Churches like the Roman Catholic and many evangelical, fundamental, and Pentecostal churches teach that abortion is just wrong. But, go to a Presbyterian or other more liberal church, and abortion is certainly permitted. According to Associated Press; August 17, 2002, “The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) assembly has reaffirmed support for abortion if the baby is too young to survive outside the womb. After that, it said, abortion is acceptable only to save a woman’s life, avoid fetal suffering or in cases of rape or incest.”
Abortion is a powerful issue. And even if someone is pro-choice it doesn’t mean that getting an abortion is taken lightly. But in an area where human lives are at stake, it is important to call something what it really is. If it is murder then it is right to call it murder. But, if it is not murder, it is purely inflammatory to call it murder. In the Old Testament, murder was taken very seriously. A life was required for a life. But according to a number of pro-choice advocates, if someone caused a woman to lose her fetus, there was no life for a life penalty required. Therefore, they say, abortion is not murder. Simply put, pro-life activists carry signs that say “Abortion is Murder” while pro-choice activists counter that the fetus is just tissue, and since it is the mother’s tissue, she can do with it what she wants.
While some pro-life activists may claim “Thou shalt not kill” is the biblical basis of their stand, the issue raised by opponents is whether the fetus is alive, since this is what they deny.
That makes the following verse the center of the abortion debate. And the debate really centers on the fact that at least one translation translates the keywords, “fruit depart”, as miscarriage. So some use this verse to biblically justify abortion.
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
These words, “fruit depart from her” are translated as “miscarriage”, “the loss of the child”, and various other translations. What is the accurate translation? Is a caused miscarriage, a.k.a. abortion, treated as a loss of property in this verse?
No, it is not. The Hebrew word for “miscarriage” (Hebrew “shakal”) is used very precisely in Ex 23:26;
” there is not a miscarrying and barren one in thy land; the number of thy days I fulfil: “
This is a very different word than the word used in Exodus 21:22. It is a mistranslation to interpret Exodus 21:22 as referring to miscarriage. The word “fruit” in Exodus 21:22 is “yeled” which is translated as “child” in Genesis 21:8 and other places.
And the child (emphasis added) grew, and was weaned: and Abraham made a great feast the same day that Isaac was weaned.Genesis 21:8
Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Should I go and call a nurse for you from the Hebrew women, that she may nurse the child for you?” (Exo 2:7 WEB)
He put the servants and their children in front, Leah and her children after, and Rachel and Joseph at the rear. (Gen 33:2 WEB)
The words child and children in the above verses are the same word as fruit in Exodus 21:22, and so that verse is talking about offspring or children, not just tissue.
The word “yatsa” translated “depart” is used in reference to live birthing in Deut 28:57 and other places.
And toward her young one that cometh out (Hebrew yatsa) from between her feet, and toward her children which she shall bear: for she shall eat them for want of all things secretly in the siege and straitness, wherewith thine enemy shall distress thee in thy gates.Deut 28:57
So, the words in Exodus “If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her” refers to the act of causing the woman to have a premature birth. Abortion is a case where someone causes a woman’s fruit to depart from her, so this verse applies.
The next verses say:
And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe. And if a man smite the eye of his servant, or the eye of his maid, that it perish; he shall let him go free for his eye’s sake. (Exo 21:23-26 KJV)
The verses start with “if any mischief follows” which means “if any hurt happens.” This hurt does not refer specifically to the mother or the child, it refers to either. This verse says that there is a fine only if there is no hurt to either the child or the mother. When the verse gets to the part that says “So thou shalt give life for life” this verse is calling abortion “murder” because it is requiring the penalty for murder if there is a life lost, either the mother or the child.
This verse is part of the Law, but we are not trying to obey the law, just ascertain if and how abortion is treated in God’s Word. Remember, both Jesus and Paul referred to the law and the prophets as the basis for the truth of God’s word revealed to man.[i]
People who think the Bible is silent or accepting of abortion need to rethink. This topic is one where some translations appear to support abortion but an examination of the text reveals that it does not. Exodus 21 calls abortion murder.
However, recognizing that abortion is condemned in the Bible is not an authorization for taking vigilante action against abortionists. Protesting is a civil right. Harming people or property is not. Just as we don’t take personal action against murderers but leave that for the government we are not charged with taking vigilante action against abortionists. We are charged to speak the truth, pray, and love even those who sin against men.
[i] See Matt 5:17, Matt 7:12, Matt 22:40, Acts:24:14
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