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  • The Bible And Infanticide

    May 7, 2022

    As a Christian, I think it is very important to consult the Bible on tricky social matters. Even though it doesn't explicitly say anything on a lot of social issues, it expresses an underlying worldview that can shape our own judgment of social issues. Now, this may sound like I'm saying we should "interpret" the Bible, but I am hesitant to use that word because it makes it seem like we can take all of our knowledge and experience and apply it to the Bible, instead of letting the Bible share its knowledge and experience with us.

    With that in mind, let's tackle the topic of infanticide. My previous blog post was also about this topic, and I'm generally not a single-issue blogger, but I feel that in our current culture, this is one of the things we need to talk about. If you've read my previous post, you'll know that I use the word "infanticide" in the place where most people would typically place the word "abortion." This is very intentional, and if you're looking for my rationale for that, please consult that post. In that post, I made a very secular argument against infanticide, and I think that argument goes a long way in speaking with unbelievers. But how do we engage other so-called "Christians" that claim to be in support of a woman's right to murder her unborn child? And how do we face Atheists or other unbelievers when they throw scripture into our face, often out of context?

    I think in these scenarios, we can and should consult the Bible, which is supposed to be a common ground for believers, and can be used to defend against those that don't read the surrounding context and just cherry-pick verses. Again, let me make it clear that the Bible does not explicitly use the words "abortion" or "infanticide," but it does offer a lot of insight into how God values human life. In fact, it makes it explicitly clear that human life is valuable to God:

    "Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man."

    — Genesis 9:6

    God is the giver of all life, and he is not okay with that life being taken away by anyone but himself. Genesis 2:7 and Isaiah 42:5 both state that God is the source of life, and there are many other passages that can be cited here as well. Even Job, in Job 33:4, knows that, in the midst of his great suffering, it is God that gave him life.

    So we know that human life is valuable to God because human life is God's image. We also know that when we take another human being's life, we have sinned 1. But so far we have yet to discuss unborn life. I could probably stop here, and just redirect you to my previous post about how the unborn are in fact human beings that carry all of the weight of personhood, and thus we should not kill them. That would be a very easy argument to make, and in fact that's pretty much the argument I made in my last post. But I want to clarify that the Bible does say something very interesting about the unborn. Listen:

    "Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations."

    — Jeramiah 1:5

    "For thou hast possessed my reins; thou hast covered me in my mother's womb. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them."

    — Psalm 139:13,16

    Again, there are many more passages which say something very similar. A quick search of the KJV Bible 2 shows that the word "womb" is used roughly 70–75 times, all in a very similar or identical context. The Bible is clearly making the point here that even before we were conceived, God knew us and made us. Christians often try to make the argument that life begins at conception, and indeed, if no earlier, physical human life does, but the Bible suggests that the spiritual existence of a human has begun long before. Or at least, that's the best way I can think to say it. I'm sure this is not entirely accurate because I simply cannot fathom that God works outside of time.

    Regardless, it is clear that God makes no distinction between the value and worth of the born and the unborn; he as made them all just the same and he loves them as full beings, even before their conception! This means that God loves children that haven't even been concieved, just as much as he loves you and I today. And this can be explained and justified by the fact that God does not view time as a linear experience like we do. He views it all at once, which means that he sees the future of the child that is yet to be concieved just as clearly as we see the present moment we are living in. This is a remarkable truth, and it stands to reason then that we should not be killing full beings whom God loves.

    With that all in mind, I think I can now address what is perhaps the trickiest passage in the Bible, especially when it comes to the topic of infanticide: Numbers 5:11--22. Atheists almost always will bring this passage up in the argument, and they make the claim that this passage details a God-sanctioned "abortion." Specifically, they cite verse 22—and always in the NIV:

    "May this water that brings a curse enter your body so that your abdomen swells or your womb miscarries."

