Is the Bible anti-abortion?
Published: 26 January 2013 (GMT+10)
This week was the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, the US Supreme Court decisions which made abortion legal through the entire pregnancy. Current estimates are that in the past 40 years, 55 million children have been murdered by abortion in America alone. It’s notable that the two women involved as test cases for the pro-abort side, Norma McCorvey (‘Jane Roe’) and Sandra Cano (‘Mary Doe’) now want that decision reversed.1 Surprisingly, some Christians think that abortion is not against the Bible. Henry D. from Romania writes in, saying:
I have been in an email exchange with [internet apologist] about his abortion article, where he stated, ‘It must be counseled that, “Thou shalt not kill” is not a very good verse to use against abortion; “kill” has the connotation of killing after the manner of a predatory animal, and while one might (in some cases properly) ascribe predatory motives to those in the abortion industry, this doesn’t help as much in addressing the act itself.” When I asked him what he meant by it, he responded, “What I’m saying only is that it’s not a good verse to use in arguments, not that it isn’t actually true. The reason is that it gets into the issue of the motives of abortionists, which can turn the debate away from the main issue of the moral wrong of abortion. My point is argument tactics, not the moral background.” Also, to confuse matters further he says, “Abortion opponents have painted abortion as a ‘predatory’ act, and whether they are right is dependent on the identity of the fetus. If a fetus is human, they are right: a life is erased for predatory (that is, personally advantageous) purposes (convenience, for example) barring other circumstances (life of the mother, for example).” In a way, this could be said to contradict his statement in the abortion article.
The attitude toward pregnancy in the Old Testament is such that one should not expect or need an explicit condemnation of abortion.
It seems that the command not to murder in the 10 Commandments cannot be used in biblical arguments against abortion, and yet all the articles on your website do exactly that. Your biblical argument against abortion depends on that command, which cannot be used against abortion at least according to [apologist’s] comments. Also, since fertilization happens in the fallopian tube not the uterus, some abortion rights supporters might say that according to the bible life begins at implantation, since the Bible does mention the womb in relation to when God formed the unborn child. How would you respond to this? And since “Thou shalt not murder” from the 10 Commandments cannot be used against abortion what other prohibitions against murder can be used in anti-abortion biblical arguments or what biblical principles can be used to prohibit abortion? The argument that different punishments imply differences in personhood fails, root and branch, both in the larger ancient Near Eastern legal context generally and in the Bible specifically. In fact Exod 21:22 contemplates only an unintentional, negligent assault on a pregnant woman, not an intentional assault on the fetus. One may ask, what biblical passages say that the fetus cannot be destroyed? The overall question can be: what is the biblical basis for Christians being against abortion?
Thanks for writing in. The apologist you cited is clearly pro-life; he would only use different passages to defend the position for tactical reasons. But he can defend what is written on his own site, so I’ll just answer what you’ve addressed to us. So: what does the Bible say that applies to abortion?
First, it must be said that the attitude toward pregnancy in the Old Testament is such that one should not expect or need an explicit condemnation of abortion.
There are also important cultural considerations. In that society, children were one’s ‘retirement policy’. If you didn’t have children, particularly sons, to take care of you in your old age, you were going to be in dire straits. Most people were agrarian, meaning they either farmed or tended flocks, and large families meant more hands to help, and that meant a better chance at survival. So your average Israelite needed to be told “Don’t abort your children” about as much as a person needs to be told today, “Don’t set fire to your life savings”. The Scriptures see pregnancy and many children as an unmitigated blessing, and there was hardly anything more shameful than barrenness. Why on earth would anyone cause herself to be barren through abortion in that culture?
The Canaanites who Israel displaced were guilty of sacrificing their little ones to Molech. In a twisted way, this might be viewed as ‘ultimate devotion’, to sacrifice the most valuable commodity that most people would have. But God views it as an absolute abomination and without exception commands death for this crime. Leviticus 18:21 says that it “profanes the name of your God”. The command for the death penalty for such a person in Leviticus 20:2 is particularly strong; God says that if the community does not put that person to death, God will go even further and be against the whole clan for their disobedience. There is no other way to interpret this other than: God hates baby killing.
Just as we should not expect or need the Old Testament to condemn abortion explicitly as opposed to implicitly, we shouldn’t expect or need the Old Testament to go into the particulars of the very early stages of pregnancy. Before advanced medicine (and even today in many parts of the world without access to advanced medicine), it is impossible to tell a woman is pregnant before she misses her cycle, and even then her pregnancy is not evident to others before she begins to show. If the Bible had gone into the particulars of fallopian tubes and endometrial linings, it would have been incomprehensible to the people in that day, as well as impossible to put into practice. But the Bible’s positive statements about pregnancy, the positive view of children, and the harsh penalty for idolatrous infanticide all are pro-life.
The early Church was unanimously pro-life, condemning ‘potions’ that were intended to cause miscarriage and the exposure of unwanted babies to the elements (going so far as to take in exposed babies and raise them themselves). And a convincing argument can be made for taking the word ‘sorcery’ in Galatians 5:20 to mean, among other things, making abortifacient potions. I’m unaware of any possible pro-abortion interpretation of any New Testament text.
