When I read the Bible for the first time, about Exodus 21:22-25 ESV I thought the charges are about the pregnant woman and I absolutely didn't know that life for life refers to the born child since hitting may cause also the woman a death, until I see this question!

My question is not focusing on just the mentioned verses but also for whole of the Bible: How to read the Bible correctly?

"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. But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe. Exodus 21:22-25 ESV

It is not written "she" or "the child". X for X is written vague.

  • 6
    This might be better on our Biblical Hermeneutics site. Commented Jun 2, 2015 at 14:04
  • Answering "How to read the Bible correctly?" depends heavily on who you ask.
    – user3961
    Commented Jun 2, 2015 at 17:57
  • Being a first century Jew in the middle east and reading the books of the Bible in Hebrew, would make quiet a difference I suspect - not just for this passage but others. Commented Jun 2, 2015 at 17:58
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    I'm with @DJClayworth -- Are you asking for a specific Christian group's interpretation of this passage (e.g. how Catholics, Orthodox, Reformed, etc. read the text), or are you asking for an exegetical analysis of the text regardless of religious affiliation? The former belongs here on Christianity.SE, but the latter would be more suited for Hermeneutics.SE. Commented Jun 2, 2015 at 19:46
  • I have answered (before seeing that it has been voted) assuming that an exegesis is required, according to the request: "How to read the Bible correctly?" Although we do have a tag for 'exegesis', I agree that migrating the question to Hermeneutics.SE would be a good idea. Commented Jun 2, 2015 at 21:48

1 Answer 1


Perhaps a more literal translation:

Exodus 21:22: And should men quarrel and hit a pregnant woman, and she miscarries but there is no fatality, he shall surely be punished, when the woman's husband makes demands of him, and he shall give [restitution] according to the judges' [orders].

The great medieval rabbi known as Rashi comments on this passage:

  • And should men quarrel: with one another, and [one] intended to strike his fellow, and [instead] struck a woman. [From Sanh. 79a]

  • and hit a pregnant woman: Heb. נְגִיפָה וְנָגְפוּ is only an expression of pushing and striking, as [in the following phrases:] “lest you strike ךְתִּגֹף your foot with a stone” (Ps. 91:12); “and before your feet are bruised (יִתְנְַָפוּ) ” (Jer. 13:16); “and a stone upon which to dash oneself (נֶגֶף) ” (Isa. 8:14). [Here Rashi is emphasising that the blow need not be such as to endanger the woman herself.]

  • but there is no fatality: with the woman. [my emphasis]

The assailant must pay to the husband the value of the foetus.

Exodus 21:23: But if there is a fatality, you shall give a life for a life,

Rashi says:

  • But if there is a fatality: with the woman.
  • you shall give a life for a life: Our Rabbis differ on this matter. Some say [that he must] actually [give up his] life, and some say [that he must pay] money, but not actually a life, and if one intends to kill one person and kills another, he is exempt from the death penalty and must pay his [the victim’s] heirs his value, as [it would be if] he were sold in the marketplace. -[From Mechilta, Sanh. 79]