Just when I had assumed that we have reached the depths of (oxy) moronic idiocy with “atheist megachurches,” homo sapiens proved they were capable of taking it one step lower, this time with “pro-choice Christianity.” Some blatantly use the term, and others dress it up in flowery language like ‘reproductive justice’ (I suppose that would make the Holocaust “eugenic justice?”).
While most pro-choice “Christians” appeal to things like their desire for social justice and female equality or say things like “abortion is never directly prohibited in Scripture," there are those who attempt to argue for the woman’s right to choose to have an abortion from Scripture itself. In the few conversations I’ve had with seemingly-smart pro-choice “Christians,” there is one scriptural passage which has inevitably popped up — and this is the passage we will be examining.
The Prenatal Human as Property?
The Pro-Choice Case from Exodus 21
The issue of whether one can be a pro-choice “Christian” hinges upon whether or not the unborn is considered a human life with the same value as other human beings in Scripture. If the unborn is a human life, abortion becomes an act of murder — something explicitly prohibited by the sixth commandment. Conversely, if the unborn is not a human life, abortion is no longer murder and can be justified. To prove the latter, the pro-choice Christian might turn to a commonly (ab)used passage which, in some translations seems to hint the unborn is subhuman and on the level of property.
The passage in question is Exodus 21:22-25, which reads,
“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, according as the woman’s husband shall lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” (Revised Standard Version)
The pro-choice advocate will say in this passage, God seems to suggest if a man causes a woman to miscarry, killing the fetus but not fatally harming the woman herself, he only needs to pay a fine; if he fatally harms the woman, on the other hand, he will have to pay with his life. In doing so, they claim the Scripture does not endow the unborn with the same worth or right to life as the mother or any other developed human being; for while it demands all other acts of murder be punished with the death penalty, the killing of the unborn can be compensated with the paying of a fine, similar to the way in which property was handled.
If the pro-choice advocate is correct, this is a serious blow which weakens the Christian pro-life position as it opens up the possibility to justify killing the unborn on the basis of Scripture categorizing them as subhuman. It is then imperative for us to examine whether the pro-choicer’s interpretation of this passage is valid.
Applying the Consistency Test
No verse in Scripture ought to be interpreted on its own; there is an oft-repeated principle that we must interpret Scripture with Scripture. What this means is whenever one attempts to interpret a given verse, the interpretation which is produced must be consistent with the rest of Scripture and the message it gives.
This rule must be applied to Exodus 21:22-25 to see whether the above interpretation is consistent with what the rest of the Bible teaches. The primary question becomes, what does the rest of the Bible have to say about the intrinsic worth of the unborn? Is the unborn considered a valuable human life according to any other passages in the Biblical text? I would say the answer is a resounding “yes.” Let us examine a critical Bible passage which implies exactly that.
In Luke 1:15, it is said of John the Baptist, “he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb.” Nowhere in the Bible is anything which is animal or subhuman spoken of as being “filled with the Holy Spirit;” it is something only spoken of about human persons. Does that not imply God saw John the Baptist as a person within his mother’s womb?
Similarly, in Luke 1:41, Scripture says "the baby” (speaking of John the Baptist) leaped in his mother’s womb when he heard the greeting of the Virgin Mary. It portrays the unborn as not only being capable of being filled with the Holy Spirit, but reacting to the arrival of his Messiah, just like his mother did.
Furthermore, if you turn to verses 42 and 43, we read,
“...and she [Elizabeth] exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?’” (English Standard Version)
Here, Elizabeth is speaking to the Virgin Mary, who is pregnant with Jesus. Note after referring to “the fruit” of Mary’s womb, she refers to Mary as “the mother of my Lord.” She doesn’t say, “my to-be Lord” or “my potential Lord," but explicitly refers to him as “my Lord.” In doing so, she was acknowledging the child in Mary’s womb as God incarnate in human form.
This, then, is the ultimate defeater for the pro-choice “Christian;” Jesus Christ himself was acknowledged as Lord in the human form, even in the womb. Anyone who states the unborn child is subhuman and is not endowed with the same worth and right to life as any other human being is also claiming there was a time when Christ was on earth that He was subhuman and did not possess the same intrinsic worth as other human beings, despite being God all the while.
