Abortion: Does the Bible Say When Life Begins?

Abortion: Does the Bible Say When Life Begins?


Does the Bible say that life begins at first breath? If so, that strengthens the pro-choice argument.

Tim Barnett from the Stand to Reason ministry uses his background as a teacher to grade the logic of arguments that attack his conservative Christian beliefs. His video series is called Red Pen Logic. Today’s topic is, “The Bible Doesn’t Say What He Thinks It Says.”

The problem comes from actor and political commentator John Fugelsang, who attacked the popular Christian claim that life begins at conception with this tweet:

Well don’t tell God [that life begins at conception], bc the Bible says Life begins at First Breath.

Sorry, I didn’t write it.

Fugelsang is probably referring to this verse from the Garden of Eden story: “Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7).

The importance of “breath”

Barnett responded that God breathed into Adam, and then Adam came to life. The “breath” wasn’t Adam’s first breath, like a newborn’s first breath would be. This is a unique situation and doesn’t apply elsewhere.

But the Jewish interpretation disagrees, and this is critical since Jesus was a Jew. Breath is central to the Genesis idea of life. In the verse above, “the man became a living being,” is literally translated as, “the man became a breathing creature.” Breath is roughly synonymous with life.

Not only does the Bible say that the “breath of life” is what living things have, it’s what they don’t have when they die. This is what the dying animals during the Flood lost: “Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died” (Gen. 7:22). Another example is from the Canaanite genocide: “But as for the towns of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, you must not let anything that breathes remain alive” (Deuteronomy 20:16). One commentary says, “Breath is understood to be essential to life; and that when the breathing stops, life ends.”

The Christian case

And now comes the obligatory dueling Bible quotes part of the argument. Barnett says that the Bible recognizes life before “first breath” and says, “The Bible consistently elevates the status of unborn humans to valuable individuals.”

He cites two Bible passages. First, “You formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13). That sounds pretty bland, but Barnett interprets this to mean that we exist “as ourselves” before birth.

I don’t see it. First, “knitted” (Strong’s #05526) is more literally “wove,” as would be done with a protective screen or fence woven from branches, and by implication it can mean to fence in, cover, or protect. Yes, it’s important for a fetus to be in a protective womb when it is developing, but this simply acknowledges the gestation process. During that process, you aren’t you, but (with luck) you will be by the end.

Read that entire psalm. It’s a worshipful acknowledgement of God’s omniscience and power. Some variation on “you were you even at the beginning of the gestation process” is not the message.

Barnett’s second Bible response is Luke 1:41–44 where John the Baptist (as a fetus in his mother Elizabeth) leapt for joy when he first came in contact with Jesus (as a younger fetus in Mary). He tells us, “Jesus and John were themselves long before first breath.”

What does that even mean? Yes, the process of gestation was underway. That’s it. At that stage, they might have looked to the untrained eye indistinguishable from an elephant. “[They] were themselves” distills down to their DNA being in place and functioning, I guess—pretty underwhelming.

Passages on the other side of the question

Let’s return to the Bible for verses showing God’s attitude toward life. Exodus 21:22–3 says that if a man injures a woman and causes a miscarriage, he is only fined. If instead he causes an injury to the woman, he is penalized “an eye for an eye.” In other words, a fetus is less important than an adult.

Here, though, experts differ on the best interpretation. Are we talking about a miscarriage (the fetus dies) or just a premature birth (it lives)? If the latter, just a fine might be reasonable. This passage doesn’t help us much.

Another is the “trial of the bitter water” in Numbers 5. Here, the issue is a husband who suspects his wife of adultery. The priest creates a potion for the wife to drink, with a curse if she’s guilty. To be clear, the problem isn’t “My wife is pregnant, and I want that fetus gone if it’s not mine” but rather “I need to know if my wife has been unfaithful.” (More here.)

God’s judgment on the woman, if guilty, sounds like a prolapsed uterus. And if the woman were pregnant, that curse would likely cause a miscarriage. God clearly doesn’t much care about a little collateral damage in the pursuit of justice. Maybe pro-lifers like Barrett should take the hint.

The hint gets far louder when you remember God’s rampages. He drowned almost all the life on the planet, and he commanded genocide.

He even demanded human sacrifice. First, he created the law:

Consecrate to me every firstborn male. The first offspring of every womb among the Israelites belongs to me, whether human or animal (Exodus 13:2).

