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My Take: Counting the Bible's words doesn't yield a Republican Jesus
How many times do hot-button issues come up in the Bible?
November 5th, 2012
09:43 AM ET

My Take: Counting the Bible's words doesn't yield a Republican Jesus

Editor's note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

(CNN) Over the last few days I have fielded hundreds of angry e-mails from pro-Mitt Romney evangelicals about a recent Belief Blog post in which I took Billy Graham and other white evangelicals to task for turning Jesus into a water boy for the Republican Party.

A disturbing number of these complaints about my alleged "evangelical bashing" have been hateful, ill-informed and explicitly racist. But the more intelligent responses have taken two tacks.

First, readers have told me that they are voting for Romney not because Mormonism is proper Christianity but because Romney is the lesser of two evils. Some in this camp, convinced (wrongly) that President Barack Obama is a Muslim, say they would rather vote for a Mormon than a Muslim.

Second, readers have argued that Romney's political views are more biblical. And repeatedly they have referred me to two central issues: abortion and same-sex marriage.

One pastor who reports he is working on a doctorate in theology says he believes “that the Bible is the literal word of God.” Because of this belief, he will vote for Romney: “ If you claim Christ as your king, how on earth can you justify the murder of God given life through abortion or any other means?" he writes. "If you accept Christ as your king, how on earth can you accept the moral deviancy of homosexuality as normal?”

In my book "American Jesus," I demonstrated how American views of Jesus, rather than adhering strictly to the unchanging biblical witness, have shifted with the cultural and political winds. Over the course of U.S. history Jesus has been a socialist and a capitalist, a pacifist and a warrior.

In other words, he has been used, by both the left and the right. Or, as I put it, “The American Jesus is more a pawn than a king, pushed around in a complex game of cultural (and countercultural) chess, sacrificed here for this cause and there for another.”

This problem of mistaking your God for the God the problem, that is, of idolatry was captured beautifully by Albert Schweitzer, who suggested that scholars on a quest for the “historical Jesus” were looking down into a deep well and seeing not the real Jesus but reflections of themselves.

This is what is happening, in my view, to my angry evangelical readers. In this case, however, they are looking down the well and seeing some mashup of Ronald Reagan and Romney. Instead of the biblical Christ, they are seeing the Republican Jesus.

There are many ways to support my argument that the preoccupations of the Christian Right today are not the preoccupations of the Bible.

One is to point out that abortion is never even mentioned in the Bible. (Yes, Jeremiah 1:5 reads, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,” but when did that formation happen? At conception? At quickening? At birth?)

Another is to point out that American evangelicals didn’t care about the abortion question until the GOP taught them to care.

As Jonathan Dudley observes in a recent Belief Blog post, U.S. Catholic leaders began to take on abortion right after Roe v. Wade legalized it in 1973, but American evangelical leaders continued to teach that life begins at birth until the late 1970s and early 1980s. If the Bible clearly teaches us that our politics should center on the abortion question, why did it take nearly 2,000 years for Bible believers to figure this out?

Here is my basic proposition: Bible-believing Christians who want to base their politics on the Bible ought to get the Bible straight, which is to say (a) correct and (b) directly from the page, rather than filtered through the spin of the GOP.

To this end, I would like to challenge them to look at an amazing website, part of “The Official King James Bible Online,” which lists each and every word in that translation of the Bible in order of popularity.

Not surprisingly, “and” and “the” are the top two.  But how do more meaningful words rank?

Abortion, of course, is not on the list. Neither is homosexuality, though there are, I will admit, perhaps a couple dozen references to what we now call male homosexuality (and either one or zero to lesbianism, depending on how you read Romans 1:26).

So these issues are not central. But which issues are? Well, faith, grace and salvation, for starters. (They appear 231, 159 and 158 times, respectively.)

But if you turn to the political questions that beset us today, what does this quantitative approach to the Bible yield? First and foremost, a preoccupation with "war” (280 times) and “peace” (470). Second, a preoccupation with economics, and especially with the rich (109) and the poor (233).

The Bible also seems far more concerned with “prison” and “prisoners” (109) than we are in U.S. politics today. And, I might add, with famine (101).

Finally, the Bible mentions Israel a lot (2,509 times) even more than heaven (644). So that seems to be something that both candidates got right in the third debate.

To conclude, I have no problem with evangelical Christians voting for Romney. My complaint arises when they say they are doing so because the Bible commands them to vote for the candidate who is opposed to abortion rights and opposes same-sex marriage.

The Bible itself is relatively unconcerned with these matters. It is far more concerned with questions of poverty and wealth, war and peace, and (need I add?) theology.

If you think otherwise, it's not the Bible speaking. It's the political operative at the bottom of the well.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: 2012 Election • Bible • Economy • Jesus • Mitt Romney • Opinion • Politics • United States

soundoff (1,060 Responses)
  1. Christian Apologist

    @Bill Deacon
    I have noticed your use of the term social justice in many of your posts. Is that some sort of keyword/phrase being promoted by your church heirarchy? I would like to here your views on democracy, do you believe that the majority has the right to make laws to govern society as the majority sees fit? Your views from a very orthodox christian base are being overtaken by secular and or other religious views. Both the law and other faiths do not have the same belief that life begins at conception, yet your minority view is what you want to apply to all people. If your position on contraception was to prevent conception in the first instance, you would be more credible in your stand on abortion.