From a biological point of view, it is clear that life begins at fertilization, when for the first time there is a unique individual with his or her own genetic code. The location will change from the fallopian tube to the uterus, and then to the outside world 9 months later if the pregnancy is allowed to continue, and the baby will grow and develop, and become more visibly and obviously a person, but he or she became a person at fertilization. To intentionally abort (whether through the morning-after pill or a surgical abortion) is to kill one of the tiniest and most helpless human beings on the planet. How can anyone read Scripture and think that God would be okay with this?
It’s vital to understand that biblical doctrine and morality are not confined to explicit statements, but extend to what can be logically deduced from them. As we have shown, the prohibition against abortion follows logically from two premises that are indisputably in Scripture:
- the unborn baby is human
- it is wrong to murder innocent humans
Even the passage you brought up in Exodus 21 is actually a strongly pro-life passage. See the analysis on our site—the letter from Jeannette P. and response in the article Abortion ‘after birth’? Medical ‘ethicists’ promote infanticide; there is no need to repeat here.
Now, please don’t misunderstand. Some pro-abortion activists characterize pro-life people as only caring about the unborn, and not caring about the mothers—I’m not aware of any respected pro-life activist with this view. I’m aware that there are a lot of desperate women, in financial and familial situations where keeping the baby doesn’t seem to be an option, and that abortion seems to be the only way out. I think we should be merciful and seek as Christians to minister to these women, but it is neither merciful nor biblical to tell these women that it is okay to kill their babies. In America and other countries, Christians have been at the forefront at starting crisis pregnancy centers which can give the woman other options besides abortion, and provide her with the resources to either be able to raise the baby herself, or to arrange an adoption.
We’ve got quite a bit to say about the issue of abortion, and it goes way beyond “thou shalt not kill.” I’ll invite you to browse the related articles and our Q&A pages listed below if you’re interested in more of our thoughts.
- Jalsevac, J., Two women are behind legalized abortion in America: now both of them want it reversed, lifesitenews.com, 17 January 2013. Return to text.
Another fabulous job by Lita Cosner, particularly with respect to the questions posed at the bottom. One of the earliest post-apostolic documents from church history, The Didache, (ca. 90 AD) specifically condemns both abortion and infanticide. The Greek term used there for child is τέκνον, commonly found in the NT, and referring to children of varying ages. The early church recognized the unborn child as a τέκνον, and so should we. The writer uses distinct terms to distinguish the act of killing the child inside or outside the womb. For the child outside the womb, the common NT Greek term for killing is used, ἀποκτείνω. For killing the unborn child in the womb, the specific Greek term used is φθορᾶς, which is often used to refer to death, corruption, etc. Ancient writers such as Josephus, Plutarch, Philo and Clement of Alexandria also used this particular term to describe ancient abortion as well.
One of the most disturbing phenomena in the modern church is its members partnering with the mechanisms of the ideological left; an ideology and force that endorses, promotes, encourages and defends legalized infanticide. Partnering with this modern day cult of Molech is a form of spiritual prostitution. We need to pray for our deceived brethren ensnared in the ideology of the modernist Canaanites.
For the sake of the little ones,
Henry B. Smith Jr.
Associates for Biblical Research
I would have to say abortionists are predatory animals. They may not acknowledge that they are killing an unborn human being, but they are CERTAINLY attacking their mothers. Their acts are in the likeness of rape or poisoning. They cannot escape responsibility for this atrocity. What are their motives? Their motives are to kill innocent human beings. They've been to medical school (most of them). They KNOW what they are killing, and they KNOW that their actions do kill. Abortion is a predatory act regardless of whether you BELIEVE the unborn are human beings are human or not, and their identity doesn't reside in your BELIEFS anyway. It resides in the fact God intended to create a human being made in His image, whom He knew from the foundation of the world, and the fact that science concurs: these are human beings from the time of fertilization, cloning, etc. Regardless of the attitudes of abortionists, they MURDER a human being, and ASSAULT his or her mother. "Thou shalt not kill" is completely applicable.
Do the Gospels actually promote political opposition to abortion? I don't think so. I would like to hear your comment on this post.. Respectfully...
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In the world of the New Testament, 'political opposition' was not an option. But moral opposition certainly was. And moral opposition is what we promote. For some people, that will take the form of political lobbying, for others it will take the form of participating in a crisis pregnancy center that exists to give women other options to bring their babies to term. There are many ways to oppose abortion, and few of them are political.
There are lots of passages including Gen 25:21-23 which show unquestionably that the foetus is human.
22: And the children struggled together within her; and she said "If it be so, why am I thus?" And she went to inquire of the LORD.
