In view of today’s landmark decision by the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, here are two extracts from my book, Abortion and the Bible: Can Pro-life and Pro-choice Both Be Right?
While perusing the Scriptures and considering their logical application to abortion, it became apparent that the word of God is not as plain about the onset of personhood as some think. I grappled with pinning a point of view I could finally embrace. Nevertheless, though my understanding of all the aspects surrounding abortions continues to grow, I have become more acquainted with the biblical texts pertinent to the subject and better anchored by them.
I have become convinced that the Bible is pro-life in protecting fertility, life, and especially personhood in the womb while recognizing a biblically complementary pro-choice standpoint. At the same time, a measured pro-choice stance may not necessarily undermine God’s mysterious involvement in creating a “living soul.”
In addition, the 1 in 2 loss of zygotes, spontaneous abortions, and the human response to them, may corroborate that a gap exists between conception and personhood. Also, the condoning of abortions in the case of rape, incest, or medical threat may indicate a lack of unequivocal biblical assurance for the commencement of personhood by many Evangelicals or hypocrisy on their part. I hope the thoughts expressed in this book will challenge any unbiblical assumptions held by both the pro-life and pro-choice factions and help toward a view that represents the entire witness of the Bible, which is the basis for unity in the Church and society at large.
Key Biblical Texts
Ecclesiastes 11:5 (NAB)
Just as you do not know how the life breath enters the human frame in the mother’s womb, so you do not know the work of God, who is working in everything.
- This translation states that “the life breath” in the womb follows the existence of a “human frame.” The NRSV reads similarly.
- The verse may confirm that the pattern used to create Adam, where physical development preceded the onset of the soul, is standard in the offspring of Adam.
4And He said to me, ‘Prophesy concerning these bones and tell them, “Dry bones . . . 6‘I will attach tendons to you and make flesh grow upon you and cover you with skin. I will put breath within you so that you will come to life. . . .”’ 8As I looked on, tendons appeared on them, flesh grew, and skin covered them; but there was no breath in them. 9Then He said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath . . . so that they may live!’ 10So I prophesied as He had commanded me, and the breath entered them, and they came to life and stood on their feet—a vast army.
- There were two stages in the resurrection of the dead bones, viz., from physical life to a living soul.
- The verse may confirm that the pattern used to create Adam, where physical development preceded the onset of the soul, is standard.
Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
- There were two stages in the creation of Adam, viz., from physical life to a living soul.
- God may have implemented similar stages in the offspring of Adam.
21God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. 22Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man . . . .
- Eve did not appear to require God breathe into her.
- Unlike her future offspring, Eve was made immediately into an adult.
- God used living material from Adam to create Eve.
- God breathed life into all of humanity when He breathed into Adam.
22The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, ‘Why is this happening to me?’ So she went to inquire of the Lord. 23The Lord said to her, Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.’
- Activity in the womb appears to depict the characteristics of individual personhood.
- Personhood begins in the womb before birth.
22If people are fighting and 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. 23But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, 24eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.
22When people who are fighting injure a pregnant woman so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no further harm follows, the one responsible shall be fined what the woman’s husband demands, paying as much as the judges determine. 23If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, 24eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe. (NRSV)
- The different versions have different outcomes, viz., premature birth and miscarriage.
- There are different levels of punishments in different versions, namely, a fine for causing a miscarriage versus “a life for a life” in the event one occurred.
- Life in the womb is not considered equal to a human being in versions that interpret “miscarriage.”
11Ephraim’s glory will fly away like a bird— no birth, no pregnancy, no conception. 12Even if they rear children, I will bereave them of every one . . . .
- Offspring appear to be “Ephraim’s glory.”
- Four stages of life are mentioned, viz., conception, pregnancy, birth, and children.
- Conception is the first stage of life.
- If life begins at conception, personhood may begin at conception.