    November 5, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
    • Rynomite

      The U.S. like Rome before it is NOT a democracy. It is a Republic.

      True democracy as practiced in ancient greece was proved to be unworkable. The ancient greeks illustrated that the majority will always be uneducated and easily manipulated into destroying each and every talented individual that rises to leadership.

      The Republic was conceived to allow the majority to believe they have a say in government while still concentrating all the power into a class of citizen that is quite frankly better suited to ruling.

      U.S. candidates just like to trot that "democracy" term out there so you think you actually have a choice.

      November 5, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
  2. David

    This is better than the previous article in which he intimates that evangelicals should be voting for the Christian candidate instead of the candidate whose views they prefer. Many of us are voting for Romney because we believe that he has the better policy ideas. No doubt many are voting for Obama for similar reasons.

    A couple of points. Evangelicals started thinking about abortion after Roe v Wade because prior to that time the idea that wholesale taking of human life was not imaginable and many could not foresee that it would ever be so broadly legalized.

    Also, the passage that says "before I formed you in the womb, I knew you". The writer asks if that formation was at conception, quickening or birth. It is reasonable to debate about whether it was at conception, implantation, differentiation or viability. Surely nobody says, with a straight face, that Jeremiah was claiming that "forming in the womb" is referring to birth.

    November 5, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @David,

      your first two arguments are sound.

      As to the third, since we are talking about interpretation, the "before I formed you in the womb" reference could be interpreted as referring to an eternal soul.

      Biblically, there seems to be more emphasis on a viable child than a fetus with multiple Leviticus references to 'worth' at one month once infant mortality is passed.

      Arguments can be made for one month after birth, birth and quickening, but there is really nothing I have seen that directly corresponds to conception. The idea of life beginning at conception is the result of Latin (pre-Catholic) church theology. I know of nothing categorical in a literal reading of the bible.

      November 5, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
  3. Rebel4Christ

    What Steven prothero doesn't get is that just because somebody wants Jesus to form around there agenda doesn't mean that that's the real Jesus!

    November 5, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @Reb,

      so, like ...

      "Just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean they're not out to get you."

      then?

      November 5, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
    • sam stone

      luckily, we have you to direct people to the "real jesus"

      November 5, 2012 at 7:18 pm |
    • Dippy

      It's "their", not "there".

      November 5, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
  4. FRANK

    1 But behold, there shall be many—at that day when I shall proceed to do a marvelous work among them, that I may remember my covenants which I have made unto the children of men, that I may set my hand again the second time to recover my people, which are of the house of Israel;

    2 And also, that I may remember the promises which I have made unto thee, Nephi, and also unto thy father, that I would remember your seed; and that the words of your seed should proceed forth out of my mouth unto your seed; and my words shall hiss forth unto the ends of the earth, for a standard unto my people, which are of the house of Israel;

    3 And because my words shall hiss forth—many of the Gentiles shall say: A aBible! A Bible! We have got a Bible, and there cannot be any more Bible.

    4 But thus saith the Lord God: O fools, they shall have a Bible; and it shall proceed forth from the jews, mine ancient covenant people. And what thank they the Jews for the Bible which they receive from them? Yea, what do the Gentiles mean? Do they remember the travails, and the labors, and the pains of the Jews, and their diligence unto me, in bringing forth salvation unto the Gentiles?

    5 O ye Gentiles, have ye remembered the Jews, mine ancient covenant people? Nay; but ye have cursed them, and have hated them, and have not sought to recover them. But behold, I will return all these things upon your own heads; for I the Lord have not forgotten my people.

    6 Thou fool, that shall say: A Bible, we have got a Bible, and we need no more Bible. Have ye obtained a Bible save it were by the Jews?

    7 Know ye not that there are more nations than one? Know ye not that I, the Lord your God, have created all men, and that I remember those who are upon the isles of the sea; and that I rule in the heavens above and in the earth beneath; and I bring forth my word unto the children of men, yea, even upon all the nations of the earth?

    8 Wherefore murmur ye, because that ye shall receive more of my word? Know ye not that the testimony of two nations is a witness unto you that I am God, that I remember one nation like unto another? Wherefore, I speak the same words unto one nation like unto another. And when the two nations shall run together the testimony of the two nations shall run together also.

    9 And I do this that I may prove unto many that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever; and that I speak forth my words according to mine own pleasure. And because that I have spoken one word ye need not suppose that I cannot speak another; for my work is not yet finished; neither shall it be until the end of man, neither from that time henceforth and forever.

    10 Wherefore, because that ye have a Bible ye need not suppose that it contains all my words; neither need ye suppose that I have not caused more to be written.

