Here in the state of California, if a killer murders a pregnant woman, the District Attorney can charge him with a double murder. While it’s legal for women to abortion their own children, it’s illegal for someone else to come along and end that same fetal life. The law in our state seems to be struggling with an important question: when does life begin? It’s one thing for the government to struggle with this question, given that our representative form of democracy is filled with people from all walks of life and diverse worldviews. But it’s troubling to find that Christians are also divided on the issue of when life begins, even when all of us share the same worldview and source of truth.
A recent post at Stand Up For The Truth describes the efforts of “progressive Christians” to “use the Bible to promote abortion”. It describes the common effort among pro-choice “Christians” to establish the beginning of life at the point when the baby takes his or her first breath (rather than at the point of conception). People who take this approach typically cite passages like these:
God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and it was then that the man became a living being”.
In Job 33:4
“The spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.”
“Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”
The argument here is that the fetus may be human, but it is not alive until it takes its first breath. The problem, of course, is that this is NOT what the Scripture says. In all these passages, God is described as putting the breath of life into a human. Notice that God is the Being doing all the work here; the human is simply receiving the “breath” from God. These passages fail to argue that life begins once a baby takes a breath; instead, they argue that life begins when God provides something that Scripture calls the “breath of life”. Genesis 2:7 does not say, for example, “Adam took his first breath and it was then that the man became a living being.” See the difference? When a newborn emerges into the world, is spanked by a doctor and reacts by taking its first breath in order to cry, are we to see this as the moment that God is simultaneously breathing life into the child? Really? Or might the Biblical expression mean something else?
There are a number of additional passages that must be taken into consideration if we are to understand what the Bible says about the point at which life begins:
"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."
For You formed my inward parts ; You wove me in my mother's womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth ; Your eyes have seen my unformed substance ; And in Your book were all written The days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them.
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.
In all of these passages, a living human is being described. Pronouns like “you” and “my” dominate each of these lines of Scripture. Jeremiah says God knew “me” before Jeremiah came out of the womb. David said God formed “me” in his mother’s womb. Isaiah says the Lord formed “you” from the womb. In order to use pronouns such as these, the writers must refer to living beings. If you see my lifeless body lying on the ground, you will use specific language to describe it: “Look, Jim’s body is still here on the floor!” That’s not me on the ground; it’s only my body. When life is present, we use 1st person “objective” pronouns to describe ourselves: “That’s me lying there.” But when life is not present, we use first person possessive pronouns: “That’s my body lying there.” The Scripture clearly uses first person objective language in these passages from Jeremiah, David and Isaiah. The human in the womb is already alive. It is not a lifeless body; it’s already a living soul. This language makes sense because the authors are NOT describing lifeless bodies in the womb, and this language also makes the following passage all the more understandable:
Now at this time Mary arose and went in a hurry to the hill country, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb ; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. And she cried out with a loud voice and said, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb ! "And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me? "For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy.
John the Baptist, leapt for joy because he was already a living human being. His life began at the point of conception when God gave him the “breath of life” and created his soul. This figurative language, when applied to the creation of the soul at the point of conception, makes perfect sense of all seven passages listed in this post; without this interpretation, four of the seven passages are nonsensical. That’s why the overwhelming number of Bible believing Christians acknowledge the fact that an unborn child, at 8 months gestation, is every bit as “alive” as a child that is an hour old, even though the unborn child has not yet taken its first breath. That, to me, seems like a reasonable conclusion, even if you don’t have the Bible as your source of truth.
J. Warner Wallace is the author of Cold Case Christianity.