"Is It Human? Is It Alive?" Settling The Debate About When Human Life Begins
The abortion controversy often focuses on when life begins. Does it begin at conception or when the newborn takes its first breath? Turning to the Scriptures, some point out that when the first human being was created, "God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being" (Gen. 2:7). They go on to argue that just after a baby is born and takes its first breath, God is breathing the breath of life once more.
But if you think deeper about this, does the moment of the first breath really constitute a transition between non-life and life? For that matter, does it mark the transition between no oxygen and oxygen? You may have know people in the hospital who are unable to breathe on their own. If such persons receive machine-supplied oxygenated blood, they can survive indefinitely with this manner of respiration.
A fetus respires in a similar way, receiving oxygen-enriched blood through the placenta from its mother. The first breath after birth does not represent a change from non-life to life, though it is an important new stage of the process of becoming independent from the mother.
Rejecting, therefore, the first breath as the moment life begins, we must go back further. We cannot find, however, any definite place to identify the non-life/life threshold. A continuum exists from conception until birth, and the organism at any point along that continuum is alive and human. Viability is not acceptable, and as medical technology advances, the moment of viability shifts earlier and earlier toward conception. The time the mother first feels movement (called "quickening") is not the critical moment. That would assume that bodies that can't move aren't really human beings. We are forced to move back inexorably toward conception as the moment life begins.
And yet, even beyond conception, the continuum remains unbroken, from child back to parents, to grandparents, great-grandparents, and on and on reaching back to that first human being "formed from the dust of the ground." If at any point that continuum is broken, all life that would follow becomes impossible. Of course, this means that there is no essential difference between the end of a human life shortly after conception and ending it just before birth, or just after for that matter.
The Bible confirms this conclusion that no distinction should be made between the pre-born and the newly born child. In both the Old Testament and the New Testament, passages occur in which the same word is applied to a child still in the womb and a newborn. In Luke 1:41, 44, for instance, which uses the term 'baby' (Greek: brephos) to identify John while he was still inside of Elizabeth. The same term (brephos) occurs in the next chapter to describe baby Jesus (Luke 2:12, 16; see also Luke 18:15; Acts 17:9). For an Old Testament example, see Gen. 25:22, where "babies," literally 'sons' (Hebrew: banim, plural of ben), is used of the unborn twins, Esau and Jacob.
The Holy Spirit is not singing Rock 'n' Roll when He describes the human before birth and the human newly born as "baby...baby."
The conclusion from all of this seems inescapable: We cannot justify abortion by arguing that a human life is not being ended. It is human from conception, and it is definitely alive.
Steve Singleton has written and edited several books and numerous articles on subjects of interest to Bible students. He has taught Greek, Bible, and religious studies courses Bible college, university, and adult education programs. He has taught seminars and workshops in 11 states and the Caribbean.
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