Wednesday, October 20, 2021
It's Wednesday, October 20th, 2021.
I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Get Ready for Big Action at the High Court — The Texas Abortion Law Heads Back to Supreme Court
As expected, the Biden administration's justice department has asked the Supreme Court to intervene and to intervene soon and to block the Texas abortion law. you'll recall that that Texas law basically bans abortion after the sixth week of pregnancy. The pro-abortion movement, and that includes the Biden administration, has been nearly apoplectic over the bill and has repeatedly demanded that it be blocked, suspended, and eventually ruled unconstitutional or repealed. In other words, this is one of those laws that really has the nation's attention, because it is one of the first laws passed by a state that represents this kind of threat to the entire abortion industry. But looking at the actual filing, it's interesting to see what the Biden administration justice department is doing. It is asking, first of all, for speedy blockage of the bill, or at least suspension of the bill pending a further hearing by the Supreme Court.
Interestingly, there is indication that the Supreme Court might actually hear the case, that appeal, very quickly. We know that because Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., And he's the justice responsible for this geographic area there in Texas, he has asked the government of Texas in support of this law to offer a defense and a filing by Thursday, Thursday at noon, to be precise. That tells you that the Supreme Court will have the filings in hand, presumably to make some kind of ruling one way or the other, rather expeditiously, acting rather quickly.
But something else to note is that Justice Alito is one of the conservative justices. And he is not one of the justices likely to want to block the Texas law. But then again, when you're dealing with this kind of case, and you're dealing with this level of constitutional question, there is no doubt that there's a bit of unpredictability in this entire system, but there is reason for the pro-life movement to have great hope and to believe that this Texas law might actually be a catalyst for revealing the future landscape of the United States on the issue of the preservation of human life, particularly unborn human life.
But there's more to the story than this because as Adam Liptak of The New York Times reports, "Saying the matter was urgent and important, the brief also asked the court to consider adding the question of the law's constitutionality to the docket of cases it plans to hear this year, bypassing the appeals court, which is scheduled to hear arguments on it in December." The article goes on rightly to state, "The Supreme Court is already scheduled to hear another major abortion case involving a Mississippi law in December." That's big news. It's very significant. The Biden administration is asking, in this case, the justice department is asking the high court not just to consider a ruling that would block the enforcement of the bill until there is a future constitutional challenge, but it is asking for that constitutional challenge now. It is asking for the Supreme Court to bypass the federal appellate court, that is, the circuit court of appeals, and to go directly to a consideration of this Texas law on constitutional grounds.
That's big news for two reasons. Number one, as this article acknowledged, there is already a massively important abortion case coming before the court. Those oral arguments are going to come just in a matter of weeks. Now the Biden administration is asking for this case also to be considered by the court in this current term. That tells you something of the urgency with which both sides see this case. There will be a lot to unpack in coming days, including the content of these filings. There will surely be a lot to consider if and when the Supreme Court does issue some kind of ruling on this case, not to mention a future major decision. A lot to consider. We will consider the story as it unfolds, because as we're thinking about the defense of unborn human life, it is hard to imagine cases more important than these.
Is the Pro-Life Argument Based on a Mistranslation of Scripture? Of Course Not, But the Washington Post Runs the Argument
But that then takes us to the issue of abortion as a biblical issue. Now, oddly enough, almost bizarrely enough, an article about the Scriptures and abortion found its way into the opinion section of The Washington Post. That's right. Before we turn to the article, let's just turn to the fact that the article exists. There's a lot to think about there. The Washington Post, one of the nation's most influential daily newspapers, and one of the most liberal newspapers as well, has published an opinion piece. And here's the headline, "An ancient mistranslation is now helping to threaten abortion rights." The subhead is this, "The Hebrew Bible didn't urge special penalties for causing a miscarriage."
The article was written by Danya Ruttenberg and Katey Zeh. And they're writing from the perspective of American Judaism, presumably a rather liberal American Judaism. The article begins, "Is it possible that more than 150 million people in the United States might lose some of their critical rights as enshrined in the Constitution at least in part due to a single word being mistranslated more than 2,000 years ago? It is." Now, even before we consider the bizarre biblical argument that presumably is being made here, let's look at the language used in that lead paragraph. We are told that constitutional rights are at stake for 150 million people. That means the half of the population who are women, but nonetheless, the next phrase is their critical rights, "as enshrined in the Constitution."
Now, if you're going to use a phrase like as enshrined in the Constitution, wouldn't you think that would require some reference in the Constitution to this supposed right? You and I both know it's not there. It has never been there, but that shows you at least what is presented as the constitutional logic of the pro-abortion movement and, beyond that, of the left wing of American public life. We know that so much public attention, thankfully, is being directed to abortion right now. And we know that the attention of the United States Supreme Court is being directed to abortion. The authors of this article go on to say that heartbeat bills, rather than being medically accurate, speak about embryonic cardiac activity, "attempting to equate an embryo with a fully formed baby."