And later, he mocked Israel for it:

So I gave them other statutes that were not good and laws through which they could not live; I defiled them through their gifts—the sacrifice of every firstborn—that I might fill them with horror so they would know that I am Jehovah (Ezekiel 20:25–6).

And the Bible contains a scattering of killings to show that God doesn’t place the lives of babies at the top of his list (see here and here).

Jewish sources on abortion

The Talmud is the source of religious law for rabbinic Judaism. It draws the rather common sense conclusion that the fetus, especially in its earliest days, has a very different moral value than a human child or adult: “The [Talmud] states that: ‘the embryo is considered to be mere water until the fortieth day.’ Afterwards, it is considered subhuman until it is born” (source).

Another source says,

Unlike in Catholicism, in Judaism the fetus isn’t a legal person until it’s born, so abortion can’t be murder. (This isn’t even as different from Catholicism as it seems. The Catholic Church itself didn’t insist that life began at conception until 1869. Before that, the Church tolerated abortions through the 40th day of pregnancy.)

About the abortion debate, one rabbi said,

Most of the [Old Testament verses] that [conservative Christians are] bringing in for this are ridiculous. They’re using my sacred text to justify taking away my rights in a way that is just so calculated and craven.

When does life begin?

This is Barnett’s final question, and here he turns to science rather than the Bible. He cited a book on embryology that said, “[an embryo] is a human being from the time of fertilization.”

This doesn’t help. It just raises the question, what is a “human being”? If it’s by definition a Homo sapiens life form from single fertilized egg cell until death, then sure. But quoting a definition is no argument.

Let me respond with three points. First, the answer to “When did life begin?” is “Life began on earth about 3.5 billion years ago.” The egg and sperm are already alive, so when they join, the fertilized egg cell doesn’t then become alive. What begins is the gestation process for a new offspring.

Note how off-target the mindless celebration of “life” can be. Slugs and mosquitoes are alive, but pests don’t have much inherent value. There’s a range of value here, and we kill living things all the time. We’re all on the same page about the value of a newborn. The problem is giving that single cell the value of a newborn right now, not nine months from now.

A newborn is really complicated

And finally, that brings us to the strangely appealing desire that sucks in many conservative Christians, the need to dismiss the changes that happen during the course of a human pregnancy. Comparing the two ends of that process, there are a few things that are the same. The single cell and the newborn are both alive, and they both have H. sapiens DNA. That’s about it.

But there are some things that are radically different. The newborn has about one trillion (1,000,000,000,000) cells, each one differentiated and fitted with other cells in a precise arrangement. The single cell is . . . 1 cell. The newborn has arms and legs, eyes and ears, a stomach and digestive system, brain and nervous system, heart and circulatory system, skin, liver, and on and on. The single cell doesn’t have a single cell of any of this.

If you want to define “human being” so that it includes both newborn and single cell, that’s fine. But then you need to come up with some term that describes that gap. We have lots of words for subtle differences among young children—newborn, baby, child, infant, toddler, and so on—so surely we can find a word for the enormous change that happens from fertilization until birth. For example, I’d say that a newborn is a person while the single cell isn’t. If you object to the word “person,” then suggest something better. We need a term like “personhood” to describe the enormous spectrum from single cell (not at all a person) to the newborn (100% person).

Biblical arguments have no place in making laws in a country governed by a secular constitution like the United States. And even when we look in the Bible to see what it says, the pro-life argument is poorly supported.

Abortion—the issue that gets followers of Christ
to vote against everything Christ talked about,
by talking about something Christ never talked about.
— @JohnFugelsang


DeSantis’ appointee to Florida Supreme Court belongs to Christian group using law to ‘spread the Gospel’


Jamie R. Grosshans, the last-minute choice of Gov. Ron DeSantis to the Florida Supreme Court, is an anti-abortion defender who has been active in a number of Christian legal groups, including a powerful national organization whose mission is to “spread the Gospel by transforming the legal system.”

Both times Grosshans applied to the state’s high court, she left out some details on her application: specifically her membership in the Alliance Defending Freedom, her work as a Blackstone Fellow, a prestigious but secretive national award that trains rising star lawyers in the conservative teachings of the Alliance Defending Freedom, and her 2011 work with Orlando attorney John Stemberger to prevent a young woman from having an abortion.

