What does the Bible have to Say About Abortion?

A. Biblical Case Against Abortion

1. Life of the unborn is legally protectedExodus 21:22-23 (Tricky Text, see below)
2. “thou shalt not murder”Exod 20:13
3. “Life for life” but children are alive at conception.Exod 21:23; Dt 19:21
4. Hebrew midwives are commended for protecting Hebrew babiesExod. 1ff.
5. God hates “hands that shed innocent Blood.”Pr. 6:16-19; Matt 19:18
6. Child Sacrifice is an abominationDt. 12:29-31; Ps 106:35-38; 2 Kings 17:17-18
7. Only God has a right to take life since only God makes/owns life.1 Sam 2:6; Job 14:5; Ecc 8:8; Ps 31:15.
8. Unborn babies are called “children”Ex 21:22; Lk 1:41,44;2:12-16
9. Unborn are created by God just as Adam and Eve are created, all in God’s imagePs. 139:13; Gen. 1:27
10. Christ was human from the point of conception.Matt. 1:20-21; Luke 1:26-27
11. Children who will be born out of wedlock are precious to God and worth protectingGen 16
 12. Child-in-utero are described with 1st person pronoun “Me” and “I”—indicating personal continuity with the adult later in life.Ps 51:7; Ps 22:10-11; Gal 1:15; Ps. 139; Jer. 1:5 LXX; Matt. 1:20-21
13. Protect those in harm’s wayPr. 24:10-12
14. Advocate justice for the mute/helpless/disadvantagedPs 17:7,12; Pr. 31:8-9; Isa 1:13-17
15. Golden Rule/Love neighbor as yourself [Jesus gave a “liberal” reading of “neighbor”]Mk12:19-21; Lk10:30-37; Mt 7:12; John 5:17
16. The unborn are said to be known intimately and personally by GodPsalm 139; Jer 1:5 (Tricky Text, see below)
17. We ought not even slander other human beings.James 3:9
18. Defies love/compassion mandate1 Jn 3:11-12, 17
19. We don’t have a right to our own lives, much less to the life of another.Job 2:9-10
20. The unborn are called by God before birthGe 25:22-23; Jdg 13:2-7; Isa 49:1,5;Gal 1:15
21. Unborn children have personal characteristics distinctive of humans.Ps. 51:5—sin; Luke 1:44—joy
22. Imago Dei including male and female but gender is determined at conceptionGen. 1:27
23. Children are a BlessingPs 126:3-5; Mat 18:10; Prov 7:6
24. Moral duty to protect those who can’t protect themselves (widows/orphans)James 1:27
25. Making Babies (part of general “fruitfulness”) is a good thingGen 9:7; 15:5
26. It’s not what Jesus would do—he looks after the weak and afflicted.Matt 19:13-15; 20:29-34; 21:40-46; Mark 2:16; Jn 4:9,27; Lk 17:11-19.
27. Scripture rebuts discriminatory prejudice (“neither Jew nor Greek . . . “)Gal 3:28
28. Abortion defies the ideal, “life”Jn 10:10;Isa 25:8
29. Abortion has no explicit Biblical permission countering the otherwise humanitarian pro-life teaching.

B. Tricky Texts

Psalm 139
(see also,
“13 For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. 15 My frame was not hidden form you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. 16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them.” (ESV)

God is deeply involved in creating human life. God knows the unborn before birth. But be careful, this text also indicates that God knows the unborn before conception too, if conception is when human life begins (i.e., “when as yet were none of [my days],” NIV) then this verse suggests that we should value and protect human life even before conception, and that is practically untenable/impossible. This passage is useful in establishing that God is the author and sovereign authority over all human life. It isn’t our right to assault and kill a human being whom God so carefully constructs.
Exodus 21:22-23 “22When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as that judge determines. 23 but if there is harm then you shall pay life for life.” (ESV)  

Pro-choicers use the KJV to where miscarriage doesn’t count as “harm” and is punished by a fine. Other translations suggest premature birth not miscarriage, so the fine is for assault but death is punished w/ death. Either way the baby is a legally relevant character. If it is harmed the assailant should be punished. The diff. punishments could be over diff. legal status rather than differences in humanity/personhood. The era was pre-civil rights so equally human/personal characters could be treated unequally before the law (See: http://www.etsjets.org/ files/JETS-PDFs/37/37-2/JETS_37-2_169-184_Fuller.pdf). Gleason Archer, however asserts, “There is no ambiguity here whatever. What is required is that if there should be an injury either to the mother or to her children, the injury shall be avenged by a like injury to the assailant. If it involves the life . . . of the premature baby, then the assailant shall pay for it with his life. There is no second class status attached to the fetus under this rule; he is avenged just as if he were a normally delivered child or an older person: life for life.” (New Intern. Encyc. of Bible Difficulties [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011).

