Thursday, September 04, 2008

Abortion and the Sixth Commandment

The Command to Love Human Life (Part 3):
Defending Human Life from Conception
Deuteronomy 5:17, et al.

The sixth commandment is the commandment against taking innocent human life. Positively stated, it is a command to love and to cherish human life. We love human life because each and every human being is like God and represents God. Even though we are sinful, we are still in God’s image. And amazingly, the second Person of the Trinity became a man so that he might redeem men and enable us to be everything humanity was designed in God’s plan to be.
Today we are going to deal with a very difficult application of the sixth commandment - abortion. It is not difficult because the biblical teaching on it is unclear. In fact, the moral reasoning that leads to loving human life from conception is stunningly clear. But it is emotionally difficult. It is difficult because of the moral revulsion involved. It is difficult because of the lingering damage done to women who have had an abortion. It is difficult, I believe, because it exposes as almost nothing else the corruption of the human heart. It is very difficult for us to face the naked wickedness of the human heart. Human beings are always doing what Adam and Eve did in the garden so long ago – hiding. As soon as Adam and Eve sinned, they knew that they were naked and they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves. But in their hearts they knew that this was not enough, so when God came to speak with them they ran and hid. And still to this day we hide. We come up with rationalizations and excuses. We will do almost anything rather than admit the hideous state of our sinful souls.

But as we have seen already, God’s commandments rip away the fig leaves with which we try to hide ourselves. Today we will be shredding some leaves. But I want you to remember that the Spirit does his painful work in order to strip away all self-righteousness so that we might be clothed with the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Those who flee to him in faith will always find him a willing Savior and the true solution to the murder of the unborn.

The Biblical Argument Against Abortion
The biblical argument against abortion is really very simple and straightforward. It goes something like this:
A: God forbids taking the life of innocent human beings.
B: All unborn babies from the moment of conception are innocent human beings.
C: Therefore, God forbids taking the life of all unborn babies from the moment of conception.

The logic is undeniable. But many people do deny this conclusion. In order to do that, they have to prove that one of the premises is wrong. Rarely will they try to argue that the first premise is wrong. Most of the time, the attack centers on the second premise. For example, it was reported not long ago that Dr. Jorge Carpizo McGregor, former attorney general of Mexico and president of Mexico’s human rights commission, stated that unborn children are really no different than chimpanzees. He claimed that since the cerebral cortex is not formed until the 25th week of gestation, babies in their mothers’ wombs prior to the 25th week of gestation could not be differentiated from chimpanzees. Therefore, he concluded, when that baby is killed by abortion, no human life has been taken [, Feb 29, 2008].

But what does the Bible say? Is there biblical evidence that an unborn child is considered human? There are three important lines of evidence which demonstrate that Scripture does consider unborn babies to be fully human.
1. The Bible speaks of unborn children as persons from conception onward. In Psalm 51:5, David was identified as himself, a real human being, from the moment of conception. He wrote, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” David here states that he (and not someone or something else) was sinful when he was conceived. In Job 3:3 we read that a man is conceived. Job’s conception was not the conception of some non-human entity. This is the consistent testimony of Scripture from the very beginning of the propagation of the human race. Gen 4:1 says, “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, ‘I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.’” Notice that what was born was the same thing that was conceived, i.e. Cain. Cain’s personal history extends back to his conception. That’s the way God created humanity to work (cf. Gen 4:17; 5:1-3). When a man and his wife are united as one flesh in marriage, they don’t conceive cows, pigs, or oak trees. They conceive and give birth to more image bearers of God, or human beings.

2. The Bible speaks of the unborn in the same way that it speaks of children after birth. Luke 1:41 and 44 call John the Baptist a “baby” (brephos) before he was born. Then, in Luke 2:12 and 16, we see the same term used of Jesus after he was born. There is no essential difference between a baby in the womb and a baby out of the womb as far as the Bible is concerned. It is not just a “fetus” while it is in the womb and then a “baby” when it gets out. It is a human baby all the way along.

3. The Bible tells us that God can establish a personal relationship with someone from conception. In Judges 13:3, 6-7, an angel from God announced to the wife of Manoah that she would conceive and bear a son. This son, whom we know as Samson, was to be a Nazirite from the womb. This means that he could not drink wine or eat unclean foods. Significantly, the angel told the woman that because her baby was to be a Nazirite, she herself could not partake of wine or unclean foods. Daniel Block points out that this reflects “the biblical conviction that a child is a special creation of God from the moment of conception,” therefore, “the same standards that will govern his postnatal life will apply to his prenatal condition as well” (Judges, Ruth, NAC, 402). Samson’s special relationship to God as a Nazirite began prior to his birth.
Consider also Psalm 139:13-16. In this text we see God’s careful, loving involvement with a person in the earliest stages of existence. In addition, read Isaiah 49:1 and Jeremiah 1:5, which show a personal relationship between God and a person prior to birth. (These evidences are spelled out by F. Beckwith, “A Critical Appraisal of Theological Arguments for Abortion Rights,” BSac 148 [July-Sept 1991], 338-9).

