Exodus 21:22-25: Translations
By Gary Butner
"If men struggle with each other and strike a woman with
child so that she has a miscarriage, yet there is no further injury, he
shall surely be fined as the womanís husband may demand of him, and he shall
pay as the judges decide. 23 But if there is any further injury,
then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth
for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound,
bruise for bruise." Ex. 21:22-25, The New American Standard Bible, 1995
Update, (La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation) 1996.
A majority of the pastors and mature Christians are familiar with these
obscure verses in Exodus. It is unlikely they are aware of important translation
updates which have been made to the passage above which will be discussed later
in this article. They may or may not be aware these verses have a strong
relationship to the cultural war currently dividing our country. It is also
unlikely they are aware of the detrimental effect this passage has had on the
spiritual condition of their congregation. Indeed, I have found a majority in
the Pro-Life Movement is completely unaware these verses are the mantra for
the Pro-Abortion Movement when combating those familiar with the Bible.
Every fourth woman sitting in the pews has undergone an abortion and this
passage was likely used to counter any spiritual objections they raised prior to
their abortion. Sitting in our pews are many additional women who will fall
victim to this vicious attack unless pastors provide their flocks with a proper
exegesis for the passage. I realize fighting abortion is not a pleasant topic,
but it can be handled delicately and decisively if the Christian warrior sets
his mind to the task.
The pro-abortion sales technique for overcoming spiritual objections goes
like this; God only punishes the guilty person(s) with a fine if the fetus is
lost in an accidental miscarriage, but invokes equal punishment if the woman is
injured or killed as a result of the accident. The implication being: 1) the
unborn child only has a monetary value to God, 2) the unborn child is not a
person, hence their use of the word "fetus," and 3), the woman has
infinite value while the fetus has little if any value. At first glance the New
American Standard and many other English translations would appear to validate
their position. There are several errors in their position and points that
- These verses have nothing to do with abortion, which the pro-abortion side
will admit if pushed. However, a correct exegesis can be used to destroy the
- The Hebrew word translated child or fruit "yeled" is plural,
hence children. The woman might be pregnant with twins. This is the same
word used for babies and young children throughout the OT (Gen. 21:8; Ex.
2:3). The preborn is considered to be just as much a person as any young
- The Hebrew word mistranslated miscarriage in this verse is "yatsa,"
which actually means to "come out" or "give birth." This
word is regularly used for live birth in the OT. In fact, it is never used
for miscarriage, though it is used once for still birth. In this passage, as
in virtually all OT texts, it refers to a live, though premature birth.
- It is very important to note the same writer used the normal
Hebrew word for miscarriage "shakal" just two chapters later in
Exodus 23:26. This clearly indicates the writer had something besides
miscarriage in mind for the Exodus 21:22-25 passage.
- The Hebrew doesn't indicate if the injuries in question are those
sustained by the woman or the child(ren). A reading, just by glancing at the
order of the words (not a strong argument for Hebrew) and by the force of
the case of the pronouns (a stronger argument) would indicate that the
possible injuries are relative to either. The great Hebrew scholar, Umberto
Cassuto, wrote, "But if any mischief happen, that is, if the
woman dies or the children die, then you shall give life for life, eye for
eye, etc.: you, 0 judge (or you, 0 Israel, through the judge who represents
you) shall adopt the principle of 'life for life,' etc."
Clearly this point places an equal value on both woman and child in calling
for punishment if either is injured or killed.
- The use of the word "further" in the text is not in the Hebrew
nor is it implied. A literal translation for the whole sentence really
should read, "And when men struggle together and strike a pregnant
woman [or wife] and her children come forth, but there is no injury, he
shall certainly be fined, as the husband of the woman shall impose on him,
and he shall give [or pay] in [the presence of] the judges; but if there
shall be an injury, then you shall pay eye for eye, life for life."
- The pro-choice rendering of these verses is not in harmony with the rest
of Scripture or the teaching of the Early Church Fathers. Twice in the
Didache, "The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles," the Exodus
21:22-25 passage is referenced, "Thou shalt not commit murder, thou
shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not commit pederasty, thou shalt not
commit fornication, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not practice
witchcraft, thou shalt not murder a child by abortion nor kill that which is
begotten." ABORTION IS CLEARLY LABELED MURDER IN BOTH SECTIONS.
- As mentioned earlier, the pro-choice position implies the unborn child has
little value or is not a person. Denying the person of Christ was in the
womb from the moment of conception is a denial of the Incarnation. John 1:14
Deny the person of Christ in the flesh at any point, including in the womb,
and one is anti-Christian...opposed to Christ. I John 4:1-4
Two very important points that will cast additional light on this issue need
to be brought to attention:
- While there are technical and historical reasons for the previous
translation, namely the Septuagint and cultural laws which surrounded
ancient Israel, The Lockman Foundation has graciously made a strong decision
to continue providing what many scholars consider to be the best literal
translation by changing the version which was shown at the first of this
article. They should be congratulated for their decision to continue
providing accurate Bibles. The new translation reads:
"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. 23 But if
there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life
for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth
for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25
burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise." Ex. 21:22-25 The
New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, (La Habra,
California: The Lockman Foundation) 1996.
- I have been advised the NCCC has contracted for a light revision of the
Revised Standard Version, which will be released in 2002. This new version
will be named the English Standard Version. The translators have informed me
they have changed the Exodus passage to correct the previous mistranslation.
These two translations join the King James, The New King James, New
International Version, The New Living Version, 1901 American Standard,1890
Darby, Godís Word, and Youngís Literal Translation as placing a high value
on the unborn and providing the correct exegesis. We can expect other
translations to follow by correcting their reading in the not too distant
future. This will not eliminate all abortions, but with the Lordís help it
will guide Christians into setting a higher standard for the world.