Was Jesus pro abortion?
If abortion is so critical, why didn’t Jesus or any New Testament writer address it? Surely women were having abortions in Judea during the time of Jesus, yet they are conspicuously silent. In fact, there is only a single passage found in Exodus which while not condoning abortion also does not advocate for the personhood of a fetus. But before we turn to the Bible, it is necessary to expose the logistical weakness in the pro-life exception clause.
“Abortion should be illegal except in cases involving rape, incest or the life of the mother.”
The above statement is generally agreed to by most Evangelicals opposing abortion. It is also morally inconsistent with their position on human life.
If you are an evangelical or any Christian who champions the sanctity of life especially of unborn children, you must disagree with the above statement. If you advocate abortion under certain conditions such as those mentioned above, you are contradicting yourself and advocating murder by your own definition.
The exception clause is critical to the survival of the evangelical cause against abortion. To remove it would result in a mass defection of supporters. 53% of men and 48% of women think abortion should be legal only under those conditions cited. This drops to 20% of men and women who say abortion should be totally illegal, no exceptions.
Note to reader: I am an ex-evangelical with a BA and MA degrees in Theology who supports freedom of choice. This article is an attempt to elucidate the logical and biblical inconsistencies in the evangelical Christian position.
Should babies be executed for the crimes of their fathers?
If Hitler had had a baby, would he or she have been executed (legally)? Of course not. What if Eva Braun was pregnant, would evangelicals assert her baby should have been aborted?
Nobody believes we are responsible for the sins of our parents. Nor are children born murderers, rapists and pedophiles. Then why should they be aborted if their father is one? Anyone who staunchly supports pro-life with conditions is themselves guilty of condoning the murder of innocent babies in the womb.
If you’re a Pro-lifer, you can’t have it both ways. Either every fetus is a human life and therefore protected, or every fetus is only a potential life (until the third trimester) and subject to abortion if decided by the mother. Pick an ethical lane.
Is an unborn child not innocent of the crimes of his father whether in or out of the womb? If abortion is the murder of a child, it does not matter under what circumstances the child was conceived. To argue otherwise contradicts evangelicals position by allowing the mother to choose killing the baby of a rapist or relative. Otherwise no sex offender or murderer in jail should be allowed to have children if the result is a genetically tainted child with a proclivity towards crime.
Of course I am playing the devil’s advocate here to make a point. Most women who have been victimized by rape resulting in pregnancy would indubitably associate the baby with the rapist father and perhaps treat it differently than if it were conceived in love. It would be hard not to punish the child for its father’s actions. But this does not give them the right to abort it. It is still a human being regardless, according the central premise of evangelicals argument. The most logically consistent action would be to put it up for adoption since the baby does not inherit criminal predilections.
Imagine if there were thousands of pregnancy crisis centers funded entirely by evangelicals throughout the land. They would be run by skilled medical professionals, counsellors and volunteers who offered free services throughout and up until the birth at which time the baby would be placed in the hands of adoptive parents if the mother chose. If on the other hand the mother changed her mind and wanted to keep the child, these care centers would offer additional services to help her in her decision, e.i., vocational training, child care, parental education, counseling etc…
This would kill two birds with one stone. It would avoid the murder of an innocent child. And it would show the world how truly committed evangelicals are to their sanctity of life argument. But alas, like all things evangelical, positions are taken as a matter of convenience and compromise. If they were to drop this clause, their movement would suffer massive opposition from those who currently support them. Their failure to advocate all abortions are murder is one of expedience not moral uprightness.
Evangelicals are not concerned about woman keeping their unborn children and not “murdering” them, otherwise they could solve the problem overnight. Instead, it is easier to blame women as promiscuous Jezebels or irresponsible entitlement seekers or welfare abusers. It is more about control and resentment than love and compassion.
“Except if the mother’s life is in jeopardy”
Hypothetically, if a mother was five months into her pregnancy and the doctor tells her if the pregnancy isn’t terminated her life is at risk, most if not all women would opt for aborting the fetus. What if she is in the delivery room about to give birth? Would she sacrifice her life for her baby’s moments before its birth? I’m sure most if not every women regardless of religious background would choose her own survival over the baby’s life. This is murder if you’re an evangelical who claims life begins at conception or at the very least selfishness.
Take this same woman who is now in her hospital bed with her newborn. If she was asked would she sacrifice her life for the sake of her newborn’s life, almost every woman would. What’s the difference whether the baby is one day old or one minute from being born?
