Biblical Abortion

A man by the name of Curtis Fiers has written  an article titled “5 Verses that Prove the Bible Supports Abortion Rights.” As any amateur Biblical scholar might expect, it is very deceptive and lacks logical coherency. This post is a point-by-point response.

Disclaimer

I cannot speak for Curtis, but my responses here directly relate only to the moral and religous question of abortion. The legal question is another subject – for another time – about which the Bible is less adamantly clear. In any case, this post is primarily aimed at debunking Curtis’ claims rather than making any  claims of my own.

Biblical Legality

It’s strange, though, that the Bible wouldn’t directly outlaw abortion if it was wrong. After all, each of the books of the New Testament were written in the Common Era (CE) — often referred to as A.D. Yet the earliest evidence of an induced abortion dates to 1550 BCE. This, of course, is around 1,545 years before Christ was even born.

It’s not at all strange that the Bible wouldn’t directly outlaw abortion. The New Testament doesn’t even “outlaw” conventional murder – or anything else for that matter. The only “outlawing” is in the Old Testament. This is primarily in Leviticus and other books of the Torah.

Joshua son of Nun lived around 1300 BCE[1]. This is a few hundred years after the “earliest evidence of induced abortion.” But proving that abortion existed during the Mosaic period and proving that it was practiced by Israelites (and, thus, needed to be addressed) are two completely different things.

Additionally, the Code of Assura provided for the death penalty if a woman got an abortion without her husband’s blessing. This was in 1075 BCE. It just seems weird, even with historical evidence that abortion was occurring over 1,500 years before Christ, that the Bible never specifically outlaws it.

Obviously, the Code of Assura was written hundreds of years after the Torah, and in any case every Bible novice knows that the Assyrians were dramatically different from the Israelites. It would be no surprise at all to find that abortion was partially outlawed in Assyria while God, Moses, David, or whoever saw no need to create a similar law in Israel. If it was not practiced, such a law would be comparable to a 2016 American law outlawing guillotine executions – it would not be ridiculous, but it would seem odd and unnecessary.

Biblical Silence

The main focus of the abortion debate is whether fetuses constitute living persons. If you believe that the Biblical authors thought so, then obviously abortion is prohibited by any verse prohibiting murder. It is only if you believe that the fetus is not a living person that you can make the case for Biblical silence. Even then, I personally find the utter lack of mention of abortions in the Bible to be indicative that it was not in practice (or at least was extremely rare).

The only instances where abortion could be considered to have been mentioned are verses like 2 Kings 8:12[2], where the death of the fetus is incidental to the death of the mother, or Hosea 13:16[3], where the fetus death is incidental and where a terrible judgement is being pronounced. These references invariably portray abortion as a horrible event and indicative of a time of great suffering. Beyond that, they usually portray it as evil [4].

Biblical Support

“When men have a fight and hurt a pregnant woman, so that she suffers a miscarriage, but no further injury, the guilty one shall be fined as much as the woman’s husband demands of him, and he shall pay in the presence of the judges. But if injury ensues, 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.”

This Biblical verse lays out the penalty for accidentally causing a woman to miscarry, and it’s just a fine. If the woman herself is injured during the incident, however, the good old “eye for an eye” rule comes into play.

So if the mother dies, the person who caused the death dies. If only the unborn child dies, however, the at-fault party has to fork over a few shekels. If an unborn fetus is a human life, why is it not treated as such in this verse?

Here, Curtis takes Exodus 21:22-25 to mean that fetuses are not valued as human life. The core of his argument is that “eye for an eye” punishment applies to maternal injuries, but not the death of the fetus. There are a couple problems with this argument. First, how could “eye for an eye” possibly be applied to the man who caused the fetus to die? He is obviously not pregnant. Moreover, if the Bible supports the concept of fetal personhood, such a punishment would be unjust. Therefore, the fine is entirely consistent with pro-life sentiment.

