googlef87758e9b6df9bec.html A Sure Word: Exodus 21:22-23: Does the Bible Consider the Unborn a Baby?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Exodus 21:22-23: Does the Bible Consider the Unborn a Baby?

It's typical of liberal Christians or even liberal non-Christians to attempt to use the Bible to support their liberal views. Ordinarily, they wouldn't concern themselves with the word of God but when they can find a passage they believe supports their cause, they champion it like – well, like it's Scripture. They do this because they know conservative Christians seriously regard the Bible and if the liberal can convince the conservative that the Bible is on the liberal's side, it should settle the matter.

One such argument used by liberals concerns abortion. Conservative Christians, of course, recognize correctly that the unborn are still created in the image of God and deserve protection as much as any other person. Liberals justify their position on abortion by claiming the unborn child isn't really a person. The Bible certainly doesn't support their extreme view but I've heard a few liberals cite Exodus 21:22-23:
If men quarrel, and one strike a woman with child, and she miscarry indeed, but live herself: he shall be answerable for so much damage as the woman's husband shall require, and as arbiters shall award. But if her death ensue thereupon, he shall render life for life.
(Douay-Rheims Bible)
By citing this verse, they argue that even the Bible recognizes a difference between the unborn child and the life of the woman. In this passage, if a man strikes a woman and she “miscarries”, he has to pay a fine. But if she dies, it becomes a capital offense and his own life is forfeit. At first glance, their argument seems to have merit. However, as is always the case, it's a good idea to look up a passage for yourself before trusting a liberal's cite.

I'm not a Bible scholar or anything but when I first heard this argument, I had to search a while before finding the translation being used. The above passage is from the Douay-Rheims Bible. Now, tell me the truth, have you ever heard of the Douay-Rheims Bible? It is an English translation from the Latin Vulgate (as opposed to a translation from the original language into English). The fact that it is a translation of a translation presents more than a few problems and I honestly can't recommend it as an acceptable translation.

When we read the same passage in more mainstream translations, the liberal argument loses all credibility:
If people are fighting and 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.

(New International Version ©2011)

If men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she gives birth prematurely, yet there is no injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman's husband may demand of him, and he shall pay as the judges decide. But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life.
(New American Standard Bible)

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. And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life.
(King James Version)

When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life.
(English Standard Version)

And if men strive together, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart, and yet no harm follow; he shall be surely fined, according as the woman's husband shall lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if any harm follow, then thou shalt give life for life.
(American Standard Version)
We can see in these more familiar translations that this passage is more in line with the conservative position. If a man strikes a pregnant woman, and she delivers her child prematurely, he must pay a fine. However, if the woman or the child dies, he must give a life for a life.

It's rather pathetic that liberal theologians, who hold little regard for the Bible anyway, attempt to use the Bible to support a position so contrary to God's will. And to use such an obscure translation is not simply intellectual laziness but outright dishonesty. They had to hunt out this passage while intentionally overlooking the rendering in more trusted versions.

What is almost equally as sad is that too many Christians fall victim to this tactic. When I've seen this con employed online, the simple rebuttal is to point out the same passage in a more mainstream translation. Instead, I've seen Christians falling all over themselves trying to spin a pro-life position in this flawed translation. I suspect they never stopped to look in the Bible for themselves.

The Bible is very clear in its position on the unborn. God is pro-life! His clear word is not undone by the bad translation of a single verse.


Liz said...

Thanks for this. I have just been looking this verse up and comparing translations, and I realised that in the original Hebrew, it is unclear if the "life for life" applies to the woman dying or the child dying. As you pointed out, the verse says something like "if her child goes out from her" - which must be interpreted in the context of the next part of the verse - it doesn't say this means the child has died.

This is perhaps one trouble with a non-literal translation - you get a particular spin on certain passages, which in this case means the difference between life and death for millions of babies.

I was pretty shocked to read this in its literal translation. I have always heard this used to show that if you have to make a decision between unborn child and mother, the unborn child loses; that killing a fetus isn't a capital crime whereas killing the mother is. I am strongly pro-life myself, but I was amazed at how this verse has been misinterpreted even by other pro-life Christians.


RKBentley said...


Thanks for visiting my blog. I appreciate Christians who research a position as opposed to arguing with scripted talking points.

I heard this liberal, pro-abortion argument used on Bill O'Reilly once. O'Reilly disagreed with the woman presenting the argument but he really could not pin down a firm objection. He could have made a simple rebuttal if he had simply looked at the Bible before he interviewed her.

Thank you very much for your comments. Please keep visiting.

God bless!!