Debunking Lies About the Bible (Part 8): God’s ‘Abortion’ Potion
On one occasion, while visiting Ohio State University, Ravi Zacharias consented to an open forum broadcast on a radio talk show. The host was an atheist, and throughout most of the program, the callers were antagonistic. “I could feel the tension as soon as the lines lit up,” Zacharias stated, “one angry female caller said, ‘All you people have an agenda you’re trying to promote.’ Referring to abortion, she said, ‘You want to take away our rights and invade our private lives.’”
Abortion had never been brought up during the radio interview, but this woman knew about Zacharias’ biblical worldview so she immediately went on the offense.
“Just a minute,” Zacharias replied, “we didn’t even raise the subject.”
“Okay,” she demanded, “what is your position on abortion then?”
Zacharias responded, “Can I ask you a question? On every university campus I visit, somebody stands up and says that God is an evil God to allow all this evil in our world. The person also typically says, ‘A plane crashes: 30 people die, and 20 people live. What kind of God would arbitrarily choose some to live and some to die?’” Ravi continued, “But when people play God and determine whether a child within a mother’s womb should live, they argue for that as a moral right. So, when human beings are given the privilege of playing God, it’s called a moral right. When God plays God, we call it an immoral act. Can you justify this for me?”
There was dead silence on the other end of the line. With Zacharias’ very insightful point having been made, the caller abruptly hung up and the conversation came to an end.
As our society has imprudently and dangerously engaged in the philosophical demotion of God and the deification of man, abortion has been ominously elevated to the euphemistic status of a “reproductive right” or a “women’s health issue.” Through one monumentally ruinous role reversal and the misguided legitimization of an anthropocentric worldview, the left-wing radicals have attempted to consecrate the barbarity and butchery of baby dismemberment as a sacrament of the “religion” of liberalism.
In opposition to this unspeakable evil, true Christians have dedicated their lives to resisting and ending the senseless slaughter of the unborn. This is the issue of our time, and we must defend preborn babies or become complicit in the carnage, which has long ago reached holocaustal proportions. We passionately champion innocent life because without personal existence, nothing else matters.
However, one of the strangest and most untenable claims that I have ever encountered is the idea that God somehow endorses abortion in the Old Testament. My numerous jaunts (as in, debates and discussions) into the dark underbelly of the anti-God (and pro-abortion, pro-“gay”) subculture have turned out to be quite “enlightening” experiences, to say the very least. In my wildest imaginations, I never could have dreamt up many of the contemptible surmises and slurs that are often viciously hurled at God and his pure and precious Word. If “iron sharpens iron” (meaning, believers sharpening one another’s skills and knowledge) (Prov. 27:17), then I must also admit that my “grinding wheel” encounters with liberal lunacy have ironically benefited me as well. These interactions have challenged me to engage in greater preparation and deeper study of the Bible. Furthermore, I have also been compelled to intensify my study of science (biology, geology, cosmology, etc.), history, linguistics, archaeology, culture, apologetics and any other kind of background information that might in any way be relevant to understanding and confirming the Holy Scriptures. In any event, these verbal sparring matches have often proven to be quite useful, enabling Christians to fine-tune their arguments, defend the truth of God’s Word and buttress Biblical beliefs.
How then have liberals managed to twist the Bible this time? Where in the Bible does God supposedly sanction the ghastly and uncivilized practice of infanticide?
Before answering that question, let’s first consider several other Old Testament scriptures that strongly affirm the infinite and intrinsic value of human life. First, we turn to those passages that forbid the evil of child sacrifice. These citations are particularly relevant since certain segments of our society currently extol the horrid culture of death, in which prenatal human life is callously sacrificed on the altar of convenience, self-interest and hedonism.
Lev. 18:21 Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molek, for you must not profane the name of your God. I am the Lord.
Lev. 20:2-5 Say to the Israelites: ‘Any Israelite or any foreigner residing in Israel who sacrifices any of his children to Molek is to be put to death. The members of the community are to stone him. I myself will set my face against him and will cut him off from his people; for by sacrificing his children to Molek, he has defiled my sanctuary and profaned my holy name. If the members of the community close their eyes when that man sacrifices one of his children to Molek and if they fail to put him to death, I myself will set my face against him and his family and will cut them off from their people together with all who follow him in prostituting themselves to Molek.
