Quantcast


Twitter icon


Facebook icon

About this site
About us
Our beliefs
Is this your first visit?
Contact us
External links

Recommended books

Visitors' essays
Our forum
New essays
Other features
Buy a CD of this site
Vital notes

World religions
BUDDHISM
CHRISTIANITY
Christian def'n
 Shared beliefs
 Handling change
 Bible topics
 Bible inerrancy
 Bible harmony
 Interpret the Bible
 Persons
 Beliefs & creeds
 Da Vinci code
 Revelation 666
 Denominations
HINDUISM
ISLAM
JUDAISM
WICCA / WITCHCRAFT
Other religions
Cults and NRMs
Comparing Religions

Non-theistic beliefs
Atheism
Agnosticism
Humanism
Other

About all religions
Main topics
Basic information
Gods & Goddesses
Handling change
Doubt & security
Quotes
Movies
Confusing terms
Glossary
End of the World?
True religion?
Seasonal events
Science vs. Religion
More information

Spiritual/ethics
Spirituality
Morality & ethics
Absolute truth

Peace/conflict
Attaining peace
Religious tolerance
Religious freedom
Religious hatred
Religious conflict
Religious violence

"Hot" topics
Very hot topics
Ten Commandments
Abortion access
Assisted suicide
Cloning
Death penalty
Environment

Same-sex marriage

Homosexuality
Human rights
Gays in the military
Nudism
Origins
Sex & gender
Sin
Spanking
Stem cells
Transexuality
Women-rights
Other topics

Laws and news
Religious laws
Religious news

Sponsored links

!!!!!!!! Search error!  If the URL ends something like .htm/  or .htm# delete the character(s) after .htm and hit return.

Abortion in the Bible

Passages from the Pentateuch: the
first five books in the Hebrew Scriptures

horizontal rule

Sponsored link.

horizontal rule

Passages from the Penteach (Genesis to Deuteronomy in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament):

It is, of course, from the Hebrew Scriptures that modern-day Jews obtain their spiritual insight. In Judaism, a fetus is regarded as a pre-human. A fetus becomes fully human only after it has half-emerged from the birth canal.

Christians primarily use the Christian Scriptures for guidance. However, the Hebrew Scriptures also contain passages that some feel may deal with abortion.

bulletGenesis 2:7 God made Adam's body out of the dust of the earth. Later, the "man became a living soul" only after God "breathed into his nostrils the breath of life."

Some suggest that this passage seems to state clearly that Adam's personhood started when he took his first breath. Following this reasoning, a newborn would become human after it starts breathing. If a fetus is only potentially human, then an abortion would not terminate the life of a human person. The most important word in the Hebrew Scriptures that was used to describe a person was "nephesh;" it appears 755 times in the Old Testament. It is translated as "living soul" in the above passage. One scholar, H.W. Wolff, 1 believes that the word's root means "to breath." He argues that during Old Testament times, "Living creatures are in this way exactly defined in Hebrew as creatures that breathe."

An alternate interpretation is that Adam and Eve were unique creations. They did not start as a fetus, and were not born. They were fully formed as adults. It is not valid to compare a newborn who has not yet breathed to a fully formed adult who has not yet breathed.

bulletGenesis 25:21-23 "...Rebekah his wife conceived. And the children struggled together within her; and she said, If it be so, why am I thus? And she went to inquire of the LORD. And the LORD said unto her, Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger."

The passage refers to the twin fetuses of Rebekah as being "nations." They are clearly not nations at that stage of development; the word has to be interpreted symbolically. They are rather two fetuses who were later born and whose subsequent descendents -- according to the Bible -- became two nations. The passage also refers to the twin fetuses as "banim:" a Hebrew word which almost always means a "newborns" or "infants," or "children." The ancient Hebrews did not have a separate word to describe "fetuses." So they used the same word to describe fetuses that they also used to refer to children.

Some suggest that since the ancient Hebrews used "banim" to refer to fetuses, newborns, infants and children, that they regarded all four as simply stages of human personhood.