    November 5, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
    • FRANK

      It's impossible to understand the bible without the book of mormon. This is the snare that has ensnared many commenting here. fools

      November 5, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
    • FRANK

      These are the words of GOD. Dispute this? It will be ay your own peril. I would admonish you to seek out the real truth. But because of the traditions of your fathers you have ears but cannot hear, you have eyes but cannot see.

      November 5, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
    • rev101

      Soooo, how did the old testament survive for thousands of years before the book the this guy interpreted his book, the book that got recalled before anyone else saw it?

      November 5, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
    • FRANK

      14 Therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid. ISAIAH 29/14

      November 5, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
    • midwest rail

      Do you always talk to yourself ?

      November 5, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
    • FRANK = PROOF THAT MORMONS ARE DANGEROUS

      FRANK: "It's impossible to understand the bible without the book of mormon."

      November 5, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
    • Frank is wise

      FRANK "It's impossible to understand the bible without the book of mormon. This is the snare that has ensnared many commenting here. Fools"

      YES! You understand! It's what I've been saying for years "it's impossible to understand Harry Potter without having read "Snow White and the 7 dwarves"

      November 5, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
    • Romnesia

      FRANK. Because of the traditions of your fathers you have a brain but cannot think for yourself.

      November 5, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
  5. frmermrine

    "As president, I will create 12 million new jobs." —Mitt Romney, during the second presidential debate
    "Government does not create jobs. Government does not create jobs." —Mitt Romney, 45 minutes later (Oct. 16, 2012)

    November 5, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
    • KRHODES

      He is talking about government jobs verses private sector jobs.

      November 5, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
    • rev101

      Did you hear Mitt's latest on FEMA? What do you think Jesus would have done?

      November 5, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
    • Romnesia

      KRHODES. So how will he do it? He talk with split tongue. He says he will adopt Bush's policies – well that didn't work out too well on the jobs front did it?

      November 5, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
  6. DUMP hINDU FABRICATION MITHRA ISM, SAVIOR ISM, CHRISTIANITY, VOTE FOR TRUTH ABSOLUTE GOD

    DUMP hIND FILTH OF hINDUISM, RACISM TO FREE HUMANITY FROM hINDU'S, DENIERS OF TRUTH ABSOLUTE.

    Faith in hindu Mormon ism is nothing but faith in hindu Moran ism, filthy self center ism, Romany have some guts to defend his hinduism, racism in front of people. Give hindu Magi' criminal trickster, deserving shoe in his mouth.
    DUMP hINDU FABRICATION MITHRA ISM, SAVIOR ISM, CHRISTIANITY, VOTE FOR TRUTH ABSOLUTE GOD
    Eliminate hindu Judaism, filthy secular ism to have peace, Islam among humanity. hindu's blinded leading hindu, blinded, game of hindu Magi's, criminal tricksters to stay in business of hinduism, denial of truth absolute, let it be hindu's, ignorant preachers, speaking not of truth absolute GOD, nor hindu atheist, ignorant self centered, secular s. rode with a hindu blinded driver, BET ON A WRACK, YOU WILL NEVER LOOSE.

    Expect nothing better but mayhem among humanity by following of hinduism, denial of truth absolute, Allah, and following of hindu pagan Mithra ism, savior ism, neither commanded, nor allowed in Islam as a religion, but Theen Allah, consti tution of truth absolute. Foundation of American consti tution.
    Shiaism
    hindu Mithra ism, savior ism invented little over 100 years after Sydana Mohammad pbh by tribes of Kujar of north Africa and imposition as Fatmid Khalaphit by force by denial of Hidth and Quran, justified by hindu Judaism, pagan secularism to impose hinduism, racism by hindu, fabricated relationship with Family of Syadana Mohammad pbh to justify existence of hindu criminal Kings, a violation of fundamental commandment, human equality under the LA. truth absolute Allah. Cause of conflict among Muslim's and cause of down fall of Muslim's and Islam in Spain.

    Sunisim, invented by Turk's by corruption of Quran and hidth to justify existence of hindu King's as Khalipha, after death of Ruler Mohammad, but later renamed, Mehmmat, wisdom of spirit of truth by siblings from his Armenian wife, follower of hindu pagan Mithra ism, savior ism in 13th century.

    Christianity, invented by hinduism,. corruption of truth absolute by hindu Pharisees, pagan self centered, follower of hindu filthy pig ism by corrupted Torah, known as Greek Torah, translated and commented by Ben Asheer in 250 AD in Yiddish, secularist, self centered language, also known as Old Testament, part of book of Mithra ism labeled as Bible. A way to justify hindu criminal Kings and self proclaimed Prophets, fortune tellers as god's to rule over humanity.

    JUDAISM, Self center ism, pig ism, or Atheism, invented by hindu's pagan's of Egypt by corruption of truth absolute in Torah to Justify hindu pagan Pharaoh's and their hindu pagan Santans, goons as god's to rule over humanity with impunity.

