"If men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she has a miscarriage, 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.
I have underlined the important phrase. Here is the scenario:
- Two men are fighting
- One accidently strikes a pregnant woman
- She has a miscarriage
- If there is no further injury to her
- Only a fine is given
- If she dies then the person who struck her shall die
But is this what Exodus 21 says? I don’t think so. Rather, there are good textual reasons to believe that Moses was speaking about a Premature Birth.
- The Hebrew word yeled is used for what comes from the womb following the fight. This word is never used except for a child who can live outside the womb. The Hebrew word for fetus is golem, which is only used on time in the Old Testament (Ps 139:16).
- The further injury doesn’t refer to the mother but to the child. The Hebrew verb yatza, the verb that refers to what happened to the child after the injury to the mother, ordinarily refers to live births (Gen 25:26; 38:28-30; Job 3:11; 10:18; Jer 1:5; 20:18).
- The word normally used for miscarriage, shakol, is not used here (see Gen 31:38; Exod 23:26; Job 20:10; Hos 9:14). This is why most translations say “premature birth” not “miscarriage in Exodus 21:25.
Even if this were referring to a miscarriage (which it is not) it wouldn’t teach that the unborn is less than human. Notice that it speaks of a situation that involves an accident. Even in our society we recognize the difference between manslaughter and premeditated murder. It doesn’t refer to the value of life that was taken but in the culpability of the one who took the life. In other places within the Old Testament God established cities of refuge for those who killed someone by accident (see Num 35:6).
Therefore, a better and more accurate way to understand Exodus 21:22-25 is as follows:
- Two men are fighting
- One accidentally strikes a pregnant woman and causes a premature birth
- If this doesn’t cause any medical complications with the baby then a fine is still given
- If this causes the death of the fetus/child then the man shall be killed
So instead of teaching that the unborn child is something less than human this text actually teaches the exact opposite. The Lord considers the unborn as much a human as anyone else.