Mischief follows in partisan Bible translations

Remember Junias? He was the imaginary male apostle with the unique and implausible name. “Junias” was invented by patriarchal Bible translators and inserted into the text of scripture because those translators didn’t like what the text actually said.

The text in question, Romans 16:7, says:

Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.

Junia is a woman’s name and it just wouldn’t do to have people reading about a woman who was an apostle — let alone one who was “prominent among the apostles.” For patriarchal Christians who insisted on a male-only hierarchy, Junia was intolerable. So they got rid of her. They translated her into an imaginary man with an imaginary name.

Politics — specifically, the political desire to control women — shaped the translation of that text. The translators changed the words of the Bible to make it seem like it supported their political agenda. They changed the words of the Bible so that others reading it would not be able to see that its actual words challenged and contradicted their political agenda.

This is something that happens sometimes.

Let me share another, more recent, example. Junias was invented and inserted into the Bible a long time ago, but this alteration of the text occurred in my lifetime. As I noted earlier, this change in the words and meaning of the Bible is more recent than the introduction of the Happy Meal.

The New American Standard Bible is a popular English translation, a revision of the American Standard Version of 1901. It was completed in 1971 and then revised and updated in 1995. I want to highlight one major change in one passage of the NASB — a case in which the 1995 update alters — and is intended to reverse —  the text of the 1971 NASB.

Those dates are important in understanding the reason for this change.

The text in question is from the book of Exodus, chapter 21. This section of the chapter — Exodus 21:12-27 — outlines various laws regarding deadly violence.

“Whoever strikes a person mortally shall be put to death,” verse 12 says. That’s pretty clear — if you strike a person and kill them, you get the death penalty. That’s the baseline for the rest of the laws that follow. For instance, what if you strike a person and they’re injured, but not killed? Verses 18-19 address that:

When individuals quarrel and one strikes the other with a stone or fist so that the injured party, though not dead, is confined to bed, but recovers and walks around outside with the help of a staff, then the assailant shall be free of liability, except to pay for the loss of time, and to arrange for full recovery.

OK, so those are the rules for hitting people — but what if you hit a slave? Do the same rules about hitting people apply to hitting slaves?* Verses 20-21 and 26-27 have got that covered. Basically, they say that if an owner kills a slave, “the owner shall be punished.” If the slave survives, but loses an eye or a tooth, then the slave goes free.

The punishments for violence against slaves were different from the punishments for violence against free persons because slaves were regarded as a separate category. There was one set of rules regarding violence against “a person” and another set of rules regarding violence against a slave.

That brings us to the text I want to highlight here as another example of politicized distortion via translation: Exodus 21:22-25.

Here is how Exodus 21:22-25 read in the New American Standard Bible’s 1977 revision of its 1971 original translation:

And if men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she has a miscarriage, yet there is not 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.

You can see how this fits in the context of the chapter. Here is another category of victim for which another set of punishments for violence is given. If a pregnant woman gets struck “so that she has a miscarriage,” but is not herself injured, then the man who struck her must pay a fine. But if the woman herself is injured, then the same rules and punishments for striking any other (non-slave) person apply — “life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, etc.”

But here’s the same passage in 1995 in the updated current version of the NASB:

If men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she gives birth prematurely, yet there is no 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.

“So that she has a miscarriage” has been replaced with “so that she gives birth prematurely.”

That’s new. That’s not at all how this passage was translated for centuries. Consider, for example, the Wycliffe Bible from 1382:

If men chide, and a man smiteth a woman with child, and soothly he maketh the child dead-born, but the woman liveth over that smiting, he shall be subject to the harm (he shall be subject to a fine), as much as the woman’s husband asketh (for), and as the judges deem (appropriate).

Or the King James Version from 1611:

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.

The KJV’s “her fruit depart” is a literal, but ambiguous rendition of the original Hebrew. If we ignore the context of the surrounding verses, then we could interpret that as meaning either what the 1977 NASB or what the 1995 NASB says. It could mean “she has a miscarriage” or it might mean “she gives birth prematurely.” Right?

Well, not quite.

It turns out that English-speaking Christians aren’t the very first people ever to read the book of Exodus. The Jews got there way, way before we did. It seems Jews actually wrote the thing. Plus they’re pretty good at reading Hebrew.