These decisions rests on whether the baby is in or out of the womb. If evangelicals can confidently assert they would spare the child at the expense of the mother in both cases, they are consistent with their beliefs. Anything else compromises their core conviction in the absolute sanctity of life in or out of the womb.
The point in all these hypotheticals is an actual versus a potential human being for most people even to the point of imminent birth. The difference occurs when a child exits the womb, takes its first breath and the umbilical cord is severed. At that moment something biological and mystical happens. The life of the child takes precedence over that of the mother. Prior to birth, the mother’s life is given priority.
Personally, I think the presence or absence of a fully functioning cerebral cortex (around the 23rd or 24th week of gestation) marks the start of what we would call a human being. Until there are regular brain waves, there is not a person. A beating heart, fully formed human features and organs, spontaneous reflexes or primitive brain waves do not indicate an actual human being only a potential human being. The same way we talk of someone being “brain dead” or in a vegetive state as no longer a person, so why not fetuses?
None of this matters for many evangelicals who ignore medical science and go “all in” positing conception or the fertilization of the ovum as the beginning of human life. If they do not arrive at this determination from science, from where does it come?
It is not a secret evangelicals appeal not to medical science when it comes to abortion but the Bible. While I have no medical expertise, I do have experience and training as a biblical exegete. Since they allege to derive their motivation and justification from the ancient scriptures, this will be the focus of our study.
Any person may decide for themselves on the issue of freedom of choice versus pro-life so long as it is based on the evaluation of all available data, including the Bible.
A challenge and a plea to the reader
Ignorance is easy. Intelligence takes hard work. I’ve been laboring over the meaning of the Bible my entire adult life, and I’m still amazed how much there is to know. It is almost impossible to truly understand the Bible without devoting a significant amount of time to it. Being familiar with the general content, names, dates and places does not qualify as expertise in this field anymore than any other discipline. It takes time, energy, discipline, dedication but most of all — dispassionate critical objectivity.
There is a reason why so many seminary grads end up leaving the faith. Knowledge is a dangerous thing when it comes to faith. A reasonable faith is compatible with science and reason not the enemy of them. However, while Jesus and Paul may have thought their faith “reasonable” at that time, it could not stand up to modern day methods of literary criticism.
My knowledge is limited on most topics. I could not have an intelligent conversation on marine biology, astrophysics, fashion design or the Ming dynasty. The Bible is my sole area of expertise. It has taken me decades of intensive theological training, painstaking research and unwavering commitment to objectivity. I have been compelled to analyze and evaluate the data reformulating my hypothesis repeatedly.
You will never start a journey if you think you have already arrived. Most evangelicals are not searching for truth because they believe they have already found it. The path to discovering truth must begin with doubt.
If you are an evangelical or some other version of Christian who “thinks” their stance against abortion is biblically based. I beg of you to suspend your conviction until you have made a determined effort to objectively evaluate this material, then decide.
If one is not willing to invest time and effort in sorting through information without a faith bias, they have no right to inflict their vacuous opinions on others or try to restrict the rights of those with whom they disagree. On the topic of the Bible and abortion, one must carefully weigh the evidence before rendering a decision. This involves thoroughly interacting with all the textual material not a pet verse or two.
Intellectual laziness is one of the deadliest epidemics facing society today and it is so preventable. The cure is knowledge tempered with critical thinking. Simply reading something without analytical evaluation puts you at the mercy of the writer(s). The Bible is no different. Viewed through the lens of faith, it is religious propaganda.
The Bible and Abortion
You may think the Bible explicitly condemns abortion, but you’d be wrong.
The Bible has surprisingly a lot to say about abortion, or at least the life of the unborn. If you’re willing to take the time and mine the texts, there is a wealth of material available to those in search of a biblical perspective.
Abortion is undoubtedly one of the most contentious issues in the current political arena. It is the litmus test for many conservative Christians and a lightning rod of controversy for those brave enough to tackle it. Beyond this though is a women’s right to privacy and freedom to do with her body as she sees fit. The stakes are high. It deserves our careful attention.
This articles primary objective is to examine the biblical text to see where it leads. Material will be evaluated fairly but critically without an inerrantist view which attempts to reshape or predetermine the meaning. Assuming a conclusion before the evidence has been presented is an affront to reason. And refusing to alter ones position when the evidence demands it is intellectual cowardice.
