The postmodern world we are living in is characterized by humanism. Ethical values are dominated by human preference in contradistinction to the Bible as the only authority. Even the Church has been influenced by this to such an extend that liberal theology dominates many ethical issues in the Church. Everyone has the right to make his own choices as he sees fit. Individuals make decisions based on their own feelings, thoughts and background.
Between a hundred and two hundred years ago, the effect of Christianity on society was still visible as human behaviour and laws was reflecting Biblical moral values. The sixties saw a rebellion against everything they regard as limiting their freedom of choice and preference. This was noted in the hippy era together with the sex revolution. The sixties also saw the rise of militant feminism. The result is a postmodern society which is liberal and selfish, which makes ethical laws around the self.
This has led to an era where people live in sexual promiscuity and unwanted pregnancies are the order of the day. A materialistic society which is driven by greed and money has no room for a woman to be pregnant and to take time out to give birth and raise her child. Even parents who do have children, do not focus on raising their children, according to Biblical ethical values, but rather are driven by selfish greed to make money. Abortion is one of the ethical issues which was legalized by the selfish postmodern society and which the evangelical Church and Christians should address.
In order to discover what the Bible says about abortion, this study will attempt to answer the following questions: When does life begin? Is abortion a form of murder? What does the Bible say about the sanctity of life?
1. What is abortion?
Abortion is the deliberate termination of a human pregnancy, most often performed during the first 20 weeks. The pregnancy is terminated by the removal or expulsion from the uterus of a fetus or embryo. The term abortion most commonly refers to the induced abortion of a human pregnancy (Wikipedia, 2014).
Here are some statistics about abortion to highlight the magnitude of this issue.
An estimated 44 million abortions are performed globally each year, with slightly under half of those performed unsafely. Unsafe abortions, however, result in approximately 47,000 maternal deaths and 5 million hospital admissions per year globally. Approximately 205 million pregnancies occur each year worldwide. Over a third are unintended and about a fifth end in induced abortion. Most abortions result from unintended pregnancies. In the United Kingdom, 1 to 2% of abortions are done due to genetic problems in the fetus. (Wikipedia, 2014).
2. When does life begins?
The medical world acknowledges that life begin at conception. John MacArthur (1992) quoted Dr Jerome Lejeune as follows:
“Life has a very long history, but each individual has a very neat beginning, the moment of its conception. The material link is the molecular thread of DNA. In each reproductive cell this ribbon roughly one meter long is cut into 23 pieces, or chromosomes. As soon as the 23 paternally derived chromosomes are united through fertilization to the 23 maternal ones, the full genetic meeting necessary to express all the inborn qualities of the new individual is gathered, i.e., personal constitution.”
To indicate that everything is present with the unborn baby, which constitute a human being, John MacArthur (1992) quote Dr Jerome Lejeune as follows:
“At two months of age, the human being is less than one thumb-length from the head to the rump, he would fit at ease in a nutshell but everything is there…hands, feet, head, organs, brains. In the fourth week is consciousness. All are in place. His heart has been beating for a month already and fingerprints can be detected. His heart is beating at two months at 150 to 170 beats a minute. To accept the fact that after fertilization has taken place a new human being has come into being is no longer a matter of taste or opinion.”
Dr. Robert P. George wrote a book in 2008 called: “Embryo: A Defence of Human Life.” He said the following about the beginning of life:
“That is, in human reproduction, when the sperm joins the ovum, these two individual cells cease to be, and their union generates a new and distinct organism. This organism is a whole, though in the beginning developmentally immature, member of the human species. Human embryos, whether they are formed by fertilization (natural or in vitro) or by successful somatic-cell nuclear transfer (SCNT — i.e., cloning), do have the internal resources and active disposition to develop themselves to the mature stage of a human organism. Thus, human embryos are what the embryology textbooks say they are, namely, human organisms – living individuals of the human species – at the earliest developmental stage.”
According to Gilbert (2010), there exist two popular views when life begins.
