Few subjects are as emotionally charged as that of abortion. Society has become polarized. “Right to Life” groups and “Pro Choice” advocates are militantly lined up in opposition to each other.
Much of the debate circles angrily around peripheral issues: unwanted pregnancies bringing unwanted and poorly treated children into an over-populated world; the pain of knowingly giving birth to a child with a diagnosed birth defect; abortion in the situation where only the life of mother or child can be saved; cases of rape, incest, and many others.
One point both sides can agree on is that a key question to be resolved is: When does life begin? Arguing for the beginning of life at conception, the anti-abortion forces freely characterize abortion as “murder.” On the other hand, the opposing view holds that an abortion is merely the removal of lifeless tissue.
As Christians, we must look for the answer to this question, as to all questions, in the Bible—the Word of God. But, can a book so old relate to such a modern inquiry? Abortion was practiced in Bible times. It is expressly forbidden in the Hippocratic Oath of the medical profession, a document dating to about 380 B.C. However, it is never expressly addressed in the pages of Holy Writ, and the Bible’s answer must be deduced from other broad principles expressed in the Scriptures.
While the Bible does not discuss abortion specifically, it does deal extensively with the question of when, in the begettal-birth process, human life begins. Since this is an issue which both sides of the abortion debate concur is central to the discussion, we want to examine the Scriptural testimony on this subject.
Psa 139:14-16—“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.”
God’s “Book” is an idiom for the memory of God. (See Psa 56:8; Malachi 3:16) The purpose of this “book” is better understood by reference to the many places where it is termed “the book of life.” It refers to those who, being in God’s memory, will have a resurrection from the dead. Here the members of the body being fashioned in the womb are described as being written in God’s memory “when as yet there were none of them.”
This strongly implies that God has planned a resurrection for an individual during the gestation process, even before the organism is brought to full development.
“A LIFE FOR A LIFE”
Exod 21:22-25—“If men fight, and hurt a woman with child, so that she gives birth prematurely, yet no harm follows, he shall surely be punished accordingly as the woman’s husband imposes on him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.”
That the “harm” here refers to harm to the child and not to the mother is evident by the fact that in both situations here described the woman is pictured as “hurt.” In the event that “no harm follows,” the child was evidently born healthy, though premature. But, if there was “harm,” such as the child being born dead, then the one causing the death forfeited his own life. This being so, God’s perfect Law recognized the miscarried child as a life, and its accidental abortion as murder.
A “SLEEPING STILLBORN”
Job 3:11-16—“Why did I not die at birth? Why did I not perish when I came from the womb? Why did the knees receive me, or why the breasts, that I should nurse? For now I would have lain still and been quiet, I would have been asleep; Then I would have been at rest with kings and counselors of the earth, who built ruins for themselves, or with princes who had gold, who filled their houses with silver; or why was I not hidden like a stillborn child, Like infants who never saw light?.”
Job was a man who believed in the resurrection of the dead. (Job 14:14, 15) It would have been inconsistent with such hopes to desire to have been a stillborn if there was to be no resurrection of such. In the passage above he describes the death condition as “a rest” where he would have “slept.” The Bible frequently refers to death as “sleep” because when we go to sleep we expect to rise again. In the same way, those who experience “the sleep of death” anticipate life anew in the resurrection.
“AN UNTIMELY BIRTH”
Eccl 6:3—“If a man begets a hundred children and lives many years, so that the days of his years are many, but his soul is not satisfied with goodness, or indeed he has no burial, I say that a stillborn child is better than he.”
The Bible is full of reassurances of the resurrection of both “those who have done good, and those who have done evil.” (John 5:29) The degree of evil which still permits a resurrection is well pictured by the assurance of the resurrection of the inhabitants of the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. (Ezek 16:55; Matt 10:15)
Since even these wicked people will receive a resurrection, then, if the condition of the “stillborn” is “better than he,” it must also receive a resurrection. In order to be raised to a second life, it is obviously necessary to experience a first life. Therefore, the writer of Ecclesiastes considers life to begin within the womb sufficiently early for the “untimely birth” or stillborn, to have experienced it.
A similar expression of judgment is found in Psa 58:8, with the same lesson. “Let them be like a snail which melts away as it goes, like a stillborn child of a woman, that they may not see the sun.”
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