A comprehensive examination                                        of the abortion issue: Part Three 

Vector human embryo development circle flat icon Vector human embryo development circle with female uterus icon. Human fetus growth through the stages of pregnancy from a cell to a baby. Medica concept poster, isolated illustration fetus stock illustrationsLife begins at conception:

       It is evident from both the scientific and Biblical narrative that life begins at conception.  The Biblical narrative teaches that breath is the component that gives life to a physical organism. Science has shown that it is the oxygen constituent of breath that is necessary for life to occur. This constituent is present in the zygote of a fertilized ovum and is necessary to its viability and development. Oxygen is received through the mother’s inhalation of air and transferred to the zygote.  Therefore, the formation of the zygote is the beginning of life. This being the case, the breath of life facilitating life beginning at conception is not just a religious view as some claim. Life beginning at conception through the union of oxygen and genetic material to form a zygote is also a view held by a number of life scientists. 

       As already pointed out, the one celled zygote produced by the union of sperm and ovum is seen as using oxygen from the start.  If this provision of oxygen is the breath of life spoken of in Scripture, is this also when a “spirit” component is provided? The passage in Job reveals that “it is the spirit (rū·a) in a man, the breath (neshamah) of the Almighty, that gives him understanding" (Job 32:8).  Zechariah writes that the LORD forms the spirit (rū·a) of man within him (Zechariah 12:1).

       As discussed in Part Two of this series, Ecclesiastes 12, Proverbs 20:27 and 18:14, Isaiah 57:15 and 1st Corinthians 6:20 all appear to say that there is a “spirit” component associated with human life that is more than the oxygen carrying breath that human life requires to sustain itself. At the loss of breath, the physical body dies and Scripture teaches that man’s breath goes back to God that gave it. Scripture also appears to teach that the spirit component of life returns to God at death of the physical body.  

       If indeed this is the case, it brings up some interesting questions.  If a spirit component that facilitates cognition is given at conception, does such component return to God when such conception is aborted either naturally (spontaneous/miscarriage) or by medical/pharmaceutical means?  As discussed above, Scripture indicates humans are judged in an afterlife as to what was done while in the body.  Obviously, such judgement wouldn’t apply to an unborn fetus.  Is an unborn life seen by God in the same manner as a born life?  Do the lives of unborn fetuses experience an afterlife?  

       Some pro-choice advocates argue that an unborn fetus is not of the same value before God as a born fetus as witnessed by the multi millions of spontaneous/miscarriage abortions that God allows to occur every year.  Therefore, a medical/pharmaceutical abortion is seen as terminating a life that is of less importance to God as a born life and this is seen as justification for induced abortion. However, this is a non-sequitur argument where the conclusion does not necessarily follow from the premise. We don’t know that God sees a naturally aborted embryo or fetus as of less worth. It just may be that God will in some manner facilitate an afterlife even for the unborn.        

Murder/killing in the Biblical Scriptures:

       Many pro-life advocates believe planned/induced abortion is murder and to terminate the life of an unborn fetus is to violate the Biblical sixth commandment against murder.  It is also seen as the violation of civil law against murder. Is planned abortion murder? If it is, are their exceptions to it being murder?  Let’s begin considering these questions by taking a look at the Biblical narrative as it relates to the matter of murder and killing.

       The sixth commandment, as found in Exodus 20:13 and Deuteronomy 5:17, says “Do not kill.” The Hebrew word rendered “kill” in these two passages is ratsach and this word appears 47 times in the OT.  Most modern translations render this Hebrew word “murder” rather than “kill.”   The Gesenius’ Hebrew Lexicon defines this word as “to break or dash in pieces.” The BDB Lexicon defines it as “to slay.”  It is used throughout the OT to describe humans who either intentionally or unintentionally kill another human. By context it can be seen that where a killing is intentional it is considered a lawless killing and is punishable by death.  In the case of unintentional killing (accidents) the murderer is allowed to flee to a city of refuge to escape being killed by revenge minded relatives of the deceased.   