Firstly, there is the metabolic view:
According to this view, there is no single development moment marking the beginning of human life. Both the sperm and egg cells should individually be considered to be units of life in the same respect as any other single or multicellular organism. Thus, neither the union of two gametes nor any developmental point thereafter should be designated as the beginning of new life.
Secondly, there is the Genetic view:
The genetic view takes the position that the creation of a genetically unique individual is
the moment at which life begins. This event is often described as taking place at fertilization, thus fertilization marks the beginning of human life. During this developmental event, the genes originating from two sources combine to form a single individual with a different and unique set of genes.
From the above, it can be seen that the medical world does acknowledge that life begins at conception, although there are those who hold to the metabolic view. The metabolic view is in support of abortion. Of utmost importance to us as Christians is what does the Bible say about conception.
According to R.C. Sproul (2010:46), Scripture assumes a continuity of life before the time of birth to after the time of birth. The same language and the same pronouns are used for both stages. God’s involvement in the life of a person extends back before conception. In Psalm 139:13-16, David said “You knitted me together in my mother’s womb.” In this passage, Scripture clearly states that the forming of the embryo in the mother’s womb, is a work of God. David refers to himself as “me” before he was born, and said that all his days was accounted for before birth (verse 16). This means God’s view of human life extends back before conception. According to Sproul (2010), the Hebrew word in this passage for “unformed substance” is “embryo.”
Another passage that proves God’s involvement with life in the womb is Isaiah 49:1-5. From this passage the following quotes show that the unborn baby is distinct from the mother and was treated with a unique personal identity. “The Lord called me from the womb, from the body of my mother, he named my name” (verse 1). “He said to me, ‘You are my servant’” (verse 3). From this passage we can see that God knew Jeremiah before he was born. He was known by God in a personal manner and as a personal being before birth. The unborn embryo is viewed by God as a person.
An important question is whether personhood starts at birth. Scripture regards personhood as beginning prior to birth. David says: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps. 51:5). David recognizes two important things in this passage. David links his personhood and state of sinfulness to both conception and birth. He recognizes his personhood at birth and conception which indicates that there is continuity between a child that is conceived and a child that is born. An impersonal being, a “blob of protoplasm,” cannot be a moral agent (Sproul, 2010:49). If David’s moral history extends back to conception, then his personal history must also extend back to conception.
Another fascinating passage that tells us how God view the fetus in the womb is Luke 1:40-44. This passage describes the meeting between Mary, the mother of Jesus and her cousin Elizabeth, who was pregnant with John the Baptist. Elizabeth said: “Behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy” (verse 44). Firstly, Elizabeth called the unborn fetus in her womb a baby and not just a lifeless or impersonal fetus. Secondly, the personhood of the fetus is shown with the attributes of joy. This shows that before John was born, he manifested mental comprehension and emotions which is attributes of personhood.
3. Conception is an act of God.
So far we have seen that life and personhood extends back before conception. The Bible also shows that conception is an act of God. Conception is controlled by God under His sovereignty. It is God who makes conception possible and it is also God who prevents conception if He so wills. We will explore this further from Scripture.
In Psalm 127:3, the Bible says: “Behold, children are a gift of the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward.” Children are a gift from God and He personally creates every life. Even in the negative sense, God prevents conception. Sarai said: “The Lord has prevented me from bearing children” (Gen. 16:2). In Genesis 20:18 we read: “The Lord had closed fast all the wombs of the household of Abimelech.” In the positive sense it is God who gives conception. “Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife, and he went in to her. And the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son” (Ruth 4:13). From this passage it is clear the Lord enable people to conceive. Conception is a Sovereign act of God to grant life. Even the timing is in His control. “Sarah conceived and bore a son, at the appointed time of which God had spoken to him.” (Gen. 21:2). These passages illustrate that God is the power behind barrenness and God is the power behind conception (MacArthur, 1992).
