The Bible declares that God values all human life and that He wants all people to come to repentance to inherit eternal life.1 The Bible explains that the entire life of a human - from the beginning to its natural end - is sacred, since God determines the length of those days.2 When does human life begin? This page will examine that question from a biblical perspective.
When does life begin?
Many Christians believe that the Bible is silent in regard to God's view on life before birth. Although the Bible does not specifically define when life begins, it does give us enough information to formulate a solid biblical position.
The sayings of Jesus
Jesus demonstrated the love of God for children often during His ministry. In one passage, Jesus took a child to him and sat with him. He said, "See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you, that their angels in heaven continually behold the face of My Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 18:10). Jesus tells us not to despise or look down upon the least powerful and significant (by human standards) of humans. It is ironic that the most helpless humans are those inside the womb. Of all the risks that we must face in our lives, the most dangerous place we can be is in the womb, since fully one fourth of all human babies are aborted in this nation - over one million every year. Greater than 90% of all abortions are done for non-medical reasons.
Old Testament law
The Old Testament provides most of the information on God's view of life before birth, since it gives us the law. The law specifically addresses the issue of taking the life of a fetus in the book of Exodus:
"And if men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she has a miscarriage, yet there is no further injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman's husband may demand of him; and he shall pay as the judges decide. But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life." (Exodus 21:22-23)
Therefore, the law tells us that a man who induces an abortion or miscarriage is to be punished, indicating that God values life before birth. A verse from Hosea3 says that abortion is a punishment for sin, indicating God views it as bad. Likewise, God expressed His disgust for the Ammonites, who "ripped open the pregnant women of Gilead".4 When does this life begin?
Human life begins in the womb
The Bible tells us God is involved in our creation from the womb:
"Did not He who made me in the womb make him, And the same one fashion us in the womb? (Job 31:15)
Yet Thou art He who didst bring me forth from the womb; Thou didst make me trust when upon my mother's breasts. Upon Thee I was cast from birth; Thou hast been my God from my mother's womb. (Psalm 22:9-10)
For Thou didst form my inward parts; Thou didst weave me in my mother's womb. I will give thanks to Thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Thy works, And my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from Thee, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth. Thine eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Thy book they were all written, The days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them. (Psalm 139:13-16)
Thus says the LORD who made you And formed you from the womb, who will help you, `Do not fear, O Jacob My servant; And you Jeshurun whom I have chosen. (Isaiah 44:2)
Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, and the one who formed you from the womb, "I, the LORD, am the maker of all things, Stretching out the heavens by Myself, And spreading out the earth all alone, (Isaiah 44:24)
Human vs. animal
God distinguishes between human life and animal life, since the killing of animals has been allowed by God from as early as just after the fall.5 It would be helpful to first define what makes human life different from that of the animals. The Bible says that God created three kinds of creatures:
- Creatures which possess bodies (Hebrew - basar, Greek - swma) only
- Creatures which possess bodies and souls (Hebrew - nephesh, Greek - psuchay)
- Creatures which possess bodies, souls, and spirits (Hebrew - ruach, Greek - pneuma)
Most of God's creatures possess bodies only. These creatures include the insects, worms, fish, etc. God defines the creatures possessing souls as being the birds, the whales, the predatory and domesticated land mammals, and human beings (Genesis 1:20-27). Creatures which possess a soul have the characteristics of having a mind, a will, and emotion. Most of us who have cats or dogs realize that these soulish creatures have all these character traits.
Therefore, the difference between human life and animal life is that, in addition to having a body and soul, we are endowed with a spirit, (1 Thessalonians 5:23), by which we can communicate with, love, and worship God. The Bible tells us that God forms this spirit within us,6 and we are endowed with a spirit before birth (Luke 1:15), which makes us fully human before we are born.