    HAVE hINDUISM, CORRUPTION OF TRUTH ABSOLUTE, RELIGIONS AND LIVE WITH MAYHEM, AS HAS BEEN THE CASE FROM hIND, DARK AGES TILL TODAY. FOLLOW THEEN ALLAH, CONSTI TUTION OF TRUTH ABSOLUTE, ALLAH , GOD AND THE LORD, FOUNDATION OF CONSTI TUTION OF AMERICA TO HAVE PEACE AMONG HUMANITY. To learn more please visit truthisthelimit.com
    word hindu is based on Latin word hindered, negative, Hun, great, Han, to be in greatness, hin, to be negative to both of them, hindu, a noun in negativity, hinduism, way of negativity.
    Visit limitisthetruth.com to learn about hinduism, criminality of hindu's, criminals to impose hinduism, racism on humanity by hinduism, corruption of truth absolute by force.

    November 5, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
  7. rev101

    Don't forger. The lines most Christians reference in their bible do not exist in Mitt's Bible.

    November 5, 2012 at 6:04 pm |
  8. Robert

    Let's face it. Without Jesus being here to tell us the proper understanding of things, then all ANYONE has is just an OPINION. If God has true prophets on the earth today to explain His position (as the Mormons claim), nobody is willing to listen to them anyway. So until God takes an assertive step to let us all know definitively (without doubt), opinions will continue forever.

    November 5, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
    • DUMP hINDU FABRICATION MITHRA ISM, SAVIOR ISM, CHRISTIANITY, VOTE FOR TRUTH ABSOLUTE GOD

      Prophet means, fortune teller, and world is full of hindu crook prophets, fortune tellers, to hind fool humanity,

      November 5, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
  9. Chris

    You say "One is to point out that abortion is never even mentioned in the Bible". Although the term abortion is not used, the murdering of unborn babies is used. And the Bible makes clear, It is Murder.

    Exodus 21:22-24 – (paraphrased) If you strike a pregnant woman and it harms the baby, the you shall pay LIFE for LIFE.

    Pretty clear the Bible considers that fetus a human LIFE.

    November 5, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @Chris,

      Boy you sure did paraphase Exodus 21:22-24. The harm in question refers to the woman – not the fetus. Go read it again, more carefully.

      That quote is a central idea here:

      http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2012/10/30/my-take-when-evangelicals-were-pro-choice/

      November 5, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
    • holly

      Yeah – that was pretty stupid of you, Chris.

      November 5, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
    • Rynomite

      And if it be from a month old even unto five years old, then thy estimation shall be of the male five shekels of silver, and for the female thy estimation shall be three shekels of silver. - Leviticus 27:6

      Well Chris, I think its pretty clear that a fetus ain't worth jack.

      November 5, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
    • Chad

      the entire verse:

      “If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely[e] but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. 23 But if there is serious injury, you are to take 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

      pretty clear that it is talking about injury to the unborn baby.
      the two cases under review are
      1. giving birth prematurely, but no injury to the baby
      2. injuring the baby.

      The bible views unborn babies as humans:
      "Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me." Psalm 55 (note the "I", he came into existence at conception)

      "For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother's womb. Psalm 139 (again, note the "me")

      "Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations." Jeremiah 1 (again, note that God knew him in the womb, he was not just tissue, but a living being)

      November 5, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
    • Chad

      @Rynomite And if it be from a month old even unto five years old, then thy estimation shall be of the male five shekels of silver, and for the female thy estimation shall be three shekels of silver. – Leviticus 27:6
      Well Chris, I think its pretty clear that a fetus ain't worth jack.

      =>that is referring to a baby from a month old to five years old. Nothing to do with an unborn baby..

      you should read the verse first...

      November 5, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      @Chad

      You missed the part where it is not specifically saying harm to the child. It could just as easily mean the mother, and you saying "oh it's clear that it's this" means absolutely nothing to what the original intent of the author (a human being) intended. Also, isn't this OT law? I thought that Jesus fullfilled it and noone is bound by it anymore.

      November 5, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
    • Rynomite

      I have read them Chris. Evidentally you didnt. That verse is part of a litney tallying the value of human beings of various ages. In general, your god doesnt think men are worth very much. Women are worth considerably less, and since children from conception to 1 month are assigned no value, they are evidentally worth nothing at all.

      November 5, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      "pretty clear that it is talking about injury to the unborn baby.
      the two cases under review are
      1. giving birth prematurely, but no injury to the baby
      2. injuring the baby."

      Nowhere in the verse you cited does it say "injury to the baby." Nowhere. It is not "pretty clear" to anyone but you, Chardo.

      November 5, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @Chad,

      You omitted the footnote [e] in your text. It is quite relevant here.

      Here is the whole quote (NIV)

      22 “If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely[a] but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows.
      23 But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life,
      24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,

      Footnotes:
      a.Exodus 21:22 Or she has a miscarriage

      Does an miscarriage not const;tute injury to the fetus? The serious injury is to the woman who has been (variously) hit, hurt, smitten or smitheth so that her fetus(es) come out.

      Apparently you don't like the KJV:

      22 If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman's husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.
      23 And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life,

      Or Young's Literal Translation:

      22 `And when men strive, and have smitten a pregnant woman, and her children have come out, and there is no mischief, he is certainly fined, as the husband of the woman doth lay upon him, and he hath given through the judges;
      23 and if there is mischief, then thou hast given life for life,

      In the historical interpretation of these verses the 'mischief' applies to the woman, not the fetus.

