Abortion and the Bible

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Abortion, the intentional termination of a pregnancy, is opposed by virtually all conservatives and devout Christians. There are numerous references in the Bible to an unborn child in the womb as a unique person.[1]

Direct references to the life of the unborn child include Genesis 25:22; Psalms 51:5, 119:73 and 139:13-16; Isaiah 49:1,5; Isaiah 49:15; Jeremiah 1:5; Job 10:8-12 and 31:13-15; Ruth 1:11; Hosea 12:2-3; Matthew 1:18-20; Luke 1:39-44; Luke 2:5; and John 1:14. Indirect references include Judges 13:3-5, 7b; Rom. 9:11; Gal. 1:15. Jesus even violated customary rules of the Sabbath in order to perform pro-life work on that day.[2] Here are additional examples of specific pro-life references in the Bible:

  • Genesis 25:21-22: "... and Rebekah his [Isaac's] wife conceived. And the children struggled together within her ...."
  • Job 10:8,11: "Your hands shaped me and made me. ... Did you not ... clothe me with skin and flesh and knit me together with bones and sinews?"
  • Psalm 139:13-16: "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, Your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be."
  • Luke 1:15: "He will be filled with the Holy Spirit while still in his mother's womb."
  • Jeremiah 1:5: "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations."
  • 1 Corinthians 3:17: "If any man desecrates the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that temple is you."[3]
  • Psalm 22:9-10: "Yet you are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother's breasts. On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother's womb you have been my God."[4]
  • Isaiah 46:3: "Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been borne by me from before your birth, carried from the womb"[5]
  • Isaiah 49:1: "Listen to me, O coastlands, and give attention, you peoples from afar. The Lord called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name."[6]
  • Psalm 102:18: "Let this be recorded for future generations, so that a people not yet born will praise the Lord."

In Apocrypha considered to be part of the Old Testament by the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches, and viewed as as deuterocanonical books by other faiths:

And now, bless the God of all,*

who has done wonders on earth;
Who fosters growth from the womb,
fashioning it according to his will!

  • 2 Maccabees 7:27:
She leaned over close to him and, in derision of the cruel tyrant, said in their native language: “Son, have pity on me, who carried you in my womb for nine months, nursed you for three years, brought you up, educated and supported you to your present age.

Other Passages

Ending a pregnancy accidentally and prematurely is mentioned in Exodus 21:22-23. Some pro-abortion advocates claim that a fine for this type of termination of pregnancy someone justifies abortion, because the penalty of a fine (here unlimited in amount) is presumably lighter than the penalty for the murder of another human being (as in Exodus 21:12). Here is Exodus 21:22 (NASB):

If men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she gives birth prematurely, yet there is no 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, ....

Pro-life Christians point out that premature live birth does not mean death of the child; the phrase "yet there is no injury" suggests clearly that there is no injury done to either the child or the mother. Note also that the proscribed punishment is for accidentally causing a miscarriage; deliberately performing an abortion would be even more abhorrent to God. Furthermore, inadvertently killing a fetus (or other person) while fighting with someone else would likely constitute voluntary manslaughter under modern law, rather than murder. Of course, intentionally killing a fetus would still be murder and should be seen as a different situation.

In Numbers 5, where the Lord appears to give a curse that causes abortions in unfaithful wives. According to this passage, the Lord instructed Moses that a husband who suspected his wife of sleeping with another man could take her to the priest for a test that would either confirm or deny his suspicions. The test involved his wife drinking a cup of "bitter water," which consisted of holy water mixed with the dust of the tabernacle floor. If the woman were innocent, then no harm would come to her by drinking it. But if she were guilty, then she would be cursed with "bitter suffering;" namely, "she will have barrenness and a miscarrying womb."

In the King James Version, verse 27 is translated as "her belly shall swell, and her thigh shall rot." What this means, unfortunately, is open to interpretation. However, newer translations of the Bible, which are based on improved scholarship, give less ambiguous translations. The New International Version gives "her abdomen will swell and her thigh waste away," but adds in the footnotes that an alternate translation is "she will have barrenness and a miscarrying womb." The liberal New Revised Standard Version gives "her womb shall discharge, her uterus drop ...," which seems to be an attempt by liberal translators to imply abortion.

In Genesis 38, Judah mistakes Tamar as a prostitute, and orders her to be burned to death, despite the fact she is three months pregnant. The execution order was later lifted because Judah learned Tamar's true identity.

Denominational stances on abortion

The Catholic Church has always opposed all abortion.

Evangelical, fundamentalist, and Pentecostal/charismatic churches are virtually unanimous in opposing all abortion. This was not always the case: in the early 1970s the Southern Baptist Convention (at the time undergoing a theological struggle) actually passed resolutions (both before and after Roe v. Wade) which would be considered substantially pro-choice[7][8], but in 1980 reversed itself and adopted the pro-life stance it holds today on this and similar issues.[9]

As of 2006, the liberal General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) is officially pro-abortion, though maintains "grave moral concern" in regard to late term abortion.[10]

Among non-Christian faiths, some Jews are pro-abortion, largely due to interpreting Exodus 21 (see above) as showing such a philosophy. Of note, however, where Christianity translates to imply a premature (and potentially successful) birth, most Jewish translations directly refer to miscarriages.[11]

Mistranslated passages

Galatians 1:15, in the original Greek, is "set me apart from my mother's womb," as ESV acknowledges in a footnote, but in the text it translates it as "But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace."

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