Often, the debate on abortion boils down to the question: “When does life start?” Christians may include the added question, “When does an entity obtain a soul?” but as “soulness” cannot be determined by the scientific method, this leaves it in the arguments of the theologians. And while the Bible indicates adult humans have souls (Ps. 16:10) and implies that children may have souls (2 Sam. 12:23) it does not (specifically) indicate individuals or souls exist prior to life.
What the Bible does state, though, is that life starts by breathing. Not before. If the Christian is following God’s morals from the Bible, God’s history from the Bible, and God’s description from the Bible, why abandon God’s science from the Bible?
And, upon learning when life starts according to the Biblical God, can the Christian claim that killing a fetus is ending a life?
I see an intriguing vacillation. In the debate between evolution vs. creationism, we are told that science must bend to the Bible. In a conflict, the Bible must prevail. In the discussion of archeology vs. Tanakh, there is equivocation back and forth whether the Bible should be taken as accurate, or archeology.
But in the debate of the start of life, regardless of what science determines, the Bible is completely ignored. Is it…could it be that in this instance the Bible is considered antiquated, and deliberately overlooked?
Starting with the very first Biblically recorded instance of human life—Adam. God packs together a human out of dirt, but in order to make him alive, he gives him the “breath” of life. Gen. 2:7. Prior to breathing, Adam was a lump of clay.
Ezekiel was given a vision of a field of bones. God told him specifically that in order for the bones to live, they must be given the “breath of life.” To make the point evident, God gives the bones muscles, sinews, organs and skin, yet they are still considered dead. Not until they breath are they alive. They did not even animate until they received breath. Ezekiel 37:4-10.
Repeatedly the loss of the ability to breath is directly equated to dying. God mandated that Joshua kill all that lived, and reiterated this by indicated that all were killed; all that breathed were destroyed. Deut. 20:16, Joshua 10:40; 11:11; 11:14.
Job consistently attributed breathing with living. Job 12:10: 14:10. He specifically states that if he hadn’t left the womb, it would be as if he never existed. Job 10:19
When Jesus died, it was considered he had breathed his last. Mark 15:37 Same with Ananias and Sapphira. Acts 5:5-10. Acts also records Paul as considering life and breath to be the same, although Paul himself never uses the term. Acts. 17:25
When God resurrects the witnesses of Revelation, he gives them the “breath of life.” Rev. 11:11
Over and over we see that breath=life; no breath=death.
Now, there may be an argument from the apologist that “breath” is better translated as “spirit” or “soul” and that what God was imparting was the soul, not just the function of the respiration system.
This has numerous problems. Not the least of which, by virtue of these verses, it answers the question when a soul is imparted—when a person begins to breath. In the abortion debate, therefore, it leaves the exact same question on the table—when does life begin?.
When the widow’s son died, the acronym used was that he became so sick there was no breath left in him. What is more interesting is that Elisha asks that the child’s “soul” be returned to him. Upon the soul being returned, the child begins to breath. This would substantiate the claim that a non-breathing individual does not have a soul, and only a breathing individual does. 1 Kings. 17:17-23.
Animals are considered to have died as well when they ceased having the breath of life. Gen. 7:22. To be consistent, this would mean they, too, had a soul. (Although according to Deut. 20:16 Joshua was to kill “every breathing thing” implying livestock, yet in Joshua 11:14 livestock were specifically excluded from “every breathing thing” leaving us with a possible inconsitency.)
Finally, Daniel uses the phrase “…no strength remains in me now, nor is any breath left in me." And I doubt that Christians would argue this means he was losing his soul. Dan. 10:17
So…life is defined Biblically as breathing, and whether one has a soul or not is determined by whether one is breathing or not. To abort something that is not breathing would not be terminating a life. Nor, would it be damning a soul.
Are there any conflicts in the verses used to discuss abortion?
The Bible is extremely silent on the issue of intentional abortion, leaving little direction. The most oft-used passage is Exodus 21:22-25 which states that if men fight, and strike a woman with child, and she gives birth prematurely (some argue “miscarry”) and there is no “mischief” then the men shall pay a fine. If there is “mischief” then it shall be “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, and life for a life.” (There is argument back and forth as to the exact meaning of these verses.)
But for the issue of the moment—“when does life begin” these verse provide no insight. These are verses that prescribe judgments for certain actions. As we shall see, taken literally, even a breathing person may not be considered a “life.”
A quick background of the verses prior to, and after. This is a list of deaths and harms, so clearly some type of harm, whether to the woman and/or the unborn child is anticipated.
