Ok so this is super controversial. First there is the opinion from Finny Kuruvilla at http://www.watchmangospelsigns.com/ (which is rather well thought out) that divorce is permitted but only in extreme circumstances and remarriage is forbidden in all circumstances:
I endorse Finny’s critique of the literal Erasmian interpretation which I think has multiple problems. However, there are a few problems I have with Finny’s view:
1. To hold Finny’s view you need to interpret Deuteronomy 24 as regulating something that is wrong under all circumstances.
While this is possible, it seems unlikely due to the fact there is no punishment listed for the behavior except not marrying your previously married wife. Also, we must assume that if divorce and remarriage are wrong under all circumstances then remarriage to the original husband is worse:
1 Suppose a man enters into marriage with a woman, but she does not please him because he finds something objectionable about her, and so he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house; she then leaves his house 2 and goes off to become another man’s wife. 3 Then suppose the second man dislikes her, writes her a bill of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house (or the second man who married her dies); 4 her first husband, who sent her away, is not permitted to take her again to be his wife after she has been defiled; for that would be abhorrent to the Lord, and you shall not bring guilt on the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a possession. (Deuteronomy 24:1-4)
I will add the caveat that divorce is certainly something that is wrong under many circumstance, or is at least more wrong than some of the offenses that people often have divorced over:
13 And this you do as well: You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor at your hand. 14 You ask, “Why does he not?” Because the Lord was a witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. 15 Did not one God make her? Both flesh and spirit are his. And what does the one God desire? Godly offspring. So look to yourselves, and do not let anyone be faithless to the wife of his youth. 16 For I hate divorce, says the Lord, the God of Israel, and covering one’s garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So take heed to yourselves and do not be faithless. (Malachi 2:13-16 NRSV)
2. Finny’s view implies that the certificate of divorce has no effect
The certificate of divorce has the effect of separating you from your spouse. This is because it has the effect of making it impossible for your wife to come back after marrying someone else according to Deuteronomy 24. If you can’t remarry after a divorce then the divorce certificate seems to have no effect: you are still tied to your spouse. This does not fit with a whole law written regulating the certificate of divorce. If all it does is allow you to leave then you are still married to them; therefore what is the problem with remarrying the same person?
3. If you take literally what Mark 10:11-12 says that remarriage after divorce for any reason is adultery . . .
If you take literally what Mark 10:11-12 says then you must believe that what Jesus says in Mark 10:5-9 means that divorce for any reason is unlawful. However, Paul explicitly states that in some cases divorce can happen even though it should not happen:
10 To the married I give this command—not I but the Lord—that the wife should not separate from her husband 11 (but if she does separate, let her remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife. (1 Cor 7:10-11)
4. The context in which Finny argues “eunuchs are divorced people who can’t remarry” doesn’t fit.
The only place where this occurs is in Matthew 19 and here we see what they are objecting to is the difficulty of divorce in the context of not being able to divorce your wife for “any cause.” They aren’t afraid of marrying then getting divorced and having to be Eunuchs (which they would be without marrying anyway), they are afraid of marriage itself:
3 Some Pharisees came to him, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?” . . .
8 He said to them, “It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery.”
10 His disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” 11 But he said to them, “Not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given. 12 For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.”
(Matthew 19:3-12 NRSV)
5. Matthew tends to clarify Mark.
The fact that Matthew makes the context of Jesus’s statement about being able to divorce for “any reason” means that Jesus was reacting to a lax standard of divorce. His response therefore would be in the context of frivolous divorces.
Some Pharisees came to him, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?” (Matthew 19:3)
Another example of possible clarification is the following:
As another example, within Matthew’s community unchastity was evidently recognized as legitimate grounds for divorce. It may have been in the communities of Mark and Luke as well, but they failed to stipulate the exception in this particular saying of Jesus. Matthew clarifies the issue by inserting the phrase “except for unchastity:”
Some may respond that Jesus’s statement would have to be summarized as “you may not divorce your wife for any cause but only except for unchastity” This makes sense but it seems like he still had a strict view on it. What about if one spouse was trying to kill the other? Well, this author https://www.divorce-remarriage.com/ argues that Jesus was only addressing a certain type of divorce. See the Pharisees had split up the grounds for divorce of “some indecency” in Deuteronomy 24:1 into “adultery” and “a cause.” Jesus was addressing only this type of divorce and saying you couldn’t divorce for any cause. When he says “except for porneia” (“porneia” is the word translated “adultery”) it is literally “not porneia” https://studybible.info/interlinear/Matthew%2019:9 That is, he is implying “any cause” by saying “not porneia” because that is how those divorces were split up: into “adultery” and “a cause.” It is just a restatement of the “any cause” phrase in their earlier question: “is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?” These divorces were the most common since you didn’t have to prove anything in court but only present “a cause.” Jesus does not address the other types of divorce where other grounds are presented like in Exodus 21:10-11 Also, the cultural context backs this up:
By the first century there was general agreement concerning most aspects of divorce and remarriage within rabbinic Judaism. According to divorce law, the decision to end the marriage contract was that of the husband, because he had to write the divorce certificate. A wife could force a husband to divorce her if she could prove to a rabbinic court that he had broken the marriage contract, but it seldom happened. The author claims that one development during these times influenced almost all divorces among Jews. The Hillelites introduced a new interpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1 by which they allowed divorce for “any matter”, while the Shammaites interpreted the same text as saying “for a matter of indecency”. Most Jewish divorces therefore took place on Hillelite grounds, because there was no need to prove anything in court. It is worth noting that the Shammaites accepted the validity of this type of divorce even though it was contrary to what they would have decided. Meanwhile, in the greater Greco-Roman context it became easier for both men and woman to initiate a divorce, and anyone could divorce simply by separating from one’s spouse.
I have reached my conclusions mostly just by comparing the texts of the gospels and the Hebrew Bible and being aware of the tendency of Matthew to clarify things. Here we see that a scholar has reached similar conclusions by looking at the cultural context of the first century:
Instone-Brewer approaches the problem of Jesus’ radical teaching about divorce and remarriage from an interesting angle. An important investigation in this regard concerns the abbreviated texts that we find in the Gospels. He claims that usually the exegesis was largely absent from these debates because these text were regularly used in the synagogue and because it was widely known at the time. By the second century what used to be common knowledge was quickly disappearing, largely because of the disappearance of the Shammaite group. Commonly understood phrases were also removed, but would have been mentally added by first century readers. The added phrase “for any matter” as it appears in Matthew 19:3 which does not appear in Mark or Luke, is one such example.
This phrase referred to the Hillelite interpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1, an interpretation Jesus did not agree with at all – hence the view that remarriage after this type of divorce is invalid. As far as this issue is concerned, Jesus differed from opinions within Judaism, including that of the Shammaites. Furthermore, the author concludes that in instances where the Gospels are completely silent about an important matter like the silence about remarriage after the death of a spouse or Jesus’ opinion about the grounds for divorce in Exodus 21:10-11, Jesus’ silence can be ascribed to the fact that on these points he agreed with the unanimously held opinion of Judaism. One such example is Jesus’ silence about the Old Testament grounds for divorce. The author claims that the assumption that Jesus regarded the exception of porneia as the only ground for divorce is wrong, because it would mean that the Shammaites too had allowed divorce only on the grounds of adultery, which is simply not the case. At first these arguments appear to be rather weak but the author’s extensive research is convincing. The author delicately adds to the exegeses and arguments from their abbreviated forms and concludes six separate matters about which Jesus taught.
6. What about Paul’s sayings in 1 Corinthians 7? Do they imply remarriage is impossible after a divorce?
10 To the married I give this command—not I but the Lord—that the wife should not separate from her husband 11 (but if she does separate, let her remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife. (1 Corinthians 7:10-11)
Paul’s sayings may only apply to the Roman custom of divorce through separating since he was writing to people living in the secular city of Corinth:
Chapter seven shows that the world in which Paul lived was completely different from that in which Jesus lived. It is shown that Paul reacts mainly to the practice in the Greco-Roman world in terms of which anyone could divorce simply by separating from one’s spouse. Like Jesus, Paul emphasized ways to stay married, rather than ways to divorce.
7. Jesus as the New Covenant Mediator may have been focusing on the heart
27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.
31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
In context, Jesus’s statements could be more about intent than about the physical requirements of a divorce. For instance, above where Jesus says “everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Jesus is not literally saying that they are guilty of adultery but that as the New Covenant Mediator he trying to allow the law to be written on people’s hearts and coveting in your heart is against that purpose. (you have to take your thoughts captive as Paul says) Similarly, Jesus is not saying if your eye or your hand causes you to sin once then you have to cut them off because your eye or your hand can’t cause you to sin. He is saying to value your eternal existence more than your present existence in your physical body.
Therefore Jesus’s comments on divorce may be about divorce that was caused by a heart intent/condition that was not concerned with trying to keep the marriage together. Also, maybe the context is a heart intent that wanted to divorce in order to marry someone else.
Why is this important?
I talked to a woman whose husband was beating her (and if I remember correctly–threatened to kill her) and she felt she couldn’t divorce him until he committed adultery because of Matthew 19:8. Luckily he did eventually commit adultery. Let me ask you this, what if she was one of the very early Christians who didn’t have access to all the gospels and only had access to Matthew or Luke? (Mark is also supposed to have been written before Matthew) If she only read Mark and read it literally (like she did Matthew) she might be dead.
Threatening to kill someone violates the marriage covenant because if one person dies the covenant is nullified and shows you are willing to break it yourself. Beating someone I would think is worse than committing adultery. (I know the law says you can stone someone for adultery but this seems to have only been done in rare cases and forgiveness seems to be allowed, such as the case of Hosea)
I definitely think you can divorce for more causes than adultery. I think if your life is in danger or your emotional health is in danger those are reasonable causes. Emotional abuse can be physically dangerous to you–it can be unhealthy and take years off your life. It can make you at risk for suicide. I’m not as sure about remarriages after divorce. However, I’ve presented some evidence that remarriage is justified in certain cases as well.
One thing that has bothered me about marriage is the question of “what is it and for what purpose?” Does marriage begin when you have sex with someone because you are “certainly” supposed to marry someone afterward according to Exodus 22:16-18? If that is it then why is remarriage allowed upon death according to Romans 7? It would seem that if marriage is started with sex and it lasts forever then having sex with multiple people during your lifetime would be wrong. Yet if someone had multiple spouses die during their lifetime they would be able to do this. Therefore, limiting sexual partners isn’t of the utmost importance for the intent of marriage. In fact, there is no part of the Torah that prevents you from going into a cancer ward and marrying people one right after the other as they are dying. In addition, sex with a betrothed woman is treated just like adultery in the Torah, so marriage has to be about more than just regulating sex or commitment to one person for each individual.
More likely, it seems that marriage is a combination of sex and a covenant (betrothal), although if you have the sex you are supposed to make the covenant. Marriage then is not primarily concerned with limiting the number of people you have sex with during your life (although that tends to be one of its effects) but marriage may be primarily concerned with maintaining societal health, providing a stable environment for children, and ensuring people and households are emotionally/financially stable. If a marriage is so bad that it damages those things more than it upholds them then maybe it should be terminated.
Based on my own observations the following conclusions and summary are likely correct:
The Bible’s message for those suffering within marriage is both realistic and loving
Marriage should be lifelong, but broken marriage vows can be grounds for divorce
Biblical grounds for divorce include adultery, abuse and abandonment
Jesus urged forgiveness but allowed divorce for repeated unrepentant breaking of marriage vows
Only the victim, not the perpetrator of such sins, should decide when or whether to divorce
Anyone who divorces on biblical grounds or who is divorced against their will can remarry.
Very quick summary:
This book interprets the words of Jesus and Paul through the eyes of first century readers who knew about the ‘Any Cause’ divorce which Jesus was asked about (“Is it lawful to divorce for ‘Any Cause’” – Mt.19.3). Christians in following generations forgot about the ‘Any Cause’ divorce and misunderstood Jesus.
The ‘Any Cause’ divorce was invented by some Pharisees who divided up the phrase “a cause of indecency” (Dt.24.1) into two grounds for divorce: “indecency” (porneia which they interpreted as ‘Adultery’) and “a cause” (ie ‘Any Cause’). Jesus said the phrase could not be split up and that it meant “nothing except porneia”. Although almost everyone was using this new type of divorce, Jesus told them that it was invalid, so remarriage was adulterous because they were still married.
The Old Testament allowed divorce for the breaking of marriage vows, including neglect and abuse, based on Exod.21.10f. Jesus was not asked about these biblical grounds for divorce, though Paul alluded to them in 1Cor.7 as the basis of marriage obligations. This book argues that God never repealed these biblical grounds for divorce based on broken marriage vows. They were exemplified by Christ (according to Eph.5.28f) and they became the basis of Christian marriage vows (love, honour, and keep).
The answer is nothing directly. However, there are a few things that are quite suggestive.
There are three positions I’ve seen people argue from the Bible: 1. Personhood begins at conception. 2. Personhood begins at some point in the womb. 3. Personhood does not exist in the womb.
I’ve used the term “personhood” because there may be cases where the fetus was not treated as a “person” but was still considered valuable (maybe partially as valuable as a “life”) as we will see. First an overview of some verses:
A. Verses Implying Personhood in The Womb
8 Your hands fashioned and made me; and now you turn and destroy me. 9 Remember that you fashioned me like clay; and will you turn me to dust again? 10 Did you not pour me out like milk and curdle me like cheese? 11 You clothed me with skin and flesh, and knit me together with bones and sinews. 12 You have granted me life and steadfast love, and your care has preserved my spirit. 13 Yet these things you hid in your heart; I know that this was your purpose. 14 If I sin, you watch me, and do not acquit me of my iniquity. 15 If I am wicked, woe to me! If I am righteous, I cannot lift up my head, for I am filled with disgrace and look upon my affliction. 16 Bold as a lion you hunt me; you repeat your exploits against me. 17 You renew your witnesses against me, and increase your vexation toward me; you bring fresh troops against me.
18 “Why did you bring me forth from the womb? Would that I had died before any eye had seen me, 19 and were as though I had not been, carried from the womb to the grave. 20 Are not the days of my life few? Let me alone, that I may find a little comfort 21 before I go, never to return, to the land of gloom and deep darkness, 22 the land of gloom and chaos, where light is like darkness.”
(Job 10:8-22 NRSV)
13 For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. 15 My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. 16 Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed. 17 How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! 18 I try to count them—they are more than the sand; I come to the end—I am still with you.
19 O that you would kill the wicked, O God, and that the bloodthirsty would depart from me— 20 those who speak of you maliciously, and lift themselves up against you for evil! 21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? 22 I hate them with perfect hatred; I count them my enemies. 23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. 24 See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
(Psalm 139:13-24 NRSV)
Thus says the Lord who made you, who formed you in the womb and will help you: Do not fear, O Jacob my servant, Jeshurun whom I have chosen.
(Isaiah 44:2 NRSV)
Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, who formed you in the womb: I am the Lord, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who by myself spread out the earth;
(Isaiah 44:24 NRSV)
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit
(Luke 1:41 NRSV)
For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.
(Luke 1:44 NRSV)
Did not he who made me in the womb make them? And did not one fashion us in the womb?
(Job 31:15 NRSV)
I’ve left out one that I don’t find as convincing. Jeremiah 1:5 seems to say that God knew Jeremiah before he was formed in the womb. This seems to be an argument for life starting before conception.
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
You might argue that Jeremiah 1:5 destroys the previous arguments since it implies life before conception which is not possible. However, I think it is used metaphorically and there are less metaphorical indications of personhood beginning in the womb just like the baby in Elizabeth’s womb jumped. (indicating he was already aware of the Holy Spirit) These verses overall count against position 3. “Personhood does not exist in the womb”
B. Torah Ignores Fetal Personhood in Punishments of Sexual Immorality
When the daughter of a priest profanes herself through prostitution, she profanes her father; she shall be burned to death.
(Leviticus 21:9 NRSV)
No caveat is added to say “make sure she is not actually pregnant when you kill her.” Tamar’s father is assumed to be a priest since Judah declares this judgment on her and other than this case there is no other place where there is an example of this punishment:
About three months later Judah was told, “Your daughter-in-law Tamar has played the whore; moreover she is pregnant as a result of whoredom.” And Judah said, “Bring her out, and let her be burned.” 25 As she was being brought out, she sent word to her father-in-law, “It was the owner of these who made me pregnant.” And she said, “Take note, please, whose these are, the signet and the cord and the staff.” 26 Then Judah acknowledged them and said, “She is more in the right than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.” And he did not lie with her again.
(Gen 38:24 NRSV emphasis mine)
The punishment is not executed but the context shows it would have been carried out while she was about three months into her pregnancy. There are other examples of laws that seem to make no provision for when the woman is pregnant:
13 Suppose a man marries a woman, but after going in to her, he dislikes her 14 and makes up charges against her, slandering her by saying, “I married this woman; but when I lay with her, I did not find evidence of her virginity.” 15 The father of the young woman and her mother shall then submit the evidence of the young woman’s virginity to the elders of the city at the gate. 16 The father of the young woman shall say to the elders: “I gave my daughter in marriage to this man but he dislikes her; 17 now he has made up charges against her, saying, ‘I did not find evidence of your daughter’s virginity.’ But here is the evidence of my daughter’s virginity.” Then they shall spread out the cloth before the elders of the town. 18 The elders of that town shall take the man and punish him; 19 they shall fine him one hundred shekels of silver (which they shall give to the young woman’s father) because he has slandered a virgin of Israel. She shall remain his wife; he shall not be permitted to divorce her as long as he lives.
