Bible Suggests That the Unborn Child Is Less Than Human?

Does the Bible really say that preborn life is sacred? I'm a Bible-believing Christian and a dedicated pro-life activist. I've never doubted that Scripture supports the sanctity of life in the womb (as, for example, in Psalm 139:13-16). Then a skeptical friend directed my attention to Exodus 22:21-24, where the penalty for causing a woman to miscarry or abort is nothing more than a fine. If the preborn child is really a full-fledged person, wouldn't the death penalty have been imposed? Doesn't this indicate that the Bible regards the fetus as something less than a human being?

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Not in the least. Let’s take a closer look at the passage in question.

Rendered literally, the Hebrew of Exodus 21:22 reads, “If men fight, and strike a pregnant woman so that her children come out …” The New American Standard Bible translates this as “so that she has a miscarriage.” But The New King James Version says “so that she gives birth prematurely.” In other words, it is not clear from the text that the child in question actually dies.

If the translators of the NKJV are correct, we can assume that the subsequent death of the premature baby would fall under the heading of potential “mischief” or “harm” that might result from such an incident. In that case, the standard penalty would apply: “life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, etc.” (verse 24). If this interpretation is not correct, it’s hard to understand what the writer has in mind when he says “if any mischief follows.” He can’t be referring to the woman, since, where she’s concerned, the harm has already been done.

If, on the other hand, the NASB has it right, then we have to remember that the death of the woman’s “fruit” or “offspring” is in this instance is not the result of murder. It’s accidental manslaughter. As you may know, the Old Testament Law made special provision for the refuge and protection of people who became guilty of unintentional manslaughter (see Numbers 35:9-34). A similar attitude may be reflected in the imposition of a fine rather than the death penalty in this passage. Even in our modern context, most people agree that there is a significant difference between accidental miscarriage and deliberate abortion.

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