Paul said: “Who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace” (Gal. 1:15). God said to Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born I consecrated you” (Jer. 1:5). The implications of these verses is that God foreordained people before they were even conceived and then He was solely responsible for their conception.
What about deformed babies? Is God the creator of those? “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes him mute or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?” (Ex. 4:11). Sometimes it is the purposes of God to make people dumb and deaf and seeing and blind (MacArthur, 1992). Why does God allow this to happen? The disciples asked Jesus the same question. “‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him’” (John 9:2-3). Babies are born deformed to display the glory of God in their parents’ lives and in their lives. It is only the power of the Spirit of grace that enable parents of a deformed baby to raise him or her and give God all the honour and glory in that circumstance. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Cor. 12:9). Likewise, when such a child grew up and in his humble disabled state, serve Christ, it is a testimony of God’s grace to even the mentally handicapped. “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Cor. 1:27).
4. God is sovereign over all things.
God is sovereign over all things. Over life and death and over good and evil. God directly does the good and He allows the evil to happen without Him being the author of sin. After the death of his children, Job said: “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). The Lord said by the mouth of Isaiah: “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things” (Is. 45:7). “All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be” (Is. 66:2). After everything played out in Joseph’s life when he was sold into slavery by an evil plan of his brothers, he said: “You (his brothers) meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20). Everything works out according to the purposes of God for His good (Rom. 8:28). Even the bad and evil in the world. This means that even a baby who was conceived during a rape, is not exempt from the Sovereignty of God. We can therefore not conclude that any conception is an unwanted pregnancy and can be terminated. God allowed that conception to take place, even through an evil act of rape.
The Bible clearly indicates that unborn babies are considered living human beings before they are born. The Biblical evidence shows that life begins at conception. The Bible further shows that conception is a Sovereign act of God. God grants the life that starts in the womb of a woman. Who are we to intervene and stop that process? Who are we to interrupt the process, which God granted for a new life to begin? It is a violation of the sixth commandment to take a person’s life into ones own hand and deliberately terminate it.
5. Is abortion murder?
One of the core issues with abortion is whether it is murder to deliberately abort a fetus? Is the fetus potential life and is abortion the termination of potential life? Is abortion a violation of the sixth commandment of God, not to commit murder?
In order to answer these questions, we have to look at the sanctity of life. How does God view human life? Who has the right over life and death? We already saw that Scripture shows that life extends back before conception. We also saw that God is Sovereign over conception and that he grants it or prevents it. God is even Sovereign over evil and everything falls within His decrees; good or bad. If this is true, then we are busy with human life, which God views as a person, which He willed to be conceived in the womb of a woman. Do we then have the right to terminate that life? What is the Biblical view of the termination of life of another person and in this case, the unborn baby who is regarded by God as a person?
Helmut Thielicke said: “Once a man ceases to recognize the infinite value of the human soul… then all he can recognize is that man is something to be used. But then he will also have to go further and recognize that some men can no longer be utilized and he arrives at the concept that there are some lives that have no value at all” (Sproul, 2010:17).
What do we mean when we say life is sacred? In Biblical terms, the sanctity of life is rooted and grounded in creation. Mankind is not viewed by the Bible as a cosmic accident, but a product of carefully executed creation by an eternal God (Sproul, 2010:21). Man is the crown of God’s creation and is assigned high value by his Creator. “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness…God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female…God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen. 1:26-31). The creation account provides the framework for human dignity. Creation in the image of God sets humans apart from all other creatures. The image and likeness of God by which mankind was created, connects God and mankind uniquely. In creation, man was given the ability to mirror and reflect the holy character of God (Sproul, 2010:22). When man fell into sin, the image of God was greatly affected by sin. To such an extend that man lost his sense of God and the ability to see the beauty of God’s creation in man. This caused man to have a low view of human life and that is why Cain killed Abel. This also affects people today and is the main reason abortion is practiced. Humanity is in slavery to sin and their minds darkened by the fall. They have a low view of the unborn baby as the image bearer of God and therefore they can easily discard it.