Deut. 12:31 You must not worship the Lord your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the Lord hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods.
Deut. 18:10 Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire.
For those that might point to incidents such as the account of Mesha, the king of Moab, who sacrificed his firstborn son on the wall of Kir Hareseth (2 Kings 3), we must first remember that this gruesome act was not commanded or commended by God in any way. Neither was this slaughter performed by a member of the Israelite community, but by a godless pagan ruler. The outbreak of “fury against Israel,” which followed Mesha’s filicide and eventually led to Israel’s withdrawal from Kir Hareseth, must never be understood as God’s favorable intervention on Moab’s behalf. As Paul Copan, professor of philosophy and ethics at Palm Beach Atlantic University, explains, “The word for ‘fury’ or ‘wrath’ (qetseph) isn’t divine wrath. Elsewhere in 2 Kings, a cognate word (coming from the same root as qetseph) clearly refers to human fury (5:11; 13:19).” In other words, Mesha’s desperate action stirred the wrath of the Moabite men to greater intensity and ferocity in their battle with Israel; thus, repelling them from their city in defeat. It is also possible that Israel may have fled as a direct result of their superstitious fears prompted by Mesha’s vile, murderous actions. Moreover, this erroneous viewpoint — that God condones child sacrifice — is completely contrary to the biblical repudiation of the practice in the book of 2 Kings itself (2 Kings 16:3, 17:7, 21:6).
Although some critics are quick to point to the account of God’s command for Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, the fact remains that God miraculously and opportunely intervened in this case; not one drop of blood was actually spilled, nor was there any chance of such a thing ever happening. Moreover, this biblical episode was clearly described as a test of Abraham’s faith. And Abraham did not have the benefit of knowing any of the aforementioned scriptures because they wouldn’t be written until centuries later. Those hostile to the Bible have unfortunately chosen to view this incident as the conduct of an abusive father and a masochistic God, instead of the amazing demonstration of trust that it really was.
While it is true that none of the above scriptural examples specifically refer to abortion per se, but Exodus 1:15-22 does, in fact, provide divine guidance with regards to any human-caused termination of a pregnancy prior to the infant being fully delivered. This passage describes the civil disobedience of the Hebrew midwives Shiphrah and Puah who “feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live” (vs. 16). These two brave women were commanded to mercilessly kill all of the Hebrew baby boys at the behest of the most powerful leader on the face of the earth at the time, the Pharaoh of Egypt, but in defiance, they instead acted in contravention of the infanticidal edict and spared all of the male babies. When asked by Pharaoh to account for their actions, the midwives responded with a less-than-honest explanation about the “vigor” of the Jewish women who gave “birth before” they were able to perform their heartless deed (vs. 19). As a result, the paranoid, blood-thirsty Pharaoh altered his instructions and commanded the midwives to throw every boy “that is born” into the Nile. In other words, the women were initially ordered to murder the Hebrew babies before they were born (and without the mothers realizing what had happened) in some sort of breech birth, early form of the macabre procedure known today as partial birth abortion, but the midwives defended themselves by claiming that they were repeatedly arriving too late — after the child(ren) had already been born. When this initial plan failed to achieve Pharaoh’s evil designs, he ordered that the male newborns be terminated after they were born via the ruthless method of drowning. The Bible says nothing further concerning the actions of the midwives. Presumably, Shiprah and Puah likewise disobeyed Pharaoh’s revised orders since they were ultimately commended for their insubordination and blessed by God with families of their own for their temerity in the face of Pharaoh’s insidious instructions (vss. 20-21). Without fully realizing it, these two courageous women provided a vivid illustration of Prov. 24:11 (“Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter”) and Prov. 31:8 (“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.“). Shiphrah and Puah not only saved countless lives, but they also quite literally altered the course of Jewish history. Christians are likewise called to be the voice of the voiceless, and this is especially the case when it comes to the unborn so long as the scourge of abortion remains legal.
