Tuesday, June 28, 2022

The Bible and Abortion

On the one hand, one does not need the Bible to understand that abortion is immoral. It is against the law revealed in the natural order and conscience that a mother should seek the destruction of her unborn offspring. She is made to nourish and care for this little living human being. 

On the other hand, I want explain the biblical case against abortion for three reasons. First, the Bible is the true and faithful and authoritative word of our Creator, and I am a minister of this word. Second, many people profess to accept the authority of the Bible. Certainly Christians do. Even some non-Christians have respect for it. Politicians on all sides will quote it to support their policies. Third, over the years, I have seen people claim that the Bible support abortion, a dangerously misleading interpretation not only out of accord with Christian teaching from the 1st-3rd centuries to the present, but out of accord with the Bible itself.

Let me recognize at the outset that many women resort to abortion in the midst of difficult circumstances. Childbearing itself is difficult, and this is even more the case in some situations. Yet difficult circumstances are not necessarily exemptions. They can also be temptations to do the wrong thing. And that is generally the case in these difficult situations that motivate women to seek abortion. They do not justify the killing of the unborn, but should be addressed in other ways. I say “generally” only because I recognize, as do our state laws that prohibit abortion, that there are rare cases (e.g. ectopic pregnancy) where it is justified to remove the baby before it is safe to do so to save the life of the mother, although this is quite different from what is normally called abortion. 

While the Bible does not explicitly deal with abortion, it does so implicitly by condemning the murder of human beings and recognizing unborn children as human beings. As my denomination stated in 1972, "Believing that unborn children are living creatures in the image of God, given by God as a blessing to their parents, we therefore affirm that voluntary abortion, except possibly to save the physical life of the mother, is in violation of the Sixth Commandment (Exodus 20:13)." To support this, let me review some passages of Scripture.

Genesis 5:1-3 and 9:6
“Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” (Genesis 9:6)
In Genesis 9, God explains that murder is wrong because it unjustly takes the life of one who bears God’s image. Biblical ethics provides a reason to value all humans, grounding their right to life not on their level of intelligence, physical abilities, racial identity, or usefulness to society, but as beings made in the image of God.

Genesis 5:1-3 explains how this identity is conveyed to the next generation. It is not imputed to them at some point in their life. Rather, humans have the image of God by being produced from other images of God. “When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God…When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth” (Gen. 5:1, 3). Mankind, like the rest of creation, produces according to its kind. From conception, the child is made in the image of God.

Genesis 2:7
“…then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” (Genesis 2:7)
Some justify abortion with this verse, saying that life begins with breath. But life is given to Adam with a breath since Adam was created as an adult, and living adults generally breathe. But if an adult stops breathing, are they dead? Not necessarily. We do CPR. Why? Because there is hope they will breathe again. The unborn do not yet breathe, but at birth they will. Their lack of breath is not proof they are dead. It is proof they need the care of others. But they are biologically alive, not dead. Additionally, the Bible also speaks of the life of flesh being its blood (Lev. 17:11, 14), and does so in the context of prohibiting murder (Gen. 9:4-5, 4:10). Living humans and animals generally have blood circulating through them sustaining their life, and this includes unborn children (15-21 days post-fertilization). Again, I do not think this is meant to define life with scientific precision, but it is more to the point in this discussion, and it shows the Bible can use more than one marker to identify life.

Exodus 21:22-25
“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)
This case law describes a situation where men are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and her children come out with two results, no harm or harm.

The first case (no harm) involves a premature birth and a penalty for striking the woman in such a way; the second case (harm) involves harm to the woman and/or her children, with a further penalty that fits the harm done. This is the traditional interpretation. I think this is still the best interpretation, since (1) in the first case the word for miscarriage is not used, nor do the words used indicate such a meaning, and (2) the harm is not specified, leaving it applicable to the woman and her children mentioned in the passage. Both the father and the judges had responsibility to protect and seek justice for the pregnant woman and her children. If that is the case with harm due to carelessness, how much more when harm is premeditated. 

Some, though, interpret it differently. They say the first case involves a penalty for the accidental causing of a miscarriage, and the second case includes a further penalty if the woman is harmed. But even if this interpretation is correct - and I do not think it is - it does not greatly change its implications for abortion. Note that the child dies in both of these cases, and in both there is a penalty. The penalty in the second case is for compound crime toward both the mother and child. It is not comparing the death of the child to the death of the woman. Also, that the accidental causing of a miscarriage is penalized with a fine does not mean the child is not a person or alive. There is also a monetary fine in Exodus 21:32 for the death of a slave (and others, Ex. 21:29-31) by an ox accustomed to gore, but the Bible affirms their personhood and life (e.g. Ex. 21:2, 12, 16, 20, 26-27, Job 31:13-14). 

Numbers 5:11-31
“May this water that brings the curse pass into your bowels and make your womb swell and your thigh fall away.’ And the woman shall say, ‘Amen, Amen.’” (Numbers 5:22)
Some claim that this passage provides a God-approved instance of abortion. This passages describes a highly unique test for when a husband was overcome with jealousy, believing his wife to be guilty of adultery without witnesses to verify the claim.

First, this “trial by ordeal” was different from those found in other nations because it used a symbolic but naturally harmless substance (water with some dust and ink) which could supernaturally produce a harmful result in the guilty, rather than using a naturally harmful substance in the hope that the innocent would be supernaturally delivered.

