What the Bible says (and doesn’t say) about abortion

By Sarah Quale — Abortion is never directly addressed in the Old Testament. Neither is the word abortion specifically mentioned in the New Testament. Many argue that, because the Bible is “silent” on abortion, that means it’s permissible, even worthy of praise. But scripture speaks very clearly on the sanctity of human life, and the early Church was bold in its defense of it. So how are we faring today?

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Are abortion and Christianity aligned?

There are several arguments that claim abortion and the Christian worldview are co-existent. Perhaps the most pervasive one is that God’s gift of free will includes the right to abortion; that because God gives us the ability to choose, we can decide whether to bring life into the world or not, especially in difficult circumstances. Others take a more philosophical approach. They argue that, because there are differing views on the time of ensoulment in the womb, we can never really know when life becomes valuable and in need of protection. Some make a more tangible claim, that life begins when the first breath is taken, because God breathed the breath of life into Adam to cause him to become a living being (Genesis 2:7).

Many also cite Exodus 21:22-25 as proof that the life of a pre-born child is not equally valuable to other lives. Others go much further and give examples of how God committed genocide against women and children and allowed “the wombs of pregnant women to be ripped open.” This, they say, is evidence of a God that dismisses and destroys life, not holds it sacred.

So are these arguments valid, and how should we respond to them?

The intentional taking of life before birth is certainly not new. That, in itself, is another argument that bolsters claims of the Bible’s silence and thus, acceptance of abortion. After all, if abortion was happening in biblical times and it was wrong, scripture would have called it out, right?

Though acceptance of “abortion rights” as a progressive political cause in America is rather recent, it is true that abortion has been practiced in every culture since ancient times. In classical paganism, while it was sometimes controversial, abortion was common and widely approved.

But it was the Church that swept through the later Roman world as the great pro-life movement, setting standards in medicine, culture, and public policy that still condition the thinking of fractured Christianity in the 21st century. One of the highest cultural achievements of the spread of the Gospel throughout the pagan world was to push abortion and its close sibling, infanticide, to the margins of society and eventually bring about the protection of pre-born children by law.

To suggest that the Bible is silent or that abortion is permissible, even worthy of praise, is to completely ignore the sanctity of life ethic woven throughout the Old and New Testaments and the historic context into which the Gospel of Jesus Christ surged forward.

First, let’s look at five main themes that emerge when we consider the whole counsel of scripture.

1. God has supremacy over life

Personhood Alliance - God is pro-life

God is the author, owner, sustainer, and finisher of life. This is the foundation for the Christian response to abortion, or any other assault on human life and human dignity.

The idea of biblical personhood—of the exceptional, equal, and intrinsic value of human life—comes from Genesis 1:27: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Because human beings are created in the image and likeness of God, we naturally possess an innate worth and a right to life that must be protected.

Abortion is evil because it enters the place where the Creator knits (Psalm 139:13) and violently destroys a person made in God’s image. Abortion isn’t a God-ordained exercise of free will. It’s an attempted usurpation of His throne.

For more on this point, consult these scriptures:

Genesis 1:26-28, 25:21; Exodus 23:25-26; Job 10:8-12; 31:15; Psalm 100:3, 119:73, 127:3-5, 139:13; Ecclesiastes 11:5; Isaiah 44:2, 44:24; Matthew 1:20; Acts 17:24-25; Revelation 4:11
2. God prohibits child sacrifice

Personhood Alliance - abortion is child sacrifice

Beyond His very clear command, “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13), God spoke strongly of child sacrifice as an abomination. He warned the Israelites about participating in the “detestable practice” of the pagans (Deuteronomy 12:31, Jeremiah 7:28-31). When speaking to the prophet Ezekiel, God said, “On the very day they slaughtered their children in sacrifice to their idols, they entered my sanctuary and desecrated it. That is what they did in my house” (Ezekiel 23:39). Proverbs 6:16-19 includes a list of seven things God hates and finds “detestable,” and that list includes hands that shed innocent blood.

Abortion is today’s child sacrifice, but the god to which we are sacrificing innocent blood isn’t Molech, as it was in ancient pagan times. The god of today is Self—our careers, our own ideas about marriage and family, our financial situation, our fears and insecurities, our social status, and even our convenience. It is important to understand the level of demonic power that’s released when we shed innocent blood on such a massive scale. We are literally preparing a feast every day in America; setting over 2,500 innocent little boys and girls on the table to be devoured. Throughout the world, it’s almost 110,000 every day.

