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Was God Pro-Choice?



Every election year, many Christians (Evangelical and Catholic) gather together to make the issue of abortion a major topic in politics.  They cite the sanctity of life all together and tell how abortion is murder of the unborn.  Many also claim that abortion is impermissible on any grounds because of the Bible, even in cases of rape, incest, or even if a woman’s life is in jeopardy due to complications in a pregnancy.


OK, maybe God being “pro-choice”as the title states might be a bit of an anachronism, but it seems rather clear that in some instances he does sanction abortion or at the very least, permit ways to allow for a woman to have a miscarriage if she’s pregnant due to adultery.


19 Then the priest shall put the woman under oath and say to her, “If no other man has had sexual relations with you and you have not gone astray and become impure while married to your husband, may this bitter water that brings a curse not harm you. 20 But if you have gone astray while married to your husband and you have made yourself impure by having sexual relations with a man other than your husband”— 21 here the priest is to put the woman under this curse—“may the Lord cause you to become a curse[a] among your people when he makes your womb miscarry and your abdomen swell. 22 May this water that brings a curse enter your body so that your abdomen swells or your womb miscarries.”

“‘Then the woman is to say, “Amen. So be it.”

  • Numbers 5: 19-22 (NIV)



The NRSV translates verse 21, “when the LORD makes your uterus drop, your womb discharge”; the NASB translates the same verse as “the LORD make you a curse and an oath among your people by the LORD’s making your thigh waste away and your abdomen swell.”  The word “thigh” here is figurative language for a woman’s “womb” or “uterus” – pretty much the same thing.


The context here is that if a husband suspects (or has a “spirit of jealousy” (v. 14)) his wife to be cheating on him, then he is to report her to the priest and bring her before him.  She is to then drink the “water of bitterness” (not a poison to kill her, but some type of concoction to induce miscarriage if she’s pregnant); if she’s innocent of adultery, then this water will have no effect on her and she won’t be under a curse.  But if she is guilty, then the water will cause her to miscarriage and abort the fetus or baby.  This is sometimes referred to as the “Ordeal of the Bitter Water.”


Notice also in verse 31 that the husband is free from any punishment regardless of whether the woman is guilty or not.  I will not entertain a feminist critique of the patriarchal or male dominant interpretations that might be brought up here.


Some biblical scholars believe verses 23-28 were verses added or redacted later by an editor or compiler as the language repeats itself.


The punishment the woman receives if she’s found guilty is that she loses the capacity to get pregnant.  This is quite harsh in some sense because in Ancient Near Eastern culture during this time, a woman’s value was based on her ability to bear children or sons.


However, in another sense, one can see a bit of mercy within this law in that she is allowed to live and there’s no indication here that she is to be put to death, even if she was guilty of infidelity.  There are other laws that state that a woman is to be stoned if she is caught in adultery.  (Lev 20:10)  Whether she’s put under a curse by God to be infertile or be stoned to death, both are not good deals either way for the woman.


To get a clearer picture, you should read all of it in context from Num 5:11 – 31, or even all of Num 5 for that matter.


You can see a structure within chapter 5 which deals with a movement from more open, obvious sins to the more personal, hidden ones.  For instance, vv. 1 – 4 contain issues of purity in the form of physical marks, then vv. 5 – 10 deals with interpersonal relationships, and then concludes with arguably the most intimate of personal relationships, that of the purity of a man and a woman in their marriage bed.  Fidelity within the marriage is given much attention here.


The main theme of Num 5 concerns the entire encampment where the Israelites are situated at that is treated to be sacred because of the presence of the tabernacle where Yahweh dwells in: “You shall send away both male and female; you shall send them outside the camp so that they will not defile their camp where I dwell in their midst.” (Num 5:3)  Therefore, any impurity (i.e. “uncleanliness”) amongst individuals must be kept outside the camp in order to preserve God’s holiness.  Lepers, those who had bodily discharge, or had contact with a corpse were therefore to be kept outside the sacred space where God resided.  This is the main thrust of the entire chapter, not necessarily  fidelity within marriage, but really about honoring or dishonoring the presence and holiness of God.


It seems clear here that preserving his holy name is more important than the sanctity of life of an unborn baby.


I wonder why many Evangelicals, conservatives, or Catholics, many of whom hold the Bible to be the literal Word of God would not be cognizant of such  verses.  A rebuttal might be that since we are in the New Covenant under Jesus Christ now, we are therefore no longer under the law and no longer have to abide by it.  However, one response against that is that Christian conservatives and fundamentalists still use the Old Testament laws to hold against homosexuals and to uphold the subjugation of women; in other words, they will cherry-pick verses that suite their agenda – an all too common tactic many are familiar with.


At the very least, you should address this and be consistent in your use and interpretation of the Bible.




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