C. Biblical Case For Abortion, With Critique

1. Abortion kills a pre-human body, before it has a soul so it’s not killing a person/ human being.Job 27:3; Isa 42:5; Gen 2:7; et al.*This understanding of life is distinctly theological/religious with no consensus from science or secular avenues. One cannot safely base political policy on it without violating (or nearly violating) the separation of church and state. *The animating force imparted to Adam in Genesis 2:7 happened only once, and is unique. No one else received that same direct “life force” as Adam did. *The “breath of God” is used in various ways in scripture to describe a “living” thing, the Holy spirit, or an “inspired” individual, and should not be taken too literally. For example, angels are alive, but having no bodies they don’t have a circulatory system for breathing. *Even if humans take on a sort of “life” upon breathing/ensoulment, they are already alive in another medical/scientific sense. Abortion-choice advocates would need to show that this other sense of “life” (i.e., ensoulment, spiritual endowment, etc.) is necessary before that living individual should be protected. *This confusion traces back to a few terms in the Greek and Hebrew: Gk: pneuma—“spirit,” or psuche—“soul;”Hb: ruach—“breath/spirit,” nephesh—“soul.” But it’s the  Etymological Fallacy—assumes a word’s origins/history dictates its current meaning. *”Soul” does not typically mean “breath,” though there’s a natural reason for associating the two—biological breathing things are alive. *Substance dualism could still apply without interpreting “soul” as “breath,” i.e., soul could be the animating feature, the ‘form,’ the life itself, the seat of experience/self-awareness, the spirit, etc.
2. God kills people anyway, so abortion is “being Godly.”Gen. 6-11; 19; Joshua; Deut 20:16-17; 1 Sam 15; Cf. Exod 20:13*No, it’s evil to play God. “Vengeance is mine, I will repay’ says the Lord.” (Rom 12:9). God can do that because he’s not playing. *Godliness describes rightful reflections of God’s character, not just any effort to do what God does. Partaking in behaviors that are strictly God’s prerogative is evil. *Lacking God’s authority, we thereby lack his privilege to judge the souls of men. *This is distinct from capital punishment, which might be biblically justified as an expression of God’s authority on earth, since abortion kills an innocent human being while capital punishment kills the guilty (Gen 9:6). *Disanalogy: we can’t take life just because God does; He first gave life so it’s his to reclaim, not ours to steal. *Miscarriages are natural evils, not moral evils. It’s not clear that God does these but rather that God allows these as part of nature since the Fall. *OT War contexts are disanalogous since abortion isn’t a war context. *Capital punishment is for the guilty, not for the innocent (babies). *Corporate guilt is God’s to dole out, not for us. It’s prohibited for us (Jer 31:29-32; Eze 18:1-13). *God’s good intentions, good outcomes, good manner, and good nature spell a different moral justification than when humans try to execute justice. He can administer fierce justice with divine exactitude while we cannot.
3. The Bible Supports a “Quickening View of human life, hence abortion would be okay prior to the quickening.Gen 2:7; Ps. 33:6; Eze. 37:9-14; Job 34:14-15;By this line of argument, the Bible seems to suggest that human life begins (at least in some sense relevant for abortion ethics) when the body is ensouled. This was thought to be at the point of the quickening (first felt movement of the fetus). *Red herring. The quickening theory lacks strong biological and otherwise secular support. Yet, we cannot implement a specifically and uniquely religious theory on human life at a federal or even state policy level as that would be theocratic, violating the separation of church and state. *Misinterpretation: Even conservative, biblical people need not take this view as it (1) risks hyperliteralism. We use similar verbiage today with comparable metaphorical force—”team spirit,” “she’s a breath of fresh air,” and “his dying breath,” (brain dead people can have artificially respiration). (2) the references to the Holy Spirit aren’t necessarily literal breath/wind/air but are approximations for a literal, real, but immaterial being. (3) “spirit” and “breath” are metonyms signifying life, not necessarily literal descriptions of life. (4) As such, “spirit” and “breath” only sometimes refer to literal breathing in Scripture. (5) Gen. 2:7 is about Adam and Eve, and isn’t about anyone else. (6) Eze. 37:9-14 is a supernatural vision, and tells us nothing about natural normal human biology. (7) other heremeutical objections to particular texts. *Non-sequitur. We don’t have blanket permission to kill just any biological life in the name of privacy or autonomy even if it’s spiritual/religious/ autonomous(?) life were to begin later. *The most consistent view of Scripture and church history is that we should protect human life wherever we can (Ex. 20:13; Lev. 24:17; Deut. 5:17; Mt. 5:21-26), and if that turns out to be prior to the quickening then we should protect it then too. Historically, that was how much of the church adjusted its views in light of budding genetic theory and improvements in embryology (see, Marvin Olasky, Abortion Rites 1992).
4. Abortion helps populate heaven (by terminating human lives before they sin).Isa 7:16; James 4:17
Deut 1:39; Eze 18:20; Mt 18:3; Lk 18:16
The argument goes something like this: According to the doctrine of the “age of accountability” (Isa. 7:16; James 4:17; Deut. 1:39; Eze. 18:20; etc.), children don’t have sin-guilt and therefore aren’t deserving of hell until they reach the level of development to where they understand and commit sin. As such, it seems like abortion guarantees children-in-utero a ticket to heaven. Therefore, biblical theology reinforces liberal abortion policy. Similar to this, some might say that even if children-in-utero have sin guilt (Ps. 51:8), they are a special case in God’s eyes and are all “elect” (saved, going to heaven). *However, none of this overturns the biblical mandate against murder, and we have reason to believe that abortion is unethical killing and therefore murder. *It’s still evil to use evil means towards good ends. *This argument is consequentialist in framing but consequentialism is a deeply troubled ethical system and not well suited to historic Christianity. For example, it’s not enough to have “good results,” one must employ good motives, good means, good character, and good actions yet murder isn’t a good action, abortion procedures deface and harm children hence they aren’t good means, and complying with murder corrupts one’s character, etc. *Also, the “age of accountability” isn’t a tenet of orthodoxy as if all denominations affirm it. Many Calvinist theological streams deny it (Ps. 51:5). Biblically, there’s at least some evidence to suggest that the age of accountability either is false or it isn’t what we think it is. One may even affirm the doctrine, but not have enough reasonable confidence in theological constructs to be willing to bet a child’s life on it.
