Is the Bible silent about abortion?
By Cody Guitard, RC Chapter Director
What does the Bible say about abortion? Can you be a Christian and be pro-choice?
Few topics get the blood pumping these days as much as the abortion debate. This is true not only in society at large but in the church in particular. We look at these questions from a Biblical perspective.
Difference between pro-choice and pro-abortion?
While many professing Christians who are sympathetic to the pro-abortion side would say that there is a difference between being pro-choice and being pro-abortion, the alleged distinction is purely artificial and is easily recognized as such in the context of other moral issues on which there is a generally accepted position. (Imagine, for example, if we were to apply this type of argument to the issue of rape, saying that we are personally against rape but believe the rapist should have the right to choose to rape any women he wants.)
A clear divide
With such a clear divide in our churches between those congregants who identify as pro-life and those who identify as pro-choice, you might wonder if (and perhaps assume that) the disagreement is due to the Bible being silent on the issue of abortion. After all, a Christian’s position on any given issue should be one that both is consistent with and springs from the essence of Christianity, and it is the Bible that reveals the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:6-16). The Word of God is the standard by which we are to discern truth from error (1 John 4:1-6). It is to teach, reprove, correct, and train us for righteousness, equipping us for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17). But if the Bible provides no insights on a given issue (like abortion), then we are left to formulate our views on other grounds.
So, the question is this: Does the Bible have anything to say about abortion? Does it provide any insights that would inform a distinctly Christian position on such an important issue?
Biblical Silence on Abortion?
It’s true that the Bible nowhere explicitly refers to the practice of abortion, which, of course, begs the question as to why it is apparently silent on the matter. After all, abortion was a common practice in the Greco-Roman world, perfectly legal, and even endorsed and, in some cases, enforced. What is more, abortion was discussed by both Jews and Christians in non-canonical writings. The ancient Jews believed that deliberate abortions for less than life-threatening reasons were, being deliberate acts of bloodshed and disrespect for life, immoral and punishable by death. (There was, however, some debate between the Alexandrian Jews and most Palestinian Jews as to what ought to be the severity of the penalty in cases of accidental or therapeutic abortion.) The early Christians, building on the Jewish views, unanimously believed (at least until Constantine) that abortion in any form was murder and detrimental to the family unit and society as a whole.
But from where did the early Jews and Christians draw their views on abortion? After all, we did not have the scientific knowledge we do now that human life begins at conception, nor did we have any constitutional rights for human persons such as the right to life. As it turns out, while the Bible neither in the Old nor New Testaments explicitly addressed the issue of abortion, it did provide enough insights for God’s people to formulate a biblical position on the matter.
Biblical Foundations for a Christian Position on Abortion
The early Jewish and Christian writers who broached the subject of abortion drew from Scripture a number of principles that informed their strong views against abortion, and many of these principles continue to be set forth by Christian writers today. Among other lines of reasoning, the argument was made by Christians in particular that if the Bible does indeed view the fetus as a human person, then taking the life of the fetus would be murder. As it turns out, the Bible does in many ways indicate that the unborn child is a human person from the moment of conception. Here’s a sampling:
- God’s image includes “male and female” (Gen. 1:27), but maleness and femaleness are biologically determined at conception (Isa. 7:14; Luke 1:31), indicating that God’s image is imparted from the moment of conception.
- The unborn are called children or babies (e.g., Exod. 21:22; Luke 1:41, 44; 2:12, 16), the same word used of infants and young children.
- The unborn are referred to with personal pronouns including “you” (Jer. 1:5) and “he” (Matt. 1:20-21), indicating their personhood.
- There is clear continuity of personhood from embryo to adult (see, e.g., Ps. 51:5; 139:13-16; Isa. 49:1; Jer. 1:5; Matt. 1:20-21; Gal. 1:15; cf. Job 10:8-12).
- The unborn possess personal characteristics, including sin (Ps. 51:5) and joy (Luke 1:41, 44).
- The unborn are called by God before birth (Gen. 25:22-23; Isa. 49:1; Jer. 1:5; Gal. 1:15).
- The life of the unborn is protected by the same punishment for injury or death as that of its mother (Exod. 21:22-25) and any other adult (Gen. 9:6).
It is abundantly clear, then, that the Bible does view the fetus as a human person, which means that taking the life of the fetus is an act of murder. Scripture also says that the “fruit of the womb” is a “reward” from God (Ps. 127:3) and should therefore be treasured and not discarded. Furthermore, it teaches that the weak deserve special protection (e.g., Ps. 82:3-4; Prov. 24:11-12; 31:8-9), and the unborn certainly fit within that category.
In light of all these considerations (and others not listed), it seems fully warranted to say that the biblical—and thus the Christian—position on abortion is thoroughly pro-life and, thus, anti-abortion.
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Can a Genuine Christian Support Abortion?
Whether or not a genuine Christian can support abortion is a pointed question for which an answer would carry many implications. However, I want to try to answer this as charitably as possible while drawing some observations from Scripture.
We are told that we will know true and false believers by their fruit (Matt. 7:15-20). We may not be able to see people’s hearts as God does (1 Sam. 16:7), but we can see the fruit they bear: good trees produce good fruit, bad trees produce bad fruit. One of the fruit of true conversion is obedience to God’s Word (1 John 2:3-6; 4:1-6; cf. Matt. 7:21; 28:20). Thus, since God’s Word clearly teaches that the unborn child is a human person and deserves to be treasured and protected, it follows that a genuine Christian, in obedience to God’s Word, will be pro-life and, thus, anti-abortion. Pretty straightforward, right?
