Exodus 21:22-23: The Miscarriage Interpretation And The Personhood Of The Fetus -- By: Russell Fuller

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 37:2 (Jun 1994)
Article: Exodus 21:22-23: The Miscarriage Interpretation And The Personhood Of The Fetus
Author: Russell Fuller


Exodus 21:22-23:
The Miscarriage Interpretation And The Personhood Of The Fetus

Russell Fuller*

* Russell Fuller is a free-lance writer who lives at 304 East Southern Avenue, Covington, KY 41015.

Exodus 21:22–23 (KJV) reads as follows: “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.”

For the past thirty years our nation has ardently debated abortion. With the latest presidential election America has cast her lot, at least for the foreseeable future, with the proabortion position. Similarly many within Christendom believe that the Bible itself supports a proabortion position. To buttress this claim, proabortion advocates consistently cite the example of the miscarried fetus in Exod 21:22 to show that the fetus is not a person. Some have responded that 21:22 does not refer to a miscarriage but to a premature birth, a view that renders the fetus fully human.1 If, however, the miscarriage view is correct in 21:22—and I believe that it is—what then does this suggest for the personhood of the fetus?

Many who accept the miscarriage interpretation claim that the fetus is not a human being. Thus Shalom Paul asserts: “All of these laws [i.e. the ancient Near Eastern law collections], including that of Exodus, regulate a pecuniary settlement for the loss of the fetus. Though compensation for homicide is a regular feature of cuneiform corpora, the acceptance of a sum of money for the loss of a fetus in Exodus shows that according to biblical law, at least, a fetus is not considered to be a human being. Hence, this case does not fall within the law of homicide—else a monetary settlement would be prohibited.”2 Daniel Sinclair advances this position to claim that abortion is not homicide in Biblical law: “But one thing is clear: foeticide did not carry the death penalty, and only the death of the mother entailed the giving of ‘a life in place of a life.’ … In conclusion, it would appear that from both the critical and the historical dogmatic standpoints, the Biblical sanction of foeticide, whether intentional or unintentional, is a pecuniary one. Abortion is not homicide, and the foetus is not an independent life. It

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