In the last issue of the Standard Bearer we were talking about the recent legalization of abortion and the controversy which is surrounding this issue. We discussed the fact that the central question involved in abortions is the question of a violation of the sixth commandment: “Thou shalt not kill.” And we noticed that this question must be answered by defining the nature of the fetus. The question that is asked therefore is: When does the soul enter the body of the unborn child? Those who ask this question do so on the grounds that if the soul enters the body at the moment of conception, then the fetus is living and abortion is murder. If the soul does not enter the body until sometime later, perhaps as late as birth, then abortion is not murder, but can be compared with an operation in which the tonsils are removed.
We suggested in our last article that this was a poor way of framing the question. It is alleged by some, also in the Church, (and we quoted in this connection somewhat at length from an article by Dr. Henry Stob) that there is no Scriptural data which indicates to us the time when the soul enters the body. We are inclined to agree with this. But the reason is that the question is wrongly framed. And when one asks wrong questions, one always gets wrong answers. To ask the question, “When does the soul enter the body?” is to make a false and anti-Scriptural distinction between soul and body which really makes more problems than it solves. The old idea, originating in Greek philosophy, is that the body is some sort of container into which the soul is put. In this container the soul resides for a bit; and, when death arrives, the soul escapes from its prison and is free from the fetters of the body. Scripture never speaks of man in this fashion. Already in connection with the creation of man, Scripture tells us: “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” Gen. 2:7.
We do not want to go into detail in a discussion of this important text in this article, for it would lead us far away from our subject. But it is certainly clear on the very face of it that man, as a complete creation of God, is called “a living soul.” To ask the question, therefore, “When does the soul enter the body?” is to obscure the issue. No help can be expected from Scripture in seeking an answer to such a strange and unbiblical question.
Others have phrased the question in this way: When does the fetus become alive? This too, is a most peculiar way to put the question; and it is of little help. The argument is, of course, that if the fetus is alive at the moment of conception, then abortion is murder. But if it is not alive until some later point in its development, then abortion performed prior to that time cannot be called murder. Physicians refer to this when they speak of the time when a fetus becomes “viable.” And generally speaking, they refer to that time when the fetus can live outside its mother’s womb. But, we are sure, this is not the proper approach to the question either. The all-important question is: What is here meant by “life?” From one point of view, there is no one who can deny (be he believer or unbeliever) that the fetus is alive from the very moment of conception. This is true because every cell is living. The cells which go to make up trees are living cells. The spermatozoa and the ovum which, when united, result in conception are living. And the resultant fertilized ovum is alive.
But if by this question of being alive is meant the time when a fetus is able to live outside its mother’s womb (usually at about six months), there is little more help given to the problem. Just because a fetus is not yet able to live outside its mother, does not mean that this fetus is only a mass of tissue similar to an appendix. It does not even mean that this fetus is nothing else but a human-being-in-the-process-of-becoming, as Dr. Stob avers. This is a most foolish line of reasoning for it pleased God that people, human beings, men and women would be born through this process of development which begins at conception and continues even beyond birth until a person is matured physically and psychologically.
If one persists in asking these kinds of questions, it seems to me that no certain answers will ever come and no positive directive of Scripture will ever be found.
But Scripture takes quite a different view of the matter. It looks at man, above all, as a person. After all, the animals as well as man, are called in Scripture, living souls. The distinction between the two is finally that man is a personal being; the animals are not. And this is, after all, what murder is all about. Murder is not the killing of a tree. It is not the killing of a flower. It is not even the killing of a dog or a lion or an antelope. Murder is the killing of a person.
This, it seems to me, is the distinction that needs so badly to be made. It is not our intention either in this article to discuss at length the whole question of what is meant by “person” in Scripture. This would involve us in spiritual and psychological discussions which would detain us in our discussion of abortion. Suffice it to say therefore, that in connection with the incarnation of the Lord Jesus, this is precisely the distinction which Scripture makes. Scripture is very clear on one fundamental point in connection with the birth of Christ. Jesus Christ united in the Second Person of the holy trinity the divine nature and the human nature. His human nature was a complete human nature both as to body and soul. The distinction therefore, in Christ’s incarnation is a distinction between His divine Person and His human nature. And it is this distinction which is applicable also to men. It is far better and far clearer to distinguish between person and nature than to force on man some mechanical distinction between body and soul.
But if we phrase the question in this way, then it becomes immediately apparent that Scripture has a great deal to say about the question of abortion. That is, Scripture does not deal directly with the moral question of whether abortion is right or wrong. You will not find a single text which explicitly prohibits abortion. And this need not surprise us, for Scripture is not a codebook of moral precepts in which every moral contingency of life is completely discussed and moral directives explicitly set forth. Scripture deals with fundamental principles. And it expects that the regenerated and enlightened child of God will have the sanctified wisdom to apply these principles to his walk and calling in the midst of the world. In fact, that which is objectively set forth in the Scriptures by infallible inspiration is subjectively sealed upon the hearts of the people of God by the operation of the Spirit so that they may know the will of God in all things. Perhaps the unbelievers cannot understand these Scriptural principles. But Scripture does not bother about them. They are blinded by their unbelief. But the eyes and hearts of God’s people are opened and they know the truth.
There can be no doubt about it at all that Scripture speaks of the fetus, as yet unborn, as a person. This is evident from many passages of Scripture. Let us turn to some of them to illustrate this point.
