“Abortion is OK” – God

It would be a mistake to declare the Bible to be either pro-choice or pro-life. While there are several verses relevant to the discussion, none condemn abortion, and none suggest that women should have a choice in the matter. In fact, since the Bible is overtly patriarchal throughout, any decisions with respect to the unborn fetus are left solely up to men. The Bible DOES however have a number of verses that deal with the “personhood” of the unborn, and the killing of the unborn. These verses clearly show that the unborn were not viewed as living persons, nor was killing them considered to be murder, with the possible exception of late-term fetuses. In fact, there are multiple instances in which the killing of the unborn was commanded or otherwise forced.

In spite of that, conservative Christians claim that the Bible supports their “pro-life” agenda, referencing a number of verses, none of which actually discuss abortion or the Biblical perspective on the “personhood” of the unborn. I’ll present each of them in turn. All Bible verses quoted here are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

1) Jeremiah 1:4-5

Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

But the first part of the quote merely indicates the biblical belief that God was involved in the creation of life. The 2nd part makes it clear that it’s talking about one specific person (Jeremiah). The verse doesn’t say WHEN Jeremiah was consecrated – just sometime before he was born (perhaps only moments before). More importantly, while it DOES indicate that Jeremiah had special status, it implies that the rest of us did not.

2) Psalm 139:13-16

13  For it was you who formed my inward parts;
     you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14  I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
     Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
15  My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
     intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
     all the days that were formed for me,
     when none of them as yet existed.

But all verses 13-15 say (once again) is that God is directly involved in the creation of the embryo. But according to the Christian doctrine, God was involved in the creation of every plant and animal (including some truly objectionable ones, such as parasites) ever born, many of which we routinely kill. Verse 16 teaches only the standard Christian doctrine that God is omniscient.

3) Psalm 127:3-5

3 Sons are indeed a heritage from the Lord,
    the fruit of the womb a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
    are the sons of one’s youth.
Happy is the man who has
    his quiver full of them.
He shall not be put to shame
    when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.

This just says, in short, that it’s good to have lots of sons. It says nothing about the unborn.

4) Genesis 1:27

27 So God created humankind[a] in his image,
     in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.

This just describes the original creation of Adam and Eve (as adults). It has nothing to do with the unborn or abortion.

5) Psalm 8:5-7

Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory
    in the heavens.
Through the praise of children and infants
    you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
    to silence the foe and the avenger.
When I consider your heavens,
    the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
    which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    human beings that you care for them?[c]

You have made them[d] a little lower than the angels
    and crowned them[f] with glory and honor.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
    you put everything under their[g] feet:
all flocks and herds,
    and the animals of the wild,
the birds in the sky,
    and the fish in the sea,
    all that swim the paths of the seas.

Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!

So this Psalm merely says that humankind is important to God – beneath the angels, and above the animals. There is no mention of the unborn.

6) Job 31:15

15 Did not he who made me in the womb make them?
    Did not the same one form us both within our mothers?

The “them” in this verse refers to Job’s servants. The point of the verse is just to affirm that he and his servants are equal in the eyes of God, by pointing out that (per standard Judeo-Christian theology) God is involved in the creation of all life.

7) Psalm 22:10

10  On you I was cast from my birth,
    and since my mother bore me you have been my God..

To understand this verse, it must be considered in context. Here is the Psalm 22:1-11

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
    and by night, but find no rest.

Yet you are holy,
    enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our ancestors trusted;
    they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried, and were saved;
    in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.

But I am a worm, and not human;
    scorned by others, and despised by the people.
All who see me mock at me;
    they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;
“Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver—
    let him rescue the one in whom he delights!”

Yet it was you who took me from the womb;
    you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.
10 On you I was cast from my birth,
    and since my mother bore me you have been my God.
11 Do not be far from me,
    for trouble is near
    and there is no one to help.

The Psalm begins with the lament that the author felt abandoned by God. Whereas God watched over and protected his ancestors, the author believes that he has now been forsaken, in spite of having previously been protected by God. This has nothing to do with the status of the unborn. Some other translations use the words such as “…from my mother’s womb you have been my God.” which imply that it’s talking about the unborn, but while the word “from” could be interpreted that way, the context from verse 9 and the first part of verse 10 suggests otherwise (i.e. that it means “from the moment of birth”).

8) Isaiah 49:15

15  “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
     and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
    I will not forget you!

As with most of the preceding verses, this has nothing to do with the unborn.

