistend with old jewish costum and other passages in the Bible.

For me at least the intepretation of these and other passages is settled, not the least because I believe that the Catholic Church has teaching authority. And her teaching is abudantly clear on this matter.

Mike Darus said...

1) If Exodus was clear that an unborn child was less than human, there would be a very different situation today.
2) The exegesis of this passage cannot turn on our technical medical definition of "miscarriage" (implying death). The Hebrew only indicates that "her fruit depart(s)."
3) The issue turns on the meaning of "harm" in verse 23. Those looking for a pro-choice position assume it means that the mother is inured or dies. Those with a pro-life position include the death or injury of the child to be included in the harm.
4) The reliance on choosing a translation version to exegete a biblical passage is lazy considering the wealth of serious literature available.
5) Are we to assume that mastery of chess and philosophy qualify as an authority on biblical exegesis?

Francis Beckwith said...

I dealt with this argument nearly 20 years ago in the journal, Bibliotheca Sacra:

I, of course, may not have succeeded. But I do offer a perspective that shows that Rachels' argument is not the only obvious deliverance of reason.

bossmanham said...

It's a reaaaall stretch to twist this passage into saying abortion is okay. The context and the way the passage flows seems to clearly indicate that this is a premature birth without serious harm to either party.

As the Net Bible says, "The [premature birth] view is taken here because of the way the whole section is written: (1) “her children come out” reflects a birth and not the loss of children, (2) there is no serious damage, and (3) payment is to be set for any remuneration. The word אָסוֹן (’ason) is translated “serious damage.” The word was taken in Mekilta to mean “death.” U. Cassuto says the point of the phrase is that neither the woman or the children that are born die (Exodus, 275). But see among the literature on this: M. G. Kline, “Lex Talionis and the Human Fetus,” JETS 20 (1977): 193-201; W. House, “Miscarriage or Premature Birth: Additional Thoughts on Exodus 21:22-25,” WTJ 41 (1978): 108-23; S. E. Loewenstamm, “Exodus XXI 22-25,” VT 27 (1977): 352-60."

Victor Reppert said...

Mike: 5) Are we to assume that mastery of chess and philosophy qualify as an authority on biblical exegesis?

VR: Let's let Dennis Monokroussos, who has some authority in both disciplines, and a former student of Frank Beckwith, answer that question. Dennis has told me that he had the Rachels in mind when he wrote this post.

You have to go up a couple a weight classes from Rachels in the area of biblical exegesis in order to get any useful conclusions.

unkleE said...

May I offer an alternative view? I find it difficult to believe that we should base our view of abortion, one way or the other, on a verse in Exodus, because:

(1) Are we going to allow the OT, speaking into a culture far removed from ours in time, space and situation, to be determinative for us? What about passages such as these ...

Leviticus 13:47-60 - clothing with mildew;
Psalm 137:8-9 - vengeance by killing babies;
Exodus 21:17 - capital punishment for cursing one's parents;
Exodus 23:10-11 - leave fields fallow every seventh year;
Exodus 25-30, etc - the sacrificial system;

There are few of us who think these and many other laws apply to us today, and so we find ways to explain them away without explicitly saying as much - the sacrificial law doesn't apply now because of jesus, we look for principles rather than rules, etc. But it's a messy and unbiblical process and it's little wonder we have so much disagreement. There surely must be a better way?

(2) That was old covenant, and we are in the new covenant where many things are different. We know that, but don't feel really comfortable with applying it consistently. Paul makes it very clear in 1 Cor 3:6-17 that we now serve God in a new way which brings life rather than death. And in Rom 7:1-7 he say "we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code" - and he even includes one of the Ten Commandments in this! All this is consistent with Jesus' teaching in Luke 16:16-17.

So if we are to be true to the NT, we shouldn't be arguing about fine points of meaning of Hebrew words, but asking the Spirit, who will guide us into all truth (John 14:26, 16:13), to interpret God's will to us. We may yet glean something from ancient passages like Exodus, but it will not be in a legalistic manner.

Anonymous said...

That website is weird as hell. I hope that you're not a member there, VR...

Victor Reppert said...

Good grief no.

Anonymous said...

Even open theists retain some morality and piety...

Edwardtbabinski said...