Psalm 139:13-16 also states “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
The immediately preceding text contains a profound statement about the exquisite design, intricate complexity and elegant formation of all human life, which bears the fingerprint and imprimatur of our Creator par excellence. Innocent babies are described as “wonderfully made” and “knit … together” in the womb by, and under the watchful care of, an all-compassionate God. For this reason, an unformed infant is divinely imbued with infinite, intrinsic value at every stage of development. All human life is clearly described as a precious and sacred gift from God, not something to be callously dismembered and discarded through the butchery of abortion. From conception to natural death, cold-blooded murder has always represented an egregious violation of the moral law (Ex. 20:13) and a treacherous usurpation of divine sovereignty (Deut. 32:39). God alone is the giver and taker of life (1 Sam. 2:6). Since humanity is stunningly created in the image of God, murder is therefore considered an indirect attack upon our Heavenly Father (Gen. 1:27, 9:6), which explains exactly why the Bible mandates the death penalty for anyone who caused the premature death of a child (Ex. 21:22-24).
We now arrive at the primary text of this column—Numbers 5:11-31
In summary, this passage describes a ritual test for marital fidelity. Absent any eyewitnesses (Deut. 17:6-7), except for the “witness” of jealousy, a husband who suspected his wife of marital infidelity was instructed to follow the specific procedure as outlined in Numbers 5.
In other Near Eastern cultures, marital unfaithfulness or even the pangs of jealousy would usually result in the precipitous death of a guilty or even an innocent wife. The procedure outlined in this passage is far from ideal, but it represented a marked improvement from the typical consequence. To 20th Century ears, this Scripture passage most certainly sounds like a very strange instruction. However, without a “Maury Povich” to rush in with a paternity test or a “Dr. Phil” to administer a lie detector test, this was a ritual merely intended to put to rest the jealousy of a paranoid husband, alleviate volatile tensions within the home, and protect a woman from the potential repercussions of misguided accusations. As stated in Part 4 (Slavery in the Old Testament), many of the Old Testament laws represented incremental progress, redemptive movement, and monumental steps towards the ideal. Therefore, since modern scientific methods were unavailable and the execution of a wrongly accused wife was absolutely unacceptable, this ceremonial test embodied a tremendous cultural improvement; one which quite literally meant life for an innocent Jewish women living under the Mosaic Law system.
More to the point, there is absolutely no indication whatsoever — not even a hint — that the accused woman in this passage was actually pregnant. Pregnancy is simply in the mind of the scheming skeptic who is desperate to find some trace of non-existent evidence indicating that the Bible is supportive of infanticide. The only thing explicitly stated in this text is that the wife may have been unfaithful to her husband; there is nothing at all indicating that the conception of a child had indeed occurred as a result. In fact, the entire reason for the establishment of this peculiar ritual is based upon the reality that there was no other way – including no pregnancy – to determine the concrete details of the case and potentially allay an insecure husband’s feelings of jealousy and suspicion. There is also no description of a miscarriage for the woman found guilty of adultery. With regards to the affect area of her anatomy, the text merely indicates a bloating of the abdomen (vss. 21, 27). According to many Biblical scholars, the figurative Hebrew language employed in these verses speaks of infertility or more specifically, a womb that is no longer able to carry a fetus to full term. This understanding is further verified in verse 28, which states that an acquitted wife would be rewarded by remaining able to bear children.
The test for marital fidelity was also to be performed under the watchful eye of the priest. It was not to be employed by a capricious, sadistic husband or a malevolent mob (reminiscent of what occurred centuries later in John 8:1-11). This law was aimed at counteracting the vigilante justice that was prevalent in the blood vengeance cultures of that era. The protective nature of this ritual is similar to what was done through the designation of six Cities of Refuge to which individuals who were guilty of involuntary manslaughter could flee from the “avenger of blood” (Numb. 35:6-34).
