Living Christianity: The Ten Commandments (Safeguarding Human Life, Part 5)

May 14, 2019

by Peter Amsterdam


(Points for this article are taken from Christian Ethics, by Wayne Grudem1)

Of all the subtopics in this series regarding safeguarding human life, abortion is the most difficult to write about. It’s a controversial topic, which people on both sides of the issue are passionate about. As the focus of this article is the biblical view of abortion, I won’t be addressing the arguments that defend the pro-abortion view. Some who read this article may have had an abortion, and I run the risk of offending or hurting them by presenting biblical views which aren’t in alignment with actions they have taken. That is by no means my intention. The intent of addressing this issue is to explain the general Christian view regarding abortion.

One of the key differences between those who oppose abortion and those who consider it morally legitimate is the question of when a fetus becomes a unique human being. There are a number of verses throughout the Bible which indicate that an unborn child should be thought of as a person from the moment of conception.

When Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, was in her sixth month of pregnancy, Mary, who would be the mother of Jesus, visited her. We read:

When Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry… Behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.2

Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth called her unborn child a “baby” in her sixth month of pregnancy. The Greek word translated as baby is brephos, the same Greek word used in Luke 2:16:

They went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.3 

When referring to the unborn and the born baby, the same word is used.

We also read that Elizabeth’s unborn child “leaped for joy,” which attributes human activity to him. He heard Mary’s voice and felt joyful about it. Researchers have found that children in the womb can distinguish their mother’s voice and can tell the difference between music and noise.4 They respond to their mother’s voice while still in the womb, and her voice has a calming effect on them.5

After having sinned by committing adultery with Bathsheba and being exposed by the prophet Nathan,6 David wrote Psalm 51, in which he confessed his sin and prayed for God’s forgiveness. Within that prayer of forgiveness, he said:

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.7

David refers to the time of his birth, and notes that he came from his mother’s womb as a sinner, and that even before birth he was conceived with a sinful nature. He clearly considered himself a distinct human being from the moment of his conception.

You formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.

David spoke of his being a distinct person (“me”) when he was in his mother’s womb. In referring to my inward parts, he uses the Hebrew word kilyah, which literally means “kidneys,” but in contexts like this, it means the innermost parts of a person, which includes his emotions and his deepest thoughts. David makes the point that not only his body was formed in his mother’s womb, but also his distinct inner being.8

The children [twins] struggled together within her, and she said, … “Why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the LORD. And the LORD said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.”9

These two unborn babies are viewed as “children.” They are already struggling with one another. Even before birth, they are seen as distinct persons—so much so that their future is spoken of.

While the preceding verses indicate that fetuses within the mother’s womb are considered children, this next verse speaks of the serious penalties which were to be imposed if the life or health of a pregnant woman or of her unborn child was endangered or harmed:

Exodus 21:22–25. When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.10

It is clear that according to the Old Testament law, both mother and unborn child were treated as persons with equal legal protection, and it was considered a serious offense to harm a pregnant mother and the child in her womb. If either was harmed, the penalty was severe: “life for life, eye for eye.”

It’s interesting that elsewhere in the Mosaic Law, in cases of someone accidentally causing the death of another person (defined in modern law as manslaughter), there was a way to avoid the “life for life” requirement. The one who accidentally caused the death of another could flee to one of the six “cities of refuge” in order to avoid the “avenger of death,” one of the dead person’s relatives who was sent to avenge their relative’s death. If the person made it to a “city of refuge” safely, they would be safe from the avenger until a trial was conducted. If the court determined that the attacker acted unintentionally, he would remain in the city of refuge and live safely until the death of the high priest who was in office at the time of the trial. After the high priest died, he could return home. However, if he left the city of refuge before the high priest died, the avenger would have the right to kill him.

The fact that this provision of fleeing to a city of refuge was not an option for someone who accidentally killed a pregnant woman or an unborn child indicates that the biblical law placed a higher value on protecting the life of a pregnant woman and her unborn child than the life of anyone else in Israelite society. If the accidental killing of an unborn child was so serious in God’s eyes, we can infer that the intentional killing of an unborn child is even more so.

In the Gospel of Luke, we read about the birth of Jesus. We’re told that the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and told her she would bear a son, which would come about by the power of the Holy Spirit:

The angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.”11

Some time later Mary, while still pregnant, went to visit her relative Elizabeth, who when seeing Mary called her the “mother of my Lord.”12 This indicates that the divine nature of God the Son joined the human nature of Jesus from the moment of conception. His incarnation began not when He was born, but when He was conceived.