Detestable.

Why are we surprised when that level of violence spills over into our homes, into our schools, and onto our streets? The killing of innocent children is an abomination to God, and his judgment and justice are coming. 

For more on this point, consult these scriptures:
Genesis 9:6; Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 12:31, 2 Kings 17:17-18; Psalm 106:35, 37-38; Proverbs 6: 16-19; Isaiah 13:18; Jeremiah 7: 28-31; Ezekiel 23:36-39; 1 John 3:11-12
3. God has a relationship with the pre-born child

Personhood Alliance - God and the unborn child

God is not only a God of justice, but also of love and mercy. We see this in Psalm 139:13-16, which says God knits us together, that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, and that all of our days were known to him before even one of them came to be. Jeremiah 1:5 reiterates: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.”

God has a plan and a purpose for every single human being He creates. Abortion destroys that plan and purpose, severs family trees, and disrupts the generations.

To that end, it is a monumental stretch to claim that life is not sacred to God or that He kills pre-born children in anger or somehow condones murder of the innocent. The verses that are used to make these claims are taken wildly out of context and include Deuteronomy 28:14-18, 2 Kings 8:12, 2 Kings 15:16, Isaiah 13:18, Hosea 9:10-16, and Hosea 13:16, among others. Cherry picking scripture to attempt to confuse others about God’s commandments or distort the nature of God Himself comes with dire warnings throughout the Old and New Testaments.

For more on this point, consult these scriptures:
Psalm 22:10-11, 139:13-16; Isaiah 49:1; Jeremiah 1:5; Matthew 10:30; Luke 1:41-44
4. God commands us to stand up for the weak and helpless

Personhood Alliance - premature baby, abortion

No one is more weak and helpless than a pre-born child. Premature infants give us a little glimpse into the fragile, voiceless existence of children in the womb. As Christians called to stand up for the weak and helpless, we cannot sit idly by while they are violently destroyed.

God doesn’t merely suggest that we get involved. He doesn’t call only some people into the pro-life movement. The defense of human life and human dignity is a call put upon every single believer.

Psalm 72:12-14 says: “He will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death. He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight.”

How does God do this? Through us, His people!

In Proverbs 31:8-9, He demands that we speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, to rescue those staggering toward slaughter. He says we have a responsibility to know what is happening and to align with Him to do something about it.

Deuteronomy 27:19 even goes so far as to say,Cursed is the man who withholds justice from the alien, the fatherless, or the widow.”

For more on this point, consult these scriptures:
Deuteronomy 27:19; Psalm 10:17-18, 41:1, 72:12-14; Proverbs 31:8-9; Isaiah 1:13-17; Amos 5:24; Matthew 25:35-36,40; Luke 6:36; Ephesians 6: 10-13; 1 John 3:17
5. God claims victory over sin and death

Personhood Alliance - Victory over abortion

The good news is that Jesus has already conquered death, hell, and the grave. God loves us so much that He lets us choose to receive the gift of salvation that comes only through Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf. Deuteronomy 30:19 says God sets before us life and death, blessings and curses, and wants us to choose life.

This doesn’t mean God gives us permission to do whatever we want. It means He gives us a choice to live according to His will and commandments, and if we don’t, consequences will inevitably occur—the very consequences mentioned in all those verses that are used to prove God is a vengeful and genocidal destroyer of the innocent.

Regardless of what we choose, Jesus will come again and death will no longer have any power here on Earth. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:55, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” And John tells us in Revelation 21:4, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

Victory has already been won!

What better message is there than the Gospel—than Jesus’s life and death—for those who are at a crossroads deciding to value life or not, or for those already wounded by the sin of abortion! “It is through the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23).

For more on this point, consult these scriptures:
Genesis 1: 26-28; Deuteronomy 30:19-20; Isaiah 25:8; John 10:10; 1 Corinthians 15:54-58; Revelation 21:3-4

 

The sanctity of life ethic is clearly woven throughout the Bible in these five themes, and it was applied clearly as Christianity began to spread throughout the nations.

So what did the early Church have to say about abortion?

The early Church said the word abortion…a lot

Abortion was commonplace in the Greco-Roman world that Christianity entered into in the first century. The early Church fathers wrote very, very plainly about the evils of abortion and infanticide, both of which were widely accepted in the pagan culture.