      Wycliffe is even clearer on this theme.

      22 If men chide, and a man smiteth a woman with child, and soothly he maketh the child dead-born, but the woman liveth over that smiting, he shall be subject to the harm (he shall be subject to a fine), as much as the woman’s husband asketh (for), and as the judges deem (appropriate).
      23 Soothly if the death of her followeth (And if her death followeth), he shall yield life for life,
      24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,

      November 5, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
    • Chad

      @hawaiiguest "You missed the part where it is not specifically saying harm to the child."

      =>actually, that is exactly what it is saying, here is why: The Hebrew word for miscarriage is NOT being used, it is the word for normal birth.
      As such, the text "she gives birth prematurely[e] but there is no serious injury, is referring to the baby not the mother.

      Differentiating that and the other scenario "But if there is serious injury,, clearly shows that the injury being sustained is the baby.

      As well, identifying the women as being pregnant (as opposed to merely saying "woman") indicates that injury to the child is what is under review.

      Jewish rabbinical reading of this passage confirms this interpretation (the Talmud (Sanhedrin 57b) says that a fetus is included in the Noahide prohibition of bloodshed (distinct from homicide) that is learned from Genesis 9:6 that states (in a direct translation from the Hebrew); He who spills the blood of man in man shall have his blood spilt. The Talmud interprets "the blood of man in man" as to include a fetus, which is the blood of man in man.

      November 5, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
    • Chad

      @@GOPer ""You omitted the footnote [e] in your text. It is quite relevant here....."

      =>not even kind of close, here's why:

      - NIV footnote refers to a alternate translation, the preferred is as shown.
      The word in question (see below for complete treatment) is NEVER translated as miscarriage in the bible.
      There are various Hebrew words that refer to a miscarriage: ‘nephel’ (translated “stillborn child”), and ‘shakol ‘ (translated “miscarrying womb”)

      Several features of this pa ssage require clarification. First, the NKJV and NIV rendering of the underlying Hebrew as “she gives birth prematurely,” and the KJV and ASV rendering “so that her fruit depart (from her)” are accurate reflections of the original. “Fruit” in the KJV is the noun form of a verb that means “to bring forth (children)” (Schreiner, 1990, 6:76; Harris, et al., 1980, 1:378-379). Thus the noun form (yeled), used 89 times in the Old Testament, refers to that which is brought forth, i.e., children, and is generally so translated (Gesenius, 1847, p. 349; Wigram, 1890, 530-531; cf. VanGemeren, 1997, 2:457). For example, it is used to refer to Ishmael (Genesis 21:8), Moses (Exodus 2:3), Obed, the child of Boaz and Ruth (Ruth 4:16), and even to the Christ child (Isaiah 9:6). It is used in the same context earlier in the chapter to refer to the children born to a Hebrew servant whose wife was provided by his master (Exodus 21:4). There is nothing in the word itself that indicates the physical condition of the child/children, whether dead or alive (cf. 2 Samuel 12:14-23).

      Second, the term translated “prematurely” or “depart” (yatsa) is a Hebrew verb that has the broad meaning of “to go out, to go forth” (Gesenius, p. 359). It is used in the Old Testament to refer to everything from soldiers going forth to war (1 Samuel 8:20), or the sun going forth in its rising (Genesis 19:23), to a flower blossoming (Job 14:2) or the birth of a child (Job 1:21). The Hebrew is as generic as the English words “to go out or forth.” As with yeled, there is nothing in the word itself that would imply the physical status of the child—whether unharmed, injured, or dead (cf. Numbers 12:12; Deuteronomy 28:57). For example, referring to the births of Esau and Jacob, the text reads: “And the first came out red…Afterward his brother came out” (Genesis 25:25-26, emp. added). Only by contextual details may one determine the condition of the child.

      Consequently, in Exodus 21:22, those translations that render the Hebrew as “miscarriage” (e.g., NASB, RSV, NEB) have taken a linguistically unwarranted and indefensible liberty with the text. Hebrew lexicographers Brown, Driver, and Briggs were accurate in their handling of the underlying Hebrew when they listed Exodus 21:22 as an instance of “untimely birth” (1906, p. 423).

      In contrast, the Hebrew had other words more suited to pinpointing a miscarriage or stillbirth. For example, suffering Job moaned: “Or why was I not hidden like a stillborn child, like infants who never saw light?” (Job 3:16, emp. added). The psalmist pronounces imprecation against unrighteous judges: “Let them be like a snail which melts away as it goes, like a stillborn child of a woman, that they may not see the sun” (Psalm 58:8, emp. added). The word used in these verses (nephel), occurring only three times in the Old Testament (cf. Ecclesiastes 6:3-5), is defined by Gesenius as “a premature birth, which falls from the womb, an abortion” (p. 558; cf. Brown, et al., p. 658). In all three contexts, a miscarriage or stillbirth is clearly under consideration.

