Abortion and the Bible
by Ernest L. Martin, Ph.D., July 1991
Edited and expanded by David Sielaff, February 2005
This article deals with a number of significant questions about abortion that arise in most people’s minds. It must be stressed that what we are giving in this report are the legal aspects of the question of abortion as the subject relates to the Bible. Each situation involving abortion or the prospect of abortion must be appraised from a biblical point of view on the special merits attached to each situation.
The moral and ethical issues involved in this subject have to be applied by the individuals themselves who must face this question. But those individuals should certainly have in their midst the legal aspects of the abortion issue as found in the pages of the Holy Scriptures. The opinions of man or even of governments run by men may not necessarily agree with the biblical concepts regarding the matter of abortion. I present this report in a question and answer style.
Yes. This approach is of primary importance in solving all legal, moral, social and doctrinal matters found within the Holy Scriptures, but sadly, this has been an almost impossible ideal to achieve when it comes to certain subjects of the Bible and in society. The question of abortion is one that is hard to extricate from the realm of emotion. People often make judgments on such issues by what they see and feel, rather than by the documentary evidence that the Bible gives on the matter.
It is incumbent to the one who loves the Bible and its teachings, that each matter of debate that comes to him or her must be settled first by the legal points of each situation as described by the teachings of the Bible. It is only when the legal aspect is understood and applied is it possible to have a proper emotional and spiritual attitude toward all such matters. This is particularly the case in the question of abortion.
No. This question is easy to answer. In no teaching of the Bible (no matter in what section one looks at the issue) is abortion considered as “illegal killing” of a human being. The first point that all should consider is the question: Is an unborn fetus considered by God as a bone fide human being? The answer is clearly “no” in all aspects of the word and this is shown in the text of the Holy Scripture. When the patriarch Job was complaining about his affliction and pain, he made the statements to God that he wished he had never been born. He said:
“Let the day perish in which I was born. ... Because it shut not up the doors of my mother's womb, nor hid sorrow from my eyes. Why died I not from the womb? Why did I not give up the spirit when I came out of the belly? ... Or as an untimely birth I had NOT been; as infants which never saw light.”
Job 3:3, 10-11, 16
That last verse, Job 13:16 tells us very much about how Job saw the matter of being a fetus. He saw it as “not having being,” or as we would say, “not having existence.” That is exactly what the text says and that is what any common sense person would accept as the teaching of Job.
But some might object and say that thought was simply Job’s opinion on the matter. No doubt this is true, but God himself stated that Job spoke of God and divine matters in a proper way:
“And it was so, that after the Lord had spoken these words unto Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite, ‘My wrath is kindled against you, and against your two friends: for you have not spoken of me the thing that is right, as my servant Job has.’”
The simple truth is, when Job was still a fetus within the womb of his mother and had never seen the light of day, that fetus was reckoned as “NOT HAVING BEEN” — and that is how God and the Bible defines the status of the fetus.
Once I approached a gathering of people here in Portland, Oregon and noticed one of the women holding a sign stating: “God says abortion is murder of a human being.” I asked her where she got her information which she said came from God. What I found out was that it was her church, or the spokesmen of her church, who said they were speaking in God’s name. Man (not God) had made the appraisal. It was not the God of the Bible who said such a thing, because the divine scripture states in no uncertain terms that an unborn fetus is reckoned as “NOT HAVING BEEN.” This is the legal definition from the mouth of Job (Job 3:3, 10-11, 16) and God approved of him (Job 42:7).
The classic recognition of what represents a human being is the biblical teaching concerning the creation of Adam. At first, the Book of Genesis simply states that Adam was formed to look like a human being and then God breathed into his body the breath of air (the spirit).
“And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”
Until the breath of air entered the body of Adam, he was not a living soul. If anything, he was a dead soul, even if he was a living fetus. A soul only becomes a soul when the breath (the air) comes into the lungs.
There is a second point that shows this biblical teaching. In all legal matters dealing with the length of life of all human beings, it is their day of birth (or the year in which they first exited the womb) that gives them a legal existence. Thus, for a man to be able to go to war he had to be twenty years of age, or a priest to commence his official duties had to be thirty years of age. These ages for legal purposes were always reckoned from birth, not from conception. The reason for this is plain. No one could be sure in all cases just when conception took place, and even if one knew the exact moment of conception, for legal purposes one had to wait to be born to enter human society.