Cursed be the day wherein I was born: let not the day wherein my mother bare me be blessed. Cursed be the man who brought tidings to my father, saying, A man child is born unto thee; making him very glad. And let that man be as the cities which the LORD overthrew, and repented not: and let him hear the cry in the morning, and the shouting at noontide; Because he slew me not from the womb; or that my mother might have been my grave, and her womb to be always great with me. Wherefore came I forth out of the womb to see labour and sorrow, that my days should be consumed with shame?
- Jeremiah 20:14-18

[This is the only Biblical passage that directly and indisputably mentions a practice that we would today think of as “abortion,” but notice, Jeremiah is cursing a man for NOT aborting the fetal Jeremiah.--E.T.B.]

Or as an hidden untimely birth I had not been; as infants which never saw light. There the wicked cease from troubling; and there the weary be at rest. There the prisoners rest together; they hear not the voice of the oppressor. The small and great are there; and the servant is free from his master.
- Job 3:16-19

If a man beget an hundred children, and live many years, so that the days of his years be many, and his soul be not filled with good, and also that he have no burial; I say, that an untimely birth is better than he. For he cometh in with vanity, and departeth in darkness, and his name shall be covered with darkness. Moreover he hath not seen the sun, nor known any thing: this hath more rest than the other.
- Ecclesiastes 6:3-5

Edwardtbabinski said...


According to the Bible, God Himself is ready, willing and able to abort fetuses:

Their fruit shalt Thou destroy from the earth, and their seed from among the children of men.
- Psalm 21:10

The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they are born... let every one of them pass away: like the untimely birth of a woman, that they may not see the sun.
- Psalm 58:3,8

As for Israel, their glory shall fly away like a bird, and from the womb, and from the conception...Give them, O Lord: what will Thou give? Give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts...they shall bear no fruit...
- Hosea 9:11-16

Notice that the prophet Hosea is pleading with his God to punish the Israelites by murdering their unborn babies. The Bible never really provides a logical rationale as to why fetuses, babies, and children must be punished for the sins of their parents and others. Some would suggest that for God to kill unborn babies for their parent’s sins is somewhat misdirected retribution.

Gene Kasmar, WHY…The Brooklyn Center High School Bible Challenge. Part 1: The Evidence

Edwardtbabinski said...


Every living thing on the earth was drowned [by the Hebrew LORD--which included pregnant women and babies]...Noah only remained alive, and they that were with him in the ark.
- Genesis 7:23

Thus saith the LORD...Slay both man and woman, infant and suckling.
- 1 Samuel 15:3

Joshua destroyed all that breathed, as the LORD commanded.
- Joshua 10:40

The LORD delivered them before us; and we destroyed the men, and the women, and the little ones.
- Deuteronomy 2:33-34

Kill every male among the little ones.
- Numbers 31:17

The wind of the LORD shall come up from the wilderness, and his spring shall become dry, and...Samaria shall become desolate...they shall fall by the sword: their infants shall be dashed in pieces, and their women with child shall be ripped up.
- Hosea 13:15-16

With thee will I [the LORD] break in pieces the young man and the maid.
- Jeremiah 51:22

Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.
- Psalm 137:9

According to the Bible, God gave orders to kill children and to rip open the bodies of pregnant women. The pestilences were sent by God. The frightful famine, during which the dying child with pallid lips sucked the withered bosom of his dead mother, was sent by God. God drowned an entire world with the exception of eight persons. Imagine how such acts would have stained the reputation of the devil!

Robert G. Ingersoll

Edwardtbabinski said...


According to the God of the Bible it was more important to stone a woman to death if she should “entice you to follow after other gods,” than it was to rescue the life of any fetus she might have been carrying.

It was more important to stone a woman to death the day after her wedding night “if she was discovered not to have been a virgin,” than it was to wait and see if she might have conceived new life that night.

It was more important to stone a woman to death for “adultery,” than to wait and see if she might be pregnant.

It was more important to stone a woman to death for “failing to cry out while being raped within earshot of the city,” than it was to spare the life she might have conceived during that ordeal, during which the rapist may have held a knife to her throat, or strangled her into silence and submission.