20 If, however, this charge is true, that evidence of the young woman’s virginity was not found, 21 then they shall bring the young woman out to the entrance of her father’s house and the men of her town shall stone her to death, because she committed a disgraceful act in Israel by prostituting herself in her father’s house. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.
(Deuteronomy 22:13-21 NRSV)
1 while Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. 3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, 4 they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. 5 Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9 When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”]]
(John 8:1-12 NRSV)
23 If there is a young woman, a virgin already engaged to be married, and a man meets her in the town and lies with her, 24 you shall bring both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death, the young woman because she did not cry for help in the town and the man because he violated his neighbor’s wife. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.
What if God assumed that every time the Israelites carried out an execution it was before an egg would be fertilized? However, it turns out that this is impossible:
Conception may take place as soon as three minutes after sexual intercourse, or it may take up to five days. Implantation occurs five to 10 days after fertilization, which means anywhere from five to 15 days after you had sex.
18 The priest shall set the woman before the Lord, dishevel the woman’s hair, and place in her hands the grain offering of remembrance, which is the grain offering of jealousy. In his own hand the priest shall have the water of bitterness that brings the curse. 19 Then the priest shall make her take an oath, saying, “If no man has lain with you, if you have not turned aside to uncleanness while under your husband’s authority, be immune to this water of bitterness that brings the curse. 20 But if you have gone astray while under your husband’s authority, if you have defiled yourself and some man other than your husband has had intercourse with you,” 21 —let the priest make the woman take the oath of the curse and say to the woman—“the Lord make you an execration and an oath among your people, when the Lord makes your uterus drop, your womb discharge; 22 now may this water that brings the curse enter your bowels and make your womb discharge, your uterus drop!” And the woman shall say, “Amen. Amen.”
23 Then the priest shall put these curses in writing, and wash them off into the water of bitterness. 24 He shall make the woman drink the water of bitterness that brings the curse, and the water that brings the curse shall enter her and cause bitter pain. 25 The priest shall take the grain offering of jealousy out of the woman’s hand, and shall elevate the grain offering before the Lord and bring it to the altar; 26 and the priest shall take a handful of the grain offering, as its memorial portion, and turn it into smoke on the altar, and afterward shall make the woman drink the water. 27 When he has made her drink the water, then, if she has defiled herself and has been unfaithful to her husband, the water that brings the curse shall enter into her and cause bitter pain, and her womb shall discharge, her uterus drop, and the woman shall become an execration among her people. 28 But if the woman has not defiled herself and is clean, then she shall be immune and be able to conceive children.
(Numbers 5:18-28 NRSV)
This one has varied interpretations. Some commentators interpret this ritual to induce an abortion and others do not: http://www.apologeticspress.org/apPubPage.aspx?pub=1&issue=1291&article=2888 While it seems more likely to me that she is just made unable to have children, (which was indeed a curse in that culture) if she had a fertilized egg when she did the ritual then she would not be able to carry the pregnancy–hence the fetus would die regardless. If the wife could tell she was pregnant it would be unlikely for the husband (as suspicious as he was) to want to destroy his wife’s child since it could still be his even if she did commit adultery. I would also think this would be looked down upon given what we had discussed in A. but my point is she could still have a fertilized egg.
The issue that might make this inconclusive is that this is a punishment from God and God can abide by different rules, like when God killed David’s son as a result of his sin with Bathsheba right? True, but the timing of this ritual is dependant on man. God could have specified that they were to wait a month or so from the time of the alleged adultery to see if she was pregnant. Maybe God would take care not to kill an already fertilized egg but this would require waiting nine months and there’s nothing in the ritual to indicate to wait this long before you assumed she was innocent.
There is one decent argument I have thought of in response to the things I have put in B. It is that the Torah sometimes skimps on detail and the detail of not hurting a fetus may have been assumed just like I assumed that the husband wouldn’t want his fully pregnant wife to go through this ritual. Here are a few of examples of evidence for this idea:
We can even imagine a scenario where an acceptable practice of stoning was slinging the stones at the criminal. This practice could have been forgotten during a period of exile. Indeed Exodus 19:13 groups archery and stoning together: “No hand shall touch them, but they shall be stoned or shot with arrows; whether animal or human being, they shall not live.’ When the trumpet sounds a long blast, they may go up on the mountain.”
You can interpret the Torah in many ways without an instruction manual of how to interpret it. Even with the Talmud you can interpret it in different ways. This to me is not a problem and I think this shows that there is some flexibility in interpreting the Torah. However, it is just interesting how the Jewish tradition has insisted that the Torah needed an Oral Torah tradition to help in coming to more conformity:
The law given in Ex. xviii. 2 says that a Hebrew slave acquired by any person shall serve for six years; but it does not state why and how such a slave may be acquired. The law furthermore provides that if such a slave has served for six years, his wife, if he has one, shall go free with him; but it does not state that the wife of the slave accompanies him to his master’s house, nor does it define her relation to the master. The law in Deut. xxiv. 1 et seq. says that if a man dismisses his wife with a bill of divorce (“sefer keritut”), and she marries again but is dismissed with a bill of divorce by her second husband also, the first husband may not remarry her. The fact that a woman may be divorced by such a bill has not, however, been mentioned, nor is it stated how she is divorced by means of the “sefer keritut,” or what this document should contain, although it must have had a certain form and wording, though possibly not that of the later “geṭ.” These examples, to which many more might be added, are held to imply that in addition to and side by side with the written law there were other laws and statutes which served to define and supplement it, and that, assuming these to be known, the written law did not go into details. It appears from the other books of the Old Testament also that certain traditional laws were considered to have been given by God, although they are not mentioned in the Pentateuch. Jeremiah says to the people (Jer. xvii. 21-22): “Bear no burden on the Sabbath day, nor bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem; neither carry forth a burden out of your houses on the Sabbath day, neither do ye any work, but hallow ye the Sabbath day, as I commanded your fathers.” In the Pentateuch, on the other hand, there is only the interdiction against work in general (Ex. xx. 9-11); nor is it stated anywhere in the Torah that no burdens shall be carried on the Sabbath, while Jeremiah says that the bearing of burdens, as well as all other work, was forbidden to the fathers. It is clear, furthermore, from Amos viii. 5, that no business was done on the Sabbath, and in Neh. x. 30-32 this prohibition, like the interdiction against intermarrying with the heathen, is designated as a commandment of God, although only the latter is found in the Pentateuch (Deut. vii. 3), while there is no reference to the former. Since the interdictions against carrying burdens and doing business on the Sabbath were regarded as divine laws, although not mentioned in the Pentateuch, it is inferred that there was also a second code.
Given the evidence in A. that life was thought to start at some point in the womb we may argue that the Torah does not speak of executing women who are pregnant beyond the point life was thought to start. It would also be unusual for a woman far along in her pregnancy to commit adultery and since executions seem to happen immediately after someone is found guilty we don’t have evidence against 2. “Personhood begins at some point in the womb.” However, while we could try other explanations, Judah’s command to kill Tamar is given three months later but this is only one case and cannot be used to make sweeping generalizations. This coupled with the fact that there is no command or example in the Bible to delay an execution based on pregnancy provides evidence against point 1. “Personhood begins at conception.”
C. Argument From Nature
So admittedly this is the naturalistic fallacy: that because something happens in nature it is good. However, if we want to argue that humans are specifically designed by God and not completely the product of random mutation and evolution we would expect the body to avoid killing a person inside it:
Around half of all fertilized eggs die and are lost (aborted) spontaneously, usually before the woman knows she is pregnant. Among women who know they are pregnant, about 10% to 25% will have a miscarriage. Most miscarriages occur during the first 7 weeks of pregnancy. The rate of miscarriage drops after the baby’s heartbeat is detected.
Hence, maybe a fertilized egg is not a person after all. However, this is one of the weaker arguments in my opinion.
I don’t think this gets us anywhere but maybe it does for other people and I thought it was good to get the reader thinking on this subject.
D. The Infamous Verse About Two Men Fighting
We can use this verse to support almost all three positions depending on the translation. I will point out that since this is just talking about an accidental abortion and not an intentional one this verse is not conclusive either. In addition it is uncertain whether the damages refer to the woman or the child or both:
1. Personhood begins at (close to) conception:
22 “When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. 23 But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
(Exodus 21:22-24 ESV)
She wouldn’t know she was pregnant till some time after conception and wouldn’t experience a miscarriage unless the pregnancy progressed further than conception (as we observed, around 50% of fertilized eggs don’t survive and the woman doesn’t notice this)
2. Personhood begins at some point in the womb.
22And if [3should do combat 1two 2men], and should strike a woman [2in 3the womb 1having one], and should come forth her child not completely formed, with a fine he shall be penalized, in so far as [5should put upon him 1the 2husband 3of the 4woman], and he shall give by means of what is fit. 23And if [2completely formed 1it should be], he shall give life for life, 24eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
(Exodus 21:22-25 ABP)
3. Personhood does not exist in the womb.
22 When people who are fighting injure a pregnant woman so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no further harm follows, the one responsible shall be fined what the woman’s husband demands, paying as much as the judges determine. 23 If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
(Exodus 21:22-24 NRSV)
The difference between the NRSV and the ESV is just translational (and ill explain that later) but the difference between the LXX and the MT are possibly a little more interesting.
There’s basically five positions in regard to this difference.
1. The LXX is not trying to be consistent with the Hebrew at all. 2. The LXX is a paraphrase clarifying the scenario of miscarriage 3. The LXX is a paraphrase clarifying the scenario where the woman wasn’t harmed (miscarriage is assumed in all scenarios) 4. The LXX is a paraphrase that only covers the scenarios the Hebrew does 5. The LXX is an accurate literal translation of the Hebrew.
In favor of 1. is Daniel Schiff citing Richard Freund.
1. The LXX is not trying to be consistent with the Hebrew at all.
How did the Septuagint arrive at this widely variant rendering? In each of the three Genesis occurrences of the Hebrew term ason, the Septuuagint employs a form of the Greek noun malakia, generally translated as “affliction,” for ason. Had the Septuagint utilized malakia in Exodus 21:22-25, it would have conveyed a sufficiently similar sense to the original Hebrew that it would have been highly unlikely to have become the cornerstone of a wholly divergent approach to the status of the fetus. But, in Exodus 21:22-25, instead of malakia, the Septuagint twice uses the Greek participle exeikonismenon to translate ason. A scholar of Hellenistic Judaism, Richard Freund, has made the case that the translator of these verses, who either deliberately bypassed or was ignorant of the translation used elsewhere, arrived at this version through a process of homophonic substitution. This technique was not uncommon in both Greek and rabbinic texts. According to this explanation, the translator probably transliterated ason into some form of the Greek word soma, meaning “human life,” and then replaced this Greek transliteration with a synonymous term that offered a more profound theological resonance. This resonance can be readily apprehended through the literal translation of exeikonismenon: “made from the image,” which evokes an immediate connection to the wording of Genesis 1:27, “In the image of God, God created man.” Freund posits that the usage of the verb exeikonizein in the Septuagint and Philo establishes a strong connection to the “made from the image” metaphor. This remarkable textual allusion led Freund to conclude that “[i]t is clear from the LXX use of exeikonizein in Exodus 21:22-23 that the transator had some idea, principle, or presupposition in mind, which made him deliberately violate a literal translation in favor of a more complex formulation.
It is possible, moreover, to conjecture why this “more complex formulation” was preferred by the translator. Using exeikonismenon, the tranlator’s literal rendering of verse 23 would be “If it be made in the image, he shall give life for life.” This implies that one who kills a fetus that is already “made from the image” deserves death. But the translator must have been aware of the fact that one of the Torah’s six references to being “made from the image” explicitly calls for capital punishment of a murderer on the grounds that he had destroyed a being “made from the image”: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in God’s image did God make man.” It is, therefore, reasonable to deduce that the Septuagint translator, through the employment of exeikonismenon, intended to create a link between feticide and homicide by way of the “made from the image” formulation. As a result, “formation” became critical because it was only when the fetus had attained a form that could be considered to be recognizably “in God’s image” that it would be considered sufficiently human that its destruction would become the equivalent of homicide.
The nature of the impact of Hellenistic thought on this section of the Septuagint has been much discussed. The scholar Victor Aptowitzer contends that the Septuagint’s portrayal of the status of the fetus effectively compromised between two schools of Greek philosophy, Plato (the Academy) and the Stoics. While the Stoics saw the fetus as being an integral part of the mother’s womb, the Academy regarded it as an independent living being. Hence the compromise entailed viewing the fetus either as dependent or as independent, contingent upon formation. Others have pointed to the similarities between the Septuagint’s focus on the pivotal role of formation and the Aristotelian thought which held that full human status was conferred at formation, since it was at that juncture that the soul was thought to infuse the body.
But perhaps the most significant Hellenistic idea of all was to be found in the notion that the willful abortion of a formed fetus was to be considered one of the most serious transgressions imaginable, deserving of the death penalty. From a range pagan and Hellenistic sources, Moshe Weinfeld, a prominent thinker in a the field, has demonstrated that the Assyrian attitude of dermined opposition to the woman who self-aborted was generally dominant in the Hellenistic world. Thus, bringing about the loss of a fetus was cited regularly alongside witchcraft, murder adultery, and theft as principle societal crimes. In contrast to the strong stance against feticide, however, the Hellenistic world often legitimated a relaxed attitude of “complete lawlessness” to infanticide, especially for children who were in any way defective.
It’s would be a bit disturbing for people who hold both the Hebrew and Septuagint in high regard if this were true. However, this is not the only idea I can present about what is going on with the LXX’s translation. Also to my knowledge, Freund and Schiff present no direct evidence of Soma being the transliteration or of the LXX writers needing to compromise between Stoicism and Platonism. Even if the Hebrew is covering more scenarios than the LXX i.e. both live birth, miscarriage, and whether or not the woman was harmed, the transliteration would be unnecessary given that the LXX could by clarifying what the Hebrew meant by “no harm” in the case of miscarriage–that the child is not completely formed. (it wouldn’t be considering harm to the woman) This will be discussed in the next section.
2. The LXX is a paraphrase clarifying the scenario of miscarriage
If the Hebrew is ambiguous and refers to both “live birth” and “miscarriage” the Septuagint could be only trying to translate and clarify one of the scenarios covered–that of miscarriage. These two diverging interests in the course of their writings derive naturally from the different situations of the LXX translators and the writer of the Masoretic text. Chapter 21 of Exodus is near the beginning of the legal code given in the Hebrew Bible (having just started in chapter 19 at Sinai) The original author of the Hebrew text would not have a whole corpus of later law to draw on to explain the cases of live birth and cases of harm to the mother. However, the writer of the LXX already had the whole legal corpus of the Hebrew Torah to draw on. Therefore I speculate that the writer of the LXX didn’t feel the need to cover all the situations but instead chose to clarify one ambiguous one.
To outline an argument for the position that the Hebrew includes multiple scenarios (including live birth and harm to the mother) I will quote William H. C. Propp in his Bible commentary “Exodus 19-40 A New Translation With Introduction and Commentary” which states:
21:22. men fight. In a somewhat confusing and still comprehensible manner, 21:22-25 treats at least three ambiguities raised by the preceding laws (cf. Loewenstamm 1977; 246-57): What happens when a third party is injured in the course of a fight? If the third party is a pregnant woman who miscarries, is the abortion manslaughter? How does one redress non-deadly injuries? Rather than resort to textual dissection, as in most critical treatments, I regard this complexity as an original characteristic of the First Code. Unlike the cuneiform law collections, which delight in listing numerous eventualities, Israelite legal scholars proved their virtuosity by posing a small number of cases possessing broad implications.
Thus the basic question, that of the innocent bystander, is not answered directly. We are not told what happens should a male onlooker suffer such-and-such an injury. Rather, a pregnant woman is posited. From her case, we are presumably meant to extrapolate for all unintended harm (so Mek. nəzîqîn 8). Combatants who hurt a bystander are subject to punishment, depending upon the nature of the injury.
The second issue this law treats is more philosophical: is a fetus a person? Is a pregnant woman comparable to, say, a woman carrying her infant in her arms? Is the death of the fetus manslaughter, so that he who jostled the mother is subject to blood vengeance? Is he entitled to asylum?
The answer to the third question, what is the punishment for nonlethal injuries, is simple: “eye for eye, tooth for tooth,” etc. I will discuss the Torah’s famous lex talionis below.