So Wycliffe and the majority of English translators who followed him all read this verse the way that it had been read for centuries before there ever existed such a thing as the English language into which it could be translated. (Plenty of examples of this at the bottom of this post, where — following Ross’ example in the comment that sparked this post, I’ve copied his list and added a few more.) They translated it to mean what it had long been understood to mean, and in the only way that it makes sense to translate it in the context of the rest of this chapter.

The New American Standard Bible translated this passage that same way up until 1977. But something changed between 1977 and 1995 — something that had nothing to do with scholarship, language, accuracy, fidelity or readability.

American politics had changed between 1977 and 1995. It had polarized and radicalized millions of American Protestants, rallying them around a single issue and thus, as intended, rallying them behind a single political party.

In 1977, the sort of American Protestants who purchased most Bibles couldn’t be summed up in a single word. But by 1995, they could be: “abortion.”

And for anti-abortion American evangelicals, Exodus 21:12-27 was unacceptable. It suggested that striking and killing an unborn fetus was in a separate category from striking and killing a “person.” Strike and kill a free person, you get the death penalty. Strike and kill an unborn fetus, you get a fine.

And so in 1995, like those earlier translators who invented and inserted “Junias,” the translators of the NASB reshaped this passage. “She has a miscarriage, yet there is not further injury” would, in consideration of the changes in American politics since 1977, henceforth be transformed into “she gives birth prematurely, yet there is no injury.”

Politics — specifically, the political desire to control women — shaped the translation of that text. The translators changed the words of the Bible to make it seem like it supported their political agenda. They changed the words of the Bible so that others reading it would not be able to see that its actual words challenged and contradicted their political agenda.

This is something that happens sometimes.

The 1971 NASB stuck with the traditional English translation of Exodus 21:22. Here — picking up from Ross’ comment — are many other similar examples:

Wycliffe Bible (1382): “If men chide, and a man smiteth a woman with child, and soothly he maketh the child dead-born, but the woman liveth over that smiting, he shall be subject to the harm (he shall be subject to a fine), as much as the woman’s husband asketh (for), and as the judges deem (appropriate).”

Douay-Rheims (1899): “If men quarrel, and one strike a woman with child and she miscarry indeed, but live herself: he shall be answerable for so much damage as the woman’s husband shall require, and as arbiters shall award.”

Bible in Basic English (1949): “If men, while fighting, do damage to a woman with child, causing the loss of the child, but no other evil comes to her, the man will have to make payment up to the amount fixed by her husband, in agreement with the decision of the judges.”

Revised Standard Version (1952): “When men strive together, and hurt a woman with child, so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no harm follows, the one who hurt her shall be fined, according as the woman’s husband shall lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.”

The Jerusalem Bible (1966): “If, when men come to blows, they hurt a woman who is pregnant and she suffers a miscarriage, though she does not die of it, the man responsible must pay the compensation demanded of him by the woman’s master; he shall hand it over, after arbitration.”

New Life Version (1969): “If men fight with each other and hit a woman who is going to have a child so that she loses her baby but no other hurt comes to her, he must pay whatever the woman’s husband says he must, as agreed upon by the judges.”

The Living Bible (1971): “If two men are fighting, and in the process hurt a pregnant woman so that she has a miscarriage, but she lives, then the man who injured her shall be fined whatever amount the woman’s husband shall demand, and as the judges approve.”

New English Bible (1971): “When, in the course of a brawl, a man knocks against a pregnant woman so that she has a miscarriage but suffers no further hurt, then the offender must pay whatever fine the woman’s husband demands for assessment.”

Amplified Bible (1987): “If men contend with each other, and a pregnant woman [interfering] is hurt so that she has a miscarriage, yet no further damage follows, [the one who hurt her] shall surely be punished with a fine [paid] to the woman’s husband, as much as the judges determine.”

New Revised Standard Version (1989): “When people who are fighting injure a pregnant woman so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no further harm follows, the one responsible shall be fined what the woman’s husband demands, paying as much as the judges determine.”

Good News Translation (1992): “If some men are fighting and hurt a pregnant woman so that she loses her child, but she is not injured in any other way, the one who hurt her is to be fined whatever amount the woman’s husband demands, subject to the approval of the judges.”

Contemporary English Version (1995): “Suppose a pregnant woman suffers a miscarriage as the result of an injury caused by someone who is fighting. If she isn’t badly hurt, the one who injured her must pay whatever fine her husband demands and the judges approve.”

