Does the Bible Say When Human Life Begins?
I was asked this question just recently when a small group leader in an otherwise pro-life church stated that she thought abortion is not wrong according to the Bible. Her basic rationale for her position was that human life did not begin until a person took their first breath. She supported her theory with Genesis 2:7 when God created Adam and ‘breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul.’ This idea taken as a principle applied to the beginning of each human life breaks down immediately with Adam’s progeny. This is so given the obvious fact that this section of scripture describes the fountainhead of the chain of all human life. No human person springs from the dust of the ground anymore as Adam did but from Adam’s successive generations. Even scripture itself attests to this, God having given Adam the pro-creative mandate thereafter to ‘be fruitful and multiply.’ Life begets life of which God is the prime mover.
But beyond that, we as persons can know God’s truth about when human life begins in two ways: through 1) natural revelation (in the created order around us) and 2) special revelation (scripture). In nature we see that the issue of when human life begins is not disputed thanks to the study of embryology and genetics. Human life, like all life, begins when a separate and distinct DNA strand comes into existence. That point in time, post-Adam, is called ‘fertilization.’ A person’s DNA is what governs the entire growth and maturation process from that point until death. The only thing required for that entity to exist from that moment on is a hospitable environment along with hydration and nutrition. That being the case the only material difference between a fertilized egg, me, you, or a 90 year old man on his death bed is…time.
But, if we reject the obvious natural revelation understood in the created order around us, the question then becomes, “At what point in the maturation process does a human become a person whose rights must be protected?” If the answer is, “Sometime after fertilization,” then it begs another question, “Who determines the criteria for deciding who qualifies as a human?” Up until 1973 Americans left that criteria to God and let the womb be the sacrosanct place of protection it was designed to be. The Supreme Court Of The United States decided to become that small group of people who arbitrarily decided that a pre-born baby is not a person deserving of protection under the constitution in the case Roe vs Wade. Politically, when one man or small group of men decide who is a person and who is not the context is usually slavery and tyranny. And our Supreme Court is no stranger to playing at God reducing whole classes of people to either non-human or sub-human levels (American Indians, Blacks, and the mentally ‘unfit’ to name three others). Even if natural revelation supported the ironic concept that a life with human DNA maturing in the reproductive organ of another human female is not a person made in the image of God deserving of our protection, it should a least be unconscionable and fearful to permit a government agency to define who does and does not qualify as a person with their arbitrary and short-sighted agenda. It presumes that that government body is the final moral authority who perceives all people as subjects to be managed and disposed of at their whim. Who in their right mind would consent to live under such a despot?
Anyway, taking a look at special revelation (scripture) all we really need to do is understand God’s perspective on children generally and see if there is any place in scripture where children in womb are afforded protection. Luckily there are several places that do just that. They are Leviticus 20:1-5, Exodus 21: 22-25, and Mark 10:13-16.
The Old Testament teaches us the heart of God. It prepares the community for the Holy Spirit by creating behavior patterns that reflect and reinforce the character and nature of God in the way we treat one another. Leviticus 20:1-5 reveals a situation where people both Jews and non-Jews were sacrificing their children to a demonic god called Molech. This was radically forbidden. In fact, if someone was caught doing it they and their whole family were to be stoned and essentially forgotten by God (which is a way of saying that it were better if they had never been born). But it goes on. This is the only point of law whereby moral culpability was transferred to someone else if they simply knew about the sin and did nothing to stop it. This means that if someone just knew of a person who sacrificed their child to Molech and did nothing to stop it they and their family would suffer the same judgment as if they had killed the child themselves. What does this passage say about God’s heart on the value of each child and every person’s responsibility to protect children?
Okay. So what about pre-born children? Exodus 21:22-25 is a very compelling look into God’s perspective on children in the womb. If two men are fighting and one ACCIDENTALLY hits a pregnant woman and she miscarries then the law requires as penalty ‘life for a life.’ Bottom-line, the class of person in the womb are afforded more protection under the law than any other class of person out of the womb. So God’s perspective on pre-born children is clear: unquestioned protection without gestational age qualification, (SCOTUS take note).
“Yes,” you might say, ‘that is what the Old Testament says. But what did Jesus say?” Good question. Since Jesus is God in the flesh and God is the same ‘yesterday, today and
forever’ it stands to reason that His perspective would only serve to reinforce the Old Testament concepts. So what does Jesus say about children and how we are to treat them? In Mark 10 the disciples are rebuking parents for bringing their infant children to Jesus to be blessed. Interestingly this is the only place in all of the gospels where Jesus is angry with all twelve disciples and commands them (in the Aorist tense, meaning starting now and continuing on indefinitely), “Permit the children to come to me; do not hinder them.” So in this context we see God in the flesh stopping whatever he is doing to publicly rebuke his own disciples in anger (as if they should know better) and it is all about infants (as we see in the parallel passage in Luke). Why? Jesus said in the same verse, “For the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” So essentially the reason why Jesus was so upset with them was because they were missing the whole point of discipleship, salvation and all of redemption history as recorded in the Old Testament. What is it about children, and especially infant children that we must understand in order to participate in the kingdom of God? What is that we must understand about children that is central to our understanding of salvation itself?
As sinful people we have no voice, no standing, no rights, no power, no influence, no resources whatsoever, to stand before a holy and righteous God. We needed someone with those things to take up our cause and redeem our circumstances lest we die. The only person that could stand before our Father God with enough power and resources to pay the penalty was God the Son, Jesus Christ. He emptied himself and took up our cause to redeem us because we were powerless to do anything for ourselves, like babies, we didn’t even know how powerless and in need we were. He emptied Himself by becoming sin and nailing to the cross, killing it along with its consequence, death. The natural outcome of Christ’s victory over sin was the resurrection, the sign that the effect of sin, death, had also been washed away.
And now Jesus obligates all His disciples to leverage their new found power, voice, and resources before God on behalf of those that have none. We must become little redeemers, little ‘christs’ walking in His footsteps. This refers to both non-believers but also to actual classes of people, the widow and orphan spoken of in James chapter 1. That class of person without voice, standing and resources are the people for whom we must leverage our resources the most. And the only class of person in America right now who have no rights, power, influence, or voice is the pre-born child.
One last verse to leave you with is Mark 9: 36-37: “Taking a child, He set him before them, and taking him in His arms, He said to them, ‘Whoever receives one child like this in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me does not receive Me, but Him who sent me.’” Jesus, God in the flesh, did not split hairs on when life began like modern society loves to do. To qualify what He or the rest of the Bible means so that we can justify the unreasonable and systematic carelessness that is abortion only reflects the old hard-hearted sinner from which Christ came to save us. Let the little children come.