How should the Christian view abortion? That seems to be a question that’s asked more and more in our society today, particularly as Roe v. Wade and Casey v. Planned Parenthood dominate the news cycle. There are a lot of competing voices out there, and, in many instances, it can sow considerable confusion.
Yet this isn’t one of those issues where there is room for confusion, nor is it one of those topics which are up for debate. It is not an issue that exists somewhere in the grey area in between black and white, a maybe in the grander question of right or wrong. It is a sin regardless of the dominant assumptions or the present secular worldview that seems to take hold of the world around us.
Now, even as I write this, I realize that there are some out there who will vehemently disagree with me. What’s more, is that they will point to some of the so-called mainstream “Christian” denominations, church bodies that have not only adopted a pro-abortion stance but that go as far as to bless abortion clinics as their examples. These are, after all, large groups which, while professing faith in Christ, have brought themselves to the forefront of the discourse, and, in doing so, have sought to add legitimacy to those advocating for the murder of unborn children.
Scripture, after all, is silent on this issue, they will argue, nor does it say that life begins at conception, or that the child in the womb should be considered a human. They will present carefully crafted statements that confirm their bias before outright dismissing anyone who disagrees with them as embracing an oppressive, patriarchal theology that seeks to rob women of their dignity and bodily autonomy. This, they say, is contrary to the teachings of Jesus.
What perhaps adds more confusion is the fact that there are many Pastors who have chosen to keep silent on this issue in the name of unity. When pressed on whether pro-life positions should be pushed, or pro-abortion candidates should be rejected, they will say it’s not as simple as that. Why? Because, though they embrace a pro-life position, they have come to accept the idea that it can peacefully co-exist beside a pro-abortion one without any inherent tension. Thus they are willing to compromise on the matter, never quite understanding that each compromise pushes the discussion further to the extreme as ideas such as “safe, legal, and rare” are cast aside and the post is moved to abortion on demand without limits until the moment of birth.
All of this points to the fact that we need to have a better understanding of what Scripture says, and what it, ultimately, teaches us on the matter of life and abortion. There are, after all, any number of misconceptions and misrepresentations that are presented as, somehow, someway being fact.
Scripture Life Begins with the First Breath:
The idea that “Life begins with the first breath” is a common argument that is used as of late. It stems from the creation account as it is told in Genesis. In chapter 2, verse 7 the reader is told, “Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” That portion of the passage, where it states that “God… breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” is central to their argument because it is precisely at that moment that we are told that man becomes a living creature.
Here is the inherent problem with this argument: it’s based on a poor understanding of Scripture, and an even worse understanding of what is actually happening in this portion of the creation narrative. In other words, it’s wrong, and it’s wrong on many levels.
First, even from a cursory glance at the text, one notices a key problem. This is, namely, that the text itself speaks of God breathing into the nostrils of Adam. It makes absolutely no mention of Adam, himself, drawing breath himself. As such, what is recognized is the fact that life, it is not determined by when man acts. Rather, life is determined when God acts. Thus, it is for God Himself, and no one else, to determine when and where life begins.
The second problem is the fact that this text is what would be considered descriptive, rather than prescriptive. Let me explain: when we consider the Bible, we can divide the text into two general categories. The first is descriptive, this is the act of describing something that happened. The second is prescriptive, this teaches how something should happen. The creation narrative is telling the story of how everything came into being, not how everything will continue to come into being after the fact. It is a singular event, unique in its nature and its scope.
To say Genesis 2:7 is somehow prescriptive is to venture onto the stage of the theater of the absurd because it means that the entirety of the creation account is prescriptive as well. Children are not born to their mothers. Rather, they are formed out of the dust of the ground as fully grown adult males. Women, likewise, to be considered a woman, must be taken from the rib of a man while he is caused to sleep, otherwise, she is not considered to be a woman.
This, of course, leads to the next problem, which is the question of what this breath of life is. There is serious Old Testament scholarship that argues that the breath of life itself, that which God breathed into the nostrils of Adam, must be considered the soul. The word in Hebrew that concludes the passage, לְנֶפֶשׁ, does not need to be translated as “creature”, as it is in the English Standard Version. It could just as easily be translated as “Soul.” That was how the Early Church viewed it as well. Gregory of Nazianzus, in his Dogmatic Hymns, would express it like this, “The soul is the breath of God, a substance of heaven mixed with the lowest earth”, while Tertullian, in his treatises On the Soul would state that the souls origin would come from the breath of God.
To understand Genesis 2:7 as, somehow, someway, an argument that life only begins outside the womb is to grossly misread and misunderstand the passage. It is to rip it out of context and apply to it a meaning that was never intended for it.
The Only Mention the Bible Makes of Abortion is How to Perform One:
This is another argument that has gained enormous popularity as of late. It is based on a reading again from the Pentateuch. This time the passage is found in the fourth book of Moses, which we more commonly refer to as Numbers. In Chapter 5, from verses 11 through to 31, there is a test that is given for women who are caught in adultery. The passage itself is a long one, but the gest of it is that if a husband suspects his wife of adultery but has no proof, he is to bring her to the priest with a grain offering. The Priest will then take holy water in an earthenware vessel, place dust from the floor in it, and set the woman before the Lord, unbinding her hair as she holds the offering. At that point, she will make an oath before drinking the water.
The eventual effect, we read, is one of two things will happen. If she was unfaithful, her womb will swell and her thighs will fall, and she will become cursed. If she was not, then she will be considered clean and will be free to conceive a child.