Although many ancient Near Eastern law codes treat injury to a pregnant woman and her fetus (or even gravid livestock; see Hittite Laws §77, 84), this surely cannot have been a common occurrence. Paul (1970: 71 n. 1) infers that we have a case of literary interdependence among the codes and Finkelstein (1981: 19 n. 11) rather simplistically posits an origin in a single, real case of premature labor and miscarriage. But these suppositions do not answer the question: why among all crimes and accidents likely and unlikely should the codes have borrowed and shared legislation concerning miscarriage? The answer is that, like legal scholars everywhere, ancient legislators were attracted to the unusual and ambiguous (e.g., on Roman law, see Watson 1991: 12).
they stike. Either of the men, not both together (Luzzatto).
a pregnant woman. I assume that the woman is an innocent bystander, not a participant as in Deut 25:11-12. (I find unwarranted Daube’s [1947: 108] inference that she is wife to one of the parties, and that the blow is therefore deliberate.)
her child. My translation follows Sam, LXX, etc. wəlādād ‘her child’ (see TEXTUAL NOTE). MT, however, reads yəlāde(y)hā ‘her children.’ This must be taken as referring either to the potential for multiple pregnancies–“(all) her babies, (however many)”–or else to all the stuff of childbirth: water, blood, child(ren), afterbirth.
comes out. The minority view is that the verb yāṣā(‘) here connotes a successful abeit premature birth (Jackson 1975: 95, 99; Durham 1987: 323). The majority view is that yāṣā(‘) indicates a miscarriage (most recently Houtman 20000: 161. It is true that the ancient Near Eastern parallels (quoted below envision an aborted pregnancy, and it is true that the expression “come out” (yṣ’) is used apropos of abortion or the immediate death of a newborn in Num 12:12; Job 3:11 (Schwienhorst-Schönberger 1990: 94). But, as we shall observe, the cuneiform law codes have a different aim than the First Code. In fact, the Hebrew verb yāṣā(‘) more often refers to live births (e.g., Gen 25:25-26; 38:28-30).
The text seems deliberately ambiguous. Something comes out of the pregnant woman. There are four possible outcomes: healthy mother and child, dead-or-injured mother and healthy child, healthy mother and dead-or-injured child, and dead-or-injured mother and child. The following clauses attempt to address these eventualities.
injury. The disputed noun ‘a̅sôn otherwise appears only in Gen 42:4, 38; 44:29; Sir 31/34:22; 38:18; 41:9. Both the biblical context and the Arabic cognate ’asiya ’be distressed’ suggest the meaning “harm” (e.g., Baentsch 1903: 193). Some claim, however, that the meaning is more specifically “fatality” (e.g. Josephus Ant. 4.8.278). The Rabbis, for example, think that ’a̅sôn here refers to the woman’s death (Mek. nəzîqîn 8). (For more discussion of the history of interpretation, see Isser  and TEXTUAL NOTE.)
Even though the argument that ‘a̅sôn implies a fatality draws support from the ancient Near Eastern codes, which cosider only the death of mother or child, I think this approach is incorrect. As observed above, the First Code is in one important way not comparable to the cuneiform documents. The Hittite Laws contain 200 clauses and the Code of Hammurapi 282. treating all manner of torts. In contrast, the technique in Exodus 21 is to compress multiple legal issues into a small number of complex, paradigmatic cases. In my holistic reading, 21:22-25 is about all injuries caused to third parties, and indeed about all injuries. If the biblical writer wished clearly to describe the death of the woman or her offspring, he would have used the verb mwt ’die.’ On the contrary, he makes it explicit what constitutes ’a̅sôn: death; damage to an eye, a tooth, an arm, a leg; a burn, a wound or a stripe (Schwienhorst-Schönberger 1990: 93). Not all of these can occur during childbirth to either mother or offspring, but, again, the case is intended to have broad application.
It remains unclear whether “injury” applies only to the mother, or to mother and child. By the theory that v 22 describes a miscarriage, ‘a̅sôn can only connote the mother’s death or injury; the baby is already dead. But if, as I think, v22 describes premature labor, then the “injury” would be to either the mother or the infant. If the child is viable and the mother is unharmed, then the man who accidentally justled her owes the women’s husband a modest fine for endangerment and inconvenience (Durham 1987: 323).
3. The LXX is a paraphrase clarifying the scenario where the woman wasn’t harmed (miscarriage is assumed in all scenarios)
If I were to take this position I would have to argue that the Hebrew text really only speaks of miscarriage. More specifically we know that damages to a person are covered elsewhere in the Torah so the Septuagint is focusing on the situation of no harm being done to the mother. This position is made easier by the fact that the singular “child” is the lectio difficilior.
Propp says that the singular form of “child” is the lectio difficilior. This means “more difficult reading” and in textual criticism, this is called “lectio difficilior portior” or “the more difficult reading is stronger.” The theory is that it is more likely the original reading due to the scribes being more likely to change a text to an easier reading than to change it to a harder reading. “Child” in the singular is also the reading of the Samaritan Pentateuch. See Propp:
21:22. And if. Kenn 650 B lacks “And.” men. See TEXTUAL NOTE to 21:18
her child comes out. Reading a singular verb and subject with Sam, LXX, Tg. Neofiti I and probably Vg: wyṣ’ wldh, vs. MT wyṣ’w yldyh ‘and her children come out.’ The alternation between wyṣ’ w- (Sam) and wyṣ’w y- (MT) may reflect the similarity of waw and yodh in Roman-period script (Cross 1961a; Qimron 1971). The plural subject of MT is hard to understand–unless it refers, not just to children, but to all that comes forth during parturition. More likely, however, yldyh has simply been copied from 21:4. The noun wālād used by Sam et al. is paralleled only in Gen 11:30 and 2 Sam 6:23 (Kethibh in many MSS), making it lectio difficilior. Syr appears to conflate the aforesaid variants: wnpqwn ‘wlh ‘and her fetus (sing.) come out (pl.).’
pg. 121, “Exodus 19-40 A New Translation With Introduction and Commentary”
However, how do we get the following to be what is translated by the LXX? (see also LXX below)
22 When people who are fighting injure a pregnant woman so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no further harm follows, the one responsible shall be fined what the woman’s husband demands, paying as much as the judges determine.
(Exodus 21:22 NRSV)
22And if [3should do combat 1two 2men], and should strike a woman [2in 3the womb 1having one], and should come forth her child not completely formed, with a fine he shall be penalized, in so far as [5should put upon him 1the 2husband 3of the 4woman], and he shall give by means of what is fit.
(Exodus 21:22 ABP)
The following lex talionis must in the Hebrew apply to both the woman and fetus and apply to the fetus on a sliding scale. Therefore, apply to stages of fetal development like in LXX:
23 If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
(Exodus 21:22-25 NRSV)
23And if [2completely formed 1it should be], he shall give life for life, 24eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
(Exodus 21:22-25 ABP)
Assuming that this law doesn’t cover a delayed miscarriage, there is also some medical evidence that a live birth in this situation would have been unheard of in the ancient setting.
First, it is important to note that injury to the fetus in utero may be direct or indirect. Direct injury is rare, mainly occurring late in pregnancy when the head is deep in the pelvis and major trauma causes fetal skull fracture. A recent review of the obstetric literaturerevealed only 19 such reported cases. The outcome was almost uni-versally fetal demise, except when cesarean section was performed.There is no report of that particular surgical procedure having beenperformed in the ancient Near East.
Indirect injury to the fetus occurs when there is disruption of the oxygen supply coming through the umbilical cord. Rarely trauma may result in uterine rupture with grave consequences for mother and infant without immediate surgical intervention. Such event occurs in less than one percent of trauma. More commonly, in six percent of blunt trauma during pregnancy there is an overt disruption of the normal connection between the placenta and the uterus. Fetal mortality in such cases, given the best obstetric and neonatal care available in the United States, is 34 percent. Another reference cites 30to 68 percent fetal mortality. Without intravenous methods of fluid therapy for the mother and surgical intervention, it is obvious that the fetal outcome in the vast majority of these cases would be death. Timms states that “following uterine rupture or significant placental separation, rapid exploration [surgically] and fetal delivery provide the only chance for fetal survival.”
Less severe abdominal trauma may result in smaller disruptions of the placenta from the uterus, and less catastrophic outcomes. It is unknown how often an occult (self-limiting) placental separation takes place in these situations, but it may be the cause of common complaints such as “increased uterine activity” or slight cramping. Most of these cases progress to a normal outcome. In an excellent study of trauma in pregnancy Crosby suggests that if fetal oxygenation is impaired, labor or fetal death will occur within 48 hours.
Premature labor is a serious problem after trauma and is aggressively treated in appropriate cases these days with medication to stop uterine contractions. The lungs of the developing infant are not ready for life outside the womb until 33 to 34 weeks gestation (out of 40 weeks in a “full-term” pregnancy). In a nonhospital setting, themortality rate of these infants is very high.
There are only a few instances, in a nontechnological era, in which blunt trauma serious enough to cause abortion of the fetus would result in a viable birth. If medical data has anything to sayabout Exodus 21:22, it indicates that the overwhelming probabilityfor such a situation is an outcome of trauma-induced abortion withfetal demise.
4. The LXX is a paraphrase that only covers the scenarios the Hebrew does
This position is similar to the last one but here “harm” (ason) must only be applied to the fetus and the woman must be unharmed even in the Hebrew. ‘a̅sôn would have to be interpreted as only referring to a “death” (as Propp mentioned that some take this position based on the context of the word and of other law codes covering just the death of the fetus). The following paper assumes a contradiction between no harm (ason) and a miscarriage but this can be resolved by saying the fetus may only be described as having “died” when it was “fully formed” as it the Septuagint explains. The idea that the LXX covers all the scenarios the Hebrew does is made difficult because there isn’t direct evidence that “harm” only applies to the mother.
B. Is the Harm to the Woman or the Fetus? The RSV renders the word אָסֹ֑ון in v 23 as kill and attributes it solely to the mother. Other translations render it as “mischief”, “serious injury” or “harm”.1 That אָסֹ֑ון means some form of harm is well attested. אָסֹ֑ון occurs only three other times in the Hebrew Bible.
3 Then ten of Joseph’s brothers went down to buy grain from Egypt. 4 But Jacob did not send Benjamin, Joseph’s brother, with the others, because he was afraid that harm might come to him.
38 But Jacob said, “My son will not go down there with you; his brother is dead and he is the only one left. If harm comes to him on the journey you are taking, you will bring my gray head down to the grave in sorrow.”
27 “Your servant my father said to us, ‘You know that my wife bore me two sons. 28 One of them went away from me, and I said, “He has surely been torn to pieces.” And I have not seen him since. 29 If you take this one from me too and harm comes to him, you will bring my gray head down to the grave in misery.’”
In each case it refers to Jacob’s fear that Benjamin will be harmed as his brother Joseph was. In the narrative, the harm that befell Joseph (or at least that Jacob thought had befallen him) was being killed by a wild animal. Moreover, its use later in the narrative is associated with the fear that he will be executed in prison.
The question is whether in this context it refers to harm to the mother. Some translations render the passage as “no further harm”. However, nothing in the Hebrew grammar demands this. In the Hebrew it is unspecified who the harm applies to and several arguments have been proposed suggesting that the harm is harm to the fetus and not the woman.
Westbrook argues that the word אָסֹ֑ון means “a disaster for which no one can be held responsible”. He then suggests אָסֹ֑ון is predicated of the child. Verse 22 deals with a case where one can assign responsibility and v 23 a case where one cannot. This interpretation has the added advantage of explaining the change from the third person “he shall pay” in v 22 to the first person “you shall pay” in v 23. In the first case the person responsible pays. In the second case, where the perpetrator is unknown, the whole community does.
The problem with this argument is that Westbrook’s claim that אָסֹ֑ון means “a disaster for which no one can be held responsible” is not well attested by the evidence. Moreover, as noted by Sprinkle several uses of אָסֹ֑וןin both the Hebrew Bible and in later Hebrew Apocrypha suggest the contrary. For example, the fear that Benjamin would be killed in Genesis does not have this feature. His brothers agreed to take responsibility and his execution by Egyptian officials is not an event in which one is unsure of who is responsible. In addition, Jacob believed a wild animal caused Joseph’s death so it is doubtful that אָסֹ֑ון carries the nuance that Westbrook suggests.
A second line of argument claims that the nuances of the word אָסֹ֑ון fit more naturally with the death of a fetus than the death of the mother. Kline argues,
A calamitous loss involving serious injury or even death is denoted by ason. In the only other Biblical context where ason is found it describes the grievous calamity that Jacob fears will befall Benjamin on the Journey to Egypt. (Gen 42:4, 38; 44:29). The choice of this unusual word in Ex 21:22 (problematic if the reference were to injury or death of the woman, for which the more common terminology would be expected) is readily explained if ason refers to the less everyday circumstance of the calamitous loss of offspring by violently induced miscarriage.
Similarly, Jackson argues,
[W]hy should an unusual word like aswn be used in Exod. xxi 23 to refer to death, when the ordinary verb mwt would appear to have served equally well? Fatal injuries are a common enough topic in the Misphatim, but on every other occasion the normal verb is used. There must be some reason why it is not used in Exod. xxi 22, 23. Part of the reason is that the word aswn, as is evident from the Jacob- Benjamin narrative, stresses the effect on the happening on some person other than the direct victim. Perhaps the best translation is “calamity”…
Later on in the same work he adds,
Had it [aswn] referred to the woman, it would be impossible to understand why the normal word for death was not used. But where a foetus is concerned, any hesitation to use the normal terminology of death is quite reasonable…We have seen that elsewhere it emphasizes the effect of the death or serious injury upon someone other than the victim himself.
Neither of these arguments is compelling. Jackson appeals to Gen 42:4, 38 and 44:29 where Jacob stresses that harm to Benjamin will cause him to die of grief and infers from this that אָסֹ֑ון means a harm that affects someone other than the direct victim but this does not follow. The fact that I note that the death of someone close to me will devastate me does not mean that the effect on a third person is written in to the meaning of the term ‘death’.
Moreover, both Kline’s and Jackson’s arguments suffer from the fact that the word אָסֹ֑ון is so rare in the Hebrew Bible that the samples they appeal to are too few to be decisive. The fact that the few references that occur have a special nuance is insufficient to ground an inference that this nuance is part of the meaning.
There is a more serious problem in attributing the harm as applicable to the fetus. The translation only makes sense if the passage refers to a premature birth and not a miscarriage. If the passage refers to a miscarriage then a miscarriage has occurred but the fetus did not die. This renders the text self-contradictory. I argued earlier that this text does refer to a miscarriage and that the premature-birth interpretation was subject to serious criticisms. In light of this, the argument ceases to be tenable. Once it is established that the text refers to a miscarriage the question of whom the mischief refers to is easily solved. If the blow has killed the fetus, it cannot be the fetus that is not killed in v 23. Further, if already dead, the fetus cannot be said to have undergone further harm.
Another way to make this position is if the difference in punishment between verse 22 and 23 deals with a level of intent. “The Janus Face of Prenatal Diagnostics: A European Study Bridging Ethics, Psychoanalysis, and Medicine” says:
(When translating Exodus 21:22, the Septuagint, i.e., the early Greek translation of the Old Testament introduces a distinction between a “formed” and an “imperfectly formed” foetus, not present in the Hebrew original (Childress & Macquarrie, 1986). This difference has been interpreted as indicating a difference in the evaluation of the life of a foetus and a living human being (Ferngren, 1987). However, such an interpretation is not the only possible one. The different judgements can be explained by reference to the different kinds of act. The first act is a non-intended accident, while the second is a deliberate killing.
The Gemara asks: Granted, according to the Rabbis, who say that if one intended to kill this individual and he killed that individual he is liable, there is support for their opinion from that which is written: “If men struggle and they hurt a pregnant woman so that her child departs from her, and there is no tragedy, he shall be punished, as the husband of the woman shall impose upon him, and he shall give as the judges determine” (Exodus 21:22). It can be inferred form the verse that if there is a tragedy, i.e., if the woman dies, there is no payment of restitution. And Rabbi Elazar says: It is with regard to a quarrel that involves the intent of each to cause the death of the other that the verse is speaking, as it is written: “But if there shall be a tragedy then you shall give a life for a life” (Exodus 21:23). This is proof that in a case where one intended to kill one individual and he killed a pregnant woman instead, he is liable to be executed, which is why he does not pay restitution.
I find it interesting that this view on the Hebrew and on the LXX can be unified (to some extent) with the idea of intent by speculating that it makes sense for the two men fighting to be held responsible for the fetus if the woman appeared pregnant. If she did not then it wouldn’t make sense to say that they were aware of this and hold them responsible for any negligence that they might be accused of in regards to the fetus itself.
5. The LXX is an accurate literal translation of the Hebrew.
This position is outlined below by Thomas F. McDaniel:
When Nina Collins (1993: 290) concluded with reference to Exod 21:22 “Yet the verse as a whole fails to make sense” she was referring to the Hebrew Masoretic text of this verse and its many variant translation, not to the Hebrew Vorlage behind the Greek translation in the Septuagint (250 B.C. to 132 B.C.), a translation which makes perfect sense.
. . .
