EXCERPT: The Winter 2012 issue of Bible and Spade may be the most important issue we have ever produced. It is dedicated to the subject of child sacrifice in the ancient world and Israel, and modern day abortion. This article is being reproduced here in conjuntion with the release of this issue. In it, Meredith Kline demonstrates that the law of Moses considered the fetus to be fully human, affording the child legal protection while in the womb. We pray that this issue of Bible and Spade and our online articles will help changes hearts and minds on this critically important subject.
The most significant thing about abortion legislation in Biblical law is that there is none. It was so unthinkable that an Israelite woman should desire an abortion that there was no need to mention this offense in the criminal code.
There is, however, one law in “the book of the covenant” (cf. Ex 24:7) that deals with a human fetus, and it has naturally received close scrutiny for the light it might shed on the critical question of the nature of the unborn child. This law, found in Exodus 21:22-25, turns out to be perhaps the most decisive positive evidence in Scripture that the fetus is to be regarded as a living person. A quite different assessment of the matter is prevalent which alleges that this law assigns to the fetus a status of mere property, not that of a discrete living being. To some extent the prevalence of this view is due to the fact that the other major interpretation, the one that is usually advocated by the “pro-life” position in the current abortion controversy, fails to answer several of the key exegetical questions satisfactorily.
Undeniably, the passage is a Gordian knot formed by an intertwining of several exegetical problems entailing broad issues of legal principle and practice in the Bible. A better solution seems to be available, however, than has been provided in the exegesis presented by either of the opposing sides in the current dispute.
In Ex. 21:18-36 there is a series of laws concerned with cases of criminal negligence. The law in vv. 22-25 concerns a brawl during which a pregnant woman, an innocent bystander, is struck and “her fruit depart(s) from her” (v. 22a KJV). Two varieties of this basic situation are then distinguished, which we will call Case A and Case B. Each of these includes a protasis (v. 22b and v. 23a) depicting one or another consequence of the act described in v. 22a and an apodosis (v. 22c and vv. 23b-25) giving the penalty. The protasis in Case A reads: “yet no mischief (‘āsôn; RSV ‘harm’) follow” (KJV). In Case B the protasis reads: “if any mischief/harm follow.”
According to the interpretation reflected in most modern English translations of this law, miscarriage is involved in the basic situation described in v. 22a as a common denominator of both Case A and Case B. The RSV, for example, translates: “so that there is a miscarriage.” The ‘āsôn mentioned in vv. 22b and 23a can only refer then to the woman. Case A thus involves loss of the fetus only, and the penalty (v. 22c) takes the form of monetary indemnification of the woman’s husband according to a scale of assessment in which the determining factor is the age of the fetus. In Case B, in addition to the miscarriage the woman suffers ‘āsôn, and the penalty clause (vv. 23b-25), utilizing the talion formula, prescribes capital punishment, “life for life,” if the woman dies. There is, according to this interpretation, a difference in kind in the penalties for destroying the fetus and for killing the woman, and the fact that a monetary settlement is prescribed for a miscarriage rather than a life being required as in the case of the woman’s death means that the fetus was regarded in Israelite jurisprudence as mere property, not as a living person like the woman….
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