Biblical Beginnings

Personhood At The Genesis of Life

John Frame has been an influential force in the Reformed and Protestant streams of the Church in the United States and Britain over many years, both as a theologian and philosopher.  In the piece below he presents one compelling aspect of the Biblical standards which reject and condemn abortion.

Scripture assumes a significant personal continuity between prenatal and postnatal human life.  In Psalm 139: 13, David sees himself as existing in his mother’s womb: “For thou didst form my inward parts: Thou didst cover me in my mother’s womb.”  In Jeremiah 1:5, similar language is used, this time with God himself as the speaker: “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee, and before thou camest out of the womb I sanctified thee . . . ” [Emphasis author’s here and in all scriptural citations].  It was Jeremiah himself in the womb that God was forming; and God was forming him with a view toward the carrying out of his adult respnsibilities.

In the new Testament we learn that John the Baptist, while still in his mother’s womb (in the sixth month of her pregnancy or later–c.f. Luke 1: 24, 26) responded to the salutation of Mary in a way befitting the character of his later ministry (Luke 1:41, 44). . . . [I]t presupposes the sort of continuity between prenatal and postnatal life that we have noted above: John in the womb is called brephos, a babe, and is said to have leapt “for joy.”  Such is indeed the general pattern of scriptural usage; for those in the womb are commonly referred to in Scripture by the same language used of persons already born (c.f. Genesis 25:22; 38:27ff; Job 1:21; 3:3, 11ff . . . )  At the very least, this continuity indicates that God is not only forming and caring for the unborn child; He is forming him as a specific individual, to fit him specifically for his postnatal calling.

This continuity is a warning against distinguishing with careless sharpness between fetal and infant life.  And the abortion question now becomes:
When, if at all, has man the right to destroy an unborn child, thereby cutting off the life of an individual who is being divinely prepared to play a particular role in God’s world?

And that personal continuity extends back in time to the point of conception.  Psalm 51:5 clearly and strikingly presses this continuity back to the point of conception.  In this passage David is reflecting on the sin in his heart that had recently taken the form of adultery and murder.  He recognizes that the sin of his heart is not itself a recent phenomenon, but goes back to the point of his conception in the womb of his mother: “and in sin did my mother conceive me.”  The personal continuity between David’s fetal life and his adult life goes back as far as conception, and extends even to his ethical relation to God!

. . . . There is nothing in Scripture that even remotely suggests that the unborn child is anything less than a human person from the moment of conception.  [John Frame, “Abortion From a Biblical Perspective,” The Christian Case Against Abortion: Thou Shalt Not Kill, edited by Richard L. Ganz (New Rochelle, New York: Arlington House Publishers, 1978), p. 49f.]

Orthodox Jewish groups have a picture of untimely death, or the death of an infant, which reflects the intrinsic horror and grief of such an event.  They speak of a line of future life and lives being cut off and cut out of existence.  In this way, the horror of abortion can be seen.  Not only does it represent murder, it also represents the tearing out of a line of humanity from the world–cutting off not only the unborn babe, but also all those who would have come from that life, descending by ordinary generation.

Since God’s blessing comes down through generations (“I will be a God to you and your children after you”) the act of abortion represents an acute act of rebellion against God and His redemptive plans for the salvation of the human race.  
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