In addition to the well recognized אָסוֹן which was related to the (asaya) “he grieved, mourned,” there was, as noted above, also the word אסון which was related to the (sawaya) “he made it equal, he became full-grown in body” and “of regular build and growth.” This אסון is a perfect match for the Septuagint’s έξεικονισμένον, “to make like, to be perfectly fully formed.” Thus the אסון in the Vorlage of the Septuagint could have been read as אֶסְוֹן (eswon) or אֶסְוָן (eswan) from the stem סוה — with (a) a prosthetic א, (b) an affixed ן, and (c) the ו of the אסון being a consonant rather than a vowel letter. Contra the MT plural וְיָצְאוּ יְלָדֶיהָ “and her children come out,” the Septuagint has the singular καί έξέλθη τό παιδίον αύτῆϛ, “and her child came out,” which is in agreement with the Samaritan Pentateuch which has the singular ויצא ולדה. Once the singular ויצא ולדה “and her child came out” is in focus it becomes obvious that the subject of the masculine singular verb יהיה in the phrase ולא יהיה אסון (v. 22) and ואם אסון יהיה (v. 23) is the singular ולדה “her child,” permitting the following translation of these phrases: “. . . her child come out but HE is not fully formed, . . . but if HE is fully formed.” The masculine “child” is obviously gender inclusive like the אדם “man” in Gen 1:27 and 5:2.
Simply by substituting the antecedent noun child for the pronoun HE the Septuagint text in 21:22–23 stipulated: “And if two men strive and smite a woman with child, and her CHILD BE NOT FULLY FORMED, he shall be forced to pay a penalty as the woman’s husband may lay upon him, he TRANSLATION OF EXODUS 21:22–23 7 shall pay what seems fitting. But if the CHILD BE FULLY FORMED, he shall give life for life.” This law was so perfectly clear that Sprinkle (1993:247) well noted:
The penalty paid is assessed on the basis of the stage of the development of the dead fetus. The rationale for this view is that the later the stage of pregnancy, the more time has been lost to the woman, the greater the grief for the loss of a child, and the more difficult. This may have been the view of the LXX, which paraphrases וְלֹא יהְיֶה אָסוֹן as “imperfectly formed child” and translates בִּפְלִלִים “with valuation.” Furthermore, Speiser’s view gains credibility in that penalties for miscarriage actually do vary with the age of the dead fetus in the parallel ancient Hittite Law §17, which states, “If anyone causes a free woman to miscarry—if (it is) the 10th month, he shall give ten shekels of silver, if (it is) the 5th month, he shall give five shekels of silver and pledge his state as security.”
A fetus aborted in an accidental miscarriage which is not fully formed—nor equal to an infant born prematurely—was to be treated as property. 19 However, if the aborted fetus was fully formed—and equal to an infant born prematurely—it was to be treated as a person. A property which is accidentally destroyed called for a fine to be paid by the destroyer. But the lex talionis became applicable when a person—including a fully developed fetus—was accidentally injured or killed. Accordingly, in Mosaic law a woman’s fertilized egg or an imperfectly formed fetus was not considered to be a vp,n, a person. 20 Only a fetus that was אֶסְוָן / אֶסְוֹן (eswon / eswan) “fully formed” was recognized as a נפֶשׁ, a person.
While I find Propp’s analysis interesting for point “2. The LXX is only trying to be partially consistent by clarifying part of the Hebrew” and McDaniel’s argument tempting for perfect harmony between the LXX and the Hebrew I have to disagree. Propp does not delve into the language used in the parallel legal codes he cites which also use generic terms for “go out” in reference to a miscarriage. I also tend to bias ancient consensus interpretations of a text against the later non-consensus of scholars which would make me more inclined to follow “3. The LXX is a paraphrase clarifying the scenario where the woman wasn’t harmed (miscarriage is assumed in all scenarios).” Russell Fuller deals with the premature birth interpretation in his article “EXODUS 21:22-23: THE MISCARRIAGE INTERPRETATION AND THE PERSONHOOD OF THE FETUS”
For the past thirty years most evangelicals have argued that Exod 21:22 does not refer to a miscarriage but to a premature birth. These evangelicals have offered the following points as evidence: (1) Biblical Hebrew has a technical word for “miscarriage” (sakol). If the author had intended to write about a miscarriage, he would have most likely used this word. Since, however, the author chose yasa, a word usually found with normal births, he probably envisioned a premature birth induced by the assault. Jack Cottrell affirms: “There is absolutely no linguistic justification for translating v. 22 to refer to a miscarriage.” (2) Biblical Hebrew has a technical word for “miscarried fetus” (nepel). Since the author chose yeled, he probably had live children—or at least the possibility of live children—in view.
Again, this suggests a premature birth. (3) Hebrew Däsön (“harm, damage”) is indefinite, and therefore should apply equally to both mother and fetus. Again, had the author intended to limit this word he could have inserted läh to clarify that the harm referred only to the mother and not to the fetus. (4) Although recognizing analogues between ancient Near Eastern literature and the Bible, adherents of the premature-birth view suggest that in Exod 21:22 the ancient Near Eastern legal tradition adds little or nothing to the understanding of the passage.
The first three points are actually one argument: the technical language argument. If Exod 21:22 refers to a miscarriage, why does the author employ such general language? Why not use more precise, technical terms? An author of course chooses a given word over another for his own reasons, leaving the interpreter only to speculate about the author’s decision. In Exod 21:22 the author chose yasa, a general term, meaning “to go/come out.” It specified normal births (Job 1:21; Jer 1:5) and a miscarriage (or perhaps a stillbirth, Num 12:12). There are, however, no passages in the HB where yäsäD clearly refers to a premature birth. Interestingly, the laws of Hammurapi and the Middle Assyrian laws described the miscarriage in general terms (nadû, “to cast down”; saläDu, “to cast, to drop”).
Hebrew säköl (like its cognates in Arabic, Ugaritic, Aramaic and Syriac), on the other hand, means “to bereave the loss of a child.” Although säköl is used in the context of miscarriages (or stillbirths, or perhaps even infant deaths) the word does not mean “to miscarry” or “miscarriage.” In Exod 21:22 the assailant is guilty of inducing the children (fetuses) to come out of the womb (a miscarriage, I believe), not of causing a mother “to bereave the loss of her child.” Why Moses chose yeled instead of nepel is more difficult to determine. Perhaps he desired a more euphemistic term, and he may have chosen yeled, at least indirectly, to indicate the personhood of the fetus. Similarly the laws of Hammurapi and the Middle Assyrian laws employed a euphemistic circumlocution, sa libbisa, “that of her womb,” instead of the technical words for fetus (izbu, kübu) or nid hbbi, a miscarried fetus. Why Moses did not further define Däsön by adding läh or lähem (läm) is uncertain. Perhaps he simply did not deem it necessary.
Although the “technical language argument” may, at first glance, seem to support the premature-birth view, upon further reflection the general language of Exod 21:22 actually favors the miscarriage interpretation. In fact the language is so general that there must have been a broader, cultural context to prevent doubt as to the law’s intent. The ancient Near Eastern analogues all supply that broader context. Indeed, in all Biblical and ancient Near Eastern legal literature and in almost all the general literature there are no references to premature births. It simply was not directly addressed. Therefore if Moses were introducing a new, unique law, previously unknown (at least from the sources we now possess) to the general society and culture, concerning a premature birth, he would have avoided ambiguity and misunderstanding by using precise language, especially if similar laws from the broader society, such as laws concerning miscarriage, might confuse the issue. Moses, on the contrary, by using general language in Exod 21:22, most likely intended his readers to understand this law according to the broader context of society. therefore he considered it unnecessary to insert läh after Däsön (or to write nepel instead of yeled) since that society and culture understood to whom the ason applied. Moreover the ancient Near Eastern law codes also employed general, nontechnical language. Thus the general language of Exod 21:22 actually supports the miscarriage interpretation rather than the premature-birth interpretation.
The interpretational history of Exod 21:22 also favors the miscarriage view. The miscarriage interpretation, despite its general language that could have misled later interpreters, held unanimous consent from the LXX to Martin Luther—some 1800 years. John Calvin was the first to suggest the premature birth view. He was later followed by the nineteenth-century German scholars such as Keil, Geiger and Dillmann. Yet none of these scholars had the complete picture. The ancient Near Eastern evidence was still underground. We cannot of course say whether this evidence would have changed their position. Nevertheless, they probably would have reexamined their opinions. Since the 1970s, the decade of the Roe v. Wade decision, the premature birth view has captured most of evangelicalism. But notwithstanding the recent ascendancy of the premature birth interpretation, at least among evangelicals, the miscarriage interpretation has the most impressive interpretational history and the securest exegetical foundation.
To me the LXX is merely trying to clarify part of the situations described: unharmed mother and miscarriage. Additional evidence for the LXX being consistent with the Hebrew might come from Josephus who knew both Hebrew and Greek and seems to have no problem following the Hebrew:
33. (277) If men strive together, and there be no instrument of iron, let him that is smitten be avenged immediately, by inflicting the same punishment on him that smote him: but if when he is carried home he lie sick many days, and then die, let him that smote him escape punishment; but if he that is smitten escape death, and yet be at great expense for his cure, the smiter shall pay for all that has been expended during the time of his sickness, and for all that he has paid the physician. (278) He that kicks a woman with child, so that the woman miscarry, let him pay a fine in money, as the judges shall determine, as having diminished the multitude by the destruction of what was in her womb; and let money also be given the woman’s husband by him that kicked her; but if she die of the stroke, let him also be put to death, the law judging it equitable that life should go for life.
(Josephus, F., & Whiston, W. (1987). The works of Josephus: complete and unabridged (p. 122). Peabody: Hendrickson.)
Assertions range from the statement of Tachauer that Josephus employed only a Hebrew text to that of Schalit that Josephus used only the Greek Bible. The overwhelming majority of scholars, however, have taken an intermediate position, suggesting that Josephus used both, in addition to, perhaps, an Aramaic targum.
However, this is also not certain since it also argued that the LXX wasn’t available to him at the time he wrote this summary of the law and he–like any other author–can be unreliable:
The general result of the study can be outlined briefly at the outset: as he stated himself( AJ 1:5 f., CAp 1:54) he did translate from much-used library books in Hebrew containing many learned corrections and glosses; this source will be termed H. The first library in which the scrolls were written, stored, corrected and used until the 70 war is most probably the Temple archive; the text-type is quite close to the Hebrew source of the Septuagint (hereafter) but, strangely enough, this supposedly well known Greek translation of the Pentateuch was not available to him, at least not before the last stages of his work, though he knew and quoted the Letter of Aristeas, which expounds at length the story of this translation and gives it all due authority.
In many cases Josephus’ paraphrase is at odds with all the biblical witnesses we know, though he stresses his faithfulness to his sources (AJ 1:17): he adds speeches or omits whole chapters; he reshapes his material, not only by formal changes, but also by adducing many exegetical traditions, no less than laws and customs, which cannot have been extracted directly from the biblical letter. Moreover, the archetype of all the extant mss of the Antiquities is most probably two or three centuries later than the original scrolls, written by Josephus and/or his assistents. It has many alterations, either mistakes or learned corrections; the latter are more misleading, since they give way to granting Josephus pieces of information he never uttered. Of course, it is impossible to deal properly with Josephus’ Bible before an identification of all these alterations.
If a man intentionally struck a pregnant woman for the purpose of killing the fetus, the punishment would be most severe—probably death. Therefore to claim that the fetus is not a person and that the Bible permits abortion simply on the grounds of an unintentional but negligent assault on the mother and fetus in Exod 21:22 is reckless if not disingenuous.
Scholars have considered Josephus’ comments on Exod 21 22 and on abortion an ìnterpretational crux. On the one hand, Josephus held to the traditional Jewish interpretation in Ant4.278. “He that kicks a pregnant woman, so that the woman miscarry, let him be fined by the judges as for having destroyed in the womb (and) having diminished the multitude, and let money be given to the husband of the woman for it (ι.e. the fetus).” On the other hand, in Ap.2.202 he holds that intentional abortion is murder. “The law commands (us) to rear all (of our offspring), and forbids to abort the fetus, neither to destroy (it after birth), but she will appear to be a child killer (teknoktonos) if she destroyed a soul and diminished the race.” V Aptowitzer claims that these two statements are a “gross contradiction” and that “in the first case a law is reproduced, hence the language of the lawgiver, in the second case a moral valuation is involved, hence the language of the moralist.” “Observations on the Criminal Law of the Jews,” JQR.15 (1924) 87 η 117 This explanation, however, will not do Josephus clearly appeals to the law and indicts the one who commits an intentional abortion as a “child killer.” (Josephus used the cognate word teknoktonia to describe Herod when he murdered his sons Ant 16.392, J W 1 543 ) Perhaps he considered the Exodus case as an unintentional assault, although his loose paraphrase of Exod 21.22 does not directly indicate this since he considers intentional abortion as murder. If so, Josephus’ views are not contradictory. Indeed they parallel some of the ancient Near Eastern laws Josephus’ statement in Ap.2.202 curiously resembles Did 2.2 and Barn 19.5 “You shall not kill a child by abortion, neither will you kill (the child) after it is born ” Could these statements reflect a common axiom of both Jew and Christian concerning abortion in the late first and early second centuries?
For Exod 21:23, a question immediately arises. Is this not an accidental injury? It is, but evidently not one exempted by 21:13. In other words, we are to interpret 21:13 in the manner of Num 35:22-23; Deut 19:5: “acts of God” are true accidents like workplace injuries, not the unintended consequences of animosity. The same might be inferred from Exod 21:18: two men fight and one kills the other without previous intent. If the stricken party recovers, his assailant is cleared. The tacit assumption is that, if he does not recover, his adversary is a murderer, even in the absence of premeditation. In other words, what we reckon as manslaughter, the Bible considers murder. If people wish to brawl, they may, but they risk incurring capital charges if either participant or bystander dies.
Exodus 21:23 mandates execution should the pregnant woman die. But execution of whom, the male combatant or his wife? Strict talion in a patriarchal society would require the latter (Houtman 20000: 165). Hammurapi §§116, 210, 230 and Middle Assyrian Laws §55 offer examples of a man’s wife or children being mharmed for his offenses against another’s wife or children. Still, we cannot be certain.
On Propp’s last statements, it seems the Bible did not practice this type of retributive talion, it rather only punished the person responsible. It is uncertain if Josephus’ statements are indeed contradictory but maybe we could posit four levels of intentionality to reconcile them: 1. fully intentional, 2. negligent (partially intentional), 3 unintentional but directly following from your actions (go a city of refuge), 4. completely unintentional. (no need to go to a city of refuge) Maybe this verse then falls into covering “2. negligent (partially intentional)” they were fighting with the intent to hurt and ended up hurting someone nearby. Propp seems to not include item 2. or 4. as a possible category. The idea that these verses are addressing negligence (2.) is backed up by the context afterward. Contrary to Propp there is no evidence that Exod 21:18 would necessarily result in capital punishment if one man died. It could also be a case of negligence since the verse about a slave being monetarily compensated for his damages appears right after and negligence seemed to punished with equal retribution or equivalent monetary compensation that was laid on the perpetrator by a representative of the victim. An example of this idea occurs in the following context with an ox that is and is not known to gore where there seems to be 2. and 4. levels of intentionality covered i.e. 4. you are either killed or have to pay monetary compensation because of negligence when your ox is known to gore (no going to city of refuge), 2. there is no need to go to a city of refuge when your ox gores someone because the ox’s action is not your action:
22 When people who are fighting injure a pregnant woman so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no further harm follows, the one responsible shall be fined what the woman’s husband demands, paying as much as the judges determine. 23 If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
26 When a slaveowner strikes the eye of a male or female slave, destroying it, the owner shall let the slave go, a free person, to compensate for the eye. 27 If the owner knocks out a tooth of a male or female slave, the slave shall be let go, a free person, to compensate for the tooth. 28 When an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall not be liable. 29 If the ox has been accustomed to gore in the past, and its owner has been warned but has not restrained it, and it kills a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned, and its owner also shall be put to death. 30 If a ransom is imposed on the owner, then the owner shall pay whatever is imposed for the redemption of the victim’s life. 31 If it gores a boy or a girl, the owner shall be dealt with according to this same rule. 32 If the ox gores a male or female slave, the owner shall pay to the slaveowner thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned.
(Ex 21:22-32 NRSV)
As can be seen from this and the context, negligence is repaid either with literal lex talionis retribution or with monetary compensation depending on what is laid on the perpetrator. However, another idea must be considered the term “life for life” or other such phrases in a lex talionis cannot be taken literally at all:
1. Is the Death of the Woman a Capital Offence?
One influential interpretation argues that this phrase merely expresses a legal formula which is expounded in proverbial form. The principle is that whatever punishment is imposed (and in this immediate case the punishment is a fine) must be proportionate to the harm inflicted on the victim. Sarna notes “[r]abbinic tradition understood the biblical formulation to mean monetary payment and not physical retaliation” and he defends this interpretation. Drazin notes that the Halacah in b. B.K 84a and Sanhedrin 79a and Mekach understand the phrase to refer to a principle of commensurate compensation. Plaut states that “few passages in the Torah have been so thoroughly misunderstood” and suggests the text is best understood as requiring “the value of an eye for the loss of an eye”, “the value of a limb for its loss and so on”. Rachels, Harrison, et al. do not engage with this tradition of exegesis. They appear merely to assume a literalistic reading without argument.