Complete Jewish Bible (1998): “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.”

The Message (2002): “When there’s a fight and in the fight a pregnant woman is hit so that she miscarries but is not otherwise hurt, the one responsible has to pay whatever the husband demands in compensation.”

Common English Bible (2011): “When people who are fighting injure a pregnant woman so that she has a miscarriage but no other injury occurs, then the guilty party will be fined what the woman’s husband demands, as negotiated with the judges.”

Numerous other translations followed the vague literalism of the King James Version (1611). Variations of “her fruit depart from her” can be found in:

Darby Translation (1890): “… so that she be delivered, and no mischief happen”

Young’s Literal Translation (1898): “… and her children have come out, and there is no mischief”

American Standard Version (1929): “… so that her fruit depart, and yet no harm follow”

English Standard Version (1971): “… so that her children come out, but there is no harm”

21st Century King James Version (1994): “… so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no misfortune follow”

New Century Version (2005): “… causing the baby to come out”

The 1995 New American Standard Bible was not the first translation to change a miscarriage with no harm to the woman into a premature birth with no harm to the baby. The New International Version did so back in 1978, albeit with a footnote allowing for the option of the more traditional translation. Here are several other translations following that new approach.

Note that all of these translations were produced post-Happy Meal.

New King James Version (1982): “If men fight, and hurt a woman with child, so that she gives birth prematurely, yet no harm follows, he shall surely be punished accordingly as the woman’s husband imposes on him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.”

GOD’S WORD Translation (1995): “This is what you must do whenever men fight and injure a pregnant woman so that she gives birth prematurely. If there are no other injuries, the offender must pay whatever fine the court allows the woman’s husband to demand.”

World English Bible/Hebrew Names Version (1997): “If men fight and hurt a pregnant woman so that she gives birth prematurely, and yet no harm follows, he shall be surely fined as much as the woman’s husband demands and the judges allow.”

New International Reader’s Version (1998): “Suppose some men are fighting and one of them hits a pregnant woman. And suppose she has her baby early but is not badly hurt. Then the man who hurt her must pay a fine. He must pay what the woman’s husband asks for and the court allows.”

Easy-to-Read Version (2006): “Two men might be fighting and hurt a pregnant woman. This might make the woman give birth to her baby before its time. If the woman was not hurt badly, [a] the man who hurt her must pay a fine. The woman’s husband will decide how much the man must pay. The judges will help the man decide how much the fine will be. But if the woman was hurt badly, then the man who hurt her must be punished. The punishment must fit the crime. You must trade one life for another life. You must trade an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot.” (Footnote [a]: Exodus 21:22 hurt badly Or ‘killed.’)

New Living Translation (2007): “Now suppose two men are fighting, and in the process they accidentally strike a pregnant woman so she gives birth prematurely. [a] If no further injury results, the man who struck the woman must pay the amount of compensation the woman’s husband demands and the judges approve.” (Footnote [a]: Exodus 21:22 Or so she has a miscarriage; Hebrew reads so her children come out.)

Holman Christian Standard Bible (2009): “When men get in a fight and hit a pregnant woman so that her children are born prematurely [a] but there is no injury, the one who hit her must be fined as the woman’s husband demands from him, and he must pay according to judicial assessment.” (Footnote [a]: Either a live birth or a miscarriage)

– – – – – – – – – – – –

* Yes, slavery. This passage is appalling: “If the slave survives a day or two, there is no punishment, for the slave is the owner’s property.” That’s the sort of thing that would give me a crisis of faith if I were attached to the biblicistic fundamentalism that surrounded me as I grew up, in which the Bible is viewed as the inerrant, infallible, uniform, authoritative and unquestionable Word of God.

If that’s what you believe about the Bible, then doesn’t this passage mean that you ought to approve of slavery? Of course it does — because that’s precisely why this form of inerrant, infallible, etc. biblicism was invented here in America. It arose in defense of slavery — slavery of an even more appalling and more brutal sort than that which this biblical passage describes. So, yes, a biblicistic, proof-texting approach to scripture designed in defense of slavery does, in fact, compel those who accept it to defend slavery.