First and foremost let it be said, nobody likes abortion. A woman does not intentionally get pregnant so she can experience an abortion. Sometimes, unfortunately, it is the only viable option and a last desperate act. It may be due to extenuating circumstances such as financial concerns, age or emotional state of the mother or cause of pregnancy (rape, incest). But it is not and should not be confined to extreme or desperate situations. Ultimately it is the women’s right to choose regardless of her reason.
Evangelicals shout from the roof tops about a fetuses right to life with scant biblical justification, though from the volume of their voices you would think it the eleventh commandment. Considering how insistent evangelicals are on it being so critical, we should expect some mention of it in the Holy Scriptures. In fact, the Bible does provide some helpful information. We will work our way through the passages and offer critical comments along the way.
On this subject, the reader must use all available biblical data, inductive logic and common sense because there is no verse that explicitly states, “Thou shalt not have an abortion.” He or she must ask themselves, which position is most reasonable.
The Classic Pro-life Text
13For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”(Psalm 139:13-14)
(Note: All texts quoted are the New International Version)
When I was in Bible college and seminary, this was without question the favorite passage to quote against abortion. In fact, recently I read an article by Franklin Graham against abortion and he cited this passage.
It is alleged this passage “proves” the fetus is a human being, after all, it describes God as “knitting together” the parts of the baby with great care and deliberation. So case closed? Many evangelicals stop here and go no further but this is like a juror rendering a verdict after hearing only one argument.
“Streams of tears flow from my eyes, for your law is not obeyed.” (Psalm 119:136)
You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.(Isaiah 55:12)
Psalms are Hebrew poetry which merit special consideration when dissecting their meaning. We were taught in seminary to be very careful when interpreting poetry because it was by nature hyperbolic and imprecise due to its use of vivid imagery and symbols (see above texts). These poets take great liberties with the language which must be considered when determining authorial intent. Literalness can be surrendered for dramatic effect which seems to be the case here. Undoubtedly, the poet was painting a beautiful word picture showing God omnipresence (see entire Psalm). We should be cautious though about putting more interpretive weight on this verse than it was intended to bear. The Psalmist was waxing eloquent about his calling not instructing on abortion rights.
We will now look at two similar verses among the prophetic writings.
“Before I formed you in the womb I chose you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5)
And now the Lord says— he who formed me in the womb to be his servant to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself…” (Isaiah 49:5)
The above texts describe the commissioning of two prophets (Jeremiah and Isaiah) whom God had already chosen for service before birth. This creates wonderful imagery and conveys the prophets lifelong preparation to this vocation. It is altogether subjective and self serving based on the vantage point of the prophets who are attempting to bolster their prophetic credentials.
It would be stretching the original meaning beyond its breaking point to read anti-abortion teaching into these verses. This was a poetical way to depict their destiny as prophets of Yahweh. It could just as easily be argued God was “forming” the parts into a human being like a carpenter building a table from raw material. A pile of wood is a potential chair not an actual one.
If these are the only verses upon which evangelicals base their entire anti-abortion message, it says something about how important it is to God. These passages are most often used as counseling tools to emphasize a persons worth before God or to illustrate a ministers call to Christian service. They fall far short of prescriptive texts against abortion. There are other relevant texts as well.
The Bible’s legal position on abortion
There is a passage found in the heart of the Mosaic legal code which indirectly addresses this issue. Here you will find the most important teaching on the ancient Israelites view of the value of an unborn child (fetus) from a legal perspective.
Following on the heels of the Ten Commandments we find this text. The evangelical position rises and falls on the interpretation of this key passage.
22“If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely [literally,“her fruit comes out,” plural] but there is [singular verb] no serious injury [singular noun], the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. 23But if there is [singular verb] serious injury [singular noun], you are to take life for life, 24eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,25burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise,” (Exodus 21:22-25)
The above passage is not found in Hebrew poetry but in the context of the giving of the Law to Moses by Yahweh. If any text is authoritative, it is this one. The interpretation rests entirely upon the translation of ‘yatsa’ (“to come out or bring forth,” see underlined words above) as either “premature” birth or a “miscarriage.”
Most English Bibles provide the translation, “gives birth prematurely.” This is an interpretive stance. It must always be kept in mind, these versions are translations of Hebrew and Greek texts made by Christians. In many cases a Christian perspective taints the text. And while an alternative translation may be footnoted; nevertheless, the unwitting readers falsely assumes the primary reading is most authoritative.
