Should Jesus Have Been Aborted?

There’s a command in the Bible that Christian anti-abortionists really hate — or at least they’d hate it if they knew about it. It’s a command to abort children when a husband suspects his wife was unfaithful:

If feelings of jealousy come over her husband and he suspects his wife and she is impure—or if he is jealous and suspects her even though she is not impure—then he is to take his wife to the priest…. After the priest has had the woman stand before the LORD, he shall loosen her hair and place in her hands the reminder offering, the grain offering for jealousy, while he himself holds the bitter water that brings a curse

Here the priest is to put the woman under this curse of the oath—”may the LORD cause your people to curse and denounce you when he causes your thigh to waste away and your abdomen to swell.” He shall have the woman drink the bitter water that brings a curse, and this water will enter her and cause bitter suffering. (Numbers 5:14, 18, 24)

So if a husband suspects his wife of infidelity, he is to bring her to a priest. The priest makes the woman drink poison that would normally cause an abortion. If she is guilty, the child dies. If she is not guilty, the poison has no effect and the child lives.

Now think back to the story of Jesus’ birth. Mary becomes pregnant when she is betrothed to Joseph, and he knows he wasn’t rolling around in the hay with her. According to Jewish law, Joseph should have taken Mary to a priest and had her drink poison.

So according to the Bible, Jesus have been brought to a priest for an attempted abortion.

Now of course there are endless hermeneutic hoops Christians can jump through to reconcile this. God warned Joseph through a dream so he wouldn’t do it, or maybe they did go to a priest but Jesus survived.

My main point is that the Bible commands abortion in certain cases, yet fundamentalists — who claim to believe in the literal “Word of God” and base their life on it — ignore this passage and insist abortion is wrong in all circumstances and is the same as murder.

I don’t normally recommend this, but perhaps this time there is a seed of an answer in their holy book. Don’t get me wrong — the practice described here is barbaric and despicable. Any suspicious or paranoid husband can take his wife to a priest to drink poison — an act that is just as likely to hurt the mother as the child. Not exactly what I call an enlightened morality.

But that passage should at least make anti-choice Christians think a little harder about whether the abortion issue is really so black and white.

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  • LKL

    “…he causes your thigh to waste away and your abdomen to swell…” actually sounds more like kwashiorkor than either pregnancy or abortion.

    Pretty damn evil either way (forced abortion vs starvation by poison). I’ve been an atheist for more than a decade, and yet my loathing for that religion just grows and grows.

  • Bissrok

    Yeah… that’s the problem from getting your morality from people whose solution to any differences in culture or beliefs was solved by throwing rocks at the other person until they died. Or, more often than not, setting them on fire.

  • Adrian Hayter

    You’ve been tagged in the Atheist Alphabet Meme!

  • Jerome

    Interesting but the reference to an abortion isn’t explicit enough …

  • atimetorend

    Yes, as per Jerome’s comment, I’ve puzzled over Numbers 5 but hadn’t heard about the conjecture of abortion, though it sounds plausible.

    Sounds like it could be a convenient argument to me. Couldn’t you just as easily say abortion is morally wrong for reason X, Y, or Z, and say that Numbers 5 is morally wrong as well? I think the case for Numbers 5 being morally wrong is a stronger case than for abortion.

  • cypressgreen

    Hoo Boy, Daniel, you’re a man who really knows how to paint a target on your head, aren’t you? LMAO

  • Sisyphus Fragment

    ”may the LORD cause your people to curse and denounce you when he causes your thigh to waste away and your abdomen to swell.”

    To me, this sounds exactly the way a sexually repressed culture would talk about abortion. Throughout the Bible the writers play verbal gymnastics to try and avoid directly speaking about the female genitalia. I think this is one more case in a similar vein.

    Either way, this is one more notch on the “this requires interpretation” belt of Christian faith, further proving it was not created by an intelligent being capable of creating the universe.

  • 3D

    I think this post, like a lot of others — while well meaning — is getting too caught up in particulars.