But those defenders of slavery weren’t the only ones reading the Bible. Nor are those who learned to read the Bible from those defenders of slavery the only ones reading it now.  “Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God …”

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  • Anonymous

    That sounds confusing, though. “Abort-forth” doesn’t have the same ring to it as “miscarry” or “lose her unborn child,” either.

  • Anonymous

    Me too. It doesn’t surprise me, since the Southern Baptist Convention’s founding documents pretty much explicitly mention slavery as their reason for splitting off from the mainstream Baptists.

  • Anonymous

    I noticed a number of similar rebuttals like this one, generally pointing out that the Hebrew words for “miscarriage”, “stillborn child” or “embryo” are not present in the passage, so it must mean a premature birth. This isn’t a very ironclad argument in the Old Testament, though, which is fond of using synonyms and similar terms as a term of emphasis or comprehensiveness. Also, as Ursula pointed out, infant mortality rates were pretty high in Bronze Age nomadic tribes, so the end result is often the same. Remember, the passage delineates a class of people for whom the punishment is less than that for an adult human; it’s easy to imagine the difference between a fetus and a premature birth being unimportant in that respect for the ancient Hebrews.

    The ESV, my favorite translation, decides to fudge the issue and translate it “so that her children come out”, probably as a result of being written right about the time this switch was being made.

  • Lunch Meat

    There’s more that could be said, but in regards to this:

    Regardless of the translation, it’s clear that killing the child–and the text does refer to the unborn as a child–is a criminal act. There is no justification for abortion-on-demand from the Torah.

    Assaulting a pregnant woman and causing a miscarriage is a criminal act here, today. It’s just not murder. That’s not the same as a woman choosing to end her own pregnancy. One is a violation of her body and rights to her child, the other is not.

  • Anonymous

    Most of those “premature birth” translations are based on the idea that a premature baby dying from said premature birth is God’s Will, whereas abortion/inducing miscarriage is Murder. Therefore, if a passage implies that inducing miscarriage is less than murder, we must be reading/translating it wrong, because our ideas must be right.

    Because bronze-age Jews clearly had the exact same views on fetal personhood as 21st-century American evangelicals. After all, it’s not like there could be any cultural differences there or anything.

  • Anonymous

    The “tradition” argument is particularly stupid when you consider that people do, and will always have, traditions, and that some of them exist because they are good and helpful.

    When a person cannot distinguish between “following a particular tradition because it is a good tradition and makes life better” and “following all traditions blindly because TRADITION!!” I tend to find that person’s literacy and critical-thinking skills highly suspect.

  • Anonymous

    There is no best translation of any book. Languages do not correspond well to each other in general.

  • russ

    Very interesting, and sadly not surprising.

    It seems interesting to compare with biblical translations into other languages. E.g. Zamenhof translated the old testament into Esperanto over a century ago. The passage in question:

    Se viroj kverelos kaj frapos gravedan virinon, kaj ŝi abortos, sed ne fariĝos malfeliĉo, tiam oni punu lin per monpuno…

    Translating that to English:

    If men fight and hit a pregnant woman, and she miscarries, but no (further) unhappiness results, then punish him with a fine…

    (Note: The Esperanto verb “aborti” means to miscarry, i.e. the fetus comes out dead.)

  • True. The Bibles I’ve seen which tend to be more honest about the translation issues are footnoted (sometimes copiously) with alternative renditions of the original Hebrew/Greek/Aramaic which could equally fit the text as given.


    I have also seen Bibles which have exact, literal, word for word translations of the original language (and the original language as well) in addition to the more figurative, recontextualized translations. ie on the left page you’ll see the Hebrew with the closest literal English words under (or beside) and on the right page you’ll see the less literal translation.

    Needless to say, when you have rather choppy English like that, you get a slight sense for how difficult it is to claim that a particular text in a translated language is the inerrant version of the text.

  • Anonymous

    It sounds as if the word is kept deliberately vague–this could be anything ranging from a miscarriage, a stillbirth, a premature birth of a living (but unlikely-to-survive) baby, or a full-term birth.  At any rate, the important thing seems to be that the father (or in today’s terms, the family) of the lost infant is the one who will determine what the actual loss is (at least in financial terms).  It almost sounds like the family gets to choose.

