This article is responding to an argument made by someone claiming that the bible doesn’t care about “the sanctity of life”. Let’s examine the list of out of context scriptures they use.
Gen 2:7 says (NLT), “Then the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person.”
Gen 2:7 is about Adam and how he was formed from dust, so he wasn’t born. This was about God’s Spirit giving life for the first time. No human was born or convinced before then. The special breath or spirit of God is what gives humans the intelligence, ingenuity, and language skills that animals don’t have, it makes us like God, “in his image” (Gen 1:26-27). God didn’t breathe directly into any animals, only Adam (the man). That is the significance of this verse. For unborn babies, without the oxygen being supplied by the umbilical cord, they would die, so this passage isn’t about the literal air we breathe through our nostrils initiating life. In short, Adam was not formed in a womb so this doesn’t apply.
Ex 21:22 says if two men are fighting, and in the process, they accidentally strike a pregnant woman, who gives birth prematurely, but there is no further injury then the family is compensated for the injury. However, the next verses continue saying that if there is a further injury that leads to death then the compensation must be “a life for a life, eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth”. Exodus 21:22-25 includes “life for life” so if the baby dies it is the death penalty for the assailant. If the baby is simply prematurely born but lives, then the person simply must pay restitution.
The Hebrew text says, yatsu yeladeha (וְיָצְא֣וּ יְלָדֶ֔יהָ), “her fruit came out”. Yeled (יֶלֶד) the root of yeladeha, means child. Her “child” came out, which means birth. Shakal (שָׁכֹל) which means “bereaved” (loss of a loved one), usually translates as miscarriage. On bible hub only 5 out of over 20 translations of Ex 21:22 say miscarriage instead of premature birth. Check it out here.
There are a lot of sections like this in the Torah that lay out very specific scenarios. It’s because these scenarios were gray areas when looking at the basic laws like don’t murder, don’t steal, etc. These types of clauses are likely in response to an actual scenario that was brought before Moses that the basic rules didn’t cover. So he consulted with God and this was the resolution they came to. This scenario is not about the pregnant woman dying but rather about the death of the unborn child. Murdering a woman is already covered in the command “thou shalt, not murder” (Ex 20:13, Deut 5:17), so this section is not about her murder. Since this is about accidental harm done to pregnant women when two men are fighting, it seems like a slaying rather than a murder. To understand why this was written we must ask ourselves, what would happen if the woman wasn’t pregnant? If a non-pregnant woman gets injured, there is compensation and this is based on not only what is said here in Ex 21:22 but also the previous verse before it starts at verse 18. Exodus 21:18-21 is all about compensation for accidental injuries for both free people and slaves. If she dies from an accidental injury, then the slayer will flee to a city of refuge and wait for a trial to prove there was no intent. If found innocent he has to stay in the city of refuge until the high priest dies, otherwise, the woman’s family has the right to kill him in revenge if he leaves the city. If found guilty of intent he is put to death because it was murder. This refuge system for accidental slayers is based on what is written in Num ch. 35, Deut 4:41-43, and Deut ch.19.
Another aspect of this is the fact that the slayer is in a fight which makes the question of intent complicated. If a person accidentally dropped a brick, it hit a pregnant woman and there is a death, then he flees to a city of refuge and proves his innocence. However, this scenario is caused by a fight between two men and fights are intentional. Even if the pregnant woman is injured by accident, the fight itself is an intentional act of violence as a result of a conflict. So it would disqualify that person for refugee status according to Num 35:21. Fighting is a choice and injuries obtained in a fight were not the results of random accidents or natural disasters, but from humans being intentionally violent. So instead of going to a city of refuge, this scenario can be seen as the negligent homicide of either the woman, the child, or both. The scenario and solution presented in Ex 21:22-25 is the answer to the question, “what happens if a pregnant woman is injured by a person in a case of irresponsible intentional reckless violence between two people, and there is a death”? So it seems like the “life-for-a-life” framework supersedes the city of refuge system when it wasn’t a true accident and therefore it counts as murder.