It should be noted, anti-abortion was largely a Catholic cause until the 1980s when evangelical leaders like Pat Robertson co-opted it to mobilize evangelical voters for the Republican party. Biblical commentaries and ethics positions of evangelicals prior to this time reflect a doctrinally wishy-washy more moderate position stressing the mother’s value not the fetus. Knowing the political motivations behind the anti-abortion movement among evangelicals should at least make them a little curious as to why previous generations ignored it for so long. Now it is considered by many evangelicals to be arguably the most important social issue facing America.
There is no eleventh commandment, “Thou shall not get an abortion prohibiting abortion,” and “Thou shall not murder/kill” assumes premeditated unjustifiable homicide.
As difficult as it may be, one has to remove emotion when formulating a biblical position. Only by applying sound reason and common sense when examining the evidence can we hope to be formulate a biblical perspective. Ultimately, it comes down to probability. The best we can hope for is which way the biblical writers lean on this matter. There are texts and narratives which provide invaluable clues.
On the surface, either interpretation seems valid. It is, however, essential one meticulously dissects this passage and think through it logically and carefully without bias.
If you think this passage supports the rights of the unborn as equivalent to a human life, the translation would be as follows:
“22If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury [to either the baby or mother], the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows.” (bold text added)
The next verse would then read,
“23But if there is serious injury [to either baby and/or mother], you are to take life for life…” (bold text added)
For evangelicals, this rendering seems perfect and offers a readymade text made in heaven for their position. However, this is interpretation falters for several reasons.
On a textual note, the noun “fruit” is plural (“fruits” as in more than one baby/fetus) but the following verb and noun referring to injury are singular. English versions seldom bring this out, but when they do it is “children born prematurely” never multiple miscarriages. If the health of both mother and baby are in view, it should read, “there are no serious injuries” removing any ambiguity.
Conversely, it seems unlikely vs. 22 refers to a situation where nobody is seriously injured, YET the “offender” is still brought before the court and “fined.” These texts are not contrasting major (serious) and minor (non serious) injuries but life and death. It is not about bumps and bruises (no serious injury) to each but the survival of the mother despite miscarrying under unnatural circumstances — a blow.
It borders on the ridiculous to think people would go before a judge to litigate cuts and scratches resulting from a fight between two men where a pregnant woman deliberately intervenes. This verse seems to imply the offender is the aggressor which is why the pregnant woman takes the other man’s side.
The absence of assigning blame to either man is important. It suggests the issue is of greater magnitude, namely, the death of the fetus (vs. 22) or the death of the mother (vs. 23) than injuries resulting from a fight.
In this interpretation the miscarriage is not considered a serious injury but a loss of property for which the husband is compensated. The ancient Israelites did not equate the death of the unborn as equivalent to a full human life (This will be discussed in passages to follow).
The next verse deals specifically with a fight involving the death of a pregnant woman. It is implied she does not die from a fatal wound (knife, axe) or blunt force (rock, stick) but from severe hemorrhaging due to a miscarriage cause by a blow to her abdomen. The offender would then forfeit his life as prescribed by the principle of “eye for eye, tooth for tooth…”
22“If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows.” (Exodus 21:22, emphasis added)
Also it’s preposterous to think the above scenario would not result in serious injury to a premature baby. This assumes it was common enough for a baby to be born prematurely due to a violent blow without dying to warrant a specific law.
It seems today even with advanced medical treatment, most premature births require special care. Three thousand years ago, if every pregnant women (all at various stages of pregnancy) were kicked in the abdomen so forcibly as to induce premature delivery and none of them had access to urgent medical care, how many of their babies would NOT be seriously injured (dead) to which the above text is alleged to refer?
Today with medical attention a premature baby’s survivability is only in the last trimester (weeks 23 and 24) reducing the percentage to thirty-three. Of these most born in the first two months of this trimester need urgent intensive care under ideal conditions. Add to the mix severe trauma and primitive “medical care” and the odds plummet even further. Does common sense allow us to believe the above text refers to the few children who could conceivably survive given the time and circumstances surrounding the birth?
23”But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, 24eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.” (Exodus 21:23-25)
This verse introduces us to the consequences in the event of the mother’s death (“serious injury”). For this the offender must pay with his life in accordance with the Israelite legal principle of Lex Talionis, a.k.a., “eye for eye, tooth for tooth.”