       Another Hebrew word rendered “kill” in English translations of the OT is harag and simply means to take someone’s life. This word appears 167 times in the OT and is used to describe terminating the life of humans in a variety of situations and circumstances and by a variety of means. It is the word used to describe the killing of Able by Cain. It is the word used to describe the killing of the Egyptian first born by the death angel.  It is used to describe the killing of the inhabitants of nations that stood in the way of Israel entering the Promised Land. It is used to describe the killing of Israel’s enemies by David and other of the kings of Israel and it is used to describe the killing of the Israelites for their disobedience to God.

       While harag is at times seen to be an unlawful killing such as in Cain killing Able, most of the time it is simply describing the taking of life without a judgement being made as to the right or wrong of such behavior.

       One other Hebrew word used to describe killing is nakah.  This word appears 501 times in the OT narrative. The Gesenius’ Hebrew Lexicon defines nakah as “to smite.”  This word is often used to describe the infliction of harm or injury on someone. It is also used numerous times to describe killing in war.  Sometimes this word is used to describe a single killing of someone out of personal anger toward them. We see this in the account of Moses killing the Egyptian.

       Exodus 2:11-12: One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people. Glancing this way and that and seeing no one, he killed (nakah) the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.

       No judgment is recorded as to the right or wrong of what Moses did in the killing of the Egyptian. This is true of how nakah is used throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. As is the case with the use of the Hebrew word harag, nakah is used to simply report behavior and not determine if it is right or wrong. The use of ratsach is a different story. Ratsach is judged as wrong behavior punishable by death when done intentionally.

       Numbers 35:16-21; "`If a man strikes (nakah) someone with an iron object so that he dies, he is a murderer (ratsach); the murderer (ratsach) shall be put to death. Or if anyone has a stone in his hand that could kill, and he strikes (nakah) someone so that he dies, he is a murderer (ratsach); the murderer (ratsach) shall be put to death. Or if anyone has a wooden object in his hand that could kill, and he hits (nakah) someone so that he dies, he is a murderer (ratsach); the murderer (ratsach) shall be put to death. The avenger of blood shall put the murderer (ratsach) to death; when he meets him, he shall put him to death. If anyone with malice aforethought shoves another or throws something at him intentionally so that he dies or if in hostility he hits (nakah) him with his fist so that he dies, that person shall be put to death; he is a murderer (ratsach). The avenger of blood shall put the murderer (ratsach) to death when he meets him.

       In this passage of Scripture, the same Hebrew word that is used in the sixth commandment to prohibit murder is used here to identify someone who has killed another human being. 

       It must be noted, however, that a distinction is made between the act of committing murder and being put to death for committing murder.  Putting a murderer to death is not seen in the same light as the act of murder.  Murder is not being committed in the act of putting a murderer to death.  Killing a murderer under OT law is seen to be acceptable and apparently not in violation of the sixth commandment. However, rules applied as to how this was done.

       Numbers 35:30: "`Anyone who kills (ratsach) a person is to be put to death as a murderer (ratsach) only on the testimony of witnesses. But no one is to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness.

       Killing in war appears to be acceptable and even considered righteous. Therefore, killing in war is not seen as murder. The Israelites engaged in much warfare, often at the direction of God.  David killed Goliath and was celebrated for doing so.  Killing someone in self defense and prevention of having personal property stolen is seen as justified and not murder. "If a thief is caught breaking in and is struck so that he dies, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed” (Exodus 22:2).

       Capital punishment for behavior contrary to God’s law is commanded throughout the Old Testament and is not seen as murder.  Here are just a few examples.  "Anyone who strikes (nakah) a man and kills (harag) him shall surely be put to death” (Exodus 21:12).  "If anyone takes the life of a human being, he must be put to death” (Leviticus 34:17). "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man” (Genesis 9:6).

       Exodus 21:15-17:  Anyone who attacks (nakah) his father or his mother must be put to death.  Anyone who kidnaps another and either sells him or still has him when he is caught must be put to death. Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.

       Leviticus 20:13: If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.

       We see in Numbers 35 that murder committed as a result of malice and hostility is what is condemned and punished.  Accidental killing was not considered murder. 