So to summarize, the above verses are either totally irrelevant to the abortion debate, having nothing to do with the status of the unborn, or they merely attest to the theological view that God creates the embryo, and God is all-knowing, and therefore knows everything about the life of each person. None of these verses give any insight as to whether the developing embryo/fetus is truly viewed as a LIVING person.

Passages supporting Pro-Choice position

On the other hand, there are other verses that shed light on the question of whether the unborn were viewed as living persons. One of the most significant and relevant is in Exodus, where it specified a simple fine for causing a miscarriage.

Exodus 21: 22-24

22 When 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. 23 If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,

These verses (as translated in the NRSV) show that the Bible views the killing of an unborn child as a minor matter – punishable by paying a fine to the father. Other translations give a different sense altogether. Some translations, such as the New International Version (NIV) refer to premature birth, rather than miscarriage. Still others, such as King James, use the phrase “her fruit depart from her”, which is ambiguous.

A more detailed analysis indicates that none of these are quite correct. “The Septuagint Has the Correct Translation of Exodus 21:23”, by Thomas McDaniel, argues that the language for all of those translations was flawed, because they were using the Masoretic texts, which had diverged from the original Hebrew, as indicated by the language of the much earlier Septuagint. The Masoretic texts date to the 9th century, CE, while the Septuagint is a set of translations from the original Hebrew into Koine Greek, dating from the mid 3rd century BCE. McDaniel references Brenton’s translation from the Septuagint:

“And if two men strive and smite a woman with child, and her child be born imperfectly formed, he shall be forced to pay a penalty: as the woman’s husband may lay upon him, he shall pay with a valuation. But if it be perfectly formed, he shall give life for life.”

McDaniel further explains this text as distinguishing between the early term embryo/fetus (which is not yet in human form) and later-term fetus, which is fully formed as a human. So according to McDaniel, miscarriage in the former case would warrant a fine, while the latter case would be punished by “life for life”, as would death to the mother, of course. The full text of McDaniel’s analysis can be found at:

http://tmcdaniel.palmerseminary.edu/LXX_EXO_%2021_22-23.pdf

Interpretation of these verses has been, and will doubtless continue to be a subject of intense debate. I’m certainly not qualified to argue one position over another, however, I don’t believe that the premature birth interpretation makes much sense logically. If the child is born prematurely, but alive and healthy, there would be no need to pay a fine. McDaniel’s analysis makes far more logical sense.

The Bible has other relevant verses which indicate that even newborn babies (under 1 month) are of no value:

Leviticus 27:1-6

27 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the people of Israel and say to them: When a person makes an explicit vow to the Lord concerning the equivalent for a human being, the equivalent for a male shall be: from twenty to sixty years of age the equivalent shall be fifty shekels of silver by the sanctuary shekel. If the person is a female, the equivalent is thirty shekels. If the age is from five to twenty years of age, the equivalent is twenty shekels for a male and ten shekels for a female. If the age is from one month to five years, the equivalent for a male is five shekels of silver, and for a female the equivalent is three shekels of silver.

This indicates that no value is attached to babies under 1 month.

Numbers 3:14-15

14 Then the Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, saying: 15 Enroll the Levites by ancestral houses and by clans. You shall enroll every male from a month old and upward.

So here a census is commanded, but excludes babies under 1 month.  Newborn babies aren’t even considered to be people.

And then there is the forced abortion for an unfaithful pregnant wife:

Numbers 5:16-22

16 Then the priest shall bring her near, and set her before the Lord; 17 the priest shall take holy water in an earthen vessel, and take some of the dust that is on the floor of the tabernacle and put it into the water. 18 The priest shall set the woman before the Lord, dishevel the woman’s hair, and place in her hands the grain offering of remembrance, which is the grain offering of jealousy. In his own hand the priest shall have the water of bitterness that brings the curse. 19 Then the priest shall make her take an oath, saying, “If no man has lain with you, if you have not turned aside to uncleanness while under your husband’s authority, be immune to this water of bitterness that brings the curse. 20 But if you have gone astray while under your husband’s authority, if you have defiled yourself and some man other than your husband has had intercourse with you,” 21 —let the priest make the woman take the oath of the curse and say to the woman—“the Lord make you an execration and an oath among your people, when the Lord makes your uterus drop, your womb discharge; 22 now may this water that brings the curse enter your bowels and make your womb discharge, your uterus drop!” And the woman shall say, “Amen. Amen.”

Hosea,describes punishment to be visited by God upon the Israelites, including killing their children and causing the women to miscarry.

