It is commonplace to see science at odds with religion. There is certainly a place for this, but, from what we know from medical science about conception, it seems that an Old Testament text from Exodus 21:22 – 23 harmonizes neatly. What I am investigating here is twofold: (1) what does this OT text say as applied to abortion and does this accord with science, and (2) if we do not accept this scientific or Old Testament framework for life as it relates to abortion, who will decide when life begin? I do not think these are novel ideas, but they are worthy of revisiting given the severity of the topics of ‘life,’ ‘abortion,’ and ‘god-like decider of when life begins.’

Revisiting the abortion discussion, the Old Testament Law, antiquated and obscure as it sometimes feels, offers insight even on such a modern issue. The text states:

“If men are fighting and they strike a pregnant woman resulting in her child(ren) coming out and no harm occurred, he {the man who struck the woman} will be punished with a fine as what the husband of the woman sets, and he will give it in accord with the judges. If, however, harm occurred to the child(ren) then you shall give life in place of life . . .. (translation mine from the Masoretic Text, Hebrew OT)”

Exodus 21:22 – 23

The text goes on the added refrain, “eye for eye, hand in place of hand,” etc.  The harm done to the child is born out of human conflict and violence. The abortion of these child(ren) is the outgrowth of misplaced violence, the arbitrary overflow of men fighting onto the pregnant woman. That the text calls the pre-born “children” decidedly marks them as part of the family; they are not merely human and they certainly are not something less than human. When do babies start to take humanoid physical form? The text begins forcefully with calling for ‘life for life’ or literally ‘soul for soul’ if the baby is “aborted” through this violence resulting in the baby’s death. A baby takes humanoid form as early as 4 weeks, which is often prior to a woman knowing she is pregnant.

Perhaps more importantly is the use of the word, “soul,” which is nefesh in Hebrew. Soul is not some immaterial of the human (that was Plato’s view); in the OT, it is the distinguishing marker of life. ‘Soul’ is used to show that something lives, that what was once life-less is now animate, that real vitality is part of it now. God in Genesis 2, breathes the breath of life into the pre-formed man and man became a living ‘soul.’ Before moving forward, we should juxtapose this notion of ‘soul’ with the legal court’s notion of ‘viability’ that is so central to the issue of abortion in the United States.

‘Viability’ in this abortion conflict means “the time at which the fetus can live on its own outside the womb” and is notoriously vague, leading to the big question of why so vague a term would be used to determine something so sacred as human life. Does it mean viable with tech helping the baby or does it mean able to feed himself or herself? Up until June 24th, 2022, the Supreme Court let stand the notion that viability was set at 24 weeks although I do not know the full history on the develop of this term and concept. Now that Roe v. Wade is overturned, we are seeing viability situated in different States around a number of new spots, like the appearance of the heartbeat. I want to return to the OT text’s usage of nefesh, or ‘soul.’

The OT law sees this pre-born life as a nefesh, a soul. If the baby is harmed to the point of death, it takes another nefesh as payment for the loss of this baby’s nefesh, “soul in place of soul.” When does the accountability for the life of the baby inside the pregnant woman begin in this Old Testament text? The immediate answer is when it is discerned that the woman is pregnant and that the baby is forced out of the woman apart from the natural progress of pregnancy and birth. We must do some recontextualization to move from ancient time’s medical and physiological knowledge to modern day: that a woman was pregnant in the ancient world can be indicated in several ways: nausea, odor of urine, and obviously missing a menstrual cycle. Many of these can be discerned in the first few days. The OT text’s emphasis on parts of the baby’s body being harmed is also suggestive of the earliest weeks of pregnancy since humanoid form takes place during the end of the first month of pregnancy. With this said, knowledge of being pregnant even in the ancient world could happen very early on for the discerning or careful observer. It is little different today; someone might be very attuned to her body and notice differences. There are pregnancy tests that have an assorted range of accuracy if someone wants to attend to her body with extra attention. With all this said, in this OT text, accountability for the baby’s life comes virtually at the time of conception, with a range of deviation for the careful versus careless observer. If a woman knew she was pregnant, even if not showing, and she is struck resulting in a miscarriage, the soul of that baby would require the soul of the man who struck her as recompense: “life for life, soul for soul.”

In summary, ‘viability’ has little value except to provide human governments the god-like ability to declare when human life begins. This OT text accords better with science than any of these laws built around ‘viability.’ Why would we have any interest, religious people or not, in the government having a de facto position to determine when human life begins. Frankly, it is a hellish proposition, and we have seen hell rise as a result: baby parts’ market, massive pharmaceutical research and development using these parts, dismembered babies stored in the baby parts warehouse at the University of Pittsburgh, or even a generation of women viewing babies as an infringement of their freedom instead of the miracle a baby is. Conception is the moment of actualized and perpetuated union, between a man and woman, resulting in a new life, a new soul. The OT text intimates that people are accountable for that baby’s life as soon as their discernment realizes that the baby lives. The resulting death of a pre-born baby from external, unnatural force applied to the mother required the death of another person, ‘soul for soul.’ Abortion should therefore be banned in all States since a mother seeking an abortion has knowledge of her baby’s existence and thus is accountable for that baby’s life. Whatever humanizing we do to limit the consequences for killing one’s own baby (I am ambivalent about this), that they are accountable must be implied in the consequences by being severe enough to communicate that someone is acting as a murderer.

Dr. Scalise