      Still another Hebrew term would have been more suitable to identify deceased offspring. When Jacob protested his father-in-law’s unkindness, he exclaimed, “These twenty years I have been with you; your ewes and your female goats have not miscarried their young” (Genesis 31:38, emp. added; cf. Job 21:10). Hosea called upon God to punish the nation: “Give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts!” (Hosea 9:14, emp. added). In fact, just two chapters after the text in question, God announced to the Israelites details regarding the conquest of the Canaan and the blessings that they would enjoy: “No one shall suffer miscarriage or be barren in your land; I will fulfill the number of your days” (Exodus 23:26, emp. added). The underlying Hebrew verb in these verses (shachol) means “to cause abortion (in women, flocks, etc.)” or “to make abortion, i.e., to suffer it” (Gesenius, p. 822; cf. Brown, et al., p. 1013). Despite these more precise terms to pinpoint miscarriage or stillbirth, Moses did not use them in Exodus 21:22

      November 5, 2012 at 7:56 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      @Chad

      You're still not addressing the part of serious harm. You say it's the child, but in your quoted verses, it does not say that.

      November 5, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @Chad,

      I will grant you that this verse can easily be misconstrued either way (demonstrating the obvious problems with biblical literalism). Older (pre-1970s) interpretation of this verse is clear that 'further harm/mischief' refers to the woman.

      The 'fruit depart' / 'children have come out' fragments make no distinction between alive or dead, but in the Bronze age, most premature babies died. There is no Neo-ICU in the tents of the goat-herders.

      More significantly, and to the best of my knowledge, all the pre-1970s translations have commas before and after the reference to issue:

      KJV: 22 If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman's husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.

      YLT: 22 `And when men strive, and have smitten a pregnant woman, and her children have come out, and there is no mischief, he is certainly fined, as the husband of the woman doth lay upon him, and he hath given through the judges;

      Anything surrounded so by commas is parenthetical. The woman is the object of the sentence. So removing the reference to the issue/fruit etc:

      ... and hurt a woman with child and yet no mischief follow ...
      ... and have smitten a pregnant woman and there is no mischief ...

      The NIV and all recent (post 1970s translations) does two things:
      1. Changes the earlier references to imply premature birth instead of miscarriage
      2. Removes the critical comma

      This is biblical revisionism to suit changing morals of biblical literalists. If you now believe they finally 'got it right' that still doesn't change the fact that it is revisionism.

      November 5, 2012 at 8:32 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      Perhaps noteworthy amongst newer translations is the Common English Bible (2011):

      22 When people who are fighting injure a pregnant woman so that she has a miscarriage but no other injury occurs, then the guilty party will be fined what the woman’s husband demands, as negotiated with the judges.

      The meaning here is *very* clear, which is after all the stated purpose of the CEB (though of course it was not sponsored by Evangelical traditions).

      November 5, 2012 at 8:42 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      And the Complete Jewish Bible:

      22 “If people are fighting with each other and happen to hurt a pregnant woman so badly that her unborn child dies, then, even if no other harm follows, he must be fined. He must pay the amount set by the woman’s husband and confirmed by judges.

      November 5, 2012 at 8:44 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      The bibles in the Catholic tradition, and we know Catholics believe life starts at conception, are clear.

      Douay-Rheims (1899)
      22 If men quarrel, and one strike a woman with child, and she miscarry indeed, but live herself: he shall be answerable for so much damage as the woman's husband shall require, and as arbiters shall award.
      23 But if her death ensue thereupon, he shall render life for life.

      Knox:
      22 If men fall out, and one of them strikes a woman who is pregnant, so that the child is still-born, but she herself lives, he must pay whatever sum the woman’s husband demands, and the judges agree to;

      Even the most recent authorized Catholic Bible (NABRE) is clear:

      22* When men have a fight and hurt a pregnant woman, so that she suffers a miscarriage, but no further injury, the guilty one shall be fined as much as the woman’s husband demands of him, and he shall pay in the presence of the judges.
      23e But if injury ensues, you shall give life for life,
      24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

      November 5, 2012 at 8:59 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Isn't it interesting how Chard can demand that others produce proof and evidence for their statements, yet he seems to think he's exempt from such a requirement?

      What a load.

      November 5, 2012 at 9:06 pm |
    • Chad

      “If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely[e] but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. 23 But if there is serious injury, you are to take 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

      The question under consideration is whether or not the "injury" spoken of is referring to the mother or the child.

      Importantly, the ONLY question to ask is what the original text in Hebrew meant, NOT what various translations into English have done. English translations.

      Did the original Hebrew text mean to say that the injury being spoken of was injury the mother or the baby.

      It is very clear:
      A. The injury is referring to the unborn child (see above)
      B. Throughout all of scripture, unborn children are referred to as persons (see above)

      there simply isnt much for you to argue..

      November 5, 2012 at 11:40 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @Chad,

      so your argument devolves to "sometimes the inerrant word of God is in error"?

      Seems like there's a fundamental problem with bible literalism, or perhaps more accurately a fundamentalist problem.

