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Abortion as mentioned in the Bible

Passages from the Hebrew Scriptures
(Old Testament): Joshua to Malachi

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See also a list of passages from the Pentateuch, the first
five books of the Hebrew Scriptures that may refer to abortion.

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Passages from the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament):

bullet2 Kings 2:22-24 This describes Prophet Elisha, a bald man, and his interaction with a group of young boys. They called him by a derisive term: "baldhead." Elisha was angry. In an act of black magic, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. Two female bears came out of the woods and mauled (and presumably killed) 42 of the boys. This passage has nothing to do with abortion, but does indicate the low regard that Elisha had towards the life of children (because he issued a curse) and that God had towards the children (because he presumably sent the two bears to kill the boys).
bullet2 Kings 15:16 He [Menahem, king of Israel] sacked Tiphsah and ripped open all the pregnant women. He apparently was angry that the people of Tiphsah refused to open the gates of the city. Considering the state of medical sophistication at the time, all of the pregnant women and their fetuses probably died. The king obviously gave no value to the life of a fetus. Yet there was no condemnation of his action.
bulletJob 3:2-4; Job 3:11-19; Job 10:18-19: Here, Job is suffering. God instructed Satan to preserve Job's life while killing his children and destroying everything of value in Job's life, including his health. Job says that it would have been better if he had died at or before birth, so that he would never have experienced such misfortune. This passage seems to imply that a terminated pregnancy is better than bringing into the world a baby who will suffer greatly. It also indicates the low value that God placed on the life of children.
bulletPsalms 51:5 Behold I was shapen in iniquity and in sin did my mother conceive me. The second part of the verse is considered a reference to "original sin" by most Christians. This is the concept that Adam and Eve disobeyed God, and that all subsequent humans have inherited their sin. Thus, the writer's mother was in a state of sin when he, David, was conceived. Some conservative Christian commentators feel that David's reference to his own conception implies that the author regarded himself as a human person, continuously from conception, to birth, to adulthood. 1 But the passage has an alternative interpretation. David may have believed that before he developed into a human, he was a pre-human fetus; and before that, he was a pre-fetal fertilized ovum. i.e. that at conception, he was a living entity which later developed into David, the human person.
bulletPsalms 139:13 For thou hast possessed my reins [formed my inner parts]: thou has covered [formed] me in my mother's womb. Again, this describes Jehovah observing and controlling the development of a fetus during pregnancy. No reference is made to miscarriage or abortion. The passage does not deal with the critical question of whether the fetus is a person. It merely describes how a fetus develops.
bulletPsalms 139:16 "Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them." The meaning is obscured in the King James version by the ancient language. In modern English it means that: "God saw by body before I was born. The days allotted to me had already been entered in God's book before any of them ever began." This would seem to imply that during pregnancy, the eventual life span of the resulting newborn had already been decided upon and recorded. It also seems to imply that the person's days begin at birth. i.e. at birth, a fetus transitions from being human life to a human person. If this is correct, then it means that abortion kills a potential person in the womb, not an actual human person.
bulletEcclesiastes 4:1-3 "...But better off than both of them is the one who has never existed, who has never seen the evil activity that is done under the sun." Here, the author talks about acts of oppression and the suffering that this brings to innocent people. The author -- traditionally believed to be Solomon -- appears to refer to an interrupted pregnancy being better than a live birth, if the person born would suffer great injustices and pain.
bulletEcclesiastes 6:3-5 If a man begats 100 children...and his soul be not filled with good, and also that he have no burial; I say that an untimely birth [a miscarriage] is better than he. The passage implies that a person can have many children and a long life; but if he is not motivated by love and goodness, and if he is not properly buried, then it would have been better if he had not been born alive. The suggestion here is that a terminated pregnancy (one that does not produce a live birth) is better than a pregnancy that produced a life that is empty and miserable.

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bulletIsaiah 49:1 "...The Lord hath called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name." This apparently means that Jehovah was aware of the author's name before the latter was born. Some people interpret this as implying that God recognizes a fetus as a human person by recognizing its name. Others simply regard this as a indication of God's ability to know future events that have not yet happened.
bulletJeremiah 1:5  "Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified [set apart] thee." God is here saying that he knew Jeremiah before he was formed in his mother's womb. That is, God knew Jeremiah before conception, when even the most conservative pro-life advocate believes that human personhood begins. Yahweh appears to be referring to his ability to foretell the future. God had important plans for the adult Jeremiah, a priest of the tribe of Benjamin, even before the latter was conceived. Presumably, an omniscient God would know: when the conception would occur, that a miscarriage would not happen, the time when Jeremiah would be born, the name that the baby would be given, and the important role that Jeremiah would play as an adult. The passage does not appear to be related to the morality of abortion or whether a fetus is human person. But it is often cited in debates over abortion. It merely seems to discuss how God had planned the life of Jeremiah the prophet, before he was even conceived. To say that this passages proves that a fetus is human appears to be faulty logic; the passage would then also say that all ova and sperm are also a human persons before fertilization.
bulletEzekiel 37:8-10 Ezekiel was taken by the Lord to a valley which contained many dry, human bones. As he was prophesying, the bones came together...tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them. After the bodies were reassembled, they looked like humans, but were in fact not alive because they had no breath. He then prophesied and "breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet..." The implication of this passage is that an apparently fully formed human is not a living person until it breathes. This would seem to support the belief that a fetus is not a full human person until it takes its first breath, after birth.
bulletHosea 13:15-16 I will have no compassion...the people of Samaria...will fall by the sword; their little ones will be dashed to the ground; their pregnant women ripped open. The people of Samaria had changed their religious belief. God obviously exhibited profound hatred against people who worship another deity, and assigned no value to the fetuses of the pregnant women. Yet those fetuses were innocent of the "crime" of religious conversion. who were obviously not involved in the selection of a new religion.
bulletAmos 1:13  "I will not revoke the punishment because they have ripped up women with child in Gilead, that they might enlarge their borders." This refers to atrocities allegedly committed by Ammonite soldiers. Disemboweling pregnant women in that era would be almost certain to kill both the women and their fetuses. The reference to enlarging their border may mean that the Ammonites wanted to prevent children from being born who later might grow up to fight the Ammonites. The horrible nature of the crime appears to be directed at the killing of defenseless women; the deaths of the fetuses is not discussed. 

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The Talmud:

"Talmud" means "Book of Study" in Hebrew. 2 They contain "discussions and analysis on Jewish law and how it is applied in everyday life." The Talmuds regard full human personhood as beginning only at birth. Specifically, if the fetus is born normally, this happens when its forehead has left the birth canal. If the fetus is born feet-first, it happens when more than half of its body has been delivered. This remains the general belief within Judaism today.

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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 used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. D.W. Cloud, "Birth Control and the Christian," at: http://wayoflife.org/
  2. The Talmud Project at: http://www.fontworld.com/talproj1.html (offline)

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Copyright © 1997 to  2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Last update: 2007-MAY-21

Author: B.A. Robinson

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