    — Numbers 5:22a (NIV)

    The reason I bring up the Bible translation here is that there are many translations that render this verse differently, and Atheists choose this rendering specifically to make their argument. And indeed, if this translation is correct, then they are by all means correct as well in asserting that the Bible (1) contradicts itself on its position on infanticide, and (2) actually condones it in certain circumstances. However, this is not an argument that Christians have to refute, because it is a straw-man fallacy. That is, it purposely over-simplifies the Bible and tries to frame the language in a way that is manipulative. Let's take a look at the KJV, which is my preferred translation:

    "And this water that causeth the curse shall go into thy bowels, to make thy belly to swell, and thy thigh to rot:"

    — Numbers 5:22a

    The meaning here is a lot more cryptic. In fact, Bible scholars aren't entirely sure what this verse actually means. But they are certain that this is as more accurate rendering of the verse. The most literal Bible translation we have in English to date is the NASB. It renders the verse this way:

    "and this water that brings a curse shall go into your stomach, to make your belly swell up and your thigh to shrivel."

    Notice that neither of these very literal translations use the word "miscarriage." They don't even use the word "womb." They specifically use the word "thigh." I know that the ancient Hebrews would have known exactly what this meant, but the fact is, we do not. The NIV, and a few other odd translations, will render this verse as explicitly making a pregnant woman miscarry [3]. However, let me point out that these are not translations of the Bible into English in the literal sense, but approximations, or interpretations of the ancient Hebrew into English. If you look at any Bible comparison, you will see that the NIV is intended to be more "meaning for meaning" instead of "word for word," which means that the translators have baked a lot of interpretation right into the words. But let me suggest that this interpretation, given the context of the Bible as a whole, is likely not correct. As I said, scholars disagree as to what this passage actually means.

    But okay, if you are not convinced of that line of reasoning, and you see it as a way for me to dodge the argument, then let us consider for a moment that we are looking at God-sanctioned infanticide. There are a few ways to reconcile this with the Christian's understanding of God. The first, is that he gives and he takes away:

    "Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD. In all this, Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly."

    If God has decided to take the life of a child, he is more than able to do so. Now, you may think this immoral, but you must remember that morality is the code of conduct given by God to man; God himself need not be bound by man's morality. Because God is God, and cannot be held to the same standard—for he is far above the standard because he put it in place—which means that when we say it is unfair that God can take life but we cannot, we are judging God against the standard that he gave to us, namely the judgment of right and wrong. But let us consider for a moment that it is not wrong for God to take life. God can still be a good God by all definitions even though he may take life. The reasoning behind this obvious: what he gave us, he can take away. We often think that when we are given the gift of life, we are entitled to it, but what God freely gives out of his love and mercy, he can just as easily take away, and we are no worse off for it.

    Consider this analogy. Consider that someone lends you a bike to use for a while. Then, a few weeks later, that person asks for his bike back. You would not at all suggest that the person asking for his bike back is being irrational; rather, because he gave it to you in the first place, he is entitled to take it back. So it is with our very existence. Our existence was granted to us by God, so our existence belongs to him anyway. Thus, we need not be alarmed that he may choose to take lives away on certain occasions.

    And of course, this is not justification for murder. Just because God can take away lives, does not at all mean that we can. Again, we are not the authority in our lives, God is. It is not up to us to judge people and take their lives; only God can judge and take lives, just as only God can give lives.

    So, the main argument here is that even if the Bible is suggesting that there are cases when infanticide is acceptable, it is solely acceptable for God. It is not a decision that we make, but one that God makes for us. God may choose to have a woman miscarry—this is of no fault of her own. But if a woman chooses to kill a perfectly healthy baby, she has gone contrary to God's will for that child, and has thus sinned.

    Either way—whether this passage is simply misinterpreted, or it does actually suggest that God-sanctioned infanticide has occurred—Numbers 5 is not suggesting that women have the right to kill their children. It is at most suggesting that if a woman has sinned, God may choose to take her child away from her, but it most likely means that she may never have children again. And in the culture of the time, this would have been a very shameful existence, not one that is celebrated, such as we see today. That's what makes the procedure detailed in Numbers a punishment.

    When the Christian makes the argument that infanticide is a sin, he or she means that no human has the right to take the life of another human. He or she is not saying that God too forfeits the right to take the lives that he has freely given. And this certainly does not imply that God is any less good, because we must remember that we are in no position to judge God on the morality that he gave us. We know for certain that God is the highest Good there can be. If you are not convinced of that, I do intend on tackling the problem of evil at some point, so stay tuned.

    1. That's the basic 10 commandments stuff right there, "Thou shalt not murder." 

    2. Which you can find in plain text here: 30-0.txt (Project Gutenberg) 

    © 2019-2024 Jordan Bancino.