Now some may argue that this verse’s failure to pronounce the death penalty implies that a fetus is not valued equal to an adult, since murder is a capital offense under Levitical law. But there are two glaring problems with this. The first is intentAccidental “murder” (i.e. manslaughter) is not a capital offense (a “perpetrator” may flee to a “city of refuge”). This verse deals with accidental fetal death.

The other, more crucial failure of this argument is that the verse does not relate to abortion. Curtis has cherry-picked the New American Bible version (the Bible used by American Catholics) which can be twisted to support his pro-abortion sentiments. Look at these translations:

  • American Standard Version: “hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart, and yet no harm follow”
  • International Children’s Bible: “they might hit a pregnant woman so that the baby comes out”
  • English Standard Version: “hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out”
  • New International Version: “hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely”
  • New King James Version: “hurt a woman with child, so that she gives birth prematurely”
  • New American Standard Bible: “strike a woman with child so that she gives birth prematurely”

Clearly, this verse concerns itself primarily with premature birthnot abortion. Indeed, the “eye for an eye” punishment is concerning injuries suffered by the infant – or possibly both the infant and the mother –  not the mother alone. This means that if the fetus dies (i.e. is aborted), the offending man must be executed per “eye for an eye” sentencing! The very verse Curtis uses to support abortion actually partially bans the practice!

The only way to read this verse as supporting abortion is to [a] twist its meaning and [b] use a Catholic Bible. This is somewhat problematic, since the Catholic church is firmly anti-abortion. The current Pope Francis has changed the tone somewhat, yet he remains as morally opposed to abortion as his predecessors.

Unfulfilled Life

“If a man beget a hundred children, and live many years, so that the days of his years be many, and his soul be not filled with good, and also that he have no burial; I say, that an untimely birth is better than he. For he cometh in with vanity, and departeth in darkness, and his name shall be covered with darkness. Moreover he hath not seen the sun, nor known any thing: this hath more rest than the other.”

This text says that it is better for a person to suffer an “untimely birth,” meaning to die from miscarriage, than to live an unhappy life. That’s right: the Bible literally says it’s better to die in the womb than live an unhappy life. This flies directly into the face of all anti-choice believers.

I refuse to deign his Ecclesiastical reference with a thorough analysis. It is an insult to literate people everywhere. Curtis probably thinks that murder is justified if the victim first says “I wish I’d never been born.”

Census

“The total number of Levites counted at the Lord’s command by Moses and Aaron according to their clans, including every male a month old or more, was 22,000. The Lord said to Moses, ‘Count all the firstborn Israelite males who are a month old or more and make a list of their names.’”

In these verses, God tells Moses to conduct a census of all Levite males, but he only tells him to count those who are at least one month old. It’s almost as if those younger than a month don’t hold human value.

Curtis infers that fetuses do not “count” (ba-dum-tsh) as humans because one month was the age cutoff for the Levitical and Israelite censuses of Numbers 3. Ignoring the fact that these censuses were likely intended to aid logistics and planning, Curtis’ interpretation implies that the following groups are not human:

  • Levite infants less than a month old
  • Male Israelites who are not firstborn
  • All female Israelites

Creation of Adam

“And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”

This verse talks about the creation of Adam. It specifically states that God formed Adam from dust, but he wasn’t yet a living soul. Not until God breathed life into this inhuman form did it become alive. If Adam, the first human to ever exist, had to take a breath before being considered a living soul, why is the same not true for unborn fetuses?

Again, Curtis has chosen a cherry-picked version of Genesis 2:7 to suit his purposes. And again, he insults every literate person reading his article. Anyone can plainly see that this verse is not intended to describe life’s criteria. The poetic use of “breath of life” to refer to “life force” hardly means that “breath must come first.”

Moreover, we can add doctors and scientists to the list of offended parties, since fetuses do breath prior to birth. Sure, it’s amniotic fluid rather than air, but it certainly still qualifies as “the breath of life.” Even a pro-abortion radical cannot deny that at some point fetuses are living, if not persons. To quote Mike Adams, “dead things don’t grow.”