This is a blatant denial of the essential doctrine of the hypostatic union. Hence, to consistently maintain their position, the pro-choice “Christian” does not just have really bad theology, but must also admit to being a serial blasphemer every time they assert their position.
I can quote several other passages affirming the personhood of the unborn child, including Jeremiah 1:4-5, Isaiah 49:1, Galatians 1:15, Psalm 139-13-16, and Genesis 25:23. In short, the rest of Scripture seems to acknowledge the personhood and intrinsic worth of the unborn child.
The pro-choice “Christian,” however, can continue to assert that Exodus 21:22-25 is a verse which explicitly denies the equal worth of the human fetus to other human beings. If anything, they might say it is inconsistent with the rest of the text, but it does clearly imply reparations for harm to a fetus are not equal to those for the harm done to its mother. If they are right, this would render the Bible inconsistent, which would be a serious affront to the credibility of the Bible itself. Let us return to the text to see if this is what it actually says.
The Verse Revisited
The primary argument of the pro-choice “Christian” is derived from the part of the text which says, “...there is a miscarriage, and yet no harm follows, the one who hurt her shall be fined...” An important thing we must do when interpreting any Scriptural text from any translation is to go back to the original language in which the text was written.
Paul Copan, a Christian philosopher who has written extensively on Old Testament ethics, does this in his 2011 book Is God a Moral Monster? Copan points out that yalad is the word used in Hebrew which has been translated in the Revised Standard Version as ‘miscarriage’.  However, the word yalad plainly means to “go forth” or “to give birth.” As a matter of fact, Copan points out that yalad has been used several times in the Biblical text to describe a normal birth (take for instance Genesis 25:26; 38:28-30; Job 3:11; 10:18; Jeremiah 1:5; 20:18).  Conversely, Copan also states the Bible has a distinct word for miscarriage, namely shakal/shekol which was used in several passages including Genesis 31:38, Exodus 23:26, Job 21:10 and Hosea 9:4.  Hence, miscarriage is a plain mistranslation on the side of the RSV translations. Other translations, including the KJV, the NKJV, the NIV, etc. use terms like “her fruit depart from her” or “give birth prematurely,” indicating the unborn isn’t dead.
Copan further points out yalad is a term that is consistently used throughout Scripture for babies viable outside the womb. The word for fetus, on the other hand, is nepel — a word that is used for the psalmists “unformed body” in Psalm 129:16.  Hence, the baby Exodus 21:22 speaks of as being delivered is not dead and is viable outside the womb.
Copan then takes his argument up a notch. He says the text only states, “and yet no harm follows” and does not specify whether the harm is to the mother or the baby. In particular, the text fails to use a feminine pronoun.  It is safe to conclude then the “no harm follows” condition actually applies to the mother and the child who was delivered; that is, if the mother or the child is fatally injured, the attacker will have to pay with his life. If this is true, this verse is actually affirming the human personhood of the unborn child; it places the same penalty for anyone who harms the unborn child as one who harms a fully-grown adult.
Gleason Archer, a former Professor of Old Testament and Semitics and a renowned Bible translator, concurred with this interpretation when he said,
“There is no ambiguity here, whatever. What is required is that if there should be an injury either to the mother or to her children, the injury shall be avenged by a like injury to the assailant. If it involves the life of the premature baby, then the assailant shall pay for it with his life. There is no second-class status attached to the fetus under this rule; he is avenged just as if he were a normally delivered child or an older person: life for life.” 
Thus, the pro-choice “Christian’s” use of Exodus 21 fails miserably; the passage actually proves the case for life and the intrinsic worth of the unborn.
In conclusion, then, no amount of hermeneutical gymnastics will allow the enemies of life to use the Bible for their own purposes. The Bible is not a text which takes political positions or affiliations; it speaks the truth, regardless of whether the reader likes it, and in the issue of life it always falls on the side of life.
And why wouldn’t it? After all, Jesus does love the little children. Even little children in the womb.
And why wouldn’t He? Once upon a time, He was there too!
: Copan, P. (2011). Is God a Moral Monster? - Making Sense of the Old Testament God. 1st ed. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, pp.99-100.
: Archer, G. (1982). Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties. 1st ed. Grand Rapids; Zondervan, p. 248
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Human Defense Initiative.
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