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Is Human Life Special?
by Gary Bates and Lita Cosner

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Bioethics


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Feedback archive → Feedback 2017

Answering another abortion argument

Published: 18 March 2017 (GMT+10)

Does the Bible actually consider human beings to be alive from conception onward?

Y.C. from Canada asks:

iStockphoto

pregnant-woman
Recently, I had watched an episode of the popular television CSI. In the episode, they were discussing the issue of abortion and life. The lead CSI, Gil Grissom, mentioned that according to the Bible, life starts with the blood, suggesting that humans are not to be considered ‘alive’ from the moment of conception. When I looked at your position, it seems to be that life is defined by breathing and having blood, so that plants and, apparently, insects are not alive in the Biblical sense.
By this ‘breathing creature’ definition, CSI, as well as the latest issue of American Atheist ([reference removed]) would be correct in stating that: a) the pre-born human is not a living being, and b) having blood is a necessary and sufficient condition, then at least for the first two weeks after conception, this human is not alive.
Would you please help me resolve this dilemma?

CMI USA’s Lita Cosner responds:

It is fallacious to apply these criteria to the developing child in the womb who does not yet have these characteristics to exclude him or her as human.

Dear Y.C.,

The Bible does say that the life is in the blood, and associates breathing with nephesh chayyah (living soul) creatures. However, it is fallacious to apply these criteria to the developing child in the womb who does not yet have these characteristics to exclude him or her as human. Leave the child alone for a few weeks and he or she will have blood (or whatever other characteristic one wants to make definitional for life). Furthermore, the unborn child begins to breathe amniotic fluid as an important part of the development of the lungs (as well as receiving oxygen through the umbilical cord, which could be considered a type of ‘breathing).

Even if the child were not considered human before he or she has blood circulating, this happens around the fifth week of pregnancy, which is before most women find out they are expecting. So this does not support the vast majority of abortion ‘rights’.

There is a larger interpretive problem, however; and it could be instructive to look at it closer. This TV show is ripping one Bible verse (which is not speaking specifically about the unborn child, but about blood atonement), and treating it as if it does, while ignoring everything the Bible actually says about the unborn child and what makes human life valuable.

First, the biblical basis for the value of all human life is that human beings, uniquely out of the entire physical creation, are made in the image of God. This gives human beings dignity and value beyond that of animals. While it is permissible to kill animals for food, and animal sacrifices were commanded under the Old Covenant, if an animal or person kills an innocent human being, the Bible prescribes the death penalty.

Christians have been overtly anti-abortion and anti-infanticide from the earliest historical records available.

Second, Scripture gives dignity to the unborn child. The Mosaic law prescribes punishment for unintentional harm to an unborn child (Exodus 21:22), and David in the Psalms affirmed that God knit him together when he was in his mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13). Numerous times in Scripture prophecies are given regarding unborn children. The unborn John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit when Mary (pregnant with the Saviour) met John’s mother Elizabeth and “leaped for joy” (Luke 1:44).

It would make no sense to overtly condemn abortion in the Old Testament, because children were regarded as such a blessing, and sons so necessary for survival in old age, that it would be insane to intentionally abort. But there may in fact be an overt condemnation of abortion in the New Testament. The Greek word pharmakeia (‘sorcery’) and its cognates used in Galatians 5:20, Revelation 9:21, 18:23, 21:8, and 22:15 could be a reference to the use of abortifacient potions, as it does in at least one ancient work.1

Christians have been overtly anti-abortion and anti-infanticide from the earliest historical records available. It is well-known that Christians saved infants who were left to die of exposure, and early non-canonical Christian writings condemn abortion as a sin that God will judge. It would make no sense for there to be such an early, unanimous condemnation if it were not grounded in clear biblical teaching.

So rather than ripping one verse out of context to argue that the Bible doesn’t see the unborn child as living and human, we should look at the overwhelming positive statements about the humanity and value of the unborn in God’s sight.

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Further Reading

References and notes

  1. Gorman, M.J., Abortion and the Early Church: Christian, Jewish and Pagan Attitudes in the Greco-Roman World, p. 48, Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, 1998. Return to text.

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Readers’ comments
Nathan G., Germany, 18 March 2017

Grissom: "life starts with the blood" HUMBUG. Typical Hollywood Bible misquote! Every living creature has six characteristics according to the normal biological definition: 1) a body plan (head, wings, flippers, tentacles, etc.), 2) movement, 3) development (acorn to oak), 4) metabolism (food to energy), 5) sensory reaction (retreat from pain), and 6) reproduction. As a scientist, I can tell you that the question of "when life starts" is a red herring (translation: big diversion!). The mother is alive. The father is alive. Their sperm and egg cells are alive (possessing five of the six traits of life) until they unite to form 46 chromosomes as a unique, new human being). The mother is NOT in control of anything after she makes an autonomous and personal decision (in or out of marriage) to have sex and gets pregnant. After this point, the fetus directs and controls every moment, action and process during the pregnancy. Including the onset of labor.

Bill H., United States, 18 March 2017

Psalms 51:5 makes a strong argument for humanity at conception. "Surely I was sinful at birth,

sinful from the time my mother conceived me."

F. G., United States, 18 March 2017

Pro-abortion arguments are always fallacious and easily refuted. Sometimes they even contradict each other. It's clear that people believe them only because they want to. Or, as someone has said, "Most ignorance is wilfull."

M. K., United Kingdom, 18 March 2017

I've always been against abortion, but another pro-abortion argument I've heard that I have trouble answering is that conception is not instantaneous, it takes some time for the genes to mix up, so how can life begin at the moment of conception if it's not an instant?

Lita Cosner responds

First of all, this question is moot by the time most women consider abortion. Second, the moment fertilization occurs, an independent living organism exists. He or she will be dependent on the mother for nutrition and a safe environment for development for 9 months, but if left alone, and barring genetic or developmental errors which cause miscarriage, he or she will continue the process of development both in and out of the womb until adulthood.

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