The Numbers 5:11-31 adultery test is done in response to suspicion of illicit sex by a cheating wife not specifically suspicion of a bastard child being in the womb. There are two different views on Numbers 5:27 the disfigurement view and the miscarriage view. The disfigurement position takes the description of the woman experiencing a vaginal prolapse, and the miscarriage position sees this as an idiomatic expression of miscarriage. Even if the miscarriage view is true, God has the right to allow the death of children like David’s illegitimate son with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12:14). There are examples in the Old Testament where the sins of one of the parents led directly to the death of their children like with Achan’s family in Joshua 7:25 for violating the rule on taking the detestable things that Canaanites had in Deut 7:26. According to that rule from Deut 7:26, the person who breaks that law will be destroyed like them [the Canaanites]. Achan inherited the judgment of the Canaanites themselves which included the end of families (Deut 20:10-18). There is also Dathan and Abiram who were punished along with their families for joining Korah’s rebellion against Moses (Num 16:23-35).
All of these punishments happened outside of the womb. The distinction is that these were done as punishment for sin by God himself, humans can’t judge people at that level. Humans can only put to death someone who is guilty of breaking a law worthy of death, like murdering an innocent person, and they must be seen committing the crime by two or three witnesses (Deut 17:6). Humans were never allowed to punish the parent for the child’s sin or vice versa (Deut 24:16). When Joseph found out Mary (mother of Jesus) was pregnant he opted not to go through with the jealousy ritual but just divorce her quietly (Matthew 1:18–19). If a woman gets pregnant and her husband knows it is not his because he didn’t have sex with her recently it would be pretty obvious the baby is not his and she wouldn’t be able to lie about this. Therefore, this ritual really would have never been done if she was knowingly pregnant with another man’s baby since there is no question in his mind it is not his. In the case of Joseph, an angel vindicated Mary in his dream (Matt 1:20).
Deut 28:15-68 is God’s curse for breaking his commands and this has nothing to do with abortion or the sanctity of life. The first thing to note in this chapter consists of a hyperbolic talk, meaning not every line is a literal prophetic declaration or an absolute promise. For instance, Deut 28:7 says Israel’s enemies “will scatter from them in seven directions” Verse 25 has the opposite (the curse) saying that Israel will flee from their enemies in seven directions. It doesn’t mean literally every battle ends with the loser fleeing in seven specific directions.
More examples: Lev 26:7-8 when God promises victory in battles, he says, “5 of you will chase 100, and 100 of you will chase 10,000!” This does not mean five people will always chase 100 people, or 100 will chase 10,000. Jesus says, “There will always be temptations to sin, but what sorrow awaits the person who does the tempting! It would be better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone hung around your neck than to cause one of these little ones to fall into sin” in Matt18:6-7 and Luke 17:1-3. He doesn’t want people to literally be thrown into the sea with a millstone around their neck, he is expressing how bad the sin of temptation actually is. Last example, when Peter asks Jesus how often we must forgive others Jesus says 70×7 times (Matt 18:21-35). That doesn’t mean count to 490 and then you can stop forgiving. In fact, Jesus said in Matt 6:15 and Mark 11:25-26 that if we don’t forgive others God won’t forgive us which is what he said in the concluding verse of Matt 18:35. It’s hyperbole which means it’s exaggerated to emphasize that the curse is bad and they should avoid breaking the commands and reaching that point.
War appears in the blessing and curse, the difference was that they would lose battles under the curse. God doesn’t cause the war, God would simply let them loose battles under the curse; humans cause war. Conquest, sickness, and poverty can happen without death so not everyone would die. The curse would reverse if the Israelites repented (2 Chron. 7:14). In Judges chapter 2, the narrator reveals the pattern for the rest of the book, saying that Israel was stuck in a loop of sinning and being conquered, then repenting and being delivered and looping continuously. According to Ezekiel 18:23-32, God doesn’t enjoy punishing the wicked but has to for the sake of justice for their victims, however, God will show mercy to those who repent. The fullest extent of this curse was the Assyrian conquest and Babylonian exile of the Israelites. The righteous who repented were spared as we can see in Ezekiel ch. 9 when God promised to mark the righteous to protect them from death.