Taken all together, I believe the biblical evidence is very clear that from the moment of conception, the baby in the mother’s womb is fully human. Furthermore, biology supports this idea. When a human egg and sperm unite, the result is a new, distinct, complete biological entity. It is not part of the mother. It is not part of the father. The embryo has its own DNA which actively directs its own development. The only biologically logical way to view the embryo is as a new human being.

There is one objection to this that I would like to deal with, since I have heard it advocated by conservative Christians and since it will be important to my application later on. This objection is based on the phenomenon of identical twins. In the case of identical twins, the new embryo splits about 5 days after conception to become two embryos. The argument then is that if personhood begins at conception, how can one person turn into two people? Suppose for sake of illustration that Job had a twin brother. How then could the man Job who was conceived (Job 3:3) turn into two people? Based upon this reasoning, supporters of this argument then suppose that individual personhood, our own personal, human existence, must begin at some point later than conception. What that point might be is not clear, whether it be implantation in the endometrium of the uterus or some later point of development.

But this objection does not hold. Scholars George and Tollefsen point out that the fact of twinning “in no way establishes that the embryo lacks individuality. If A splits into B and C, that provides no evidence at all that prior to that splitting A was not a determinate individual” (“Embryonic Debate,” National Review Online, Feb. 11, 2008). This is quite correct. From what I have read, we do not have the biological knowledge at this point to determine exactly what happens in the process of forming identical twins. Whatever happens, it does not change the biological fact that the original embryo is a determinate biological individual. It seems likely that the original embryo forms a natural clone. If this is true, it only further supports the idea that the embryo is a human individual from the moment of conception.

I have labored this point because I want you to be unshakably convinced that the biblical argument against all forms of abortion is true and correct. You are facing a world which is hell bent on twisting this truth, so you must chisel it deep into your heart.

Ways in which we violate the sixth commandment by taking the life of the unborn
Now we get down to the nitty gritty. I want to start with the most obvious and work back to the most controversial.
1. Partial-birth abortions and early (first-trimester) abortions.

2. IUDs, Norplant, Depo-provera, and the “morning after” pill. Let me cite Randy Alcorn’s succint summation. “Prolifers have long opposed using the IUD, because it does not prevent conception, but keeps the already-conceived child from implanting in his mother’s womb. RU-486, the anti-progestin abortion pill, is a human pesticide causing a mother’s womb to become hostile to her own child, resulting in an induced miscarriage. Depo-Provera is a progestin (medroxyprogesterone) injected every three months. It sometimes suppresses ovulation, but also thins the lining of the uterus, apparently preventing implantation. Norplant is another progestin (levonorgestrel) enclosed in five or six flexible closed capsules or rods, which are surgically implanted beneath the skin. It often suppresses ovulation, but sometimes ovulation occurs, and when it does an irritation to the uterine wall may often prevent implantation. The Emergency Contraceptive Pill (ECP) also known as the “Morning-After Pill,” can suppress ovulation, but its main function is to keep any fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. All of these birth control methods either sometimes or often alter the mother’s womb in a way that causes it to reject the human life that God designed it to nourish and sustain. Christians properly reject these methods because they know that human life begins at conception, six days before implantation begins. Therefore, anything that interferes with implantation kills a person created in the image of God. These birth control methods are often referred to as “contraceptives,” but they are not exclusively contraceptives. That is, they do not always prevent conception. Either sometimes or often they result in the death of already-conceived human beings” (Appendix 1 in Does the Birth Control Pill Cause Abortions?).
These forms of abortion are not nearly as physically gruesome as later abortions, but morally they are just as reprehensible.

3. All technologies which destroy human embryos destroy human life. These would include embryonic stem cell research, cloning experiments, and IVF as commonly practiced.

4. And now for the most controversial. I realize that Christians disagree on this matter, but as a pastor I must state my convictions on the matter. I believe that a very strong argument can be made that birth control pills, both the combination estrogen-progestin pills and the “mini-pills” or progestin only pills, can cause abortions. They primarily work by preventing ovulation, but they are not completely successful at doing this. In order to work, they also interfere with the implantation of the embryo in the uterus. As we have seen, this embryo is a genuine human being from the time of conception. By denying this tiny human access to its only hope of living, the oxygen and nutrition that it receives from attaching to the uterus, we effectively kill it.
I realize that Christians who take birth control pills (BCP) have no intention of killing a tiny baby, but I am saying that killing the baby is a real possibility. Thus, taking BCP while engaging in marital relations falls under the prohibitions of the sixth commandment. Remember the examples from Scripture about the ox which gores and about building a parapet around the roof? Taking innocent human life sometimes occurs through carelessness and negligence. I would argue that this is exactly the case with BCP. When we as Christians take BCP while engaging in a marital relationship, we are being careless with the life of any of our own children who might be conceived. We are guilty of negligence which can actually result in killing our own children. Does this actually happen? While it is difficult to get hard data, there is good reason to think that it does. When we take what we do know about breakthrough ovulation rates and put that into plausible scenarios, there is reason to believe that in the average marriage where the wife takes BCP continuously except during the times when she wants to become pregnant, possibly 5 abortions will occur (Alcorn, 94-99). Let me be clear here. She may not have any abortions. She may have 2 or 3. She may have a dozen. We do not know. But it is a real possibility.

