Does the Bible Prescribe Abortion?
The following is excerpted from chapter one of my new ebook, Love the Least. It examines the not uncommon claim that abortion is prescribed in the Old Testament as a "remedy" for adultery. To read Love the Least in its entirety download it for free and add it to your favorite ereader.
In Numbers 5:11-28, Moses lays out an elaborate ritual for uncovering the secret sin of adultery. If a wife is suspected of adultery, she is brought before the priest, where holy water is mixed with dust from the tabernacle floor (vs 16) and ink from the priest’s written curse (vs 23). The woman must then swear an oath that if she has lain with another man, her body will be cursed upon drinking the water of bitterness. What is the bodily curse? In the ESV we read:
And when he has made her drink the water, then, if she has defiled herself and has broken faith with her husband, the water that brings the curse shall enter into her and cause bitter pain, and her womb shall swell, and her thigh shall fall away, and the woman shall become a curse among her people.
The phrase, “her thigh shall fall away,” is an extremely perplexing one. One literal translation renders it this way: the “belly-of•her” is “turgid,” the “thigh–of•her…falls(-away).”29 Commentators have been wrestling with this one for a long time. The translators of the NIV have rendered “her thigh shall fall away” as “her womb will miscarry.” This wording has led some to argue that Numbers 5 references nothing less than a priestly formula for abortion. For my part, I will simply note that here again, the normal word for miscarriage is not used. We don’t know what it means exactly for a thigh to fall away. The reason some tie it to pregnancy is because of the declaration in verse 28, that if the woman is innocent, she will be free of all guilt and able to have children. Clearly, one of the curses being prescribed to the adulterous woman is barrenness. Whether or not that includes the miscarriage of a child conceived through adultery is less certain.
What we can be sure of is that this passage in no way justifies abortion. If a miscarriage has taken place, it is because God decreed it, not because the priest gave her an abortifacient. Dirty water does not end a pregnancy. The curse was not in the water itself, but in the judgment of God. If God decrees that the penalty of adultery will be the loss of the child, that is his prerogative and well within his authority. He did as much through the death of David and Bathsheba’s first child. Returning to the text I opened with, God holds the keys of Death and Hades. As Creator God, he had the authority to tell Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac. We do not share that same authority—even when the circumstances of conception are suspect. The lineage of Christ was marred by nothing less than fornicators, adulterers, prostitutes, and rapists.30 While that doesn’t make such behavior any less wicked, it certainly indicates that children conceived out of sexual immorality are no less valuable. God is at work in every conception—even those that begin as a result of sin.
30 Though Scripture does not explicitly indict King David of rape, I still believe his behavior warrants the label. At the very least, what he did to Bathsheba is comparable to statutory rape: the blatant abuse of power, influence, and authority to take sexual advantage of a subject under his rule. See Richard M. Davidson’s case study, “Did King David Rape Bathsheba?” for further explanation: http://www.atsjats.org/publication_file.php?pub_id=318&journal=1&type=pdf
Michael Spielman is the founder and director of Abort73.com. His book, Love the Least (A Lot), is available as a free download. Abort73 is part of Loxafamosity Ministries, a 501c3, Christian education corporation. If you have been helped by the information available at Abort73.com, please consider making a donation.