Just recently controversy was raging in Congress regarding Planned Parenthood and whether this organization should continue to receive funds from the government. Obviously abortion continues to be a hot political issue. Sometimes it seems to be overly politicized. Partisans on both sides of the issue say and do things that make you scratch your head in wonder. However, in the midst of this ongoing debate we must not lose sight that beyond being a political and partisan issue it is even more fundamentally a moral issue. And the morality of it all boils down to one basic question: Is the unborn fetus a human being? If not, then what’s the beef with Planned Parenthood, with abortion itself? But if the unborn organism in a mother’s uterus is indeed a human being—then without a doubt it is a moral issue of the highest priority.
So let’s consider this issue: Is an unborn fetus human? A person? We will take two approaches in doing this: Medical and theological. Being a Christian, and of a theological turn of mind, I will address the theology of the issue first.
As a Christian I believe that the Bible is our standard for both moral practice and belief. So we must approach any issue, even the matter of preborn life, from a biblical perspective. With that understanding in mind, we should note that there is nowhere in the Bible where it explicitly makes a statement such as, “The unborn is a human being.” Yet, there is an abundance of evidence from the Scriptures to affirm that this is in fact the biblical perspective.
To begin with, there is the matter of sin. Sin is really two things. First, it is a state of being that all humans experience as a result of the Fall and Adam’s disobedience (Romans 5:12, Ephesians 2:2, Isaiah 53:6, Romans 7:25). Second, sin is a transgression of the law and will of God, whether this is an outward act or an inward desire of the heart (see 1 John 3:4, Galatians 5:19-21, Matthew 5:22, 5:28, etc.). It is evident from the foregoing that sin is itself a uniquely human reality. Note Romans 7:17: “I am all too human, a slave to sin” (NLT). Animals are not considered sinful in their behavior. No matter how destructive, malicious, or evil their acts may be, they are only bestial acts, not sinful. Sin is a mark of humanity.
Yet, when the Bible speaks of man’s sinful nature, it alludes to our sinfulness from conception. Psalm 51:5 declares: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.” Or as this is rendered in the Amplified Bible: “I was brought forth in [a state of] wickedness; In sin my mother conceived me [and from my beginning I, too, was sinful].” What this verse asserts is confirmed by Psalm 58:3, “The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies.” Obviously babies do not come out of the womb speaking lies—but the propensity to do so is present. Thus, the sinful nature is present from the beginning. In this verse man is seen not only as sinful from birth, but even from within the womb itself. Thus, the Bible asserts in no uncertain terms that we were sinful from our conception. And since sinfulness is a human trait, then obviously we were human at conception.
In addition to the sinful nature of the unborn, the Bible also presents the great concern and love God has for the child in the womb. For example, Psalm 139:13-16 is a classic passage regarding the matter of the preborn. Consider these verses:
“For You formed my inward parts;
You covered me in my mother’s womb.
I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well.
My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
And in Your book they all were written,
The days fashioned for me, When as yet there were none of them.”
Note that the Psalmist states that God was present with him in the womb. The Lord was forming him, creating his body according to divine design. Is there poetic language here? Certainly. But that does not negate the obvious care and attention that the Lord gives to the unborn child. That preborn baby is the object of God’s own love and concern. Also consider the personal pronouns that David uses: “I am,” “I was made,” “my frame,” “my substance,” “for me.” There is no indication that God was forming a personless mass of cells. He was actively and lovingly making a human being.
We see the same truth declared by Job : “Did not He who made me in the womb make them? Did not the same One fashion us in the womb?” (Job 31:15)
We also understand that the preborn are human by considering the accounts of specific individuals, and how God viewed them before they were born. Here are some examples:
- In the story of Esau and Jacob we see the “two children struggled together” in Rebekah’s womb. The Lord said to Rebekah, “Two nations are in your womb.” (Genesis 25:22-23—cf. Hosea 12:3).
- Samson was a Nazarite consecrated to God from the womb (Judges 13:7).
- Jeremiah was called to be a prophet from his mother’s womb (Jeremiah 1:4-5).
- In Isaiah the Servant of the Lord was called of God in the womb (45:1) and formed in the womb to serve God (Isaiah 45: 9).
- In speaking of his apostolic ministry Paul says that God “set me apart before I was born” (Galatians 1:15 ESV).