English translations of the Bible use the term "children" here; this would more accurately be translated as "fetuses" except that the latter primarily a medical term. Again, the passage does not address the main question: were the fetuses full persons, or are they potential persons at the time?

bulletGenesis 38:24 Tamar's pregnancy was discovered three months after conception, presumably because it was visible at that time. This was positive proof that she had been sexually active. Because she was a widow, without a husband, she was assumed to be a prostitute. Her father-in-law Judah ordered that she be burned alive for her crime. If Tamar's twin fetuses had been considered to be human beings, one would have expected her execution would have been delayed until after their birth. There was no condemnation on Judah for deciding to take this action. (Judah later changed his mind when he found out that he was the man responsible for Tamar's pregnancy.)

If the fetuses that she was carrying are not to be regarded as living human beings at the end of her first trimester of pregnancy, then causing their death would not be a great moral concern.

However, if the twin fetuses are to be considered as human persons, then it seems strange that they would be considered of such little value as to allow them to be killed for the alleged sin of the woman carrying them. In this latter case, we see another example of a theme that runs through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation: that it is acceptable to kill or otherwise punish innocent persons for the sins or crimes of others -- the pregnant woman in this case.

An alternate interpretation is that innocent persons were often punished for the sins of one member of the family. See Joshua 7:21, Daniel 3:28-19, and Daniel 6:24). So it would be normal to give little concern to the fetuses.

bulletExodus 13:1-2 "The Lord said to Moses, 'Consecrate to me every firstborn male. The first offspring of every womb among the Israelites belongs to me, whether [hu]man or animal.'" Throughout much of the ancient Middle East, the firstborn son in each family was ritually murdered as a sacrifice to the Gods.  However if the first son was preceded either by the birth of a girl or a miscarriage, then the ceremony is not performed, as the son was not the first offering of the womb. In later years, this practice evolved into a substitute animal sacrifice, or a cash donation to the temple, or a dedication of the child to their deity. "...the ancestors of the Israelites probably at one time actually sacrificed their first born children, as Genesis 22:1-14 implies." 2  These passages relate to infanticide, not abortion, because the infant would be killed after birth. But it shows the low regard for newborn humans during that era. Other references of human sacrifices in the Hebrew Scriptures are found at:
bulletJudges 11:29-40: Jephthah promises God that he will make a human sacrifice of the first person who comes to greet him when he returns home after a successful battle. He later ritually sacrifices his only daughter.
bulletI Kings 16:34: This passage may refer to the killing by Hiel of his two children during the reconstruction of Jericho. Archeological excavations there have uncovered the remains of persons who seem to have been sacrificed "to obtain divine favor."
bulletII Kings 16:3: Ahaz, king of Judah, murdered his son as a human sacrifice.
bulletII Kings 17:17: The people of Judah abandoned worship at the temple in Jerusalem. They were said to have burned their children as human sacrifices to Baal.
bulletII Kings 21:6: Manasseh burned his son as a human sacrifice to Baal.
bulletIsaiah 57:5: Isaiah, speaking for the Lord, comments on the practice of the people of Israel in sacrificing their children, "down in the valleys, under overhanging rocks."
bulletJeremiah 7:31: Jeremiah, speaking for the Lord, criticizes the people of Judah for burning "their sons and daughters in the fire."
bulletetc.

bulletExodus 20:13"You shall not murder." This verse is often mistranslated "Thou shalt not kill." Murder is actually being referred to -- the killing of a human person.

Since the Jewish religion has traditionally interpreted the Torah as implying that a fetus as achieving full personhood only when it is half emerged from the birth canal, this verse would not apply to abortion.

bulletExodus 21:22 If men strive [fight] an hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit [fetus] 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.

One source comments that because some Bible translations (KJV, RSV) use the phrase "woman with child" that God considers a fetus to be a human child. 3 But other translations render the phrase simply as "pregnant woman" and make no direct reference to the fetus. 

This verse describes a situation in which a man, who is fighting another man, accidentally hits a pregnant woman, and causes a termination of her pregnancy. The following verse, 23, explains that if the woman died, the guilty man would be executed by the state. The accidental killing of a woman under these circumstances was considered a capital offense, because she was a human person.