  • Keromaru

    Another wrinkle is that early Christians wouldn’t have used the Hebrew Bible, but the Greek Septuagint.  Here’s how the Apostolic Bible (an interlinear Greek OT/NT) has it:

    “And if two men should do combat, and should strike a woman having one in the womb, and her child should come forth not fully formed, with a fine he shall be penalized. . . And if it should be completely formed, he shall give life for life, eye for eye. . .”

    Seems a bit more direct.  On the other hand, the early Church definitely opposed abortion, and I don’t know how this passage was used.  They didn’t rely as heavily on the Old Testament, and didn’t limit themselves to the Bible (which technically, at the time, wasn’t even “the Bible,” but a set of scriptures authorized for different parts of the liturgy).

  • Anonymous-Sam

    Nah, the Hebrews would never hit a woman. They’d just feed her poison. :p

  • Tricksterson

    As I understand it they claim, and may actually think, that they’re correcting falsehoods put in by “liberals”because since it doesn’t say what they think it should obviously sabotage was involved.

  • Tricksterson

    Silly biot, obviously the one closest to what you want it to say.

  • Lunch Meat

    Well, there’s what Ursula said. Anyone who claims that in the hebrew, “born prematurely” means “is endangered and needs special costly care, hence the fine, but with proper medical attention will likely make a full recovery” is being disingenous

    And if you want to give them a snarky response, nod sagely and say, “Ah, yes, so the fine was used to pay for the incubator, catheters, mechanical ventilation, medications, and the attention of a highly educated doctor.”

  • Aguilaoro88

    Well, then, what do we do?  Throw up our hands in defeat and lock all the world’s literature in tiny little prisons, dangling the keys at the end of four-year language programs?

  • Anonymous

    It’s not a completely insane reading, but I would make two comments on it:

    First, as various people have commented, the idea that a premature birth was often survivable in the society described by Exodus is a long shot. A child born early by violence against its mother would be in immediate, serious trouble.

    Secondly, if we accept this interpretation, we have to ask why the text is silent on what happens if the child the woman is carrying dies. It does not say, as it does in some other cases, “If X happens, you shall put him to death, but if Y happens, he should be fined, or is free of guilt, or what have you”. It does not say, “If the child dies, you shall put him death, but if the child lives, he has to pay for round-the-sundial-midwife-monitoring”. I think that’s because the assumption is that the miscarried fetus will not live–there’s an assumption one way or the other being made here, and the assumption that the child lives doesn’t make any sense.

    Also, This is an interpretation that only makes sense if you assume that the unborn child automatically has the rights of any person, and we all know that, but in Exodus, not all adults have the rights of all people–as witness the issue about the man who beats his slave to death.

    It’s not a completely insane reading, but it is a reading geared to solve a problem in the text for modern Christians.

  • Anonymous

    Course not. We discuss, honestly, and openly, the issues that come up in translations of things we find important. And seriously, given the number of people who study the Bible daily throughout their lives, it wouldn’t be totes insane for more people to study the original languages and the history of the text as well, but that may just be a cranky Jew’s take on the matter.

  • Jeff

    frazer, this may not give you a quick answer, but you might look at these books: Newby, “Jim Crow’s Defense: Anti-Negro Thought in America, 1900-1930” (especially chapter 3, “The Uses of Religion”), and Gossett, “Race: The History of an Idea in America” (look up “Bible and race” in the index). There may also be something in George Marsden’s books about this history of fundamentalism. If I recall correctly, the hard-core biblical literalist movement was a reaction against modernizing movements in Christianity in the late 19th century, and therefore was post-slavery, but it did coincide with the rise of Jim Crow-ism and the efforts to justify it. 

  • Keromaru5

    Now that I think about it, it would actually make more sense for Evangelicals to use the Septuagint formulation — except it would undermine the contention that life begins at conception. Even the Catholic Church didn’t reach that conclusion until the 15th century. It always treated abortion as a mortal sin, but in the middle ages, mainly after quickening.

  • You missed the big one, Fred: The Conservative Bible Project!

    22 If men fight with one another, and in the process injure a pregnant
    woman and cause her to miscarry, but no further mishap follows, then the
    man doing the injury will pay whatever fine the husband demands and the
    mediators allow.

    Oddly enough, they do stick with the miscarriage, at least for now.

  • Anonymous


    It’s possible that this simply isn’t an issue among Bronze Age nomads.