A man killing a man is punishable by death. Ex. 21:12. But a child cursing his parents is also punishable by death. Ex. 21:17. We would no longer hold this law as deserving of death. But we would still say cursing one’s parents is wrong. A person beating his servant to death is deserving of death. Unless the servant manages to linger on for a few days, in which case it is no longer a crime at all. Ex. 21:20-21 This law is NOT abolished by the New Testament. 1 Peter 2:20. Yet is anyone stating that we should re-institute slavery to conform to Exodus 21?
Is anyone stating that the slave must not have been alive, since “life for life” is not required? Certainly not!
If a person has an animal with a propensity for harm, and it kills another, then the person shall be put to death. Ex. 21:19. Unless it kills a servant, and then it is only a fine. Ex. 21:32
What then, does “life for life” mean? I doubt anyone would argue that a servant is breathing. Could we equally argue that a servant has no soul?
The trouble here is that if the verse intended to state that harm had come to the fetus, it could easily have stated, “if born dead, then either pay a fine, or be put to death.” It does not. It leaves a demarcation of unclear distinction.
All of the other verses lay out a distinct pattern:
1) Death; followed by
2) Punishment either by death or fine or nothing.
But in this one situation, the pattern is abandoned, and we turn to the elusive:
1) The nebulous word “mischief” followed by
2) A broad list of possible punishments.
The pattern of death followed by punishment is picked up again right after this. These verses intend to convey a different meaning than death (even by accident) and following punishment.
One may argue, “But it claims ‘life for life’ which would anticipate a life lost.” The problem with this (other than the fact that we have already seen “life for life” is not accurate with servants) is that it also says “burn for burn.” Does one argue that striking a woman would someone “burn” an unborn child? Or “tooth for tooth.” Would striking an unborn child cause it to lose a tooth? (And yes, I know of children born with teeth. How rare is it? And who could tell?)
Or is the better statement that the general principle applied is the punishment fit the crime, and the list is not given as an exclusive or exhaustive remedy, but a principle. If you think of it, to make exact retribution, the pregnant female should be allowed to strike the man in the uterus, causing his child to suffer the same malformations. Obviously that would be impossible.
Exodus 21 does discuss poking out the eye of a servant, but not exacting eye for an eye in that regard, as a servant is just property. It would seem that the intention of these verses was to compensate the person as best as possible. It does no good for the servant to see his master lose his eye. The next event that may happen is one of those beatings in which the servant lingers a few days before dying!
In the same way, vs. 22-25 appear to be struggling with how to compensate for the loss of a fetus. There is a loss, no one questions that, but it is not property, like a slave, it is not a life, like a Hebrew, it falls into this nebulous category of recompense as best as possible.
Again, it would have been very easy to state that if the child was stillborn, the man must die. The law had stated that previously, and in a few verses later, will state it again. Those that debate this is the equivalent of a life must demonstrate the reason for the variance demonstrated here. It would be the only instance in which an accidental death required a death penalty.
Further, as raised in other debates, it is addressing an accidental abortion, not an intentional one. If two men were voluntarily fighting, there would be no law imposed on striking each other. But if one simply struck the other, then it would. This would be a situation in which the woman obviously did not voluntarily agree to an abortion, and some punishment, or compensation was necessary.
It is not clear that the fetus is considered a life, and, I am informed, scripture must interpret scripture. Overwhelmingly the other verses consider breath to be life. Exodus would defer to these verses.
The other verses used in the abortion debate, those discussing God knowing a person while in the womb do not necessarily impart “life” prior to breathing. If one holds to foreknowledge of God, He would have known everybody both prior to, during and after the fetus stage. And the verses as to God forming one in the womb (Ps. 139:13; Job 31:15) also do not impart life. God fully formed Adam and Ezekiel’s bones, yet they were not alive. Jesus was fully formed, yet upon giving up his breath was not alive. “Form” does not constitute “life.”
And that’s it. No mandate from Jesus’ lips as to when life starts, or souls are imparted. Even Paul makes no mention of when life starts. It is disconcerting that if this constituted murder, Paul was more concerned about what women said in a church, than explicitly prohibiting abortion based on the loss of life. (1 Tim. 2:12)
Well, not quite it. The Epistle of Barnabas written in the late First Century, or beginning of Second Century, B.C., states at 19:5 “….thou shalt not kill a child by abortion, neither shalt thou destroy it after it is born.” Wouldn’t that be a handy verse to have in the Bible? It would end the consternation presented above. It would shut the door on any of these questions. There it is, in black-and-white.
That one itty-bitty problem. The Epistle of Barnabas is not inspired. We all know 2 Tim. 3:16 that says all scripture that is God-breathed is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction. By virtue of the fact that the issue was seen, and was dealt with, but God consciously chose to not include it in the canon speaks volumes.
Regardless of the scientific findings, the moral quandary, the legal issues, or even the entire issue on abortion--When do Christians say God claims life begins?