by Nigel Cameron
The intentional taking of life before birth is not new. Though adoption of “abortion rights” as a progressive political cause in Western societies is recent, abortion has been practiced in every culture from ancient times. Indeed, one of the signal achievements of the spread of the gospel in the Greco-Roman world was push this practice and its close sibling, infanticide, to the margins of society. Is classical paganism, while it was sometimes controversial, abortion (like euthanasia) was common and widely approved. The ancient physicians who took the Hippocratic oath, whose medical vision was powered by saving life and not taking it, were swimming upstream. It was the church of Jesus Christ that swept through the later Roman world as the great pro-life movement, setting standards in medicine, culture – and public policy that still condition the thinking of fractured Christendom in the twenty-first century.
Readers who seek abortion in a concordance are unlikely to find it, and as a result believers have sometimes suggested that Scripture is silent on the subject and that therefore we may do as we please. Such a conclusion depends on some serious misunderstandings. The biblical foundations of a comprehensive prohibition on induced abortion lie deep, in the doctrines of creation and incarnation.
The starting point for a biblical understanding of human nature is the truth that human beings are created in God’s image. It is clear from Genesis 1:26-27 that this applies to all those who are members of the human species. Homo sapiens is distinguished from all other “kinds” by our bearing the likeness of our Maker. The image is specifically stated to have been given to women as well as men and to remain after the fall (Gn 9:6). And it applies to Jew and Gentile, religious and irreligious, young and old, those in the flower of human ability as well as the disabled and sick. The imago Dei is what makes us the beings we are and it is in place wherever there are members of our species. The question of which beings bear the image is one of species membership and therefore genetics.
While extraordinarily difficult issues are raised by the prospect of human-animal hybrids (and also, perhaps, humanoid robots), the issue here is simple. If someone is a member of the human species, that person bears the divine image. Therefore, his or her life is sacred. With this single recognition, we find the basis of biblical bioethics and immediate answers to many of the most pressing questions in contemporary medicine and bioscience. It provides a straightforward response to the issue of induced abortion, since the commandment “Do not murder” (Ex 20:13) therefore applies to all human beings, from the beginning of life to its end. And this command is explicitly rooted in the bearing of the divine image in Genesis 9:6, in the ironic context of the provision for capital punishment: “Whoever sheds man’s blood, his blood shall be shed by man, for God made man in His image.”
This species principle is of central importance to debate about human embryos. as researchers have developed techniques using in vitro fertilization and cloning. making it possible to use embryos for destructive research. The biblical position is unambiguous: those who are part of the species, made in the divine image, should not be murdered. The second foundation lies in the doctrine of the incarnation. As if to illustrate this creation principle of the species-wide bearing of the image, in His incarnation the Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity, took human form and did so from the beginning of human biological existence. When in the “sixth month” (Lk 1:36, a reference not to the calendar but to the advanced state of her cousin Elizabeth’s pregnancy) Mary was told by the angel that she would conceive by a miracle, the human life of the Son of God began. Shortly afterward she visited Elizabeth, and we witness John the Baptist’s first testimony to his kinsman and his Lord as a six month fetus leaped in his mother’s womb at the presence of the days-old embryonic Jesus (Lk 1:39-45).
In light of these basic theological affirmations, the many incidental references to unborn life in the OT-in the prophets, Job, and especially Psalms-take on powerful significance (for example, Ps 139:13 and the following verses).
The one biblical text sometimes offered as a counterargument is in Exodus 21:22 and following, which refers to the appropriate punishment to be applied if men, while fighting, accidentally hit a woman and cause her to miscarry. There are varying translations of the passage, but it has no relevance to the debate about deliberate abortion, since it refers to manslaughter of the unborn child and not to deliberate killing.
- Adapted from the Apologetics Study Bible, pgs 908-909
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