For a couple of years, a fellow by the name of Fred Weiss has been sending me noxious emails. I have about 500 of them. He also goes by the name “Boris” and “Boris & Natasha.” No matter what counter evidence is put before him, he dismisses it because, of course, he has an atheistic worldview to defend. “Damn the facts . . . full speed ahead to nihilism.” You can read some of my previous encounters with him (see here and here). He continues periodically to send me emails, some tidbit of an article he’s found on the internet.
So when Fred commented on my restitution article, I had to laugh. Why does he bother? But he can’t help himself. He has been proven wrong so many times, that he keeps coming back for more punishment. Here’s what he posted:
Here’s something interesting about the subject of restitution: What’s really dishonest and ironic about the anti-choice stance of Christian totalitarian fascists like Mr. DeMar, is that they cannot support their anti-choice stance biblically at all. The Bible clearly supports the pro-choice position. In Chapter 21:22–23 the Book of Exodus indicates that the fetus does not have the same legal status as a person. That verse indicates that if a man pushes a pregnant woman and she then miscarries, he is required only to pay a fine. If the fetus were considered a full person, he would be punished more severely as though he had taken a life. Verse 23 says that, “If further harm is done, however, you will award life for life…” which proves that the Bible does NOT consider a fetus to be life but only potential life. Case closed.
Typical of Fred’s modus operandi, his word is the last word: “Case closed.” He tried the same thing with his claims about James Watt. Even after I proved that Fred’s charges were false (see here), he still insisted he was right. Will anything I wrote convince Fred? Of course not! Even so, it’s helpful that we learn how to deal with this issue with other people who are not as closed minded.
First, Exodus 21:22–23 is not really about abortion, one way or the other. It deals with a particular judicial case. Two men struggle (fight) with one another. We are not told why. A pregnant woman is standing near enough that she is affected by the altercation. She goes into premature labor. This particular case law covers all the “cases,” everything from no harm to death.
Second, the woman is not deciding to have an abortion. At one level, it’s an accident that she goes into labor. At another level, however, the men should not have been fighting, so there is some liability.
Third, the text is clear, she is pregnant with at least one child: “And if men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child. . .” (Ex. 21:22). The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew-English Lexicon defines hareh as a pregnant woman with child. It’s clear that she is not carrying around a mass of undefined tissue that all of a sudden becomes a human being only when he or she exists the sanctuary of the womb.
Fourth, the Bible attributes self-consciousness to preborn babies, something that modern medicine has studied and acknowledged. Jacob and Esau are said to have “struggled together within” their mother’s womb (Gen. 25:22). The New Testament offers a similar glimpse into prenatal consciousness: “And it came about that when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb” (Luke 1:41). “Struggling” and “leaping” are the result of a particular piece of information indicates consciousness.
Fred claims that in Exodus 21:22 killing an unborn “fetus” is nothing more than a property crime rather than the killing of a human being. This is absurd. His operating premise is that a preborn baby is not a person, and he tries to use the Exodus passage to support his claim. The Bible teaches otherwise.
The original Hebrew reads: “And if men struggle with each other and strike a pregnant woman so that her children [yeled] come out. . . .” Notice that the text uses the word “children,” not “products of conception.” The Hebrew word for “children” in this verse is used in other contexts to designate a child already born. For example, in Exodus 2:6 we read: “When Pharaoh’s daughter opened [the basket], she saw the child [yeled], and behold, the boy was crying. And she had pity on him and said, ‘This is one of the Hebrews’ children [yeled].’” Since in the Exodus case these are “children that come out,” they are persons not a body part like an appendix or a kidney.
If there is no injury to these individuals — the mother and her prematurely delivered child or children — then there is no penalty. If there is injury, then the judges must decide on an appropriate penalty based on the extent of the injury either to the mother and/or her children because all are persons in terms of biblical law.
Some translations have “so that she has a miscarriage.” The 1977 edition of the New American Standard Version translated the text using “miscarriage.” The 1995 translation is better (“she gives birth prematurely”), but it still does not capture the literal rendering. In a marginal note, the NASB translators recognize that the literal rendering of the text is “her children come out.”
It’s frustrating to read translations that include marginal notes telling us what it really says literally. Translate it literally, and then use the margin to offer an explanation if needed. Other translations have a more word-for-word translation. Here’s one example:
“When men get in a fight and hit a pregnant woman so that her children are born [prematurely] but there is no injury, the one who hit her must be fined as the woman’s husband demands from him, and he must pay according to judicial assessment” (Holman Christian Standard Bible).
Notice that it’s “so that her children are born.”
Here’s another from Young’s Literal Translation (1898):
“And when men strive, and have smitten a pregnant woman, and her children have come out, and there is no mischief, he is certainly fined, as the husband of the woman doth lay upon him, and he hath given through the judges.”
There are two Hebrew words that fit the circumstances of miscarriage or premature birth: “There shall be no one miscarrying [shakal] or barren in your land” (Ex. 23:26; also Hosea 9:14). The Hebrew word for “miscarriage” was available to Moses since it appears just two chapters later.
Another example is found in Job: “Or like a miscarriage [nefel] which is discarded, I would not be” (Job 3:16). Meredith G. Kline offers a helpful summary of the passage:
“This law found in Exodus 21:22–25 turns out to be perhaps the most decisive positive evidence in scripture that the fetus is to be regarded as a living person…. No matter whether one interprets the first or second penalty to have reference to a miscarriage, there is no difference in the treatments according to the fetus and the woman. Either way the fetus is regarded as a living person, so that to be criminally responsible for the destruction of the fetus is to forfeit one’s life…. The fetus, at any stage of development, is, in the eyes of this law, a living being, for life (nephesh) is attributed to it…. Consistently in the relevant data of Scripture a continuum of identity is evident between the fetus and the person subsequently born and Exodus 21:22–25 makes it clear that this prenatal human being is to be regarded as a separate and distinct human life.”1
Umberto Cassuto, also known as Moshe David Cassuto (1883–1951), was a Jewish rabbi and biblical scholar born in Florence, Italy. In his commentary on Exodus, he presents an accurate translation of the passage based on the nuances of the Hebrew:
“When men strive together and they hurt unintentionally a woman with child, and her children come forth but no mischief happens — that is, the woman and the children do not die — the one who hurts her shall surely be punished by a fine. But if any mischief happens, that is, if the woman dies or the children, then you shall give life for life.”2
The King James Version takes a different translation approach, but it is consistent with the argument that “children” are “coming out” in the altercation with the fighting men and pregnant woman. The KJV reads, “If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit 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” (Ex. 21:22). The use of the word “fruit” is a descriptive euphemism for a born child in the Old Testament (Gen. 30:2) and the New Testament (Luke 1:42).
Once again, Fred is wrong. Case closed.
- Meredith G. Kline, “Lex Talionis and the Human Fetus,” The Simon Greenleaf Law Review, 5 (1985–1986), 75, 83, 88–89. This article originally appeared in Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (September 1977). Also see H. Wayne House, “Miscarriage or Premature Birth: Additional Thoughts on Exodus 21:22-25,” Westminster Theological Journal, Vol. 41, No. 1 (Fall 1978), 108–123. [↩]
- Umberto Cassuto, Commentary on the Book of Exodus (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, The Hebrew University, 1967), 275. [↩]