We might compare the morality of this to that of the drunk driver which we spoke of in the first message on the sixth commandment. The drunk driver violates the sixth commandment by carelessly and recklessly endangering human life. Now, a man could possibly drink and drive his entire life without ever killing anyone. Does that mean that his actions are therefore moral? No. Similarly, the married couple who uses BCP may never have any abortions. Nonetheless, this does not render their action morally good.

I also realize that sometimes BCP are used for other medical conditions because of the effects of the hormones they contain. This is certainly not wrong. But I would argue, based on the biblical principles of taking care of human life, that no one should engage in marital relationships while taking BCP.

You may not agree with me on this. You may have talked to Christian doctors who have told you otherwise. I would urge you to study the matter further in openness and honesty. But the reason I am willing to broach the subject here and declare my beliefs is that human life is sacred. We must love human life. We must defend human life. What a tragedy it would be if Christians adopt an attitude that says “I am entitled to my pleasure even if someone has to die because of it. I’m willing to risk the life of my own children in order to have my pleasure.” I really believe if most Christians thought about this and were taught about this, they would not want to go that route. There really are good alternatives to BCP, which allow us as Christians to be wise stewards while not adopting the attitudes of the culture of death that we live in. Yet this is a sobering thought for many Christians - those who so adamantly oppose abortion may have had at least one themselves.
So what do we do?

In Acts 2:36, Peter preached into the face of the crowd that they were murderers. They had blood on their hands. They had crucified Jesus. And what he said to those Jews almost 2000 years ago is true of each one of us. Our sin put Jesus on the cross. We have blood on our hands. We were the reason for his murder. But the answer for us is the same answer Peter gave to the Jews in v. 38ff: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins….” The answer for us is the same answer for the abortion provider who has sucked little babies’ brains out and discarded their lifeless bodies. The answer for us is the same answer for the woman crushed by the guilt of having killed her own baby. The answer for us is the same answer for all those millions of unknown babies who never lived to see the light of the sun or breathe the fresh air.

Jesus is calling to you today. He says, “I know you are a murderer. I know you have blood on your hands. But I have loved you with an everlasting love, a love that triumphs over your sin. That’s why I died. My blood takes your stain and washes it white as snow.” If you have had an abortion, I want you to know that Jesus loves you and forgives you and receives you if you turn in repentance and faith to him. If you have used the methods popularly known as “contraception,” then know that Jesus loves you and forgives you and receives you if your turn in repentance and faith to him.

You see, that is the point of the law. The law points to Christ. The law strips away the fig leaves of our self-righteousness, but in so doing it drives us to the only place where we will find clothing for our nakedness - Jesus Christ. Only his righteousness will clothe us. Only his love will forgive us. Only his power will change us so that we love human life.


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Spillersman said...

I do agree that life begins at conception and that to destroy the life in the womb would violate the sixth commandment unless it was necessary to protect the life or health of the woman. Allowing for life and health of the woman is a self defense argument. But personhood does not necessarily happen right at conception. If you study the near death experience you do learn that the soul does not necessarily enter fully right at conception, though it may. The soul exists before conception and can enter the body anytime between conception and birth. In actuality, fully entering the soul is probably more of a progressive thing. (This would help to explain your twin issue) If a soul has not entered the body it may not be murder exactly but still is an egregious sin that violates the six commandment by destroying human life and not properly respecting life.

Jason Parker said...

Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I would respond that, in Scripture, the soul is not a "ghost in the machine." It is the essential life of the person. When God created Adam, he did not put a soul into Adam. He breathed into Adam's nostrils and Adam *became* a living soul (Gen 2:7). The soul was not some immaterial stuff that he received. It was who he was. This is the consistent understanding of the soul throughout the Bible.

Later Christian philosophy would describe the soul as the form of the body. In other words, in humans the soul is what makes the human body the particular kind of living thing that it is. I believe this is consistent with what we read in the Bible.

Thus, on both a biblical and later Christian philosophical understanding, whenever there is a human being there is a human soul. Whenever there is an embryonic human body, there is a human soul. The soul does not "enter" the body at some point. It is itself the principle of life of the body.