       Numbers 35:22-25: But if without hostility someone suddenly shoves another or throws something at him unintentionally or, without seeing him, drops a stone on him that could kill him, and he dies, then since he was not his enemy and he did not intend to harm him, the assembly must judge between him and the avenger of blood according to these regulations. The assembly must protect the one accused of murder (ratsach) from the avenger of blood and send him back to the city of refuge to which he fled. He must stay there until the death of the high priest, who was anointed with the holy oil. 

      In the New Testament (NT), the Greek word phoneuó is used to describe murder. This word appears 12 times and simply means to kill. Depending on the translation it is either rendered “murder” or “kill.”  It is used in passages that reflect the OT commandment to not murder and is used several times to refer to the killing of the prophets.  The Greek apollumi occurs 92 times in the NT and has the basic meaning of “destroy.”  It is mostly rendered as kill, destroy, perish and loss. NT passages where this word appears do not provide any insights on when life begins or the matter of abortion.

Murder/killing and abortion:

       How does the above discussion of murder/killing as seen in the Biblical Scriptures relate to the issue of planned/induced abortion? All the discussion of murder/killing in the Biblical Scriptures is in the context of born individuals. The biblical narrative does not directly address the murder/killing of the unborn except possibly in Exodus 21:22-23 depending on how you interpret this passage. If, in this passage, it is the unborn fetus that is seen as being killed through miscarriage due to the mother being injured in a scuffle between two men, then it is murder that is being addressed as the death penalty is seen as being applied to one or both of the men.        

       Can it be legitimately concluded that planned/induced abortion of a preborn human is murder? Some pro-choice advocates argue that since the Biblical Scriptures don’t directly address the issue of abortion the bible can’t be used to paint abortion as an evil, let alone murder.  The same argument is used to deflate the idea that abortion is the breaking of civil law against murder. Civil law against murder is mandated within the context of born humans. Therefore, it is questioned how such civil law can be used against terminating the life of a pre-born human. I will deal with this issue in the following summation of this three part series.   


       As discussed above, religious and civil law identifies murder as the unjustified, deliberate and intentional taking of someone’s life.  Such law is generally seen as applying to born life. Should such law apply to unborn life?

       There is no scientific consensus as to when life begins. Neither is there religious consensus as to the beginning of life as seen in the theological system of Judaism discussed in Part Two of this series.  The leadership of Islam has mixed views as to when life begins and the permissibility of planned abortion.  The Quran does not address planned abortion. Hindu scripture clearly prohibits induced abortion except to save the life of the mother. It is considered an act against universal order. However, the current Indian government has ruled that abortions are permitted up to 20 weeks (five months) after conception with the approval of a certified health care provider. Failed contraception is considered an acceptable reason for approving an abortion.    

       The Biblical Scriptures do not directly address planned abortion. However, there is a document known as the Didache (Also known as The Lord's Teaching Through the Twelve Apostles to the Nations). This document was written by Jewish Christians and is believed to have been written somewhere in the late first century or early second century AD. Here is what is written in chapter 2:1-2:

       But the second commandment of the teaching is this: "Thou shalt do no murder; thou shalt not commit adultery"; thou shalt not commit sodomy; thou shalt not commit fornication; thou shalt not steal; thou shalt not use magic; thou shalt not use philtres (love potion); thou shalt not procure abortion, nor commit infanticide.

       While the Biblical Scriptures do not directly address planned abortion, they do discuss the dynamics involved in the genesis of life and that unjustified, deliberate and intentional termination of life is murder. While civil law does not address the genesis of life it does identify unjustified, deliberate and intentional termination of life as murder.  

       In view of my examination of both OT and NT passages and scientific investigation pertaining to when life begins, I am confident in concluding that life begins at conception. As discussed above, a new genomic individual is created when the breath of life is united with DNA material in a conceived zygote. This new genetic configuration facilitates the development of such zygote into an embryo and fetus leading to the birth of a new human life. 