    It’s important to keep in mind that most Christians don’t read the Bible, so making an argument based on the text therein is almost, in a sense, moot. Pointing out that something they believe in exists nowhere in the Bible is in a lot of cases pointless, because they don’t read it.

    Christians have a fascinating way of compartmentalizing “stuff that’s in the Bible” and “political dogma that’s nowhere in the Bible but Christians should believe” and then conflating the two together as if the Bible says it. Abortion is a good example, among many others.

    • Question-I-thority

      I think you are over-generalizing. I am a former evangelical and these types of arguments did have an effect on my thinking. Also, this blog is called Unreasonable Faith, so it’s in line to point out possible disconnects, yes?

  • trj

    The NSRV Bible, which is usually considered a more accurate translation, says in 5:21-22: “let the priest make the woman take the oath of the curse and say to the woman—”the Lord make you an execration and an oath among your people, when the Lord makes your uterus drop, your womb discharge; now may this water that brings the curse enter your bowels and make your womb discharge, your uterus drop!” And the woman shall say, “Amen. Amen.””

    You can combine this with Numbers 5:28: “But if the woman has not defiled herself and is clean, then she shall be immune and be able to conceive children”. It is implicit that if she was guilty she will become barren, most probably as a result of drinking the tainted water. So if she happened to be pregnant because of her infidelity, it doesn’t sound to me like the existing fetus will stand any chance of being born. The mother’s womb is now cursed/destroyed and she is infertile.

    Sounds like abortion to me.

  • Mike aka MonolithTMA

    Regardless of what the text means, I need to do a deep study of the Bible. I haven’t done so since losing my faith and it’s clear that there were whole blocks of scripture that I just blocked out because they were uncomfortable to me.

    • khal82

      Before you start your study, I strongly recommend Bart Erhman’s books; he is a top biblical scholar, with Misquoting Jesus covering the inconsistencies in the Gospels, his book God’s Problem, “How Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Quesion – Why We Suffer (which issue is at the crux of his deconversion), and very importantly, Jesus Interrupted – Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible and Why We don’t Know about Them. The last is particularly helpful because he elaborates how he teaches at university with the historical-critical approach and applies and teaches “vertical reading.” His work is readable and educational, and excellent preparation for approaching a reading of the Bible. I wouldn’t attack it cold. Just my thoughts.

  • Jer

    This might get you somewhere with evangelicals, but a Roman Catholic would laugh at your reasoning.

    Heck the evangelicals would probably find a way to ignore it as well. Despite claiming that the entire Bible needs to be read literally and that no beliefs can come anywhere except from the Bible, I’ve never met an evangelical who wasn’t a trinitarian. Not only that, they will vehemently defend their extra-biblical belief in the trinity by making all kinds of mental gymnastics rather than just admitting that some of their beliefs come from extra-biblical sources.

    In the end they’ll probably decide that this was one of the rules that was thrown out when the dietary and clothing laws were thrown out. That tends to be the standard excuse when a part of the OT that they don’t want to enforce comes into play, despite their entire anti-gay stance revolving around using those OT laws literally.

    • Travis

      they also like to throw out the laws that told women to shut up cause they are basically just livestock, and that everytime they have their period God crys. They even justifying out the relevant new testament scriptures which baffles me. if were allowed to throw out OT stuff because its not the NT, on what authority do you throw out NT stuff.

  • 3D

    Mike aka MonolithTMA wrote:

    “Regardless of what the text means, I need to do a deep study of the Bible. I haven’t done so since losing my faith and it’s clear that there were whole blocks of scripture that I just blocked out because they were uncomfortable to me.”

    I suggest the SAB for that.

    The comments and footnotes in the margins are hilarious and informative, and help get you through all the disturbing stuff and the boring crap like all those “begats” and the Leviticus techincal rules for cooking food and offering sacrifices.

  • Mike aka MonolithTMA

    Thanks, 3D. I do go there quite a bit for quick reference.

  • J. Allen

    The real question is did Mary weigh as much as a duck?

