Sunday, January 16, 2011

Documenting a discussion from Facebook

This one is going to be long, but I need to get it recorded in case it gets taken down. I don't have control of the board, and I want to have easy access to what turned into a pretty good discussion. I'm only adding the relevant stuff.

Here's how it started, I was in a discussion with someone on facebook about an article that happened to be from an affiliate of Planned Parenthood. The discussion wasn't about abortion, per se (I don't debate that subject), but someone made a reference to abortion being against God's will and I had a moment where I stopped short.

I grew up in church being taught that abortion was wrong, but I'd never actually heard a mention of the particular Biblical basis for this opposition. That seemed like a big gap in my knowledge, so I shot off a message to an old buddy of mine who is an evangelical. He then started an open discussion between me, him, and about 15 evangelical Christians (scary, I know).

Here's how it went. Names are changed to protect the innocent.

Steve (not my buddy's real name)

CJ's questions:

I've been having a discussion with someone about abortion, and I realized something I hadn't noticed before.

I understand that the majority of Christians consider abortion to be in violation of their beliefs regarding the sanctity of life, but I'm not sure I know the Biblical basis for that position.

I don't consider the Bible to be an authoritative text for making moral decisions, but I realize that many Christians do.

Can you point me to the particular chapter and verse that backs up the opposition to abortion?

I'm also curious about what the most common answer is regarding those who defend abortion theologically based on the "trial by ordeal" in Numbers 5 and the claim that life begins with the first breath in Genesis 2:7.

My response:


I am pretty sure our greatest point of theological authority is from the 6th commandment (murder is a sin). Seeing as it is human life after conception, we know that it is wrong to murder the child. I'm sending this to a couple of other brothers and sisters so that way you can not only get an answer from me, but other christians as well.



Your response doesn't address his argument. The argument is because Genesis 2 says God breathed in Adam the breath of life, that the life does not begin until a human takes his first breath. Thus, the 6th does not apply to unborn children, because they have not taken a breath yet.

One of the best passages against abortion is Exodus 21:22-25. If a pregnant woman is in a fight and harm is done to the child, Lex Talionis (the law of eye for eye) is applicable to the situation for harm of the child in the same way it is for an adult (Lev 24:19, 20; Dut 19:20). Therefore, a per-born human is just as much a living person with equal rights under the Law as CJ is or any other fully grown adult. Note especially the phrase "life for life".

Therefore, his interpretation of Genesis 2 must be wrong. He's not reading the Bible to understand it anyway, so this shouldn't come as a big surprise. Adams life may have begun with his first breath, but Genesis 2 speaks nothing of subsequent life and the nuances of traducianism vs. creationism in theological anthropology is no doubt something he would not be disinterested in learning, since both positions assume God to be true.

I'm not sure what his point is with Numbers 5. When I read it I find nothing that can be construed to justify abortion. So unless he develops the argument for you it cannot be refuted simply by virtue of the fact that there's nothing to refute. No doubt, he will not develop the argument himself, but will share a link, or recommend a book or author to you, throw in a condescending remark, and think in his mind that he bested you. That's par for the course.



Nice job insulting the guy when you don't think he is part of the conversation. Fortunately, Steve has some integrity and linked me to the discussion so I can actually follow the along.

Exodus 21: 22-25, according to the NIV sitting next to me, says that causing a woman to give birth prematurely (with a footnote saying miscarriage) when there is no injury to the mother is not an eye for an eye offense, but a fine. That would actually seem to be a argument that the Bible doesn't recognize abortion as the taking of a life. It seems to draw a distinction between harming a woman and the baby she is carrying.

/waits for everyone to go read it

We all back? Sweet.

If my NIV is wrong about the miscarriage reading (which is entirely possible, it isn't the most accurate translation and tends to skew things in favor of certain theological positions) by all means, tell me how.

Let's see, Lev 24 never even mentions children, one way or the other. It talks about neighbors. And since it is the establishment of the eye for an eye thing, which is later not applied to miscarriages (see above) as far as I can tell, I don't see how it bolsters the point.

Deut 19: 20 doesn't mention children either. It is talking about what to do to witnesses who falsely accuse someone of a crime.

I'm having trouble unpacking the double negative in there about traducianism vs. creationism. I'm going to assume, based on the surrounding context, that you are saying I'd be disinterested in some arcane theological debate. That's probably correct.