As previously stated, hemorrhaging from a miscarriage is the cause of death in view. Such occurrences must have been frequent enough to warrant a specific law to address it. A fetus miscarried at any time during pregnancy was considered a potential human life and the person who terminated was fined accordingly, perhaps depending how late or early the pregnancy was (vs. 22). In extreme cases, the miscarriage caused significant bleeding resulting in the mother’s death. For this the offender was executed.
We will adopt the hypothesis: God doesn’t seem to place much value on babies out of the womb, therefore, he certainly doesn’t care much about babies inside the womb. Then we will put this against multiple relevant texts to see if it supports or contradicts it. Finally, a probable hypothesis will be offered based on these findings.
Does the God of the Bible care about babies?
The story of David and Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11-12 offers keen insight into “God’s” view of babies. We
The story begins with David, who was supposed to be away because “in the spring… kings go off to war” (2 Sam. 11:1), seeing Bathsheba bathing naked on her roof. Obviously aroused, he summons her and forces her to sleep with him. She returns home and some months later informs David she is pregnant.
Note: Many (evangelical men) have attempted to level moral blame on Bathsheba as a seductress; whereby, David is lured by her physical beauty and commits adultery. Nothing in the text supports this interpretation. Rather David abuses his position as king giving Bathsheba little choice to deny his request. The final verse of the chapter (11:27) seems to confirm this. Also, Psalm 51 is traditionally regarded as David’s prayer of contrition for this sin.
David devises a plan. He summons Bathsheba’s husband Uriah from the battle field on the pretext of providing him with a war update. After which he sends Uriah home expecting him to sleep with Bathsheba so later he will think the child is his. Uriah, however, does not go home but sleeps at the gate of the palace refusing refreshment in solidarity with his fellow soldiers who are camped in fields.
Uriah stays a few days during which time David plots to have him killed. He instructs Joab to place him close to the wall where fighting is “the fiercest.” Joab is then to pull back his men exposing Uriah to certain death. With Uriah gone David brings Bathsheba to the palace to be one of his wives. But the story does not end here.
Nathan, David’s prophet utters a stern rebuke for David’s killing of Uriah and stealing of his wife. Cleverly he uses an illustration so David incriminates himself. He then informs David, God will punish him for his sin by never letting “the sword depart from your house.” He further describes how the Lord will take Davids “wives” and “give them to someone else who will sleep with them in broad daylight.” Upon hearing this David is contrite.
Then Nathan makes a remarkable declaration. Because David has shown remorse, God is not going to kill him. Instead, God is going to kill his newborn son. The next day God strikes the baby with an illness that causes him to linger a week before dying. After David is informed the child is dead, he gets off the ground, washes, puts on lotions and clean clothes, eats and goes to the house of the Lord to worship. David does not mourn the death of his son.
The sum total of David’s punishment for adultery and ordering Uriah’s death is a week of mourning and then God blesses (?) him with another son, Solomon, from Bathsheba (?). David seems to come out unscathed and is even rewarded with another son who will go on to become one of Israel’s most successful kings of all time!
The question which demands an answer is why God would take the innocent life of a newborn baby instead of that of a murderous adulterer? This story graphically shows how little regard the God of the Bible has for babies; otherwise, he would have slain David in accordance with “An eye for eye, tooth for tooth” legal precept.
It is interesting in this story God waits for the baby to be born before striking it with illness. This sheds further light on the Israelites’ view of the unborn. Presumably, if God had simply told David he was going to cause a miscarriage, David would have been unfazed, maybe even relieved.
The murder of children in the Israelite’s history
First and foremost, biblical scholars (not evangelical pseudo-scholars) view the conquest story as told in the book of Joshua as largely fictitious. It was portrayed that way for religio-nationalistic purposes: To show the mighty power of God to enforce his land promises. Therefore, I do not believe these early Israelites actually carried out the brutality as described in Joshua. However, if you’re an inerrantist who gets your cues on the sanctity of life from the Bible, you have some explaining to do.
Most people are aware from Hollywood movies or Sunday school stories about the Exodus. It’s the story, if you believe the Bible, of the miraculous escape of several million Israelites from Egyptian Bondage. After wandering the desert for forty years, during which time God allowed every one of the original escapees to die, they were then led into the Promised Land under the leadership of Joshua. What followed was a systematic campaign of brutal extermination of the resident Canaanites under the “Banner of Yahweh” (Exodus 17:15) and in accordance with his decree.
