Is Abortion Biblical?

I felt the need for an article like this after reading an on-line essay ( that made claims that abortion was, in fact, biblical. There are many pro-life websites that provide ample evidence that abortion is detestable to the God of the Bible (for example...), but there are very few that address the objections of abortion advocates (one very good one is: Answering the Theological Case for Abortion Rights).

The one passage that is cited to support the pro-choice position is Exodus 21:22-25:
And if men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she has a miscarriage, yet there is no further injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman's husband may demand of him; and he shall pay as the judges decide. But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.
In this passage, a man causes a woman to have a miscarriage, and his punishment is a mere fine. This shows that an unborn child's life is not as important as a born child because the penalty for killing a born child is death.Human garbage

There's just one problem.

The verses quoted here are from the New American Standard version of the Bible. If we go to the New International Version (or even the updated version of the NAS), we find that the word translated as "miscarriage" in the NAS is translated as "gives birth prematurely." In fact, the Hebrew word used here literally means, "her children come out." This word, yatsa, is used in Genesis 25:26 to refer to the live birth of Jacob. Furthermore, the term yeled in verse 22, which means, "child" or "fruit," is not the term used to refer to the product of a miscarriage. In such cases, the term nephel, or "one untimely born" (Job 3:16; Ps.58:8; Eccles. 6:3), is used. If Moses had meant "miscarriage," he would have used the word shakol, which is used in Hosea 9:14. It is interesting to note that in the essay I mentioned above, the author quotes the King James version in all other parts of the essay, but quotes the (old) NAS for this one passage. The King James version translates the word as "her fruit depart(s) from her." Is it a coincidence that he chose to use the NAS in this instance? I think not.

One objection to this argument is that "tooth for tooth" couldn't refer to an injury that a baby would sustain. But the passage is referring to harm to the child or the mother. Verse 24 in our passage is merely repeating the principle defined in the Hebrew law that says that the punishment must fit the crime.

Note: After reading my critique, Brian added another paragraph to his article in which he made the observation that most babies born prematurely during the time that Exodus was written would have died. This is nothing more than a feeble attempt to draw attention away from what is written. We have already seen that in the Hebrew language, the words used describe a live birth, not a miscarriage (see for yourself with an Interlinear Bible). It really makes no difference whatsoever what the mortality rate of premature babies was back then--nevermind the fact that we are not told how premature the child in this passage is (the child may be only 2 days premature). In any case, the mortality rate could have been 99.9 per cent, but for the 0.1 per cent of the cases where the child lived, the aggressor would have gotten off with a fine; in the other 99.9 per cent he would have been executed.

In a second revision, he goes on to say that shakol means "make a woman barren." Then he makes the argument that this doesn't refer to an "accidental" miscarriage, whatever that means. Shakol actually means, "to be bereaved, make childless, miscarry," according to the dictionary I use. This definition certainly would fit the situation if the author was referring to a miscarriage. Brian further comments that nephel would not have been used, apparently because he has the mistaken idea that the verb yatsa is used alone. However, the full phrase is "yeled yatsa." Here, we do have a noun, and it refers to a living child. The author of Exodus made it clear that he was referring to live birth. In concluding, Brian repeats his irrelevant observation that premature births in ancient Israel usually resulted in death.

In yet another revision, Brian claims that "...the fact that God does not consider a fetus a human person...can also be seen in a variety of other Bible verses." We have already seen that, contrary to his claims, the passage in Exodus supports a pro-life position, but let us examine these other Bible verses.

Monetary value was placed on human beings in Leviticus 27 based on the person's ability to perform work for the tabernacle. Since children (and the elderly) are not capable of performing the same tasks as adults, it is clear why they should not be valued as highly for this type of offering. Males between the ages of 20 and 60 were valued the highest simply because of their greater abilities. Similarly, in Numbers 3 a census is taken, but only those older than one month were counted. The reason for this is that the redemption of the first-born was reckoned from a month old (Numbers 18:15, 16), therefore from that age the Levites (note that for all other tribes the census started at 20 years old) were numbered. In Genesis 2:7, Adam is considered alive "when he draws his first breath." However, the "breath of life" exists in the preborn child from the moment of conception. It is the form, not the fact, of oxygen transfer (breath) that changes at birth. Since Adam was not "born of a woman," it is only natural that he drew his first breath from his nostrils. Finally, and even more confusing, is the mention of Genesis 38:24, where Judah commands that Tamar be "burnt." This example is flawed on two counts. First, it is very likely that by "burnt," he meant "branded." In other words, she was to be burnt in the cheek or forehead, and thus stigmatized as a harlot. Second, even if he did mean "burnt to death," she was not, so this passage must be seen as a rash decision made in a moment of wrath. In fact, Judah later admits that "she hath been more righteous than I."

As far as I know, this passage in Exodus is the most frequently used passage in support of a pro-choice position. There are many, many verses that support the pro-life position, but the passage most frequently cited as supporting the pro-choice position actually supports the pro-life position.

Since I have included a reference to a pro-choice article, I would like to answer the other objections mentioned there as well. Since this is about abortion and the Bible, I am going to assume that the reader is Christian.

