Abortion in the Bible
Part 2 of two parts:
Passages from the Pentateuch: the
five books in the Hebrew
Genesis to Deuteronomy in the Hebrew
Scriptures (a.k.a. Old Testament)
Passages from the Pentateuch (Continued):
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."
"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.
"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.
"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
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.
"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.
"Then he shall take some holy water in a clay jar and put some
dust from the tabernacle floor into the water....."
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
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.
"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."
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
"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
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.
"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
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.
"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.
Related essay and menu:
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
Roy Bowen Ward, "Is the Fetus a person?" at: http://www.rcrc.org/ This is a PDF file.
B.E. McKinley, "Why Abortion is Biblical," at: http://www.elroy.net/
Michigan Christians for Life has a free (as of 2007-MAR) bumper-sticker
offer at: http://www.nonprofitpages.com/
Copyright © 1997 to 2016 by Ontario Consultants on
Latest update and review: 2016-SEP-04
Author: B.A. Robinson