Exodus 21:22-23 and abortion[1]


Abortion photo courtesy of  The Abortion Gallery

By Spencer D Gear

Exodus 21:22 reads: “When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine” (ESV).

This verse has sometimes been interpreted to state that the foetus is not fully human. From the exegesis of the passage, I cannot conclude this way for these reasons:

1. The Hebrew word translated in the ESV as “come out”, is yahtzah and it means “to give birth.” This is the same Hebrew word used throughout the OT for live births. So, in this passage it refers to a premature birth of a live child. It does not refer to a miscarriage.

2. Another Hebrew word is used for miscarriage, shakol, and that is not the word used in Ex. 21:22.

3. The name of the mother’s offspring in this verse is called “children,” yeled. This is the same word that is used in verses such as Gen. 21:8 and Ex. 2:3 for babies and young children. If there was harm done to either the mother or child, the punishment was “life for life” (Ex. 21:23).

4. So, Ex. 21:22-23 demonstrates that the unborn was equal in value to the mother.

Geisler quotes the famous Hebrew scholar, Umberto Cassuto , also known as Moshe David Cassuto (1883–1951), who translated Exodus 21:22-23 this way:

“When men strive together and they hurt unintentionally a woman with child, and her children come forth but no mischief happens—that is, the woman and the children do not die—the one who hurts her shall surely be punished by a fine. But if any mischief happens, that is, if the woman dies or the children, then you shall give life for life”.[2]

Therefore, these verses confirm that unborn children in the womb are human, on the same level as an adult woman who gives birth to a child, and the punishment for killing an unborn child is “life for life”.


[1] Information based on Norman Geisler 1989, Christian Ethics, Apollos, Leicester, England, p. 145.

[2] Umberto Cassuto 1974. A Commentary on the Book of Exodus, trans. Israel Abrahams. Jerusalem: Magnes, p. 275 (cited in Geisler ibid.)


Copyright (c)  2010 Spencer D. Gear.  This document last updated at Date: 0 October 2015.