Those who trust in the Bible have rationalized these accounts as necessary and justified in order for the promises to be fulfilled. It is the story of the triumph of the righteous Israelites over the wicked Canaanites by the mighty hand of Yahweh. But this is a mischaracterization. The Israelites and the Canaanites would not have been much different morally speaking. The main difference would have been religious. They were ethically the same semitic peoples. Participation in the covenant of circumcision and the Tribal League set them apart. Attached to this were certain obligations as expressed in the Decalogue. These precepts were intended to force harmony within the community which was essential to prevent a breakdown in its structure. Proper functioning helped ensure its survival. Inner cohesion was necessary for facilitating growth and cooperation in achieving their unified objective to defeat their enemies and repossess the land.
Later Yahwist writers would castigate their ancestors for failure to live up to the monotheistic standards of second temple Judaism. This I think is unfair. It is likely David and other leaders practiced a form of syncretistic monolatry. This belief system which pervaded Israel acknowledged and incorporated local deities while deferring to Yahweh as the supreme God of the land. Initially, he was seen as in competition to the heretofore tribal deity El who presided with his consort Asherah over lesser gods like Ba’al. Soon Yahweh subsumed El and eventually was depicted as triumphing over Ba’al (see Elijah narrative concerning prophets of Ba’al versus Yahweh, 1 Kings 18:16f.). It wasn’t until the Babylonian captivity and subsequent return under Cyrus’ decree, the Yahwist community established a powerful foothold in Israel ushering in the era of Judaistic monotheism.
It was from this perspective these writers looked upon their history and interpreted crucial events in light of it especially the captivities. Jerusalem’s inviolableness and her cultus was firmly established with Assyria’s failure to take the holy city under Sennacherib (701BC). Later, Babylon’s success in capturing Zion demanded a revaluation of the ancient promises of an eternal king and an impregnable city. The old covenant was invalidated due to Israel’s persistent rebellion (idolatry) and a new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31) was instituted under the Jews return to Israel (536 BC). This second exodus under Zerubbabel was seen as renewing Yahweh’s promises.
The Fall of Jericho
In Joshua’s narrative, the people of Jericho are first to be crushed under the imperious thumb of God.
This story is taught in every Sunday school class to young children. It celebrates the miraculous victory of Joshua over the mighty city of Jericho with its prodigious walls. Joshua and his army march around the city with his priests blowing trumpets and the ark of the covenant following the procession. For six days they march around the city once and on the seventh day seven times. The final time the men shout and the walls collapse. Joshua and his forces enter the city and we read:
20When the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so everyone charged straight in, and they took the city. 21They devoted the city to the Lord and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys.” (Joshua 6:20-21).
Next Joshua moves his army against Ai.
24When Israel had finished killing all the men of Ai in the fields and in the wilderness where they had chased them, and when every one of them had been put to the sword, all the Israelites returned to Ai and killed those who were in it. 25Twelve thousand men and women fell that day—all the people of Ai. 26For Joshua did not draw back the hand that held out his javelin until he had destroyed all who lived in Ai… 28So Joshua burned Ai and made it a permanent heap of ruins, a desolate place to this day.” (Joshua 8:24-26,28)
Joshua left no survivors which means pregnant women and newborns were among the victims.
This pattern is repeated at Makkedah Libnah, Lachish, Eglon, Hebron, Debir, (see Josh. 10:28-39). The narrative concludes Joshua’s southern campaign with these words.
40”So Joshua subdued the whole region, including the hill country, the Negev, the western foothills and the mountain slopes, together with all their kings. He left no survivors. He totally destroyed all who breathed, just as the Lord, the God of Israel, had commanded. 41Joshua subdued them from Kadesh Barnea to Gaza and from the whole region of Goshen to Gibeon. 42All these kings and their lands Joshua conquered in one campaign, because the Lord, the God of Israel, fought for Israel.” Joshua 10:40-42).
He then turns his attention to the northern territory and razes Hazor.
10”At that time Joshua turned back and captured Hazor and put its king to the sword. (Hazor had been the head of all these kingdoms.) 11Everyone in it they put to the sword. They totally destroyed [‘harem,’ means putting something under a ban or curse for destruction] them, not sparing anyone that breathed, and he burned Hazor itself.” (Joshua 11:10-11).
His military accomplishments in the North are again summed up.
