Part 15 Answering Exodus 21:22, 23

Bible verses that “support” abortion


The following verses are used by opponents to say the Bible supports abortion.  I am going to show they actually do the opposite.

New American Standard Bible: Exodus 21:22, 23 “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. 23 “But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life,”

The Living Bible: Exodus 21:22 “If two men are fighting, and in the process hurt a pregnant woman so that she has a miscarriage, but she lives, then the man who injured her shall be fined whatever amount the woman’s husband shall demand, and as the judges approve.”

Pro-abortion advocates point out that in the case of an injury to the mother, which causes a miscarriage and the baby comes out dead, there is only a fine unless the mother dies.  The penalty in that case is the perpetrator’s life for the mother’s life.  They say according to this passage the baby is not considered fully human because instead of life for life for killing the baby the intruder is only fined.

The key to answering this objection is answering the question, what is being communicated about the child?  Is miscarriage the best English word?  The Hebrew verb yasa [which some English translations call a miscarriage] means “to come forth.”  Whenever yasa is used in the Old Testament it refers to something “coming forth” alive unless otherwise indicated.  In Numbers 12:12 “Oh, do not let her be like one dead, whose flesh is half eaten away when he comes from his mother’s womb!” Here the baby “comes from” the womb dead but the passage itself says the baby was dead.  Without stating the baby is dead yasa always means alive.  Interesting is the fact that yasa is used 1,061 times and is only translated by some as miscarriage in this one passage.  Why should this Exodus passage be different?

Moses had at his disposal Hebrew words that could have meant miscarriage, nepel and sakal, but he didn’t use them.  These words are used elsewhere in the Bible but not in this Exodus passage.

Let’s read the Exodus passage with what the verb yasa means.  Exodus 21:22, 23 “And if men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that the baby comes out, yet there is no further 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.” The passage seems to indicate that if either the mother or the baby is injured there is a penalty and if death occurs to either party it is life for life.

So why require a fine?  The person is fined because a premature baby requires special care.  The fine is levied for punitive damages and for the expense of an early birth.  Plus, even if the fine was for a miscarriage, this wouldn’t prove the baby isn’t human because a few verses later (v. 32) Moses says there will be a fine for the death of a slave.  We wouldn’t take that to mean the slave is somehow subhuman.

To summarize the case 3 points have been established:

  1. Yasa never means the baby is dead.  The English word miscarriage is simply a bad translation.  Verse 22 should say come forth or come out.
  2. Is there anything in the context of the passage that we should take Yasa to mean the baby comes out dead?  The obvious answer is no.
  3. If Moses had wanted to convey the baby came out dead why didn’t he use Hebrew words he had at his disposal that would have conveyed that message?  Obviously, he never intended the readers to interpret the passage to mean a dead baby.

Bottom line is the Exodus 21:22, 23 is actually a strong pro-life passage supporting the full rights and humanity of the unborn[1].

Go to part 16 here

[1] Information for this post comes from a Stand to Reason article by Greg Koukl called, “What Exodus 21:22 says about abortion.”

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