The wage of sin is death (Romans 6:23). In Genesis 6 the earth is so violent and bad that God had to flood it out. The death penalty was not a punishment until after the flood. The death penalty was introduced in Genesis 9:5-6, and it was for murder. Cain, the firstborn son of Adam and Eve (the first humans), committed the very first murder. He murdered his brother Abel in Genesis 4:8. In Genesis 4:9-15, God punishes Cain with hardship in growing crops, and Cain complains his punishment is too much and he is afraid someone else will kill him. So God shows him mercy by branding him with a mark that would function as a symbol of protection in Gen 4:15. Many years later, in Genesis 4:23-24, Lamech, one of Cain’s sixth-generation descendants, brags about murdering a man and believes that Cain’s mark will be on him too and protect him. I believe that this warping of God’s mercy on Cain created a “Murder Olympics”, where people interpreted the mark of Cain as a reward of special protection. This is likely one of the reasons Gen 6:11 says the world was filled with violence. God had to stop this mass killing with the death of the murderers.
Imagine if God didn’t kick Adam and Eve out of the Garden to prevent them from eating from the Tree of Life and they became immortal in a sinful state (Gen 3:22-23), then there would be an eternal war between Cain and Abel, and no flood could stop it because the humans were immortal. In Gen 9:5-6, God then establishes the death penalty for murderers because humans obviously can’t handle the mercy he showed Cain. Seems justified to me. In Numbers 35:30-34 God says that murders must be put to death but only if there is more than one witness. No one can exchange the murderer’s death for a bribe. In fact, the murderer’s death can’t even be covered by an animal sacrifice. Murder pollutes the land spiritually and the only way to cleanse the land of murder is to execute the murderer. If God let humans have eternal life after the failure in the garden, then there would have been Gen 6 levels of violence forever. Why would a loving God allow an endless cycle of immortal violence? Adding death to tailor sin’s effects was necessary, we needed death because sin was so bad. This death was mainly targeted at wicked violent people, not unborn babies.
2 Kings 8:12 “What’s the matter, my lord?” Hazael asked him. Elisha replied, “I know the terrible things you will do to the people of Israel. You will burn their fortified cities, kill their young men with the sword, dash their little children to the ground, and rip open their pregnant women!”
2 Kings 15:16 At that time Menahem destroyed the town of Tappuah and all the surrounding countryside as far as Tirzah, because its citizens refused to surrender the town. He killed the entire population and ripped open the pregnant women.
When a wicked person does wicked stuff in the bible, it is clearly not condoned by God and they are punished. 2 Kings 8:7-15 is about God’s prophet Elisha confronting the next king of Aram (Syria) about his future attacks against Israel. Just like his predecessor, Ben-Hadad he will attack Israel, and have victory because they will be in a sinful state. You can read about what Ben-Hadad did in the previous chapters of 2 Kings. Israel was sieged by foreign kings when they were in sin as a nation. The Kings of Israel worshipped idols, abused the poor, stole land, and murdered innocent people, and the people copied what their leaders were doing. Only 12 out of 20 of Judah’s kings were seen as wicked. Menahem in 2 Kings 15:16 is a wicked Israelite who overthrew the king and took over Israel. In fact, verse 18 literally tells us “And he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord: he departed not all his days from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin”. None of this was condoned by God and he punished wicked kings for their sins.
Isaiah 13:18 The attacking armies will shoot down the young men with arrows. They will have no mercy on helpless babies and will show no compassion for children.
In Isaiah 13 God proclaims judgment on Babylon for what they were doing to the righteous remnant of Israel and describes what the Persians would do to them on their day of judgment. So verse 18 is just one of many things that happen in mass violence between warring kingdoms.