My question about Numbers 5 had to do with the trial by ordeal. It reads to me that if a woman is suspected of cheating she is given a concoction that will cause her to miscarry if she was unfaithful. If not, it won't destroy her womb and she will still be able to have children. Mind you, I'm still getting this from the NIV with a footnote on verse 27 that specifically references the water causing her to have a "miscarrying womb."

I don't have a dog in this fight. Abortion and contraceptives both could be condemned by the Bible, in much the same way that sex between those of the same gender clearly is, without bothering me one way or the other. I'm much more interested in what the book actually says than what people of certain political ideologies are trying to make it say.

If I'm reading the verses you linked incorrectly, or my NIV is a crappy translation (probably), please give me some context. From what I can tell, the Bible sitting on my shelf at home doesn't seem to care about abortion one way or the other.


Me (being silly)

Bah, all that writing and a typo in the first paragraph.

My proofreading fails me again.



It was not my intent to insult you, and I'm not sure what of my post insulted you. If it was you desire to understand the text as you claim, the issue of abortion should be obvious to you.

I read from the King James, but the archaic language is difficult to decipher sometimes, I just read the NIV, and I believe the footnote to be misleading (the NIV is notorious for this). I referred for my own confidence to some commentaries on the passage; Calvin, Gill, Clarke, Henry, agree with my interpretation. These are Hebrew scholars who state that "serious injury" (as the NIV translates) refers to both the mother and the child. Aside from the reasons these commentators state I can think of other reasons that necessitate this interpretation.

1) The death or harm of a woman is covered under other laws, thus if no protection is rendered to the child who is born prematurely under this law the mention of the woman being pregnant would be of no value and pointless.

2) In Psalms 139:13 David says: "For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb". God's protection was over David even while in the womb of His mother. If David was not a person with life while in his mother's womb, this could not be said, as David's being is both body and soul integrated. David would not be David without his soul. See also Jerimiah 1:5 where God says to Jeremiah: "Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations."

I've got to cut this short; there are things I need to do. I will develop my argument further when I can.

P.s. I did not use Lev 24 and Dut 19 in the manner you thought I did. You misunderstood the argument.

Me (several times in a row)

Bah, I had a long post written up and lost it.

Give me some time to write it out again. I'm probably going to break it up so I don't lose it all at once if I hit the wrong button again.

First to the issue of abortion being obvious to me. Why should that be the case? I'm not a Christian or a biblical scholar. When I identified as a Christian, the various churches I affiliated with all opposed abortion, but I can't recall ever having it explained why in reference to particular verses.

And since I've asked the question, I've been given three different answers by two different people. I do think we are getting closer, though.

Now on to the commentaries...

I tracked down you commentaries you referenced online. Here is a link to what I am reading, so we are on the same page.

Brad, do you have a preference for those particular commentaries? Do you consider some better than others or are they just the ones you had readily at hand? I'm not challenging your choices, just getting clarification.

I'm going to look at each one you referenced and provide citation.

To remind everyone, we are talking specifically about Exodus 21: 22-25. The questions at hand are whether these verses do or do not provide an argument one way or the other that an unborn child has the same value (Biblically) as anyone else.

Brad contends it does. I don't read it the same. He says the following four commentaries agree with him and not the NIV on my shelf.

Let's begin with Gill...

Brad (steps in for a quick clarification)
Quick note: the NIV says "gives birth prematurely, it is the footnote (which is not a literal translation) I am contending against.


Okay cool.

Gill - Gill seems to agree with the NIV, specifically mentioning miscarriage in its commentary on verse 22.

Gill then goes on to cite a number of scholars who all agree that it means the childbirth is hastened but that the woman does not die, then the fine is to be decided by the husband.

It then goes on to quote Maimonedes at length on paying the husband for the "price of the birth."

Verse 23 is even more to the point at hand. Gill states that the issue on eye for an eye is the "death of the woman," as opposed to the death of the unborn child.

The reference to the Septuagint is also interesting. It specifically draws a distinction between an unformed child in the mother and a fully formed child in a mother, a distinction that most modern opponents of early term abortion and the morning after pill don't recognize.

A child that wasn't fully formed only incurred a fine of 200 shillings.