In the first place, in a general way, we may say that Scripture always speaks of a child as yet unborn as a person, a human being. This is always true. Whenever the birth of a child is announced, its conception and birth is spoken of as the conception and birth of achild. Scripture does not speak of the conception of a mass of tissue, of the conception of a human-being-in-the-process-of-becoming. It speaks of a person and talks of that child as a person from the very outset. This was true when God announced Isaac’s conception and birth to Abraham and Sarah. The same is true of the announcement of Samson’s birth, the birth of John the Baptist and many others.
In the second place, when Scripture speaks directly of a child yet-unborn, it always speaks of this child as being a person in a very real and literal sense. In Job 10:8, 11, 12, Job opines: “Thine hands have made me and fashioned me together round about; yet thou dost destroy me. Thou hast clothed me with skin and flesh, and hast fenced me with bones and sinews. Thou hast granted me life and favor, and thy visitation bath preserved my spirit.” Notice that Job speaks of himself before the time of his birth as a person. Perhaps somewhat less clearly, the Psalmist does the same inPsalm 119:73: “Thy hands have made me and fashioned me: give me understanding, that I may learn thy commandments.” The same general idea is expressed in Isaiah 49:1, 5: “Listen, O isles, unto me; and hearken, ye people, from far; The Lord hath called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name. And now, saith the Lord that formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob again to him, Though Israel be not gathered, yet shall I be glorious in the eyes of the Lord, and my God shall be my strength.” It makes no principle difference whether the reference here is to Israel as a nation formed from Jacob, to the prophet Isaiah himself, or prophetically, to Christ. The point itself is clear enough. God deals with men as persons from the moment of conception.
More clearly, David expresses this very beautifully inPsalm 139:13-18: “For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well. My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. 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. How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand: when I awake, I am still with thee.” It seems difficult to imagine that David, in describing the wonder of his formation in the womb of his mother and ascribing it all to the mysterious work of God can refer only to a blob of tissue. He speaks emphatically that he personally was made in secret and wrought by God’s hand.
From another point of view, there are some texts which speak of activities which can only belong to that of a person. In Gal. 1:15, Paul speaks of God separating him from his mother’s womb. It might be objected that this means the moment of Paul’s birth; but the preposition here means literally “out of” and could quite possibly refer to the fact that even before Paul was born, God had set Paul aside to be an apostle to the Gentiles. (cf. vs. 16) If this is true, then surely it means that God dealt with Paul as a person even before he was born. This essential idea is much more clearly set forth in the case of the prophet Jeremiah. In explanation of His call to Jeremiah, God tells the prophet: “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee, and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.” Jeremiah 1:5. It is expressly stated here that God sanctified and ordained Jeremiah before he was born. Surely God sanctifies and ordains persons only. The text seems conclusive in this respect.
The instance of John the Baptist is similar. The angel Gabriel told Zacharias in the temple that John would “be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb.” Again the preposition is literally “out of”, and the sentence reads: “. . . out of his mother’s womb.” But more importantly for our discussion, we read that when Mary, the mother of the Lord, entered the home of the pregnant Elizabeth, Elizabeth’s babe leaped in her womb. Dr. Stob does not find this text in any way conclusive. But the fact of the matter is that John’s leap in the womb of his mother was a response to the presence of Mary, the mother of Christ. And, as such, it could be the act of a person only. No doubt it was a miracle and served to announce to Elizabeth the presence of the mother of Christ not only, but the presence of Christ Himself. But the miracle was nevertheless, performed in such a way that a personal action was performed by John before he was born whether he himself was conscious of it or not.
And yet, conclusive, it seems to me, is the fact that Christ Himself was personal from the moment of conception. This assertion is stated here as proof that the fetus is a person on the grounds that there is an analogy between the conception and birth of Christ and our conception and birth. But this analogy is justified on the grounds that Scripture itself tells us that Christ was like unto his brethren in all things—except sin. Although His birth was miraculous in that Christ had no earthly father and that conception took place by the operation of the Holy Spirit, there is no reason at all to conclude that there is a fundamental difference between Christ’s conception and birth and our’s with respect to the point we are here making. Surely Christ was a person from the moment of His conception. The Second Person of the trinity came to unite Himself with our flesh; not at some later point in Christ’s life after birth (as some ancient heresies in the early Church maintained), but from the moment of conception. He was the eternal Son of God in our flesh from the moment conception took place in Mary’s womb. Paul states emphatically in Galatians 4:4: “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law.” And Paul writes to the Philippians: “(Christ) made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.” Phil. 2:7. Indeed, it seems to us to border on the blasphemous that Christ was anything else but the eternal Son of God in our flesh from the moment of conception. And the Church has always confessed: “I believe . . . in Jesus Christ, God’s only begotten Son, conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary.”
What then is the conclusion of the matter? Scripture, after all, gives very clear and unmistakable guidelines in this question of abortion. Scripture never speaks in any other way of the unborn child but as a person. To take that life is to take the life of a person. And that is murder, nothing less. We have said before that there are surely instances when even taking the life of the unborn child is not murder. This is true, e.g., when the life of the mother herself is threatened. Then the life of the mother must be weighed over against the life of the child. No one in the Church of Christ so far as I know, with the exception of Roman Catholics in the past, have denied this. But these circumstances are different. One life is then set over against another.
But when unborn children are killed for reasons physical, social, psychological—all of which are ultimately selfish, then murder is indeed the crime committed.
But how fearful then becomes the legalization of abortion. Not only are thousands and hundreds of thousands of murders of unwanted children committed in this country every year; but these very murders are legalized. The law, instituted to protect human life, is turned against human life. Who can predict when this will end? Sanctioning cold-blooded murder in one area of life will inevitably lead to the sanctioning of murder in other areas of life. God is not mocked. What a man sows that shall he also reap.