There are, I think, good reasons for accepting the traditional, rabbinic exegesis on this point. Here I will provide six. While none of them may be decisive in themselves, jointly, I believe, they provide a strong case for reading v 23 in the traditional fashion.
The first reason is how phraseology such as that found in v 23 functions in such a genre as Exodus is written in. As noted above, this section of the book of Exodus in terms of its structure, literary form and language parallels the structure and language of Ancient Near Eastern (A.N.E.) legal texts. Interestingly enough, the legal formulas such as ‘an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth’ are not uncommon in such codes. In Old Babylonian law the hand that assaults is severed, a man who kisses another’s wife has his lips cut off, a person who steals bees is to be stung by bees. A person who had thrown his victim into an oven was to be thrown into an oven. A man who raped another’s wife would be sentenced to having his own wife or daughter raped. A negligent builder whose house collapsed and killed another’s son would be sentenced to having his own son killed. In act, the Code of Hammurabi states that if a man knocks out the eye of one of the upper classes, his eye must be knocked out.
Westbrook notes that such laws “reflect the scribal compilers’ concern for perfect symmetry and delicious irony rather than the pragmatic experience of the law courts”. The method used in legal texts was “to set out principles by the use of often extreme examples”. He goes on to note “[s]ome law codes impose physical punishments and others payments for the same offenses, while some codes have a mixture of the two. There is not necessarily a contradiction.” He explains that “in highlighting one or the other alternative, the codes are making a statement as to their view of the gravity of the offence”. Westbrook argues that serious wrongs “gave rise to a dual right in the victim or his family, namely to take revenge on the culprit, or to make composition with the culprit and accept payment in lieu of revenge”. He goes on to note, “[t]his right was a legal right, determined and regulated by the court”. The courts could “fix the level of composition payment” making “revenge a contingent right, which was only revived if the culprit failed to pay”. When talionic legal formulae occur in A.N.E. legal texts they merely express that the punishment be proportional to the crime. This could involve punishment in kind (which would be proportional to the crime) but in most cases it would probably involve monetary compensation. The phraseology is compatible with either.
J Finkelstein makes a similar point reflecting on what appears to be very harsh capital (and sometimes vicarious) sentences in the code of Hammurabi and the absurdity and impossibility of putting them into practice. He states that Mesopotamian penalty prescriptions,
[W]ere not meant to be complied with literally even when they were first drawn up, [But rather they] serve an admonitory function. If one would be bold enough to restate Hammurabi’s 230 as a direct admonition it might run to this effect: “woe to the contractor who undertakes construction and in his greed cuts corners”.
There is evidence then to suggest that when talionic formulae occur in A.N.E. legal texts they do not necessarily function as commandments to inflict literal mutilation in kind. They rather function as a kind of hyperbolic, ironical way of denouncing the crime and expressing a principle of proportionality.
The second reason for understanding the lex talionis in this fashion follows on from the first. A careful reading of the Hebrew Bible suggests that something like what Westbrook and Finkelstein argue is true of the Torah. Verses 29-32 deal with a case where an ox gores another person to death due to negligence on the part of the owner. This is a case of negligent homicide as opposed to premeditated killing; the penalty rendered is that the negligent person shall be put to death. However, immediately proceeding this, provision is made for a monetary fine to be paid instead of execution. This suggests that the command to execute was not considered incompatible with payment of monetary compensation proportional to the offence. The phrase “he shall be put to death” is not always to be taken literally.
This brings into question the very distinction of the lex talionis from the fine in verse 22, is one necessarily more serious than the other?
I would argue that the ox is a different situation because of the level of intent. In addition, I would argue that “life for life” is often used literally, although lesser punishments like “eye for eye” are not based on the servant who goes free based on any significant damage. Yet the servant who is killed is not covered by monetary compensation see misconception 8: https://hebrewroots.intentionalcommunities.world/2020/04/09/a-list-of-torah-misconceptions-in-short/ Also the death of someone “life for life” is demanded based on man being made in the image of God:
Whoever sheds the blood of a human, by a human shall that person’s blood be shed; for in his own image God made humankind. (Gen 9:6 NRSV)
life for life. This NOTE and the following treat the Old Testament’s notorious lex talionis or “law of ritribution” (Exod 21:23-25; Lev 24:17-22; cf. Deut 19:19). In this context, “life for life” almost certainly prescribes a capital punishment (Luzzatto). (Hypothetically, nepes tahat nepes could also indicate giving the aggrieved part a child or a wife to replace the deceased–cf. Gen 4:25–but such recompense would be impossible with eyes, teeth etc., and so probably is not intended here, especially since no recipient is specified.)
The principle “life for life” appears also in nonjudicial contexts. Jehu admonishes his guard, 2Kgs 10:24, “The man who escapes from among the men I am about to bring upon your hands–his life for his life (napso tahat napso),” apparently meaning that anyone who lets a Baal-worshipper escape will forfeit his own life. And in 1 Kgs 20:39, a prisoner is entrusted to a soldier with the words, “Your life for his life (napseka tahat napso); or you must weigh out a talent of silver.”
. . .
Exodus 21:23 mandates execution should the pregnant woman die . . .
What if the pregnant woman merely miscarries? If fetal death counts under “injury,” then someone must die. But who? It must be either the assailant (cf. Middle Assyrian Laws A §50) or perhaps his youngest child, in the true spirit of talion. (One might argue that Deu 24:16 “Fathers shall not be put to death on account of sons; and sons, they shall not be put to death on account of fathers,” attacks this very practice, but, more likely, the subject is vicarious punishment; e.g., if a murderer fled abroad, his son was executed in his stead.)
“Life for life” raises one other question: the term nepes technically refers to both human and animal life. Obviously, one cannot compound a murder or manslaughter just by killing a sheep. But if I kill your sheep, is my punishment to kill one of my own? Or do I owe you a sheep? Lev 24:17-18, 21 explicity addresses these issues:
And a man, should he strike (dead) any human’s life (nepes), must be put to death, death. And should one strike (dead) an animals’s life, he must repay it, life for life (nepes tahat nepes). . . . And whoever strikes (dead) a beast must repay it, but whoever strikes a human must be put to death.
I think you see by now that the interpretation of the text is uncertain enough that we may not be able to make any definite conclusions about it with regard to the ethical nature of abortion. You may also notice that none of these ideas help us get to where exactly conception begins. Philo does have some commentary on it:
(135) Thus the souls which are already pregnant are naturally likely to bring forth children, rather than those which are now receiving the seed. But as the eyes of the body do oftentimes see obscurely, and often on the other hand see clearly, so in the same manner does the eye of the soul, at times, receive the particular impressions conveyed to it by things in a most confused and indistinct manner, and at other times it beholds them with the greatest purity and clearness; (136) therefore an indistinct and not clearly manifested conception resembles an embryo which has not yet received any distinct character or similitude within the womb: but that which is clear and distinctly visible, is like one which is completely formed, and which is already fashioned in an artistic manner as to both its inward and its outward parts, and which has already received its suitable character. (137) And with respect to these matters the following law has been enacted with great beauty and propriety: “If while two men are fighting one should strike a woman who is great with child, and her child should come from her before it is completely formed, he shall be muleted in a fine, according to what the husband of the woman shall impose on him, and he shall pay the fine deservedly. But if the child be fully formed, he shall pay life for life.”
For it was not the same thing, to destroy a perfect and an imperfect work of the mind, nor is what is only likened by a figure similar to what is really comprehended, nor is what is only hoped for similar to what really exists. (138) On this account, in one case, an uncertain penalty is affixed to an uncertain action; in another, a definite punishment is enacted by law against an act which is perfected, but which is perfected not with respect to virtue, but with reference to what is done in an irreproachable manner, according to some act. For it is not she who has just received the seed, but she who has been for some time pregnant, who brings forth this offspring, professing boasting rather than modesty. For it is impossible that she who has been pregnant some time should miscarry, since it is fitting that the plant should be conducted to perfection by him who sowed it; but it is not strange if some mishap should befall the woman who was pregnant, since she was afflicted with a disease beyond the art of the physician. (Yonge, C. D. with Philo of Alexandria. (1995). The works of Philo: complete and unabridged (p. 316). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.)
(108) But if any one has a contest with a woman who is pregnant, and strike her a blow on her belly, and she miscarry, if the child which was conceived within her is still unfashioned and unformed, he shall be punished by a fine, both for the assault which he committed and also because he has prevented nature, who was fashioning and preparing that most excellent of all creatures, a human being, from bringing him into existence. But if the child which was conceived had assumed a distinct shape in all its parts, having received all its proper connective and distinctive qualities, he shall die; (109) for such a creature as that is a man, whom he has slain while still in the workshop of nature, who had not thought it as yet a proper time to produce him to the light, but had kept him like a statue lying in a sculptor’s workshop, requiring nothing more than to be released and sent out into the world. (Yonge, C. D. with Philo of Alexandria. (1995). The works of Philo: complete and unabridged (p. 605). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.)
This should be interpreted in light of this information (note Flannigan follows a non-literal lex talionis interpretation unlike me in the case of death)
The LXX’s teaching about an assault upon a woman does not contradict the MT’s teaching on this question. While the LXX does not mention harm to the mother in this passage, causing harm to the mother falls readily under the other laws dealing with assault where an assailant is required to compensate his victim for damages suffered. Hence, its teaching on this question is essentially the same as the MT’s even if the presentation of it differs.
Nor does the teaching of the LXX regarding feticide contradict the teaching of the MT. The MT states that if a person kills a fetus he or she must pay a fine based upon an assessment. While the mode of assessment is not specified, evidence suggests that there existed a practice that based it upon the age of the fetus. The LXX does not contradict this. It states that if a person kills a fetus he or she must pay an assessment and it bases the assessment upon the age of the fetus.
The difference between the two is that the LXX specifies exactly how this assessment is to be carried out. It claims that when the conceptus is formed the payment must be a payment for homicide. The Hebrew is silent as to how the assessment is to be carried out so it does not deny that this is the correct way to carry out the assessment. Hence, the LXX is entirely compatible with the Hebrew here. As Scott notes, “This Greek interpretation of the passage reveals how the law had come to be applied over centuries of use, at least in the Alexandrian, Jewish community”.
The distinction made between a formed and unformed conceptus strengthens this conclusion. The distinction appears to be drawn from Greek natural philosophy. Kapparis notes, “Formation was a crucial concept in connection with the human identity of the unborn in Hippocratic medicine”. He adds,
In the understanding of many, [Hippocratic doctors] the acquisition of human identity was not something that happened at birth but well before that, when the foetus was sufficiently formed to be considered a human being.
Kapparis draws attention to numerous examples of the formed/unformed distinction in numerous, ancient, embryological writings. Galen for example noted that two contemporary studies, The Commentaries on the Demonstration and On the views of Hippocrates and Plato, defended the view “[t]hat what is in the womb is already a living being when it is formed in all its members”. Similarly, the Hippocratic study On the Nature of the Child, affirms that a conceptus “becomes a child” when it attains form. A similar view appears to be expressed by Socrates in Platonic dialogues.
The formed/unformed distinction appears in numerous other works. Soranus mentions the distinction and suggests that abortions should be performed only when the conceptus is unformed.
Interestingly, authors who mentioned the formed/unformed distinction tended to place its occurrence at roughly the same time, though they differed on the precise details. Diogenes Laertius informs us of the Pythagorean view.
This first creation [the conceptus] is formed in forty days, and then, in accordance with the law of harmony, the baby is perfected and born after seven, or nine, or maximum ten months.
Empedocles similarly argued that formation started on the 39th day and was completed on the 49th. Asclepiades noted the formed/unformed distinction and suggested that for males formation occurred between the 26th and 50th days and females were formed around 60 days. The tract, On the Nature of the Child, states a male fetus is formed
after 30 days and female fetuses were formed on the 42nd day. The author of On Seven Months Child, states a male conceptus is formed at 40 days while a female is formed after this.
Perhaps the most influential of Greek biologists was Aristotle. Aristotle developed the Hippocratic views with more sophistication. He argued that the soul was the life principle of the body. A conceptus began with a vegetative soul and then gradually acquired a sensitive soul. It became fully human when it achieved form, which occurred 40 days after conception for a boy or 90 for a girl. Aristotle’s views were based on empirical investigations. Other biologists from the period also based their views on empirical observation either from miscarriages and abortions that had occurred in humans or on analogy with the embryological development with animals.
There appeared then to be an established distinction in ancient Greek embryology between a formed and unformed fetus. The similarity between the Hippocratic/Aristotelian position and the LXX can hardly be a coincidence. It appears Alexandrian Jews utilised the biological information of their day, concluded that a formed conceptus was a human being and hence applied the law accordingly. In many ways this is unsurprising because even with Palestinian Rabbinical Judaism, Aristotelian embryology was often appealed to by Jewish scholars. Several examples bear this out.
The first comes from Nid. 3:2-7. Here the question arises about how the cleanliness laws recorded in Leviticus 12 apply to a woman who has miscarried. The law prescribes that a woman who has given birth to a child is unclean for forty days if the child born is a boy and eighty days if it is a girl. The question raised is when does miscarrying a fetus constitute giving birth to a child?
The answer given is that a miscarriage qualifies as the birth of a child if the conceptus has the form of a human being. It is stated that this happens on the forty-first day after conception. The justification provided for this ruling is precisely the kind of empirical studies that Greek biologists had appealed to.
A second example occurs in Ker. 1:3-5. The law requires that after a woman has undergone her post-birth period of uncleanness she is required to make a sacrifice. The question is asked, does this apply if she miscarries a fetus? The answer is the same as in the previous case, after forty-one days the conceptus has form. At this stage, a miscarriage is considered the birth of a child.
The third example comes from Bek. 8:1. Here the issue is the application of Exodus 13:12 where it states that a woman must redeem her first-born son with an offering. The question arises as to whether a child born to a woman who had miscarried previously is considered the first-born son. The answer is yes but only if the miscarried conceptus had not been formed which occurs at forty-one days after conception.
Four things then are evident. Firstly, in translating the LXX Alexandrian scholars aimed at “a gloss or commentary rather than a literal rendering of the Hebrew text”. They were “attempting to embody — in a widely accessible form — then-current applications of the Scriptures”. Secondly, it was common practice even in Rabbinical Judaism to utilise Greek natural philosophy in applying the Torah to various issues. Thirdly, the dominant, Greek, natural philosophy placed an important stress upon form in determining the human status of a conceptus. Fourthly, the LXX appears to utilise this distinction in applying the Torah to the question of feticide.
The best explanation appears to be that Alexandrian Jews utilised Greek embryology in an effort to apply the Torah to the question of feticide. The law told them that if a person killed a fetus they had to be punished based on an assessment of the maturity of the fetus. The science of the day taught them that a conceptus was human when it attained human form around 40 days post-conception. Hence, they concluded that if a person killed a formed conceptus this was homicide.
Consequently, the LXX is perhaps best seen as simply complementing the MT and offering an interpretation as to how to apply the law that it prescribes. The scribes behind the LXX did not so much attempt accurate translation of the text but rather faithful interpretation of it to explain its requirements to others. The Hebrew text taught that if a man killed a fetus one was to base the punishment upon an assessment based upon its level of development. This is precisely what the Alexandrian Jews did. Utilising the empirical information of the day they made such an assessment and concluded that early in the pregnancy it constituted homicide. In order to determine if their conclusion were mistaken or correct, the time of hominisation must be assessed. It is not determined by examining the text. The text simply demands that the assessment be made. The question is whether it was made correctly. Are there good grounds for holding that a formed conceptus is a human being? If there are then the LXX does propose a faithful application of the law.
I take position 3. “The LXX is a paraphrase clarifying the scenario where the woman wasn’t harmed (miscarriage is assumed in all scenarios)” so harm could apply to the woman. The LXX only addresses a scenario where the woman isn’t harmed. I take lex talionis as an additional punishment to the fine and I take it literally in the case of “life for Iife” and non-literally in the case of lesser mutilations. I take Exodus 21:22-25 as speaking to “negligence” where a literal “life for life” or monetary compensation can be applied to the offender based on what the husband of the woman demands.
While we can see some implications with regards to fetal personhood in the case of miscarriage in Ex 21:22-25 they do not appear certain to me especially given that the uncertain nature of the lex talionis and intent in this case. Josephus interestingly was against intentional abortion and yet interpreted the passage as a miscarriage along with all the other commentaries of his time. Hence, I prefer to weight the evidence in sections A and B more heavily.
