14-15 Is Abortion Murder? What does the Bible say about terminating pregnancy?
Transcript of https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6-0ORilh7Jg
We're going to be talking about the vexed question of abortion; whether abortion is appropriate or possible for a Christian, and whether someone who believes in the Bible and in God and in the Lord Jesus should be feeling guilty about having had an abortion.
Now I realise this is a very, very difficult thing to discuss in any rational sort of way. It’s too easy to come to a black and white solution whereby we say abortion = murder and that's a sin- and that's it. And I don't want to just say that and finish the discussion; because I realise the issue is wider than that. Believe me, I don't want to be in this discussion really. It's just that people keep asking for some kind of guidance about what the Bible says. And so I feel I have to share that with you because I can't flunk the question by saying, “Search for that on the internet. Do a Google on that one. Don't come to me.”
But I feel a great weight, believe me, as I come and discuss this question. Because maybe I might be leading you in the wrong way; even though I don't want to lead anyone anywhere. I simply want to discuss what the Bible says.
So, I wonder if you could join with me in praying before we start on this study:
“Lord God our Heavenly Father, we come to you the source of all life, the God of Israel, to try to understand your word and to understand your will and how we should be feeling about this whole issue of abortion and ending pregnancies. And, we ask that you will open our eyes to your word, and give us strength to follow where you are leading us. We ask that you will reveal your will to us. In Jesus' name and for his sake, Amen”
So, I'm here in Riga, Latvia. I'm at the Riga Bible Centre, which is in the former Soviet Union. I've just completed a discussion about this very subject [in Russian] with a hall full of baptised believers and some who are not yet baptised. I'd just like to quote you some statistics. In the 1990s in the Soviet Union, there were about 1,300 abortions for every 1000 live births. That's right. Thirteen abortions for every live birth. And my wife, as you might know, is a medical doctor, here in Riga, in Latvia. She was telling me that for a gynaecologist to get registered and complete their full training, they will have had to, in this country at least, and this is today [October 2014], they will have had to participate in around 100 abortion procedures.
So, this is not something that is just an item for somebody who gets raped or is in a very unusual medical situation. Quite clearly, this issue affects a large number of women and therefore families, in this part of the world and not just in this part of the world. It is all over the world. And so, people are carrying a lot of guilt when they hear things like, 'Abortion is murder'.
Let me start off thinking a little bit about guilt. I'm going to suggest to you that there is false guilt and true guilt. The true guilt is when we realise that we have not done right before God, then we read his word and we realise that my life and my thinking and my being is not matched with that which God would have liked me to have done or to have been. And quite rightly we should feel guilt, and the joy therefore of that guilt being taken away; because the Lord Jesus was amongst other things the guilt offering, the fulfilment of the guilt offering which there was in Old Testament times. So all that guilt has been taken away. The guilt of all our sin, sins that we don't realise we've done, sins that at the moment maybe we've not fessed up to or don't perceive as sins. The whole issue of guilt, both guilt that other people have put on us that maybe we shouldn't have to carry, and also true guilt, all guilt has been taken from us if we are baptised believers in Christ.
But, as I said, there is false guilt and true guilt. False guilt, I would suggest, is the guilt that we take that we needn't take. Guilt that is transferred onto us, that is put onto us by people saying. “You shouldn't have done that. You terrible person. You did this that and the other. You are a murderer.” For example, if you're a gynaecologist, “You're a serial murderer”. And I've heard that said. If you were a gynaecologist, in the USSR and probably in a lot of Europe, you're a serial murderer. And then when a gynaecologist becomes a baptised believer what do you do with your guilt. Are you right to feel guilt over this, etc.? I'm just simply flagging at the start that there is false guilt and there is true guilt.
You can also look at this the other way round. Perhaps you live in a society, as many people did in this country where I'm standing here, in Latvia, where there was no great guilt attached to abortion. It was effectively used as a form of contraception. And, unfortunately then, people can end up thinking, “Well, yeah, it was okay because nobody else feels guilty about it. So, why should I?” And this then raises the question of conscience. Is it simply enough to say, when we look at this vexed issue, ‘Well it's just a matter of conscience?’.
In 1 Corinthians 4: 4 Paul says, “I know nothing against myself”. In other words, I have a good conscience. “But I'm not thereby justified because there is one who is my judge and that is the Lord”. So, then whether or not we feel okay in our conscience is not insignificant because the Bible does talk about the importance of conscience. But it is also not the final issue, because the Lord Jesus teaches in the gospel of John that, “there is one that shall judge you on the last day and that is the word that I have spoken”. Now it's not as if we're going to stand before the Lord and our conscience is going to jump out of us and we're going to stand there and we get judged according to how far we followed our own conscience. No. Whether you feel it's right or not is not the final deciding issue.
