written by Aaron Brake
Receiving your news and information from late night television, comedy shows, or internet political commentary can often leave you misinformed, especially when hosts address topics in which they have no expertise. Such is the case in this video where Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks offers his thoughts on the Bible and abortion and attempts to make the case that God is pro-abortion:
How should Christian pro-life advocates respond? Cenk needs to be corrected on several points.
First, Cenk begins by writing off the scientific evidence that a genetically distinct, living, and whole human being comes into existence at conception. The question of “when life begins” has been settled for decades thanks to the science of embryology. To quote just a few experts in the field,
Human life begins at fertilization, the process during which a male gamete or sperm (spermatozoo developmentn) unites with a female gamete or oocyte (ovum) to form a single cell called a zygote. This highly specialized, totipotent cell marked the beginning of each of us as a unique individual. (and) A zygote is the beginning of a new human being (i.e., an embryo).”
“Although life is a continuous process, fertilization… is a critical landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new genetically distinct human organism is formed when the chromosomes of the male and female pronuclei blend in the oocyte.”
“The development of a human being begins with fertilization, a process by which two highly specialized cells, the spermatozoon from the male and the oocyte from the female, unite to give rise to a new organism, the zygote.”
You can read 40 similar quotes from medical experts in this article who reach the same conclusion.
Despite the evidence, Cenk says the view that life begins at conception is based solely on religion. Why? Because this allows him to dismiss the view as “religious” which further justifies his refusal and inability to interact with the evidence. Not only is this wrong, but it is intellectually lazy. Secular pro-life advocates use the same evidence and argumentation in making a case for the pro-life view, and their analysis certainly cannot be labeled “religious.”
Second, moving from science to the biblical text, there is no indication in this passage that the woman is pregnant. This test of faithfulness is a general test applied when a husband suspects his wife has been unfaithful, with no mention of pregnancy being made. In fact the passage specifically says that the husband has a mere suspicion with no evidence or witnesses, seemingly ruling out a visible, noticeable pregnancy:
If a man lies with her sexually, and it is hidden from the eyes of her husband, and she is undetected though she has defiled herself, and there is no witness against her, since she was not taken in the act (v. 13).
Again, there are no witnesses to testify against this woman, the act of adultery was hidden from the eyes of her husband, and she has remained undetected. Pregnancy from adultery would not go unnoticed or undetected, and so pregnancy resulting from this act seems to be precluded in this scenario.
One could respond to this by saying that perhaps the passage is referring to future pregnancies of the unfaithful woman that will ultimately result in miscarriage. This brings us to our next point.
Third, Cenk Uygur quotes from a very specific Bible translation. Why? Because this is the only translation that uses the word “miscarry” when interpreting this passage. In other words, this translation fits his narrative. He quotes from the 2011 NIV translation which uses the word “miscarry” twice in Numbers 5 verses 21 and 27:
Here the priest is to put the woman under this curse—“may the LORD cause you to become a curse among your people when he makes your womb miscarry and your abdomen swell. (v. 21)
If she has made herself impure and been unfaithful to her husband, this will be the result: When she is made to drink the water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering, it will enter her, her abdomen will swell and her womb will miscarry, and she will become a curse. (v. 27)
Interestingly, not even the 1984 NIV translation translates the verse this way. This seems to be a change made specifically in the 2011 edition. Every other reliable translation I examined including the NASB, KJV, NKJV, HCSB, RSV and ESV, all translate the verse similar to this:
Then’ (let the priest make the woman take the oath of the curse, and say to the woman) ‘the LORD make you a curse and an oath among your people, when the LORD makes your thigh fall away and your body swell. (v. 21 ESV)
And when he has made her drink the water, then, if she has defiled herself and has broken faith with her husband, the water that brings the curse shall enter into her and cause bitter pain, and her womb shall swell, and her thigh shall fall away, and the woman shall become a curse among her people. (v. 27 ESV)
The more literal interpretation for the phrase in question is “your thigh fall away.” So is the translation “your womb miscarry” an accurate interpretation for “your thigh fall away”? This brings us to our next point.
