Ask An Evangelical: Abortion and Interpreting Numbers 5

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By Scott McIntyre

Reader question:

I was raised evangelical pro-life Christian. I have been attending the Church at Planned Parenthood as a pro-choice Christian. What ultimately caused my conversion from a spiritual perspective on the topic was reading Numbers 5 where God gives men the option to give their wives an abortion if they think their wife has committed adultery. I have never once heard this passage preached from the pulpit as to what it means and how it reflects the character of God and the topic of abortion in general. Could you speak to how you interpret Numbers 5 and what if any impact it has on the abortion stance in the evangelical community today?

Ask An Evangelical Answer:

As my initial response, I think Numbers 5 tells us about the test used to discover if a married woman has been unfaithful to her husband, and does not deal with, or condone abortion.  Most of that opinion is based on years of Evangelical Christian life so I decided to search Scripture and the internet for corroborating information.

Using BibleGateway.com, I reviewed Numbers 5 in 29 of the more than 50 English Bibles they had available.  Twenty-six of them referred to the test as bringing on a curse to the woman who had been sexually active outside of marriage.  Three indicated any unborn child’s life would come to an end; two used the term ‘miscarriage’ and one said the baby would die.  None of the versions I looked at used the word ‘abortion’ but the fact that children might have died is a big issue and I’ll address that at the end.

Mine was not an exhaustive study, as Wikipedia listed over 80 complete English Bibles and I’m sure many more could be found.  However, the predominant understanding in the versions I researched did not show this passage provided men with a God given option to give their wives an abortion. 

What others have to say:

I was curious what others thought about the chapter and was not surprised by the strong disagreement between the two sides.  Abort73.com, an “online resource designed to creatively and comprehensively educate people about the injustice of abortion…” said in an article, “what we can be sure of is that this passage in no way justifies abortion.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, organized “to promote the constitutional principle of separation of state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism”, took an opposite stance.  In a lengthy article, they laid out “10 biblical episodes and prophecies” including Numbers 5, which “document God’s complete rejection of the anti-abortion crusaders’ claims about the sanctity of life and a divine right to life.”

My views:

My opinion on the passage in question hasn’t changed since my online investigation, though I may have a somewhat less than 100% certainty about my conclusion.  The issue of dying children still exists though and that prompts my final thought on this question…God and mankind are not judged by the same standard.

For starters, if the God of the Bible exists as described, He is perfect in all ways.  Plus, all that exists now and has ever existed in the past, is His in a very unique way.  Without Him, nothing would exist.  Because of His perfection and special creator status, He can do things, and be perfectly justified, that we could never do. 

Consider the flood recorded in Genesis that left only Noah, his wife and three sons, and their wives alive.  The rains which covered the earth could have come 1,656 years after mankind was first created and killed a population upwards of 4 billion people.  If God’s action to cause this event was criminal, it makes all the crimes of history combined, pale by comparison.

Most assuredly, there were many pregnant moms among those killed by the flood, and therefore who knows how many unborn children died in the raging waters.  But, since crime, at its root, is an act of imperfection, if there was no imperfection in God’s behavior, no crime occurred.

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