Many people who have abortions are not rape victims. Many have abortions because they fear the responsibility, feeling: “I'm not ready for this”. Particularly younger women. I don't think it's good enough to simply say, “Ah, yeah. I'm simply not ready for this responsibility, so let's abort”. I would also like to say that I'm the father of two children and at this moment my wife and I are four months pregnant expecting our third child. So, if I were to say to my wife, “Ah Honey, times are hard, some issue with money or no place for the new child in our apartment. Let's just abort this, let's just terminate this pregnancy”. Look it's obvious that the child is alive. There's a little person inside that womb and for me that would be murder. And whatever I may say in this Biblical discussion just remember that, that for me personally that would be, effectively, murder.
Now, having said that, I stand here in front of you and you are where you are and in one sense we are just a bunch of cells. I'm just a bunch of cells. And that's what you are. And if you were to analyse sperm, male sperm, what is that? It's a bunch of cells. What is the egg inside a woman? It's a bunch of cells. So, there's got to be some difference, starting on one side where sperm and eggs are a bunch of cells, moving right across the spectrum to a grown human being, an adult, who is also a bunch of cells. Somewhere on that scale that one bunch of cells turns into something else that is considered to be a person. But I would emphasise that the Bible does not, from what I can see, attempt to define where that point is.
Let's think back to the creation of mankind in the first place. God created Adam, and there was Adam lying there, a body if you like, a person, but a body. I'll read to you from Genesis 2:7: “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.” A living creature. You could argue that God breathing into Adam's nostrils made him a living creature. And without that breath in the nostrils he was not a living creature. You could argue that that was a special case, that was Adam's creation and that was a special case. But going forward it does seem to me that that is actually how God tends to define living persons- as persons who have the breath of life in their nose. If you go to Genesis 7, you have the record of the flood. Genesis 7:22: “All in whose nostrils was the breath of life... died.” So, living creatures appear to be defined there in terms of having the breath of life in their nostrils. Now, babies don't breathe. Babies don't breathe. They fixate oxygen from the mother. That's why when a woman comes to full term at eight months, nine months pregnant, she's breathless. Very often pregnant women complain of breathlessness. Why? Because they're fixing oxygen for the child. That's why you can have a waterbirth. A woman can give birth to a child under water because the child at that point is not breathing, still connected to the mother for oxygen. So, you could argue that actually the breath of life in the nostrils is significant. And that phrase occurs many times in the scriptures. You can check that out in a concordance at your leisure.
I'll just give you one and believe me there are many. Job 27:3, “All the while my breath is in me, and the spirit of God is in my nostrils”, Job says. And what he is saying in the context is, 'whilst I am alive, my lips shall not speak wickedness' and so forth. So his description of being alive and being a live person, who is not dead, is 'having breath in me and the spirit of God in my nostrils'. When you come to the book of Numbers you have God numbering his people; let's take a couple of examples in Numbers 3. This phrase I am going to read to you occurs a number of times in Numbers chapter 3. Let's take Numbers 3:22, “Those that were numbered of them, according to the number of all the males, from a month old and upward, even those that were numbered of them were seven thousand and five hundred.” And so the phrase that continues throughout Numbers 3. “Those that were numbered, according to the number, from a month old and upward”. Why from a month old? Why not from two months old? Why not from one week old? I don't know why. I'm simply saying that it's clear here that God numbered persons in this particular context from a month old and upwards.
I'd like to take you back to Exodus 21, because here we have a passage that is quoted by people who say that anyone who's had an abortion is a murderer and so forth. So let's just read the text and see what it says. It's Exodus 21:22: “If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit departs from her he shall be surely punished, according as the woman's husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.”
If a man beats up a pregnant woman and she loses the child was he treated as a murderer? It proves that the child inside that womb is a person in one sense. I don't think anyone seriously doubts that. We are formed inside the womb by God and Psalm 139 says that God knows the child inside the womb. But, if this guy comes up and beats this heavily pregnant woman and she loses the child that wasn't counted as murder. He had to pay a fine. Now the Law of Moses is not slow and is not shy to stipulate death penalties. And it's not shy to say if you do this or that, then you must die. And it's not slow to condemn murder. But, for me, all I notice in this passage in this case is it's not treated as a murder. It's treated as something wrong but not as a murder. I think you need to bear that in mind.