In James 3:9, speaking about the tongue, James says: “ With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God.” James acknowledges that with the tongue we curse that which was made in the image of God. “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man.” (Gen. 9:6). In this verse murder of another person is directly linked to the destroying of the image of God. The Biblical ethic is that because man is endowed with the image of God, his life is so sacred that any malicious destruction of it must be punished by execution (Sproul, 2010:24). This verse implies that assault against human life is considered by God as an assault against Him.
The sanctity of life is also reinforced by the Ten Commandments. “You shall not murder” (Ex. 20:13). “He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death” (Ex. 21:12). Jesus expounded the Ten Commandments even further. “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell” (Matt. 5:21-25). Jesus explained that the anger intend in the heart against another image bearer of God, is viewed by God as potential murder. This is clearest when Jesus spoke about lust as enough reason to commit adultery and not just the physical act (Matt. 5:28). If a fetus cannot be proven as an actual living human person, there is no doubt that it is a potential living human person. In other words, a fetus is a developing person. Without interference or unforeseen calamity, it will become a living human person. Any act to deliberately destroy a fetus, is an act to deliberately destroy potential life, which may be viewed as potential murder.
According to R.C. Sproul (2010:29-30), Jesus sees the law against murder as including not only the act of actual murder, but also actions of potential murder. He further notes that the Biblical law against adultery also requires purity. Thus, when a law prohibited negative actions, it implies the opposite positive actions as well. Therefore, a negative prohibition against actual murder implicitly involves a positive mandate to work for the protection and sustenance of life. Abortion does not promote the protection and sustenance of the unborn child, neither does it promote the sanctity of life.
Man is the crown of God’s creation. Even more so, man is created in the image of God. Human life is sacred in God’s eyes. Speaking with slander against an image bearer of God, falls into the category of murder. Humankind is endowed with the ability to make choices and to reason and think about things. He is also endowed with a conscience as a moral compass. God has commanded explicitly that the deliberate termination of another person’s life is murder (Ex. 20:13). Because of his ability to choose between right and wrong, God will judge any person who end another persons life with eternal death unless he repent and receive God’s forgiving grace in Christ.
Life and personhood extend back before conception. God has decreed all life and He is sovereign over it. God is even sovereign over all good and evil. God gives the power and energy by which people commit evil deeds. Therefore, to regard any pregnancy, even those which result from rape, as unwanted and terminate it, is to deny God’s sovereignty over life and death. It is only God who can allow the termination of life by allowing it under his sovereign decree. We as human beings have no right to deliberately interrupt or terminate the process of life which was started at conception by God. There are difficult cases where the life of the mother is, for example threatened by a dangerous birth. In those cases the preservation of life still gets priority in the preserving of the mother’s life for the sake of the unborn fetus.
The ultimate conclusion is thus: abortion at any stage of the developing embryo or fetus is murder and God hates it. People who engage in the deliberate abortion of unborn babies, is under the wrath of God and must repent and seek God’s forgiving grace. This article does not present all the answers about abortion, but rather deals mostly with the normal cases of abortion due to unwanted pregnancies. That said, the principles discussed, relate directly to the difficult cases of abortion and must be prayerfully considered before termination of life by abortion. The principle of sanctity of life must always be maintained. We must always realize that we are dealing with the gift of life, created in the Holy presence of God, under His mercy and love, according to His sovereign decree.
Sproul, R.C. 2010. Abortion: A Rational Look at an Emotional Issue. Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust.
De Bruyn, P.J. 2013. The Ten Commandments. Potchefstroom: Potchefstroom Theological Publications.
MacArthur, J. What is Abortion? http://www.gty.org/resources/sermon-series/2 Date of access: 15 September 2014.
Gilbert, S.F. 2010. When does life begin? http://science.jburroughs.org/mbahe/BioEthics/Articles/Whendoeshumanlifebegin.pdf Date of access: 28 September 2014.
Wikipedia. 2014. Abortion. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abortion Date of access: 28 September 2014.