Many early texts and apologists spoke openly and consistently about the sin of abortion. The Epistle of Barnabas and the Didache, both written around 130 A.D.—one in Egypt and one in Syria—both condemned abortion as “the murder of a child.” During this same time period, pagans were accusing Christians of killing infants during their worship services. Of course, this was because pagans were sacrificing children to their false gods. “You’re just like us!” they would say. So several Christian leaders and philosophers wrote publicly to very strongly condemn both infanticide and abortion.

“For us murder is once for all forbidden; so even the child in the womb, while yet the mother’s blood is still being drawn on to form the human being, it is not lawful for us to destroy. To forbid birth is only quicker murder. It makes no difference whether one take away the life once born or destroy it as it comes to birth. He is a man who is to be a man; the fruit is always present in the seed.”

(Tertullian, in Apology 9:8, around 197 AD)

From the second century on, it was the same. Each time the condemnation of abortion became clearer and stronger—harsh by what we’ve come to accept as today’s standards.

“Some go so far as to take potions, that they may insure barrenness, and thus murder human beings almost before their conception. Some, when they find themselves with child through their sin, use drugs to procure abortion, and when (as often happens) they die with their offspring, they enter the lower world laden with the guilt not only of adultery against Christ but also of suicide and child murder. Yet it is these who say: ‘Unto the pure all things are pure’ (Titus 1:15); my conscience is sufficient guide for me. A pure heart is what God looks for… I blush to speak of it, it is so shocking; yet though sad, it is true.”

(Jerome [347-419 AD] in Letter to Eustochium, 22:13-14)

Society began to see Christians’ view of children and of life in general very differently than the pagan view. Christians would risk their lives to rescue children abandoned to die on the infanticide walls. They would care for villagers who were sick or elderly, even during massive plagues that endangered their own health. Pagans actually saw these actions as a threat to their power and influence over their own culture so they began to make laws to limit the impact of the Church and punish those who would not comply.

It seems history is repeating itself once again. 

It’s important to note that the early Church didn’t look at the “hard cases” as exceptions for abortion. The hard cases were actually much harder and much more common then. Many women died in childbirth. Rape and incest were much more prevalent in the surrounding cultures. Pregnancy out of wedlock was a horrible social stigma. But they never saw the killing of a pre-born child as the solution to any of that.

They knew that the ultimate answer didn’t lie with the abortionist, but with Christ. This is why the Church provided places of refuge for pregnant women in desperate situations. It’s why they ran orphanages for abandoned children. The Church met the physical, psychological, and spiritual needs of mothers—needs that abortion totally overlooks and at the same time, deeply damages.

It’s our turn now

From Basil the Great in the 4th century all the way to St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century (and beyond), the Christian stand against abortion was crystal clear. We can see the remnants of this in many of the Christian pro-life mercy ministries of today. But the modern Church in America, as a whole, must return to a no-exceptions, no-compromise stand against abortion, and all other direct assaults on human life and human dignity. We must begin to reclaim charity, which we have willfully delegated to government. We have exchanged spiritual authority and selfless sacrifice for dependence on corrupt, man-made systems and the world’s definitions of justice and mercy. Just as Jesus said to the Church at Ephesus, we have “forsaken the love we had at first” (Revelation 2:4).

We have allowed paganism and progressive Christianity to infect and weaken us from within, instead of remaining the clear and distinguishable answer to the lies of our culture.

Thankfully, Jesus has a clear answer for what we are to do in the very next verse:

“Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.”

(Revelation 2:5)

Sarah Quale is president of Personhood Alliance Education, founder of Educe® online learning, and author of the Foundations online pro-life curriculum. She is an award-winning curriculum and instructional designer who has worked for over 20 years in corporate, academic, and ministerial environments.

20 comments on “What the Bible says (and doesn’t say) about abortion

  1. David Pegram says:

    Good article, except the misuse of the word “fairing” at the end of the first paragraph. I don’t even think that’s a word – it should be “faring” instead, as in “fare thee well.” Thanks for correcting.

    1. Sarah Quale says:

      Good catch!

  2. Daniel and Selma Kolke says:

    We need to be reminded that although “they abort (kill) the unborn within the womb, they cannot
    kill their “souls” which never dies.”
    How come they want to “heal the Soul of America” when in fact they are killing to future “Souls” of
    America?
    Where is the “OUTCRY” for the “FUTURE OF AMERICA”?