    It’s probably worth remembering that Exodus wasn’t actually written by Bronze Age, tribal, desert nomads.  AFAIK, our best guess is that it was first drafted by highly literate, statist, urban Jews, probably Babylonian exiles, several centuries after the Hebrews quit being nomadic.  It’s set in a distant, nomadic past, but there’s little indication that the authors knew any more about the historical details of that past than we do.  It was a legendary setting for them, just like Roman-era Britain was for the medieval authors writing about King Arthur.

    So Exodus’ legal code probably has little or nothing to do with the actual nature of nomadic, tribal life, but rather is largely drawn from common legal principles in first-millennium Mesopotamian states. This is easy to see in this particular case.  Just compare Exodus to the Babylonian code of Hammurabi written a thousand years earlier:

    65  If a man strike a man’s daughter and bring about a miscarriage, he
    shall pay ten shekels for her miscarriage. 

    66  If that woman die, they shall put his daughter to death.

    67  If, through a blow, he being about a miscarriage to the daughter of a
    freeman, he shall pay five shekels.

    68  If that woman die, he shall pay 30 shekels.

    The mandated punishments are different, of course, but the same general points are made.  Killing a fetus merits a fine, while killing an adult woman is a much bigger deal and (if she’s in your social class) is punished with some sort of retributive justice.

    …of course, none of the above weakens the point various folks have made, that “premature” and “stillborn” were practically equivalent at the time Exodus was written.  And for the next two thousand years, pretty much.

  • I’ve read that before, but I don’t know why that is the case. Do you have any theories as to why?

    One of the things that I’ve heard, is that once the abuser feels that the victim is trapped, the abuse starts or escalates.  Sometimes that’s the first date.  The trigger can also be the beginning of a sexual relationship, moving in together, marriage, pregnancy, or purchasing a house together.

  • Anonymous

    The Conservapedia people don’t know what they’re doing. I doubt they understand that that the passage is socially significant.

    (They do things like change gender-neutral pronouns to masculine ones. I check the Hebrew…it’s actually the feminine plural…)

    They are, however, very good on ‘free-market parables’.

  • Anonymous

    All good points, although I wouldn’t particularly assume that the people drafting the text weren’t aware of people in their own day who lived like that. Hell, modern Bedouin live like that, except for, you know, iPods and Jeeps and hospitals.

    And yes, Bronze Age tent, or Iron Age town house, not much difference medically speaking, in the case of a premature birth.

  • Amanda

    Actually, the passage closely parallels a similar but even more misogynistic passage in the Code of Hammurabi (I say “even more” because in the Biblical passage the fine is still being paid to the woman’s husband at his direction, not to her at hers).  In the Code,  the fine for causing a miscarriage is fixed at ten shekels.  The fine for causing the woman’s death is the death of the assailant’s daughter.

    So it’s possible there was some meaningful legal precedent that subsequent law codes in the ancient Middle East felt it necessary to address.  It didn’t necessarily have to be common(now I’m speculating wildly) some famous ancient case would probably have been enough.

  • Mandajacki

    Actually, there’s another way to read this, namely that indemnity is paid in the first case not for the woman’s injury, but the loss of the husband’s property, i.e. the child only.  “No harm” can then be interpreted as the woman suffers no greater physical inconvenience than she would have done in normal childbirth.  

    If the woman is injured or dies, it’s a different story.  This makes more sense to me, as it explains why the full law of retaliation is invoked, degree by degree of harm.  However, I agree it isn’t the standard reading, which reads “harm” as “fatal harm.”

    As an aside note: in practical reality, according to the writings of the rabbis, an indemnity was paid in all cases, because the offense was considered manslaughter rather than homicide.  Likewise, even in the case of deliberate assault, the law of retaliation was commuted to compensation in all but the case of homicide. 

  • Anonymous Coward

    She was his property, and if he beat her it was not a crime.  So if he caused a miscarriage from the beatings, there was no punishment.

  • Tricksterson

    Wing it.

  • prins

    Right… Are you trying to argue that Christians weren’t against abortion before?

  • Greylightrrt

    That refers to the book of revelations, not the whole bible. Keeping in mind that each book of the bible was written hundreds of years apart and was only later condensed.

  • Gooahboo

    Bible is a made up load of balls shocker!

  • Glaring gap?  I believe that part of traditional law is well established, she’s your property do with her as you will.