That, by the way, is not what the pro-life movement is trying to do. We're not trying to say that a fetus at an early stage of development is exactly the same biologically as a fully formed baby. We understand exactly how pregnancy works. We understand how gestation works. We understand how human development works. The point of the pro-life movement, the absolutely mandatory point, is that an unborn baby is a baby and is a person and has a life worthy of our defense. Indeed, it demands it by its dignity and sanctity at every single point of development. We understand there are different points of development. We are not saying that at the beginning and the end, there is no change. We are saying that what doesn't change is personhood, worth of life, dignity and sanctity of life. But trying to explain the bigger issue behind the pro-life movement, these authors write, quote, "But. There are cultural and theological roots underpinning these anti-scientific attitudes and they are relevant, especially if part of that approach is based on an error," end quote. Well, here's their point. The entire pro-life movement is driven by theological roots.
Well, there's something to that argument, but of course, they oppose it. And they think that by exposing those theological roots, they can weaken the pro-life movement. But then they go on to say that the approach is based on an error. Remember, the headline said an ancient mistranslation. Well, we love the scripture. We love life. We understand that the scripture is the word of God. We understand that human beings are made in God's image. We had better take a closer look at this argument. These two writers tell us, "To understand what this translation mistake is and why it matters today, we must first go way back to the Hebrew Bible. The key verses are found in the book of Exodus." Now, the reference here to the Hebrew Bible is what we, as Christians, would refer to as the Old Testament. The reference to the Hebrew Bible is common now in Jewish experience.
But nonetheless, they go on to cite the book of Exodus. This is how these two writers translate this passage from Exodus: "When men fight, and one of them pushes a pregnant woman and a miscarriage results, but no other harm ensues, the one responsible shall be fined when the woman's husband demands compensation. The payment will be determined by judges, but if other harm ensues, the penalty shall be life for life." Now, they don't identify the verse, but if you know the Scriptures, you can quickly figure out we're looking here at Exodus 21 and especially at verse 22, but even as they offer what they suggest is the correction of a translation mistake, it is clear that ideology is driving their own offered translation. That shows up especially in the fact that they point to the translation as implying a miscarriage, two men who fight. One of them pushes a pregnant woman. And a miscarriage results.
Now, they go on to argue. And we're going to come back to that translation, but they go on to argue, "In other words, if a miscarriage is caused, the offender is fined for damages, but there is no other punishment as the fetus is not, in the Hebrew Bible, regarded as a person. If there is other harm, that is, if the pregnant person dies, the offender is seen as having committed manslaughter and punished accordingly." This, say these two writers, is how these verses are understood in Judaism from the rabbinic era of the Mishnah and Talmud through Jewish law today, where abortion is permitted and, if needed to save the life of the pregnant person, sometimes required. They then write, "The Torah," that means the first five books of the Bible, "does not indicate at what stage of gestation the fetus is when this miscarriage happens. As a result, in Jewish law traditionally, and today, personhood is regarded as beginning during birth with the first breath."
Now, there's a whole lot in that one paragraph, but they're telling us that according to the Jewish understanding, personhood comes at birth, but they also state that's not based upon any particular scripture. It's based upon rabbinical reasoning. Well, we are not as Christians bound by any kind of rabbinical reasoning. We are bound by the text. That takes us back to what they claim is a mistranslation there in Exodus 21, they claim. And remember, we're talking about this in this particular case because this is an article in The Washington Post. This was injected into our national conversation. It was intended to have the effect of telling people, perhaps even justices of the Supreme Court who tend, of course, to live in Washington, it's intended to tell them, look, the entire pro-life movement is based upon a Bible mistranslation. You can just ignore it.
Without going into textual complexities, it's very important to understand that their argument is that when the Hebrew Scriptures, that would be what we call the Old Testament, rightly so, when they are translated into Greek in what we know as the Septuagint and after that translated into Latin and other languages, we are told that there's a mistranslation because the implication here should clearly be they are arguing from the Hebrew texts that this is a baby who has died an unborn child but not considered a person because there is no penalty of murder that is assessed by the law of God in this context. Thus, they say, the rabbis have gone on with their reasoning in terms of their Jewish rationale that abortion is permitted. But the argument here is that evangelical Christians and Roman Catholics have gone with a mistranslation and based upon this text to come to the conclusion that we are talking about an unborn person, but then again, what they give they take away in their own argument because they recognize that most evangelicals and Roman Catholics aren't really thinking of this text at all.
