When does life begin?

by Richard on April 27, 2004

Antioch Road has an interesting post, When Life Begins According to the Bible. I need to take issue with one point.

Exodux 21:22-25: Penalties stated for harming a pregnant woman.
Some pro-choice “Christians” use this verse to support their belief that God supports the right to an abortion. But to do so, they have to use the New American Standard version of the Bible. That version is the only version that uses the term miscarriage. King James uses “fruit depart from her.” Other versions use “premature birth”.
These people reason that because the men are only fined for causing a miscarriage, the unborn child is less than fully human.
Problems with this view:
  • This isn’t talking about miscarriages, but premature births, and the child may be born either alive or dead. If “no mischief follows” (i.e., the child is born healthy) then the man is only fined. Verse 23 makes clear that if the child is born dead, however, then the punishment is death. Verses 24 and 25 provide for other punishments if other harms result.
  • The view is inconsistent the rest of Scipture.

I’m not at all happy about the use of speech-marks around “Christians”, but we’ll let that go. I’m concerned about the use of Exodus 21 because I think it is relevant to the abortion debate. It doesn’t settle it, but it is relevant. Here’s how some versions render it:
New English Bible: “…so that she has a miscarriage…”
New International Version: “…gives birth prematurely…” (but or “has a miscarriage” in the footnotes)
Revised Standard Version: “…there is a miscarriage…”
New Jeusalem Bible: “…she suffers a miscarriage…”
Living Bible: “…she has a miscarriage…”
Good News Bible: “…so that she loses her child…”
These versions are from across the church spectrum, and hardly represent a liberal conspiracy. I’m no scholar of Hebrew, but it seems to me that they present a pretty consistent translation. I can see how this would trouble a “pro-life” case, but it won’t so to dismiss a translation because it is troublesome.

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Jonathan 04.27.04 at 6:22 pm

Also disturbing is the “inconsistent with the rest of Scripture” line. In other words, “this doesn’t fit our preconceptions, so we’ll trash it.” Still, I’d be curious to know just what Scripture it’s inconsistent with. I do recall a couple of Psalms talking about God forming the the psalmist in his mother’s womb and whatnot, but that’s a long cry from claiming that he was an individual with legal standing at that point. In fact, given the longstanding Jewish tradition that life doesn’t begin until a child draws its first breath, it doesn’t seem likely that was his point at all…

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