The “bitter water that brings a curse” was nothing at all like the RU-486 abortifacient or any other similarly toxic chemical. The mixture that the woman was required to drink was merely a harmless water solution with a dash of dust from the tabernacle floor and some ink (soot or charcoal/gum resin compound) washed from the scroll containing the curses (vss. 17, 23). If anything injurious transpired as a result of consuming this potion, it certainly would not have been caused by the liquid itself. Rather, any physical consequences suffered by the woman (thigh wasting away or abdomen swelling – vs. 21) would be the direct result of a supernatural sign, which indicated guilt. This is further demonstrated by the fact that a woman “cleared of guilt” would experience no adverse effects and “be able to have children” (vs. 28). If this text was referring strictly to a chemically lethal concoction for a fetus, then physical harm would have occurred without exception or with something extremely close to one hundred percent precision. The harm in every instance would likewise befall both mother and child since it was orally ingested. Finally, for the sake of argument (without actually conceding the point), even if the potion of Numbers 5 did contain abortifacient properties, the implementation and ultimate results were completely under divine authority, which clearly upholds the Word of God’s foundational principle that all life and death decisions remain solely the prerogative of God.
The specific method for carrying out this ritual test was also ordered in such a way as to prompt stress or other physiological/psychological responses — like those measured by a polygraph — that could prompt a confession prior to completion of the ceremony. With several examples of swift, divine justice being executed upon other violators of the Mosaic Law, it’s easy to understand how this process could quickly instill fear and motivate a person to admit to their sin (Lev. 10; Num. 11:1-3, 12, 16, 21:4-9, 25). Furthermore, if there were two or three witnesses (Deut. 17:6-7), this ceremony was not applicable and forbidden from being implemented.
Scholars have often compared Numbers 5 with the “the River Ordeal,” which was practiced by other ancient Near Eastern cultures (Babylon, Assyria, Sumer) as a means of determining guilt or innocence. In this ritual, the accused would be thrown into a bitumen well (natural petroleum tar used for sealants and mortar for bricks). The innocent would escape their deadly fate by being “spat out” by the god Id (meaning “river”), but the guilty would be overcome by the noxious fumes and heat. Obviously, this drastic measure was always lethal and considerably more dreadful to any witnesses. By contrast, a little dirty water seems quite merciful and epitomizes a very significant legal advancement for dealing with a common problem.
Ultimately, the outcome of the Numbers 5 procedure would either be the full exoneration (“cleared of guilt” – vs. 28) of an innocent woman or the unpleasant health consequences for an adulterous wife (vs. 21). We should also take special note of the fact that the guilty woman’s punishment did not include death, but most likely infertility. So, contrary to popular belief, adultery did not always warrant a death sentence; there was a more merciful alternative. However, the personal pain, shame, and loss associated with barrenness in that cultural setting was considered a penalty of inestimable proportions.
The invoking of this obscure ritual also entailed the incurring of a financial expense for the suspicious husband (“a tenth of an ephah of barley four” – vs. 15), and in the case of her acquittal, the man would have had to face the shame of her very public vindication. In shame/honor cultures, this was considered a serious repercussion and an endangerment to a man’s sacred reputation and social standing; therefore, it is quite safe to assume that this ritual was rarely, if ever, performed. As a matter of fact, there are no recorded incidents of this test for marital infidelity ever being conducted in the Old Testament. It is also worthwhile to note that the Torah Law likewise contained an even more stringent deterrent against making similar unfounded accusations against a newlywed Jewish bride. In Deut. 22:13-19, a husband, who wrongfully attempted to give “an Israelite virgin a bad name” by falsely claiming that she had committed fornication with another man prior to the consummation of their marriage, was to be punished with a monetary fine of a hundred shekels of silver (v. 19) (See Part 6 in this series for a thorough explanation of the full extent of the economic impact associated with this financial penalty). The husband in question was also prohibited from ever being able to divorce the wife whom he had tried to defame (v. 19). This supplementary stipulation was designed to prevent any rash and baseless charges of premarital sexual indiscretion from being leveled against virgin maidens. For God took great exception to those men who unjustifiably tarnished the reputation of the female members of the Jewish population, who were supposed to be treated with the utmost of respect and dignity.
It should further be stated that whenever adultery, or any sin for that matter, is committed, God views it as a serious offense and a violation of His moral standards. Consequently, such sinful behavior deserves the Lord’s righteous judgment, which will ultimately be meted out upon the unrepentant at death or vicariously upon the crucified and resurrected Christ for those who have received the free gift of salvation by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8-9).
