Last week I quoted a passage that has caused a lot of controversy about abortion and the Bible, Exodus 21:22-23.
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 . . . If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life . . . (Revised Standard Version)
Scholars argue over what it means that “any harm follows.” Some say it refers to the mother, because if there has been a miscarriage the child has died. With that translation, accidentally killing someone’s unborn child merits a fine. But others translate the passage to read “there is a premature birth” instead of a miscarriage. In that case, the punishment for causing the eventual death of a child who survives a premature birth is execution – “life for life.”
Many Jewish scholars maintain that “harm follows” refers to the woman. Furthermore a common interpretation of Jewish law is that one is not fully human until one is born. See:
For a well-argued conservative Christian interpretation of this passage, with comments about abortion and the Bible, see:
In America the argument about Exodus 21 is especially important because the country is so radically polarized between pro-life and pro-choice factions. On my main web site I’ve posted comments about Donald Trump, including a passage addressed to conservative Christians. Here’s part of what I wrote:
In one Doonesbury cartoon, a chaplain asks two friends, “So can you explain Trump’s evangelical supporters to me? What are they thinking? Trump’s a twice-divorced, non-churchgoing ex-casino operator – the living embodiment of the seven deadly sins! Pride? Greed? Heck, those are core brand values! Envy? He attacks his betters every day! Lust? He’s a womanizer who says he wants to date his own daughter! Gluttony? He’s all about bloat! Wrath? No one is angrier!”
That’s every one of the Seven Deadlies except sloth! And yet “White evangelicals and Catholics voted for Mr. Trump at even higher rates than they voted for the last two Republican presidential nominees, John McCain and Mitt Romney, according to an analysis by the Pew Research Center.” (“Evangelicals Believe Trump Will Keep Promises.” New York Times, November 11th, 2016, p. A20.)
I think Christians held their noses and marked their ballots for Trump because they thought he’d nominate pro-life judges to the Supreme Court, and they knew Clinton’s nominees would be pro-choice. Many people see abortion as murder, and that is important enough to override many negatives about Donald Trump.
But what if this Bible passage was put there by God to show that abortion is not murder?
Very sincere people have argued for drastically different interpretations of Exodus 21. So what do you think? I’ll say more about how I see this passage next week.
Roger Christan Schriner
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