    • wazza

      this new science amazes me…

    • Yoav

      You got to love these magic ways of judging people. Conveniently they pretty much give you a 100% conviction rate which is the right thing because if she haven’t been sleeping around then the LORD in his mercy wouldn’t have made her husband suspicious of her in the first place.

    • khal82

      Less, because although ducks float on WATER, she shot straight up to god’s country club, if you’re Catholic.

      • khal82

        @ J Allen: Less, because although ducks float on WATER, she shot straight up to god’s country club, if you’re Catholic.

  • Custador

    What Fundie Christians believe has got absolutely Jack Shit to do with the Bible. Seriously. Their religion is just an excuse to espouse beliefs which they know deep down to be offensive and repugnant. Worse, it’s their excuse to inflict their revolting beliefs on other people even though they’re revolting and they know it.

    • Travis

      Hey man, you gotta love the sinner, but hate the SIN. Thats how they love Jesus so much. Did you know that guy is guilty for all sins ever? Just think of all the dudes he is implying he slept with. and according to him thats just as bad as if he had actually had sex with all of them.

      Are we really going to let our children associate with this “jesus” fellow? He’s commited all the sins ever to be commited, and all those that have ever happened in the past. Jesus, you can go sin all you want, but DON’T RECRUIT MY CHILDREN!

  • iowaboy

    Actually, the verse cited here is a really cool one (if I say so myself). Sadly, the you greatly mis-represented it.

    Here’s how it goes: The wife is suspected by her husband of cheating. So how do you find out if he’s right? You simply wait to see if she gets pregnant. The “bitter drink” talked about in the verse is simply a mixture of dirt and water (Numbers 5:16). The verse says, if she’s innocent nothing will happen. But, if she’s guilty, her abdomen will get big and her legs will get thin… all signs that she’s pregnant! Also, the verse has some stuff about the husband giving “jealousy grain” to his wife, which is him paying restitution for his jealousy.

    In the end, this verse represents the kind of good religion can do (this rule makes jealous husbands calm down and not beat or kill their wives). I’m an atheist, but c’mon guys, there’s plenty of good reasons to hate religion. You need to understand before you critique and not misprepresent things, otherwise we all look stupid.

    • Roger

      Interesting that the woman has no recourse if she suspects her husband of cheating. Good stuff, that Bible!

    • Custador

      You already look stupid: You just represented your interpretation of that verse as being the only correct one when it’s really just one of many takes on a verse. Worse, you did it to Daniel, who was an evangelical Christian for decades.

      Now: Think about what you did there – and then ask yourself if you do it a lot, because if you’re a Christian I’m willing to bet that you do. Obnoxious, isn’t it?

      • DDM

        Not to mention that it’s the translated version, so that separates it from the truth further. For example, for all we know, “Jealousy grain” could be a euphemism for beating or killing his wife.

    • Question-I-thority

      “And this water will enter her and cause bitter suffering.”

      • Daniel Florien

        Yeah, because, uh, PREGNANCY is bitter suffering. Yeah. Uh, nothing to see here, ABORTION IS MURDER!!!!!!

    • Olaf

      This is one possible way to interprete it, so what are the other possible ways to interprete it?
      If the bible is the word of god, then there must only be one possible interpretation unless god is faulty.

      • Custador

        Spot on.

      • rodneyAnonymous

        Unfortunately, he has The Bible: Teacher’s Edition that does have the correct interpretations.

    • trj

      iowaboy, your translation doesn’t hold up. You say that Numbers 5:16 means if the woman is guilty, she will actually get pregnant (rather than the “opposite”, ie. abort), but compare this to 5:28 where it says that if she’s guilty she will no longer be able to conceive. This combination makes no sense.

  • DDM

    What is this crazy talk? You can’t abort someone who never existed.

  • Michael Gray

    According to my Hebrew, “bitter” (mar, from the root mä-rar’), one possible translation is:
    “a whore’s dues”, or “wages of sluttiness”.
    In 1 Samuel, mar means “bitterness of death”.
    Gesenius’s Lexicon gives one of the root meanings as “to flow, to drop” (from distilling myrrh, apparently.
    Apparently the Arabic version of the word means “to cause to flow”, and the sense sense of ‘going, passing away’.

