December 19, 2008
"The Bible says nothing directly about abortion." Have you ever heard this claim before? I know I have. And the uncomfortable truth is that, in a certain sense, it's accurate. The deliberate termination of a pregnancy is not directly addressed anywhere in scripture.
On the one hand, this could mean that the practice is merely a matter of personal choice, having been left alone by even God Himself. On the other hand, this could also mean that the culture for which the Bible was written was so deeply affirming of childbearing that the idea of aborting a baby would have been literally inconceivable to them. After all, there are no commands in the Bible to breathe, presumably because Jewish culture is staunchly pro-air.
But even if the Bible doesn't quite give us a definitive proclamation on the overall question of abortion, that doesn't mean it says nothing relevant at all. One of the key points of contention in this debate is whether the fetus is a person and, if so, when in gestation this occurs. Most pro-lifers believe it's at conception, but those who believe abortion is morally acceptable think this happens at some later stage of pregnancy such as implantation, quickening, viability or birth.
Until the other day, I would have said the Bible was somewhat indeterminate on this issue. But now, I would be as bold as to say that it plainly teaches us that a fetus is a person at most within the first four weeks of gestation and, more likely, even within the first few days after conception. If so, then Christians who haven't previously realized this would have to acknowledge that even early term abortions end the life of a person. And this would, in turn, affect the advice they give to others who might currently be contemplating abortion, even perhaps their own daughters. Let me show you what I found for the first time the other day.
I was reading the Christmas story in Luke 1 and 2 when I made what were for me several new observations. First, I noticed that Luke (a doctor and scholar) specifically tells his audience (Theophilus) that he has thoroughly investigated everything he is about to write and that he has decided to "write it out for you in consecutive order" (1:3). Unlike the other Gospel writers, Luke will tell us his story in the form we modern readers best comprehend: chronologically. This means we can rely heavily on the order of things in any of our conclusions. I know this may not seem very important, but stick with me for a moment and you'll see why it matters.
Reading on, we learn that Elizabeth (Mary's cousin) has become pregnant and secluded herself for five months, hiding her very late-in-life first pregnancy from everybody, even her close family (1:24). Then Luke tells us that the angel Gabriel makes his famous visit to the engaged virgin Mary in the sixth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy (1:26). These time references are no coincidence.
Continuing to read, Gabriel tells Mary that she is going to give birth to the Messiah and name him Jesus (1:31-33). In the process of answering her rather understandable question about how this may be so, Gabriel uses the not-quite-as miraculous pregnancy of her elderly cousin Elizabeth as evidence that this can really happen. And once more, as if for emphasis, we have the time reference as he declares that Elizabeth is in her sixth month of pregnancy (1:36).
After his departure, Mary immediately went as fast as she could (1:39) to the hill country to see her cousin, presumably to both verify the news (remember Elizabeth's seclusion) and to share her own story. When Mary comes close enough to greet her, Elizabeth feels her baby (John the Baptist) leap in her womb with joy at the presence of his Messiah and Mary (1:41-44). By any reasonable standard, this shows that the fetus, John, is a person at this moment and nothing less.
But John is close to his third trimester by now, and even the most strident pro-choice person will usually concede that third trimester abortions are heinous for essentially this reason. Roe v. Wade even affirmed this idea. So nothing observed thus far is particularly persuasive on the subject of abortion. But that's when I saw something that I hadn't ever considered before.