The conclusion I can come to is that fetal personhood happens at some point during pregnancy. Josephus interestingly elevates an intentional abortion of any type to be punished with death but this is not consistent with the evidence in section B. The only way to make it consistent is to say that the timing of justice is paramount and invalidates fetal personhood in executing perpetrators of sexual immorality. However, I think that exceptions were made for pregnancies if the fetus was thought to be “fully formed” or similar based on my tentative understanding of the lex talionis in Ex 21:22-25. I think this is possible because many details on how to carry out punishments could be left out of the Torah and fetal personhood is elsewhere supported in the Bible. Fetal personhood is also supported by the extra-biblical sources which indicate that believers did value fetal personhood: https://glanier.wordpress.com/2014/01/26/abortion-in-the-scrolls-and-the-didache/
The value of the fetus before being “fully formed” would then be up for debate at different stages. A newly fertilized egg seems to not be considered valuable but later stages seem to be since a fine is imposed in Ex 21:22 even before it was called “fully formed” (even this is not certain if it were only about compensation for trauma but is itself made complicated by the fact that this may have been an unintentional act). What I have drawn from all this is that these topics are nowhere near as easy to decide as I had once thought. This does not suggest there isn’t value in the fetus before it attains a status of personhood so abortion (after the time of conception and before it is “fully formed”) is difficult to comment on with certainty.
All verses are in the NRSV unless otherwise noted. Karel van der Toorn compares the writing of the Bible to the Bible’s description of creation:
According to the first chapter of the Bible, separation and ordering were essential to the act of creation. God did not create the world out of nothing, but he turned chaos into cosmos. As a creator, God edited the world. He followed the modus operandi of a master scribe, whose art consists in the creation of something new out of preexisting elements. God brought order to the disparate elements that he found. The outcome was the world as we know it, not just a haphazard compilation of everything that went on before, but an orderly arrangement of all the elements available. He produced a text we can read and live in.
The scribes that were responsible for the creation of the canonical works of the ancient world, the books of the Bible as much as the classics of the Mesopotamian tradition, were not really authors but editors. Most of the scribes mentioned in the Babylonian Catalogue of Texts and Authors were the editors of the compositions put to their name.
Page 221 “God in Context: Selected Essays on Society and Religion in the Early Middle East” by Karel van der Toorn
Whatever you think of the documentary hypothesis there is no question that Toorn believes the Bible describes separating and organizing rather than ex-nihilo creation. Let’s keep this in mind when reading Genesis. Here I present my views on the creation story and attempt to reconcile it with a 13.772 billion-year-old universe and the 4.543 billion-year-old earth. My argument will work with or without evolution and common ancestry being correct. (that’s not my main concern here) It’s beyond the scope of this post to show why I basically accept these calculations. My argument, therefore, will be primarily theological.
For those who view the material in Genesis to be mythological, this will be a silly exercise. I find some of the details in Genesis hard to take in a mythological way, maybe I need to study ancient mythology more. However, from watching Shaye Cohen’s online class even secular Bible scholars have a problem with the non-mythological surface of Genesis 1 since it does not conform to the pattern of other creation myths where conflict results in creation. They need to read between the lines to extract the idea that it is a battle between God and Tiamat and I haven’t found this convincing.
In addition, I know ancient people believed a lot of weird things about the world and it would be pedantic if God magically changed their thinking just so they could make some theological point without misrepresenting an aspect of creation they were basing it on. However, consider the prophecy of Caiaphas:
50 You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.” 51 He did not say this on his own, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus was about to die for the nation, (John 11:15-51)
The relevant point: it is possible for someone to speak in a way that is inspired even if they do not know the way God intended their words. Therefore, I’m not claiming that all the statements in the Bible were meant to support a later scientific understanding when they were written; just that they are compatible with that understanding due to the ambiguity of language. This may seem like I’m holding too high of a standard to the Bible but my experience has taught me to have respect for the Bible’s veracity when it is properly interpreted so I thought I’d at least try this interpretation.
I’m not going to spend a whole lot of time arguing against young-earth creationism. However, I do find it odd so many Christians say that belief in a literal Genesis is critical but are in conflict about the meaning of Genesis 1 and many of the scientific facts related to it. Here are some of the church fathers’ views on days being ages: https://ibbarsoum.wordpress.com/2012/01/11/early-church-fathers-on-genesis/ Modern Creationists sometimes dismiss these as non-literal interpretations so I will also quote this:
Over the last four parts of this Today’s New Reasons to Believe series, I have responded to each of Mook’s major arguments.
Part 1. The early church fathers based their understanding of Genesis on Greek and Latin translations, not the original Hebrew.
Part 2. The allegorical interpreters (e. g., Origen and Augustine) did have specific scriptural reasons for rejecting a calendar-day view of Genesis 1. In particular, the creation days could not be solar days if the Sun was not created until the fourth day. Moreover, the seventh creation day is not closed out by the “evening and morning” phrase, so it is considered longer than a 24-hour day.
Part 3. Even the so-called “literalist” fathers often relied on nonliteral modes of interpretation in dealing with the Old Testament, such as typology and numerological association.
Part 4. The cornerstone of Mook’s proof of young-earth creationism in the early church is a widespread belief among the patristics that human history would last exactly 6,000 years. Ironically, this idea was merely a popular human tradition concerned primarily with eschatology—not creation. This model artificially constrained the age of the earth even though the Bible itself does not require it to be so.
As you’ll see later in my post there are several early Jewish interpreters that were familiar with Hebrew and agree with my basic premise of interpreting Gen 1:2 as the state of the earth at the beginning of God’s creative process. Later on, this confusion with Christians over Genesis continued. Even within a uniform view of Genesis the science among creationists is disputed:
In a presentation at the conference, Wise showed a slide of a fossil sequence that moved from reptile to mammal, with some transitional fossils in between. He veered suddenly from his usual hyperactive mode to contemplative. “It’s a pain in the neck,” he said. “It fits the evolutionary prediction quite well.” Wise and others have come up with various theories explaining how the flood could have produced such perfect order. Wise is refining a theory, for example, that the order reflects how far the animals lived from the shore, so those living farthest from the water show up last in the record. But they haven’t settled on anything yet.
It also turns out that while the young-earth movement is seemingly uncontested in conservative circles that this is a recent phenomenon:
Until well into the twentieth century critics of evolution tended to identify themselves as anti-evolutionists rather than creationists. Three factors help to explain this practice. First, the word already possessed a well-known meaning unrelated to the creation–evolution debate. Since early Christianity theologians had attached ‘creationism’ to the doctrine that God had specially created each human soul – as opposed to the traducianist teaching that God had created only Adam’s soul and that children inherited their souls from their parents. Second, even the most prominent scientific opponents of organic evolution differed widely in their views of origins. Some adopted the biblical view that all organisms had descended from the kinds divinely created in the Garden of Eden and preserved on Noah’s ark. Others, such as the British geologist Charles Lyell (1797–1875), advocated the spontaneous but non-supernatural appearance of species in regional centres or foci of creation. Still others followed the leading American anti-evolutionist, the Harvard zoologist Louis Agassiz (1807–73), in arguing for repeated plenary creations, during which ‘species did not originate in single pairs, but were created in large numbers’. Third, even Bible-believing fundamentalists could not agree on the correct interpretation of the first chapter of Genesis. A majority probably adopted the ruin-and restoration view endorsed by the immensely popular Scofield Reference Bible (1909), which identified two creations (the first ‘in the beginning’, the second associated with the Garden of Eden) and slipped the fossil record into the vast gap between the two events. Another popular reading of Genesis 1, advocated by William Jennings Bryan (1860–1925), the leading anti-evolutionist of the time, held that the days mentioned in Genesis 1 represented immense ages, each corresponding to a section of the geological column or perhaps to a period in the history of the cosmos. Only a handful of those writing against evolution insisted on what later came to be known as young-earth creationism but was then called flood geology: a recent special creation of all kinds in six twenty-four-hour periods and a geologically significant flood at the time of Noah that buried most of the fossils. . . .
In 1935 Price, Clark, Rimmer and Higley joined with a few others to create ‘a united front against the theory of evolution’. The resulting society, the Religion and Science Association, quickly dissolved, however, when the members fell to squabbling about the age of the earth, with Price and Clark supporting flood geology, Rimmer and Higley pushing for the gap theory, and still others arguing for the day–age interpretation. As one frustrated anti-evolutionist observed in the 1930s, fundamentalists were ‘all mixed up between geological ages, Flood geology and ruin, believing all at once, endorsing all at once’. How, he wondered, could evangelical Christians possibly turn the world against evolution if they themselves could not even agree on the meaning of Genesis 1?
The roots of modern creationism run directly back to George McCready Price (1870–1963), an amateur geologist with no formal training. In a book designed to look like a geology textbook, Price (1923) asserted that there was no order to the fossil record. Rejecting the idea of fossil succession, he argued that the succession of organisms that geologists read in the fossil record was really just a mixed-up sampling of communities that lived in different parts of the antediluvian world. He considered the fossil record too incomplete to confidently reconstruct the past, citing the occasional discovery of animals thought to be extinct and known only from fossils. . .
Despite the efforts of Price and his followers, during the first half of the twentieth century, the majority of Christians—and evangelical fundamentalists—continued to endorse attempts to reconcile geology and Genesis. Even prominent anti-evolution crusader Harry Rimmer (1890–1952) acknowledged that Earth was quite ancient and thought the biblical flood was a local affair rather than a global catastrophe. Twentieth-century fundamentalist circles split into young-Earth creationists, who defended a global flood, and old-Earth creationists, who acknowledged geological evidence that we live on an ancient planet but maintained that God fashioned it for eventual human use.
My interpretation is that the events in Genesis don’t make any sense unless viewed from the perspective of the Earth. Just like the Sun setting in the sky is a description that is accurate from the standpoint of the Earth but not from outside–so the creation story in Genesis doesn’t make sense if you view it from a cosmic perspective.
Unitarianism and Local Creation
Even the word for “earth” in Hebrew can also be translated as “land” or “ground” so it could be an entirely local creation event as well. Perhaps it’s repairing the garden of Eden, the land of Canaan, or the land around it. The possible idea of a local creation might seem to be ruled out or at least make two creation events necessary from John 1:1-5 and Colossians 1:15-20. However, John 1-3 seems to be talking about the “moral creation” (and was interpreted as such by the Sonicians) https://biblehub.com/commentaries/meyer/john/1.htm
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:1-3 NRSV)
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16 for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:15-20 NRSV)
Here’s some more commentary on these verses that I have found interesting:
The renowned Trinitarian scholar, John Lightfoot, writes:
The word logos then, denoting both “reason” and “speech,” was a philosophical term adopted by Alexandrian Judaism before St. Paul wrote, to express the manifestation of the Unseen God in the creation and government of the World. It included all modes by which God makes Himself known to man. As His reason, it denoted His purpose or design; as His speech, it implied His revelation. Christian teachers, when they adopted this term, exalted and fixed its meaning by attaching to it two precise and definite ideas: (1) “The Word is a Divine Person,” (2) “The Word became incarnate in Jesus Christ.” It is obvious that these two propositions must have altered materially the significance of all the subordinate terms connected with the idea of the logos. 
It is important to note that it was “Christian teachers” who attached the idea of a “divine person” to the word logos. It is certainly true that when the word logos came to be understood as being Jesus Christ, the understanding of John 1:1 was altered substantially. Lightfoot correctly understands that the early meaning of logos concerned reason and speech, not “Jesus Christ.” Norton develops the concept of logos as “reason” and writes:
There is no word in English answering to the Greek word logos, as used here [in John 1:1]. It was employed to denote a mode of conception concerning the Deity, familiar at the time when St. John wrote and intimately blended with the philosophy of his age, but long since obsolete, and so foreign from our habits of thinking that it is not easy for us to conform our minds to its apprehension. The Greek word logos, in one of its primary senses, answered nearly to our word Reason. The logos of God was regarded, not in its strictest sense, as merely the Reason of God; but, under certain aspects, as the Wisdom, the Mind, the Intellect of God (p. 307). . . . The logos, that is, the plan, purpose and wisdom of God, “became flesh” (came into concretion or physical existence) in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the “image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15) and His chief emissary, representative and agent. Because Jesus perfectly obeyed the Father, he represents everything that God could communicate about Himself in a human person. As such, Jesus could say, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father” (John 14:9). The fact that the logos “became” flesh shows that it did not exist that way before. There is no pre-existence for Jesus in this verse other than his figurative “existence” as the plan, purpose or wisdom of God for the salvation of man. The same is true with the “word” in writing. It had no literal pre-existence as a “spirit-book” somewhere in eternity past, but it came into being as God gave the revelation to people and they wrote it down.
Trinitarians use this verse to show that Christ made the world and its contents. However, that is not the case. What we have learned from the study of John 1:1 above will be helpful in properly interpreting this verse. . . .
2. The pronoun in verse 3 can legitimately be translated as “it.” It does not have to be translated as “him,” and it does not have to refer to a “person” in any way. A primary reason why people get the idea that “the Word” is a person is that the pronoun “he” is used with it. The Greek text does, of course, have the masculine pronoun, because like many languages, including Spanish, French, German, Latin, Hebrew, etc., the Greek language assigns a gender to all nouns, and the gender of the pronoun must agree with the gender of the noun. In French, for example, a table is feminine, la table, while a desk is masculine, le bureau, and feminine and masculine pronouns are required to agree with the gender of the noun. In translating from French to English, however, we would never translate “the table, she,” or “the desk, he.” And we would never insist that a table or desk was somehow a person just because it had a masculine or feminine pronoun. We would use the English designation “it” for the table and the desk, in spite of the fact that in the original language the table and desk have a masculine or feminine gender.
God delegated to Christ His authority to create. Ephesians 2:15 refers to Christ creating “one new man” (his Church) out of Jew and Gentile. In pouring out the gift of holy spirit to each believer (Acts 2:33 and 38), the Lord Jesus has created something new in each of them, that is, the “new man,” their new nature (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15; Eph. 4:24).
The Church of the Body of Christ was a brand new entity, created by Christ out of Jew and Gentile. He had to also create the structure and positions that would allow it to function, both in the spiritual world (positions for the angels that would minister to the Church—see Rev. 1:1, “his angel”) and in the physical world (positions and ministries here on earth—see Rom. 12:4-8; Eph. 4:7-11). The Bible describes these physical and spiritual realities by the phrase, “things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible” (1:16).
In addition, if you find your beliefs challenged or feel offended that is intentional. I started this site to filter out people who would be too easily offended to live in a community of diverse views and attract those that could. I don’t believe that different views about creation should cause divisions (see the “about” section of this site for my views about heresy) You should divide over sufficiently bad behavior, not beliefs. I have a friend who actually believes Noah is an alien and has more conservative beliefs about how to act than most other people I know. However, maybe you disagree with this and I’m just being a jerk and trying to destroy good conservative theology. That’s fine, you don’t have to read any of this.
Short Summary of Genesis 1
Creation starts with a state of volcanic winter (also known as nuclear winter) and God starts recreating/repairing the Earth from there.
A massive volcanic eruption 250,000 years ago shot dust and ash into the atmosphere and probably caused a winter like that expected by many scientists to follow a nuclear war, according to New Zealand geologists.
. . . Dust and ash ejected into the atmosphere reflect shortwave radiation from the sun, reducing the amount reaching the Earth’s surface and lowering temperatures.
Scientists are analyzing ancient ocean-floor samples, seeking conclusive proof linking the New Zealand eruption with the cooling.
“Core samples drilled from the Pacific Ocean bed and dated by oxygen isotopes showed there was a cooling of the Earth’s atmosphere immediately after the eruption,” Carter said. “We don’t have final proof yet, but it seems the two could be linked.”
Severe volcanic winter is a situation that is cold, dark, and has accumulated snow on the ground caused by ash in the atmosphere blocking sunlight.
Reading Genesis with this idea: The first day (Sunday) God lets the sunshine through the dark clouds enough so that the day-night cycle is apparent. The second day (Monday) God causes the thick fog to clear away between the clouds and the earth but leaves some of the cloud cover. The third day (Tuesday) God causes the snow to melt that has accumulated on the land and it runs into rivers and oceans and God now can cause plants to grow back. The fourth day (Wednesday) the Sun and the Moon are recreated by God in the sky by clearing away the rest of the cloud cover. Just like the “setting” sun appears to “set” from our perspective: God created the light in the sky from Earth’s perspective but not its literal source. The fifth day God recreates the water creatures and birds. The sixth day God recreates land animals and man. In general, God seems to be creating ecosystems from the ground up.
1 In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. (Gen 1 NRSV)
The standard evangelical Christian view is that God first created the heavens and the earth as a formless void (chaos) and improved upon that. However, you’ll notice that from the NRSV chaos could have been the previous state when God’s creating started. Some have tried allowing a gap between the first two verses. This is known as “the gap theory.” It was a long-held view before the advent of modern geological science and is a convenient way to try and reconcile vast amounts of geological age with the Bible. However, in addition to the NRSV, Young’s Literal Translation reads like so:
1 In the beginning of God’s preparing the heavens and the earth — 2 the earth hath existed waste and void, and darkness [is] on the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God fluttering on the face of the waters, (Gen 1:1-2 YLT)
The NRSV and Young’s are widely considered good translations and here we have the possibility of a time period before the first verse. That is, before God was preparing the heaven and the earth. This makes a bit more sense than the gap theory because you would think even God would want people to notice if he left a 13.772 billion year gap in between two verses. Here, the huge time period is not strangely glossed over but is simply not covered.
