Does God sanction abortion in Numbers 5:17? I’ve often said that I prefer to make pro-life arguments using science and philosophy rather than the Bible. While I think a powerful argument can be made using the Bible, I prefer to use the method above. The main reason I do this is, it catches people off guard. There is a false assumption that ALL pro-life arguments are religious ones.
I’ve seen several interesting arguments for the pro-choice position made from the Bible. It’s not a place most pro-choice people will go. If they use the Bible at all, it is mostly to put forward an argument from silence. “Jesus never said anything about abortion” is the most common argument made from the Bible. But I recently heard an argument I had never run across before. And it comes from the Old Testament.
A Pro-Choice Argument From The Old Testament
As I said, recently I had someone present a pro-choice argument from the book of Numbers. It’s a fairly long passage encompassing Numbers 5:17-28. The passage has to do with an Israelite woman suspected of adulty by her husband.
The Mosaic law required a witness to validate the charge of adultery if both parties denied infidelity. If there was suspected adultery, but no witness, there was a problem. These verses describe what the process is for determining if the Israelite wife was innocent or guilty in cases of suspected adultery.
The priests would make a potion of water and dust from the floor of the temple. They would then put a curse on the potion. The woman was supposed to drink the potion. If she was innocent, nothing would happen to her. If she was guilty, the potion and curse would “Cause her belly to swell, her thighs rot, and she will become a curse to her people”.
What Do We Make Of This?
The contention made by pro-abortion choice advocates is that this is an argument that God is either ok with, or actively participating in abortion. But is this the case?
Frist, we need to understand that the passage here has nothing to do with abortion. It is a test to judge fidelity in a marriage. This is not an endorsement of abortion on demand.
Second, there is no clear indication that abortion is what is taking place with this curse. First, just because infidelity has taken place, it doesn’t necessarily result in pregnancy. So the physical results of the curse would not necessarily result in the loss of a child.
Thirdly, we have to understand how the Israelites understood this curse. To them, the worst part of the curse was that the woman would be unable to bear children going forward. In this society, children were considered a blessing. A woman that was unable to bear children would have been a seen as undesirable. So far from showing a disregard for the unborn, this passage highlights how important and valued children actually were.
As we close out our look at Numbers 5:17, we have to acknowledge that this passage sounds strange to modern ears. Magic potions? Curses? All this is in the Bible? All of this has to be understood in context. A woman that had actually committed adultery would be very unlikely to drink this potion and risk not being able to bear children. She would most likely refuse to drink it because the consequences were so severe.
Lastly, even if this is an indication of God causing the end of a pregnancy, this in no way justifies abortion on demand. God is the author of life, and is justified in taking it at his discretion. We, on the other hand, do not have the option of taking life without proper justification.
So no, Numbers 5 is not an indorsement of abortion on demand. It is a process for determining fidelity within a marriage. I hope this helps you navigate this somewhat unique, but ultimately invalid argument in favor of abortion.
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