All of this seems to be consistent with the NIV footnote. It is also consistent with the interpretation that this passage draws a distinction between the value of the life of the woman and the value of the life of the unborn child (at least one that isn't fully formed).

Next, Calvin... (Sorry I took them out of order from your listing)

Calvin - This should be short.

Calvin doesn't have a commentary on this chapter at all from what I can find. I can't see how he agrees with you when he doesn't comment one way or the other.

Maybe I'm just not finding it and you can point me to the writings.

Next up is Clarke...

Clarke - He also agrees with Gill, making the same points about it eye for an eye only applying if the mother dies or the unborn child was fully formed.

Otherwise, it was just a fine to be decided by the husband.

Finally, I am going to assume you were referencing Matthew Henry and not Henry Law. If I was wrong, please let me know...

Henry - Also specifically discusses it within the context of miscarrying.

Beyond that, I can't make heads or tails of what he is trying to say here. There is some stuff about being careful with women who are pregnant, out of fear of losing both. That seems obvious enough. Beyond that, I can't tell that Henry says anything relevant to the questions at hand.

That is all I have to say about Exodus 21.

Next I will discuss your other two reasons for your interpretation...

Justin now steps in to preach at me with a couple of massive block texts of sermons. I'm not going to bother reproducing that here, because there isn't anything in it that hasn't already been discussed.




Brad, you said:

"1) The death or harm of a woman is covered under other laws, thus if no protection is rendered to the child who is born prematurely under this law the mention of the woman being pregnant would be of no value and pointless."

I don't think your point here is a valid one. There are a number of redundancies in the Bible. There is even an apology dedicated to addressing them.

Finally, you said:

"2) In Psalms 139:13 David says: "For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb". God's protection was over David even while in the womb of His mother. If David was not a person with life while in his mother's womb, this could not be said, as David's being is both body and soul integrated. David would not be David without his soul. See also Jerimiah 1:5 where God says to Jeremiah: "Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.""

This is probably your strongest point. It requires some interpretation and ignores the fact that the Psalms verse separates what is clearly a metaphor and what you interpret literally by nothing more than a colon. That being said, it is clearly supported by Jeremiah.

I'll look back at Calvin's commentary on Exodus next...


I don't deny that the text addresses the possibility of a miscarriage (i.e., the death of the child), but it is not retricted to that. The question is: does the punishment and "harm" mentioned refer to the woman exclusivly or to the child as well? I contened it means both.

Gill says in opposition to Jarchi and Aben Ezra who “restrain” the text to refer to the woman only, that “it may refer both to the woman and her offspring, and not only to the death of them, but to any hurt or damage to either of them: now though there was none of any sort”. The quote from Maimonides Gill gives refers to cases where the child is born with no harm yet harm was done to the woman during birth. Remember the fine was for when “no mischief followed” i.e., there was no premature birth. This contradicts what you assume to be the interpretation it doesn‘t confirm it. You misunderstand.

Clarke agrees that the child is included saying: “if the child had been fully formed, and was killed by this means, or the woman lost her life in consequence, then the punishment was as in other cases of murder-the person was put to death” (The fact he believed it only to refer to fully formed children is irrelevant [what does that even mean coming from someone in the 18th century])

I misread Henry. I know what he believed on the topic and read that into his commentary on Ex 21. As it stands there it offers no contribution to the question. He says it refers to miscarriages, but that doesn’t mean it is limited to that. We agree miscarriages are among the possibilities in the text.

Calvin makes it obvious what he thought.


Calvin - Boy, he sure likes to put the cart before the horse, doesn't he?

He admits the passage is ambiguous, but argues that it can't mean what it seems to say because that would mean it isn't a capital crime to "put an end to the foetus." That isn't circular at all.

Brad, thanks for your time on this. If you think of anything else that might be interesting on this particular question, please send it my way. Otherwise, I think I have what I asked for.

My personal conclusions from this discussion:

Psalm 139:13 and Jeremiah 1:5 are the strongest verses on the question of abortion for pro-life Christians.

Exodus seems to disagree. I realize that you don't agree with that interpretation, but a face value reading of the Commentaries (other than Calvin which I think can be reasonably discounted as having not made any kind of a scholarly argument on this point) seems to show otherwise.