    So, it seems that the abortion interpretation is entirely plausible.

  • Spencer D.

    Nice job of posting manipulated passages and making statements that have no ground.
    I’ve once again decided to show how weak Florien’s argument is on my own blog, another attempt of mine to bring fairness into the world of skepticism I suppose.

    • Elemenope

      Just read your response. Pretty weak. It matters not whether the miscarriage is caused by a physical poison or a bit of theurgic mumbo-jumbo (i.e. water + dirt from the Tabernacle floor + magical curse), the end-point is that the act of the priest causes the death of the fetus if it was conceived unfaithfully. Hence, an abortion. Tellingly, you are as selective in the parts you choose to emphasize from the “consequences” portion of the passage as you accuse Daniel of being. The curse will enter her and cause bitter pain (i.e. the curse, not the pregnancy, causes the pain), and from the generally parallel structure of most Hebrew writing it follows that the next two consequences come from the curse and not the pregnancy (swollen womb, thigh shenanigans; oh, and BTW, in many ancient Hebrew texts, ‘thigh’ is a euphemism for sexual organs). It would be in fact downright silly for them to be listed as consequences if the intent was merely to describe the natural consequences of pregnancy, since those would not differ regardless of the identity of the father.

      The clue that the child is aborted is the section of passage near the end, where it claims that if she was faithful and subjects herself to the priest’s ritual, she *shall* conceive children. Strongly implying that if she was unfaithful, she *shall not*.

      Your reading is unsustainable. I do have to give you credit for trying, though.

      • Spencer D.

        This “holy water” is probably water taken from the large bronze basin in the courtyard. It is water set apart for sacred service. “Clean water” (seen in the NEB) does not necessarily capture the sense very well, but it does have the support of the Greek that has “pure running water.” That pure water would no doubt be from the bronze basin anyway.
        So we have pure water. And then dirt. When was the last dirty water caused an abortion?

        The water was “bitter” in view of the consequences it held for her if she was proven to be guilty. That is then enforced by the wordplay with the last word, the Piel participle הַמְאָרֲרִים (ham’ararim). The bitter water, if it convicted her, would pronounce a curse on her.

        “The clue that the child is aborted is the section of passage near the end, where it claims that if she was faithful and subjects herself to the priest’s ritual, she *shall* conceive children. Strongly implying that if she was unfaithful, she *shall not*.”

        I can see where you get that. But I can also see the other side of things where you can say that it doesn’t imply that and that saying that she shall conceive children is just part of the confirmation that she will bear no ill effects of the curse. But don’t take me either way on this, at this time.

        Please don’t take this as a complete response to your comment, still doing a bit of study on this.

        • Elemenope

          Please don’t take this as a complete response to your comment, still doing a bit of study on this.

          Fair enough.

          So we have pure water. And then dirt. When was the last dirty water caused an abortion?

          Hence my mentioning the theurgic aspect (i.e. it’s the *curse* doing the work according to the textual account, and not any mundane mechanism; the dirt from the tabernacle floor is simply an element in the ritual, probably to symbolize uncleanliness as things trodden on tend to in Semitic cultures). Theurgy, generally speaking, is the use of ritual to attempt to invoke the power and/or attention of God, often for mundane purposes. The Old Testament has several examples of such rituals, of which this (the ritual to smoke out and punish female pregnant adulterers) is but one.

  • AnAtheistsPhilosophy

    Would the world not be a better place? After all. How many millions have been tortured, murdered, raped in his name?

    • Elemenope

      Had he not existed, I’m pretty sure they would have just used another name.

  • Bimmster

    This is not a revelation. When King David committed adultery with Bathsheba the child they conceived died after it was born. That does not mean the Old Testament endorses infanticide.

    • Elemenope

      That does not mean the Old Testament endorses infanticide.

      Nah, it does that more or less directly (Numbers 31:17-18, Ezekiel 9:6, Deuteronomy 13:15, Leviticus 20:9, Deuteronomy 21:18-21). No interpretation necessary.