      November 6, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
    • Chad

      @Chad "Importantly, the ONLY question to ask is what the original text in Hebrew meant, NOT what various translations into English have done"

      @GOPer "so your argument devolves to "sometimes the inerrant word of God is in error"?
      Seems like there's a fundamental problem with bible literalism, or perhaps more accurately a fundamentalist problem."

      @Chad "now, there is an excellent example of a statement that is purposefully misleading/dishonest on your part.

      Now, please pay attention here, because while you have mastered the art of making accusations, you have yet to be introduced to the method of backing them up with evidence of the claim.

      The claim: GOPer's statement above is purposefully misleading/disingenuous.
      Why::
      1. Chad specifically said that the issue was what the original Hebrew text said, noting that there are several different translations of that Hebrew, some of which were incorrect.
      2. GOPer attempted to twist that into an assertion by Chad that the biblical text contains errors. Knowing full well that different translations have no bearing at all on the inerrancy of the biblical text in the original language.

      Because GOPer knows full well that when we speak of inerrancy, we are speaking of the text in the original language, and that was explicitly stated by Chad, GOPer is being demonstrably dishonest.

      Feel free to use this outline in your future accusations :-)

      November 6, 2012 at 11:37 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @Chad,

      why is it that Jews aren't so worked up about abortion? Why is it Christians?

      Hebrew is their language and the Torah is their book.

      November 7, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
    • Chad

      You seem unfamiliar with the reality of the situation in Israel..

      please read: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abortion_in_Israel

      November 7, 2012 at 11:30 pm |
  10. Shuksan

    Christ wasn't much of a politician - he kept away from discussions about the Roman occupation, said to pay Rome its taxes, and clearly said his kingdom was not of this earth. So why do so many religious folks want Christianity infused into politics? I think the best point in the article is that God is bigger than that. Christians should spent more time meditating on the Gospels and less time telling a diverse religious nation how to behave politically.

    November 5, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
    • dkjlife

      Thank you. I couldn't have said it better myself.

      November 5, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
  11. Really

    Someone actually counted all the words in the bible and listed them in order of use. I assume this is not a joke. So where did as*s rank, I remember somewhere that jesus liked to ride as*s, Simons I think or how about bulls*hit that should be right near the top.

    November 5, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
  12. Why_Bother

    A 2000 year old book does not contain answers to questions posed in 2012. Start reading the facts and articles that our meant to be influential in our current times. Your vote can only affect the future it can't change the past.

    November 5, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
    • 1word

      There's nothing new under the sun, they had a lot of the same issues we have now back then.

      November 5, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
    • Tom

      "There's nothing new under the sun, they had a lot of the same issues we have now back then."
      23,000 Thermonuclear weapons on standby with the capacity to kill most living things on the planet within minutes. You know, small new issues.

      November 5, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
    • Me

      Let's also disregard all the writings of Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Euclid, Archimedes, etc., because they are too old to be of any value.

      November 5, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
    • Rynomite

      Me is right. Why-Bother should have distingished between historical ficiton with limited use and philosophy that has value.

      November 5, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
  13. Rummy Pirate Times-Dispatch

    "In Greed We Trust"

    In 1994, Bain invested $27 million as part of a deal with other firms to acquire Dade International, a medical-diagnostics-equipment firm, from its parent company, Baxter International. Bain ultimately made nearly 10 times its money, getting back $230 million. But Dade wound up laying off more than 1,600 people and filed for bankruptcy protection in 2002, amid crushing debt and rising interest rates. The company, with Bain in charge, had borrowed heavily to do acquisitions, accumulating $1.6 billion in debt by 2000. The company cut benefits for some workers at the acquired firms and laid off others. When it merged with Behring Diagnostics, a German company, Dade shut down three U.S. plants. At the same time, Dade paid out $421 million to Bain Capital’s investors and investing partners.

    For 15 years, Romney had been in the business of creative destruction and wealth creation. But what about his claims of job creation? The layoffs and closures at other firms would lead Romney’s political opponents to say that he had amassed a fortune in part by putting people out of work. The lucrative deals that made Romney wealthy could exact a cost. Maximizing financial return to investors could mean slashing jobs, closing plants, moving production overseas and loading up already struggling companies with debt.

    Marc Wolpow, a former Bain partner who worked with Romney on many deals, said the discussion at buyout companies typically does not focus on whether jobs will be created. “It’s the opposite—what jobs we can cut,” Wolpow said. “Because you had to document how you were going to create value. Eliminating redundancy, or the elimination of people, is a very valid way."

    Example: Bain closed GST Steel plant in 2001 laying off 750 workers.

    Example: Controlling share owner Bain Capital closes BRP plant (Southern Illinois) so the 340 jobs there could be outsourced to Mexico.

    BAIN'S INVESTOR "SUCCESSES" WERE PRIMARILY CONTINGENT ON MASS LAY-OFFS OF WORKERS

    November 5, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
  14. 1word

    Love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus is about Love, Love is patient, Love is Kind. Jesus is willing to help all people not just the Rich. Obama is the best representation of Jesus morals.