Verse 22 is confusing.  The key Hebrew word "yatsa" literally means to "lose her offspring." 4 This has been translated in different Bible versions as:
bulletA miscarriage: This would imply that the fetus died immediately as a direct result of the accident. Assuming no further harm happens (e.g. that the woman does not die), the man responsible would have to pay at a fine. The amount would be set by her husband and approved by the judges. This would imply that the death of the fetus was not considered to be the death of a human person. If it were, then the man responsible would be tried for murder and executed. However, because the fetus had possible future economic worth to the father, he would have to be reimbursed for his loss.
 
bulletpremature birth: This implies that the fetus is born earlier than full term. Assuming no further harm happens (e.g. that neither the woman nor the baby dies) then the man would pay a fine. One possible interpretation of this passage would be that if the premature baby died, then the man responsible had killed a human person, and would be tried for murder. The verse is ambiguous at this point. 

The New International Version of the Bible uses the phrase: "gives birth prematurely." and offers "miscarriage" as an alternative translation in a footnote. These two options result in totally opposite interpretations: one supporting the pro-choice faction; the other supporting the pro-life movement.

Some liberal theologians reject this interpretation. 5 They point out that this passage appears to have been derived from two earlier Pagan laws, whose intent is quite clear:

bulletCode of Hammurabi (209, 210) which 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."
bulletHittite 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.

Author Brian McKinley, a born-again Christian, sums the passage up with: "Thus we can see that if the baby is lost, it does not require a death sentence -- it is not considered murder. But if the woman is lost, it is considered murder and is punished by death." 4

bulletExodus 22:29"Thou shalt not delay to offer the first of thy ripe fruits, and of thy liquors: the firstborn of thy sons shalt thou give unto me." Many Old Testament theologians believe that this is another remnant of the time when the ancient Hebrews and Canaanites ritually murdered their first son, sacrificing him to their god.

horizontal rule

Sponsored link:

horizontal rule

bulletLeviticus 17:11: For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul. It is a bit of a stretch, but this passage might possibly be interpreted as implying that personhood begins in the embryo when blood first becomes present. Since the heart starts beating about 21 days after conception, then one might argue that the embryo becomes a human person at that stage of pregnancy.

bulletLeviticus 27:6 And if it be from a month old even unto five years old, then thy estimation shall be of the male five shekels of silver and for the female three shekels. A child was only given a value after the age of one month; boys were worth five shekels; girls were of less value at three shekels; below that age, (and presumably before birth) they were assigned no monetary value.

An alternate explanation is that there was such a high infant mortality rate that one could only be confident that there was a reasonable chance of a newborn surviving after the first month had passed.

bulletNumbers 3:15 Take a census...including every male a month or more old. Only male babies over one month of age were considered persons for the purposes of enumeration. One explanation of this policy was that an infant under one month of age and a fetus were apparently not worthy of being counted as a human. Another is that the death rate among newborns was so high, that one could not have a reasonable certainty that the child would live until it was at least a month old.

bulletNumbers 5:12-31 Then he shall take some holy water in a clay jar and put some dust from the tabernacle floor into the water..... This passage describes a ritual that a husband could force his wife to endure if he suspected that she had engaged in an adulterous relationship. He would take her and an offering of barely meal to the tabernacle, where the priest would make a magical drink consisting of holy water and sweepings from the tabernacle floor. He would have the woman drink the water while he recited a curse on her. The curse would state that her abdomen would swell and her thigh waste away if she had committed adultery. Otherwise, the curse would have no effect. If she were pregnant at this time, the curse would certainly induce an abortion. Yet nobody seems to have been concerned about the fate of any embryo or fetus that was present. Needless to say, there was no similar magical test that a woman could require her husband to take if she suspected him of adultery.

bulletNumbers 31:17-18 Now, kill all the boys. And kill every women who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man. This occurred at end of the genocidal campaign against the Midianites. Moses, presumably under orders from God, ordered the soldiers to kill every boy and non-virgin woman. Presumably, a significant percentage of the latter would be pregnant. So, their fetus was killed along with the mother-to-be. The fetuses would be destroyed, presumably because they were perceived to have had no value. The female virgins would be spared, because they were considered to have significant value.

bulletDeuteronomy 2:34 "At that time we took all his towns and completely destroyed them - men, women and children. We left no survivors." The Israelites tried to negotiate peaceful passage through the land of Heshbon. They were unsuccessful. So, apparently under the instruction of God, they exterminated all of the people, including innocent children. This undoubtedly included killing the fetuses of pregnant women . This is an early example of genocide based on religious belief, not unlike the genocides perpetrated by Christians against non-Christians in Nazi Germany during World War II, and in Bosnia Herzegovina in the 1990s. It demonstrated no regard for the life of the fetuses who were destroyed.

