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Biblical Teaching

The Bible makes no moral distinction between born children and unborn children.

Biblical Teaching: The Bible makes no moral distinction between born children and unborn children.

Page Summary:

The issue of abortion is never directly dealt with in Scripture, but it says plenty about children inside and outside of the womb. In light of what is explicitly stated about children, and what is explicitly stated about murder, it is fair to conclude that God hates abortion.

Though it’s commonly assumed that the case for abortion is rooted in science while the case against abortion is rooted in spirituality, it is often the reverse. All of the more sophisticated “pro-choice” claims are spiritual in nature, and it can actually be easier to argue against abortion from biology than from the Bible. After all, the word “abortion” never appears in the Bible. Nevertheless, the outright promotion of abortion, and the softer tolerance of abortion are both incompatible with a biblical worldview.

For everyone not born ahead of schedule, their time in the womb was a nine-month period of life—just as kindergarten was a nine-month period of life. The Bible doesn’t provide a specific prohibition against killing kindergartners. We know it’s wrong because it falls under the much broader banner of the sixth commandment: you shall not murder. More specifically, we know it’s wrong because it is incompatible with the character of God. When Pharaoh commanded the Hebrew midwives to execute all of the newborn males,1 they did not have a specific prohibition against infanticide to guide them. They didn’t even have the Ten Commandments, but they feared God, and that was enough. When Cain killed Abel,2 he was not violating a written prohibition, but in knowing God, he knew what God required. Cain makes no attempt to claim ignorance when God curses him for murdering his brother. Even in the absence of a specific prohibition, the commandments can be inferred from the character of God. They are the natural expression of who God is.

The Bible speaks to abortion as it speaks to every topic under the sun—by teaching us who God is and what he requires of us. If the Hebrew midwives had enjoyed the benefit of a completed canon, they still wouldn’t have found an explicit prohibition against infanticide—anymore than we find a specific prohibition against abortion. The reason it’s wrong to kill a child in the classroom or a child in the womb is because it’s wrong to murder. Age doesn’t change anything. And the reason it’s wrong to murder is not because it was written on a stone tablet thousands of years ago. It’s wrong because it assaults the character and authority of God.

Almost nobody3 argues that it is inappropriate to apply the prohibition against murder to infants or school children. Lots of people argue the inappropriateness of applying it to children in the womb—and take great issue with even calling them “children.” Abortion proponents make frequent use of the following refrain: It's not a child; it's a fetus! Though this is largely a meaningless distinction, it highlights an important point. You can tell a lot about someone’s position on abortion by noting which of these words they use. With that in mind, let's take a look at the kind of words the Bible uses to describe human beings before they are born.

The question we need to answer is this: Does the Bible give any indication that human beings inside the womb should be regarded as categorically different from human beings outside the womb? Our first scriptural glimpse at life in the womb comes in Genesis 25:22. Isaac’s wife, Rebekah, is pregnant with twins. The verse tells us that, “the children struggled together within her.” The Hebrew word can be translated as “children” or “sons.” It is first used in Genesis 3:16 when God decrees the penalty for Adam and Eve’s rebellion: “I will surely multiply your pain in child bearing (literally, “children you shall bore with•pain”4).” The same word is used in Genesis 10:21 to describe the children of Shem and in Genesis 11:5 to indicate who built the tower of Babel (the “children of man”). It is used five more times before the account of Rebekah in reference to children who are already born.5

In the New Testament, we see the same thing. The “word “baby” (brephos) is used interchangeably to describe babies inside and outside the womb. In Luke 1:41, Elizabeth is pregnant with John the Baptist. Luke, who was a physician by trade, refers to John as “the baby in her womb.” In the next chapter, the same word is used to describe Jesus: “you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths.”6 The first indication that God does not view children in the womb as categorically different from those outside the womb is the fact that he calls them the same thing. He calls them children; he calls them babies. For most of human history, the rest of the world has followed suit. The only people who take issue with applying the word “baby” to an unborn human being are those seeking to justify abortion. Planned Parenthood, after all, doesn’t schedule appointments to abort your baby. They schedule appointments to terminate your pregnancy. For all the times the Bible speaks of life in the womb, an equivalent for the word “fetus” is never used,7 and that is of no small significance. Anyone who has an interest in justifying abortion does not talk the way the Bible talks.