4Now see to it that you drink no wine or other fermented drink and that you do not eat anything unclean. 5You will become pregnant and have a son whose head is never to be touched by a razor because the boy is to be a Nazirite, dedicated to God from the womb . . . .
- The mother of Samson was told to avoid “wine or other fermented drink” from before she became pregnant.
- This corresponds to the lifestyle her child, a future Nazarite, would have to make.
- The child was to be kept from alcohol from conception and throughout its development in the womb.
- The onset of personhood begins in the womb and may begin at conception.
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.
- This verse speaks of God having intimate knowledge of Jeremiah before he existed.
- It also speaks of appointing Jeremiah as a prophet before he was born.
- The term “formed” is the same root word used to describe the forming of Adam before God breathed into his nostrils and he became “a living soul” (Gen. 2:7).
- The verse indicates a time in the womb, but does not indicate the onset of personhood.
- This verse initially speaks to the idea of the person before personhood.
- “Before I formed you” could refer to an initial physical phase before the soul becomes manifest.
- “[B]efore you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations,” may concern a subsequent phase in the womb when the soul has become manifest and able to interact.
[F]or he . . . will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born.
- John the Baptist is filled with the Holy Spirit while still in the womb of his mother.
- Personhood is required for infilling to take place.
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb.
- John the Baptist responds to the presence of Mary who was to carry and birth to the Messiah.
- The personhood of John the Baptist is evident.
But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
But when he had thought this over, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. (NASB)
- The term “what is” is also translated as “that which” in accordance with the Greek “to” which is translated “that.”
- Some versions super-interpret this with terms like “the Child,” “the child,” “the baby,” etc.
- The conception by the Holy Spirit brought about evidence of a pregnancy.
- Personhood is assumed by some translators.
- Personhood may not yet be in effect.
19Then the priest shall put the woman under oath and say to her, ‘If no other man has had sexual relations with you and you have not gone astray and become impure while married to your husband, may this bitter water that brings a curse not harm you. 20But if you have gone astray while married to your husband and you have made yourself impure by having sexual relations with a man other than your husband’— 21here the priest is to put the woman under this curse—‘may the LORD cause you to become a curse among your people when he makes your womb miscarry and your abdomen swell. 22May this water that brings a curse enter your body so that your abdomen swells or your womb miscarries.’ Then the woman is to say, ‘Amen. So be it.’
. . .
27If she has made herself impure and been unfaithful to her husband, this will be the result: When she is made to drink the water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering, it will enter her, her abdomen will swell and her womb will miscarry, and she will become a curse. 28If, however, the woman has not made herself impure, but is clean, she will be cleared of guilt and will be able to have children.
- An accused woman under suspicion of adultery had to drink “bitter water that brings a curse,” which would expose her guilt and, if pregnant, induce a miscarriage.
- This scenario may have been limited to an induced miscarriage before human personhood begins. Otherwise, the outcome would be an overreach of an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth.
- Nonetheless, God could exercise punishment according to His discretion which went beyond the limitations He imposed on Israel. For the wages of sin is death. Consequently, the possibility exists that this passage can include the miscarriage of personhood in the womb.
16[S]ix things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him [are] 17. . . hands that shed innocent blood.
- God hates the shedding of innocent blood.
- God will punish those who shed innocent blood.
13“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. 15My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. 16Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
- “[M]y inmost being” is a distinct part of a person.
- The terms “my frame” and “unformed body” refer to the physical self in the womb.
- “[M]y inmost being” appears to be a reference to the soul. It is used that way in Proverbs 23:13, which reads, “my inmost being will rejoice when your lips speak what is right.”
From birth I was cast on you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
- God is personally involved from the womb.
- A relationship with God may begin in the womb.
- Personhood may begin in the womb.
Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. (ESV)
- Sinful from conception is different from being conceived in sin.
- The former may imply the existence of personhood at conception.
- The latter refers to sin passed on by the parents, which could manifest whenever ensoulment occurs.