Episode 82 - Does the Old Testament Teach that the Unborn isn't as Valuable as a Born Person?

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Recently, a friend directed me to a series of blog posts written by a staffer for Young Life. Young Life is a parachurch Christian organization that works with high school students and middle school students. This staffer, while not writing officially for Young Life on his own blog, makes the case that the Old Testament, and the Bible in general, does not condemn abortion. Not directly, not indirectly. In fact, he tries to prove the point, using Scripture, that the unborn life from the Bible's perspective isn't even as valuable as the born life, and that life doesn't begin from a biblical perspective until birth. Let's analyze some of these claims.

“The Bible says the unborn isn’t as valuable”

One you may hear from other people and not just from this blog post, comes from Exodus 21:22-25. Here's how it's often quoted when it's being used: “When men fight and one of them pushes a pregnant woman and a miscarriage results, but no other misfortune ensues, the one responsible shall be fined as the woman's husband may exact from him. The payment is to be based on a judge’s reckoning; but if other misfortune ensues, the penalty shall be life for life.”

This is what this this guy writes. He says that "Scripture implies that if an unborn child is terminated, the compensation is to be money, but if a woman is killed or severely injured, the penalty is to be equal for the crime." Therefore, on his view, on the Old Testament law, the unborn is not as valuable as the born - but here's the interesting point. If he simply consulted more than one translation, and more than the one he used, he would see that it's not nearly as clear-cut, because many translations translate this differently. In fact, the NIV says, "If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman, and she gives birth prematurely" - not if a miscarriage results, if she gives birth prematurely.

In fact, the word used here in this Exodus 21 passage is not the word for abortion and not the word for miscarriage. If the writer had wanted to use those words, they are available and they are used elsewhere in the Old Testament - but the word here means to come forth in Hebrew. We don't have to create a problem where one doesn't exist, right? Why do we have to choose the interpretation or the reading that creates a problem? Because if you choose the reading which is most natural, that fits in a biblical worldview and biblical landscape, that the unborn is valuable, and you read it to say - like the actual Hebrew would imply - that she gives birth prematurely or her child comes, then we don't have to have a problem here.

Nothing in this verse, nothing in this passage, says that the child is dead upon arrival. It doesn't say that, so we should not guess to create a problem here where one does not exist. I think this is an easy way to demonstrate that this passage does not say that the unborn is not as valuable as the born person.

“The Jews thought the unborn wasn’t as valuable”

He then goes on to quote from the Mishnah, which are Jewish legal documents. Here's what he quotes. He says, "If a woman is having difficulty in giving birth and her life is in danger, one may cut up the fetus within her womb and extract it limb by limb, because her life takes precedence over that of the fetus; but if the greater part was already born, she may not touch it, for one may not set aside one person's life for that of another." He says this is understood to mean that a woman whose life is endangered by a pregnancy is permitted to end the pregnancy, but if the child's already in the world, on that view, then she's not, because - his view here is that - the born child is more valuable than the unborn child.

Now, there are a few ways to address this. First, why are we quoting late Jewish literature and legal documents to form a biblically informed opinion? They're not authoritative for us. I don't say this in a way to blame all Jews, but the Jews got some stuff wrong. I think that’s obvious. They missed by the fact that Jesus was God and Messiah, and they crucified him. I'm not saying that means they can't get anything right, by any means. This is an anti-Semitic. My point is, Jewish legal writings are not authoritative for us by any means. There's another way to read this, because you'll notice the passage starts out, "If a woman is having difficulty in giving birth and her life is in danger, then you can abort the child, but if the greater part is already born" - which means that most of the danger has already passed. If you've waited this long and the woman is still alive, and the child's almost all-out, why would you kill the child at this point? That doesn't make sense either.

What we see is, if you read these passages in any type of a charitable light - which you would hopefully want someone to read your literature with - there's not a problem here. There's only a problem if you choose the least likely interpretations of each passage.

“Life only begins when you breathe”

Another point he makes is basically that from a biblical worldview, life only begins when God breathes into us, and of course, one of the notable examples of this is in Genesis where God breathes life into Adam.

Well, Genesis is not the normal case for everyone else. We went from no human life to God creating the human race. By the way, Genesis is a very poetic account. The breathing of life is poetic. God doesn't have lungs. He doesn't breathe oxygen, so there's obviously some type of figurative language going on here, but to say that life only begins when it's breathed, doesn't make sense, because remember, Adam was fully formed when he was created. He didn't start as a baby. He didn't start even as a born little baby who needed to be cared for. He was a mature, fully-formed person. This breath argument doesn't work either.

You know what's interesting is, Jeremiah 1:5 says, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. Before you were born, I set you apart.” Who is the “you?” If you are not you until you were born, who is this you that God is knowing? See, this doesn't make sense either. If we read this passage at face value, and we read the Exodus passage at face value, and we look in context at God breathing life into man, what we see here is that there's not a conflict in these. Adam started out the human race, but God knew all of us. He created all of us. We were known to Him before we were physically born. If you don't exist, if you were not a person, you can't be known by God. You can't be loved by God. I think, once again, we’re creating problems where they don't exist.

“It would have been better for some people not to be born”

Here's another one he brings up in Ecclesiastes. It says, “A man may have 100 children and live many years. Yet no matter how long he lives, if he cannot enjoy his prosperity and does not receive proper burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he.” His point here is that: Sometimes it's even better not to be born. But this is obviously a figure of speech. Albeit, in a piece of literature where the person is depressed and melancholy.

Scripture does not approve of everything it includes. It doesn't condone everything it describes. It doesn't prescribe everything it describes. That's an important thing to understand. Sometimes Jesus even says, it would've been better for you not to be born than to do these things - but that doesn't mean that it's okay to kill someone before they're born.

