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Is the Bible silent on abortion? No, it speaks clearly

By Jesse Walz - posted Thursday, 7 July 2022

Since the Supreme Court of the United States overruled Roe v Wade, in the case of Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organisation there has been a flurry of pro-choice anger, misunderstanding and misrepresentation. The Dobbs decision is apparently anti-democratic – which is ironic because the Supreme Court gave back the right of the people to vote on this matter at the State level (like Australia). This had been illegitimately taken from them in Roe in 1973. Rather than acting like an unaccountable legislator enforcing its own policy ideals, the majority of the court recognised they were there to interpret the Constitution. All the criticism of the decision I've seen has been of its impact, not the reasoning.

In the wake of Dobbs, pro-choice talking points have been circulating, one of them by Associate Professor of New Testaments Studies, Sean Winter. Winter asserts that the Bible is silent on abortion, and that Christians opposing abortion do it for cultural and political reasons, not theological.

These assertions are wrong. While not all arguments against abortion are theological (as demonstrated by secular pro-life groups), the Bible clearly has a pro-life ethic.


From the Old Testament

Granted, the word "abortion" is not used. Nevertheless, the Bible commands: "you shall not murder" (Exodus 20:13). The question now becomes: are the unborn living humans? If they are, abortion becomes a sub-category of murder. Not specifically outlawing a sub-category does not invalidate the broader command.

Winter suggests, without evidence, this interpretation was a "cultural accommodation to the Greek/Platonic idea that the fetus is a living being".

Is it not more likely that the Judaism of Jesus' day already had moral objections to abortion, especially given the value placed on childbearing?

Winter asserts that Psalm 139:13-16 and Jeremiah 1:5 have no direct relation to the legal/ethical issues at stake. He is wrong. They are supremely relevant. The authors assume an identity between themselves in the present and themselves as an unborn baby. Nothing happened at birth to transform them into people.

These passages address profound questions. Was I "me" in the womb? Did I have rights competing with my mother's? Just because these debates are modern does not mean these words from scripture have no bearing, and simply asserting they are irrelevant does not make them so.


Winter cites John Collins who says there is "no divine revelation to be had." Yet Collins cites Jeremiah wishing the man who brought his father news of his birth had instead killed him in the womb. Jeremiah was alive and himself in the womb and wishes he had died there. The Bible says the unborn child is alive. Therefore, biblically, abortion kills an innocent life and is against God's law of murder.

There are more examples. Samson's mother is told that her son is to be a Nazarite from birth – especially set apart for God. Being a Nazarite was usually voluntary, but this was given to Samson from birth. His pregnant mother was told to refrain from certain activities forbidden to Nazarites because her child would be a Nazarite. The process was starting even before his birth.

Winter uses Exodus 21:22-25 to defend his point that the unborn were not seen as persons. Exactly the opposite is true. The passage describes men who are fighting, and a pregnant woman is injured. Winter says, "the Hebrew version of this passage is clear about priorities: if all that happens is the fetus is lost through miscarriage then the man who injured the woman should just pay a fine."

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This article was first published on AP.

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About the Author

Jesse Walz is the Presbyterian minister at Eaglehawk in Victoria

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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