5. The Bible supports a blood-based viewGen. 9:5-6; Lev. 17:14*Blood is a metonym for life, that is, a distinguishing part referring to the whole. For example, “get your butt over here” (but leave the rest of yourself over there???), “we counted 89 heads at the last meeting” (it was pretty gruesome seeing all those heads without bodies???). Allowing for normal rhetorical devices, it’s perfectly fine to refer to human lives with reference to common distinguishing features of their life. But that doesn’t commit the speaker to a strictly blood-based view of biological life, as if that relevant and helpful distinguishing part is an adequate summation of the whole biological life of a creature. *Things die for lack of bloodflow, hence it’s right and true to refer to their life in terms of blood. It’s just not a complete, or fully adequate account of biological life when, for example, things can die of other causes (lack of oxygen, blunt force trauma, electrocution, etc.). *Even the conceptus has its relative equivalent of blood, prior to the development of a circulatory system. It still receives nutrition for about 7 days (from fertilization) through liquid glucose (converted into pyruvate and lactate) found inside the zygote, and later, inside the blastocyst cells of the Embryo. It’s anaerobic at that point, not requiring nor receiving oxygen, yet it otherwise possesses the developmental equivalent of “blood.” *This objection becomes a moot point after the first week anyway, since it then shares in the mother’s circulatory system. Around day 8, after fertilization, and during implantation, the embryo begins to receive both oxygen and nutrition from the mother via blood transfer in the uterine walls and later through the umbilical vein. *Leviticus 17:14 (and similar references in the Torah) isn’t close enough to the abortion debate to be any help. (1) It’s about animal sacrifice, not about the life or death of human beings. (2) Animal sacrifice was already a heavily symbolic act, having (potentially) true and literal meaning but communicated through a representational act. This is a poor basis for biology lessons. (3) Context suggests this passage is not didactic about nature/biology. It’s not a biology lesson, so it’s inappropriate to take a thin and questionable implication and treat it like an explicit didactic lesson on how to understand the onset of human life. (4) This verse doesn’t exclude other kinds or measures of life (such as genetics, breathing, movement, etc.) that were of secondary interest to the sacrificial system. (5) Disanalogy: The sacrificial system only addresses creatures post birth. The abortion debate is about (human) animals only before birth. It could be that blood is a relevant summary of it’s whole life after birth but that says nothing about it’s life before birth. *Genesis 9:5-6 also fails (1) Argument from Silence: It’s about judicially administered capital punishment for murderers, the child-in-utero isn’t in view. That’s not a negative or degrading claim about fetal human life, it’s just not a common on fetal human life at all. It’s silent. (2) the individuals in view have complete circulatory system and so “lifeblood” is a fine metonym for their whole life/self/existence. It could be that fetal humans have life too, but without a complete circulatory system. The silence of this passage allows for that option.   
6. The Bible is silent on abortion.*If true, then it’s a fallacious argument from silence. *Meanwhile, the abortion-choice advocate needs to show why that silence (supposing it is silent) translates into ethical permission to kill one’s offspring in-utero. *If false, and the Bible supports abortion—that would only make it “okay” on a religious or perhaps antiquated basis, and an inconsistent one at that. *If false, and the Bible condemns abortion implicitly or explicitly, then that adds religious and historical weight to the already consistent historical case against abortion. *Until recent times abortion was crude, dangerous to the mother, and inconsistent. Historically, abortion was aberrant so prohibiting it on top of the laws and moors opposing it would have been superfluous. *More importantly, this is just false. Scripture has plenty to say in favor of children, not sacrificing them for our convenience, the important of advanced planning, the sanctity of human life and not shedding innocent blood (see Biblical case above).
7. Jesus is silent about abortion.*If true, then it’s a fallacious argument from silence. *Meanwhile, the abortion-choice advocate needs to show why that silence (supposing it is silent) translates into ethical permission to kill one’s offspring in-utero. *If false, and the Jesus supports abortion—that would only make it “okay” on a religious or perhaps antiquated basis, and an inconsistent one at that. *If false, and the Jesus condemns abortion implicitly or explicitly, then that adds religious and historical weight to the already consistent historical case against abortion. *Until recent times abortion was crude, dangerous to the mother, and inconsistent. Historically, abortion was aberrant so prohibiting it on top of the laws and moors of the time would have been superfluous. *More importantly, this is false. Jesus affirms the OT law, including “do not murder” (don’t commit unjust killing), see Matt 5-7; 19:18. Abortion runs contrary to Jesus’s golden rule (Mark 12:19-21; Luke 10:30-37; Matt 7:12; John 5:17). Abortion is not what Jesus would do—he looks after the weak and afflicted (Matt 19:13-15; 20:29-34; 21:40-46; Mark 2:16; Jn 4:9,27; Lk 17:11-19). Lastly, since Jesus is God, and the Bible is God’s word, then theologically speaking, everything Scripture says against abortion Jesus says against abortion (see Biblical case above).
8. The Bible includes an approved abortion—in Numbers 5:11-31Numbers 5:11-31*This ritual regards adultery and a temple ritual to mediate subsequent “he said/she said” feuds threatening the marriage. Pregnancy is not necessarily in view. *The reference to a “distended belly/womb” could involve a number of things such as disease, malnutrition, fatness, disfigurement/loss of beauty, or barrenness. Pregnancy, and abortion isn’t necessarily implied therein. *If this were referring to a kind of abortion, and we have reason to think it’s not), but if it is, it’s not a naturally induced abortion but a miscarriage. That’s a bad analogy for modern, direct, intentional abortions. *The abortifacient is miraculous, happening by God’s intervention. But we can’t legislate miracles. *God is allowed to reclaim lives since he’s the originator and creator of all life. In that regard, human parents are only instrumentally involved in God’s creating of new life. We can only pass-on genetic life that was given to us. Meanwhile, God originates, oversees, and sustains that life.