Hosea 9:10-16

10 Like grapes in the wilderness,
    I found Israel.
Like the first fruit on the fig tree,
    in its first season,
    I saw your ancestors.
But they came to Baal-peor,
    and consecrated themselves to a thing of shame,
    and became detestable like the thing they loved.
11 Ephraim’s glory shall fly away like a bird—
    no birth, no pregnancy, no conception!
12 Even if they bring up children,
    I will bereave them until no one is left.
Woe to them indeed
    when I depart from them!
13 Once I saw Ephraim as a young palm planted in a lovely meadow,[d]
    but now Ephraim must lead out his children for slaughter.
14 Give them, O Lord—
    what will you give?
Give them a miscarrying womb
    and dry breasts.15 Every evil of theirs began at Gilgal;
    there I came to hate them.
Because of the wickedness of their deeds
    I will drive them out of my house.
I will love them no more;
    all their officials are rebels.

15 Every evil of theirs began at Gilgal;
    there I came to hate them.
Because of the wickedness of their deeds
    I will drive them out of my house.
I will love them no more;
    all their officials are rebels.

16 Ephraim is stricken,
    their root is dried up,
    they shall bear no fruit.
Even though they give birth,
    I will kill the cherished offspring of their womb.

Then in Chapter 13, Hosea describes God’s wrath against Samaria:

Hosea 13:16

16 Samaria shall bear her guilt,
    because she has rebelled against her God;
they shall fall by the sword,
    their little ones shall be dashed in pieces,
    and their pregnant women ripped open.

Other Biblical verses refer to being stillborn as a preferred fate for some people:

Ecclesiastes 6:3-5

A man may beget a hundred children, and live many years; but however many are the days of his years, if he does not enjoy life’s good things, or has no burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he. For it comes into vanity and goes into darkness, and in darkness its name is covered; moreover it has not seen the sun or known anything; yet it finds rest rather than he.

Job 3:16-19

16 Or why was I not buried like a stillborn child,
    like an infant that never sees the light?
17 There the wicked cease from troubling,
    and there the weary are at rest.
18 There the prisoners are at ease together;
    they do not hear the voice of the taskmaster.
19 The small and the great are there,
    and the slaves are free from their masters.

It’s clear that the verses that pro-lifers reference in support of their opposition to abortion are all irrelevant to that discussion. And there are a numerous other, far more relevant verses, that contradict any notion that the fetus (especially the early-term fetus) is a living person. If the Bible supports any position on abortion, it would be on the pro-choice side. While the Bible never gives women a choice in the matter (consistent with the highly patriarchal nature of the Bible), forced abortions are prescribed in some cases, accidentally causing a miscarriage (at least in the early-term) is just a minor civil matter, and the Bible places no value on even newborn children.

3 thoughts on ““Abortion is OK” – God

  1. Is interesting to note that all people that do not care for the life of the unborn are themself born.
    Other thing to note is, if the bible is talking about sons and daughters is reasonable to deduce that this were fetuses and unborn at a previous time.
    100 per cent of Children were unborn in the immediate past.

    You cannot fill your quiver with them, without filling your quiver with the unborn.

    When the bible talks about “you knit me in my mothers womb”,
    Is saying in all my development inside my mother you were forming me.
    No other being is created in the image of God. You and me and the rest that share humanity. Are you going to destroy what God had put his image upon?
    You don’t remember when you were in your morhers womb wonderfully being knitted together. The silent years of your life. Do you?
    We should protect those who cannot protect themself. Those who cannot speak for themself.

    The same Bible which you use to justify your position will also tell you to do justice, to protect the widow and the orphan.
    Can there be the orphan without a baby?
    Can there be a baby without a fetus?
    I can say more but is enough to see that it has to make sense.
    You have to be reasonable when reading the scriptures.
    Our Lord Jesus died for all of us, unborn included. For you my friend he died. So that we may have life. Abundant life now and in the life to come.
    He said so clearly. I am going to prepare a place for you. So where I am you will be also.
    God bless.

    Like

    1. Thanks for your comment. Much of your reply is interesting (such as the 1st paragraph, and the references to widows and orphans) but not really relevant to the debate. We all understand that all people ever born were previously fetuses.

      As for being formed in the image of God, that’s obviously in a spiritual sense, not a physical one… which leads to the question of when “ensoulment” occurs. The Bible is no help in that question, and theologians have debated it for millennia.

      Like

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