The Alliance Defending Freedom is a national organization that, according to its website “exists to keep the doors open for the Gospel by advocating for religious liberty, the sanctity of human life, freedom of speech, and marriage and family.”

It trains lawyers and funds cases on abortion, religion, tuition tax credits, and LGBTQ issues. Notably, the group represented the petitioner in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case where a Colorado baker refused to serve a gay couple, and the petitioner in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the landmark case in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the birth control mandate in employee-funded health plans was unconstitutional.

Its web site declares: “Marriage has always been a union between one man and one woman” and, “Opponents of marriage will not stop at removing the foundation of civilization.”

Grosshans’ background and affiliation with the Christian-based organizations may not have been spelled out on her application, but wereno surprise to the legal community that promoted her, said William Large, president of the Florida Justice Reform Institute, an organization that advocates for tort reform.

“Judge Grosshans is known as a member of the school-choice, home-school, pro-life community and is thought of very highly in those communities,” he said.

According to the Alliance Defense Fund’s promotional material, the national organization’s mission is “to keep the door open for the spread of the Gospel by transforming the legal system.”

The group’s federal 990 tax form says: “The Blackstone Legal Fellowship equips these students to adhere to the practice of their faith in the legal profession, an arena often hostile to Christianity.”

It has also stated that the goal of the program is “to train a new generation of lawyers who will rise to positions of influence and leadership as legal scholars, litigators, judges — perhaps even Supreme Court Justices — who will work to ensure that justice is carried out in America’s courtrooms.” The Alliance Defense Fund conceals the names of its fellows.

In 2016, she wrote an article for Christian Lawyer magazine and disclosed that she has done pro bono legal work for crisis pregnancy centers, often faith-based organizations that offer women pregnancy advice and counsel against abortion.

“As attorneys, it’s easy to feel like we are not on the mission field in the traditional sense,” Grosshans wrote in the magazine. “But we have a unique calling. The mission field comes to us. The mission field hires us. As the Apostle Paul encourages, ‘We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.’ “

Included in those principles, Smith noted, is Section 23 of the Florida Constitution, the “right of privacy,” which allows for freedom from governmental intrusion into one’s private life.

Florida abortion rights advocates have long pointed to the privacy section as evidence that access to abortion is guaranteed under state law. In Roe v. Wade, 1973′s landmark federal abortion rights case, the United States Supreme Court found that the U.S. Constitution guarantees a right to privacy, nullifying many state criminal penalties associated with abortion.

Florida conservatives have long argued that the privacy clause in the state Constitution shouldn’t apply to abortion. The new Supreme Court, with its three new justices appointed by DeSantis, who is conservative and anti-abortion, has the power to reshape abortion precedent for generations.

As for ushering in a conservative court, Thompson said she was resigned to the fact that no matter who DeSantis picked it would yield this result.

“Clearly there is an agenda to reshape the judiciary,” she said. “So you have people with these conservative views, and some very regressive views, with regard to the rights of women.”

There is more at the link above.   Basically a highly religious woman left her work for extreme evangelical / fundamental Christian organizations to prevent people from exercising their constitutional rights and to block any rights for the LGBTQ+ communities.   Sort of lying for god I guess.    Hugs

An Aborted 6-Week-Old Embryo Got a Green Light to Sue an Alabama Abortion Clinic

An Aborted 6-Week-Old Embryo Got a Green Light to Sue an Alabama Abortion Clinic

That means a six-week-old embryo — a clump of cells the size of a pea — is now legally going after the people who “killed” it.

A “pro-life” victory here would give free rein to men like Ryan Magers, who allegedly coerced his teenage girlfriend into sex, allowing them even more control over those same girls’ reproductive lives and, by extension, their futures. A great many women and girls have sex with men who are abusive, controlling, or simply not men who they want to be tied to for the rest of their lives. A “pro-life” victory here would give any man jurisdiction over any woman with whom he has had sex.

In this case, the girl was pressured into sex (though her family is not calling it rape) and chose to end the pregnancy early. A judge now thinks that’s all it takes for an embryo to sue an abortion clinic.

Magers, by impregnating a girl who didn’t want his baby, now has the power to shut down methods of abortion for women everywhere, a move that would force many of them to resort to unsafe and illegal actions to procure something that’s a routine procedure in most other parts of the developed world.

Congratulations, “pro-lifers.” Your dream of ruining women’s lives is inching closer.