Some Bible scholars, such as Paul Copan, also believe that the Numbers 5 instructions could also be applied by a suspicious wife to her possibly unfaithful husband. As he writes, “Before and after this passage, the legislation concerns both men and women: ‘Israelites’ (Num. 5:2), “any man or woman” (Num. 5:6), “a man or a woman” (Num. 6:2). It wasn’t just the husband’s prerogative to call for this special trial; the wife could as well.”
The primary purpose of this ritual was to reveal and punish actual transgressions of the Mosaic provisions requiring moral, sexual purity within the community (vss. 11-14a). Under a theocracy, the gravity of this situation also concerned the entire nation of Israel, which would be adversely impacted by any breach of the covenant as well. Of course, this guideline, like any other past or present, could be abused, but that does not negate the original intent of such a ritual provision.
One additional thought regarding a related text — Leviticus 27:1-8 — as it concerns the sanctity of human life issue. In this text, Moses described the presentation of “a special vow to dedicate a person to the Lord” by establishing an “equivalent value.” In other words, an individual could offer their lives in service to the Lord, and then redeem (purchase their freedom from the vow) by offering a certain sum of shekels that corresponded to the estimated value of each person’s services. The monetary contribution would then be utilized in the maintenance of the temporary tabernacle and the future, permanent Temple edifice. The question, however, centers around the fact that this passage stipulates lower financial apportionments for women, children and the elderly.
Many rabid Bible critics have grossly distorted this passage to mean that God places a lower value on certain people. Admittedly, there are many who find it very hard to read about someone being “worth less” than men, without assuming that they are also “worthless.” First of all, this assumption can only be true if we associate human worth with monetary value. Second, the range of assessments in Leviticus 27 is very similar to today’s practice of providing reduced rates for children at most movie theaters/amusement parks or offering a senior discount at your typical restaurant. Third, those who misunderstand this scripture are confused about the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic value. Intrinsic value is a philosophical property or worth that someone or something has “for its own sake” or “in itself.” Intrinsic value is innate, immutable (non-variable), underived and not calculated by any external or utilitarian measurements, and God has granted human life an intrinsic value that is infinite in nature. However, extrinsic value is derivative; that is: it is derived from some quantitative measurement. For example, the extrinsic values in Leviticus 27:1-8 were determined by the estimated labor output of an individual who dedicated themselves to serve in the tabernacle or Temple. Likewise, a lower price for certain customers (young, elderly) at any of our modern day restaurants is at least somewhat determined by the smaller quantities of food that are typically consumed by such individuals. Fourth, sometimes a lower cost (as in the case of an amusement park entrance fee) is merely granted as an economic courtesy, group rate enticement or a financial cost savings benefit for families with children or senior citizens living on a fixed income. Therefore, what appears at first glance to be a negative aspect of Leviticus 27, actually turns out to be a divine, gracious concession intended to provide economic relief to the residents of Israel. As prescribed in this biblical citation, the priest retained the discretionary right to grant any discounts based upon what the person “making the vow can afford” if they are “too poor to pay” the standard charge (vs. 8). Far from being a derogatory statement about non-males, this provision from the Word of God compassionately makes specific allowances for the less fortunate or the vulnerable among the Hebrew community.
In this battle for truth, we absolutely need to be armed to the teeth. Many an ill-equiped culture warrior has been sent scurrying home with their proverbial “tail between their legs.” Just like the Devil in Matthew Chapter 4 or the cult member who inconveniently knocks on the front door of our homes while our family is gathered around the dinner table, many of the uber-leftists, secularists, God-haters, and perversity-pushers also know what they believe, and they have a ready arsenal of twisted talking points (and that sadly includes numerous contorted interpretations of Scripture) at their disposal. Therefore, we need to be prepared to counter all such falsehoods. The Apostle Paul powerfully expressed the ideal when he wrote, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). That has been, and will continue to be, the primary purpose of every installment in this “Debunking” series — to share what I’ve learned during my pursuit and proclamation of the truth so as to equip and fortify the saints against the onslaught of blasphemy and depravity that will ultimately leave very few unscathed. And hopefully along the way, God will use each of us in some special and unique way to rescue many of the sin-deceived and spiritually lost. The goal of the Christian life is quite simple: To get to heaven and take as many people with us as we possibly can.
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