Some argue that an embryo is simply an extension of the mother and that aborting it is not taking human life. One author gives reasons which indicate otherwise:

From the moment of conception, [embryos] have their own sex, and slightly more than half are male, while the mother is female. Beginning about forty days after conception, they have their own individual brain waves, which they keep until death. Within a few weeks of conception, they have their own blood type, which may differ from the mother’s, and their own unique fingerprints, which do differ from the mother’s. … No new genetic information is added to a human being after the point of conception. The mother aids in the development of the embryo after conception but does not add anything to its human nature after conception.13

Following is the growth process for a fetus for the first five months (20 weeks).

First Month: Actualization (weeks 1–4)

  • Conception: All her human characteristics are present.
  • She implants or “nests” in her mother’s uterus (one week or so later).
  • Her heart muscle pulsates (three weeks).
  • Her head, arms, and legs begin to appear.

Second Month: Development (weeks 5–8)

  • Her brain waves can be detected (40–42 days).
  • Her nose, eyes, ears, and toes appear.
  • Her heart beats and blood (her own type) flows.
  • Her skeleton develops.
  • She has her own unique fingerprints.
  • She is sensitive to touch on her lips and has reflexes.
  • All her bodily systems are present and functioning.

Third Month: Movement (weeks 9–12)

  • She swallows, squints, and swims.
  • She grasps with her hands and moves her tongue.
  • She can even suck her thumb.
  • She can feel organic pain.

Fourth Month: Growth (weeks 13–16)

  • Her weight increases six times (to one-half birth weight).
  • She grows up to eight to ten inches long.
  • She can hear her mother’s voice.

Fifth month: Viability (weeks 17–20)

  • Her skin, hair, and nails develop.
  • She dreams (REM sleep).
  • She can cry (if air is present).
  • She can live outside the womb.
  • She is only halfway to her scheduled birth date.14

In 2003, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 26% of reported legal induced abortions in the United States were known to have been obtained at less than 6 weeks’ gestation, 18% at 7 weeks, 15% at 8 weeks, 18% at 9 through 10 weeks, 10% at 11 through 12 weeks, 6% at 13 through 15 weeks, 4% at 16 through 20 weeks, and 1% at more than 21.

Ultrasound images of unborn children give realistic images of children in the womb, and they can show the growth of the fetus through the months of gestation. When viewing an ultrasound of a child in the womb, the images show how much they look like human beings.

Can abortion ever be morally right? There are situations when it may be necessary for a doctor to perform a drastic procedure which will lead to the death of the unborn child in order to save the mother’s life. Though it is rare, there are times when the mother’s life is threatened due to the pregnancy, and in such cases it is morally right to do all that is possible to save the mother’s life. For example, if the mother has uterine cancer and urgently needs an operation to remove the uterus in order to survive. The operation will end the life of the child, but without the operation, both the mother and the child will die. In such a case, the principle of double effect applies: (1) The intention is to perform a good—to save the life of the mother. The evil effect of causing the death of the baby is not desired, but this sad effect is the result of a morally right and good act. (2) Saving the mother is better than allowing both the mother and the child to die due to inaction, even though it means the death of the child.

From the Christian perspective, imminent physical danger to the mother due to the pregnancy can be a legitimate reason to end the pregnancy. This contrasts with the laws of a number of countries which broaden the legitimate reasons for legal abortions to include the mother’s emotional health, financial standing, or the negative effect on her social life.

Scripture teaches that human life is given by God, and that such life begins at conception. It also stresses the value of human life, that human beings are created in the image of God. This scriptural view of the value of human life, along with the commandment to not kill, are the basis for the Christian view that abortion is not in alignment with Scripture and is therefore not morally right.


Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

1 Wayne Grudem, Christian Ethics (Wheaton: Crossway, 2018).

2 Luke 1:41–44.

3 Luke 2:16.

4 University of Florida, “University of Florida Research Adds to Evidence That Unborn Children Hear ‘Melody’ of Speech,” Science Daily, Jan. 23, 2004.

5 Janet L. Hopson, “Fetal Psychology,” Psychology Today, Sept. 1, 1998.

6 2 Samuel 12:1–7.

7 Psalm 51:5.

8 Psalm 139:13.

9 Genesis 25:22–23.

10 Exodus 21:22–25.

11 Luke 1:35.

12 Luke 1:43.

13 Norman L. Geisler, Christian Ethics, Contemporary Issues and Options (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010), 137.

14 Ibid., 150.