If you want, if you are hoping at the end of this I am going to give you a yes or no, Is abortion murder?, then you can stop watching now because I don't have that. I don't have that answer. Because it's not in the Bible. All I can do is discuss with you all the texts that I could see as being possibly relevant to the discussion.
There is also an idea that all life is somehow sacrosanct. And that any life is life. And you've got to be extremely respectful of that, and so forth. I would say this that there's a huge teaching in the Bible about the value and the meaning of the human person, but by the human person I mean the person, the personality, as they are as a living being who has a character etc. Is all human life so terribly sacrosanct? When I read the Old Testament, I just don't get that impression. Because according to Genesis God wipes out the whole “world” in the flood. Men, women and children etc. Israel then come to enter Canaan and God basically says, “Yep, nuke the lot of them. Men, women and children”. And that would have included pregnant women. And then you come to Ecclesiastes and the Psalms reflecting upon the meaning of death, and we're told there that in the way that we die we are no better than the animals. In the way that we die. What does that mean, that you can go out and kill people nilly willy, get mad with some bloke and just go and kill him? No. I'm just saying, I'm just raising with you the issue as to whether from God's perspective, every single human life is so incredibly sacrosanct to him. If it is, why does he only work with a minority of humanity? As you see, I'm raising questions. I'm trying to help you, I'm trying to help myself really, to come to a wider balanced perspective on this issue. Rather than a simplistic one cent answer to a million dollar question. Which is not want you want and is not what I want.
Now, it is true of course that God does work with his chosen people. And he talks about those who he foreknew from the womb. Some years ago I was having this discussion and I dogmatically quoted Jeremiah chapter one. I said, in my more redneck days, “But God knew Jeremiah in the womb”. But it doesn't say that. God actually says to Jeremiah, “Before, [before!] you were in the womb, I knew you and I ordained you to be a prophet to the nations”. So, yes, there is a foreknowledge of God, there is even a predestination of God, however you want to understand that, of those who are, as Paul says in Romans, the called according to his purpose. But to quote those references to God's foreknowledge of Jeremiah from the womb doesn’t mean that therefore a certain set of cells must therefore become a great wonderful believer; nor does it mean that you are stopping that happening by having an abortion. I just don't think that those verses about God’s foreknowledge of his chosen ones in the womb is a proof that every human life is sacrosanct to Him.
Now I am of course fully aware of the argument that if you have an abortion you are stopping potential life. That is true. And here in this hall, just an hour or so ago, when we were having this discussion in Russian, somebody got up and said, “I don't know who my parents were. I grew up in an orphanage but I have now been baptised. And I have the hope of God's kingdom in front of me”. And so, thank God, that his mother did not have an abortion.
But, in all discussion of ethics, which is what we are discussing, it seems to me that very easily, one can end up setting up a position which if taken logically further- goes wrong. You end up in sort of case law. So, in law the argument is sometimes made to the effect: “You let that guy off because he did so-and-so but he was under the influence. Then why don't you let the other guy off because he was also under the influence and he did something worse”. This is the whole problem in any ethical discussion; before you know where you are, you are taking decisions or adopting positions which if taken to their conclusion will lead you into some very, very difficult situations.
Now, I think this is a classic example before us in this abortion issue; if we argue that abortion is limiting potential life and is thereby wrong. If you're saying abortion is wrong because you're limiting potential life, well I would assume that therefore you should not use contraception. And that is why in the Catholic church they have strong views against both abortion and also against contraception- because the two things logically fit together, do they not. If you're saying you can't limit potential life or destroy potential life, well, in that case you shouldn't use contraception. And it goes a stage beyond contraception. The ‘Don’t limit potential life’ argument finally ends up by creating a dogma that every human being should procreate as much as possible. Because if you don't, if you choose to have two kids rather than ten kids, think about all those eight little kiddies who could have had life. But you didn't because you wanted to keep a better standard of living , you know the argument, ‘We didn't have enough money to have more than two kids, so well therefore we only had two’. So, what are we going to say? You potentially destroyed the life of eight kids? You’re a murderer? No. Well, I don't think so.
What I'm saying is, that in whatever position you ultimately want to come to on this issue, you've got to test it really by asking where does it lead logically. I mentioned earlier that I do not get the impression that for God human life is so sacrosanct. When you think a little bit about conception, as a process, you also would get that impression; because one in three (that's a lot), one in three pregnancies aborts naturally. There are a lot of women who get pregnant and they don't actually realise they have been pregnant. That is a fact. A lot of conception occurs but does not come to term naturally. Now, why, if God is so, so against this, why is that built by him into the structure of the whole nature of reproduction? We could say that it's part of living in a fallen world. Well, yes it is part of living in a fallen world I suppose. I don't suppose Eve would have miscarried and so forth. But all the same, that for me only throws the question one stage back: So then why then if for God every tiny foetus is so absolutely sacrosanct and important why then does he, has he built natural abortion into the human reproductive process?
