Here’s a tweet that caught my eye in my “Dallas Seminary” TweetDeck column.
“Professor Bruce Waltke, of the famously conservative Dallas Theological Seminary, explained the Bible plainly teaches that life begins at birth
— Dave Quast (@davequast) July 8, 2018
Somewhere in the labyrinth of links and citations, one may get the impression that Bruce Waltke is now at the “famously conservative” Dallas Theological Seminary. Both of these were true at the time Waltke wrote these things. Waltke is no longer at Dallas. After he departed from Dallas, he resigned from Reformed Theological Seminary in 2010 after appearing a video supporting theistic evolution.
But let’s dig in a bit.
The rather messy Salon article seeks to portray evangelicalism as hypocritical over its apparent change of stance sometime in the decade following Roe v. Wade. One linked article calls this change of stance “younger than the Happy Meal.” Here’s how the quote in question goes:
In 1968, Christianity Today published a special issue on contraception and abortion, encapsulating the consensus among evangelical thinkers at the time. In the leading article, professor Bruce Waltke, of the famously conservative Dallas Theological Seminary, explained the Bible plainly teaches that life begins at birth:
“God does not regard the fetus as a soul, no matter how far gestation has progressed. The Law plainly exacts: ‘If a man kills any human life he will be put to death’ (Lev. 24:17). But according to Exodus 21:22–24, the destruction of the fetus is not a capital offense. … Clearly, then, in contrast to the mother, the fetus is not reckoned as a soul.”
Unshockingly, Salon isn’t interested in examining the biblical text.
“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,
(Exodus 21:22–24 ESV)
Waltke’s assertion is puzzling. John Hannah, who actually is at Dallas Seminary, rightly exposits in a commentary published in 1985:
21:22-25. If … a pregnant woman delivered her child prematurely as a result of a blow, but both were otherwise uninjured, the guilty party was to pay compensation determined by the woman’s husband and the court. However, if there was injury to the expectant mother or her child, then the assailant was to be penalized in proportion to the nature of severity of the injury. While unintentional life-taking was usually not a capital offense (cf. vv. 12-13), here it clearly was. Also the unborn fetus is viewed in this passage as just as much a human being as its mother; the abortion of a fetus was considered murder. A person’s physical loss by injury was to be punished by a similar loss to the offender (vv. 24-25), the law of retaliation (cf. Lev. 24:19-20; Deut. 19:21). This law was designed to restrict the exacting of punishment to what was equitable.
John D. Hannah, “Exodus” (The Bible Knowledge Commentary; ed. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck; Accordance electronic ed. 2 vols.; Wheaton: Victor Books, 1985), 1:141-142. Emphasis added. https://accordance.bible/link/read/BK_Commentary#1894
The biblical text seems rather obvious, but the mainstream media are far more interested in some odd views of famous Christians in a particular time period of the 20th century in order to prove their point. Bruce Waltke, whom about zero regular Salon readers would recognize if he punched them in the face, said this weird thing about Exodus. Jerry Falwell was disinterested in the issue until the Carter administration. And suddenly, Christians were against abortion! And if you’re interested in something prior to Roe v. Wade, I found this gem in just a few clicks.
22. If men strive, and hurt a woman. This passage at first sight is ambiguous, for if the word death745 only applies to the pregnant woman, it would not have been a capital crime to put an end to the foetus, which would be a great absurdity; for the foetus, though enclosed in the womb of its mother, is already a human being, (homo,) and it is almost a monstrous crime to rob it of the life which it has not yet begun to enjoy. If it seems more horrible to kill a man in his own house than in a field, because a man’s house is his place of most secure refuge, it ought surely to be deemed more atrocious to destroy a foetus in the womb before it has come to light. On these grounds I am led to conclude, without hesitation, that the words, “if death should follow,” must be applied to the foetus as well as to the mother. Besides, it would be by no means reasonable that a father should sell for a set sum the life of his son or daughter. Wherefore this, in my opinion, is the meaning of the law, that it would be a crime punishable with death, not only when the mother died from the effects of the abortion, but also if the infant should be killed; whether it should die from the wound abortively, or soon after its birth. But, since it could not fail but that premature confinement would weaken both the mother and her offspring, the husband is allowed to demand before the judges a money-payment, at their discretion, in compensation for his loss; for although God’s command is only that the money should be paid before the judges,746 still He thus appoints them to settle the amount as arbitrators, if the husband should chance to be too exorbitant. We plainly perceive, by the repetition of the lex talionis, that a just proportion is to be observed, and that the amount of punishment is to be equally regulated, whether as to a tooth, or an eye, or life itself, so that the compensation should correspond with the injury done; and therefore (what is first said of the life747 ) is correctly applied also to the several parts, so that he who has plucked out his brother’s eye, or cut off his hand, or broken his leg, should lose his own eye, or hand, or leg. In fine, for the purpose of preventing all violence, a compensation is to be paid in proportion to the injury. But although God commands punishment to be inflicted on the guilty, still, if a man be injured, he ought not to seek for vengeance; for God does not contradict Himself, who so often exhorts His children not only to endure injuries patiently, but even to overcome evil with good. The murderer is to be punished, or he who has maimed a member of his brother; but it is not therefore lawful, if you have unjustly suffered violence, to indulge in wrath or hatred, so as to render evil for evil. Since this error was rife among the Jews, our Lord refutes it, and teaches that the punishment, which is publicly awarded to the wrong-doer, is not subservient to every man’s private passion, so that he who is offended should make haste to retaliate. (Matthew 5:38.) Nor indeed are these words addressed to them in order to inflame or excite the desire of vengeance, but all violence is restrained by the fear of punishment.
John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries (Complete), trans. John King, Accordance electronic ed. (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1847), paragraph 6441. Emphasis added. https://accordance.bible/link/read/Calvin#6441
If you’re a secularist who happens to still be here, welcome! I really mean that. Also, John Calvin died in 1564. The assertion that Christians suddenly figured out that abortion is wrong after Roe v. Wade for political purposes is plainly false, though we may rightly criticize those leaders who apparently figured it out around that time frame.
As with the current struggles in the Southern Baptist Convention, the mainstream media should also bear reminding that perhaps there remained many faithful Christians who faithfully read the biblical text prior to 1973 and figured out without the help of Bruce Waltke or Jerry Falwell that abortion is wrong.