|Abortion: A biblical perspective|
by Andrew Lansdown
The Bible does not contain any direct teaching on abortion. So to learn God’s view on this matter, we need to determine what his word says on two related matters. Firstly, we need to know what it says about the nature of prenatal life. Secondly, we need to know what it says about the value of human life.
The nature of prenatal life
We can deduce the nature of prenatal life from the many references in the Bible to conception, pregnancy and birth.
To begin with, the Bible clearly portrays prenatal life as human life. God’s word identifies the unborn as children. A pregnant woman does not carry a cluster of cells that could become a child. She carries a child.
Romans 9:10 states, for example, that Rebecca “conceived children” by Isaac. According to Genesis 25:22, “The children struggled together within her”. Hosea 12:3 states that “In the womb [Jacob] took his brother by the heel”, while Genesis 25:26 indicates that Jacob still had hold of Esau’s heel when they were born! Distressed by the antics of her unborn children, Rebecca “went to enquire of the Lord. And the Lord said to her, ‘Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples, born of you, shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger’” (25:22-23). The behaviour of the foetuses, as well as the Lord’s explanation for that behaviour, plainly indicates their humanity. Before birth Esau and Jacob were children, twin brothers, who had distinct characters and destinies.
To be pregnant means to be “with child”. Translations such as the King James Version and the Revised Standard Version bring this out. For example, the angel of the Lord tells Hagar in Genesis 16:11 “Behold, you are with child, and shall bear a son; you shall call his name Ishmael”. In 1 Samuel 4:19 we read, “the wife of Phinehas, was with child, about to give birth.” Concerning David’s adultery with Bathsheba, 2 Samuel 11:5 states, “And the woman conceived; and she sent and told David, ‘I am with child.’”
In the New Testament, the same Greek word is used to speak of a child before and after birth. According to the context in which it appears, the word brephos means either an unborn child or a newborn child. For example, Luke 1:41 states that “the babe [John] leaped in [Elizabeth’s] womb” (cf v.44), while Luke 2:16 states that the shepherds found “the babe [Jesus] lying in a manger” (cf v.12). The same word, brephos, is used to describe John as an unborn baby and Jesus as a newborn baby. The Bible makes no distinction between the two. This is because a child does not become something different after he is born: he is the same being before birth as after birth—all that has changed (and will go on changing) is his level of maturity.
The clearest portrayal of the humanity of the unborn in the Bible is found in Luke’s account of the conceptions and prenatal lives of John and Jesus. Luke records that after Mary had conceived the Lord Jesus, she “went with haste” (1:39) to see Elizabeth, who was six months pregnant (1:36) with the prophet John. Luke continues: “And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy’” (1:41-44). John was a six-month-old foetus when he recognised the person and rejoiced at the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ in the womb of Mary. More significantly, Jesus was only a several-day-old embryo at that time.
Jesus assumed our humanity at conception. He began his human existence as an embryo and a foetus. Within days of his conception, he was hailed by Elizabeth as “Lord” and greeted by John with joy.
According to scripture, prenatal life is human life.
The Bible also indicates that prenatal life is human life from conception. Conception is the point at which human life commences. Genesis 4:1 states, for example, “Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, ‘I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD.’” When did Eve get her man-child, Cain? Scripture makes it clear that she got him at conception. She gave birth to him because she conceived him and carried him in her womb. Cain came into existence at conception, not birth. There is no thought in scripture that the unborn Cain was somehow different from the newborn Cain. Nor is there any hint that the first-trimester Cain was somehow different from the second- or third-trimester Cain. They were one and the same. Cain was Cain from conception. That is when his life began as a human being.
Dozens of similar passages cite conception as the beginning of human life. For example, Genesis 4:17 states, “Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch”. Genesis 21:2 states, “Sarah conceived, and bore Abraham a son”. Genesis 29:32 states, “Leah conceived and bore a son”. 1 Samuel 1:20 states, “Hannah conceived and bore a son”. These and many similar statements tie the origin of human life to conception. In fact, because scripture places such weight on conception as the starting point of human life, it often begins the narrative of a person’s life by referring to the sexual act that resulted in his or her conception: “Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain”; “Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch”.
Job traces the beginning of his existence back beyond his birth to his conception. At the height of his suffering he wished that he had never lived, declaring, “Let the day perish wherein I was born, and the night which said, ‘A man-child is conceived’” (3:3). Job understood that his life began on the night he was conceived.
Jeremiah understood this, too. Like Job, he went through a time of such suffering and despair that he longed for oblivion. But while Job wished he had never been conceived, Jeremiah wished he had been aborted. He cried, “Cursed be the day on which I was born! … Cursed be the man who brought the news to my father, ‘A son is born to you,’ making him very glad. Let that man be [cursed] … because he did not kill me in the womb; so my mother would have been my grave” (Jeremiah 20:14-17). Note Jeremiah’s expression, “kill me in the womb”. If the man who announced Jeremiah’s birth had performed an abortion on Jeremiah’s mother, Jeremiah would have been killed. That man would not have “eliminated” the unwanted “products of conception”. He would have killed a unique human being.