It comes down to two questions:

1. When a child is fully formed. That is a question that would require more scholarship into Hebrew than I think is even available on the internet. If you find it, please send it my way.

Mind you, Clarke wasn't the only one to mention the fully formed question. It came up under Gills as well in the reference to the Septuagint.

2. Who exactly is and isn't being harmed when the monetary punishment is applied.

I didn't misread Gills on this point. The scholars he references disagree with your position. That is clear. Gills provides an alternative reading, but he in no way provides an argument for or against that alternative reading. At best, he leaves it ambiguous.

Taken on balance, I think those saying that the Bible opposes abortion probably have it right. I think there are reasonable objections to be made, that the Bible is not particularly clear on the question, and that even a general opposition to abortion needs to be read within the context of what Hebrew scholars mean by a "fully formed" child.

Thanks for the time and effort on this.

Justin, I listened for about a third of it and I've yet to hear the speaker quote chapter and verse. That was exactly what I was trying to avoid. Thanks though.

I think I'm going to call it a day on this one before my wife strangles me.

Brad, thanks for the help.



There are, in my estimation, three areas where you have not only lacked scholarly repute, but betrayed what appears to me to be your agenda. Hear me out on this. I’ve entertained your desire for intellectual stimulation, please reciprocate and allow me to make my point as I think it should be made.

Exodus 21:22, 23 reads (KJV): “If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman’s husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life (ect.)

1) Your original objection to my using Ex 21:22 was to claim that “fruit depart from her” (as the King James translates it) is translated at “miscarriage” in the NIV’s footnote, implying that because it was a miscarriage being spoken of Lex Talionis couldn’t refer to the child as well as the mother. You claimed you understood the NIV to be a crappy translation at times and yet when confronted with arguments against the notion you held (whether by me or the Hebrew scholars I referenced), you ignored or pervert the intent of the arguments rather than conceding, “Oh, the NIV is a crappy translation.” Interestingly, I systematically observed each English translation available on and of the 14 translations I consulted the only translations that translate “premature birth” as “miscarriage” are the CEV, and the foot note of the NIV. In your quest for knowledge you could have taken the 12 minutes to do this as well, yet you neglected to. Do you still think it accurate? 12 verses 2?

2) Based simply on a footnote in Calvin (the footnote was found in Calvin placed by the translator of his commentary, not Gill) and the words “fully formed” in Adam Clark’s commentary, you entertain the idea that Lex Telionis is applicable for a fully formed child as opposed to an underdeveloped child (in which case a fine was the punishment).

Paradoxically you try to maintain two incompatible arguments. You not only want to claim “fruit depart” is better understood as a miscarriage, restricting Lex Telionis to the mother, but you also want to hold that the LXX is helpful in translating “mischief” (in the KJV) as fully developed . Allow me to quote from the English Translation of the Septuagint (ETS) “Now if two men fight and strike a pregnant woman and her child comes forth fully formed (mischief follow in the KJV), he shall be punished with a fine… ect.”

If the LXX is right Lex Telionis applies to the child excluding the mother. You seem to want to maintain the validity of the NIV footnote which exludes the child for the mother and still curiously entertain the idea that the LXX has something to offer. You can’t have your cake and not have your cake at the same time and in the same sense - the law of contradiction, I’m sure you’re familiar with it. The fact that you would like to maintain both is interesting. The only thing the two arguments have in common is they both are contrary to the interpretation that abortion is a crime under God‘s law, other than that, they are absolutely contradictory. This betrays your agenda.

To dispel of the LXX argument I will pose a question: Here are the words that our English translations give for mischief (or fully formed in the LXX):

“harm” NKJV, ESV, ASV
“mischief” KJV, Darby, Young’s Literal
“serious injury” NIV
“injury “ NASB, NLT, HCSB, CEV, NCV
“damage” Amplified
“Misfortune” 21st Century KJV
“badly hurt” NIRV

All of these (excluding the Amplified) are translation from the original Hebrew to English. None of these agrees with the LXX (Hebrew translated to Greek, translated to English). Will you pit all our English translation from the Hebrew against one English translation of the Greek translation of the Hebrew text and still attempt to maintain you guise of scholarly excursion?

