Exodus is a book in the Bible that describes the laws God issued to the nation of Israel as a part of his covenant with them. It was intended to regulate the lives of a people living in a distinctive geographical and redemptive-historical context and does not apply in the same sense to those who follow Christ and are bound by his law (1 Cor 9:20-21; Heb 8:18; etc). Yet it does reveal many important things about God and His moral vision for humanity and has a place in contemporary ethical discussions.
Frequently in abortion debates, Exodus 21:22-25 is used against the pro-life position and the traditional Christian understanding of the equal moral status of the unborn.
“And if men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she has a miscarriage, 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, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.” [Exodus 21:22-25 NASB]
The passage seems to imply that if the mother dies in the clash, the penalty is “life for life” but if a miscarriage takes place and the child is lost, then the only penalty that is imposed is a fine. Therefore, the Bible does not consider the unborn to be fully human.
At issue is the phrase translated “she has a miscarriage.” There is an assumption made about this word that is crucial. In English, the word “miscarriage” implies the death of the child. Webster’s New World Dictionary defines miscarriage as, “The expulsion of the fetus from the womb before it is sufficiently developed to survive.” In the struggle, the child is aborted, and so a fine is levied.
Here’s the crux of the issue: Does the Hebrew word carry the same meaning? Is it correct to presume that the miscarriage of Exodus 21:22 produces a dead child, just like an abortion? This is the single most important question that needs to be answered here. If it does, the English word “miscarriage” is the right choice. If it does not, then the picture changes dramatically.
Are we justified in assuming that the child is dead?
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