  • Men were more or less unrestrained in their abuse of their wives.  Take a look an Numbers 5:11, where God approves forcing a married woman to swallow a poison abortifacient if her husband suspects her of being unfaithful.

  • The woman was simply her husband’s property.  No man back then would deliberately harm another man’s property unless he was prepared to accept the punishment for doing so.

    Notice that the woman, also property, is not considered to be harmed by the miscarriage.  Her husband is harmed by the loss of his property — the potential offspring.  She is only considered harmed if some wound or blemish appears on her body.  Then, the husband is awarded like for like harm to the offender, for damage to his property.

    As far as I have seen in my readings, because a woman and her fetus are both the man’s property, there is no punishment if he causes her to miscarry, as his loss of property is considered punishment enough.

    Heartbreaking, isn’t it?

  • Anonymous

    It takes far less courage to kill yourself than it
    takes to make yourself wake up one more time. It is harder to stay where
    you are than to get out.

  • Charlie

    2 things I have to say (just saying I really don’t want to argue with this because I don’t care what you do with your life; but this is some food for thought) 

    1) The Jewish people who wrote Exodus would have been speaking Herodic Aramaic not Hebrew.  Though they are similar, they are very different in the translations of relations especially.  For one, things such as love, marriage, and words for people versus slaves versus children are completely different.  Children were not quite considered “people” as one might say in English or any other language.  Until you were free of your parents’ burden you were considered a baby or child even at an age of 15.2) It does say that if a man causes a woman to have a miscarriage (or there abouts based on these translations) that the husband can set the fines.  What if politicians were to make it mandatory that fines for abortions past 2 weeks of conception is equivalent to 1st degree murder?  That would essentially use the same argument but on the other side of the spectrum and hence still work according to this argument.

    Have a nice day, and God Bless! :)

  • Dean77

    This article is stupid. There is no difference in translation at all, and the real insanity here is trying to pick something apart to this degree. If you really are getting hung up on the difference between the words “premature birth” and “miscarriage” than you need mental help.

    I came to read this to learn something interesting, but instead I find it is just someone saying “HA, we got you Christians now with an arbitrary change that means nothing. YAY, WE WIN.”

    I’m all for exposing injustice and problems in religion and such, but this just shows the desperateness and immaturity that some people will go to in order to make up something that supports their own views. And isn’t that the exact thing you are supposed to be fighting against with this?

  • Steven Elliott

    Less sex

  • Vitor Lage

    I don’t know if you noticed, but the bible hates women and probably doesn’t care.

  • Interesting article but the debate completely misses the larger issue. The Bible simply cannot be understood as a static unit. There is a movement through the text that works to increase justice and equality throughout the narrative. Simply arguing for or against abortion based one text from a culture with no understanding of pre-natal science is as silly as arguing for or against slavery based on particular texts from the same era.

  • Russ

     >> If you really are getting hung up on the difference between the words
    “premature birth” and “miscarriage” than you need mental help.

    If you don’t see a difference between “premature birth” and “miscarriage”, then you need dictionary help.

  • Will

    Wow, I was surprised at how interesting this post is. But I have 2 questions. 

    Where did you get your fact that, ‘In 1977, the sort of American Protestants who purchased most Bibles couldn’t be summed up in a single word. But by 1995, they could be: “abortion.” ‘? Albeit with my 10 minutes of research, I only found the numbers 1990s, and it had nothing to do with the translators of the NASB.Also, why only the NASB?

  • Ima Pseudonym

    The CBP is basically Schlafly’s attempt to spin the bible into a love song to American conservative free-market capitalists in which Jesus adores the rich and sends money and power to reward the faithful and just.  He might actually be aware of the significance, but abortion may be slightly less important to him than explaining why Matthew 20:15 means that employers should be allowed to pay whatever they feel like to their employees and fire them them for any reason, or no reason at all.  After all, money is more important than human life.

  • Ursula L

    Fred hasn’t missed either the Conservative Bible Project, or Conservapedia.  He’s addressed both bits of nonsense, extensively, in the past. 

  • Anonymous

    Sadly, women, children, cattle, slaves – were all functional property, and so there is no need to address their situations apart from how it might affect the man in possession. What a man did with his own property was rarely an issue.