About intelligentchristianfaith

Married man. Teacher. Theologian. Philosopher. Workout nut. Prefer cats to dogs. Coffee buff. Transplant to Texas. Carolina Panthers fan. Perpetually pursuing the world's best burger.
This entry was posted in Ethics of Abortion, History of Abortion, Philosophy of Abortion, Resources, Terms and Definitions, When does Life Begin? and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to What does the Bible have to Say About Abortion?

  1. Brianna LaPoint says:

    That the bible is for and against abortion means the people who are voting against it need to back away from it because the same bible could be used against them.


    • Did you read the article? While I don’t think people need to refer to the Bible to know that abortion is wrong, and since many prochoicers are committed to the dogmatic idea that religion is the only reason people would oppose abortion – those things mean we should be extra careful when referencing scripture. I typically keep my own Prolife case secular, so prochoicers can’t use it as a red herring and steer attention away from the abject horror of abortion.

      That said, the whole point of this article is to show that with a comprehensive assessment of Scripture it becomes clear that the Bible DOESN’T support abortion. Do you think the Bible does support abortion? Perhaps you’ve come across some lines of evidence that I missed. If so, please share. I want this article to be as comprehensive as possible (while still being brief).


  2. Pingback: How Should Christians Think about Abortion? Q&A with Dr. John D. Ferrer - Renew

  3. Lowry Hershey says:

    I think it is revealing, if we go outside of the Bible, and not far outside of the Bible, the early church was against abortion (and infanticide). The Didache, written between 50 and 110 AD (although our earliest manuscript for it is 900 years later). A similar position is found in the Epistle of Barnabas.


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