       While it is true, as expressed in Jewish thought, that the fetus is totally dependent on its mother for life until born, I disagree with Jewish thought that concludes because of this a fetus is not really alive until birth. While a fetus depends on its mother for nutrients and oxygen to develop, it does develop into a separate life from that of the mother and that separate life is manifest as the fetus develops in the womb. As previously pointed out in this series, the blood of the mother and that of the fetus never mix. This in itself shows the life of the fetus is separate from that of the mother.  

       In both the Jewish/Christian Scriptures, the writings of other religions and in civil law, murder is seen as the unjustified, deliberate, intentional and unlawful taking of a human life.  As mentioned above, some argue that murder laws are not applicable to unborn humans and therefore the termination of an unborn life cannot be construed as murder.

       I submit this is a bogus argument. Laws against murder are laws against the unjustified, deliberate and intentional taking of a human life.  Since I believe human life begins at conception, to terminate such life is to murder that life. There is nothing in the Biblical Scriptures, the scriptures of other religions or civil law that limits murder of human life to born human life.  I submit that to terminate human life in an unjustified, deliberate, intentional manner at any stage of its development is to murder human life. This being said, I believe there can be justifiable exceptions to this rule of law in regard to conceived human life. In such cases the deliberate and intentional taking of a human life should not be seen as murder.  

       We see in both Biblical Scripture, other religious writings and in the law of most civil government, exceptions to the deliberate and intentional taking of human life being murder. In both the Biblical Scriptures and in secular society we see the deliberate and intentional taking of human life in war not seen as murder.  Capital punishment is the deliberate and intentional taking of human life. While prohibited in some societies and religious systems, it is seen as lawful in others and is certainly seen as lawful in the Hebrew Scriptures as discussed above.  It is not seen as murder. Killing someone in self defense is the deliberate and intentional taking of human life and yet is seen as lawful in Scripture and society in general. Therefore, the deliberate and intentional taking of human life is justified under certain circumstances and where justified is not considered murder.

     Since we see the deliberate and intentional taking of human life as lawful under certain circumstances (war, capital punishment, self defense etc.) is it reasonable to conclude that planned abortion under certain circumstances is not murder even though it is still the deliberate and intentional taking of a human life? It is apparent that God has given us humans the right to take human life in war, capital punishment, and self defense.  In police work, the deliberate and intentional taking of the life of a person committing murder is justified to prevent such person from taking the life of others.  Such killing is not considered murder.  It is instructive as to what Apostle Paul said regarding the exercise of police work.

       Romans 13:3-4:  For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.

       It is apparent God has allowed for exceptions to the rule of law that the deliberate and intentional termination of human life is murder. This certainly is apparent in war, capital punishment, self defense and civil intervention in criminal activity.  These are all circumstances where the Biblical scriptures and civil government make exceptions to the deliberate and intentional taking of human life being murder.

       While the Biblical scriptures identify the deliberate and intentional killing of a human as murder except for under the circumstances cited above, the Biblical scriptures do not address circumstances that could justify abortion of a preborn. However, the fact that the Biblical scriptures do not identify circumstances where abortion may be a justifiable exception to the termination of life being murder doesn’t mean such circumstances don’t exist. Are there circumstances where termination of a preborn human life is justified and should not be considered murder?

       I believe that where God has not given humans specific instruction on an issue that relates to a rule of law, God expects us to use human judgement in such cases. As to the matter of abortion, I personally believe that abortion in cases of rape, and a mother’s life being in danger are justifiable exceptions to the deliberate and intentional taking of human life being murder. Another exception would be where there is an ectopic pregnancy where a fertilized egg grows outside the uterus. There is virtually no chance of such embryo surviving. Abortion in such circumstances as just listed should be considered justifiable exceptions to murder as murder is generally defined.

       This being said, to intentionally terminate the life of a preborn where the forgoing conditions do not exist is to commit murder. Pregnancy that occurs as the result of  consensual sexual relations includes the responsibility of giving birth to the conceived infant. Consensual sexual relations is the key here.  Consensual sex is where a male and female agree to have sexual relations. They mutually choose to have sexual relations.