Prophets called from the womb
In addition, there are a number of great men of God (and Jesus) who were called to be God's servants from the womb:
Then the woman came and told her husband, saying, "A man of God came
to me and his appearance was like the appearance of the angel of God, very
awesome. And I did not ask him where he came from, nor did he tell me his
name. "But he said to me, `Behold, you shall conceive and give birth to a
son, and now you shall not drink wine or strong drink nor eat any unclean
thing, for the boy shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb to the day of his
death.'" (Judges 13:6-7, see also Judges 16:17)
- Listen to Me, O islands, And pay attention, you peoples from afar. The LORD called Me from the womb; From the body of My mother He named Me. (Isaiah 49:1)
- And now says the LORD, who formed Me from the womb to be His Servant, To bring Jacob back to Him, in order that Israel might be gathered to Him (For I am honored in the sight of the LORD, And My God is My strength), (Isaiah 49:5)
- Yet Thou art He who didst bring me forth from the womb; Thou didst make me trust when upon my mother's breasts. Upon Thee I was cast from birth; Thou hast been my God from my mother's womb. (Psalm 22:9-10)
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born
I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations." (Jeremiah
John the Baptist:
"For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and he will drink no
wine or liquor; and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, while yet in his
mother's womb." (Luke 1:15)
But when He who had set me apart, even from my mother's womb, and called me
through His grace, was pleased (Galatians 1:15)
In addition, the Bible tells us the wicked are estranged or enemies of God from the womb:
The wicked are estranged from the womb; These who speak lies go astray from
birth. (Psalm 58:3)
What is murder?
All of the above verses tell us God considers us to be human before we are born, but they don't answer the question of when we actually become so. I propose there is a way to know what God considers the latest point in development at which we must consider a fetus to be a living human. Even before God gave Moses the law, when He gave Noah and his family all the animals for food (in addition to the plants), He told them, "Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood" (Genesis 9:4). At the same time, God gave the law and penalty for murder (described as the shedding of "man's blood").7 Therefore, God considers blood to be the basis for life and the shedding of human blood, which results in death, to be murder. Science tells us that the heart of the human fetus begins to form 18 days after conception.8 There is a measurable heart beat 21-24 days after conception.9 Since blood is flowing at this point, it is likely that blood formation begins well before day 21 (I could find no reference for the date at which blood formation begins). Therefore, this represents the latest date at which we must consider the fetus to be human (according to biblical standards), which is only 7-10 days after a women would expect to begin her menses. Most women have cycles that can vary by this amount, and therefore do not discover they are pregnant until after this point. For all practical purposes, from a biblical perspective, abortion at any point must be considered murder by Bible-believing Christians.
I did not write this article with the intent to condemn those who have aborted their babies or participated in decisions to do so. Praise be to God that He has provided a way for all of us to escape the condemnation we all rightfully deserve.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)
- Abortion and the Early Christian Church
- Early Church Fathers and Abortion
- Is Abortion Biblical? by Casey Carmical from Casey's Critical Thinking
- Science and Abortion- The Scientific Basis for a Prolife Position
- D & X (Partial Birth) Abortions
- "After Birth Abortion": Infanticide (Killing Babies) is Okay According to Doctors
- Testimony of Gianna Jessen, Hearing on H.R. 4292, the "Born-Alive Infants Protection Act of 2000", House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, July 20, 2000
- Testimony of Jill L. Stanek, RN, Hearing on H.R. 4292, the "Born-Alive Infants Protection Act of 2000", House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, July 20, 2000
- The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)
- Thine eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Thy book they were all written, The days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them. (Psalm 139:16)
- Give them, O LORD-- what wilt Thou give? Give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts. (Hosea 9:14)
- Thus says the LORD, "For three transgressions of the sons of Ammon and for four I will not revoke its punishment, Because they ripped open the pregnant women of Gilead In order to enlarge their borders." (Amos 1:13)
- And Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and for his offering; (Genesis 4:4)
- The burden of the word of the LORD concerning Israel. Thus declares the LORD who stretches out the heavens, lays the foundation of the earth, and forms the spirit of man within him, (Zechariah 12:1)
- "Whoever sheds man's blood, By man his blood shall be shed, For in the image of God He made man." (Genesis 9:6)
- University of Pennsylvania web site: "http://www.med.upenn.edu/embryo_project/heart/heart.html"
- "Life Before Birth" Life Magazine Educational Reprint 27, April 30, 1965, page 6.
Last updated August 21, 2006