16So Joshua took this entire land: the hill country, all the Negev, the whole region of Goshen, the western foothills, the Arabah and the mountains of Israel with their foothills, 17from Mount Halak, which rises toward Seir, to Baal Gad in the Valley of Lebanon below Mount Hermon. He captured all their kings and put them to death. 18Joshua waged war against all these kings for a long time. 19Except for the Hivites living in Gibeon, not one city made a treaty of peace with the Israelites, who took them all in battle. 20For it was the Lord himself who hardened their hearts to wage war against Israel, so that he might destroy them totally, exterminating them without mercy, as the Lord had commanded Moses.
21At that time Joshua went and destroyed the Anakites from the hill country: from Hebron, Debir and Anab, from all the hill country of Judah, and from all the hill country of Israel. Joshua totally destroyed them and their towns. 22No Anakites were left in Israelite territory; only in Gaza, Gath and Ashdod did any survive.
23So Joshua took the entire land, just as the Lord had directed Moses, and he gave it as an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal divisions. Then the land had rest from war.” (Joshua 11:16-23)
Attempts to exonerate Joshua for his campaign of extermination are unjustified unless it never happened. However, evangelicals not only believe it happened this way, but they celebrate it as divine justice. This presupposes somehow the women and children were guilty by for simply being Canaanites.
The repeated mention of the various kings and Joshua’s execution of them sometimes with graphic imagery (see Joshua 10:26) may highlight the extreme resentment harbored by the Israelites towards their overlords. When Egypt took control of the land, many of the indigenous people were killed, forced into slavery or fled to the hill country to escape enslavement. These “hill people” who had become raiders and brigands for survival were among Joshua’s most eager and able recruits. Those forced to work in fields and vineyards to grow resources for the king who in turn sent them to Egypt would also fuel bitterness. The opportunity for those displaced and enslaved to throw off the yoke of oppression and join Joshua’s growing army would be readily accepted.
The overall picture is one of reclamation as described although the bulk of Joshua’s army came from inhabitants within the land not from the offspring of those once enslaved in Egypt.
The main thrust of this article is the biblical depiction of God’s seeming lack of mercy for man, woman (pregnant or otherwise) and child based solely on race (Canaanite).
If there was a God who “wrote” (divinely inspired) the Bible, he definitely has built the case for not caring for the unborn, babies or children. Apart from a few verses describing the prenatal prophetic mission and one couched in poetic verse, there is scant support for pro-life unless you’re an Israelite and unless you’re faithful to his precepts. God seems willing to dispose of life as he sees fit regardless of age, gender or race.
Like most stories describing merciless slaughter found throughout the Hebrew writings, the Israelites actions are considered divinely sanctioned and encouraged by conservative Christians. We should not, therefore, be surprised Christians have not had to make a large biblical leap to justify their own pro killing stance.
There are several other passages regarding Saul and David which merit mention. All passages will be quoted in full to allow interaction with the texts.
1”Samuel said to Saul, “I am the one the Lord sent to anoint you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the Lord. 2This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. 3Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants [literally ‘nursing babies’], cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’ ” (1 Samuel 15:1-3)
Saul carries out this divine command. This passage suggests God ordered the slaughter of babies because of their forefathers sins, if you believe the Bible. And this is one of many such verses.
There is no question David was an immensely successful killer.
6When the men were returning home after David had killed the Philistine, the women came out from all the towns of Israel to meet King Saul with singing and dancing, with joyful songs and with timbrels and lyres.
7As they danced, they sang:
“Saul has slain his thousands,
and David his tens of thousands.” (1 Samuel 18:7, see also 21:11; 29:5).
But was his butchery confined to soldiers?
There is an unusual story in the book of Samuel where David escapes to the land of the Philistines so avoid Saul’s reach.
10”When Achish asked, “Where did you go raiding today?” David would say, “Against the Negev of Judah” or “Against the Negev of Jerahmeel” or “Against the Negev of the Kenites.” 11He did not leave a man or woman alive to be brought to Gath, for he thought, “They might inform on us and say, ‘This is what David did.’ ” And such was his practice as long as he lived in Philistine territory. 12Achish trusted David and said to himself, “He has become so obnoxious to his people, the Israelites, that he will be my servant for life.” (1 Samuel 27:10-12)
Here he is given refuge by the Achish, the king of Gath, and a city. He promises the king he will perform raids on Israelite towns to show his allegiance but instead attacks Amalekites’ villages. Fearing word of his deceit may find its way back to Achish, he kills every living person in every town and village he attacks “as long as he lived in Philistine.”