The verses cited from the Psalms are disregarded because they are songs, and "if we cannot trust that God wants to kill our enemies and abandon us, we must also conclude that we cannot trust that God has defined the fetus as being human." I must disagree. When David was writing about his enemies, he was distraught, and the statements were cries for help. When David asked, "Why dost Thou hide Thyself in times of trouble?" he was expressing his feelings of despair in the form of a rhetorical question. These are songs, and they express feelings. When I am sad, I sometimes feel that God is far away, but that does not mean that I believe that He is, nor would I be teaching that He was if I were to write a poem based on the experience. Note that David does not say, "Oh, God Thou art far off in my times of trouble." When David cried, "Let (my enemy's) days be few," he was merely asking God to fulfill His (old covenant) promise. There was nothing wrong with it then, and there is nothing wrong with us asking God to fulfill His promises today. On the other hand, his statements about God's involvement in forming him in the womb are stated as matter-of-fact. He did not feel or wish that God was involved in creating him; he knew it. Indeed, his statements are words of praise to an awesome God.

We do not reject statements merely because they are recorded in songs. For example, if Bette Midler sings, "you are the wind beneath my wings," everyone knows that the person described is not literally wind, and the singer does not literally have wings. It would be futile to argue these points. However, if the Star Spangled Banner says, "...and the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air..." we have good reason to believe that there really were rockets blazing and bombs exploding. Why? Because the event described in this song really did happen. Being recorded in a song does not make the actual event figurative. Likewise, when the Psalmist says, "Thou hast covered me in my mother's womb," we cannot dismiss the statement, because it is perfectly within God's power to do such a thing.

The Psalms are not the only place where we read of God's involvement in the lives of the preborn. In Genesis 4:1 we read that "Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain." We see that the writer's interest in Cain extends back, prior to his birth, to his conception. That is when his personal history began. The individual conceived and the individual born are one and the same, namely Cain.

In Job 3:3, Job curses the day of his birth. "Let the day perish wherein I was born, and the night which said, 'A man-child is conceived'." As in the Psalms, we find coherency between the individual born and the individual conceived. Job traced his personal history back beyond his birth to the very night of his conception. Furthermore, Job described his conception in personal terms. There is no abstract language of the "products of conception." Instead, we uncover concrete language of humanity. The Hebrew word geber is usually used in a postnatal context and translated "man," "male," or "husband" (e.g., Ps. 34:9; 52:9; 94:12; Prov. 6:34), but it is freely applied to Job in this verse from the moment of his conception. Apparently, Job felt that the unborn child was just that, an unborn child.

Similarly, a Christian cannot disregard the passages in Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Luke merely because they record "a special event -- the birth of a prophet." Certainly, God had ordained these men, but this does not mean that their lives were more important than others. God has a divine plan for everyone, and prophets are no more valued than judges, kings, or tax-collectors: "God shows personal favoritism to no man" (Galatians 2:6). The stories recorded in the Bible are recorded for a reason. They are written so that we can apply them to our own circumstances. If God was involved in David's life in the womb, He was involved in mine. If God protected Isaiah, He will protect me.

In all these verses we see that God places equal value on human life (by His involvement) at all stages, including prenatal life. As His creatures, we are defined by God. If this is true, then our personhood depends on Him, and we can see that in His opinion it begins at conception. On the other hand, there is no biblical evidence of any kind that God places a lesser value on the life of the unborn child.

Additionally, a pro-choice advocate might cite verses in Ecclesiastes to say that "there is a quality of life issue being put forth in the Scriptures." For example, Ecclesiastes 4:1-3 says,
So I returned, and considered all the oppressions that are done under the sun: and behold the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no comforter; and on the side of their oppressors there was power; but they had no comforter. Wherefore I praised the dead which are already dead more than the living which are yet alive. Yea, better is he than both they, which hath not yet been, who hath not seen the evil work that is done under the sun.
A superficial reading might cause us to think that a quality of life issue is being raised, but upon a closer examination, we see that Solomon is talking about the man who faces these powerful oppressors alone. What Solomon is saying, therefore, is that only the man who affirms in faith the sovereignty of God can experience profit in this life. All life is a gift from God, and the life of the oppressed is just as precious in His sight as the life of the wealthy or fortunate.

Finally, the pro-life position is not something that modern Christians invented after Roe v. Wade. Christians have been pro-life from the beginning. The second-century Epistle of Barnabas says, "You shall love your neighbor more than your own life. You shall not slay a child by abortion. You shall not kill that which has already been generated" (Epistle of Barnabas 19.5). Athenagoras said in A.D. 177, "What reason would we have to commit murder when we say that women who induce abortions are murderers, and will have to give account of it to God?...The fetus in the womb is a living being and therefore the object of God's care" (A Plea for the Christians, 35.6). Tertullian said, "It does not matter whether you take away a life that is born, or destroy one that is coming to the birth. In both instances, destruction is murder" (Apology, 9.4). The list goes on and on. As Randy Alcorn stated,
The "Christian" prochoice position is nothing more than an accommodation to modern secular beliefs, and flies in the face of the Bible and the historical position of the church. If the church is to be the church, it must challenge and guide the morality of society, not mirror it (Pro-Life Answers to Pro-Choice Arguments Expanded & Updated, 242).
Is abortion biblical? No. On the contrary, it is an abomination in the sight of the God who commands us to:
Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy. Deliver the poor and needy: rid them out of the hand of the wicked.(Psalm 82:3-4)
Let us defend the unborn, because no matter what society might say, "Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a reward from him." (Psalm 127:3)