We are currently in the time of the year known as “40 Days for Life.” During these 40 days (as well as the rest of the year), it is important to focus on issues related to the beginning of life. The Bible has much to say about the topic.
A survey of the Bible can reveal many verses which can be used for the pro-life position. I will focus upon a few (verses in ESV). I will outline how they argue for the pro-life position, how a pro-choice Christian might respond to them, and a rebuttal or concession based upon their response.
Jeremiah 1:5- “”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.”
Here we see that God called Jeremiah to be a prophet before he was born. In other words, even before his birth he was valuable to God, to the point of being called as a prophet. One interesting counter to a verse like this would be to hold that all it is saying is that God knew about Jeremiah from eternity, so the “before” is being used here as logical priority as opposed to temporal priority. I think this objection has some merit, so perhaps this verse isn’t as strong as it seems. I looked up the Hebrew in this verse and it seems to me that the first clause may be referencing pre-ordination, however the verb is not in the right form (Pual) to make this certain, and so the first clause may be referencing a process of forming not yet completed (which would mean the verse suggests God is interacting with a person before that person is born). The word “before” here, however, again could be said to note that the verse is talking about pre-ordination even though the verb doesn’t necessitate that reading. I tend to lean towards the pre-ordination meaning, but not as the only possibility. However, the second clause is even stronger because it talks about “consecrating,” and that word seems to entail the existence of something to be consecrated. Thus, it would mean that Jeremiah would have had to exist in order to be consecrated while in the womb, before being born.
There is a more powerful verse on this topic to be found:
Luke 1:15- “for he [John the Baptist] will begreat before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.”
Here there is no question of the verse just being God’s knowledge of John the Baptist’s prophetic call before his birth, rather, God will fill him with the Holy Spirit, even while John is in the womb. In other words, before he is born, John will be empowered by God. I don’t see how a pro-choice response could get around this. That John will be filled with the Spirit before his birth is a powerful argument for the pro-life position from Scripture because it would mean John would have to be capable of being filled. Pro-choice Christians often have to fall back to saying the unborn aren’t “persons”, but that would be impossible here, for why would the Holy Spirit fill a being which is impersonal?
Psalm 51:5 states: “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” It would seem to be quite absurd for someone who is not a person to be sinful. Pro-choice Christians who argue that the unborn is not a human person are placed in a very difficult position by this verse. It quite clearly states that from conception a person is sinful. Without personhood, one cannot sin. One must have the capacity to be sinful in order to sin. It would seem very odd for the pro-choice Christian to have to say an impersonal ‘blob of cells’ is capable of sinning.
There are many verses which point to God forming us in the womb (i.e. Job 31:15; Isaiah 44:2; and Psalm 139:13-16). These verses could be seen as supporting the pro-life position. However, the pro-choice Christian may respond by saying that it does not follow that just because God makes us in our wombs, we exist as persons in the womb or that we are inherently valuable in the womb. The counter to this argument is that the verses do not make sense otherwise. For if it were true that all the verses were pointing out were God’s creative activity, then much of the sense of the verse would be lost. In the Isaiah passage, for example, God is talking about His interaction with the nation of Israel, the implication is that because he formed them in the wombs, they are loved by Him–His creative act was an act of love to His people. So it would seem these verses must be understood as pointing towards the value of the baby in the womb, as opposed to a mere observation of God’s action.
But there are more sophisticated arguments against abortion that can be drawn from the Bible. I wrote elsewhere on Exodus 21:22-25, which has interestingly been used by pro-choice Christians to say their position is correct:
“If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.” Some believers use this passage to state that it shows the unborn fetus has a lesser status of personhood. They state that verse 22 shows that though the woman loses the child, she sustains no injury, and the penalty is but a fine. They say that this, then, shows that the fetus does not demand the same repercussions as hurting a fellow human (Feinberg 63). There are several problems with this interpretation, however. First, it must be stated that even if one is to concede this interpretation [which is incorrect], it does not authorize abortion. The baby is not intentionally harmed in any manner, but only unintentionally hurt. Second, just the fact that there is a penalty shows that there is wrongdoing here. If the fetus something that may be discarded at will, why is there even a fine for its destruction? Third, the reason the fetus’ death does not require the death penalty is in keeping with the Mosaic exception to the death penalty in cases of accidental death (Exodus 21:13-14, 20-21, Numbers 35:10-34, Deuteronomy 19:1-13). Therefore, the fact that there is “merely” a fine does not show that the fetus is less valued. Finally, it absolutely must be noted that Exodus 21 states various penalties for the killing of individuals that cannot be explained away with personhood. For example, verses 20-21 show that one who kills a slave unintentionally has no penalty. No one could argue that the slave is not a “person” (Feinberg, 64).
Further, the correct interpretation of this passage must be seen as the woman giving premature live birth, not a miscarriage. The implication is quite clear. If the mother gives a premature live birth because of the fight, there is merely a fine (despite no serious injury to anyone), but if either the mother or the fetus is injured, the law of retaliation (eye for an eye) is invoked. Thus, if the fetus is killed, the man causing harm is to be killed. This is remarkable, because it is the only place in Scripture where death is required for accidental homicide. It shows the extreme value placed on the life of the fetus (Feinberg, 65). This interpretation is based on the Hebrew verbs and nouns used in this passage… (here)
Given these passages (and there are more where those came from), it seems as though the pro-life position has very solid grounding in the Bible
Feinberg and Feinberg, Ethics for a Brave New World (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1993).
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