According to scripture, prenatal life is human life; and it is human life from conception.
Further, the Bible teaches that from conception human life is created and coddled by God. David reveals in Psalm 139:13-16 that God takes an active part in the formation of human life within the womb. He declares, “you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made … My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. … All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (NIV). God did not create a biological organism within the womb that became David at birth. Rather, he created David himself. In an awesome and wonderful way, God wove together David’s “frame” and his “inmost being” in “the secret place” of his mother’s womb, all the while seeing David’s life as a unified entity, a vital continuum from conception to old age.
Like David, Job acknowledges that God formed him—and indeed forms every human being—in the womb. Referring to himself and his servants, Job states, “Did not [God] who made me in the womb make them? Did not the same one form us both within our mothers?” (Job 31:15, NIV).
Jeremiah makes a claim similar to Job’s and David’s when he says, “Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations’” (1:4-5). A fascinating thing about the Lord’s word to Jeremiah is that it indicates that Jeremiah’s life began, in a sense, even before conception. It originated in the consciousness of God, so that conception was simply the confirmation of God’s intention concerning Jeremiah’s coming-into-being. But that is another matter. The significant thing so far as the matter of abortion is concerned is God’s assertion, “I formed you in the womb”.
God is intimately involved in the creation of human life from conception. A man and a woman are essentially the vehicles through which a new person comes into existence: the actual creation of that person is God’s work from beginning to end. It is the Lord “who gives breath to the people upon [the earth] and spirit to those who walk in it” (Isaiah 42:5). Ecclesiastes 11:5 states, “As you do not know how the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything.” We do not and cannot know how God forms a living soul from the union of a sperm and an ovum—but he does!
David, Job, Jeremiah—each acknowledges that his human existence began before birth, and that God was intimately involved in the creation of his existence.
The value of human life
Prenatal life is by nature human life, human life fashioned by God from conception. So to determine the value of this life, we must simply determine the value of human life.
The Bible presents six truths about human life that establish its value.
Firstly, God created human life. Genesis 2:7 states, “the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.”
Secondly, God bestowed his own nature on human life. Genesis 1:27 states, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
Thirdly, God owns human life. In Ezekiel 18:4 the Lord states, “Behold, all souls are mine”.
Fourthly, God preserves human life. Acts 17:25 states that God “himself gives to all men life and breath and everything”.
Fifthly, God values human life. The Lord Jesus declares in Matthew 10:29-31, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father’s will. . . . Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
Sixthly, God forbids the wilful, unlawful destruction of human life. Exodus 20:13 states, “You shall not murder.” Indeed, foremost among the “things which the LORD hates” are “hands that shed innocent blood” (Proverbs 6:16-17).
In summary, the Bible asserts that human life has inestimable worth. It is precious beyond calculation because it is created, distinguished, sustained, owned and treasured by God himself, who utterly forbids its wanton destruction.
Scripture leads us to believe that prenatal life is human life and that human life is immensely precious. Working from these two facts, we can deduce a third fact: prenatal life is immensely precious. Our reasoning is as follows: If the foetus is a human being, and if a human being is invaluable, then a foetus is invaluable.
What does this tell us about abortion, then? The logic is inescapable. If abortion kills a foetus, and if a foetus is a human being, then abortion kills a human being. And if God abhors the destruction of innocent human life, and if a foetus is an innocent human life, then God abhors the destruction of a foetus by abortion.
From a scriptural standpoint, there is no ambiguity about the moral nature of abortion. It is a monstrous evil that destroys God’s handiwork, defies his purpose and denies his love. It is the deliberate, despicable killing of an innocent, helpless human being for the convenience of a mother (not to mention a father) and the profit of a doctor.
Without doubt, God looks upon such killings with outrage. The children who are aborted are not hidden from him. He sees their little bodies as they are torn apart. He hears their silent screams. The darkness of the womb is as light to him, and he will bring into judgment the secret things that happen there.
As for God’s people, we must do more than merely abstain from abortion ourselves. We must condemn the practice with vigour. We must strive to save the unborn children who are under threat. Solomon exhorts and warns in Proverbs 24:10-12:
If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small. Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not requite man according to his work?
With a daily abortion rate of nearly 300 in our nation, the day of adversity is upon us. We will not fool God or escape his judgment if we pretend not to know this. Instead of pretence, instead of fainting, let us “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (Ephesians 6:10), doing all we can to rescue those who are being taken away to death.
Unless otherwise indicated, quotations from the Bible are from the Revised Standard Version (1971).
Copyright © Andrew Lansdown 1998