Here’s the catch: there is some leeway for the ignorant (cf. Acts 17:30). When a person comes to saving faith in Jesus Christ, they do not suddenly have right thinking on everything, including moral issues. In fact, sanctification—which involves the weeding out of sinful actions, thoughts, and desires from our very being—is a gradual, lifelong process, and we will never be without sin in this life (1 John 1:8). Paul even had to call out Peter—an apostle!—for sinful practices years after Peter’s conversion and personal commissioning by Jesus Himself (Gal. 2:11-14)!
So what does all this mean for professing Christians who are pro-choice/pro-abortion? When a person comes to Christ, they may not have a right view of abortion right away. However, if they are genuine in their conversion, then they will prove to be obedient to God’s Word. In other words, a genuine believer who recognizes that Scripture teaches a pro-life (and anti-abortion) ethic will proceed to change his or her thoughts and actions accordingly. On the other hand, if a professing Christian recognizes the biblical view on this issue and chooses to reject it anyway, then such a blatant disobedience to God’s Word is a sign of a still rebellious, unrepentant, unregenerate heart.
In short, I think it’s possible for a genuine Christian to be pro-abortion, but if they are indeed genuine, then they will change their thinking on this issue when faced with the life-affirming truths of God’s Word—the God-given standard for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
Should Christians Speak Out about Abortion?
So should Christians respond to society’s widespread acceptance and promotion of abortion? Should we speak out about the murder of the unborn, or remain silent as we submit to the governing authorities?
I vote we speak out.
One thing that seems abundantly clear from Scripture is that submission does not always mean silence. There is, in fact, a strong biblical precedent for speaking out against injustice and promoting righteousness in society and to law-makers in particular: Moses spoke out against Pharaoh (Exod. 8:1), Daniel influenced kings and called Nebuchadnezzar to righteousness (Dan. 4:27; 5:11-24), the prophets rebuked the foreign nations for their unrighteousness (Isa. 13-23, Jer. 46-51, Ezek. 25-32, Amos 1-2, Obad., Jon., Nah., Hab. 2, and Zeph. 2), John the Baptist rebuked Herod for his sin (Luke 3:19; cf. Matt. 14:3-4), and the apostle Paul reasoned with the Roman governor Felix “about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment” (Acts 24:25).
While this list of examples may at first glance seem purely descriptive rather than prescriptive, Paul instructed believers to imitate him in the ways of Christian life and ministry (1 Cor. 4:16; 11:1), and it is clear that calling the governing authorities to account for righteousness’ sake was indeed part of his ministry. The same apostle who commanded believers to submit to the governing authorities (Rom. 13:1) did not remain silent on issues of righteousness and unrighteousness and called law-makers to account.
In terms of the abortion issue in particular, I encourage you to prayerfully consider the words of the following commands found in the book of Proverbs:
“Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.
If you say, ‘Behold, we did not know this,’ does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work?”
“Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute.”
While these passages are not written about abortion in particular, they certainly bear relevance to how Christians should respond to the issue. If we know the truth about abortion and yet refuse to do anything about it—even to speak out about it—then we are just as guilty as those committing these acts. Instead, let us be obedient to God’s Word. Let us speak out and be a voice for those little ones who have no voice. Let us defend those who cannot defend themselves. Let us rescue these defenseless little ones from the slaughter of abortion. Let us love and care for these little neighbors of ours just as we would want to be loved and cared for.
For a helpful survey of attitudes toward abortion in the Greco-Roman World, see Michael J. Gorman, Abortion and the Early Church: Christian, Jewish and Pagan Attitudes in the Greco-Roman World (New York: Paulist Press, 1982). The rest of this paragraph summarizes some of Gorman’s key findings.
Cf. Joshua Craddock, “Protecting Prenatal Persons: Does the Fourteenth Amendment Prohibit Abortion?” Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy 40, no. 2 (2017): 539-571.
Adapted from Norman L. Geisler, Christian Ethics: Contemporary Issues and Options, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010), 148-149. Cf. Randy Alcorn, Prolife Answers to Prochoice Arguments, 3rd ed. (New York: Multnomah Books, 2000), 313-322.
This is one of the reasons we know that the Holy Spirit is a divine Person and not some impersonal power or force, for He is likewise referred to with personal pronouns (e.g., John 14:16-17, 26; 15:26; 16:7-14).
One point not listed but worth noting is the strong possibility that the New Testament prohibits abortifacients in Galatians 5:20 and Revelation 9:21; 18:23; 21:8; and 22:15 with the use of words from the same group as pharmakeia, which, while possibly referring to drug use more broadly, usually bore more negative connotations and was often used to refer to abortifacients in particular. Given the fact that the New Testament places it in its vice lists and early Christian interpretations of these passages, the more negative meaning of the word is almost certainly the intended meaning. For further discussion, see Gorman, Abortion and the Early Church, 48.
For a larger list of examples and a fuller discussion, see Wayne Grudem, Politics According to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 58-61.
LEARN MORE ABOUT
Cody holds a B.Sc. in Biology and a Youth Leadership Certificate from Crandall University, and an M.A. in Apologetics (concentration in Scientific Apologetics) from Southern Evangelical Seminary. He is currently pursuing a Master of Theological Studies through Tyndale Seminary. He is the author of several articles on apologetics-related issues and does itinerant preaching and speaking engagements. Cody currently lives in Moncton, NB, Canada with his wife, Kathy.
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