Infidelity

“If she has made herself impure and been unfaithful to her husband, this will be the result: When she is made to drink the water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering, it will enter her, her abdomen will swell and her womb will miscarry, and she will become a curse.”

This is a fun one. Earlier in Numbers, it’s stated that, if a man suspects his wife of sleeping with another man, he may bring her to a priest who will create some sort of magic potion with water and dirt. The woman is then made to drink said magic potion. If she has not cheated on her husband, nothing will happen.

If the woman has cheated and is carrying another man’s child, though, the mystical dirt water — we can call it magic mud — will cause her to immediately miscarry. This is a directive coming straight from God himself to Moses. So even if pro-lifers can dodge all these other verses, they can’t deny that this one essentially says, “Abortion is okay as long as it’s forced upon a woman, against her will, for cheating on her husband.”

Here we finally come across something resembling a logical argument. Numbers 5 does indeed indicate that abortion is acceptable if performed on a unfaithful wife by means of what Curtis terms a “magic potion.” However, as religious liberals like Curtis are so fond of reminding us, Old Covenant law is no longer in effect. This means we can wear mismatched clothing and eat bacon; and it means that this exception no longer has true Biblical support.

Conclusion

Curtis’ mocking tone towards the end confirms the suspicion I had throughout the article – this is no pro-abortion “Christian” earnestly seeking God’s will. This is a leftist[6] pro-abortion activist (who’s probably atheist) incompetently abusing Biblical interpretation (and, indeed, literary interpretation as a whole) as a means of attacking the analyses and conclusions of those who actually understand and value the Bible.

Engagement

As always, I welcome any criticisms or disagreements in the form of comments, messages, emails, or smoke signals. But be advised that (a) I may ignore or remove profanity or ad hominem attacks, and (b) the First Amendment does not in any way prevent me from doing this.

Footnotes

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joshua
  2. 2 Kings 8:12 (NIV) – “‘Why is my lord weeping?’ asked Hazael. ‘Because I know the harm you will do to the Israelites,’ [Elisha] answered. ‘You will set fire to their fortified places, kill their young men with the sword, dash their little children to the ground, and rip open their pregnant women.'”
  3. Hosea 13:16 (NIV) – “The people of Samaria must bear their guilt, because they have rebelled against their God. They will fall by the sword; their little ones will be dashed to the ground, their pregnant women ripped open.”
  4. Arguable exceptions being ‘wrath of God’ verses
  5. http://biblehub.com/exodus/21-22.htm
  6. https://www.facebook.com/CurtisFiersWriting/timeline

Edits

  1. 2016-05-12 13:27 EST – Added Disclaimer section.
  2. 2017-03-03 09:21 EST – Added Engagement section.
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Author: Andrew Felsher

I’m a Christian, Classically Liberal Republican. In that precise order.

4 thoughts on “Biblical Abortion”

  1. The Numbers 5 passage is interesting. It’s worth noting that in context it’s obviously God who would be performing the abortion (if indeed it is an abortion that’s referred to; again he has chosen a translation that’s biased in favor of his viewpoint, although this case is a bit less of a clear-cut wonky translation issue than Exodus 21). The idea that infidelity would in itself be considered by God to be justification for an abortion is theologically intriguing to me, and I think demonstrates that the issue isn’t quite as clear-cut as many make it out to be.

    The silence of the New Testament on the subject is also interesting. I do feel the need to note for the record, and I know you agree with me on this, that just because something is not specifically mentioned in the Bible doesn’t mean that the Bible doesn’t provide guidance and insight. The idea that the Bible doesn’t forbid this action so it must be OK can get one into quite a bit of trouble. One could just as easily assume either that 1) it’s not mentioned because it was common practice in those times and everyone thought it was OK or 2) it’s not mentioned because it was self-evidently wrong enough that none of the churches Paul planted struggled with it and so he doesn’t have to tell them not to do it.

