Those Christians who have spent much time in conservative Christian circles know that we are pro-life. That almost goes without saying. And we often have some of the basic arguments down, but we need to make sure that we have the true foundational issues down as well. That means, as you should already instinctively know, that we have to ground our convictions on the Scriptures that have been given to us by God.
“If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman’s husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe” (Ex. 21:22–25).
Summary of the Text:
In this law that the children of Israel were given, we can readily see the parity of the law. This is part of the Israel’s case law system, and so a particular scenario is described, from which we are called to derive the principle of justice so that we might apply it in other comparable situations. So here it is. If two men are fighting, and if they careen into a pregnant woman such that she gives birth prematurely, but the child is all right, then the guilty party is fined what the husband determines and the judges allow (v. 22). In this case, the guilty or responsible party is fined for the “scare.” But if there is harm (“if mischief follow”) then the penalty that is exacted is precisely the same as the penalty that is exacted when harm is done to fully grown adults (Lev. 24:17-20; Deut. 19:17-21; Matt. 5:38). In other words, the unborn child is treated as having equal dignity, equal rights, with the rest of us.
Some might want to argue that this is talking about possible harm done to the woman, but this is not consistent with the language of the law at all, or the scenario described. If it were dealing with whatever harm the woman suffered, then the fact of her being pregnant would be entirely irrelevant and beside the point. The law is plainly talking about harm to the baby.
This is not something that we find in one odd corner of the Old Testament. No, God’s word is consistent on this subject throughout.When a child is being mysteriously formed in the womb, God is the one doing it (Ps. 139:13; Jer. 1:5; Job 31:15). The children of the covenant are the children of the Lord from the moment they began to exist (Ps. 22:10). When Mary came to visit Elizabeth, John the Baptist rejoiced over it in utero (Luke 1: 41-44). And this was not a quaint superstition from the hill country of Judea, but was rather what Elizabeth said when she was filled with the Holy Spirit. And so we come to the fundamental pro-life passage—“Thou shalt not kill” (Ex. 20:13; Deut. 5:17).
The Mere Fact of Scripture:
And so we see there are a number of Scripture passages that outline the Christian position on this issue. But there is an underlying issue, a deeper issue. And that is the mere fact of Scripture, the mere fact of an authoritative Word from outside the human race, a Word that we cannot alter, abolish, modify, amend, or repeal. God speaks to us, and He speaks to us from the Heaven of Heavens. His Word simply is. That Word is ultimate truth, an absolute Word. We may accept it or reject it. If we accept it, we shall be saved by it (because His Word includes at its center the glorious message of Jesus crucified and risen). If we reject it, then we shall be judged by that Word that we rejected.
Not on the menu is the option of getting the Word to go away and bother somebody else. And this ultimate fact of a transcendental Word leads directly to the next point.
What Is a Person?
As we are talking to non-believers, whether friends, family, co-workers, and so on, and we come to discuss this issue, we soon discover that we certainly differ on what should be done. We believe that all human abortion needs to be outlawed. They want to keep abortion legal, although different unbelievers might go for various restrictions on abortion. This is the content of our disagreement. But let us go a step further and we will see where the real difference lies. When we ask what is a person? these two groups do give different answers. But why? The different answers arise from the fact that we are appealing to the legal codes of two different religions. One is the religion of man, and the god is Demos. The other is the religion of Christianity, and the God is Jehovah, Father of the Lord Jesus.
For the non-believer, a human being need not be a person. For the believer, the unborn child began to bear the image of his or her Creator God the moment the sperm penetrated the cellular wall of the egg.
Put another way, no one is advocating the abortion of persons. But what is a person? For Christians, all human beings bear the image of God and so all of them are therefore persons. We worship a God who defines personhood this way. They believe, following the existentialists, that the material world is just chaotic matter in motion, and that it is meaningless and absurd. It remains that way, meaningless and absurd, until meaning is imposed on it by choice. Whose choice? The answer is the choice of whoever can make that choice stick.
So a debate between a secularist and a Christian over abortion is comparable (in this respect) to a debate between a Muslim and a Christian over the lawfulness of eating bacon. In order to resolve the dispute, the two parties appeal to different authorities. The issue is therefore irreducibly a religious one. It has to be settled by an appeal to the Word of God. But who is God?
Who defines a person? And what are the consequences of appealing to different authorities? When we define according to the law of a particular God or god, then the definition is going to reflect the character of the god of the system.
Now because Jehovah is holy and immutable, this means that laws based on His Word are also going to be holy and unchanging. At this point of comparison, Demos the fickle god of the people, is unholy and is changing all the time—from one kind of unholiness to another. This shiftiness with regard to character is why secularism wants its authority over definitions to be kept murky and in the background. Considering the track record of Demos, we can see why they want to keep things vague. Remember what Chesterton said in this regard: “Definitions are very dreadful things: they do the two things that most men, especially comfortable men, cannot endure. They fight, and they fight fair.”
This vagueness is why some people, who don’t understand what is going on, will say things like “I’m pro-life, except in cases of rape or incest.” But before we talk about rape or incest, we have to settle how many persons are involved in the situation. Two or three? If there are three—father, mother, and baby—then what kind of sense does it make to execute one of the two innocent victims for the crime of the father? In other words, we must do the theology of personhood first.
A Modest Suggestion
Pro-lifers are accustomed to speak of the sanctity of human life. But because of the issues mentioned earlier, I would like to offer a way for us to improve on this, and to make our meaning more clear. Rather, we should talk about the sanctity of God’s law, and the consequent dignity of human life. Human life does not provide the standard. Human life is what the standard—given to Moses on Mount Sinai—protects.
If we make human life itself the standard, then we have to spend time explaining why we are against abortion but support capital punishment. This objection can be answered (we oppose executing innocents who have not been given a trial, which is not inconsistent with support the execution of guilty people who have), but it is cleaner to side-step it.
Now it is not wrong to understand that human life does have a form of derivative “sanctity.” We are created in the image of God, after all. And forgiven and redeemed believers are called “saints,” or holy ones. But this just means that we are bearers or carriers of sanctity, not generators of it.
Once we settle these matters in our minds, there are other remaining questions. In our pro-life activism, should we be incrementalists or abolitionists? We have no time to delve into that, but we can say that the one thing we must not be is “mission drift” pro-lifers. Or discouraged pro-lifers. Or lame pro-lifers. And the way to keep that from happening is always to anchor your convictions to the gospel of Christ, crucified and risen.
The Image of God in Man
Unbelieving man cannot reach God in order to fight against Him, but would if he could. But failing that, like a rebel who cannot overthrow a hated king in a distant castle, he burns the king’s effigy in his own village—an image of the detested king that he can reach. Small children bear that image, and they are defenseless. They are within reach.
The contrary way, the gospel way, is also true. We love the image of God in even the most helpless of our fellow men, and this is how we show our love for Christ, who is the ultimate image of the ultimate God.
“If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” (1 John 4:2).