Does the Bible Support Abortion?
Below, you'll find the text of a recent email which expresses the opinion that the Bible teaches that human life doesn't begin until we take our first breath. Directly following the email (inset) is my response.
Some of your arguments against abortion are based on the verse, Luke 1:15 - "set [him] apart even from [his] mother's womb".
Below are several translations of this verse that make it clear that the Holy Spirit enters the fetus when it is born.
He'll be filled with the Holy Spirit from the moment he leaves his mother's womb.
"Contemporary English Version"
Your son will be a great servant of the Lord. He must never drink wine or beer, and the power of the Holy Spirit will be with him from the time he is born.
"New Life Version"
He will be great in the sight of the Lord and will never drink wine or any strong drink. Even from his birth, he will be filled with the Holy Spirit.
"New International Reader's Version"
He will be filled with the Holy Spirit from the time he is born.
"Worldwide English (New Testament)"
He will be filled with the Holy Spirit from the time he is born.
"New International Version - UK"
And he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth.
Which version of Luke 1:15 is the correct translation?
This is important to me because it's obvious to me that a fertilized egg is not a living person, and it is obvious to me that the spirit or soul enters our body making us a living human being with our breath. There are many passages in the bible supporting my belief.
From the "New Revised Standard Version":
Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.
I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord."
When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit."
As long as my breath is in me and the spirit of God is in my nostrils,
But truly it is the spirit in a mortal, the breath of the Almighty, that makes for understanding.
The spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.
Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it:
It's obvious to everyone that if we are breathing we are alive, and if we are not breathing, we are dead. What we may not all agree upon is when does our soul enter our body; the verses above make it clear what the bible has to say about breath and ensoulment.
If we can accept that we become a living human being when we are "inspired" by the Holy Spirit entering us through our breath, then we can have a compassionate policy regarding ending a pregnancy. We can also have a compassionate policy regarding stem cell research.
Without the breath of life, we are but dust.
None of the versions you've listed are literal translations of the original Greek. They are idiomatic translations or paraphrases. Those versions which do translate literally read like this:
- "he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother's womb" - New American Standard
- "he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb." - English Standard
- "He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb." - New King James
If you continue reading in Luke chapter 1, you'll find that all versions agree that John the Baptist, as a baby in Elizabeth's womb, leaped (or "moved") at the sound of Mary's voice. Most versions say "leaped for joy". If this baby, leaping for joy after hearing Mary's voice, isn't a "living human being", what is he? A dead human being? A living something else? Both suggestions are absurd. We know from basic biology that embryos and fetuses in the womb are living human beings, and in John the Baptist's case, he is in-dwelt by the Holy Spirit in the womb. We know this explicitly from Luke 1:15 and implicitly from Luke 1:44. Isaiah 49:1 is another example of God placing His calling on a prophet while he was still in the womb, and all of the versions you've listed, except for the Message, use the language of "in the womb" or "before being born" to describe Isaiah's calling.
As for the individual verses you've included as "proof" that the Bible teaches we don't become living human beings until we start breathing, no honest reading of these passages would lead to such a conclusion.
Genesis 2:7 tells the account of Adam's creation. Nobody else, beyond Eve, came into being this way, literally from the dust, without a prior human ancestor. This is not normal human development so it has no bearing on when a newly conceived human embryo becomes "alive".
Ezekiel 37:6 comes from a vision the prophet had in which he describes being led by the Spirit of the Lord through a valley of bones. The Lord then commands Ezekiel to preach to these bones and God says he will make them come alive by laying sinews and flesh on them and giving them breath. Ezekiel, in his vision, preaches to the bones and they eventually come to life as a great army. This is symbolic language (v. 11), it has nothing to do with normal human development.
John 20:22 involves spiritual life and spiritual breath, not physical life or physical breath. This doesn't demonstrate anything about the beginning of human life.
Job 27:3 is a declaration that for as long as Job is breathing and as long as he is filled with God's spirit, he will not forsake the truth. Nothing more should be read into it. Just because human life is sustained outside of the womb by breathing (among many other things), that doesn't mean that human embryos and fetuses aren't living human beings because their life is being sustained by other means.
Job 32:8 doesn't deal with physical breath. The "breath of the Almighty" speaks of the spiritual insight that God gives.
Job 33:4 also speaks of the "breath of the Almighty", not physical breath. This simply indicates that God is the sustainer of life.
Isaiah 42:5 speaks of God as Creator. Once again, this language is representative of the fact that God gives life and we associate life with breath. It is not a declarative, scientific statement that human life doesn't begin until we start breathing.
My assumption, after looking at these verses (whether you compiled them yourself or got them somewhere else), is that you (or someone else) came to the Bible with the ultimate intent of finding some verses that could be used to justify abortion. I say this because no normal, objective reading of the Bible would lead someone to the conclusion you've come to. To get there, you have to ignore the context of the passages you reference, and that is a very dangerous way to approach Scripture. Scripture must be taken as a whole, not in isolated chunks. Leviticus 17:11 reads, "the life of the flesh is in the blood". Why don't you use this verse to argue that human life begins with the creation of the circulatory system? Probably because it doesn't fit with your pre-existing ideological agenda.
Right now, as I'm typing, I'm holding my breath. I'm not breathing, something we all do every time we go swimming or try to get rid of the hick-ups. Am I not a living human being because I'm not breathing? Obviously, if I don't breath for a long enough period of time I wouldn't be, but there is nothing intrinsic to breathing itself which somehow makes us human. Breathing is merely a mechanism for providing the body the oxygen it needs to survive. Embryos and fetuses receive the oxygen they need to survive through a different means, diffused from the blood of the mother, which is delivered through the placenta and umbilical cord. Later in pregnancy, the lungs do begin functioning; amniotic fluid moves in and out of the fetal lungs to help them develop. This is why babies born at up to 18 weeks premature can still survive outside the womb. If they were still in the womb, oxygen would enter their body through the mother's blood. Outside the womb, oxygen enters their body through the lungs. It's the same baby, in both cases, equally human, and equally alive.
You close your correspondence by stating that if we would just accept your proposed timeline for when human life begins, we would be able to take a "compassionate policy regarding ending a pregnancy". If you will simply look through the photographic evidence which depicts the brutal aftermath of abortion and read some of the heart-wrenching testimony from women who have aborted, it should become immediately clear that there is nothing compassionate about slicing and sucking a tiny human being to death and leaving the mother forever bereft of her child.
Needless to say, I hope you will reconsider your suggestions.
Michael Spielman is the founder and director of Abort73.com. His book, Love the Least (A Lot), is available as a free download. Abort73 is part of Loxafamosity Ministries, a 501c3, Christian education corporation. If you have been helped by the information available at Abort73.com, please consider making a donation.