    Paul found himself frequently in situations where he had to pronounce judgement on a situation Jesus or the scriptures had not specifically addressed. He spoke through the Holy Spirit to either give advice (see 1 Corinthians 7:40) or to give commands (I Corinthians 7:12). We believe Paul spoke through the Spirit because of the miracles he was able to perform, the obvious respect he had for the Scriptures, and the confirmation from his own life that he is living in step with the Spirit. I don’t know Curtis Fiers’ life, but just from the quotes you pulled out he certainly fails the “respect for the Scriptures” test. I don’t find his post convincing, and like you I think the scriptures he’s chosen prove nothing except that he really wants the Bible to support something he’s already decided to support.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “The idea that infidelity would in itself be considered by God to be justification for an abortion is theologically intriguing to me”

      Ditto.

      “and I think demonstrates that the issue isn’t quite as clear-cut as many make it out to be.”

      Perhaps. It certainly demonstrates that there do exist some conceivable (ba-dum-tsh) circumstances under which abortion is permissible.

      Like

      1. I personally suspect it’s a reflection of the different times we live in. In a society where the punishment for adultery is death, a premature birth may be the fetus’ only hope for survival. One could certainly argue that rather than performing an abortion, in this circumstance God would be potentially saving the child’s life, if the fetus was viable.

        Where the issue becomes, in my opinion, murky, is why the husband is not required to let the pregnancy come to term before stoning his wife (if he chooses to do so). This raises interesting questions regarding pregnancies that are the result of rape. If the Old Testament law did not require a child that’s the product of infidelity to be carried to term, perhaps that’s precedent for not requiring a woman to carry her rapist’s baby to term? There’s all sorts of (invariably tragic) situations surrounding an unwanted pregnancy, and I think claiming it’s a black-and-white issue can be hurtful and insensitive. There’s a lot of tough decisions, and by trying to create a clinical one-size-fits-all solution we (especially we as men) run the risk of alienating those most in need of help and comfort.

        I am, however, pleased to see you posting about something I can agree with you on 🙂

        Like

      2. At the risk of sounding like a know-it-all, I’ve put a lot of thought into the rape scenario and think I’ve got a pretty good solution (or as good a solution as a male virgin with no direct experience with abortion or rape could devise).

        1. Prohibit abortion except in cases where both lives are at risk (possibly including cases where only the mother is at risk).

        2. Make abortion practitioners culpable, but not mothers and would-be mothers (how self-inflicted abortion would be handled I’ve not yet managed to account for; perhaps it could be thought of similarly to mental illness – we are not punishing a crime, but treating a hurt – and handled accordingly).

        3. All post-birth legal obligations of a mother towards her children are null and void in the case of rape. This could be supported by relaxed adoption requirements and/or some expansion of the foster care system or some alternative (e.g. orphanages).

        The rape victim scenario is certainly a troubling philosophical question. But while I cannot deny the miserable situation in which the pregnant victim finds herself (and her own presumed innocence in the matter), I cannot agree with those pro-lifers who are of the opinion that her unfortunate state absolves all involved in the abortion of guilt. Such a belief is incompatible with the belief that the unborn are living persons. Put bluntly, the (admittedly extreme) inconvenience of rape-induced pregnancy does not justify what we would otherwise term “murder.” There’s also the practical matter – rape is very difficult to prove, and so such an exception is extremely vulnerable to abuse.

        Perhaps the OT law’s treatment of illegitimate pregnancies can be resolved by the “visiting judgement for the sins of the father on the son” treatment sometimes mentioned elsewhere.

        Or perhaps it can be resolved the same way I personally resolve all Old Testament commands to kill with Jesus’ more pacifistic approach – killing is justified if truly commanded by God (with His omniscient perspective). We cannot be legislator, judge, nor jury, but we can be executioner.

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