Thursday, February 22, 2007

Before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee (Exod. 21:22-23 et al.)

Aside from being busy with other things both important and non-important, I've simply been...well, sort of the opposite of looking forward to this post. The next topic to be raised by the SAB in going through Exodus is that of abortion, and there seem to be few topics as highly-charged. I'm tempted to disallow comments on this post, but instead, I'll warn any would-be posters that I'm likely to ignore their comments and/or erase them if I think they're being offensive.

Also, I'm going to focus once again on what I think the Bible actually says about abortion (which personally I don't think is much) and not my personal political views, which may or may not align with what the Bible says. For an insight into my personal views on the abortion issue, read this post in my other blog. My plan here is to address issues raised on the SAB's "What the Bible says about Abortion" page.

Exodus 21:22-23 gives me fits. People looking to the Bible to make both pro-life and pro-choice arguments love to quote this one and say that it's clearly implying what they want it to imply. First of all, the verse does not clearly state that the fetus dies. Most translations make it a bit clearer that the implication is that the baby is born prematurely. The end of verse 23 does say "life for life", implying that a person should be put to death for killing. Are we talking about killing the pregnant woman, or killing the baby? It's not at all clear, but obviously, as I have said, either case could be made. (My next post should touch on "eye for eye" and similar phrases found in this passage, which I believe to be sorely misunderstood.) Anyway, the SAB's viewpoint on this passage is not conclusive, in my opinion.

Leviticus 27 outlines the monetary value of a human being, and I think people not familiar with this passage would be surprised that God places a finite value on humans. I don't think, however that the fact that children less than a month old have no monetary value implies that they therefore have no value at all. The idea here is that of making a vow of dedication, and outlines a substitutiary monetary value. If you said you were going to donate your house to the church, but then you realized, "Hey, but where will my family live?" you could of course instead get your house appraised and give an equivalent amount of money. If you wanted to dedicate your family, you can't appraise their value, so Moses here, supposedly speaking for God, suggests some equivalent values. In my estimation, the setting of the value of newborns at zero is not to say that they are non-people, but accurately reflects their status economically. Babies aren't worth money in any practical sense, they actually cost a lot of time and money to take care of and yet don't produce anything other than dirty diapers. Furthermore, the infant mortality rate at the time this was written may have been a factor.

Numbers 3 is referring to the taking of a census for specific purposes. it's significant to note that in this chapter, we're talking about counting members of the tribe of Levi specifically. Note that two chapters earlier, God tells Moses to count the other tribes, "From twenty years old and upward..." (Num. 1:3) This is not an implication that 19-year-olds are not considered people by God, but it is very plain in that verse that God is counting only those fit for military service. In the case of the Levites, this is not a count for military service, but a count for potential workers in the Tabernacle. It's not likely that very young children would serve, of course, but they would eventually; I suspect the exclusion of newborns is once again due to the infant mortality rate. Yes, women are excluded from both counts; feel free to cry "sexism!" if you wish, but it's not that they are not considered persons, only that they are not considered soldiers or priests.

The Numbers 31 passage and some of the following Hosea passages are disturbing, no doubt. Setting aside the verse on miscarriage, which is a slightly separate issue, there is some strong language here about killing children and pregnant women. First of all, what is being talked about in these and other similar passages is a matter of warfare. Killing people in warfare is not generally considered murder but...we're talking about women and children, aren't we, and as we just covered, women and children are not soldiers. The Hosea passages might be dismissed by pointing out that God is not commanding that this should happen, but foretelling through Hosea that it's going to come to pass, but Numbers 31? Not so much. Moses is telling the soldiers of Israel to to do this, and we tend to assume that Moses is speaking on behalf of God unless we're given reason to believe otherwise. We're not really given reason as far as I can see. It seems that God wanted to wipe out the nation of Midian, and in order to do this effectively, there needed to be no men alive, nor women who might be pregnant with male babies. (Steve Wells is right in assuming some must have been pregnant, after all, that seems to be the point.) I don't know what to say about this except that it is indeed in my estimation a point in favor of those who wish to make the claim that God is not 100% against killing babies. Pretty much every claim that the SAB makes against this story is true, with the possible exception of "injustice", which I'll examine in more detail probably when I get to Numbers 25, which is related.

2 Samuel 12:14 is indeed a case of God killing a child to punish parents. I may have said it before, but there is something different about the significance of God killing a person that sets it apart from a person killing another person. If I have, I'll edit a link into this to the post, but if I have not, I really ought to cover it. Either way, I do think this is a separate issue in many respects, and don't plan to go into it in this post.

Numbers 5 is a very strange passage, and one that really ought to have a post of its own. Actually, I don't see why it's here, because I see no mention of pregnancy or miscarriage there at all. I was recently discussing this passage with a Jew who told me of an interesting view on this passage which completely changes the way to see it. I'll leave you in suspense and tell you that I've come to believe that this passage is not what it appears to be at all.

Genesis 38 is the easiest one of all to respond to. I don't know if the commentary on the passage was not there when I covered it before, or if I just forgot to address it. Anyway, I feel like I've said it a million times, but just because the Bible says that something happened, that does not imply that God condones it. Yes, Judah ordered his pregnant daughter-in-law to be burned to death. No, this sentence was not carried out. No, Judah is not a shining example of morality, as reading that chapter will evidence. No, there is no such specific law ever given by God, although admittedly there are some similar ones. (Not everything on that list properly belongs there in my estimation, out of the first four, only the first two are actual laws, the third one I address here, and the fourth was a special circumstance.)

To sum up, the only passage here that I think says anything definitive about abortion is the Exodus 21:22-23 passage, but it's unfortunately not really clear what it's saying. (Ouch! That's a tough one to admit!) It may have been clearer in the time it was written for some cultural reason, but that doesn't really explain much for us now. The Bible does have a lot to say about infanticide, which I have no doubt that the SAB has a page both for discussing the topic and pointing out apparent contradictions. I'll actually be looking forward to examining that.

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