This is not difficult to determine through the various examples given within the Old and New Testaments. Just like the hair of the person is a part of the person, and the person has complete charge over his own hair (or the nails on the hands and feet are a part of the person), so a fetus growing in the womb of a mother-to-be is considered to be a part of the woman and is under her complete control as far as the legal aspect is concerned. This has to be the case because in the Book of Job, as pointed out before, the patriarch makes the definite statement that as long as he (or any other fetus) was in the womb of the mother, it is reckoned as “NOT HAVING BEEN” (Job 3:16).
The fetus is really an appendage of the woman and she has control over it (in God’s eyes) as she does her hair or fingernails. There is not a teaching in the Bible that would counter this position. Even a tumor (a growth on or in the body) is always considered to be a part of the woman’s body. For legal purposes, it could hardly be considered as a separate entity from the woman even though it may be a living appendage of the woman. A fetus (just like a tumor) is supplied by nourishment through the physical properties of the woman’s own body, but it is never reckoned to be another human being. The next point will show this quite clearly.
No. In no way is this the case. The husband of the woman who lost the fetus through a struggle can adjudge a monetary fine upon the one who causes the fetus to abort if the woman herself received no other mischief. The fine had to be approved by the elders within the Israelite community, but it was not considered a “murder” (which was a much more serious crime). However, if in the struggle the woman herself was wounded (or even died) then the judgment would be an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, a life for a life. This law of reprisal using the eye for an eye principle only referred to the mother, not the unborn fetus. This is a legal teaching:
“If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief [damage] follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman's husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. And if any mischief [damage] follow, then you shall give life for life, Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.”
The legal teaching within the Bible shows that aborting a fetus in the womb of a mother is not murder because the fetus is not yet a human being. Righteous men and women are encouraged to demonstrate a deep respect for life and for the rights of all living things. On the other hand, there is nothing in the Bible to show that the practice of abortion for birth control alone is proper, although the life of the mother is infinitely more important than a fetus.
The proper principles of living as shown in the Scripture would cause both men and women to give utter respect to the unborn, but fetuses are NOT human beings. They are considered by God as “NOT HAVING BEEN.”
Ernest L Martin, July 1991
Edited by David Sielaff, February 2005
For decades the debate over abortion has involved the meaning of what constitutes a “human being.” Actually the Bible solves that problem (as Dr. Martin explains above), by denoting that a “living soul” is begun when the person takes his or her first independent breath. Not until that time does a person become a “living soul.” The fetus is soulless. As Job’s wise young friend Elihu states, the spirit in human beings animates and unites with the body to make a “living soul”:
“There is a spirit [Hebrew, ruach, breath] in man: and the inspiration [breathing in] of the Almighty gives them understanding. ... The spirit [Hebrew, ruach, breath] of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty has given me life.”
Job 32:8 and 33:4
The spirit of man is an important creation of God and should not be misunderstood or minimized. Its formation in Zechariah is likened in importance to the creation of the heavens and the earth:
“The burden of the word of the Lord for Israel, says the Lord, which stretches forth the heavens, and lays the foundation of the earth, and forms the spirit of man within him.”
The human spirit is clearly distinct from the spirit of animals, although it was not entirely clear to the author of Ecclesiastes where each goes at death (Ecclesiastes 3:21). Even though the human spirit was created by God and comes from God, the spirit of man is distinct from the Holy Spirit of God.
“For what man knows the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knows no man, but the Spirit of God. ... But the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
1 Corinthians 2:11, 14
Let us consider points brought up by Dr. Martin and consider them in light of current events. Medical advances have increased the survivability percentage of fetus viability outside the womb under hospital circumstances, on a few occasions to 24 weeks and even 23 weeks. The normal human gestation period is 40 weeks. An April 8, 2004 United Press International reported about this limitation:
“At what point is a human fetus viable? ... a government witness testified in U.S. District Court in Nebraska that a 20-week fetus can feel pain, suggesting the fetus is a living being. Neonatology specialists have countered, however, that a 20-week fetus cannot yet survive outside the mother’s womb. ... [Dr. Avroy] Fanaroff 2 [notes], ‘There may be a beating heart, there may even be some gasping attempts at breathing, but this is not a baby that can be resuscitated — it is not viable,’ ... ‘such signs of life typically ‘last only seconds.’ ...
