The Misuse of Exodus 21:22–25 by Pro-Choice Advocates

The text really supports the worth and rights of the unborn.

This passage of Scripture is part of a list of laws about fighting and quarreling. It pictures a situation in which two men are fighting and the wife of one of them intervenes to make peace. She is struck, and the blow results in a miscarriage or pre-mature birth. Pro-choice reasoning assumes that a miscarriage occurs. But this is not likely.

 

Sometimes Exodus 21:22-25 is used by pro-choice advocates to show that the Bible does not regard the unborn as persons just as worthy of protection as an adult. Some translations do in fact make this a plausible opinion. But I want to try to show that the opposite is the case. The text really supports the worth and rights of the unborn.

This passage of Scripture is part of a list of laws about fighting and quarreling. It pictures a situation in which two men are fighting and the wife of one of them intervenes to make peace. She is struck, and the blow results in a miscarriage or pre-mature birth. Pro-choice reasoning assumes that a miscarriage occurs. But this is not likely.

The RSV is one translation that supports the pro-choice conclusion. It says,

When men strive together, and hurt a woman with child, so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no harm follows, the one who hurt her shall be fined, according as the woman’s husband shall lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

The RSV assumes that a “miscarriage” happens, and the fetus is born dead. This implies that the loss of the unborn is no “harm,” because it says, “If there is a miscarriage and yet no harm follows . . .” It is possible for the blow to cause a miscarriage and yet not count as “harm” which would have to be recompensed life for life, eye for eye, etc.

This translation seems to put the unborn in the category of a non-person with little value. The fine which must be paid may be for the loss of the child. Money suffices. Whereas if “harm follows” (to the woman!) then more than money must be given. In that case it is life for life, etc.

But is this the right translation? The NIV does not assume that a miscarriage happened. The NIV translates the text like this:

If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life . . .

What the NIV implies is that the child is born alive and that the penalty of life for life, eye for eye, etc. applies to the child as well as the mother. If injury comes to the child or the mother there will not just be a fine but life for life, eye for eye, etc.

I agree with this translation. Here is my own literal rendering from the original Hebrew:

And when men fight and strike a pregnant woman (‘ishah harah) and her children (yeladeyha) go forth (weyatse’u), and there is no injury, he shall surely be fined as the husband of the woman may put upon him; and he shall give by the judges. But if there is injury, you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

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