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Abortion as mentioned in the Bible

Passages in the Christian Scriptures
(a.k.a. New Testament) and creeds

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Some references:

bulletMatthew 26:24: "...but woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! it had been good for that man if he had not been born." This verse states that it would have been better for any person who betrayed Jesus if he had never been born. The verse might be interpreted as meaning that a terminated pregnancy might be better than a completed pregnancy, if the child's life would be miserable.
bulletLuke 1:15....[John] shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb. Some translations of the Bible, refer to the time when John was a fetus. Others refer to when John was a newborn; the New International Version uses the phrase "even from birth." The passage in Greek appears to be ambiguous; it might refer to a time during the third trimester when the fetus is viable. At any length, it refers to John' special birth, not necessarily to infants today.
bulletLuke 1:35: "...The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God." In this passage, the angels refer to the fetus which Mary will carry as a "thing," not a male person. The gender in the original Greek is neuter. Jesus is only referred to by the title "Son of God" after he is born, presumably after he becomes a person. This is consistent with the traditional Jewish belief that a fetus becomes a full human after it has half-emerged from the mother's birth canal.
bulletLuke 1:41...when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb.... Elizabeth's fetus was in an advanced stage of pregnancy. Verse 36 states that she was in her 6th month, at a time when the fetus is probably viable with today's medical technology. The verse might be intended to imply that a 6th month (26 to 30th week) fetus has some degree of awareness of its environment, is capable of living independently, and should be considered as a "pre-born" human person worthy of protection. It says nothing about a first trimester fetus without a functioning brain, consciousness or nervous system. This passage might be used to argue against the morality of a third-trimester abortion.

The passage also clearly relates to two miraculous pregnancies: that of John the Baptist and Jesus; it would not necessarily apply to pregnancies of ordinary people. There never has been a documented case whereby an "ordinary" fetus could understand the words of the woman who was carrying it. This only happens many months after birth.

One conservative Christian source 1 noted that the "Greek word for 'babe' in the above text is 'brephos'. In Luke 2:12, 16, the same Greek word is used to describe Christ in the manger. 'Brephos' is also translated 'babe' in I Peter 2:2, 'child' in II Tim. 3:15; 'infant' in Luke 18:15; and 'young child' in Acts 7:19. These scriptures show that God uses the same word to describe a child whether it is unborn, new-born or sometime later." Another way of looking at the term "Brephos" is to note that the Pagan Greeks had only a single word to refer to a fetus, newborn and young child. Since the New Testament was written in Greek, the authors had only that one term available for their use. The fact that they used it to refer to a fetus, newborn and young child is a reflection on Greek Pagan beliefs, not on God's intent.
bulletLuke 1:42...Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. This statement by Elizabeth might imply that the embryo that Mary was carrying is a child. Otherwise, she would have said "blessed will be the fruit of thy womb". On the other hand, it might simply mean that the embryo was special at the time because it will grow, become a human person, and eventually be born as the infant Jesus.
bulletGalatians 1:15-16 But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb and called me by his grace that I might preach.... This appears to repeat the beliefs of Jeremiah 1:5; i.e. that God knew Paul's role from before his birth.

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References from early Christian writing:

bulletThe Didache: This was a.k.a. "The Teaching of the Apostles," "Doctrine of the Twelve apostles," and "The teaching of the Lord through the twelve apostles, to the Gentiles". It was an important document of the early Christian church. It was written by an unknown author, probably during the late 1st century 2 or early 2nd century. 3 Many theologians link it to the Jewish Christian movement founded by Jesus' disciples. It was never accepted into the official canon of the Christian Scriptures (New Testament). It reads, in part:
 
bulletSection 2.2: "...thou shalt not murder a child by abortion nor kill them when born,..."

The second part of the phrase probably refers to the widespread practice of infanticide in the Roman Empire: The mother would customarily lay a newborn outside the home. If the father wished to accept responsibility for the child, he would pick it up and bring it into the house; otherwise, the child would be abandoned to die. The early Christian movement was known for its practice of scooping up such abandoned newborns and adopting them into their families. Some Roman Pagans accused the Christians of collecting newborns in order to engage in human sacrifice rituals. Ironically, during the Satanic Panics (1980 to circa 1995 CE), the tables were turned. Some Christians  accused Neopagans and Satanists of seizing children and infants for abuse and sacrifice in what was called "Satanic Ritual Abuse." Of course, ritual abuse and human sacrifice did not happen, either in among Christians in the Roman Empire or among Neopagans in modern America.

bulletThe Apostles' Creed: The traditional belief is that this creed dates from the first century CE. when many of the apostles wrote it before their departure from Jerusalem to spread Christianity around the world. But religious historians generally date the creed to perhaps the 4th century.. It states, in part:
 
bullet"I believe in ... Jesus Christ ... [who] sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead." (King James Version)

The phrase "quick and the dead" comes from 1 Peter 4:5 and Acts 10:42 where it also refers to Jesus being "ready to judge the quick and the dead." 4

Some commentators have suggested that the word "quick" might refer to quickening. This is the time in a pregnancy when the woman first feels movement of the fetus. The term "quick with child" means the state of a pregnant woman. However, the word "quick" comes from Middle English when it meant "alive" which came from Old English "cwicu" which also meant "alive" -- as contrasted with dead. 5 More recent translations than the King James Version generally translate the passages as "living and the dead."

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Related essay and menu:

bulletMenu: Abortion
bulletHistory of beliefs about abortion in the early Christian movement
bulletJewish beliefs about abortion

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References:

  1. E.L. Bynum, "Abortion! Is it murder?", an unsolicited Email from a reader.
  2. John Chapman, "Didache: Doctrine of the Twelve Apostles," The Catholic Encyclopedia,  http://www.newadvent.org/ 
  3. Alan Cairns, "Dictionary of theological terms," Ambassador Prod., (1998), Page 124 -125. Read reviews or order this book
  4. "The quick and the dead," Wikipedia, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
  5. Answers.com at: http://www.answers.com/

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Copyright 1997 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Last update: 2007-MA
Y-17
Author: B.A. Robinson

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