The Bible and Abortion: Challenging the Revisionists
I was recently asked what I thought of a piece arguing that life only happens at the first breath, and that abortion is therefore just hunky dory. I had a quick look and replied, “Baloney”. The position presented in that article is not at all new, and has been a long standing way the pro-aborts try to trash the Bible and its clear pro-life teachings.
And simply reading how this guy carries on should warn us he is no more a biblical Christian than is Richard Dawkins. At the end of his piece he tells us that a pro-life position “is completely morally abhorrent”. His ugly bigotry is also made clear when he says that any “fundamentalsts [sic] who talk about how the bible is the foundation for their faith” should be considered a “dangerous moron”.
He goes on to say that the Bible “is not internally consistent, it does not claim to be perfect, and it is mistranslated.” And he is going to lecture us in biblical theology, and tell us what Scripture has to say on this topic? And we are supposed to believe him? Yeah right.
But as I say, he simply rehashes the tired old arguments of others, and shows how out of depth he is with anything biblical, exegetical or theological. His position is this: “the bible very clearly states that life begins at breath, not at conception.” Incredibly, he accuses his opponents of ‘picking a bunch of random verses, throwing them together, and hoping that no one notices that none of them really make sense in their context.’
Yet that is exactly what he does here: he cherry picks a few passages, rips them out of context, and ignores the whole of the biblical storyline. What he does here is simply laughable, as any first year theology student can see. So let me speak briefly to it.
Is the word group around the term ‘breath’ a biblical image and metaphor about life? Sure. But that is not the end of the matter, and the biblical data on when life begins deals with much more than these terms. Indeed, the few passages this guy offers have nothing to do with life in the womb. They all deal with adults.
Genesis 2:7 of course has to do with the unique creation of the first human life. And they are obviously created as adults, not as fetuses in a womb. The same with Psalms 33, Ezekiel 37, and Job 34 – these all refer to adults, and have nothing at all to do with the status of the unborn.
Moreover, every one of these passages have to do with the creative, live-giving breath of God – they have nothing to do with human breath, be it the first human breath at birth, or what have you. So this guy’s entire case is based on the wrong referent to the term breath.
It is basic Bible 101 to understand that it is God who gives life and sustains life, and without him and his life-giving grace, none of us would exist. Nothing earth shattering there, theologically speaking. But this has nothing to do with declaring people only are worthy of life after they have been born and taken their first breath. How absurd.
The simple fact is, all life is a gift of God and is based on his sustaining power. Thus the divine breath of life obviously exists in the preborn child from the moment of conception. And this of course accords fully with our understanding of biology and embryology. But see here for more on the scientific and medical evidence: billmuehlenberg.com/2012/04/09/acorns-aristotle-and-abortion/
The only thing close to the topic at hand that he offers is Numbers 5. This admittedly difficult passage has to do with a woman accused of adultery. He assumes the ordeal described here was supposed to cause an abortion if the woman was found to be pregnant from adultery. But a more widely held understanding of this (v. 21, 22, 27 – see esp., v. 28) is that she would become sterile. As such, this again has nothing to do with abortion per se, and/or the question of when human life begins.
He also goes on to completely mangle what we find in Exodus 21. That passage has also been wrongly used to support abortion, but any careful analysis of it proves the exact opposite. See my detailed study of this text here: billmuehlenberg.com/2012/11/11/difficult-bible-passages-exodus-2122-25/
And that is it folks! Yep, a few measly passages which speak about God-given breath in adults, and he thinks he has proven that the Bible is in fact pro-abortion as he is. Wow, such careful scholarship. Such meticulous research. Such detailed exegesis. Such logical insights. Of course the fact that the secular left Daily Kos was happy to run with this fluff piece is also quite telling.
As I said, he simply ignores dozens of passages which clearly spell out the personhood and thus moral worth of the unborn. My forthcoming book will devote plenty of pages to the biblical data. Here only a few brief passages can be mentioned.
We see the humanity and personhood of the unborn quite clearly when we see how Scripture discusses God’s relationship to unborn. A number of texts make it quite clear that God is able to have a relationship with those who are not yet born.
If that is the case, we certainly have something more here than a mere blob of tissue or some impersonal mass of cells. For example, the humanity of the prenatal Job is found in verses such as Job 10:8-12. In Matthew 1:18-20 we read of an angel who tells Mary not to be afraid, because the baby Jesus is conceived by Holy Spirit.
And Psalm 139:13-16 clearly speaks to this relationship between God and those in their mother’s womb. R. C. Sproul says of this passage: “Scripture assumes a continuity of life from before the time of birth to after the time of birth. The same language and the same personal pronouns are used indiscriminately for both stages. Further, God’s involvement in the life of the person extends back to conception (and even before conception).”
We also see how human life precedes the taking of the first breath when we examine the many texts which speak of pre-natal calling and election by God. It is of interest how often we find a person called into the work of God while they are still unborn. This happens on a number of occasions in the Bible, and adds more evidence to the claim that the unborn are in fact more than just clumps of cells. Consider these passages:
Genesis 25:21-26 – Rebekah with Jacob and Esau
Hosea 12:2-3 – Jacob and Esau in their mother’s womb
Romans 9:10-13 – the election of Jacob and Esau before they were born
Judges 13:2-7 – the birth of Samson, “set apart to God from birth” (v. 5)
Judges 16:17 – Samuel set apart for God from birth
Isaiah 49:1 – the Servant of the Lord: “before I was born the Lord called me”
Isaiah 49:5 – the Servant of the Lord: “he who formed me in the womb to be his servant”
Jeremiah 1:5 – Jeremiah: “before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart”
Matthew 25:24 – those saved from the creation of the world
Luke 1:13-17 – an angel tells of John’s calling, before birth
Galatians 1:15 – Paul is set apart from birth
Ephesians 1:4 – we were called before the foundation of the earth
Revelation 17:8 – the names of those not written in book of life from the creation of the world
From passages like this we see that “Scripture assumes a significant personal continuity between prenatal and postnatal life”, as John Frame remarks. Indeed, the same personal language is used of those both in and out of the womb. Says Frame, “At the very least, this continuity indicates that God is not only forming and caring for the unborn child; He is forming him as a specific individual, to fit him specifically for his postnatal calling.”
Plenty of other such passages can be appealed to here. They make it clear that even before a child is born, they are made in God’s image, they are worthy of life and protection, and they are to be included in the biblical discussion of the sanctity of human life.
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