“If men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she gives birth prematurely, yet there is no injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman’s husband may demand of him, and he shall pay as the judges decide. 23 “But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.” Exodus 21:22-25
Men fight and “hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart” (KJV, ASV). The life in the mother’s womb is her “fruit” (Heb. YELED). This word is elsewhere translated “child,” “boy,” “son,” or “young man.” It is the second-most-common Old Testament word for “child.” It is so used for Moses in Exodus 2:3-10 (cf. Ex. 1:17,18; Gen. 21:8; Ruth 4:16; etc.). Exodus 21:22 is the only place where this word is translated “fruit.”
When referring to human offspring, this word without exception refers to that which is a human individual, a separate and distinct individual from its parents. Hence, this passage gives us another case where the life in the mother’s womb is described as a human being.
What happens after this baby is born prematurely? It depends on whether or not “harm” has been done. Harm to whom? It seems clear as you read the text that the concern is not just for the mother, but also for the condition of the child that is born.
So, if the baby is born prematurely, but there is no injury (to either child or mother), then the man is fined for the trouble he caused (v22). If there is injury to child or mother, then the man should receive the same kind of injury he caused, including “life for life” (vv 23-25). Hence, the unborn baby has “life” just as the man does, and the law said anyone who killed that unborn baby should be punished the same as if he had killed any other human.
Some people reject this explanation, because they say it would be too harsh to kill a man for killing an unborn baby, especially when he didn’t mean to. Yet everyone agrees that the man would be killed if the mother died as a result of this act, so why is the punishment too harsh if the baby dies? If the baby is born dead or injured, the man should have inflicted on him the same harm he caused to the baby, even “life for life.”
This passage along with many others shows that the baby is not just a body part! He has “life.” The unborn baby is a human being just as much as the man is!
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