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Abortion in the Bible

Part 2 of two parts:

Passages from the Pentateuch: the
first five books in the Hebrew Scriptures:
Genesis to Deuteronomy in the Hebrew
Scriptures (a.k.a. Old Testament)

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This topic is continued from the previous essay.

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Passages from the Pentateuch (Continued):

bullet Exodus 21:22: (Cont'd)

The New International Version (NIV) 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. 1 They point out that this passage appears to have been derived from two earlier Pagan laws, whose intent is quite clear:

  • Code 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."

  • 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.

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." 2


bullet

Exodus 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.

 

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Leviticus 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 as an 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, or slightly earlier.


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Leviticus 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 its first month had passed and it was still alive.


bullet

Numbers 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 person. 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.


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Numbers 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.


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Numbers 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 girl or 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.


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Deuteronomy 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.


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Deuteronomy 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 two-word phrase "choose life" from this verse is often quoted by pro-life groups. Michigan Christians for Life offered a free, 3" x 6"  bumper-sticker which says simply "Deuteronomy 30:19." 3 Automobile license plates that carry the "choose life" message are available in several Southern U.S. states, although their constitutionality has been challenged.


bullet

Deuteronomy 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.

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

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Related essay and menu:

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

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References used:

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

  1. Roy Bowen Ward, "Is the Fetus a person?" at: http://www.rcrc.org/ This is a PDF file.
  2. B.E. McKinley, "Why Abortion is Biblical,"  at: http://www.elroy.net/
  3. Michigan Christians for Life has a free (as of 2007-MAR) bumper-sticker offer at: http://www.nonprofitpages.com/

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Site navigation:

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

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

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Copyright © 1997 to 2016 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update and review: 2016-SEP-04

Author: B.A. Robinson

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