Exodus 21 and the Issue of Abortion

Below I provide the text of a small tract I wrote a few decades ago that touches upon Exodus 21 and God’s law regarding the unborn.  There are, of course, far more in-depth discussions to be had, but a caller asked, and I thought I’d provide this information.

Infanticide

The word strikes proper anger in the heart of any rational human being. Infanticide speaks of the murder of the helpless, the weak, the vulnerable. Even the most evil person recognizes the difference between an attack upon the able, the one capable of providing a defense, and a murderous attack upon a child, an infant, by nature helpless and vulnerable. Child molesters and those who have murdered children must often be separated from the regular population in prison lest they be beaten or killed by their fellow convicts!

Yet modern culture has “sanctified” a form of infanticide that has proven to aid it in behaving irresponsibly. Abortion is internal infanticide: the murder of a child at the most vulnerable time of life, those precious months when the child develops and grows sheltered in the womb. There is no medical, philosophical, theological, or rational difference between the violent murder of an infant who has been fortunate enough to live long enough to travel down the birth canal and the same infant separated by a small period of time or a space measurable in inches. Despite the undeniable facts known to anyone who inquires into the subject that establish the humanity and personhood of the infant in the womb, modern society, preferring sexual license to truth and morality, has sanctioned infanticide under the more palatable term abortion and the even more wishful phrase “termination of pregnancy.” So committed are the proponents of intra-uterine infanticide that the procedure known as “partial birth abortion,” an act worthy of Auschwitz and Dachau, is protected and defended at all political and moral cost by the highest leaders in government.

The passage of time has only added to the guilt of any people that destroys its young. Our advancing technology now allows us to peer directly into the womb and observe the miracle of the developing child. We now know, beyond question, that the child is an individual human being, possessing a completely unique genetic code. Any person who uses terms like “mass of tissue” to describe the developing child is engaging in sophistry worthy of Nuremberg, for the facts demonstrate beyond all doubt the humanity and individuality of the pre-born child.

The immorality of abortion is easily discerned by even the briefest review of the facts. But Christians, possessing by God’s grace the Scriptures, have full and unquestionable evidence upon which to condemn this heinous act. The Bible provides no basis upon which anyone can possibly build a case for the murder of unborn children. Instead, the Scriptural case against the taking of life is full and robust, even though the specific action of abortion (since it utilizes modern technological procedures) is not addressed. While man’s technology progresses, he himself remains unchanged, so the principles of Scripture are clear and applicable in our day.

God differentiates Himself from all false gods first and foremost by claiming to be the Creator of all things. The greatest of His creations is the living creature man, who is created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). Man is the special workmanship of God, different from all the rest of creation. Listen to these words of the Psalmist:

For You formed my inward parts;

You wove me in my mother’s womb.

I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

Wonderful are Your works,

And my soul knows it very well.

My frame was not hidden from You,

When I was made in secret,

And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth;

Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;

And in Your book were all written

The days that were ordained for me,

When as yet there was not one of them.

The Bible knows nothing of man as a random-chance result of natural processes: man is the specific creation of God, and clearly the existence of a person is traced from the very first stages of development prior to birth. Indeed, even John the Baptist experienced the ministry of the Holy Spirit while yet in the womb, for when Mary greeted John’s mother Elizabeth, the child leapt in the womb at the sound of Mary’s voice (Luke 1:41). Inanimate objects, “masses of tissue,” etc., do not respond to the ministry of the Spirit nor leap at the sound of the voice of the Lord’s mother.

Exodus 21:22-23

One of the most important passages on this topic is found in God’s law recorded in Exodus 21:22-25. The passage reads: And if men fight and hit a pregnant woman and her child is born prematurely, but there is no serious injury, he will surely be punished in accordance with what the woman’s husband will put on him, and he will pay what the court decides. But if there is serious injury, then you will give a life for a life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise. (NET) Many attempts have been made to confuse the passage and strip it of its clarity. Ancient translators inserted their own interpretation into the passage, and many over the years have followed their traditional understanding. Yet, the text is far less obscure than many would have us to believe. Consider the following:

The term for “child” used in the original text, yeled, is translated “child” with reference to a living human being the vast majority of the times it is used in the Old Testament. This is joined with the verb “to come out,” yasa, which is never used to refer to a miscarriage. Only once in all the uses of this verb regarding birth is there a passage that speaks of something other than a live birth, that being an obvious case of stillbirth at Numbers 12:12. But there is no reason to think that anything other than the birth of a human being is in view in Exodus 21:22, one that is brought on prematurely by men striking a pregnant woman while fighting with each other. In more than 1075 uses of this word in the Hebrew Bible, it is never translated “miscarriage.” This is clearly a live, but premature, birth.

The man who strikes the woman is punished for bringing on the premature birth. The phrase “if there is no serious injury” refers to both the mother and the child born of her. To say otherwise is to ignore the normative use of yeled and yasa. Therefore, “if there is serious injury” would likewise refer to both the mother and the child. What then follows is the lex talionis, which indicates that the punishment in the case of more serious injury will include “life for life,” literally “soul for soul.” If the simple meaning of the text is allowed to stand, this text identifies the yeled, the child born prematurely, as a nephesh, a soul, a living human being. It then applies the death penalty in the case of the death of either the mother or the child.

Scripture is clear. Life is a sacred gift. Taking the life of a child in the womb differs not at all from taking the life of the mother, or anyone else. All the platitudes and politically correct phrases will not change the verdict of God: abortion is infanticide, and it is an abomination in His eyes.

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