Exodus 21:22-25: Biblical Support for Abortion?

Article ID: DA360 | By: Scott Klusendorf

The following is an excerpt from an article found in theChristian Research Journal, Volume 27, Number 1, by Scott Klusendorf. To view the full article, follow the link below the excerpt.


Exodus 21:22–25 is a favorite of abortion advocates, though it does little to bolster their case. The passage reads in the nasb as follows: “And if men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she has a miscarriage [“gives birth prematurely” in nasb 1995 update], yet there is no further injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman’s husband may demand of him; and he shall pay as the judges decide. But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.” Abortion advocates argue that this Scripture proves the unborn are not fully human because the penalty for accidentally killing a fetus is less than the penalty for killing its mother.

This argument, however, is flawed on several counts. First, assuming for the sake of argument that the pro-abortion interpretation of this passage is correct (i.e., that the unborn’s death is treated differently from the mother’s), it still does not follow that the unborn are not fully human. The preceding verses (21:20–21) present a situation where a master unintentionally kills his slave and escapes with no penalty at all (the lack of intent being proven by the interval between the blow and the death), and yet it hardly follows that Scripture considers the slave less than human.

Second, this passage does not even remotely suggest that a woman can willfully kill her unborn child through elective abortion. Nothing in the context supports this claim. At best, the text assigns a lesser penalty for accidentally killing a fetus than for accidentally killing its mother. It simply does not follow from this that a woman may deliberately kill her child through abortion.

Third, the pro-abortion interpretation of this passage (that a lesser penalty applies for accidental fetal death) is highly questionable. When read in the original Hebrew, the passage seems to convey that both the mother and the child are covered by the lex talionis — the law of retribution. According to Hebrew scholar Gleason Archer, “There is no second class status attached to the fetus under this [lex talionis] rule. The fetus is just as valuable as the mother.”27

Taken together, the cultural, exegetical, philosophical, and scientific considerations we’ve examined prove that the Bible need not explicitly say elective abortion is wrong before we can know it is wrong. Although the Bible does not say “Thou shalt not abort,” it does prohibit the unjust taking of human life, which applies to the unborn as it does to other humans.