And what about the test of “bitter water” mentioned in chapter five of the book of Numbers? The test consisted of mixing dust from the floor of the Hebrew tabernacle with “holy water” to make a concoction that a woman drank to test whether or not she had committed adultery. If she had, it says, “her belly will swell and her thigh will rot.” Scholars have pointed out that “thigh” is a euphemism for sexual organs. So if the woman had committed adultery and had conceived as a result, then the “bitter water” would induce an abortion (“her thigh would rot”). (I wonder if this means that Bible-believing women who are accused of having affairs ought to swallow some dirt from the floor of their church mixed with “holy water?” Or better yet, swallow an abortion pill like RU-486 in front of the whole congregation?)

And what about children who “curse their parents?” The Bible says, “Kill them!” (Ex. 21:17; Lev. 20:9; Mat. 15:4; Mark 7:10) The Bible does not say how old the child has to be, but it does emphatically state they must “surely be put to death” should they “curse their parents.”

Ah, the good old days, when God fearing people had higher priorities than “saving fetal lives.” They were too busy stoning whomever enticed them to worship other gods, stoning adulteresses, stoning women who weren’t virgins on their wedding night, stoning women who “failed to cry out” during rape, and stoning sassy children. In other words they were too busy with all of those higher priorities to worry about “the fate of fetuses.”


Edwardtbabinski said...


Abortion as such is not discussed in the Bible, so any explanation of why it is not legislated or commented on is speculative.

A key text for examining ancient Israelite attitudes [toward the fetus] is Exodus 21:22-25: “When people who are fighting injure a pregnant woman so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no further harm follows, the one responsible shall be fined what the woman’s husband demands, paying as much as the judges determine. If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” Several observations can be made about this passage.

The Hebrew text at v. 22 literally reads “and there is no harm,” implying that contrary to current sensibilities, the miscarriage itself was not considered serious injury. The monetary judgment given to the woman’s husband indicates that the woman’s experience of the miscarriage is not of significance, and that the damage is considered one to property rather than to human life. This latter observation is further supported by the contrast with the penalties for harm to the woman herself.

Drorah O’Donnell Setel, “Abortion,” The Oxford Guide to Ideas & Issues of the Bible, ed. by Bruce Metzger and Michael D. Coogan (Oxford University Press, 2001)

Edwardtbabinski said...

There is no biblical proof-text against abortion. Deuteronomy 30:19 (“choose life”) has nothing to do with abortion; it has to do with being party to God’s covenant with Israel. Psalm 139:13-18 is less relevant to the issue than most people think; a careful reading of that psalm reveals that the “mother” in whose “womb” the psalmist was known by God is Mother Earth (notice the parallelism between “my mother’s womb” and “the depths of the earth” in the inclusio of vv. 13-15). Exodus 21 is very difficult, but it certainly does not speak directly to abortion; at most, it relates to an accidentally induced miscarriage, though it may refer to a premature birth. That interpretive decision is crucial, and I’m not sure how to resolve it. As far as I can tell, the only biblical passage that I know of that directly mentions a practice like we would think of as abortion curses a man who did not practice it on the fetal Jeremiah (Jeremiah 20:16-18). Now, having said that, I hasten to repeat that my general default position is anti-abortion (I am willing to listen to arguments on specific cases, though I’ve never had any input into a specific case), and I think a biblical case can be made for an anti-abortion position. But it must be a cumulative theological case, not a list of proof-texts--for there are no such proof-texts.

Dr. R. Christopher Heard [Old Testament professor at Pepperdine University, lifelong member of Churches of Christ], “Is the Bible Anti-Abortion?” at his blog, Higgaion, Friday, November 18, 2005

Edwardtbabinski said...


This first option is the most optimistic, loving, and forgiving, but seems to turn abortions into “altar calls” with 100% assurance of eternal salvation for each and every aborted fetus.

But what do YOU believe?

According to various Bible verses, God “ordains” all things, including the premature deaths (including executions) of fetuses, pregnant women, and children. In other words, each soul in this world “gets” what God has “ordained” for it, regardless if they are aborted in the womb, or reach old age.

But what do YOU believe?

Theologians from Augustine to Jonathan Edwards considered it right for God to send to hell the souls of fetuses whose bodies were not baptized before they died. Their doctrine was called “infant damnation” and it was taught by Christian churches for centuries. So, all fetuses that are not baptized before they die go to hell.

But what do YOU believe?

