Abortion as mentioned in the Bible
Passages from the Hebrew Scriptures
(Old Testament): Joshua to Malachi
Passages from the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament):
||2 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).
||2 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.
||Job 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.
||Psalms 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.
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.
||Psalms 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.
||Psalms 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.
||Ecclesiastes 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
||Ecclesiastes 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.
||Isaiah 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
||Jeremiah 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.
||Ezekiel 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.
||Hosea 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.
||Amos 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.
"Talmud" means "Book of Study" in Hebrew.
They contain "discussions and analysis on Jewish law and how it is applied in
everyday life." The Talmuds regard full human
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.
Related essay and menu:
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
D.W. Cloud, "Birth Control and the Christian," at: http://wayoflife.org/
The Talmud Project at: http://www.fontworld.com/talproj1.html
Copyright © 1997 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants on
Last update: 2007-MAY-21
Author: B.A. Robinson