For example, later in the article, they write this, which contradicts their entire point, "In discussions regarding scripture and abortion among conservative Christian theologians and ethicists, this particular verse is rarely cited or explored." So why are we talking about it? Well, we're talking about it because these authors are arguing that the Roman Catholic and evangelical argument in defense of human life is based upon what they claim is a mistranslation of the Hebrew text and then theological logic applied by Christians, including Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas and later pro-life Christian thinkers and theologians. The argument is they have all been based upon this verse, whether they know it or not. And the verse was mistranslated. The pro-life movement is a theological mistake based upon a misreading of the Hebrew text of the Bible.
But then they just have to go on and acknowledge, you know, Roman Catholic theologians and evangelicals don't cite this verse and may not even be thinking of it in reference to their pro-life positions, but it's back there. In other words, they're making a political point, but they're also making a translation point. They're making a textual point about this verse of scripture. Now, here is where I have to draw upon some Hebrew experts to make the issue clear. As you look at the Hebrew word that is translated by these two authors as miscarriage, it's been translated that way before, it actually means in the Hebrew "and the baby comes out," or "the child comes out." That is to say that when two men fight, and one of them pushes down a pregnant woman and the child comes out, well, then it says the penalty. But as these Hebrew scholars have pointed out, when it says the child then comes out, it doesn't say that the child does not come out alive.
I'm really not going to give this article much more attention. I am going to give the issue attention. First of all, I just want to say, look, it's really, really interesting and informative that someone thought this article would be helpful. It's also interesting to note that at least some people are trying to say, if you're going to try to defeat the pro-life argument, you better try to nullify the voice of scripture, but here's where I want to speak to Christians. I want to speak to those who believe in the sanctity and dignity of human life. We need to keep in mind that our understanding of human dignity and the sanctity of life, the personhood of an unborn human child, that doesn't go back to just one particular verse that might or might not have been mistranslated at any particular time. In this case, the mistranslation is a false charge.
And beyond that, the fact that the pro-life movement is based upon some kind of weak theological logic falls apart, because we need to recognize that the Christian church reasoning from scripture has had to come to the conclusion that if indeed human life begins, it begins somewhere. And you're going to have to say, when personhood begins, it has to begin somewhere. The pro-abortion movement doesn't want to say when that happens. It's interesting that these two Jewish authors say it happens at birth, but we know that that doesn't fit the Scriptures. And that's where we take a larger picture than just any one word. We're looking at the totality of Scripture. We're looking at how the scripture begins in Genesis by stating that human beings are made in God's image. But we also look to a text that just testifies, as we see happens over and over in scripture, of the personhood of the unborn child, a personhood that is known by God and affirmed by him.
In Psalm 139:13–16, the psalmist writes, "For you formed my inward parts. You covered me in my mother's womb. I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Marvelous are your works. And that my soul knows very well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in secret and skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Your eyes saw my substance being yet unformed. And in your book, they were all written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them." The psalmist is saying here as a word of praise and humble acknowledgement before God, before anyone knew me, you knew me. You knew me from the very beginning when you knitted me together in my mother's womb. There is ample testimony, both in the explicit text of scripture and in the narrative of scripture, in the totality of Scripture, to understand the sanctity and dignity of unborn human life, the personhood of unborn human life.
Just consider the fetal John, that is, the man who would become known as John the Baptist, who at the point that he was inside his mother's womb leapt in that womb in the presence of Mary, who was carrying the unborn Lord Jesus Christ. Just put all that together. You understand why the Christian church faithfully has reasoned back to the very moment of fertilization to understand that it is then that God sovereignly says, "Let there be life." And from that point onward, we must treat every single human life as a life worthy of dignity, a life possessing sanctity by God's creative act, a life that demands our defense.
For backup on Hebrew, I want to thank Southern Seminary, Boyce College Old Testament professors Duane Garrett, Adam Howell, and T.J. Betts.
The Child Is Not the Mere Creature of the State’ — A Reminder of a Big Lesson on Parental Rights from the Supreme Court
But next, let's look at the consideration of childhood, not just of infancy in this case. Let's look at the condition of childhood. And let's look at a very interesting argument. Just days ago on The Briefing, I discussed the oppressive actions taken by the justice department and also called upon by others to try to say that parents should not be involved in the public school education of their own children. This was explicitly said by former Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe as he is running for reelection, saying that parents shouldn't be the one to make these choices. But even as you're looking at opinion response to that situation, some interesting things have arisen. Gerard Baker writing for The Wall Street Journal wrote an article entitled, "Merrick Garland has a List, and You're Probably On It." In this case, he's talking to parents who would dare to be involved in the curricular issues, in the school board debates, in the public school education of their own children. He makes some very interesting arguments here. And his article is actually an ominous warning about encroachments upon parental rights and parental authority.