If baptism spiritually cleanses the fetus’ “original sin,” ensuring it goes to heaven, then why take any risks of it not getting baptized, and instead baptize fetuses by inserting a syringe filled with water into the womb? This would be especially useful in cases where the life of a fetus and/or the mother was at risk. Indeed, the option of syringe baptism continued to be taught to Catholic seminarians right up till Vatican II in the 1960s.

Attempting to counteract such Catholic excesses as he viewed them the Protestant Reformer, John Calvin, forbade mid-wives (or anyone else for that matter) from hastily baptizing sickly newborn infants, because Calvin believed in waiting a few days until a proper baptism ceremony in church could be conducted. According to Calvin, it was God’s providential choice, not human effort, that determined who would wind up in heaven or hell, and if the fetus or newborn didn’t survive long enough to have a proper baptismal ceremony, it was God’s will that it die prematurely and/or suffer in hell for eternity.

Which of the four cases above do YOU believe is true?

Maul P. said...

As I understand it, the term "miscarriage" isn't in the original. The Hebrew word simply means, "Her fruit comes out." It is impossible, by that word alone, to determine the state this child comes out in - dead or alive. The same Hebrew words are used in various other places to indicate live births. Rachels depends on the notion that the child comes out dead for his argument, yet this view cannot be demonstrated from the text.

Second, had the author wanted to indicate a stillborn birth, he could have. The Psalmist also talks about children born dead. The word is nephel. Nephal is defined by Gesenius as “a premature birth, which falls from the womb, an abortion” (p. 558; cf. Brown, et al., p. 658). Another word could have been used too. Shachol and its variations were used in places like Gen. 31:38; Hosea 9:14; Ex. 23:26. Shachol means “to cause abortion (in women, flocks, etc.)” or “to make abortion, i.e., to suffer it” (Gesenius, p. 822; cf. Brown, et al., p. 1013). But Moses didn't use these words. He used words that were used over and over again to refer to live births. But besides that, the term is not indexed to either life or death.

Third, when the text says "no lasting harm" or "no harm" is done, the text leaves it open, grammatically, that this refer to either the woman or the child. Rachels cannot show that the object of the "harm" is the woman. To claim it means only the woman is an unjustified reading. The best interpretation is that the author meant for the ambiguity to be able to be indexed to woman and/or child. This is most economical as well rather than the author writing out the various permutations, viz. death to both child and mother, death to child but not to mother, death to mother but not to child, injury to child but not mother, etc., etc., etc.

As Archer states, "What is required is that if there should be an injury either to the mother or to her children, the injury shall be avenged by a like injury to the assailant. If it involves the life (ne-pes’) of the premature baby, then the assailant shall pay for it with his life. There is no second-class status attached to the fetus under this rule (Encyclopedia, 1982, p. 248)."

Fourth, in the text we're dealing with an unintended injury or death to mother or child (or both), this is clearly disanalogous to abortions.

One can consult these articles if one wants:

Or consult some standard commentaries, Stewart, Enns, Currid, etc.

Victor Reppert said...

By and large, although there is a demographic tendency to couple traditional religious belief (Catholic or Protestant) with pro-life abortion views, I'm not sure the Bible is a big game-changer on abortion. The reason is that it secular society and the Bible agree that it's wrong to kill people after they're born, and then the anti-abortion side has the No Morally Relevant Dissimilarities argument, (species members, from conception of, acquire no characteristics of sufficient moral relevance to justify granting a right to life to the born that is not given to the unborn), and then maybe the Deer Hunter Argument in case NMRD argument is inconclusive.

Even someone like me, who doesn't pass muster from the point of view of pro-life orthodoxy, nevertheless can see that atheist philosopher Rachels' treatment of the relevant biblical issues is sloppy. In fact, I figured that by now Steve Hays would have taken Rachels to the woodshed an said all the things about his "exegesis" that I was too nice to say here.

If you are looking for pro-life texts, I would have thought that Psalm 139 would be stronger than the Jeremiah passage. The exegesis isn't a slam dunk, but it seems immune to the rebuttals that Rachels uses.

J said...