Fourth, looking at the context of the passage, a strong case can be made that miscarriage is not in view but rather barrenness or the inability to have children (sterility). Notice there is a contrast being made in this passage between barrenness and fertility in verses 27 and 28:
And when he has made her drink the water, then, if she has defiled herself and has broken faith with her husband, the water that brings the curse shall enter into her and cause bitter pain, and her womb shall swell, and her thigh shall fall away, and the woman shall become a curse among her people. But if the woman has not defiled herself and is clean, then she shall be free and shall conceive children.
To reiterate, if the woman is guilty of wrongdoing, “her womb shall swell, and her thigh shall fall away” but if she is innocent “she shall be free and shall conceive children.” The opposing consequences based on guilt or innocence make sense if what is being contrasted is sterility with fertility, or the inability and ability to have children. The case becomes stronger when we consider that throughout the Old Testament barrenness is considered a curse (e.g. Gen. 20:17-18; 30:1, 22-23) and children are considered a blessing (Gen. 17:6; 33:5; Ps. 113:9; 127:3-5). The “curse” then that the water brings is the curse of barrenness or sterility which is hermeneutically consistent with the rest of the Old Testament. Roy Gane agrees in his commentary on the book of Numbers. Referring to this passage, he states,
The former, in which “thigh” apparently connotes reproductive organs (cf. Gen. 24:2, 9), can be taken to imply sterility and may refer to a prolapsed uterus. H.C. Brichto suggests that abdominal swelling indicates a state “known to the layman as ‘false pregnancy.’ This condition…is featured by distended belly, cessation of the menses and incapacity to conceive.”
While scholars have not agreed on the gynecological implications of the Hebrew terminology, they sound painful and clearly cause sterility (contrast 5:28). So the conditional imprecation, to which a suspected woman must assent by saying ’amen, ’amen (5:22), specifies outcomes that any Israelite woman dreads: social stigma, physical suffering, and inability to bear children.
In summary, Cenk has failed to make his case that God is pro-abortion based on the biblical data. First, there is no indication that the woman in this scenario is pregnant. Second, Cenk must rely on a questionable interpretation of the text in order for his view to hold water. Third, a strong contextual case can be made that sterility or barrenness is being spoken of, not necessarily miscarriage.
Finally, we can ask the question, “So what?” Let us suppose Cenk is correct in his interpretation and that the judgment from God on the adulterous woman is miscarriage. What follows from that?
Does it follow that abortion on demand is morally permissible? No. As Francis Beckwith points out, attempting to argue for abortion on demand due to hard cases or special circumstances “is like trying to argue for the elimination of traffic laws from the fact that one might have to violate some of them in rare circumstances, such as when one’s spouse or child needs to be rushed to the hospital.”
Does it follow that elective abortion is permissible in special circumstances such as adultery? No. The fact that God in His judgment takes life doesn’t give human beings the prerogative to do likewise. This is seen throughout both the Old and New Testaments. As Clinton Wilcox states, “Peter pronounced a curse on Ananias and Sapphira because they lied to the Holy Spirit, and God struck them dead. It doesn’t follow that we are justified in killing someone for lying. God is the giver of life, and only he is uniquely qualified to take it.”
Does it even follow that God is pro-abortion? No. Again Clinton Wilcox points out that “an abortion really isn’t in view here…children were a blessing to Jewish women. A barren woman was seen as cursed. This curse was not meant to abort a child. Rather, it was meant to show guilt. A woman who had not committed adultery would gladly redeem herself by drinking the water. A woman who had committed adultery would not agree to drinking the water, and therefore guilt could be determined.”
 Keith L. Moore, The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology, 7th ed., pp. 16, 2.
 Ronan O’Rahilly and Fabiola Miller, Human Embryology and Teratology, 3rd ed., p. 8.
 Jan Langman, Medical Embryology. 3rd ed., p. 3.
 Roy Gane, The NIV Application Commentary: Leviticus and Numbers, 523-524.
 Beckwith, Defending Life, 105.
 Clinton Wilcox, Does the Bible Justify Abortion?, found at http://christianapologeticsalliance.com/2012/10/30/does-the-bible-justify-abortion/