I think it's important to understand, once again, we’re creating a problem, where if you read this piece of literature, Ecclesiastes, in its genre, understanding its author and his mental state, and his life history, you would not come up with this idea that it's okay for some people not to be born because their life may be worse. It is never okay to kill someone because they might have a hard life. We don't kill people when they get expensive. We don't kill them if they might not have a good life. Life itself is more valuable than a life suffering.

I know this is countercultural, where we have this idea that death with dignity means dying when I want to die, but you have dignity regardless of how you live. Dignity is an intrinsic quality. You can't gain dignity by something you do or lose it by something you do. Some people who claim to be Christians say, “we're not comfortable with abortion, but really, do you want all these children coming into the world where they’re not loved?” It's like, what are you saying? Connect the dots for me. Are you saying it's okay to kill people so they don't have a hard life? Like when James says that pure and undefiled religion before God is taking care of the widow and the orphan, do you really think he meant, unless you killed them first?

This is a pertinent question today when the unborn doesn't have people looking out for them. It's also pertinent question when we look at the other end of life, where old people are being euthanized, where they're being killed, sometimes without their permission, sometimes when they're being forced into it, sometimes when insurance or a hospital simply decides they're not fit to live.

When James says that religion is taking care of these people who can't take care of themselves, nowhere in there should we think that, well, you have to take care of them if they're alive, but it's okay to kill them. That makes no sense.

“Millions of pregnancies end in natural abortion/miscarriage.”

Sometimes when we talk about abortion, people bring up this idea that many pregnancies actually end for natural reasons - millions of them, actually, that are undecided by their parents. In 2013, this guy who write the blog posts quotes, "It was found that nearly 15 to 20% of all pregnancies in the United States end in miscarriages before the 20th week of pregnancy, and about the same time, most abortions occur. He says, "What do you do with that? Millions of 'souls' leave the world every year without any parental intervention at all, and without ever experiencing what we might call 'life.' How do we reconcile this when roughly 20% of pregnancies naturally do what it's largely condemned by faith? Why couldn't we pick at God?" He's trying to say, since God's in control of the body, and a lot of times an egg is fertilized, and conservatives would say that life began, and then that life fails to implant in the uterine wall, and dies. Well, there are millions of deaths already in utero, so what's wrong with abortion, some people would say.

Here's the difference. Let's make a parallel here. There's the difference in your heart stopping naturally and someone stopping your heart intentionally. If your heart stops naturally, that doesn't mean it's okay to stop other people's hearts intentionally and kill them. Many people die of natural causes. Does that mean it's okay to kill people in the same way that they died there? If your heart stops, then we could kill someone else by stopping their heart? If your lungs stop working, then we can stop someone else's lungs? If someone accidentally walks in front of a bus, well, is it okay to push them in front of a bus? No. Life is God’s, ultimately. It's under His control, but we do not have the right to take what is His and destroy it, and that's the difference.

When you commit an abortion, you are willing the end of someone else's life. If that life ends on its own, even if you try to save it, you're not responsible for that. This is just one of so many bad arguments that people who claim to have an allegiance to Scripture make.

They try to say, well, look at, I'm using the Bible to make my case. Yeah, but you're not trying to reconcile Scripture with Scripture, you're trying to cause a problem where there isn't one. You're using bad logic. Like this whole heart stopping thing, they wouldn't agree that if someone's heart stops naturally, then you can stop someone else's heart intentionally, but they'll use that exact same logic when it comes to the unborn. “Well, if the unborn can miscarry on its own, then why can't we make that happen?” That's not okay. That's bad logic.

Sometimes, these type of people say, well, if you conservatives were truly pro-life, then you would care about the born life that's young, and in poverty, or sick, or hurting, and you know what? They're right. We should care about life from its conception to when it’s a 90-year-old without any family left, who isn't being treated well in a nursing home. We should care about all of these people. We should care about the mentally handicapped. All of it - but what we can't do is say, well, conservatives don't care about children once they're born, so we’ll kind of make it seem better to abort them. That's not okay.

The last argument that's interesting, is that some people will say, yes, the Bible says that John the Baptist leapt in his mother's womb when he was next to Mary who was pregnant with Jesus. (Jesus is in utero, John the Baptist is in utero, and John the Baptist leaps because he's filled with the Holy Spirit.) Conservatives have said, this is an argument to show that even the unborn is a person, a soul, such that the Holy Spirit can come upon them.

Some people want to say, well, that's just special because it's Jesus and John the Baptist. Now, think back on all the passages in the Bible we've looked at today. Ecclesiastes, where it's clearly a figure of speech; we've talked about God breathing life - well, that's Adam, that's the beginning of everything; and then there's the Exodus passage, which if you read any more than one translation, it would be clear that it's not necessary to read it as it was read in the blog post, and on, and on, and on, but then we come to John the Baptist and Jesus, and the person wants to say, well, it's special because it's them. Really? Why would that be somehow special? What evidence do you have of that? None. In logic, this is called “special pleading.” You're just making something up to help your case look better, and that's not okay.

We shouldn't just accept views that don't seem to fit together with no evidence because someone says it. Think through these arguments when people make them, and point out the fact that they're not giving the text the most natural reading. They're not doing justice to what the original authors meant. Don't create problems where there aren't any.

I hope what you've seen here, is that so many of these pro-abortion or at least not pro-life arguments are just silly. They're weak. They sound compelling sometimes, but with a little bit of thinking, a little bit of research, they can fall, too, as we hold every thought captive to the knowledge and revelation of Christ in Scripture. That should be our standard. If God cares about the born and the unborn, and they all reflect His image, then we should care about them, too.