Author: Ron Graham
In this lesson we look at four of the questions or issues that underly a Christian's attitute to abortion, including abortion immediately after conception.
One of God’s titles is, "Thou God of the spirits of all flesh" (Numbers 16:22, Numbers 27:16). God joins spirit and flesh together, and he alone has authority to separate them. Nobody else owns a human life; God says, "All souls are mine" (Ezekiel 18:4). Anyone who causes or contributes to a human death, whether in the womb or out of it, must be sure they are an instrument of God.
This first point does not answer the main question concerning abortion, but it certainly puts us in the right mood to consider it, knowing that we are each personally responsible to Almighty God in whom we live and move and have our being and to "Jesus who will judge the living and the dead at his appearing" (2Timothy 4:1).
There is a belief widely held today about the unborn, a belief not found in the Bible, that in the early stages of pregnancy, a separate human life does not exist in the womb, but rather a collection of cells that may be regarded as just a part of the mother's body. It is believed that the mother is free at this stage to destroy this tissue, because it is not yet a child or a babe.
The Bible, in the way it describes conception and pregnancy, lends no support or credence to that belief. The Bible speaks of that which is conceived and developing in a pregnant mother's womb as a "child" or "babe".
We can scripturally add no more to that. What is conceived in the womb is a "child" — a baby human being-- right from the start, however small. We should understand that destroying what has begun to form in the womb is taking the life of a child. We could justify such action before God only in rare circumstances, some would go so far as to say in no circumstances.
The main reason why abortion is so common, is the belief that early abortion is not killing a child, but merely preventing one from coming into being. Abortion would almost cease if people came to understand the Bible teaching that a "child" is "conceived in the womb".
Consider carefully the example of Mary the mother of Jesus. The angel said, "You will conceive in your womb" (Luke 1:31). Luke uses the same terminology in the phrase, "...before he was conceived in the womb" (Luke 2:21). Look at this text carefully...
"And when eight days had passed for him to be circumcised, his name was called Jesus —the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb" (Luke 2:21)
The words "before he was conceived in the womb" are Luke's way of saying, "before he became a human being". That is the natural sense in which to take Luke’s words.
If you don't grasp that immediately, think about the point Luke is making. Luke is mentioning the fact that an angel gave the name Jesus to the Christ child before the child who was to wear that name had come into being. So when the angel gave the name, the name was waiting for the baby. Now ask yourself when did that situation change so that it was no longer the name waiting for the baby, but rather...
We might have expected Luke to say that the angel gave the name to the Christ Child "before he was born". But he said something else, quite significantly, that makes an enormous difference.
Luke knew that the baby who was to be called "Jesus" had come into being before he was born. Luke therefore pinpoints the exact event at which "Jesus" was no longer just a name waiting for the baby, but was now a baby wearing that name. The Word had become flesh. Luke understands that this took place when he was "conceived in the womb".
We are all aware, of course, that our Lord's conception was a special case, because Mary was a virgin. However you will observe that his conception itself is not quite the thing we are concerned with here, but rather his growth and development in the womb immediately following conception. In that process, there are no grounds at all for treating the Christ child as a special case. Indeed, to do so would be to tread dangerously near the quicksand of heresy regarding Christ's human nature. Rather than discard our Lord's conception and birth as a special case irrelevant to our purpose in this discussion, I would offer it as possibly the most relevant example of all.
In short...We will understand when any human life begins as soon as we understand when the baby Jesus came into being. Luke the physician pinpoints that for us exactly. The Word became flesh when he "was conceived in the womb". And that's when everyone who is a human being becomes one.
You will notice that Luke’s phrase "conceived in the womb" (Luke 2:21). does not match modern terminology. In modern biology the term "conception" usually refers to fertilisation of the female egg (more exactly the instant that a spermatozoon enters an ovum and forms a viable zygote). Confusion can result if we assume that Luke the physician (and for that matter the angel) had the same views and used the same terminology as modern doctors. The term "conceived in the womb" used by the angel and Luke shows that the fertilisation of an ovum was not the critical point in their minds, but rather the successful implantation of the embryo in the womb. This is what the scripture regards as conception or becoming pregnant.
The modern idea that doctors can create a human being outside the womb, does not have any support in the Bible. What they can do, is artificially duplicate, and manipulate, what happens in nature during the week preceding implantation in the womb. Some modern schools of ethics seem to have a lot of problems with this. However, the scriptures predate modern ethics just as they predate modern biology. We can listen respectfully and carefully to what doctors and philosophers say, but the word of God came first.
The main point in what I have been saying so far, is this: According to the Bible, there is a baby human being in a pregnant mother's womb from the time it is conceived there. I have previously mentioned the view that a baby does not exist until late in the pregnancy, and for a while is merely tissue belonging to the mother’s body. This concept has no support in the Bible, or for that matter in science. To destroy by deliberate abortion what has been implanted in the womb is to take a human life. Anyone who does this must be prepared to justify it before Almighty God.
In this final point I am not talking about a "potential human being" but rather "a human being’s potential".
While I am personally terribly grieved at the slaughter of thousands of unborn babies, legalised and even encouraged in my nation, I do not hold much respect for the idea of "a potential human being". Not only is every fertilised human female egg a "potential human being" but so is every spermatozoon, ovum, and for that matter every twinkle in a husband's eye. Most of these never become human beings, for a variety of reasons.
In fact, Christians find themselves the enemies of "potential human beings". Where they see people in the way of temptation to commit fornication, they counsel them to abstain from it and to be chaste. Rightly so, for "fornicators and adulterers God will judge" (Hebrews 13:4). It is clear, however, that a lot of "potential human beings" lose their chance at existence if that teaching is followed!
This shows that God is not greatly concerned about "potential human beings". However he is concerned about actual human beings, including (and one might even say especially) those who have just been "conceived in the womb".
The babe in the womb has real potential --real, even though we cannot estimate it. To whom does this potential belong and who has the right to destroy it by deliberate abortion? This is perhaps not the main issue regarding abortion, but our discussion on abortion would be lacking if we did not consider it.
Under the law of Moses, if two men were fighting and hurt a pregnant woman so that she miscarried, compensation was payable for the loss of the unborn, but supposing she died also, then the death penalty was incurred (Exodus 21:22-23). This law regards a mother's life as much more valuable than an unborn child's, but still recognises the unborn child's unrealised potential. The law left it up to human judges to value that potential, and their assessment may not be like God’s.
What if the "man born blind" had been known to be blind before birth and had been killed before birth by an abortion because of his defect? It was God’s secret plan that "the works of God might be displayed in him" and by his life the faith of millions be strengthened. By an abortion, that potential would have been unwittingly destroyed (John 9:1-3).
There's a more frightening "what if" in the example we referred to before, of Mary the mother of Jesus. What would an abortion have done to God’s plan? The crucifixion, dark and terrible as it was, turned out to be the very thing through which God was able to accomplish his purpose and plan (Acts 2:23). What if, instead, Jesus had been slain in the womb?