Also, the language does fit with a state of catastrophe (although I’m not saying this is implied positively). In the definition of the word used for “waste and void.” Gesenius has “waste” as:
for “void” he has:
Compare the following ways the words are used in Jeremiah and Isaiah:
10 Night and day it shall not be quenched; its smoke shall go up forever. From generation to generation it shall lie waste; no one shall pass through it forever and ever. 11 But the hawk and the hedgehog shall possess it; the owl and the raven shall live in it. He shall stretch the line of confusion (G8414) over it, and the plummet of chaos (G0922) over its nobles. 12 They shall name it No Kingdom There, and all its princes shall be nothing. (Isaiah 34 NRSV emphasis mine)
20 Disaster overtakes disaster, the whole land is laid waste. Suddenly my tents are destroyed, my curtains in a moment. 21 How long must I see the standard, and hear the sound of the trumpet? 22 “For my people are foolish, they do not know me; they are stupid children, they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil, but do not know how to do good.” 23 I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste (G8414) and void; (G0922) and to the heavens, and they had no light. (Jeremiah 4:20-23 NRSV emphasis mine)
We can see from these contexts that the only time (elsewhere) these Hebrew words are used–they describe destruction and desolation. We might infer that there is a similar state at the beginning of Genesis that is being repaired.
I also found something in the Greek of the LXX Genesis account that I want to share. The Apostolic Bible Polyglot translates Gen 1:2 as:
1 In the beginning God made the heaven and the earth. 2 But the earth was unseen and unready, and darkness was upon the abyss, and spirit of God bore upon the water. (Gen 1:1-2 ABP emphasis mine)
However, “A Greek-English Lexicon of the Septuagint” states that the “but” should be “and” at the beginning of Genesis 1:2:
δέ+ X 1554-155-259-1620-1298=4887
Gn 1,2; 2,126.96.36.199
connecting part., often it cannot be translated Gn 2,12; and Gn 1,2; but Gn 2,6; rather (after neg.) Wis2,11; introducing an apodosis after hypothetical or temporal protasis 2 Mc 1,34
… μὲν … δὲ … on the one hand … on the other hand … Gn 38,23; δὲ καί but also, but even 2 Mc 12,13;ἔτι δὲ καί and (even) LtJ 40; καὶ … δέ and also, but also Wis 7,3
The word for “was” in “the earth was unseen . . .” in Gen 1:2 is “to be,” or “to exist” and it is in this form:
Tense: Imperfect Voice: Active Mood: Indicative Person: third Number: Singular
εἰμι (εἶναι) + V 1730-1486-1362-1167-1202=6947
to be, to exist Gn 1,7; to be [+pred.] Gn 1,2; to be [+adv.] Jb 9,2; to be occupied with [τινος] 2 Chr 30,17;to have [τινι] Jb 1,12; ἔστι (impers.) it is possible Wis 5,10
Ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν I am the one who is, I am the being Ex 3,14; πρὸς ἐμοῦ ἔσται ὁ ἀνήρ μου my husband will be with me or will become attached to me Gn 29,34; ἐσόμεθα τοῦ σῶσαί σε we shall be there to save you2 Sm 10,11; ἐγώ εἰμι see ἐγώ
*Is 4,5 καὶ ἔσται and it shall be-והיה for MT יהוהyhwh, see also Jl 4,11; *Is 16,4 ἔσονται they shall beיהיוfor MT הוי⋄ הוה be
While both the IMPERFECT and AORIST tenses refer to past actions, and so are past tenses, they differ in ASPECT. The AORIST tense always conveys a single, discreet action (i.e. simple aspect). This is the most common tense for referring to action in the past. The IMPERFECT tense always conveys past activity that was more than a single action in some way (i.e. ongoing aspect). Aorist: I walked snapshot of a past action (simple aspect) Imperfect: I was walking/ used to walk video of past action (ongoing aspect) https://ancientgreek.pressbooks.com/chapter/31/
And according to ntgreek.net: http://www.ntgreek.net/lesson21.htm#imperfect with the verb “loosing” in the imperfect it gives the examples of “he, she, it was loosing” This leads me to believe Genesis 1:2 might be translated more literally: “And the earth was becoming unseen and unready, and darkness was coming upon the abyss, and the spirit of God was bearing upon the water.” which would describe the state of the earth when God started his creating. I think the difference implied by the Septuagint is that while God created the heaven and the Earth in a week the past activity of “waste and void” was a different type of activity not associated with what is being currently described as God’s creation.
As for the difference between “and” and “but” in Gen 1:2 I have trusted the Lexicon rather than the ABP but the change to “but” in the ABP may be comparing the creation of God to the original state of the earth. I don’t think it is implying there is a gap of time just a gap of difference between states.
These ideas would place my way of thinking under interpretation options two or three that Barry L. Bandstra describes here. However, he notes that even with option one where Genesis 1:1 is an independent statement it could be a title or topic statement that would make my interpretation fit with all three possible translations. This fit is: “a feat so impressive I am forced to mention it myself” (as the late great Ricky Jay would have put it)
One of the reasons I am sharing my interpretation is because I find it useful for reconciling geological age with the Bible. However, I also think this interpretation makes much more sense simply given the text. That should become clear to you as we move along.
3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. (Gen 1:3-5 NRSV)
To quote myself:
“God said let there be light and there was light” is written as “וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים יְהִי אֹור וַֽיְהִי־אֹֽור” you’ll notice that “and there was light” and “let there be light” are written in the same way ” וַֽיְהִי־אֹֽור” and ” יְהִי אֹור” except for the vav (meaning “and”) and the nikkud (nikkud weren’t added till later). How can this be? Because of the vav conversive which changes the tense of the statement, so they can be written the same way even though the tenses are different. However, the vav does not force this to be the case all the time. Therefore, this may be conveying “it happened exactly as God said it would” through the syntax.
This is the first day and the astute reader will note that the sun is not created till later. Some say that “light” itself as in photons did not exist up till this point. There have been many attempts to connect this verse with The Big Bang. This is from a Wall Street Journal article:
“The press has dubbed the Higgs boson the “God particle,” a nickname that makes many physicists cringe. But there is some logic to it. According to the Bible, God set the universe into motion as he proclaimed “Let there be light!” In physics, the universe started off with a cosmic explosion, the Big Bang, 13.7 billion years ago, which sent the stars and galaxies hurtling in all directions.”
However, this does violence to the context. If you read the text you are observing the events in Genesis from the Earth’s perspective rather than from some cosmic perspective: obviously all the light in the universe isn’t separated from all the dark in the universe, neither are day and night cycles established on every planet. It’s just that the day is separated from the night on Earth. This implies that there was a preexisting day-night cycle that had been scrambled and is now set right: “the first day” is described as being the evening and morning that this separation resulted from. The Hebrew word used for “light” here Gesenius says is specifically used for diffuse light as in the daytime and not for light coming from a discrete luminary object. Obviously daytime diffuse light is from the sun which is a luminary (as Gesenius notes) but there’s quite a difference between looking at the day and looking directly into the Sun:
6 And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” 7 So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. 8 God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day. (Gen 1:6-8 NRSV)
Here the NRSV is translating “rakiya” in Hebrew as “dome.” Other translations have “firmament. If this refers to the whole sky then there’s not much water above the sky (as we would think of it) and this is a problem. However, did the Hebrews know this? Gesenius says they didn’t and that they believed there was a “heavenly ocean” over the firmament:
I have my doubts that the Bible is expressing this idea of the heavenly ocean. God just calls the firmament “sky” in Gen 1:8. “God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.” The word sky certainly has a large range of meanings: https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=H8064&t=KJV However, what I want to point out is that an Earthly perspective makes more sense here as well. For both the word “dome” or “firmament”
And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome H7549 of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, (Gen 1:14)
And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome H7549 of the sky.” (Gen 1:20)
and the word “sky” or “heavens:”
And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky H8064 to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, (Gen 1:14)
And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky. H8064 ” (Gen 1:20)
Thus the heavens H8064 and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. (Gen 2:1)
the fountains of the deep and the windows of the heavens H8064 were closed, the rain from the heavens H8064 was restrained, (Gen 8:2)
He blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, maker of heaven H8064 and earth; (Gen 14:19)
The dome or firmament holds both fowls and stars and is also called by the same Hebrew word as the word for “sky.” While the word for “sky” or “heavens” also has the sun, stars, and birds in them and regular “rain” (which is what that Hebrew word means in Gen 8:2) “Heavens” is also paired with “earth” to just mean “everything.” This only makes sense if you look at “heavens” and “firmament” from an earthly perspective: anything high above you, hence “sky.” Clouds, rain, birds, and stars are all in the nebulous term “sky” and all are above the observer here in Genesis. If that’s not the perspective of the observer nothing makes sense: you have birds flying around the sun and the moon and stars hanging out in the clouds.
We don’t see the same syntax that God uses in Gen 1:3-5 to say that everything happened exactly as God said but this might still be implied with “and it was so.” However, I think not. Clouds don’t follow orders too well, there’s still going to be fog in the future, just not consistently. Notice that on Monday, God calls nothing good (unlike the rest of the days), this is why you never tell someone at work how awesome your day is on Monday–they will hate you. On a more serious note, I think some Rabbis say he doesn’t call it good because he isn’t finished with the clouds yet and this makes sense. Here God is getting rid of or moving a lot of water vapor in between the earth and the clouds. You can find historical similarities to this situation described in the following:
In the summer of A.D. 536, a mysterious cloud appeared over the Mediterranean basin. “The sun gave forth its light without brightness,” wrote the Byzantine historian Procopius, “and it seemed exceedingly like the sun in eclipse, for the beams it shed were not clear.” In the wake of the cloud’s appearance, local climate cooled for more than a decade. Crops failed, and there was widespread famine. From 541 to 542, a pandemic known as the Plague of Justinian swept through the Eastern Roman Empire.
When a volcano erupts, it spews sulfur particles called aerosols into the air, where they can persist for two to three years. These aerosols block out some of the sun’s incoming radiation, causing cooling. How much light gets blocked and how long the effect lasts depends on the location of the volcano and the magnitude of the eruption, as well as other variables in Earth’s natural climate-control system.
. . .
Scientists had long suspected that the cause of all this misery might be a volcanic eruption, probably from Ilopango in El Salvador, which filled Earth’s atmosphere with ash. But now researchers say there were two eruptions—one in 535 or 536 in the northern hemisphere and another in 539 or 540 in the tropics—that kept temperatures in the north cool until 550.
The first eruption was not discovered until around 2008 as far as I have searched. The fall of Constantinople was also preceded by a volcanic eruption (Kuwae erupted from 1452–1453), and then a great deal of fog:
On May 22, 1453, the moon, symbol of Constantinople, rose in dark eclipse, fulfilling a prophecy on the city’s demise. Four days later, the whole city was blotted out by a thick fog, a condition unknown in that part of the world in May. When the fog lifted that evening, “flames engulfed the dome of the Hagia Sophia, and lights, too, could be seen from the walls, glimmering in the distant countryside far behind the Turkish camp (to the west),”. This was interpreted by some as the Holy Spirit departing from the Cathedral.
Also, the effects of the eruption of Laki (a volcanic fissure) was recorded by Gilbert White:
The summer of the year 1783 was an amazing and portentous one, and full of horrible phenomena; for besides the alarming meteors and tremendous thunder‐storms that affrighted and distressed the different counties of this kingdom, the peculiar haze, or smokey fog, that prevailed for many weeks in this island, and in every part of Europe, and even beyond its limits, was a most extraordinary appearance, unlike anything known within the memory of man. By my journal I find that I has notice this strange occurrence from June 23 to July 20 inclusive, during which period the wind varied to every quarter without making any alteration in the air.
Volcanoes typically create two types of particles, big primary particles that quickly fall to the troposphere, the lowest portion of Earth’s atmosphere, and smaller secondary particles, mostly composed of sulfuric acid, that react chemically with other molecules in the atmosphere and which are responsible for both local and global precipitation changes.
These secondary particles can in turn both help form and seed clouds, changing precipitation levels over large areas.
The underestimation of the “formation rate of new secondary particles in volcanic plumes by seven to eight orders of magnitude” might lead to an underestimation of the ability of formations to contribute to the creation of low-level clouds, they write in their paper in this week’s edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
It is possible that volcanic eruptions and other volcanic activities that release sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere may have a larger effect on climate than previously understood, they write.
The underestimation of the formation rate of new secondary particles in volcanic plumes by seven to eight orders of magnitude when performed from calculations based on this nucleation scheme could lead to an underestimation of the CCN and the subsequent potential formation of low-level clouds. As a consequence, such results may help to revisit nucleation schemes implemented in all past simulations of the impact of volcanic eruptions on climate.
There are similar things that happened much further back. For example, some scientists say that the climate effects of a volcanic eruption reduced the global human population to one group of 10,000 individuals 74,000 years ago. (see Journey of mankind here)
Anyways, we see that events like volcanic eruptions can cause low clouds, fog, and rain, and that their particles can seed clouds (presumably by causing water to form on them). The high cloud cover and low fog is a good match for the scrambled day-night cycle in Gen 1:3-5. Here on Monday he partially fixes that by removing most of the low fog.
9 And God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. 11 Then God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.” And it was so. 12 The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening and there was morning, the third day. (Gen 1:9-13)
So far everything has happened exactly as God said or maybe is implied by “and it was so.” Here, we see “and it was so” followed by the description of what happened which is a bit of a break in the pattern so far. Here are the relevant parts where you can see the Hebrew that describes what happened is a bit different than what God commanded:
`Let the earth yield tender grass, herb sowing seed, fruit-tree (whose seed [is] in itself) making fruit after its kind, on the earth:’ ( Gen 1:11 YLT)
So does this imply living things behave randomly in certain ways like clouds? Maybe, possibly adaption is implied. One day is certainly too quick for adaption to happen so this is a bit of reading into things. I’ve even heard this used to argue that evolution is implied in the Bible.
14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. 17 God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, 18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day. (Gen 1:14-19)
We’ve already discussed the issue with the day-night cycle coming before the Sun. Here again, we need to look at this from the perspective of Earth and things start making sense. Obviously, the same part of the sky isn’t used to hold the clouds that is used to hold the Sun and there is no water above the Sun like you might literally read previously: “So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome . . . God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.” (Gen 1:7-8)
For in six days the Lord made H6213 heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it. (Ex 20:11)
In the beginning when God created H1254 the heavens and the earth, (Gen 1:1)
However, it possibly is talking about separate aspects of creation that are both present in Genesis 1. That is, God shaped old things to create new things.
20 And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.” 21 So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” 23 And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day. (Gen 1:20-23)
Maybe now since there is enough light, algae and plankton can start growing again and the ecosystems in the water can be revived. I’m not a biologist and I don’t know for sure if this works, but the pattern is that God seems to build up things lower down on the food chain first.
24 And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good. 26 Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” 27 So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” 29 God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. (Gen 1:24-31)
1 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. 2 And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation. (Gen 2:1-3)
And now we have the sabbath established. That’s the end of the first creation story but certainly not the end of the issues here. There’s a lot of other issues with this interpretation from other parts of the Bible and I’ll have to answer those next.
1. From the Beginning of Creation, God Made them Male and Female
Here I’ll respond to some possible issues with this interpretation.
In Mark 10:6 we have the clearest (but not the only) statement showing that Jesus was a young-earth creationist. He states that Adam and Eve were at the beginning of creation, not billions of years after the beginning, as would be the case if the universe was really billions of years old. So, if Jesus was a young-earth creationist, then how can His faithful followers have any other view?
So the trick is to ask the question: the beginning of what? If Genesis is a recreation then he’s referring to Genesis as the beginning of God’s recorded creation but he may have thought there was at least a state of chaos before that if not more.
2. Adam The First Man
Thus it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. (1 Corinthians 15:45)
So this on the surface doesn’t pose a problem for the theory but it does raise another question: were Adam and Eve the first people? In modern times there is an issue with https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Founder_effect but did genetics operate the same way at that time? It’s possible it didn’t or that God sustained the population through miraculous means but I have another issue here.
7 He is the Lord our God; his judgments are in all the earth. 8 He is mindful of his covenant forever, of the word that he commanded, for a thousand generations, 9 the covenant that he made with Abraham, his sworn promise to Isaac, 10 which he confirmed to Jacob as a statute, to Israel as an everlasting covenant, 11 saying, “To you I will give the land of Canaan as your portion for an inheritance.” (Psalm 105:7-11)
God seems to say that the rules in his covenant are forever and we see a lot of evidence that the laws of the Torah were indeed observed before Sinai. Indeed the promises given to Abraham are really the continuation of messianic promises given to Eve and passed down through Noah. Hence, the laws against incest may apply:
Leviticus 18:6–11 and Leviticus 20:11–21, Deuteronomy 27:20–23, Deuteronomy 22:30
I’m not saying they were always obeyed, I just don’t think God would have put mankind in a position where they would have no choice but to break his rules. Especially with the strong language Leviticus uses it is hard for me to believe that incest would have been ok at a different time if indeed God does not change:
26 But you shall keep my statutes and my ordinances and commit none of these abominations, either the citizen or the alien who resides among you 27 (for the inhabitants of the land, who were before you, committed all of these abominations, and the land became defiled); 28 otherwise the land will vomit you out for defiling it, as it vomited out the nation that was before you. 29 For whoever commits any of these abominations shall be cut off from their people. 30 So keep my charge not to commit any of these abominations that were done before you, and not to defile yourselves by them: I am the Lord your God. (Lev 18:26-30)
As we will see, after Adam’s failure to fulfill God’s mandate, God raises up other Adam-like figures to whom his commission is passed on. We will find that some changes in the commission occur as a result of sin entering into the world. Adam’s descendants, like him, however, will fail. Failure will continue until there arises a “Last Adam” who will finally fulfill the commission on behalf of humanity.