Both arguments you posed are so improbable, not to mention incongruent, I need not defend the passage further. Exodus stands vindicated as a passage for the humanity of pre-born children, to attempt to say otherwise would make you appear as a fool.

3) You make your “personal conclusion” on the matter claiming Psalm 139:13 and Jeremiah 1:5
Are the strongest verses for evangelical view of abortion (based on a friend’s facebook friend’s brief defense? Seriously?) but that Exodus disagrees. Which in the case of your former argument the text doesn’t disagree, it simply doesn’t apply Lex Telionis in that particular passage for the child, and in the case of your LXX argument you claim ignorance to a large degree (how then can you claim it disagrees with Ps 139 and Jer 1?). Calling either a disagreement is either sloppy or intentionally deceptive (or both - I lean towards both because you‘ve already betrayed your agenda).

Now, rather than drive home the point that the Bible condemns Abortion by quoting multiple passages and drawing inferences from various Biblical doctrines, I’d like to go right to the root of your objection. I don’t know your story, specifically; I don’t know why you left Christianity for atheism, and it doesn’t really matter. I am not going to “preach” at you (though I do share Justin‘s sentiments); I’m sure Steve has already done that. You want intellectual stimulation, you shall have it.

Epistemology: Why do you believe what you believe. What do you view as the source of knowledge? You have some underlying philosophical world-view that causes you to think one way or another about any given topic. I’m going to guess you’re an Empiricist (most atheists are), but I’d like you to let me know. Whatever, your epistemology is I guarantee you I will soundly refute your superstructure and demonstrate the folly of your presuppositions. You claim to want your intellect stimulated; this will do it. What is your epistemology?

I'm not trying to make an argument for one side or the other. If you think I'm a fool for thinking there is ambiguity in the passage, that's fine.

You brought the passage up as an argument against abortion. All I did was follow up on the commentaries you said agreed with you (full stop). They agreed (not full stop at all) with you while admitting that there were alternative readings.

Calvin specifically admits there is ambiguity there. He just argues that it could only be one possible meaning because otherwise it would be able to justify abortion (lolz). He says it in black and white. Why can't you see that?

I'm not trying to make an argument for one reading over another. I'm fairly sure I didn't even know about the passage before you brought it to my attention.

Look man, I don't have a dog in this fight. You can call me a fool if you want to, but it seems like it isn't me you have the beef with. Just google the words - Exodus 21 abortion - and the first link you get is a scholarly article from a Christian website doing exactly what I said the commentaries do.

It agrees with you on the issue of abortion, while admitting that there is a different reading by rabbis and Jewish thinkers. Mind you, the author doesn't have the courtesy to bother mentioning any of them by name so that you can go read what they have to say on the subject.

To call me a fool for reading the passage and commentaries the way I did is not only insulting, it is disingenuous. Not only are there apparently people who consider the passage part of their holy texts that disagree with you, but this guy thought it mattered enough to take the time to write a long rebuttal to it. (Failing to mention any of those who criticize his interpretation by name).

From what I can tell, you made arrogant and condescending mistakes. You go read some commentaries, gloss over the ambiguity, and then claim that they agree with you entirely. When I call you on it, you accuse me of being a fool. And finally, quoting Logic 101 at me isn't going to scare me into submission when I'm not making any arguments for or against one reading over another.

I'm going to quote the first two paragraphs from the linked article and end my discussion here, because he seems to answer my question better than anything else I've seen.

"Most attempts to argue against abortion from biblical texts are misdirected. In the absence of specific prohibitions of abortion in the Scripture, Christian pro-lifers quote equivocal passages.

Some citations use personal pronouns to describe the unborn, but many of these are in poetry texts, so the conclusion is not entirely convincing. God’s personal acquaintance with the unborn can be explained by His omniscience. After all, some texts make it clear that God “knows” us even before we’re conceived."

As for epistemology, if you are going to quote Plantinga at me, don't bother. I've read him already. If you think that you can "refute [the] superstructure and demonstrate the folly of [the] presuppositions" of anyone who disagrees with you, then you are the fool. Philosophy is about dialogue. There are plenty of open questions in Epistemology and good thinkers are debating them to this very day.

If you really want to discuss epistemology with me, send me another pm so we aren't dragging this on anymore here and filling up everyone's inbox.


That's all the relevant stuff so far.

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