Exodus 21:22-25, God gives the following command:

22 כבוְכִֽי־יִנָּצ֣וּ אֲנָשִׁ֗ים וְנָ֨גְפ֜וּ אִשָּׁ֤ה הָרָה֙ וְיָֽצְא֣וּ יְלָדֶ֔יהָ

לֹ֥א יִֽהְיֶ֖ה אָס֑וֹן עָנ֣וֹשׁ יֵֽעָנֵ֗שׁ כַּֽאֲשֶׁ֨ר יָשִׁ֤ית עָלָיו֙ בַּ֣עַל

: הָֽאִשָּׁ֔ה וְנָתַ֖ן בִּפְלִלִֽים

23 : כגוְאִם־אָס֖וֹן יִֽהְיֶ֑ה וְנָֽתַתָּ֥ה נֶ֖פֶשׁ תַּ֥חַת נָֽפֶשׁ

24 כדעַ֚יִן תַּ֣חַת עַ֔יִן שֵׁ֖ן תַּ֣חַת שֵׁ֑ן יָ֚ד תַּ֣חַת יָ֔ד רֶ֖גֶל תַּ֥חַת

: רָֽגֶל:

25 כהכְּוִיָּה֙ תַּ֣חַת כְּוִיָּ֔ה פֶּ֖צַע תַּ֣חַת פָּ֑צַע חַבּוּרָ֕ה תַּ֖חַת

: חַבּוּרָֽה:

Which is commonly translated:

22 “When men fight and hit a pregnant woman, and she gives birth prematurely, but there is no harm, whoever hits her will be fined without fail, as the woman's husband imposes, and will pay as determined by the judges. 23 But if there is damage, you will pay life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, blow for blow.

Exodus 21:22-25

Commonly, this verse has been interpreted as the execution of the one who causes 'harm', referring to death; and that this death refers only to the death of the mother, but not to the death of the fetus, and that therefore, the order to pay only a fine in case the child dies, proves that to GOD the life of a fetus does not have the same value as a human life already born.


1 - The text itself does not specify exactly what the term 'damage' consists of, but it follows that it refers to loss of life, among other damages; by the clause of verse 23 and 24, where it says: "But if there is any other damage, then you will put as punishment, life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth ...", among other problems, provided that the retribution is equivalent to the damage caused, which is more than just death.

2 – Nor does the text assume loss of life of the fetus due to premature birth (וְיָצְא֣וּ יְלָדֶ֔יהָ = Let the baby come out), since literally translating it says:

“And makes the baby come out”, without specifying if he comes out alive or dead; it's just that his exit is triggered by the blow sooner than expected.

Taking these two things into consideration, first, the lack of specific indication that the child must be born dead; and second, the rule of charging life for life if 'there is death', without specifying whose; this mention of 'death' can be taken to refer not only to the mother, but also to the lives of the opponents, including the life of the fetus born prematurely.

This would put the life of the child born prematurely, at the same level of value of every human being, in this case, as well as his mother and father, as well as the life of the attacker. All human life would be protected.

This is how many Jewish elders see it in their interpretation of the passage, such as Philo of Alexandria (Although in a particular way depending on being classified as a fetus and not an embryo, or greater than 40 days of conception, 'Abortion in Judaism', Jewish Encyclopedia); the Spanish Moses Maimonides (Mishneh Torah 2:3; 9:5); and the Tosafot commentaries (Sanhedrin 59a); among others.

So do also other Christian commentators, including Dr Joseph Benson (Bible Commentary Exodus 21:22); Rev. Matthew Pool (Bible Commentary on Exodus 21:22), Rev. John Gill (Expository Commentary of the Bible, Exodus); and Dr Carl Friedrich Keil, among others.


Another objection, even among those who favor the interpretation that protects the prematurely born, is that some, like Philo of Alexandria, make a difference between an embryo and a fetus, since the indistinguishable human form of the embryo does not see it included in the term יְלָדֶ֔יהָ = Baby or Child), and that therefore the death penalty would only apply if the fetus already has a human appearance and is able to survive at birth.

However, there is no Hebrew word for the modern term 'embryo'. When the Bible uses the word יְלָדֶ֔יהָ (Baby), it would be understanding that the person spoken of, is a human baby, no matter what level of development he may be in. An embryo is a human being who is in formation, and will never lead to another type of life except human.



There is no basis to assert that Exodus 21:22 refers only to the loss of the mother's life regardless of the life of the prematurely born child, or of anyone else involved in the strife.

Translations that say such a thing, are not literal translations, but interpretive ones, which add a meaning preconceived by the translator, based on a traditional and non-critical interpretation of the text; and they do not express literally what the text says.

It is compatible with the character of the Creator to protect human life, to whatever degree it may be, whether it is an embryo, a fetus, an infant, a child, a young person, an adult or an elderly person; be this man or woman; be this Jew or Gentile

(Genesis 9:5-6).

Moreover, if God makes a distinction in value between an unborn and a born human being, He would also make a distinction between a baby and a young person, and between an adult and an elderly person; leaving humanity at the level of cattle, whose value is measured not for having been created in the Image and Likeness of God, but only for its purchasing value or potential for work and usefulness.

Omar Flores.