Baker goes back to quote Terry McAuliffe. And that statement is certainly worth quoting again. McAuliffe said, "I don't think parents should be telling schools what they should teach." Just consider those words again. But then Gerard Baker writes this, "Aside from the jaw-dropping disdain for families, Mr. McAuliffe's prescription is at odds with Article 26.3 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the sort of grand, multilateral pronouncement the Democrats usually fetishize, which states, 'Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.'" Now, again, this is a specific statement from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations. That goes back to 1949. Just hear the words again, "Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children."
Now, we should find the fact that the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights has a statement that clear, we should find that to be very informative, but I want to offer a word of warning to Christians. We do not base our claim of parental rights... And by the way, American citizens should not base our claim of parental rights upon the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, because that statement itself is just hanging out there in air. The authority of the United Nations is not going to get you very far in terms of defending the rights of your children. There are signatories to the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, like the country of Germany, that does not allow homeschooling at all, that does not really recognize as a nation the right of parents, as this article states, do "have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children," end quote.
By the way, that doesn't say only that parents should be able to choose an alternative school context or a homeschool context. It says that even when there are schools like public schools, you'll notice it applies there too. Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children, end quote. It is very interesting to note that a reader of The Wall Street Journal, John T. James of Webster Groves, Missouri, wrote back in response, reminding the paper that there is ample precedent here in the United States to make that point, to make that point inside American constitutional and political life. And I just want to remind all of us that that is indeed the case. There were two particular cases that should have our attention. First, 1925, a case known as Pierce versus Society of Sisters. It was handed down June the 1st, 1925. What was the point? The point was that parents have a constitutional right to choose to send their children to, in that case, a Catholic school, rather than a public school. It's a parental choice.
The second big case was handed down May the 15th of 1972. It is known as the Yoder decision. It was handed down 7-0. It was a unanimous decision by the Supreme Court stating that Wisconsin could not require Amish citizens to continue their children beyond eighth grade in the public schools as a matter of legal necessity. Instead, that Yoder decision recognized the right of parents to make alternative decisions for their children. And it didn't apply only to those beyond the eighth grade. It didn't apply only to the state of Wisconsin. So 1925, Pierce versus Society of Sisters, 1972, the Yoder case. Now, there's some very important language, particularly in that 1925 case. In 1925, the Supreme Court held, "The fundamental theory of liberty upon which all governments in this union repose excludes any general power of the state to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public school teachers only."
The next sentence is so crucial. This is the one sentence that should compel our attention on The Briefing today, "The child is not the mere creature of the state. Those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right coupled with the high duty to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations." Those words are just so important. We need to hear them again. This is a government. This is a high court recognition that children don't belong to the government, "The child is not the mere creature of the state." Now, that takes us back to where we began on the issue of the sanctity of human life. The child was not created by the state. The child belongs to parents as the life is given to us by God.
One Lifetime and an Entire Culture Ago — Betty Lynn (Thelma Lou) Dies At 95
Finally, today on The Briefing, I want to speak about the death of Betty Lynn. She died at age 95. And she was best known to Americans as Thelma Lou on The Andy Griffith Show. She was born Elizabeth Ann Theresa Lynn. She was a native of Missouri. What's important to recognize is that even though Americans knew her and loved her on The Andy Griffith Show as Thelma Lou, the love interest, of course, of Deputy Barney Fife, the reality is that she lived a life that was even more interesting.
During World War II, she encouraged soldiers through the USO camp shows program. And on behalf of the American military, she put her life in danger, actually being the only American woman to have traveled the Burma Road, one of the most dangerous roads, in the American effort to fight the Japanese empire in World War II. It was extremely dangerous. She gave herself to it to encourage the American troops. And later, she was named an honorary Colonel in the American Legion. Thelma Lou as the character, Betty Lynn as the actress, was identified with Mayberry, which was based upon Andy Griffith's hometown of Mount Airy, North Carolina. By the end of her life, Betty Lynn, just in a very poetic way, moved to Mount Airy, where she lived out her final years.
Americans look to The Andy Griffith Show as an iconic representation of American entertainment at the middle of the 20th century and into its second half. It was more than that, of course. It was a narrative that was key to understanding America, idealized, to be sure, but an American narrative that still deserves to be told and is watched by millions of Americans. And just look at what is implied in the moral values, the worldview represented on The Andy Griffith Show grounded in the real town of Mount Airy, North Carolina, with what is discussed, taken for granted, and what is enjoyed as the popular culture of America today. It's a shift not only of entertainment. It's not only from black and white to color. It's a shift from one entire moral vision to another. Ponder that. Betty Lynn died here in North Carolina at age 95.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can find me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.
I'm speaking to you from Wake Forest, North Carolina, and I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.