Dear Lita, I have come to appreciate all the work that you are putting into sharing you faith. I can hardly believe that a person can take "Thou shalt not kill" and turn it into a statement that we shall not eat meat! I had all my children by cessarian section with the last one born premature. With every molecule of my being I wanted those children. As soon as I missed my monthly cycle I knew I was holding a child in my body. I am so glad that lost souls are able to write here because again and again they confirm that God is the God of Truth. When Adam and Eve were taken out of the Garden of Eden, our Lord gave us the animals for our use. Not our abuse. The ten commandment apply to us today. We do not receive salvation from them, but they are our guide for daily life. Look at the societies that have thrown them away. They collapse.
I consider myself an agnostic evolutionist, but I also agree with the creationist argument that a baby is in fact alive before it is born. While I believe a woman should have the right to have an abortion, especially in cases of rape or birth defects, I also believe that as a society we should be looking for ways to reduce number of abortions preformed through sex education, STD education, birth control education, and family planning education. I don't believe the government has the right to tell a woman weather or not she can have an abortion, but I also don't believe that it is the government's responsibility to pay for a women to have an abortion.
There is a difficult question that arises from the argument that life begins at conception. The US National Institute of Health estimates that approximately half of all fertilizations result in miscarriages. That means that half of all "humans" die before before birth and many of those before they even develop a brain. Are we saying that half of the human race is destined for hell because they cannot hear the gospel or even think yet? Or do we argue that God saves innocents who do not know their right hand from their left in which case it would seem that heaven will be populated primarily with people who were only unborn babies? Or do we say that God simply chooses whom He will and some he predestined to hell and others for heaven and hell will be populated by a large number who never could sin and heaven by a large number who never could repent from their sin nature?
This is even more complicated by the discussion that some oral contraceptives do not stop an egg from being fertilized but instead stop the egg from being implanted. This would say that many Christians are killing (not murdering) their babies unknowingly. What has happened to those humans now becomes a great deal more personal.
No matter which answer we take there seem to be thorny theological issues. While I agree that a fertilized egg is uniquely human, does that necessarily mean it is uniquely *a* human? Even if it could never develop beyond a few hundred or thousand cells because the genetic code is far too scrambled?
I believe that there likely are satisfactory answers to these questions, but as creationists and anti-abortionists we need to squarely face these questions and answer them no matter how difficult they may be.
Assuming the NIH information is correct, how many of those are very, very early, and thus could be because something was so wrong that a person was never really formed (the ones with ‘scrambled’ genetic codes, as you put it, for instance)? In any case, given the child and infant mortality rate throughout history, it’s difficult to escape the conclusion that most of the people who have died in history were those who died before they were ever old enough to understand the Gospel. I don’t have a problem with that—“shall not the Judge of the earth do what is right?” The Bible was written to people old enough to understand and repent of their sins. Perhaps God in His wisdom had a good reason for not giving us more specific details.
Re: contraceptives, we don’t have a position on those that are strictly contraceptive—i.e. that stop fertilization. A contraceptive which allows fertilization but keeps the baby from implanting in the lining of the uterus is an abortifacient, and we would oppose those on the same grounds as we oppose abortion. We have many articles showing that human beings begin life at conception or fertilization. Implantation is an illogical place to place to begin life—what was there to implant if not a living creature?
In any case, we believe that there is no culpability in the case of a spontaneous miscarriage—i.e. in a case where no one did anything to intentionally cause the miscarriage. That half of all unborn babies are miscarried is no justification for murdering the other half. This is like pointing out that 100% of all humans are destined to die (apart from Christ’s return), so murder is OK.
"How can anyone read Scripture and think that God would be okay with this?"
Well your god did kill all of the first born of Egypt, rather than killing he is to be blamed, Pharaoh. Those first born that were slain included innocent, blameless, righteous children who were incapable of knowing or committing sin. This would have included helpless, defenseless babies that you previously labeled pro-choicers as murderers of.
Let me guess, I've taken the following passage out of context?
"Every firstborn son in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn son of the slave girl, who is at her hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well."
One of the terrible realities about sin is that it brings death and judgment. No one reads the account about the death of the firstborn and is happy that a lot of firstborn died, including some little children who would have been unaware of anything.
The judgment against the firstborn sons of Egypt was directly proportional to the systematized murder of the sons of the Israelites. It would have seemed eminently just in their culture for the judgment to be the death of their own sons at the hand of the God of the Israelites.
And yes, you're taking Exodus 11:5 out of context. Moses is warning Pharaoh there; if he had listened to Moses, perhaps the disaster would have been averted. And this is the last of 10 plagues, the first several of which should have served as sufficient warning.
But the bigger context is that the people God was saving was the nation God had promised to use to bring the Messiah, the person who would be absolutely sinless, who would be the Son of God. We have this aching feeling that it’s unfair for people to die, especially innocent babies, but what’s really unfair is that Jesus was completely sinless, having fully obeyed the Law of God, yet He took the penalty for sin, so that those who trust in Him can be redeemed and look forward to eternal life with no more death or suffering of any kind.
I was under the impression that the original text for "Thou shall not kill" is better translated "Though shall not murder". Is this incorrect?
Yes, murder is what the Hebrew word denotes. But I was simply sticking with the wording in the question.