The issue of unwanted pregnancies, of “Oh hang. I'm pregnant”, this is not something just for us here in Europe in the 21st century. This has been always there. When I lived for a couple of years in Africa, I came across there all kinds of strange beliefs and practices related to unwanted pregnancies. And all sorts of ideas of what should be done in order to end a pregnancy. It could be drinking something. It could be touching a certain tree. It could be some strange rituals, some of them harmful, some of them not, in order to make a pregnancy go away. Now those kinds of rituals and those kinds of ideas are there in all primitive societies, and for sure they were there at the time that God was giving the Law of Moses. For sure they were there all the way through the Old Testament. But there is never a word from God that engages with those traditions and with those practices. There's plenty of words from God about not getting involved in pagan rituals etc. Don't take your children, that is children who have been born and are growing up, and sacrifice them to the Baals and all this kind of thing. Yes. But there is not a word about abortion or abortion procedures as primitive societies would have understood them. And my question is, why not? God is unafraid to tackle and engage with the ideas of the surrounding nations. But on that one he doesn't say anything. For sure it was there because it is there in primitive societies today, all over the world in every single society. But God doesn’t directly engage with it or outlaw those abortion rituals.
So, coming to a conclusion here, the real moral issue is, I think, that God's intention is that the family unit is the basis for having children. Sex outside marriage, having kids outside marriage, this is taught against very clearly in the Bible. They, for me, are the key moral issues, and it's because of a lack of attention to those moral issues that the whole issue of abortions and unwanted pregnancies arise. I have put before you what I see as the possible Biblical case. And I can only say as you discuss around the relatively few verses that appear to be relevant to the issue, that I do not see a clear picture. In all intellectual honesty, expositional honesty, I don't see a clear, if you like, doctrine / teaching. I don't see a clear picture emerging, whereby you can condemn every single woman who's had an abortion as a murderer. And remember that in the area in which I live, that is well over 50% of women. No, they’re not all murderers.
And also in our discussion, in this hall, today, an hour and hour and a half ago, the point was raised that it is very easy to demonise women. “You had an abortion. You're a murderer.” Why do most women have abortions? It's because of a whole nexus of pressures upon them, a lot of which pressure comes from men. Boyfriend. Father. “I'm not having you in my house if you're pregnant, girl”. Society, boss at work etc.. You're not going to get promotion if you're a single mother… So, the whole issue is more than the whole guilt being put on a single woman. The issue in that sense affects all of us.
Now, in saying that the issue is not so black and white, the problem is that all of us have a tendency to try and reduce every inconvenient moral issue to so many shades of grey that we just say, “Ah yeah, well who knows? You just have to do what you feel's right, where your heart leads you”. I don't think that that's sensible. And God has given us his word. Now, as we've seen, he doesn’t seem to make a big issue of it. But he does give us enough to go on to realize that there is a point when a bunch of cells which doesn’t class as a person, does become a bunch of cells which is a person in His eyes. I have suggested that this is when a born person is existing and independently breathing outside of the womb. But you must draw that point for yourselves.
So, I'm appealing for tolerance and understanding and not putting guilt upon people. To simply say that everyone who's had an abortion is a murderer is very radical and leaves huge numbers of sincere Christians condemned. You need to think it through.
I'd like to conclude with a prayer because as you can see, I hope, I have been somewhat nervous in presenting these thoughts. People ask me and they want answers, so I maybe haven't given answers in black and white; but I've discussed the issue. Let's just pray:
“Lord God our Heavenly Father, we ask for your guidance again for each of us in understanding and in coming to our own understanding of these difficult issues. And we do pray Father for all those of your children who are pregnant, in difficult situations, we pray for those who have had children who they now have to raise on their own in difficult situations. We pray for those who feel under so much pressure, for those who right at this moment are going through agonies over these issues. We pray, Heavenly Father, for them; and we pray for ourselves to be as supportive as we can to them and as non-condemnatory as we can, whilst at the same time upholding our understanding of your word. Heavenly Father, we pray for the day when your son will be here and at last this fallen situation will be no more, and at last we shall be neither male nor female but we shall rejoice forever in your son, and the things of your eternal family. Father, may that day soon come. And strengthen us, Father, as we try to find our way through the minefield of this world and of this life, towards that wonderful day. For Jesus' sake. Amen”