This passage, unlike the previous, was, in fact, prescriptive, rather than descriptive, at least for the children of Israel. A law, it was something that was lived out. Yet, to understand this passage as a description of how to perform an abortion is, again, a gross misreading of it.
What is apparent to the reader of this text is that there are other forces at work than simply the Priest. These forces extend beyond simple nature. This is reflected in the fact that all the woman must drink is holy water with dust from the ground in it. It was not a special concoction or a special brew. That, in and of itself, is telling. The reason why is because, coming out of Egypt, there would be little question that they would have known what an abortion was and how to perform it. It was, after all, something that was described in the Ebers Papyrus.
The writings on that ancient Egyptian document laid out herbal drinks that would be swallowed and certain cleansing activities that would have to be performed. Nowhere did it describe drinking dirt water and unbinding one’s hair. Containing any number of different medical treatments that were prevalent for the period, its writings on abortion laid out herbal beverages that had to be drank and activities related to female anatomy. This vastly differed from the idea of drinking dirt water and unbinding one’s hair.
The language doesn’t lend itself to the idea of an abortion. Rather it references a curse, to divine action. If the woman is guilty then there will be an effect, and she will become cursed among her people. If she is innocent then nothing will happen to her, she will be free to conceive. God judges if a secret sin is committed and God acts according to His statutes.
The Scriptures are Silent on When Life Begins:
This represents perhaps one of the most longstanding, and pervasive myths that is used to justify the idea of a Christian pro-abortion opinion. Simply put, it states that Christians are reading into the text the belief that life begins in the womb when there is nothing to support it. One may point to Psalm 139, which states, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” (Ps. 139:13-14) That, though, the abortion advocate will argue, is purely symbolic, poetic language.
This is a common technique that is used to discredit. It’s a game that’s played in order to move the target as it were. It doesn’t matter that the Christian faith has, historically, recognized this as being an expression of how God fashioned us. Ambrose of Milan, for example, described it as the Lord God supporting us from the moment that He fashioned us, and decreed that we would be born, pointing then to Jeremiah 1:5 to support this concept. Despite the fact that Psalm 139 reflects an incredibly personal reflection of existence, reflecting God’s knowledge, and power, His presence in the life of the individual, it is said not to count, and should be discarded out of hand.
At any rate, that doesn’t account for Jesus, and the fact that he never mentioned when it was that life began, they would go on to argue. Never mind the simple fact that Jesus would have a deeper understanding of the Old Testament, the deepest understanding of it, being the Word made flesh, present with God as the only begotten son before time began. (Jn. 1:1-18) If it is not directly mentioned in the New Testament, and, in particular, the Gospels, which account for the life of Christ, it doesn’t matter.
Yet, what doesn’t seem to be accounted for is the accounts that are found in the earliest chapters of the Gospels. In Matthew 1:18, for example, it states that Mary was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. The text here makes no distinction between a life in the womb and a life outside of it, recognizing that it is indeed a child. Luke’s account of the nativity narrative, likewise, uses similar language, not just for Mary, the mother of Jesus, but for Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, as well.
Luke’s account will go further though. It’s in the first chapter that the reader finds an interesting account of when Mary went to visit her cousin. There, as she entered the house of Zechariah and Elizabeth, we read that the child that Elizabeth was carrying leaped in the womb even as she was filled with the Holy Spirit. (Lk. 1:39-40) Her natural response was then to recognize the blessing that was bestowed on Mary and to praise the child that was in her womb. (Lk. 1:42)
The presence of Jesus is what is most apparent in this portion of the text. It is all a fundamental reaction and response to nothing less than the full presence of God made flesh. God made flesh, the Word made flesh is not some distant presence that will come forth only after Mary gives birth, and he draws his first breath, somehow, someway, something different while in the womb than he will be outside of it. God made flesh is, indeed, the child who is in the womb.
To argue then that this child in the womb was somehow not human, or somehow simply a parasite feeding off the mother, which is often the argument being presented by those advocating for abortion in order to justify the killing of the child, is to argue that there was a point when Christ was not fully human or fully God, which, in turn, rejects one of the fundamental, foundational tenants of the Christian faith.
Yet, if we properly understand that Jesus was fully human at the point of His conception then we recognize that all children, from the point of conception forward, are indeed fully human as well. This is due to the fact that Christ came to live the full scope of the human experience with absolutely no exception. He would be born as man was, live as he lived, be tempted as he was tempted, before dying as the great propitiation for our sins. The only core differences would be in how he would be conceived, the sinless life he would live and his eventual resurrection, conquering sin, death, and the devil, and, even that resurrection would pave the way for our blameless life, redeemed by His blood, and our own eventual resurrection.
Christianity is, by its nature, a pro-life, anti-abortion religion. Any attempt to cast it differently is not only an attempt to re-write and recast the Scriptures but also a rejection and repudiation of them. It is that simple.
Yes, there will always be those who seek to reframe the Scripture, just as there always have been. They are those who seek to confirm their own biases by taking the clear teachings which are found in the Word, tearing them out of context, and reshaping them, whittling away at passages and verses until they can fit the square peg into the round hole. The problem is that, at that moment, it ceases to be the Word of God anymore, and becomes the teaching of men cloaked in biblical language, manipulating, and deceiving the believer as they find that they are led down a heretical path.
Lord, we pray that You protect us from such a dangerous direction, keeping us then steadfast in Your Word. Amen.