So 1 Corinthians 15:45 isn’t saying Adam was the first man the same way Jesus wasn’t the last man (Adam just means “man” in Hebrew) to live on earth in a literal sense but Adam was the first man in the context of the priesthood of man. The fact that Adam is being used as a representative or priest for mankind is more evident when you look at the context:
42 So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 Thus it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 But it is not the spiritual that is first, but the physical, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven. 50 What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. (1 Corinthians 15:42-52)
It is contrasting the physical with the spiritual and compares the “first man” (those who are physical and don’t walk in Christ) to the “second man” (those that aren’t just physical and do). “First” here is being used as the first “type of man” not the first man to physically exist just as Jesus was not the second or last man to physically exist. Indeed the quote “The first man Adam became a living being” is not to be found exactly in Genesis 2:7 because Paul has added “first” and “man.” His meaning is rather “the physical man Adam became a living being” which then he uses in contrast with the Christ who makes us the spiritual man. Adam was not the first person due to the incompatibility incest has with God’s laws. Indeed something may be posed to fill in these cryptic passages:
3. Cain The Marked Wanderer
10 And the Lord said, “What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground! 11 And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you till the ground, it will no longer yield to you its strength; you will be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” 13 Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear! 14 Today you have driven me away from the soil, and I shall be hidden from your face; I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and anyone who meets me may kill me.” 15 Then the Lord said to him, “Not so! Whoever kills Cain will suffer a sevenfold vengeance.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, so that no one who came upon him would kill him. 16 Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord, and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden. 17 Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch; and he built a city, and named it Enoch after his son Enoch. (Gen 4:10-17)
Cain is said to become a wanderer and fugitive but he settles down and founds a city? Who’s his wife? One of the sisters of the brother he just murdered? It seems strange that if he married his sister there is no explanation of how he accomplished this given the strain this would put on the family. Cain says “I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and anyone who meets me may kill me” he doesn’t say his family may kill him. If indeed only his family is on the earth then why couldn’t God just tell them or even Adam (who he has talked to before) not to kill Cain?
Cain assumes he will be wandering but if only his small family is on the earth then why can’t he just get away from them? From this (and God not telling off Cain’s family), I say that the reason Cain would be killed by anyone is that he has alienated himself from his family protection and that the tribal groups of that time were violent towards outsiders. However, who were these other people? God marks Cain and this assumes there are a whole bunch of people already who don’t know who Cain is or that Cain will be avenged.
No one knows what the mark of Cain is or why he was a wanderer that built cities. So I guess I’ll throw in my opinion and quote Josephus: it’s the mark of the state and the wandering is Cain’s constant need to exploit new people with violence (imperialism) since he can no longer provide for himself through farming and does not want to be a nomad. Josephus seems to hint at something like this:
AND WHEN Cain had travelled over many countries, he, with his wife, built a city named Nod, which is a place so called, and there he settled his abode; where also he had children. However, he did not accept of his punishment in order to amendment, but to increase his wickedness; for he only aimed to procure everything that was for his own bodily pleasure, though it obliged him to be injurious to his neighbours. He augmented his household substance with much wealth by rapine and violence; he excited his acquaintance to procure pleasures and spoils of robbery, and became a great leader of men into wicked courses. He also introduced a change in that way of simplicity wherein men lived before, and was the author of measures and weights. And whereas they lived innocently and generously while they knew nothing of such arts, he changed the world into cunning craftiness. He first of all set boundaries about lands; he built a city, and fortified it with walls, and he compelled his family to come together to it; and called that city Enoch, after the name of his eldest son Enoch (CHAPTER II. Book 1)
From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, (Acts 17:26)
“ancestor” is literally “blood”
He made also of one blood every nation of men, to dwell upon all the face of the earth — having ordained times before appointed, and the bounds of their dwellings — (Acts 17:26 YLT)
So if my theory is that there were other people does this disprove it? Actually, this verse–read literally–doesn’t contradict the fact of a common ancestor for all humans which is theorized also by science. However, if this is true you can’t just keep pushing back the incest problem forever. God has to create a population of people before (or soon after) the catastrophe in Gen 1 or mankind would have to not be mankind at some point in the past (which is what modern evolutionary theory says). However, what if it is referring to Adamic ancestry of all nations? That would put a dent in the idea that there were other people around at the time although not necessarily disprove it (since there could still be one common ancestor before that) Interestingly enough since God created two separate people: Adam and Eve, they wouldn’t have literally had “one blood” which is why I think it is interesting that “blood” is never used elsewhere in the ABP as a mark of ancestry. “A Greek-English Lexicon of the Septuagint” does mention Numbers 35:11:
αἷμα,-ατος+ N3N 156-69-91-36-49=401 Gn 4,10.11; 9,4.5.6(bis) blood Ex 12,7; anything like blood, wine Gn 49,11; blood relationship, kin Nm 35,11; blood, life Ez 16,36; αἵματα bloodshed, murder 1 Sm 25,33 κρίνω αὐτὸν θανάτῳ και αἵματι I punish him with death and bloodshed Ez 38,22; ἀνὴρ αἱμάτων cruel man 2 Sm 16,7; τὸ αἷμά σου ἐπὶ τὴν κεφαλήν σου you are guilty for the death of sb 2 Sm 1,16; αἷμα ἀναίτιον innocent blood Sus 62; ὁ ἐκχέων αἷμα ἀνθρώπου ἀντὶ τοῦ αἵματος αὐτοῦ ἐκχυθήσεται he that sheds human blood, instead of that blood shall his own be shed Gn 9,6; πηγὴ αἵματος fountain of blood, menstrual flow Lv 12,7; ῥύσις αἵματος menstrual flow Lv 15,25 *Ez 24,17 αἵματος blood?-דם for MT דם◊ דמם silence?; *Ez 32,5 ἀπὸ τοῦ αἵματός σου with your bloodדמך/מ for MT רמותיך) with) your rubble? Cf. ENGEL 1985, 131; HARL 1986a, 61; HARLÉ 1988, 34; LE BOULLUEC 1989, 45; →NIDNTT; TWNT
A Greek-English Lexicon of the Septuagint
However, if you go and look at the verse Num 35:12 (which is the verse they mean in the standard numbering) you’ll see no hint of this idea in the ABP: https://studybible.info/interlinear/Numbers%2035:12 “A Greek-English Lexicon of the Septuagint” seems to get this from an older version of the Septuagint like this one here: http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/nets/edition/04-num-nets.pdf which reads:
And the cities shall be for you places of refuge from one doing the relative’s blood duty, and the one that commits murder will not die until he stands before the congregation for judgment (Num 35:11)
This is used in a totally different context (I would read “blood” as “revenge” here not as “family”) and seems to be a variant or translation issue which leaves some uncertainty. Neither is “blood” used in the new testament as a mark of ancestry. It is only used in the classics and in Acts 17:26 according to Thayer’s (John 1:13 uses it as a mark of human rather than divine origin “flesh and blood”)
c. Since the first germs of animal life are thought to be in the blood (Wis. 7:2; Eustathius ad Iliad 6, 211 (ii. 104, 2) τὸ δὲ αἵματος ἀντὶ τοῦ σπέρματός φασιν οἱ σοφοὶ, ὡς τοῦ σπέρματος ὕλην τὸ αἷμα ἔχοντος), the word serves to denote generation and origin (in the classics also): John 1:13 (on the plural cf. Winer’s Grammar, 177 (166)); Acts 17:26 [R G].
Blood is symbolic of life, so maybe it is saying we all have the same kind of life from God, maybe even it is talking about the blood of God’s life-giving covenant which is open to all nations:
1. b. As it was anciently believed that the blood is the seat of the life (Leviticus 17:11; [cf. Delitzsch, Biblical Psychol. pp. 238-247 (English translation, p. 281ff)]), the phrase σὰρξ κ. αἷμα (וְדָם בָּשָׂר, a common phrase in rabbinical writers), or in inverse order αἷμα κ. σάρξ, denotes man’s living body compounded of flesh and blood, 1 Corinthians 15:50; Hebrews 2:14, and so hints at the contrast between man and God (or even the more exalted creatures, Ephesians 6:12) as to suggest his feebleness, Ephesians 6:12 (Sir. 14:18), which is conspicuous as respects the knowledge of divine things, Galatians 1:16; Matthew 16:17.
b. It is used specially of the blood of sacrificial victims having a purifying or expiating power (Leviticus 17:11): Hebrews 9:7, 12f, 18-22, 25; Hebrews 10:4; Hebrews 11:28; Hebrews 13:11.
c. Frequent mention is made in the N. T. of the blood of Christ (αἷμα τοῦ Χριστοῦ, 1 Corinthians 10:16; τοῦ κυρίου, 1 Corinthians 11:27; τοῦ ἀρνίου, Revelation 7:14; Revelation 12:11, cf. Revelation 19:13) shed on the cross (αἷ. τοῦ σταυροῦ, Colossians 1:20) for the salvation of many, Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24, cf. Luke 22:20; the pledge of redemption, Ephesians 1:7 (ἀπολύτρωσις διὰ τοῦ αἵ. αὐτοῦ; so too in Colossians 1:14 Rec.); 1 Peter 1:19 (see ἀγοράζω, 2 b.); having expiatory efficacy, Romans 3:25; Hebrews 9:12; by which believers are purified and are cleansed from the guilt of sin, Hebrews 9:14; Hebrews 12:24; [Hebrews 13:12]; 1 John 1:7 (cf. 1 John 5:6, 8); Revelation 1:5; Revelation 7:14; 1 Peter 1:2; are rendered acceptable to God, Romans 5:9, and find access into the heavenly sanctuary, Hebrews 10:19; by which the Gentiles are brought to God and the blessings of his kingdom, Ephesians 2:13, and in general all rational beings on earth and in heaven are reconciled to God, Colossians 1:20; with which Christ purchased for himself the church, Acts 20:28, and gathered it for God, Revelation 5:9. Moreover, since Christ’s dying blood served to establish new religious institutions and a new relationship between men and God, it is likened also to a federative or covenant sacrifice: τό αἷμα τῆς διαθήκης, the blood by the shedding of which the covenant should be ratified, Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24, or has been ratified, Hebrews 10:29; Hebrews 13:20 (cf. Hebrews 9:20); add, 1 Corinthians 11:25; Luke 22:20 [WH reject this passage] (in both which the meaning is, ‘this cup containing wine, an emblem of blood, is rendered by the shedding of my blood an emblem of the new covenant’), 1 Corinthians 11:27; (cf. Cicero, pro Sestio 10, 24 foedus sanguine meo ictum sanciri, Livy 23, 8 sanguine Hannibalis sanciam Romanum foedus). πίνειν τὸ αἷμα αὐτοῦ (i. e. of Christ), to appropriate the saving results of Christ’s death, John 6:53f, 56. [Westcott, Epistles of John, p. 34f.]
Indeed the next verse speaks of God being near to all nations. It then speaks of God being the source of life:
26 From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27 so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us.
28 For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said,
‘For we too are his offspring.’
29 Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. (Acts 17:26-27)
The Bible verse that Paul might allude to is actually talking about Israel not all of mankind which seems to imply a chosen relationship but not a literal birthing:
Hear, O heavens, and listen, O earth; for the Lord has spoken: I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. (Isaiah 1:2)
Paul’s quotation of Greek literature is probably from here which seems to imply not a literal son-ship but a dependency or a close relationship. (I’ve never heard of Zeus birthing all mortals, only of his occasional flings with them)
(1)“From Zeus begin; never let us leave His name unloved. With Him, with Zeus, are filled All paths we tread, and all the marts of men; Filled, too, the sea, and every creek and bay; And all in all things need we help of Zeus, For we too are his offspring.” —Aratus, Phænom. 1–5.
(2)“Most glorious of immortals, many-named, Almighty and for ever, thee, O Zeus, Sovran o’er Nature, guiding with thy hand All things that are, we greet with praises. Thee ’Tis meet that mortals call with one accord, For we thine offspring are, and we alone Of all that live and move upon this earth, Receive the gift of imitative speech.” —Cleanthes, Hymn to Zeus.
Nevertheless, even if we look at Luke 3:38 which says in the genealogy “son of Adam, son of God” we must remember that God did not literally give birth to Adam but formed him out of the dust. An apt way of translating “son” would be “came from” or “image of.”
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; (Colossians 1:15 NRSV)
All this is to say even if “blood” does mean “ancestor” and the implied ancestry is God through Adam, there are several other ways this can be taken besides a literal descendancy from Adam by all mankind.
5. The Flood
If there’s a problem with incest before the flood then what about after the flood? I won’t go into detail why the flood was local I will instead refer you to this: https://www.godandscience.org/apologetics/localflood.html
Josephus says that some people survived the flood:
Now all the writers of Barbarian Histories make mention of this flood, and of this Ark: among whom is Berosus the Chaldean. For when he is describing the circumstances of the flood, he goes on thus: “It is said there is still some part of this ship in Armenia, at the mountain of the Cordyæans; and that some people carry off pieces of the bitumen: which they take away, and use chiefly as amulets, for the averting of mischiefs.” Hieronymus the Egyptian also, who wrote the Phenician Antiquities; and Mnaseas, and a great many more make mention of the same. Nay Nicolaus of Damascus, in his ninety sixth Book, hath a particular relation about them: where he speaks thus: “There is a great mountain in Armenia, over Minyas, called Baris: upon which it is reported that many who fled at the time of the deluge were saved: and that one who was carried in an Ark, came on shore upon the top of it; and that the remains of the timber were a great while preserved: this might be the man about whom Moses, the Legislator of the Jews, wrote.”
κόσμος,-ου+ N2M 5-2-17-5-43=72 Gn 2,1; Ex 33,5.6; Dt 4,19; 17,3 world, universe Prv 17,6a; world, earth 2 Mc 3,12; world, mankind Wis 2,24; ornament, decoration Ex 33,5; honour, delight Prv 28,17a *Gn 2,1 ὁ κόσμος ornamentation-◊צבה or-צבי for MT ◊צבא host, army, see also Dt 4,19, 17,3, Is 24,21, 40,26, Sir 50,19; *2 Sm 1,24 μετὰ κόσμου ὑμῶν with your ornaments-עם־עדיכן for MT עם־עדנים with luxury, with ornaments Cf. DOGNIEZ 1992, 138; HARL 1986a, 98; SCHMITT 1974, 152; →MM; NIDNTT; TWNT
6. The World From Water
4 For if God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of deepest darkness to be kept until the judgment; 5 and if he did not spare the ancient world, even though he saved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood on a world of the ungodly; (2 Peter 2:4-5)
3 First of all you must understand this, that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and indulging their own lusts 4 and saying, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since our ancestors died, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation!” 5 They deliberately ignore this fact, that by the word of God heavens existed long ago and an earth was formed out of water and by means of water, 6 through which the world of that time was deluged with water and perished. 7 But by the same word the present heavens and earth have been reserved for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the godless. (2 Peter 3:3-7 NRSV)
We have already talked about “kosmos” which the word for “world” in 2 Peter 2: 5. In verse 2 Peter 3:5 “out of water” is not difficult to interpret. Dry land indeed emerged from “out of” water in Genesis 1 because the water ran off the land. However, what does “by means of water” mean? Was the Earth literally made of water? In the very next verse “through” is the same word and it precedes a genitive just as the one in verse 6. In addition 1 Peter 4:11 uses the same word preceding a genitive “through Jesus Christ”
Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:11)
In 2 Peter 2:6 “through” is not talking about making something out of something but it is “through” in the sense of “through this process” and in 1 Peter 4:11 the things being glorified in God are not created out of Jesus Christ, but it is “by means of” Jesus Christ. So in this sense the world was created with the use of water but it probably wasn’t literally created from water. In addition, Dodson has this for the Genetive:
διά through, on account of (a) gen: through, throughout, by the instrumentality of, (b) acc: through, on account of, by reason of, for the sake of, because of.
I have presented a theory which attempts to reconcile the Bible with modern science on the question of creation and the flood. All the main arguments I have made here have been from scripture or related context such as Josephus. I’ve presented a theory of Genesis that explains the awkward timeline of the sun being “created” after the day-night cycle starts in terms of an earthly viewpoint combined with a volcanic winter. I’ve also dealt with major challenges to the Bible from genetics but argued for them totally based on the laws against incest. The thing left to explore in this reconciliation is whether the Bible can be reconciled with science based on the timeline presented. There are some challenges already from Egyptian chronology but I am curious if this chronology is revised would we still see issues with the timeline in Genesis compared to other records?