Tacitus on jews:

They sit apart at meals, they sleep apart, and though, as a nation, they are singularly prone to lust, they abstain from intercourse with foreign women; among themselves nothing is unlawful. Circumcision was adopted by them as a mark of difference from other men. Those who come over to their religion adopt the practice, and have this lesson first instilled into them, to despise all gods, to disown their country, and set at nought parents, children, and brethren. Still they provide for the increase of their numbers. It is a crime among them to kill any newly-born infant. They hold that the souls of all who perish in battle or by the hands of the executioner are immortal. Hence a passion for propagating their race and a contempt for death.

Not too PC, but he seems to suggest jews did not approve of abortion or infanticide (whereas it was tolerated at times by romans).

Edwardtbabinski said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Edwardtbabinski said...

Paul, Vic,

Can we agree that the verse in Exodus does not speak of a man striking a pregnant woman deliberately in order to induce an abortion? Therefore it does not address the case of a man deliberately seeking to induce an abortion, nor a woman seeking an abortion.

In fact for most of the 9 months of pregnancy he would have no sure sign that a baby was there, and would be even less cognizant of deciding whether it was or not while fighting with another man. So what are the chances one man was aiming for the baby during their fight? The woman might be shooing the men out of her house or off her doorstep for all we know. Moreover, an accident never earns the death penalty in the Bible. On the other hand, the woman herself was quite visible and there was no such excuse. Any struggle that affects the woman to the point of inflicting serious injury could hardly be accidental. [hat tip J.P. Holding]

Secondly, can we agree that the verse assumes the fetus died? How many women in the ancient world (or modern world for that matter with modern medical treatment), having gotten so bruised it caused them to lose their fetus actually had it come out alive? I don't know of any such cases. I've heard of women falling down stairs and losing their fetus but it doesn't come out alive. Meanwhile if the bruises are so bad they kill the woman, then the fetus is also dead as a matter of course. So this law is about a DEAD FETUS.

NASB: . . . SHE gives birth prematurely, yet there is no injury,

ASV: . . . HER fruit departs and yet no harm follow

Young's: . . . HER children come out yet there is no mischief

“SHE, HER,” it’s happening to the woman, so the injury or harm that follows is also HERs, because the fetus for all practical purposes is already assumed to be a goner, it has left the building as they used to say about Elvis. It’s dead. That also explain why even if NO HARM follows to the woman, a FINE is still paid.

Other cultures in the ANE framed similar laws like the one in Exodus because accidental miscarriages due to physical altercations happened.

Let me also add that if God really wanted to make abortion illegal for all time He could have said so in plain language, even in an additional eleventh commandment if He wanted to, since that’s kind of what the abortion issue has become for many Evangelicals today. If anyone would know in advance to make such a command it would be God who knows the future, who knows about the continuing rise in world population, the invention of the pill, and the morning after pill, and the abortion pill, and therapeutic mid and late term abortions in the hundreds of millions round the world. God could have left word concerning this issue and inspired something like, "Neither husband nor wife shall induce the fruit of their womb to exit prematurely and die, under penalty of death to those who do." Instead Evangelicals are left having to struggle over the interpretation of a somewhat trickily worded ancient Near Eastern law made in the event of an accidental miscarriage, of which there were several such laws in the ancient world.

Edwardtbabinski said...


And what about ancient Hebrew prejudices in general? The Hebrews looked down on barren women, and also on bastard children. They blamed women for being barren, as a sign of disfavor by God, lack of God’s blessings at the very least, and they blamed bastard children for what their parents did, bearing a child out of wedlock. It was each bastard child's own fault they were not acceptable enough to enter the congregation of the Lord.

Today the vast majority of churches no longer stigmatize barren women in the least, it's simply a biological phenomenon, barrenness. And there are clinics that can increase women’s fertility, and places where single men or women can go to adopt children, including bastard children. And today even bastards can join any congregation they please.

You see, in the ancient world they left many things in God's hands, including women’s fertility and whether or not a child was born a bastard, and they believed such things were determined by God. He choose whom to bless or curse.

The ancients didn't have the knowledge or scientific ability to do a thing about a host of matters. One of their major recourses involved building temples, praying and sacrificing animals, and hoping for divine blessings for them and their kin, or finding ways to turn aside God’s curses and anger, which is how they interpreted much of what was going on around them, i.e., as either a divine blessing or curse.