       While a woman may at times feel psychologically coerced into having sex or agrees to having sex for ulterior motives, she has the choice to or not to engage in sexual relations. Such freedom of choice is only negated when a man physically forces himself upon a resisting woman and forces her into sexual intercourse. This is rape.  I did not include incest in the above justifications for abortion as incest can be consensual.  If it is not, it is rape and would fall under the rape exception cited above.

       Except for the conditions cited above, having an abortion only to avoid the responsibility of bringing a prenatal to birth is to murder the new life that was conceived through consensual sexual relations. This should not be considered a justifiable exception to the deliberate and intentional termination of a human life being murder. This is unjustified, deliberate and intentional termination of a human life. This is a failure to take responsibility for the consequences of the behavior that produced the pregnancy.  

       To reiterate, except for the circumstances cited above, abortion should be considered the unjustified deliberate and intentional taking of human life. Such abortion should be prohibited at all levels of government as it is in violation of law that prohibits murder. Law that prohibits murder is common to most religious systems and common to most civil government systems.  In reality this is not just a religious issue, it is a civil law issue. Therefore, it being murder to unjustifiably terminate the life of the unborn is of equal application to both the religious and non-religious.

       Pro-choice advocates speak loudly about it being a woman’s right to decide whether or not to give birth to a developing life in her womb. It is considered a reproductive right to decide whether or not to give birth to the life conceived through sexual relations. Women proclaim they have the right to do with their bodies as they please. While this may be true in matters of deciding to or not to have a gallbladder removed or some other medical procedure, it is not true in deciding the fate of a life growing in the womb as such life is separate from that of the mothers. The termination of such life is not a reproductive right. Instead, there exists here a reproductive responsibility to bring such life to birth. 

       Our Federal Constitution is cited as providing the liberty and right to make such decisions.  However, human rights enumerated in our Federal Constitution and its amendments are predicated upon behavioral restrictions that regulate human behavior.  One of those restrictions is the prohibition of the unjustified, deliberate and intentional taking of human life, a behavior identified as murder. A mother who believes she has the right to terminate a pregnancy, except for the possible reasons listed above, is basically saying she has the right to commit murder. Constitutional law at all levels of government does not allow the unjustified, deliberate and intentional taking of human life to be a right. 

       A major argument pro-choice and abortion advocates will present against my position is that a preborn (prenatal) human does not fall under extant “right to life” laws as is true of born humans.  Therefore, aborting a prenatal is not murder. It is argued that the “right to life” begins at birth and not before.  This, however, is an arbitrary judgment.  There is nothing in “right to life” laws that defines “right to life” as only applying to postnatal humans. These laws speak of humans being protected from having life terminated short of due process of law.  Since I believe human life begins at conception, prenatal life should be protected equal to postnatal life. Over the years there have been many cases where someone who caused the death of a fetus by injuring a pregnant mother was convicted of murdering the fetus thus reflecting the belief that a fetus is a human person before birth having a right to life.  

       The recent US Supreme Court ruling that the Federal Constitution does not establish a right to have a planned abortion has left it up to the states to regulate abortion. This has created a great deal of diversity of regulation among the various states as to what is allowed and not allowed relative to abortion.  This diversity of regulation is the result of there being mixed perspectives within religious systems, governmental systems, among politicians and the public in general as to when life begins and the propriety of terminating the life of a prenatal human. This is unfortunate as it creates a great deal of tension between advocates for and against abortion.  Some feel that civil government at all levels should not be involved with reproductive issues and should simply let people do what they believe to be right based on their personal perspective as to when life begins and how such life is to be treated.   

       However, civil government has the responsibility of providing for the general welfare of its citizens and that involves regulating how humans conduct themselves.  Part of such regulation is determining when the intentional taking of human life is murder and when it is not. Unfortunately, there is no agreement as to whether or not the intentional termination of an unborn human life is murder.  Since there is no consensus among life scientists, religions and government leaders as to when life begins and whether such life should be protected by civil government, the issue of planned/induced abortion will continue to create much dissension. 

       I trust that the above discussion will provide food for thought on the issue of when life begins and how such life is to be viewed within the context of both religious and civil law. I welcome constructive response to this presentation. 

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