What, then, differentiates between live birth and viable birth? The maturity of the lungs, Goldsmith said. ‘It is the ability of the lungs to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide,’ he said, which explains the reason why a non-viable fetus in 1973 can be a viable baby today.”
“Analysis: Advances Redefine Fetal Viability,”
emphasis mine 3
The ability for the fetus to independently take a breath of air is increasingly the medical standard for fetal viability — just as the Bible indicates. There appears to be a limitation determined by the ability of the lungs to take that first breath (directly from God) to unite body and spirit, and start the “living soul.”
You, along with every other human being alive, are experiencing this now. Your ability to read these words indicates a continuation of this breathing process at this very moment. The spirit of man from God that animates the breath in man continues until death (Job 34:1415). At that time your sequence of breaths will cease when your breath departs your body (composed of earth or dust), at which time your soul will die. The Bible is clear as to what happens next:
“Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was [before your birth]: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.”
The spirit of man that you have will remain with God until your resurrection. You will stay in this condition of death — not existing and unknowing (Psalm 6:5, 112:6; Ecclesiastes 9:1-12) — except in God’s thoughts and memory, until Christ shouts the command to your resurrection from death, to life and to glory (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, 1 Corinthians 15:21-26)!
Since Dr. Martin’s article in 1991, some issues regarding abortion have become clearer:
While Scripture makes it clear that abortion is not the murder of a human “living soul,” it is definitely the destruction of a life that under normal circumstances would develop into a “living soul” (Exodus 21:20), a human being. The difference is that the first “breath” of life from God has not yet entered into the fetus. Some pro-life activists deny this biblical fact by stating that the fetus does breathe that breath of life and is a “living soul” by virtue of the oxygen derived from the mother. However, the Bible makes it clear that it is that first breath which starts the “living soul.” The breath cycle continues until the last breath at death.
As Dr. Martin wrote in an earlier 1976 article on abortion:
“There is nothing more important than life, other than God Himself. But even God is God because He has life — a glorious eternal life which He intrinsically possesses with all supremacy and majesty. It is God who graciously bestowed on mankind some of His own life. But even more, man is promised an everlasting life through the work of Jesus Christ. The salvation that we obtain in Christ is to have life — a happy and abundant life in the kingdom of God.
Clearly, this shows that life is important. Christians should respect it very highly. Not only should they recognize the sanctity of their own lives, but they should acknowledge that God has granted the same life to all in the world. All people should be honored and respected. This is a Christian duty which no one can deny.”
Ernest Martin, “Abortion and the Bible:
Principles of Christian Ethics” 6
The purpose of ASK is to educate people in historical, scientific and theological matters concerning the Holy Scriptures, in other words to make clear what God’s Word, the Bible, has to say on this and other important subjects. As Dr. Martin wrote:
“It is our goal to bring to the attention of all Bible believers the importance of self reliance and personal responsibility when approaching Bible themes.”
Mission Statement of ASK
You and every other human being have the right and responsibility to make your own moral choices. Other people will certainly attempt to influence your choices, but you are accountable to God for the choices you make. Make them wisely.
David Sielaff, February 2005
1 In recent years issues in the news such as partial-birth abortions, fetal tissue research, stem cell research, and increased viability for premature birth children (and the ethics associated with these issues) have made publication of this article timely once again. These issues will increasingly be before the public for discussion, debate and legislation. DWS
2 Dr. Avroy Fanaroff is Interim chair of pediatrics and chair of neonatology at Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital, and professor of pediatrics at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland. DWS
4 See Stanley K. Henshaw, Susheela Singh, and Taylor Haas, "The Incidence of Abortion Worldwide" in International Family Planning Perspectives, 1999, 25(Supplement): S30-S38, at http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/journals/25s3099.html. This is a pro-abortion website. See also Abortion in Law, History and Religion, Revised edition (Toronto, Canada: Childbirth by Choice Trust, 1995) The entire book is available online at http://www.cbctrust.com/abortion.html.
5 See "Mental Health Risks of Abortion: Scientific Studies Reveal Significant Risk of Major Psychological Sequelae Of Abortion" at http://www.wprc.org/220.127.116.11.1.0.phtml. For an opposing view from Planned Parenthood, see the article "The Emotional Effects of Induced Abortion" at http://www4.plannedparenthood.org/pp2/portal/medicalinfo/abortion/fact-010600-emoteff.xml#1097838460671::-3808445079817008491.
6 Pasadena, CA: Foundation for Biblical Research, 1976
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