The most explicit account of the humanity of the unborn is found in the consecutive stories of the conceptions and births of both John the Baptist and Jesus Christ. It is recorded in Luke 1:41 that when Elizabeth (mother of John) heard the greeting of Mary that the baby leaped within her womb. Skeptics decry this account, denying that it in any way indicates the humanity of the unborn baby. They say it was simply a matter of an unborn fetus kicking in the womb—a most common occurrence. However, the Gospel account makes it plain that the unborn John actually reacted to the presence of Mary and, more to the point, to the presence of the unborn Child within her womb. This was a dramatic spiritual moment. So much so that Elizabeth was immediately filled with the Spirit of God. Elizabeth then declares that the baby within her “leaped for joy” (Luke 1:44). This was no mere unintentional fetal kicking. This was a human, spiritual act of rejoicing. This should come as no surprise to us. For John’s father, Zechariah, had been told that John would be filled with the Holy Spirit “while yet in his mother’s womb” (Luke 1:15 NASB). Does the Spirit of God fill a mass of impersonal tissue? No. He fills human beings with His presence.
It is also evident that the unborn child within Mary’s womb was also a living human Being. Notice that Elizabeth acknowledged Mary as “the mother of my Lord” (Luke 1:43). Mary was not the mother of the Lord who was to come. There is no hint of a future Incarnation. The Lord Himself was already present, hidden within the womb of His mother. Elizabeth refers to Him as “my Lord” in the present moment, while yet unborn.
Christian theology teaches us that God the Son became incarnate at the moment of conception. Consider the words of the angel Gabriel to Joseph, after he had discovered that Mary was pregnant: “…for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:20 NASB). John 1:14 tells us that the Word/Logos became flesh. When did this happen? At His conception in the womb of Mary. Hebrews 2:17 says that Christ became like us in “every respect” (ESV). This included a full human development, from conception to birth to childhood and then to adulthood. Hebrews 10:5 says that God the Father prepared a body for the Messiah. Where was this body prepared? In the womb of Mary (once again, note Psalm 139:13-16).
If Jesus were not God incarnate from the moment of conception, then we have a theological mess. Suppose Mary conceived in her womb a human zygote (even supernaturally), and this zygote developed into an embryo and then a fetus. Then suppose that sometime in the gestation process, or at birth, the Word/Logos became embodied in the fetus/baby. This means the Word would not be of same substance as Mary. The Word would have been a separate entity imposed into an already existing organism. This is not true Incarnation. In fact, it is heresy. And the implications for the doctrine of salvation are horrendous. How could Jesus be the “seed of the woman” (Genesis 3:15)? How could He have come “from the woman” (Galatians 4:4)? How could He be the genuine last Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45, cf. Romans 5:14-15). How could Jesus be the Son of David, the Messiah? He could not. Therefore, He could not have been a true Man, and our true Kinsman Redeemer (Isaiah 59:20—remember the goel, or kinsman redeemer, had to be one’s nearest relative). Theologically, it is imperative to assert that Jesus was a true human being from the moment of conception. And since He was made like us in every way (Hebrews 2:14, Philippians 2:7), then we are also true human beings at the moment of conception.
I believe the biblical record clearly indicates the full humanity of the preborn and thus implicitly condemns abortion. Some, however, would question why the Bible is not more explicit in these matters. For example, why is there no clear prohibition in the New Testament against abortion? The answer is pretty simple. The notion of abortion being a moral option was simply rejected out of hand. It is foreign to a biblical worldview. So it was unnecessary to address it in the sacred writings. Also consider that there is no prohibition against infanticide. Such behaviors were probably considered so unnatural that to prohibit them was considered superfluous.
Yet, some assert that this silence gives a green light to the practice of abortion. So we should ask the question: Is there is any evidence that in either the ancient Jewish community or among early Christians abortion was considered an acceptable and moral practice? The answer is simply no. In fact, ancient Jewish writings consistently condemn the practice of abortion, if they deal with it all. And extra-biblical Christian writings do the same. Consider these examples:
- The Didache: “You shall not murder a child by abortion nor shall you kill a newborn.”
- The Epistle of Barnabas: “You shall love your neighbor more than your own life. You shall not murder a child by abortion nor shall you kill a newborn.”
- Apocalypse of Peter[describing a vision of Hell]: “I saw women who produced children out of wedlock and who procured abortions.”
As noted, this was simply not an issue for the first century church, populated largely by Messianic Jewish believers. But as the church grew within the Gentile world, they were confronted increasingly by pagan cultures which actually did practice abortion. That is why we begin to see the issue addressed in late first and second century Christian writings.
One final verse will be considered. If you accept the biblical record as true and accurate, then we must take into account the words of Job. In chapter 3 Job is bemoaning his very conception and birth. In doing so, he emphatically states, “a man has been conceived” (Job 3:3 ESV). Not a blob of tissue. Not a mass of cells. But a male child, a human being has been conceived. At conception itself Job was a human being.
Job’s statement serves as a good segue into considering the medical evidence for the preborn being human from the moment of conception.
[To be continued in the next post…]