The Bible is Unambiguous on Abortion

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on Tabernacle of David considers this ministry trustworthy and Biblically sound.

Author: David Wilber

A recent study has found that 44% of self-identified Christians in America said they believe the Bible is “ambiguous in its teaching about abortion.” In the same study, 34% said, “abortion is morally acceptable if it spares the mother from financial or emotional discomfort or hardship.” What this study actually reveals is that many self-identifying Christians either don’t read the Scriptures or don’t know how to handle them rightly (2 Timothy 2:15).

While the Bible does not explicitly say, “Do not have an abortion” (which may in itself speak loudly to the obvious immorality of the act[1]), the Bible unambiguously condemns abortion in principle. Murdering innocent people is explicitly prohibited in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:13). Since an unborn child in the womb is an innocent person, it follows that the Bible prohibits murdering an unborn child in the womb. It’s as simple as that.

Some might try to say that the Bible never regards the unborn child as a full person, and thus he or she is not entitled to the basic human right to life. But this is demonstrably false. Both Old and New Testaments provide evidence that God views the child in the womb as a full person who bears God’s image and therefore possesses intrinsic moral worth.

In the Old Testament, Job, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the Psalms each testify of God’s personal involvement in the fetus’s development in its mother’s womb (Job 10:8-12; 31:15; Isaiah 44:24; Jeremiah 1:5; Psalm 139:13-16). The Bible uses the standard Hebrew term for “children” to describe the fetuses struggling within Rebekah’s womb and highlights their potential and personhood (Genesis 25:22). Moreover, in Job, the term commonly used to refer to a “man” is used to describe an embryo at conception (Job 3:3).[2] These passages make it impossible to deny the humanity and personhood of the unborn.

But wait! There’s more! The New Testament testifies of John the Baptist, as an unborn child in the womb, being filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:15) and leaping for joy (Luke 1:41, 44).

Not only that but the Messiah Himself was conceived in Mary’s womb (Matthew 1; Luke 1). Think about that: God the Son came into the world as an unborn child.

After hearing the news that she was pregnant, Mary visited Elizabeth. They celebrated the announcement of the Messiah’s coming (Luke 1:39-45), indicating that the Messiah already existed as a fully human person at conception from a biblical perspective. Was the Messiah just a meaningless clump of cells before His birth? No genuine Christian could believe that, and no intellectually honest person could come to that conclusion from the text.

Some might try to distinguish between the Messiah and other unborn children to justify aborting other unborn children. But suppose you say that the Messiah had some kind of moral worth as an unborn child that other unborn children don’t possess. In that case, logically, you are saying that the Messiah’s humanity was somehow different from our humanity—that is, the Messiah is not fully human. But the Bible says that if you deny the Messiah’s humanity, you are a deceiver and antichrist (2 John 1:7). Indeed, the Messiah’s moral worth as a human fetus demonstrates the moral worth of every human fetus.

Some might cite Exodus 21:22-25 to say that the Bible regards the fetus as not fully human:

When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe. (Exodus 21:22-25, ESV)

Those wanting to find support for the morality of abortion take the clause “so that her children come out” as a reference to a miscarried fetus. They argue further that since only a fine is to be imposed upon the offender in such a case, the fetus is regarded as merely a possession and not really human. Only if “there is harm”—that is, unless the woman herself gets hurt or dies—does the principle of equivalent punishment (life for life, eye for eye, etc.) apply.

However, as scholars point out, this interpretation “fails to take seriously the precise linguistic evidence of the text.”[3] Richard M. Davidson explains:

The noun yeled, “child,” is the common OT term for a fully human child from infancy to the age of twelve; the word for “stillborn child”—not used in this passages—is nepel, “untimely birth,” not yeled. The verb yasa, “to go or come out,” is a term regularly used to describe the ordinary live birth of children. When referring to a stillbirth, the verb is always accompanied by some form of the verb mut, “to die”; the latter verb does not appear in 21:22. Furthermore, the technical word for miscarriage in the OT is not yasa but sakal, “to miscarry,” and the latter verb is employed only two chapters later in the Covenant Code of Exodus (23:26). Had Moses intended to mean “miscarriage” in this passage, he certainly would have used the technical term sakal, which he employed later in the Same Exodus code.[4]

The ESV gets it right with its rendering “so that her children come out.” This is clearly referring to premature live birth, not a miscarriage. Moreover, the term for asson (harm) “includes harm to the child as well as the mother.”[5] Based on these exegetical points, Davidson concludes:

[T]he lex talionis (law of just retribution) of vv. 23-24 applies to the fetus equally as much as to the mother, and the fetus is therefore granted under the law the status of a full human being just as is the mother. And if the fetus is fully human, then the implication for abortion is also straightforward: the passage gives no support to the legitimacy of this practice. In fact, taking the life of a human fetus is considered homicide, just as is taking the life of the mother.[6]

Far from contradicting the other biblical passages we covered, Exodus 21:22-25, as Meredith G. Kline argues, “turns out to be perhaps the most decisive positive evidence in Scripture that the fetus is to be regarded as a living person.”[7]

Thus, the biblical evidence is clear: an unborn child is an innocent human person. The Bible prohibits murdering innocent people. Therefore, the Bible prohibits abortion. An honest reading of the text inescapably leads to this conclusion.

[1] See Meredith G. Kline, “Lex Talionis and the Human Fetus,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Vol. 20, No. 3 (1977): “The most significant thing about abortion legislation in Biblical law is that there is none. It was so unthinkable that an Israelite woman should desire an abortion that there was no need to mention this offense in the criminal code.” (p. 193)

[2] For a detailed study on the status of the human fetus from the perspective of the Old Testament, see Richard M. Davidson, Flame of Yahweh: Sexuality in the Old Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2007), pp. 486-501

[3] Ibid., p. 495

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., p. 497

[6] Ibid.

[7] Meredith G. Kline, “Lex Talionis and the Human Fetus,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Vol. 20, No. 3 (1977), p. 193

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About David Wilber


David is first and foremost a passionate follower of Yeshua the Messiah. He is also a writer, speaker, and teacher.

David’s heart is to minister to God’s people by helping them rediscover the validity and blessing of God’s Torah and help prepare them to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope within them (1 Peter 3:15)…

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