Our second point of examination lies not in the words God uses to describe unborn children, but in the things he ascribes to them. Returning to the account of Jacob and Esau in the womb, did you notice what these twin boys were doing before they were even born? They were struggling. Literally, they “jostled”8 each other. In recounting a brief, personal history of Jacob, the prophet Hosea says, “in the womb he took his brother by the heel, and in manhood he strove with God.”9 One event happened before birth. The other event happened long after birth. Both are stories from Jacob’s past, and they are recounted side by side.

More remarkable still is the account Luke gives us of John the Baptist. We read in Luke 1:15 that John was filled with the Holy Spirit in the womb. When John’s mother, Elizabeth, visits her cousin, the mother of the Christ, John “leaped” at the sound of Mary’s voice. In Luke 1:44, Elizabeth proclaims that, “when the sound of [“Mary’s] greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.” And lest you discredit this attribution of joy as the mere fancy of a giddy mom, verse 41 tells us that Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit when she said it. John the Baptist was filled with the Spirit in the womb, and he leaped for joy at his first encounter with Jesus—who was still in the womb himself. Why is this significant? Because in the created order, it is only people who are filled with the Holy Spirit.

In Judges 13:5, an angel of the Lord prophesies about the conception and birth of Samson with the following announcement: “for behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb, and he shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines” (emphasis added). The word used to describe this child, this Nazirite in the womb, is the same word used in Genesis 25:22, and the same word that is used throughout the Old Testament to describe born children. More to the point, notice the charge the angel gives to Samson’s mother in the verse preceding: “Therefore be careful and drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean.” Why? Because this child shall be a Nazarite to God from the womb. Nazirites are not to consume strong drink after birth, and they are not to consume strong drink before birth.

When Samson is grown and foolishly reveals the secret of his strength to Delilah, he traces his Nazirite history all the way back to the womb: “I have been a Nazirite to God from my mother’s womb.”10 Notice that Samson uses the personal pronoun, “I” to describe himself in the womb. I was a Nazirite of God in the womb. And Samson is not alone in speaking of his time in the womb in very personal terms. In Job 10:18-19, we find Job in the depths of despair, so consumed with grief that he laments his very existence. He asks God, “Why did you bring me out from the womb? Would that I had died before any eye had seen me and were as though I had not been, carried from the womb to the grave.” Though the literal rendering of these verses is hard to decipher, Job recognizes that he really existed in his mother’s womb, and to have died in the womb, he says, would have been “as though” he had never been, but not quite. He sees life and death in the womb as real things—as personal things. His remarks run parallel to those found in Jeremiah 20:16-18. Battling significant despair of his own, Jeremiah wonders why the Lord, “did not kill me in the womb; so my mother would have been my grave… Why did I come out from the womb to see toil and sorrow, and spend my days in shame?” These are bleak ponderings, but notice what they indicate. These heroes of old did not view their lives in the womb as times of pre-existence. They saw themselves as being really alive with the capacity to really die.

In the first chapter of Jeremiah, the prophet recounts his calling this way: “Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.’”11 Jeremiah was set apart as a sacred, holy vessel unto the Lord, a prophet to the nations—not after he was born but before. In fact, God knew Jeremiah before he was even conceived.

In Psalm 22:10, King David declares that, “from my mother’s womb you have been my God.” And if we jump back to the verse preceding, we get a better sense of what he means by that. “You are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.” God’s protection of David in the womb and his provision for David as a nursing babe were the earliest indicators that God could be trusted—that God would provide. Psalm 71:6 reads, “Upon you I have leaned from before my birth; you are he who took me from my mother’s womb.” The authors of Scripture do not speak as if our personal histories begin at birth. They speak as if they begin much earlier.

Perhaps the best known “pro-life” passage is Psalm 139. It opens with David’s marveling at the depth and intimacy of God’s knowledge of him. God sees all; God knows all. There is no place we can escape from his presence. David suggests that the foundation of God’s intimate knowledge of us is the fact that he made us: “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made… my frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them.”12

In Isaiah 49:5, God traces his authority and calling over Isaiah back to the fact that he “formed [Isaiah] from the womb to be his servant.” A few chapters earlier, Isaiah prefaces his address to the nation Israel with the reminder that the Lord “formed you from the womb and will help you.”13 God can be trusted because he formed you in the womb; he took care of you when you were most vulnerable.

