R4E130130 – Abortion by Douglas Jacoby 19:30
What does the Bible say on the subject of abortion? Do Psalm 139:13-16 and Exodus 21:22-23 address the issue of abortion? Not as directly as we might think. Psalms are poetry, and Exodus 21 is capable of two translations: miscarriage or premature birth.
No scriptures address the subject head-on. This is curious, because abortion and exposure of unwanted infants were common in the ancient world. Various poisons were administered to induce abortions. At that time, the Hippocratic Oath forbade abortions. The closest the Bible comes to addressing the issue is in this passage, where the penalty for causing an abortion or miscarriage was a fine, not the death penalty, as if the baby were already born. Although I am not pro-abortion, I do admit that the Bible recognizes some differences between a baby already born and one still in the womb.
Most Bible students believe life starts at conception, based on the poetry of Job 10:8-12; Psalm 139:13-16; and Jeremiah 1:5. But did God intend poems to be mined for doctrine?
There is no doubt that abortion creates a tremendous load of guilt, and conservative Bible-believers range from forbidding abortion in nearly all cases to opposing it in all cases–quite a narrow range, when you think about it.
In the absence of direct, explicit, crystal-clear scriptural teaching on abortion, it may be fruitful to ponder the following questions. Try to answer them honestly.
Questions for thought
- The fertilization process requires many hours, and is followed by another day in which the individual (diploid) is formed. In what sense is the mother-to-be pregnant before the process is complete?
- Is the loss of a 16-cell embryo equal to the loss of a full-term fetus?
- Up until two weeks, the zygote can split into twins, triplets, and so on. The process of individuation is still incomplete. Can a soul be shared three ways?
- The baby’s heart starts beating after 22 days. Does life begin with the heartbeat?
- The sex of the embryo is not determined until the seventh week. Accordingly, many Muslims and Jews consider the embryo to be fully human only after 40 days. Do Jews and Muslims value life less than Christians?
- Recognizable EEG patterns (the mental activity associated with humanity) don’t appear until 24 weeks. What are the implications? Is it possible that the individual becomes fully human on a continuum?
- Continuous brainwaves do not begin until about 28 weeks. Until then, the neurons carrying pain impulses to the brain are not yet fully wired. What are the implications?
- Is abortion allowable if this is the only way to save the mother’s life?
Whatever believers think about this important subject should be informed by science and theology, and moderated by conscience.
Antiabortionists are inconsistent when they are pro-life in regard to an embryo or fetus but anti-life when calling for the execution of the abortionist. On the other side, abortionists are inconsistent when they affirm that a fetus is fully human and that it’s at the mother’s disposal (as part of her body). Is it human, or not? If it’s a baby before it’s born, it must not be cast off. Otherwise, on what grounds could eliminating a one-year-old baby be rejected as murder?
Further material not included in the podcast
- In Matthew 1:18-20, Joseph is told that Mary was “with child,” and about this child, “What is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” This gives some support for the idea that conception is the point of the beginning of life.
- “You shall not murder a child by abortion” is a command found in early 2nd-century sources Barnabas 19:5 and the Didache 2:2.
- Late 2nd century apologist Tertullian wrote, “It does not matter whether you take away a life that is born or destroy one that is coming to birth. In both instances, the destruction is murder” (Apol. 9.4).
- Augustine too spoke of the sin of aborting a human life, referring to “the murder of an unborn child” (On Marriage, 1.17.15, about 400 AD).
- In the High Middle Ages, Thomas Aquinas believed that the rational soul [many souls] is infused by God into the body at 40 days for males and 90 days for females. – John Haldane and Patrick Lee, “Aquinas on Human Ensoulment, Abortion and the Value of Life,” Philosophy 78 (2003), 255-8.
- Modern scholar Richard Swinburne suggests that the soul does not function until about 20 weeks after conception The Evolution of the Soul [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987], esp. ch. 8).
- Life clearly begins before birth, and so I hold that abortion of a living human, a viable fetus, is murder. Yet at which point does the pre-human become a person? Could this take place on a continuum?
- Of course the Lord is pro-life, yet he also wants us to make a right choice. Choose our words wisely; choose our battles wisely; pray for the Lord to make up the difference at any point where we may be defective in our knowledge, relatability to others, or Christ-like compassion.
- While I am pro-life, I am not advocating any specific governmental policy. Like many, I’m acutely uncomfortable when governmental “experts” attempt to regulate every aspect of our private lives (education, ethics, religion, and other personal choices).
- This is one subject we should discuss with wisdom and love.
- Abortion is a sensitive issue. While holding to biblical conviction — uncompromisingly — still we need to behave and speak with genuine concern for others.
- This is probably not suitable for a small group Bible discussion, esp. where women are present.
- Advice for preachers: sensitivity when tempted to publicly call abortion “murder.”
- As we deal with all matters of personal interest to those we hope to reach, students of the word should strive to:
- Take a stand on the truth. Know the facts.
- Be silent where the Bible is silent.
- Present the gospel message in a gracious spirit (Colossians 4:5-6).