  • Ryan Lutz

    Its very easy to take verses out of the old testament and misquote them to make them support whatever you want. The passage is not referring to a women choosing to kill her child. Therefore it has no place on either side of the debate. Secondly these laws are part of the original convenant God made with his people. Now there’s a whole second half of the story where in various places throughout the New testiment the law is struck down as being flawed, hence the need for Jesus to come into human history.

    Romans 7 :4
    now dear brothers and sisters, this is the point: You died to the power of the law when you died with Christ.

    Verse 6
    But now we have been released from the law, for we died to it and are no longer captive to its power. Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way of living in the spirit.

    This theme is repeated in Corinthians, Galatians, ephesians, phillipians, Colossians, Thessaloinians, Timothy, Hebrews, James , Peter, John, revelations.

    The point of Christ coming is that the original covenant was flawed, it was unable to cover the sins of man.

    Take the words of Jesus,

    Matthew 5 : 20

    “But i warn you – unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven!”

    Jesus whole point while he was alive is that simply following all the laws to the tee is not what God wants, He wants our lives to reflect his rightousness through the motivations of our heart, this leads to righteuos actions.
    lets look at what Jesus says about children

    In luke Jesus says it would be better for a man to tie a millstone ( a large rock) around his neck and jump into the ocean, than to face Jesus if anyone harms on of the children.

    Secondly to say that christians are barbaric people who want to keep women down, you should look into history because of christians women were allowed to vote, attend school, the freedom of slaves in america is directly due to christians starting the movement. Also the form of slavery being talked about in the bible is not what happend in America. People would willing sell themselves to employers for a season of time. The “Slave master” was responsible to house and feed them, this was often done to settle a debt or in case of famine to allow the people to live. Also every 7th year all slaves and debts were to be forgiven. No one was allowed to hold onto people indefinetly and depribe them of basic needs, which is exactly what happend in America.

    The Translations you use to say there changing the bible and using it for political power is actually hilarious. You dont understand how things are translated. First off there wasn’t written account of the Old Testiment for 500 years after the original patriarical stories were compossed. The “books” were handed down orally through generations. Secondly all translations from Hebrew (Old testament) or Greek ( new testament) use one of two ways of translating, Word for word, or thought for thought. This is why you end up with different wordings, some of the passages you quoted aren’t even out of translations. The message for example is a well known and published paraphrase, it says right in the introduction its not a direct translation, it is ment to put the ideas into modern day language for easy reader consupmtion. A little more in depth study into how the verses your quoting were formed may add some clarity to what your talking about.

    Lastly, as I said before it is easy to take one verse out of context, which is exactly what has happend here. Look at the chapter as a whole as when they are written in the original Hebrew (which you seem so concerned about gettign the context of) they are written as an entire sentence, one thought, there would be no stopping or commas or periods in the original Hebrew these are one idea and need to be quoted as such. The chapter falls under personal injuries. Earlier in the passage it states quite clearly

    ” Anyone who assault and kills another person must be put to death”
    so the question becomes what does God consider to be a person ?
    If you spend anytime reading more than the verses that suit your argument you find that Yaweh of the bible talks extensively about knitting people together in the womb, having called people from the moment of conception to be his children etc etc.

    You can call it womens lib, or womens rights, Abortion always has and still is nothing more than Genocide, the worst kind the world has ever seen, it has the most victims and also the most vunerable victims, they never even have the ability to fight for their rights. That makes me cry everytime I see people defend it and I know it breaks the heart of God everytime it happens.

  • P J Evans

    Abortion always has and still is nothing more than Genocide, the worst kind the world has ever seen

    Bull. Shit. That’s a conservative talking point with zero evidence behind it.
    Go talk to the people at your local synagogue about the Holocaust, go talk to your local Armenians about what the Turks did, go talk to your local Ukrainians about what Stalin did, go talk to your local Cambodians about Pol Pot, go talk to your local Chinese about Mao and the Cultural Revolution. All far, far worse, because they were genocide.

  • gcaitiff

    You missed the entire point of the article, which is to point out that the bible treats an unborn fetus as a “legal” class distinctly separate from a “person,” much as the bible treats slaves. 

    Furthermore, the passage in question was altered in translation to be ambiguous where no ambiguity exists in the original text. This was done for political reasons. 

    So no, we’re not all good.

  • Yeah, it’s almost as if this isn’t the “infallible word of god,” but rather a cultural text written by the dominant members of society at the time. Funny, that.