When Job maintains his innocence before his accusing friends, he ties his consistent kindness towards his servants to the fact that God made them both in the womb. Job goes on to point out that he has never withheld from the poor. He has never turned the widow or fatherless away hungry. He has become as a father to them, clothing the needy so that none could complain of his generosity. Why? Job answers with two questions: “Did not he who made me in the womb make him? And did not one fashion us in the womb?”14 God is the active force driving our development in the womb. That fact brought praise to the mouth of David, brought purpose and comfort to Isaiah, and compelled Job to treat all as equals. If God is performing a “wonderful work” in the womb,” if he “knitted” each of us together in secret, if God’s provision and protection in the womb is to be the foundation for our lifelong trust in him, can there really be any question as to God’s view of abortion—which forcefully invades the womb to intentionally destroy the person God is creating?

Because of the words God uses to describe children in the womb, because of the types of things God ascribes to children in the womb, because so many of the Bible’s personal histories are tied to the womb, and because God is regularly identified as the one at work in the womb, there can be only one conclusion. God expects us to treat children inside the womb with as much dignity, care, and respect as we would show to children outside the womb. There is simply no indication in the Bible that the lives of unborn children should be viewed as insignificant or expendable.

This page was adapted from Love the Least (A Lot), a free ebook by Abort73 founder and director, Michael Spielman.


  1. Exodus 1:15-16
  2. Genesis 4:8
  3. Prominent author and philosopher, Peter Singer, is one of the few abortion advocates who also advocates for infanticide. For further study, see: “Abortion Ethics in a Christ-Haunted Culture” (http://www.abort73.com/blog/abortion_ethics_in_a_christ-haunted_culture/)
  4. C. van der Merwe, Lexham Hebrew-English Interlinear Bible; Bible. O.T. Hebrew (Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2004).
  5. Genesis 17:17, 18:19, 21:7, 22:20, 25:4
  6. Luke 2:12
  7. It should be noted that in Numbers 5:28, the literal word “seed” has been rendered “children” in many English translations. In the ESV, the text reads, “she shall be free and shall conceive children.” The literal, Hebrew rendering is, “she-is-innocent and•she-is-sown seed.” Some may point to this and suggest that it is an example of God using sub-human language to describe human offspring early in pregnancy. There are a number of reasons why the use of “seed” in this context is not comparable to the dehumanizing use of “fetus” in the modern vernacular. Seed is a broad word in Hebrew as it is in English. It is much less specific than fetus. At various points in Scripture, it is translated as “children,” “offspring,” “conceiving” (literally, seeding), “semen,” and of course, “seed.” Four times in Leviticus, the word “seed” refers to born children—as it does in 1 Samuel 2:20. The word “seed” is translated as “offspring” close to 200 times in the Old Testament. More than 40 of those instances reference living descendants, making it impossible to argue that “seed” refers to potential human beings instead of actual human beings. On a number of occasions, “seed” references specific people—making it impossible to argue that its use implies a lack of individual personhood. In fact, Scripture’s first reference to the coming of Christ is couched in the word “seed” (Genesis 3:15). There will be enmity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpant, but the seed of the woman will crush the head of the seed of the serpant. The word “seed” is frequently used to reference the promised line of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and in the New Testament, Jesus is described as the seed of David in John 7:42, Acts 13:23, Romans 1:3, and 2 Timothy 2:8. In Galatians 3:16, Jesus is called the seed of Abraham. Paul calls himself a seed of Abraham in Romans 11:1. All that to say, the use of the word “seed” in Numbers 5:28 is not an example of God applying a sub-human term to children in the womb.
  8. C. van der Merwe, Lexham Hebrew-English Interlinear Bible; Bible. O.T. Hebrew. (Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2004).
  9. Hosea 12:3
  10. Judges 16:17
  11. Jeremiah 1:5
  12. Psalm 139:13-16
  13. Isaiah 44:2
  14. Job 31:15

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