We don’t need the bible to tell us how violent humans are, every culture around the world had people murdering women and children in crime, assassination, and war at some point in their history. Remember the flood story itself is the result of human sin nature causing mass violence in the world, babies would have been killed. The Book of Enoch (from the Apocrypha) suggests that the giants were eating animals and human babies and drinking their blood. It doesn’t matter if the Book of Enoch is canonical or false, it gives insight into what 2nd Temple Period Jewish believers like Jesus’ followers would have believed about the violence in Genesis 6. This violence was started by Lamach and was presented as being a way to attain a reward and rewards inspire competition. Therefore it seems reasonable to expect weak men who couldn’t fight other men to have settled for killing women and children. The God of the bible didn’t condone it, because if one keeps reading he punishes these things with a flood. When the Canaanites sacrificed their children to Molech (Lev 18:21, Lev 20:2-5), God punished them with the Israelite conquest. Then when the Israelites repeated the same things (Jeremiah 32:35), this opened the door for the curse (Deut 28:15-68) and which lead to Babylon conquering and exiling them.
As for Hosea 9:10-16, it is enacting the curse for breaking God’s commands from Deut ch. 28, which includes barrenness as mentioned in verse 14, as well as miscarriage, or death of a child later in life from sickness, accidents, or violence because of the lack of protection from the blessing.
Hosea 13:16 is the same, the lack of protection from the blessing will allow invaders to conquer Samaria and slaughter people which would naturally include pregnant women. These kinds of statements are used to emphasize the level of destruction and are supposed to evoke and shock the original listeners into a response of fear and lead to repentance. As stated before, punishment for sin is God’s domain unless allocated to humans for crimes that are caught in the act by two or three witnesses. The death penalty was executed as a reminder of God’s justice and a deterrent for sin.
God recognizes babies in the womb as living people (Ps 139:13, Jer 1:5). In Judges 13:2-7, God forbid Samson’s mom from drinking alcohol while she was pregnant because God called him to be a Nazarite from conception. Nazarites are not allowed to drink until their vow is fulfilled, so God treated Samson like a person with a Nazarite vow even while he was in the womb. The prohibitions on his mother show that if she drank God counted it as Samson drinking because he lives on her food.
God gave humans the right to take life after the mass violence in the pre-flood era, but that was limited to violations of law. The death penalty was a deterrent because anyone can argue a plague or natural disaster is random and not a punishment, but being punished by the community was a more tangible fear that can be triggered when observing an execution. However, humans are not omnipotent so sometimes people aren’t caught. This is where God’s judgment steps in. Abortion is not a punishment from God since it involves humans making decisions to kill an unborn child on their own, so nothing in the bible from God condones this. The closes thing to a parent purposefully taking their child’s life is a sacrifice, usually to an idol. God always had the Israelites redeem the firstborn sons (Ex 13:19-20) just like Abraham redeemed Isaac with a ram (Gen 22:12-14).
In Romans 9:21-24 Paul says, God is the potter and we are the clay, so God has privileges that we don’t. Only God has the right to take any life without explanation but humans are limited. Anyone who claims to have that right is actually claiming they are equal to God. Eve makes what sounds like a braggadocios statement in Gen 4:1. Most translations have Eve saying, “With the help of the LORD I have produced [acquired or brought forth] a man.” However, the Hebrew word translated produced [acquired or brought forth] is qanah(קָנָה) which can also be used in reference to God “possessing” heave and earth (Gen 14:19 & 22). It’s also used in reference to God being the creator of Israel (Deut 32:6), of people (Ps 193:13), and of wisdom (Prov 8:22). The idea of qanah being the possessor can refer to original ownership rather than just becoming an owner after the purchase or receiving a gift. One interpretation is that Eve is saying she made Cain just like God made Adam, equivalating herself with God. Most English translations humble her a bit and add “with God’s help” but ezer(עֵזֶר) the word for help is not in the Hebrew text. However in Gen 4:25 after Abel has been murdered, Eve is more humble when talking about the birth of Seth. She says, “God has granted me another son in place of Abel, whom Cain killed.” Here she is recognizing that children are gifts from God, rather than taking credit for doing the work. Ironically the one she took creditor for became a murderer. Either way, anyone who claims their child is their “creation” and they can “do whatever they want to it”, is putting themselves in the role of God.
Aig on Numbers 5
Desiring God – Numbers 5 and Abortion
Child – yeled (יֶלֶד)
Bereaved – Shakal (שָׁכֹל)
Acquire – qanah(קָנָה)
Help – ezer(עֵזֶר)