When Does the Bible Say Life Begins?

The Bible, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who claims to be married to a man, justifies abortion up to the point of birth because “there’s [sic] so many parts of the Bible that associate the beginning of life with breath.”

Is this true? Does the Bible support this view? About as much as it supports one man marrying another man. Let’s look at the biblical facts.

In a previous statement, Buttigieg argued that Genesis 2:7 shows that life becomes human when we first breathe, not at conception. If God had formed all of us from “the dust from the ground,” then Buttigieg would have a point. To say the least, the creation of Adam and Eve was unique.

Following Buttigieg’s “logic,” a female baby isn’t a human being unless she is made from the rib of a man.

A baby growing in his mother’s womb is not a blob of tissue but a living human being, no different from a ten-year-old who is still growing. And while unborn babies are not receiving oxygen through their lungs, they are nevertheless receiving a steady supply through the umbilical cord. They begin to breathe – take in oxygen – at conception. This life requirement applies to unborn babies, born babies, and every human being.

If someone stops breathing after an electrical shock or a drowning, do we assume the person is dead or alive? Should we take extraordinary means to resuscitate or assume that the body is no longer a human being? Would it be OK to kill someone who is not breathing because they are no longer a human being? How about these examples:

The Bible attributes self-consciousness to unborn babies, something that modern medicine has studied and acknowledged. Jacob and Esau are said to have “struggled together within” their mother’s womb (Gen. 25:22). The New Testament offers a similar glimpse into prenatal consciousness: “And it came about that when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb” (Luke 1:41). The fact that babies that are born prematurely have the same signs of life as babies that went through nine full months of development in the womb is a sure indication that self-consciousness is a medical reality.

Some pro-abortion advocates appeal to Exodus 21:22 where they claim that killing an unborn fetus is a property crime rather than murder. This is absurd. The original Hebrew reads: “And if men struggle with each other and strike a pregnant woman so that her children [Hebrew: yeled] come out….” Notice that the text uses the word “children,” not “products of conception.” The Hebrew word for “children” in this verse is used in other contexts to designate a child already born. For example, in Exodus 2:6 we read: “When Pharaoh’s daughter opened [the basket], she saw the child [yeled], and behold, the boy was crying. And she had pity on him and said, ‘This is one of the Hebrews’ children [yeled].’” Notice, also, they she did not wait until the child “chose” its gender. She immediately recognized the child as a boy.

Since these are “children that come out,” in the case-law of Exodus 21:22, they are persons, not property or things to be discarded. If there is no injury to these individuals—the mother and/or her prematurely delivered child or children—then there is no penalty. If there is an injury, then the judges must decide on an appropriate penalty based on the extent of injury either to the mother and/or her children because both are persons in terms of biblical law.

For an extended discussion of the logic of Exodus 21:22, see Umberto Cassuto, Commentary on the Book of Exodus. ((Jerusalem: Magnes Press, Hebrew University, (1967), 275. Quoted in Francis J. Beckwith, Politically Correct Death: Answering Arguments for Abortion Rights (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1993), 144.))

When men strive together and they hurt unintentionally a woman with child, and her children come forth but no mischief happens—that is, the woman and the children do not die—the one who hurt her shall surely be punished by a fine. But if any mischief happened, that is, if the woman dies or the children die, then you shall give life for life.

Some translations have “so that she has a miscarriage” when the text literally reads “so that here children come out.” There are two Hebrew words that fit the circumstances of miscarriage or premature birth: “There shall be no one miscarrying [shakal] or barren in your land” (Ex. 23:26; also Hosea 9:14), and “Or like a miscarriage [nefel] which is discarded, I would not be” (Job 3:16).

Using Exodus 21:22 to establish non-personhood in an unborn baby is a weak reed indeed. The actions on the part of the woman and the two men are not premeditated. The woman had no intention of aborting her child. The two men were not in the abortion business. One could make the case that the untimely birth and subsequent “injury” or “harm” was accidental, even though the men should not have been fighting. Meredith G. Kline offers a helpful summary of the passage:

This law found in Exodus 21:22–25 turns out to be perhaps the most decisive positive evidence in scripture that the fetus is to be regarded as a living person…. No matter whether one interprets the first or second penalty to have reference to a miscarriage, there is no difference in the treatments according to the fetus and the woman. Either way the fetus is regarded as a living person, so that to be criminally responsible for the destruction of the fetus is to forfeit one’s life…. The fetus, at any stage of development, is, in the eyes of this law, a living being, for life (nephesh) is attributed to it…. Consistently in the relevant data of Scripture a continuum of identity is evident between the fetus and the person subsequently born and Exodus 21:22–25 makes it clear that this prenatal human being is to be regarded as a separate and distinct human life.1

In biblical terms, unborn babies are always considered to be fully human and deserving of civil protection. On the other hand, men having sex with other men is always sinful, and that’s in the Bible.

  1. Meredith G. Kline, “Lex Talionis and the Human Fetus,” The Simon Greenleaf Law Review, 5 (1985–1986), 75, 83, 88–89. This article originally appeared in Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (September 1977). []
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