  3. Cindy says:

    I think it’s obvious that when people support abortion they are rejecting what God says. They aren’t arguing with me, they are arguing with HIM, the creator of life and therefore the Creator of that child. Why would I destroy God’s special creation in His image and them argue with Him about it? Seems like a dangerous path to take. I personally question the Salvation of people who argue with God about abortion. I think it’s one of the more clear cut sins in the Bible. I even know unbelievers who are pro-life because they realize the humanity of the child in the womb. Hard to believe that some people’s hearts are so “seared” that they can only make excuses. I find the biggest issue is people comparing abortion to other “political” issue and indicating that those things are just as bad. So why do we tolerate ANY of them? You are worried about feeding the poor (who might die without food) yet ignore the very real death going on around you. How is that a comparison? The person who needs food can ask for it, work for it, get assistance from people or government. The baby in the womb is in a prison from which it cannot escape as it is killed by someone much larger. it cannot ask for help or assistance from anyone. No comparison there.

  4. Pat says:

    God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. Thou shall NOT kill !
    Still true today as the day God gave them to Moses !

  5. Peter Haw says:

    Under the photo of a fetid in someone’s hands it should say psalm 139 not proverbs.

    1. Peter says:

      My typo fetus

    2. Sarah Quale says:

      Good catch! We’ll update. Thank you!

    1. Ellie says:

      Excellent summary. Thank you.
      But I think Ex. 21:22-25 is also a strong proof–if the pre-born child is lost after a physical attack (and is not abortion a physical attack, whether by instruments or drugs?), God says, “A life for a life.” Whose life? The mother’s? The verse does not restrict this to the woman. By common sense, the language includes the suddenly born child.
      The Hebrew says: “If people (not necessarily men–generic term) fight and they hit a pregnant woman and the child comes out of her and there is no injury, he (generic “he”–the attacker, he or she) must be fined as the husband of the woman demands and the crime gives (or, according to the norm of the court). But if there is injury/harm, you must take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot…” etc.
      That would mean that if the child’s life was forfeited… well, you connect the dots. It’s murder.

  6. Frances Mary says:

    So many people state that abortion is O.K. in cases of rape or incest. I can’t understand why the result of the assault is the person to be destroyed and not the perpetrator. It would be considered monstrous if the law killed the child of say a drunk driver.

    1. Paula B Brown says:

      Great point, Frances. My argument is always this – the circumstances under which the baby was conceived has no relevance to the question of whether or not the fetus is a human being. These are two distinctly separate conversations. A baby conceived in rape or incest is still a baby, created by God. Why do we punish the baby?

  7. Ellie says:

    Great article. Thank you.
    But also, Exodus 21: 21-25 is definite: A life for a life. Abortion takes a life–the life of the child. The Bible is clear on this. I don’t know why this passage is not used as a proof text. It should be. It is a strong text.
    I’ve heard all the other Scriptures “talked away” by clever people, but I don’t see how they could disregard this one. I think it is a very strong proof of God’s care for and value of the pre-born child.

  8. Stephen Blatch says:

    Amen to your eloquence and stamping out heresy
    Christ’s message of Love cannot be associated with the murder of children

    1. If pre-born children are not human beings what exactly are they.
      These times are so hellish when people refer to new born animals as ‘babies’ boys or girls. Indeed so much is pushed to the welfare of animals that were the money spent on animals was put to the feeding of hungry and sick children we would have a healthier society both physically and mentally. Even the advertising of products for the welfare of animals is out of order when we are being begged for £2 pounds a month for donkeys and the same for fresh water for poor children. Are people mad or bad? Just daft?

  9. Russell A Palmer says:

    God also spoke of knowing us when we were conceived. That is the time a baby has a heartbeat.

    redfox007me2@yahoo.com

    1. Gary Jelich says:

      No, the heartbeat starts about 3 weeks AFTER conception!

    2. Mark Wolf says:

      God knows us all the time we exist, from the moment He created us. Per science, that is at fertilization, long before the heartbeat.

  10. Joy says:

    Sarah – THANK YOU for writing such a thoughtful, engaging commentary on a greatly misunderstood topic. The modern Church is in dire need of returning to our Biblical heritage when it comes to defending human life and human dignity. But sadly, too many Christians today have little understanding of what this even means – and have been led astray by the misinterpretation of a handful of Bible verses. You thoughtfully and compassionately have woven together Biblical truth with historical context and given perspective on how to confront the assault upon life we currently face. I pray that those who need to read this will do so – and that God will use your work to change hearts and lives.

    1. Sarah Quale says:

      Thank you so much!

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