An alternate interpretation is that this genocide was perpetrated during wartime, when very ugly things happen.

bulletDeuteronomy 30:19: "I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live." The segment "choose life, that...thy seed may live" at first glance might be interpreted as referring to the choice to not have an abortion. It is even clearer in the Living Bible which says "Choose life, that...your children might live."

It is always important to consider the context of any isolated quotation. Verses 15 to 18 clearly state that the choice referred to in verse 19 is whether to worship either Jehovah, or the gods of the Canaanites, whose land they were about to invade. Verse 20 picks up the same theme. Verse 19 thus relates to religious choices and is unrelated to abortion. However, the "choose life" portion of this verse is often quoted by pro-life groups. Michigan Christians for Life offers a free, 3" x 6"  bumper-sticker which says simply "Deuteronomy 30:19." 6 Automobile license plates that carry the "choose life" message are available in several Southern U.S. states, although their constitutionality is suspect.

bulletDeuteronomy 32:23-26:  "I will heap mischiefs upon them; I will spend mine arrows upon them. They shall be burnt with hunger, and devoured with burning heat, and with bitter destruction: I will also send the teeth of beasts upon them, with the poison of serpents of the dust. The sword without, and terror within, shall destroy both the young man and the virgin, the suckling also with the man of gray hairs. I said, I would scatter them into corners, I would make the remembrance of them to cease from among men." God is here describing how he will commit genocide against a specific nation. He will murder of persons of all ages and both genders, from infants to old people. It also involves erasing the memory of them as a nation. Presumably, fetuses would also die during the genocide.

horizontal rule

See also a list of passages from the rest of the
Hebrew Scriptures that may refer to abortion.

horizontal rule

Related essay and menu:

bulletMenu: Abortion
bulletHistory of beliefs about abortion in the early Christian movement
bulletJewish beliefs about abortion

horizontal rule

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Hans Walter Wolff, "Anthropology of the Old Testament," Fortress Press, Philadelphia PA, (1974), Pages 14 & 59.
  2. C.M. Laymon, Ed., "The Interpreter's One-Volume Commentary on the Bible," Abingdon, (1991), P. 46.
  3. D.W. Cloud, "Birth Control and the Christian," at: http://wayoflife.org/~dcloud/otimothy/tl110003.htm
  4. B.E. McKinley, "Why Abortion is Biblical,"  at: http://www.elroy.net/ehr/abortion.html
  5. Roy Bowen Ward, "Is the Fetus a person?" at: http://www.rcrc.org/ This is a PDF file. You may require software to read it. Software can be obtained free from: 
  6. Michigan Christians for Life has a free (as of 2007-MAR) bumper-sticker offer at: http://www.nonprofitpages.com/mcfl/free.htm

horizontal rule

Site navigation:

 Home page > "Hot" topics > Abortion > Abortion in the Bible > here

or: Home page > Christianity > Bible themes > Abortion in the Bible > here

horizontal rule

Copyright © 1997 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Last update and review: 2010-JAN-29

Author: B.A. Robinson

line.gif (538 bytes)

horizontal rule

Go to the previous page, or  or go to "Abortion in the Bible" menu, choose:

Google
Web ReligiousTolerance.org

Go to home page  We would really appreciate your help

E-mail us about errors, etc.  Purchase a CD of this web site

FreeFind search, lists of new essays...  Having problems printing our essays?


Twitter link

Facebook icon

Google Page Translator:

This page translator works on Firefox,
Opera, Chrome, and Safari browsers only

After translating, click on the "show
original" button at the top of this
page to restore page to English.

 

Sponsored link: