Biblical Abortion: A Christian’s View


The American version of the War on Women has been going on for quite some time, and one of the most long-standing fronts in this war is abortion. It’s an unpleasant topic that’s fraught with complexities and complications, so it’s been a frequent tool in dividing us into Pro- and Anti- camps of social warfare (and in the cases of murders of doctors and bombings of clinics, actual violent warfare).

The War on Women has been especially effective in getting many to feel as though Christians need to march in lockstep against the idea of allowing abortions of any type to ever be legal, to the point of criminalizing miscarriage, itself. Those who try to conscript religious Christians into this war do so under the argument that the Bible itself demands such a prohibition.

Except that it doesn’t. The Bible never once specifically forbids abortions; it’s actually quite the contrary! Not only were methods of abortion well-known at the time, there’s times when the Bible states God commands that one take place. I’m going to walk through a few examples as illustrations.

Tamar: Killing an Undesirable Pregnancy

In Genesis 38, we have the story of Tamar, from whom king David descended. She was the widow of Judah’s oldest son, Er, who had died without fathering any children. In accordance with the law, it fell to his next-oldest brother Onan to give Tamar children who would belong posthumously to Er. Onan pretended to agree to avoid being disinherited and publicly humiliated, but then he “spilled his seed” so he didn’t have to father any sons that would belong to his dead brother, not him. This sin of selfishness was so great that Onan then was put to death. (We’ll get into this one another time when we talk about birth control, by the way.)

Even though the law then mandated that the third and final son was to fulfill husbandly duties to Tamar, Judah made an excuse that the son was too young, and postponed the marriage indefinitely. Tamar, on the other hand, still felt that it was her responsibility to produce heirs for Er, and that it was Judah’s responsibility to make that happen. This was one of the families of Israel, and it was at risk of dying out without any heirs to carry it onward; Tamar wasn’t going to let that happen on her watch. So during a major feast, she dressed up in a disguise of a Sacred Prostitute, from the local shrines where women invited men to join with them in honoring the Divine Feminine through an enactment of the Male-Female Sacred Union. (More on this when we talk about homosexuality.) Judah took this supposed roadside harlot up on this offer, even giving her the tokens she requested for the union.

When Tamar was found to have been pregnant from harlotry, well, there was only one thing for it! Judah proclaimed that she had to be put to death in accordance with the law, and the unborn child right along with her. Since she was the daughter of a priest (Melchizedek, I believe), rather than being stoned, she’d be granted burning, with molten metal being poured down her throat for a quicker death than being hit with rocks. Now remember that Judah knew that he’d been with a Sacred Prostitute even if he didn’t know it was Tamar, so just contemplate the level of hypocrisy at work here. It wasn’t until Tamar produced the tokens he’d given her that he realized the baby was his, and stayed the execution.

So in this story, I see the Bible saying that killing an unborn child is necessary when it’s not a child conceived in a way the mother’s society wants. Also, that the mother should die along with it, because of engaging in an act the sentencer himself had done.

Hosea: Progeny of the Rebellious Shall Not be Born

In the book of Hosea, we have the prophet relaying a message from God, saying what will happen to the Israelites who had rebelled as punishment for their transgressions. In Hosea 9:14, we are told God will cause the deaths of the unborn, as he will “give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts.” In Hosea 13:16 it is proclaimed:

Samaria shall become desolate; for she hath rebelled against her God: they shall fall by the sword: their infants shall be dashed in pieces, and their women with child shall be ripped up.”

In Isaiah 7:20 and 10:5, it is stated that the Assyrians will be used by God as the means of implementing these punishments. In 2 Kings it describes how they fulfilled this role:

  • 8:12 And Hazael (future king of Syria) said, Why weepeth my lord? And he (Elisha) answered, Because I know the evil that thou wilt do unto the children of Israel: their strong holds wilt thou set on fire, and their young men wilt thou slay with the sword, and wilt dash their children, and rip up their women with child.

  • 15:16 (Then Menahem smote Tiphsah, and all that were therein, and the coasts thereof from Tirzah: because they opened not to him, therefore he smote it; and all the women therein that were with child he ripped up.

So in this series of scripture, I read the Bible saying that violently ripping the unborn from the womb is a just and worthy retribution if their parents were considered to have rebelled against God.

Sotah: Abortion-Inducing Potion due to Husband’s Jealousy

In Numbers 5, we have instructions given by God to Moses regarding situations where a husband is fiercely jealous of his wife, and there aren’t witnesses to prove whether she did or did not have an affair. She is to be taken before the priest who will mix up a potion and have her swear an oath of cursing before drinking it. “And if the woman be not defiled, but be clean; then she shall be free, and shall conceive seed.” Otherwise, in poetic terms, it is described that she will lose the baby, by judgment of God.

As an aside, one interesting thing about the ritual of the Sotah is that it’s believed the woman was put before the court with her hair loose and stripped bare to the waist, treated like the “harlot” she was accused to be even before the “bitter waters” proclaimed her guilt or innocence.

So in this ritual, I see the Bible saying that if a husband is seriously jealous, his wife should be made to take a drink that will cause an abortion if she slept with another man (regardless of whose child it is).

Causing a Miscarriage: Mere Property Loss

The latest push in the War on Women has been to declare that anyone who causes the loss of a pregnancy shall be guilty of murder. This has resulted in young women who have suffered a miscarriage to endure the further torment of being arrested and jailed for the tragedy. However, the Bible didn’t treat miscarriage as murder, regardless of intent. Rather, it was treated as a property loss by the father, punishable by whatever fine the judges felt was appropriate.

This is spelled out in Exodus 21:22-25: 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, Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

Now there are those who try to say that the fruit departing just means a premature birth and mischief is whether the child is lost or not, but the ambiguity is gone when you review more direct translations than the poetic euphemisms of the King James Version.  For example, from the Complete Jewish Bible

22 “If people are fighting with each other and happen to hurt a pregnant woman so badly that her unborn child dies, then, even if no other harm follows, he must be fined. He must pay the amount set by the woman’s husband and confirmed by judges. 23 But if any harm follows, then you are to give life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound and bruise for bruise.

Note that Exodus 21 also deals with when a man beats his servants, saying he’ll be punished only if the servant dies within a couple days. If they linger on, clinging at death’s door before finally perishing from their wounds, the man is blameless. This whole chapter makes it clear to me that the ancient biblical law is hardly unwavering in a declaration that “all life is sacred and must be preserved”, as many claim. But then many of the same people who would prosecute a woman for a miscarriage are also proponents of War and using Execution as a punishment for those convicted of certain crimes. Just saying.

Summary: The Bible is Not Anti-Abortion

My conclusion as a Christian is that the Bible is not anti-abortion. Rather, there is a non-Biblically-based movement that pretends to use the Bible as its justification for attacking women who do not carry a pregnancy to term (even if it was an unintended loss).

Now, even though we just covered some cases where the Bible actively advocates and even commands the loss of the unborn, there will be those who want to overlook them and claim that the Bible still prohibits abortion. Their argument is that we are commanded Thou Shalt Not Kill (‘rasach’, which is extra-legal killing or murder), and that the Bible teaches us that Life Begins at Conception. We’ll deal with that in my next installment, but here’s a spoiler: as a devout reader of the Bible, I see it another way.

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  • reverend-rebecca-turner
    The Bible is not anti-abortion, but what we see in this review of biblical texts is that violent misogyny is nothing new. Whether religion tries to force an abortion or prevent one, the underlying attitude is that men can create the laws, claim their moral superiority, force women into untenable positions, and punish them for pregnancy that is outside of those laws.  In these things, nothing is new under the sun.
     
     
  • robin-marty

    I read some of the apocryphal books a long time ago during my religion major days, and I seem to remember that Mary was put to the same test when she was pregnant with Jesus (the Sotah).  If I remember right, if she really was still a virgin as she claimed, she and the baby would survive.  I think it was Joseph who took her to the temple to have it done, too.

  • kimketola

    The biggest problem I have with your analysis is that you have cut God out of every transaction.

    In the case of Tamar, God’s law dictated the punishment for harlotry, not the will of a human. In the case of Hosea, God was the arbiter of the judgment of Samaria via miscarriage and infertility. When Moses mandated Sotah it was clear to all parties that God determined the outcome of administering the bitter waters. And in your citation of Exodus you left out Exodus 21:1, “Then the Lord said to Moses…”

    God was seen and known to faithful Jews to be central to all of the circumstances you appropriate as a rationale for humans deciding to kill children through abortion. In no case can you find the Bible defending a woman choosing to abort a pregnancy based on our American understanding of exercising choice as a legal right–or for any other reason.

    No sachel.

  • oak-cliff-townie

    How many Pre born Innocents did GOD wipe out with The flood ?

  • prochoiceferret

    God was seen and known to faithful Jews to be central to all of the circumstances you appropriate as a rationale for humans deciding to kill children through abortion. In no case can you find the Bible defending a woman choosing to abort a pregnancy based on our American understanding of exercising choice as a legal right–or for any other reason.

     

    That’s not terribly surprising, given that the Bible pre-dates America by a few dozen centuries!

     

    So then, abortion should be prohibited if and only if the state can prove that God did not direct a woman to choose same.

     

    No sachel.

     

    That’s perfectly normal—not every walkies will produce one.

  • crowepps

    Actually, it’s hard to think of any instance in the Bible in which a woman is considered to have “rights” of any kind whatsoever.  In most of the instances where women are mentioned, they are indistinguishable from breeding livestock, and the most of the references are strictures on their behavior to keep the unwholesomeness of their existence from ‘contaminating’ the men around them.

  • kimketola

    crowepps–such a common slur on the biblical view of women. Women and men are given the greatest right of all–free will. But they are also subject to God’s rules. Your low view of Scripture can’t really be supported in the text–God chose to embody his own Son through having him born of a woman. Your anger blinds you to the truth.

  • kimketola

    God said, “Choose life that you and your children may live.” But that probably doesn’t stand as “proof” in your mind. Why is it so difficult for you to believe that God can have a loving and good purpose in calling for women to allow their children to live? Why insist on treating children as though they are a curse when God says they are a blessing?

  • kimketola

    Why not comment on the Bible and what it says instead of renouncing all men as misogynists? The Bible is most certainly anti-abortion-on-demand-to-merely-protect-the-preferences-of-the-mother-or-help-men-exploit-sexual-license.

  • jack113

    The references in this article arer all from the Jewish Torah not the Christian bible that starts with the birth of Christ.

  • crowepps

    What peculiar little fringe sect do you represent?

    If you take as your authoritative text only the Gospels, why haven’t you sold your computer, given the money to the poor, and gone off to heal the sick and raise the dead?

  • crowepps

    Patronizing, stupid sneers like this one are exactly the sort of evidence of what your misogynist brand of Christianity is like that is motivating the American public to flee to atheism and ‘spirituality’.

  • prochoiceferret

    God said, “Choose life that you and your children may live.” But that probably doesn’t stand as “proof” in your mind.

     

    That’s proof that God wants women to have an abortion when necessary in case their own lives or the well-being of their children are at risk. Otherwise, He would have said, “Choose life, regardless of whether you and your children live.”

     

    Why is it so difficult for you to believe that God can have a loving and good purpose in calling for women to allow their children to live?

     

    I have no trouble believing that. But I also believe that God can have a loving and good purpose in calling for women to terminate their pregnancies when necessary. Why is that so difficult for you to believe?

     

    Why insist on treating children as though they are a curse when God says they are a blessing?

     

    When did I ever insist on treating children as though they are a curse? You must have me confused with an anti-welfare Republican.

  • paulhaider74

    The Bible is a 2,000-year-old science-fiction book that was written by multiple male authors, none of whom were eyewitnesses to any of its alleged “events.”  In fact, all of the men who wrote the various stories in the Bible intended these tales to be didactic fiction that was written for the purpose of controlling the highly religious/gullible people with guilt, fear, and shame (the Unholy Trinity of Irrational/Negative Emotions).  The Old Testament of the bible should realistically be entitled “The Ancient Book of Jewish Fairy Tales,” and the New Testament of the bible should be entitled “The Stories About the Fictional and Jewish Zombie.”  It is not as though the Bible shoud be taken with a grain of salt; the Bible should be taken with an entire salt mine and the Morton Salt factory.  There is nobody who is brave enough to state that the Bible was written solely by men in order to suppress the rigts of women, but it would be nice if men could allow women to do what they want with their bodies, their lives, and their futures. 

    Paul Haider, Chicago

  • rachael-vinyard

    Yes, but this is the part of the Bible that every Christian references in regards to abortion or homosexuality. So I’m pretty sure it’s relevant.

  • nynia-chance

    You’re absolutely right, Rachael.  I generally see people using all parts of the Bible to try to support their positions, so I think all parts are relevant.  The New Testament references are parts of separate facets of these issues, and I feel it’s best to deal with each facet individually, in turn.  In my next post, I was planning to deal more with Old Testament references, but in light of this feedback, maybe it would be best to move to New Testament references first!

    Thank you each for your thoughts,

    ~ Nyn

  • kate-gladstone

    Where does the Bible say “daughter of a priest” & “molten lead” in this story? I found the “burn her” part, all right … but not the “daughter of a priest” & “molten lead” bits. Chapter and verse on those, please?

  • doug-muder

    The “choose life” passage from Deuteronomy 30 has zip to do with abortion. God has just threatened his people with death if they worship other gods. So when he says “choose life”, he’s really just saying “Give in to my threat.”

    It’s like when a mugger says, “Your money or your life.” If he then adds “Choose life”, he’s not taking a stand against abortion.

  • nynia-chance

    Unfortunately, we don’t have this level of detail within the story in the Bible, but we do have some clues to go on.

    Per Leviticus 21:9, we know that it’s priest’s daughters who are burned for prostitution, rather than stoned:

    (KJV) Leviticus 12:9 And the daughter of any priest, if she profane herself by playing the whore, she profaneth her father: she shall be burnt with fire.

    As for what “burning” entails, I don’t find this in the Bible, but in Rabbinic or Talmudic commentary explaining what the customs were at the time.  I’ve found several references, but no original sources at this time!  That said, I did find an extensive telling of the tale of Tamar, which includes this explanation:

    According to the rabbinic traditions she Tamar was the daughter of Shem, the son of Noah. Shem was a priest, and when Tamar was charged with fornication (Gen. R. lxxxv. 11) she was condemned to be burned to death in conformity with Lev. xxi. 9.

    How can Yahudah ask her to be burned? This is because Yahudah was still ruling the tribes. Its not literally burning at the stake but a molten lead that was poured down the throat and the person was killed very quickly but this method was very rarely used.

    - Judah and Tamar, A tale of Righteousness by Rabbi Simon Altaf

    A note on her parentage: The Rabbinic tradition is that Melchizadek is Shem, ancestor to King David.  Also, we know Tamar is an ancestor of King David from Ruth 4.  Opinions apparently differ on whether Melchizadek/Shem is the father or grandfather of Tamar, but most that I’ve come across have him as her father.  (Such as the version related above)

    I hope that helps answer your question!

    Thank you so much,

    ~ Nyn

  • pixie4

    I am sorry but you make no sense at all. The examples you give are about ABUSE of women, not abortion. You can’t turn it around and say that God supports abortion. People cherry-pick verses to meet their own agendas. I am not against abortion, but what you are describing is the abuse and MURDER of women AND their unborn babies. I cannot believe in a God who would be that cruel because it would make Him an EVIL God. These were not laws given by God, but by cruel and evil men period!

     

  • heretichusband

    I never thought about the subject of abortion this way.  I can’t wait to use some of these verses once the subject comes up in conversation!

    Some of your examples (like Tamar) could be dismissed by Christians because, after all, God didn’t tell them to act the way they did – the Bible is just recording history in this case.  But others, like Numbers 5  - phew.  

    I suppose they could argue that it’s OK if GOD causes a miscarriage (and I suspect they will) but really, is their God all good?  Or is he just a murderous thug?

    And what biblical defense do they have for abortion being a sin?  A verse in Psalms in which David says “you knew you before you made me in my mother’s womb” (I’m paraphrasing).

     

     

  • djwaglmuffin

    Judah and his father had already defied God’s law by rejecting Tamar in the first place. Rejecting a law that was punshable by a sizable fine or DEATH. SHE went to extreme measures to get them to fulfull their duty and then they punished her for it.

     

    A prime example of following God’s law when it’s conveinent for your agenda.

     

    And you’re missing the point. GOD commanded the deaths of every man woman and child of several different tribes and nations. GOD sent the “spirit” that killed the first born of Egypt. ANd what? To protect the jews? NO. To protect Israel? NO. It was a bunch of men distoring a prexisting law to justify their actions just like we do today. And you “pro-lifers” make it sound like the Gov is MAKING you chose. No. The choice is there whether you need to make it or not.Our country is falling apart because you over zealous miscreants are chaining the train to a mountain side. We’re being slaughtered in damn near every area of education and industry and all you can think to do is blame it on some rape victim who decided to abort the child becaus, just maybe, she didn’t want to look at the face of her rapist for the rest of her life. Or what about that woman whose child has mermaid syndrome or some other horrible medical condition. Unborn who are dead before they take their first breath. And yet people like YOU would have these women, who are already dealing with the loss of this baby give birth to an already dead child.

     

    Get it through your head. The writers of the bible are soaked in the blood of the innocent and beyond. Countless millions- Dead and all in the name of God or, more accuratly, Israel. And don’t give me that “It’s-in-the-old-testament” crap and then turn around and try to use it as ammunition against my arguments.

     

  • djwaglmuffin

    Well what else was he going to be born from?

     

    Would he have been hatched otherwise? I don’t know if you noticed…but the female is essential to the continuity of much of the animal kingdom. …we’re not yeast. :’D

  • djwaglmuffin

    Some prominent biblical figures have been found to have existed. Solomon and David for instance. I’ve no doubt these people existed…Moses is the only anon of uncertainty as well as Noah whose story sounds so much like other flood stories that predate Noah’s adventure. (something about eggs..and throwing them over ones shoulder to replenish the earth comes to mind).

     

    The obvious doubt is whether or not they actually did anything the bible says they did or if it’s just a collection of legends and myths turned religion.

     

    I mean, hell…the beginning of the book of Genesis sounds a lot like the end of Ragnarok where the couple emerges from the tree of life after the gods die.

     

     

     

  • shoesiren

    I think the most damning evidence that God doesn’t care about abortion is the fact that abortion is never mentioned in the bible. For as long as women have been getting inconveniently pregnant, they’ve been trying to get unpregnant. This goes especially during biblical times when a woman who got pregnant out of adultery was killed. And if she was unmarried, she’d be completely ruined and unable to get married- even if the sex wasn’t consensual. Every midwife worth her salt had a special blend of herbs in order to induce a miscarriage. Pennyroyal, tansy and rue are all natural abortifacients and have a long history as such. 

     

    If God really did feel that abortion was the murder of innocent babies, he should have spoken up. It’s not like he holds back on things that displease him. 

  • shoesiren

    Please tell that to all the Christians who use Leviticus to claim that being gay is a sin. 

  • maiac

    the line you are referencing is from Jeremiah 1:5. In it’s entirety, it’s “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” In fact, if you look at the entire context of the chapter (http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Jeremiah+1&version=NIV) it has nothing to do with abortion or “fetal life”, it’s about Jeremiah establishing credibility to speak as a prophet of God.

     

    So, my primarily response to that quote is that, like most of the others here, it is cited wildly out of context & has nothing to do with abortion at all.

  • steven-earl-salmony

    Ioannes Paulus PP. II
    Karol Wojtyla
    16.X.1978

    “The unforgiveable sins this earth must confront and overcome are Nationalism, capitalism, and hoarding. The idea of every nation should be forgot, price should be struck from the commons, and princes should be seen for the devils they are. The sins include our church, secret societies, and other religions which make of the spirit of God a divide.”

    The Holy Father’s last rites declaration – 2nd April 2005