I had always assumed that the Bible didn’t specifically address abortion because it was a relatively new phenomenon. Nobody was doing it, hence there was no need to talk about it. However, recent research I have done contradicts that notion. It raises a serious question about abortion and the Bible. If God is so adamantly opposed to abortion, why did he never mention it in the Bible? Consider this brief timeline.
- In 1550 BC, the Egyptian Ebers Papyrus text was written containing medical instructions for performing abortions.
- Biblical scholars debate this date, but the oldest accepted date for Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt is 1446.
- This would mean that abortions were being practiced in the land Moses brought the Jews out of during the time that they were still there.
Therefore, it stands to reason that God would address this abomination in his law.
Reading the laws given by God to his chosen people there is no specific mention of abortion. Furthermore, in the time of Jesus the practice was being used by the Greeks and Romans. Moreover, Caesar Augustus even questioned the morality of abortion during the early life of Jesus. Yet it is never mentioned in the New Testament either.
Many Christians use verses like Psalm 139:16 to establish a Biblical opposition to abortion. Likewise, some point to the more generic “Thou shalt not kill” as establishing a position. However, in the law passed down from God there are very specific laws and punishments given in regards to murder. Yet there is no mention of abortion. This makes the following passage from Numbers 5 all the more interesting.
Abortion and the Bible. What Numbers 5 tells us.
This is a rather shocking passage. It gives instructions to the Jews on a “Jealousy Offering”. Basically, it is written for the man who suspects his wife of cheating without proof. He can bring his wife to the priest with an offering of barley flour. The priest then prepares a cursed remedy for the woman to drink. If she has cheated on her husband, it will result in a miscarriage. Furthermore, it implies that she may lose her ability to have children from the process.
It deserves mentioning here that the process didn’t necessarily have to begin with a pregnant woman. However, assuming the woman was pregnant with the baby of another man, the result is clear. This could only be described as an abortion. Therefore, it becomes very difficult to maintain the idea that God was adamantly opposed to the very notion of abortion.
Abortion and the Bible: The conflicting notions of Exodus 21.
Exodus 21 institutes the death penalty in a variety of situations. Here I will list each reason while linking to the chapter for context.
- Anyone who strikes another with a fatal blow. Verse 12
- One who schemes to kill. Verse 14
- A child who attacks a parent. Verse 15
- Kidnappers. Verse 16
- One who curses a parent. Verse 17
Yet verses 22 through 25 have this interesting insight.
Theologians are quick to point out that this passage doesn’t necessarily refer to a miscarriage. “Fruit depart from her” doesn’t necessarily mean that the baby dies. I agree. However, it doesn’t rule it out either. If the injury were such that the baby was to be delivered stillborn, this would be a miscarriage. Moreover, it would take a further act to trigger criminal penalty. The act that caused the miscarriage was a civil matter handled more similarly to a modern lawsuit.
Conclusions on Abortion and the Bible:
One can easily conclude that an abortion isn’t a preferred method of dealing with a pregnancy from a Biblical perspective. God told Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply. He told David his parts were numbered in the womb. However, it is equally hard to make the claim that abortions were a damnable sin. God gave priests instructions to give a cursed drink to women who were pregnant as a result of adultery that would lead to a miscarriage. Furthermore, he offered a lesser punishment to those who committed an act that resulted in the miscarriage of a fetus than for the death of the mother.
This is why I believe that the “safe, legal, and rare” legislative reproach to abortion might best fall in line with the scriptures. Laws that prevent abortion altogether take an extra-Biblical view on abortion. I believe that the pro-life movement would be better served by trying to financially make it feasible for unwanted babies to be taken by families who will love them. It is unreasonable to, in the name of God, force people to live under a law that God never issued. Furthermore, it is presumptive to declare God’s position on an issue where he himself never emphatically ruled on.