    November 5, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
    • VanHagar

      Obama is A representation of SOME of the morals taught by Jesus...if anyone claims to be the "best representation" of Christ, he (or she) and his (her) ego should be avoided at all costs. Your kiss as*s statement is a, wait for it, a kiss as*s statement!

      November 5, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
    • Me

      Jesus also defined marriage as being between a man and a woman (Matthew 19:4-6, Mark 10:6-9) but that just makes him a bigot to liberals.

      November 5, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
    • dkjlife

      I agree. When it comes to character, Obama wins hands down against Romney. Romeny is the picture of a Sadducee. They were rich and powerful. Obama represents humility, caring and love for his fellow man. Hmmm. Which one should I vote for?

      November 5, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
    • sam stone

      me: believe what you want about marriage. denying people their civil rights makes you a bigot. hiding your bigotry behind a bible makes you a pious bigot

      November 6, 2012 at 5:25 am |
  15. yep

    Separation of church and state! You people-ya I said it- need to read your country's Bill of Rights. You are a disgrace to democracy

    November 5, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
    • TG

      Separation of church and state is not in the Bill of Rights. Nice try.

      November 5, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
  16. JD

    The Anti Christ is going to have an easy job due to false prophets!

    November 5, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
  17. Peter G.

    Um...Dr. Steve, what exactly is an "Evangelical" in your terms? As a professor, might you tend to teach your students to accurately define what they "set up"(assume) to argue, to avoid the fallacy of the straw man?. (I didn't think a M/Div or PhD thesis survived much past the first edit with assumptive logic like that). "Evangelical" is like "conservative" or "liberal" these days...the most obfuscated and abused terms on the planet. I'm sorry, but after your postings, and Mr Blakes CNN article (the Red/Blue Jesus blog, using another Yale professor, Dr. Worthern's (PhD Yale?) rather simplistic commentary about Jesus' "..not leaving clear instructions..." or similar overall paraphrase) and then another Harvard professor (Dr. Karen King's) amazing, astounding, earth shattering "Gospel of Jesus' Wife" Gnostic Gospel fragment (oops...then immediately ... quickly...fading...disappearing...as a possible forgery I think was the overall opinion of many experts in the symposium?), I'm left thinking of the Apostle Nathanael (I paraphrase)..." Can anything good (accurate. balanced) come out of Ivy League Divinity / Theology Depts..?" (besides post-modern, relativism.). I've read parts of your works, which were quite good; had just hoped for better in this column Might you just state your bias before you write, especially considering your posited integration of (objective) "Faith" to the masses? (Faith as in Orthodox, vs your own vs what you "see" as "Faith reflected in America"?" The later two are still your opinion; EZ for many to confuse your masthead stature as "Scholar" with being non-subjective .... How are they left to know if you, the writer aren't merely seeing YOUR own reflection in the well that you accuse others of? Thanks. :)

    November 5, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
  18. DUMP hINDU FABRICATION MITHRA ISM, SAVIOR ISM, CHRISTIANITY, VOTE FOR TRUTH ABSOLUTE GOD

    Why waste life, dump hinduism, denial of truth absolute, and have peace, Islam among humanity.

    Word hindu is based on Latin word hindered, negative, Hun, great, Han, to be in greatness, hin, to be negative to both of them, hindu, a noun in negativity, hinduism, way of negativity, Visit limitisthetruth.com to learn hinduism, criminality of hindu Jew's, filthy self centered , denier of truth absolute God to hind, fool humanity into gentile ism, slavery.

    November 5, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
    • Jonathan

      Um, Waiter? Yes, Waiter? Yes! Yes sir–I'll have what he's having :P

      November 5, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
    • Bridal Party

      It would be wonderful if you could put all of those words in some semblance of order so they made sense.

      November 5, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
  19. Darren

    The argument of this article is flawed. How many times is the word "murder" mentioned in the Bible? Not that many times. But nobody would argue that murder is somehow OK as a result.

    November 5, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
    • Ozarkhomesteader

      In fact plenty of people argue that murder is okay for people convicted of crimes.

      November 5, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
    • Jonathan

      Exactly. The amount of time a word comes up in the bible is merely a reflection of how many times it shows up in the bible. Nothing more. 'and' and 'the' have no meaning theologically, neither should 'poverty' or 'murder'. The bible isn't some math spreadsheet where each word is assigned a numerical meaning. The verses and chapters are were the meat is and is a greater sum that all of the words that make up the sentences.

      Each word in the bible carries as much weight as the other.

      November 5, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
    • Ozarkhomesteader

      Besides, I rank the Ten Commandments almost as highly as Jesus's fewer commandments: you know, love people.

      And interestingly, as no doubt someone else will mention if I don't, the very people who like the death penalty and guns for shooting people are opposed to abortion.

      November 5, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
    • Jonathan

      @Ozarkhomesteader:

      You stated the person was guilty of a crime. So we have guilt. Death was the sentence. So we have a death penalty for a crime that has no question of guilt.

      What dictionary has murder defined as the 'the sentence given to a guilty party for crimes commited'?

      The death penalty is not murder.

      November 5, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
  20. Greg C.

    Political words of the Bible...get thee behind thee, Obama!

    November 5, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.