Second, if this passage refers to the death of an unborn child, it would be God alone who caused this, and so this would not give anyone the right to take this matter into their own hands. God gave life and he can take it away. He has laid a curse upon all mankind in response to our fall into sin that all will die, and he chooses the day of our death.

Third, this passage does not refer to the death of an unborn child. In the case of a guilty woman, it says it would make “your womb swell and your thigh fall away,” or as the CSB puts it, “causing your belly to swell and your womb to shrivel.” These terms are best understood in light of 2:28, which says that the innocent woman “shall be free and shall conceive children.” So rather than referring to miscarriage, the punishment is best understood as a visible disease indicating guilt and causing infertility. In this case, the outcome for the guilty woman would be curse and infertility, while the vindication of the innocent woman would include the blessing of conception and children.

Psalm 51:5
“Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (Psalm 51:5)
In this confession of sin written by King David, he confesses not only his sinful acts, but his sinful nature. This verse does not refer to the sins of his mother, since it is a confession of his sins and since it refers in the same way to both his birth and conception. He is stating a fundamental truth in Christian theology that following Adam’s sin, all his descendants by ordinary generation are sinners by nature and under condemnation (Rom. 5:12, 18-19, Eph. 2:3), who may be saved only by Christ (who can save born and unborn infants as well as adults, see next point). As Psalm 51:5 teaches, this sinfulness is true of us from the beginning of our existence. And this begins with conception. If an unborn child can be considered a sinner, then unborn children are to be regarded as distinct living human beings.

Psalms 22:9-10 and 71:5-6
“Yet you are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts. On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.” (Psalm 22:9–10)
“For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O LORD, from my youth. Upon you I have leaned from before my birth; you are he who took me from my mother’s womb.” (Psalm 71:5–6)
Not only are unborn children participants in man’s fall, but they may also be participants in man’s renewed covenant with God. God can show this mercy to all unborn children, and he has particularly given us hope regarding the children of believers, to be their God (Gen. 17:6). As the writers of the Psalms looked back to their relationship with God over the years, they could look back even to their life in the womb. If an unborn child can be considered as a believer in God in relationship with him, then unborn children are to be regarded as distinct living human beings made in the image of God.

Judges 13:4-5
“Therefore be careful and drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb, and he shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines.” (Judges 13:4–5)
These words were spoken by the Lord to the wife of Manoah, telling of how she would conceive and bear Samson. Samson would be a Nazirite from the womb, and so his mother would need to abide by the dietary laws of the Nazirite, since the child receives his nourishment from his mother. A Nazirite was one who was specially consecrated to the Lord (Num. 6:2-3). If an unborn child can be a Nazirite, already bound by Nazirite laws, then unborn children are to be regarded as distinct living human beings made in the image of God.

Luke 1:15, 44
“…he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.” (Luke 1:15)
John the Baptist was filled with the Spirit from his mother’s womb for his work of making known the Son of God in the flesh. John began this work while he was yet unborn. When pregnant Mary visited John’s mother Elizabeth, Elizabeth said to her, “And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.” (Luke 1:43-44) Again, this implies that the unborn are distinct living human beings.

Matthew 1:18
“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 1:18)
The Son of God took on human nature when he was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary, of her substance. He was a distinct living human from his conception onward. Jesus is also eternal God, but with respect to his humanity, he was made like us in every respect, except without sin (Heb. 2:17, 4:15).


The law which commands us, “Thou shalt not kill” (Ex. 20:13, KJV), applies to unborn children. The Bible teaches that we are to regard them as distinct and living human beings made in the image of God, and that therefore we ought not to murder such beings. The Bible makes no distinction within the life in the womb such as viability. It assumes a continuity of personhood and existence from conception to after birth. 

It is a mother’s duty to care for the helpless infant entrusted to her womb, just as it is likewise a father’s duty to care for the infant he has begotten. This parental responsibility of care and protection begins at conception. Often these duties are made easy by the parental affection and fulfillment which often accompanies this work. But things can get quite difficult, especially as we labor under the curse (Gen. 3:16-19), and so these duties ought to be reinforced by encouragement, support, and praise, as well as by custom, education, and law. When things break down to such an extent that a mother begins to contemplate the destruction of her child at the hands of the abortionist, the government has a duty to defend the life of the innocent and protect the unborn child from abortion (Psalm 82:3-4, Prov. 30:8-9, Rom. 13:3-4).

This position should be part of a larger program that supports marriage and the family (Ex. 20:12-14, 1 Cor. 7:2, 1 Tim. 5:4, 8-16). This includes passing laws such as those that limit divorce (Matt. 19:3-9), deliver the afflicted from violence (Ps. 82:3-4), hold men accountable for premarital sex (Ex. 22:16-17), and punish rapists (Deut. 22:25-27). It also involves extended family and other people and institutions stepping in when the nuclear family breaks down (1 Tim. 5:3-10, Deut. 14:29, Ruth 1-4). But while this full program ought to be promoted, the unborn should not be neglected until everything else is in place. Let them be protected by the law of the land, and let the church call people to turn from this sin and to turn to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, who gives forgiveness and hope to all who repent and believe.

1 comment:

Ted said...

Amen Pastor!