The people's voice of reason


Abortion supporters generally shy away from Scripture, because numerous Bible passages demonstrate that the preborn child is a human person.

But grasping at straws, they sometimes point to two passages that they think support the pro-abortion (I will not use the term pro-choice, because the baby isn’t given a choice) position. They cite Genesis 2:7, claiming that this passage proves that life begins at birth rather than at conception, and Exodus 21:22-25, claiming that this passage proves that Hebrew law did not provide legal protection for unborn babies. In this column I will demonstrate that these passages, when properly translated and interpreted, strongly support the pro-life position.

Genesis 2:7: The Breath of Life?

“And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”

The term translated “living soul” in the King James is nephesh/neshemah, which means person or living being. Various translations say “living soul” (World English), “living being” (New International), “living soul” (Aramaic Bible), “living creature” (Literal Standard Version), “and the man began to live” (Good News Translation), “and the man started breathing” (Contemporary English Version), and others.

Some argue from this passage that one isn’t fully a human person until he takes that first breath, but an analysis of this verse does not support that position.

First, this is a one-time event. The formation of Adam does not answer the question whether human life begins in the womb, because Adam was never in a womb. He was the first man, and he was formed out of the dust as an adult, mature human being. Obviously God had to give him a soul/spirt, because there was no other way he could get one. Never has anyone else been formed out of dust; not even Eve, who was formed out of Adam’s rib (Genesis 2:21-24). Adam was formed out of inorganic matter, the dust of the earth, but Eve was formed out of organic matter, Adam’s rib. Before God breathed into Adam the breath of life, Adam was something like a clay statue. This has been true of no one else since the time of Adam, and God has not breathed into anyone else the breath of life.

Second, even if we concede that one must breath air in order to be human, the fact remains that the preborn child uses oxygen. He just takes it in through a placenta rather than through his mouth and nostrils. There are certain medical procedures by which air is inserted into the womb, and occasionally the preborn child will take a gulp of air during that procedure. Does that mean the child then becomes a person, even temporarily?

Birth is simply a dramatic change of environment by which the child begins to breathe for himself. This by no means makes him any more a person than he was before.

Exodus 21:22-25:: Legal Protection for Unborn Children?

In the King James Version the passage reads:

“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. And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.”

The key phrase is in verse 22, and the King James translation is essentially accurate: “her fruit depart from her.” But a few translations have rendered this to mean “miscarriage.” The Contemporary English Version reads: “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 Good News Translation says “so that she loses her child, but she is not injured in any other way.” Translated this way, abortion defenders reason, damages are owed for injury to the mother but not for the death of the preborn child. Therefore, the life of the preborn child is entitled to no legal protection.

I respectfully suggest that an analysis of the Hebrew words used in this passage demonstrates that these translations are erroneous. The word rendered “fruit” is yehled, which is found 89 times in the Old Testament. In every other passage in which the term is used for child, it refers to a normal childbirth. In no other passage does it refer to anything less than a human person.

The word for “depart” is yatsah. Wherever this word is used in reference to childbirth (Genesis 25:23-26, 38:28-30, Ecclesiastes 5:14, Jeremiah 20:18), it refers to a normal childbirth, with the possible exception of Numbers 12:12 where it may refer to a stillbirth but not a miscarriage.

If Moses had wanted to speak of a miscarriage, there are two Hebrew words he could have used: shakol, which he used for miscarriage just two chapters later in Exodus 23:26 and which is also used for miscarriage in Hosea 9:14. Or he could have used nephel, which is used for miscarriage in Job 3:16, Psalm 58:8, and Ecclesiastes 6:3. But instead, Moses used the words which denote normal childbirth, and I am convinced that Moses, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, said exactly what he meant and meant exactly what he said – a premature but live birth.

And the word for “mischief” is ahsohn, which can mean anything from death to a sore finger. Some dogmatically assert that this refers only to harm to the mother, but the fact that it appears right after normal childbirth demonstrates that it includes harm to the child as well.

Armed with this knowledge, let’s look at the passage again. Two men are fighting. One is the husband of a pregnant wife, and the passage presupposes that he is in the right and the other party is the aggressor. Somehow, the wife gets involved; maybe they roll in her direction, or maybe she comes to the aid of her husband. She is struck, goes into labor, and gives birth prematurely. If there is no harm to the wife/mother or child, the aggressor will pay the husband/father the damages he has caused to him by starting the fight. But if there is injury to either the wife/mother or child, the Hebrew lex talionis or law of like punishment applies. This is the principle of “let the punishment fit the crime,” and it even includes the death sentence for causing the death of the wife/mother or child.

Most translations recognize this. The original 1977 New American Standard Bible said “so that she has a miscarriage,” but the 1995 version corrected this error so that it reads “so that she gives birth prematurely.” Other translations include the New Living Translation (“gives birth prematurely”), Berean Study Bible (“her child is born prematurely”), Geneva (“her childe depart from her”), Holman Christian Standard Bible (‘so that her children re born prematurely”), Brenton Septuagint Translation (“her child is born imperfectly formed”), Coverdale Bible (“ye frute departe from her”), New International Version (“she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury”), and many others.

Many Bible passages establish the personhood of the preborn child. When Elizabeth, who was carrying John the Baptist in her womb, came into the presence of Mary who was carrying Jesus in her womb, she declared (according to Luke the physician in Luke 1:44) that “the babe leaped in my womb for joy.” And David proclaimed in Psalm 51:5, “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and n sin did my mother conceive me.” Luke 1:44 establishes personhood before birth; Psalm 51:5 carries personhood all the way back to conception.

And Exodus 21:22-25 gives the life of the preborn child the same legal protection afforded to the life of an adult. In the current abortion debate, the Exodus passage might be the most important of all.

Colonel Eidsmoe serves as Professor of Christian Apologetics for the Institute of Lutheran Theology and Chafer Theological Seminary, Professor of Constitutional Law for the Oak Brook College of Law and Government, and Professor of Constitutional Law for the Oak Brook College of Law & Government Policy. He is also Senior Counsel for the Foundation for Moral Law (www.morallaw.org_) He may pe reached for speaking engagements at


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