That was their "scientific" understanding of how the world worked. God kept the sea’s boundaries in place and moved the clouds, and brought out the stars, and knitted people together inside the womb. And praising and placating their nation’s god(s) was how ancient Near Easterners dealt with life’s problems and their nation’s problems and how they interpreted everything good that happened to them and their nation and everything bad that happened to them and their nation.

PLEASE READ . . . (free at google books) Chapter 8 of Disturbing Divine Behavior: Troubling Old Testament Images of God by Eric A. Seibert. There's limited viewing of his book at google books, but if you only choose Chapter 8, "Israel's Theological Worldview," it's a great resource to print out via the print screen function and read. If you choose other chapters you might not be able to view the critical one since the preview closes down after a one chapter limit.

Also in google books is a chapter titled "Religio-historical approaches: monotheism, method and mortality" in Method Matters: Essays on the Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in Honor of David L. Petersen (Society of Biblical Literature Resources for Biblical Study) by Joel M. LeMon and Kent Harold Richards. Highly recommended!

Lastly, I also recommend my chapter in The Christian Delusion on "The Cosmology of the Bible," which is about more than just cosmology, but also about similarities as to how "high creator gods" were depicted and worshipped in the ancient Near East.

And then come back and we'll talk "abortion" some more.

Edwardtbabinski said...

Code of Hammurabi (209, 210) reads: "If a seignior struck a[nother] seignior's daughter and has caused her to have a miscarriage [literally, caused her to drop that of her womb], he shall pay ten shekels of silver for her fetus. If that woman had died, they shall put his daughter to death."

Hittite Laws, (1.17): "If anyone causes a free woman to miscarry [literally, drives out the embryo]-if (it is) the 10th month, he shall give 10 shekels of silver, if (it is) the 5th month, he shall give 5 shekels of silver..." The phrase "drives out the embryo" appears to relate to a miscarriage rather than to a premature birth.

Edwardtbabinski said...


When [at least two] men fight and [inadvertently] strike a pregnant woman and [as a consequence of the blow] the fetuses abort but there is no calamity [i.e. the pregnant woman survives the blow] [the offending culprit] must assuredly be punished as to be mandated by the woman's husband in court. [Ex. 21:22-23]

In this passage, the incident of unintentional feticide is punished by a fine, but the offending culprit is not consigned to a city of refuge, which would be the case were this accidental abortion to be viewed as a homicide [Exodus 21:23]. Therefore, the assault upon the fetus is, according to the Pentateuchal document that every Orthodox Judaism accepts to be the will and word of God, the human fetus carries the status of property, but not person.

Mark P. Shea said...

You may be interested in this excerpt from my book By What Authority?: An Evangelical Discovers Catholic Tradition.

Without the lens of Sacred Tradition, matters such as abortion, polygamy, the Trinity and numerous other questions become a hermaneutic crap shoot in the hands of moderns and postmoderns. I learned this, ironically, arguing with postmodern, pro-choice Evangelicals who appealed to The Bible Alone for their pro-abortion beliefs.

Unwobbling Pivot said...

What's the deal with not looking simply at the pre-born John the Baptist reacting to the presence in utero of the Lord Jesus? This is sufficient to demonstrate that the most advanced biblical view is of not-yet-born infants as being seen as human actors/reactors.

Anonymous said...

If one allows the church fathers to weigh in on the illicitness of abortion, we have this quote from the Didache (II,2):

" 2. Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not commit adultery; thou shalt not corrupt boys; thou shalt not commit fornication. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not use witchcraft; thou shalt not practice sorcery. Thou shalt not procure abortion, nor shalt thou kill the new-born child. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's goods."

Victor Reppert said...

The late-term fetal John the Baptist leaping in the womb might show personhood prior to birth, but certainly not in the first trimester or all the way back to conception.

Neil Bates said...

I don't think that text proves what's right or wrong anyway, but you can't get enough idea just by reading any English translation! See for example exegesis at . They are theological conservatives, but their examination of Hebrew usage is relevant and can't be ignored.

"Fine minds make fine distinctions."

Unknown said...

If we are basing this on Jewish Law the Talmud is much more clear in explaining that a fetus isn't a human being until its born.

Unknown said...

And the fact of the matter is you dotn have the right to impose your religious beliefs on other people. Period. It's what the founding fathers tried to prevent in realizing how much control the church of England had over government.