Bible Question:

Exodus 21:22 in the King James Bible version reads as: “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” (KJV). In the New American Standard Bible the passage reads as: “If men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she gives birth prematurely, 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” (NASB). The English New American Standard version refers to the damage done to the pregnant woman as to having a baby prematurely but alive. In the King James version, the passage refers to the woman losing her baby, but not further damage (I assume refers to further damage to the woman). Which one is closer to the original Hebrew? In the Spanish version of Reina-Valera 1909 the passage reads as follow: “Si algunos riñeren, é hiriesen á mujer preñada, y ésta abortare, pero sin haber muerte, será penado conforme á lo que le impusiere el marido de la mujer y juzgaren los árbitros.” The Spanish translation basically suggests that if someone fights with a pregnant woman and causes her to have an abortion, but without death (I assume death means to the woman since an abortion implies death to her baby), the person will be sent to the judges and the punishment should be according to what the husband agrees as punishment. I am confused as to what the correct translation from the Hebrew version is?

Bible Answer:

Is it possible that abortion is being described in Exodus 21? The literal Hebrew wording of Exodus 21:22 is as follows:

And when fighting men strike a woman pregnant and goes out the children but not there is injury, surely he shall be fined as may the husband of the woman and he shall give through the judges. Exodus 21:22

Since the wording is awkward we will reword it as follows:

And when fighting men strike a pregnant woman and her children miscarry [or abort] but there is no injury, surely he [the one who struck the woman] shall be fined by the woman’s husband and he shall give the money through the judges. Exodus 21:22

Here the child is miscarried or aborted prematurely but yet lives. It is important to note that according to Webster’s New Twentieth Century Unabridged Dictionary abortion is defined as follows:

. . . the act of miscarrying or producing young before th natural time . . .”[1]

In other words, the normal nine months or 38 week average gestation period[2] of pregnancy is “aborted” or cut short and the baby is born before it is full term. An abortion does not have to result in the death of the young being.

Such an event would cause great pain to the woman and potentially injury to the child. Since no death occurred, no one is put to death; but the man who struck the woman is forced to provide financial compensation. Here is an important observation by one biblical scholar,

It has sometimes been claimed by those in favour of abortion that the unborn child is not really considered as an individual here: but that is not the point of this passage, which is primarily concerned with injury to the woman. The destruction of the unborn child was regarded by the Hebrews as an instance of the most barbarous cruelty, calling down God’s judgment (2 Kings. 15:16).”[3]


God demands justice. If there is a death, God calls for capital punishment. Otherwise, God extracts some form of punishment for less than capital offenses.



1. Webster’s New Twentieth Century Unabridged Dictionary. 1975. p5.
2. ”Length of human pregnancy and contributors to its natural variation.” U.S. National Library of Medicine. (
3. R. Alan Cole. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, “Exodus.” 1973, p.169.

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