If this is true, David is responsible for killing countless women, boys, girls and babies in the name of Yahweh. This atrocity cannot be glossed over as justifiable homicide by divine justice.
If you are a conservative Christian or evangelical who holds these stories to be literally true in every detail, you must explain God, Joshua and David’s disregard for the lives of the innocent. To claim these deaths were justified because of the wickedness of the people is a slippery slope. You could then argue, evangelicals should be glad the babies of non evangelicals are aborted because they would likely grow up to be sinners anyway. They should then direct their efforts exclusively toward evangelical women who are contemplating abortion.
Life in the Garden of Eden
The many passages we have examined seem to indicate a baby out of the womb is dramatically different from a baby in the womb and is expendable. The reason may lay in the ancient Israelite idea of when life truly begins.
“Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7)
From this verse we can deduce, Adam was temporarily a fully formed human body with a beating heart but not yet a living “being” (‘nephesh’).
Once a newborn takes its first breath, it became a living soul. This is confirmed in the book of Genesis with the creation of man. God gives each human the breath to live and takes it when they die.
I’m not saying this explicitly proves the Pro-choice position anymore than a verse found in a Hebrew poem does the opposing point of view.
Other relevant passages
“Give them, O LORD–what will You give? Give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts.” (Hosea 9:14)
This verse falls within the context of God’s pronouncement of judgment on wicked idolatrous Israel, here compared to a prostitute (9:1). The prophet offers an imprecatory prayer calling for Israel’s women to miscarry and those with small children to not be able to nurse them, the end goal being the termination of Israel’s future generation.
11”Then the Lord said to Moses, 12“Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘If a man’s wife goes astray and is unfaithful to him 13so that another man has sexual relations with her, and this is hidden from her husband and her impurity is undetected (since there is no witness against her and she has not been caught in the act), 14and if feelings of jealousy come over her husband and he suspects his wife and she is impure—or if he is jealous and suspects her even though she is not impure—15then he is to take his wife to the priest. He must also take an offering of a tenth of an ephah of barley flour on her behalf. He must not pour olive oil on it or put incense on it, because it is a grain offering for jealousy, a reminder-offering to draw attention to wrongdoing.
16“ ‘The priest shall bring her and have her stand before the Lord. 17Then he shall take some holy water in a clay jar and put some dust from the tabernacle floor into the water. 18After the priest has had the woman stand before the Lord, he shall loosen her hair and place in her hands the reminder-offering, the grain offering for jealousy, while he himself holds the bitter water that brings a curse. 19Then the priest shall put the woman under oath and say to her, “If no other man has had sexual relations with you and you have not gone astray and become impure while married to your husband, may this bitter water that brings a curse not harm you. 20But if you have gone astray while married to your husband and you have made yourself impure by having sexual relations with a man other than your husband”— 21here the priest is to put the woman under this curse—“may the Lord cause you to become a curse among your people when he makes your womb miscarry and your abdomen swell. 22May this water that brings a curse enter your body so that your abdomen swells or your womb miscarries.”
“ ‘Then the woman is to say, “Amen. So be it.” (Numbers 5:11-22)
Here we are introduced to a bizarre ritual using cursed “bitter water” to abort a fetus who was conceived through infidelity. The point is the expendability of the fetus as punishment for the mother’s unfaithfulness. Interestingly, she only suffers shame. The baby is killed for its mother’s sin.
In the book of Numbers, God orders Moses to kill every Midianite woman who “has never slept with a man” and all “the boys” (Num. 31:15-18). Many of these women would obviously have been pregnant.
16The people of Samaria must bear their guilt,
because they have rebelled against their God.
They will fall by the sword;
their little ones will be dashed to the ground,
their pregnant women ripped open.” (Hosea 13:16)
In the above text the prophet Hosea graphically describes God’s judgment on the people of Samaria for their rebellion. Special attention is made of children being violently smashed on the ground and pregnant women having their bellies ripped open killing them and their unborn. God shows little compassion for the weak and innocent.
Happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us. He who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks. (Psalms 137:9)
This final text depicts the Psalmists joy over the prospect of the brutal killing of Babylonian babies for her destruction of Jerusalem.
If evangelicals truly cared about the unborn
Here is perhaps the most obvious evidence of evangelicals hypocrisy when it comes to this contentious issue. If they truly cared about the unborn as a living soul, they would do everything in their power to stop this infanticide. There would be no limit to the resources they would be willing to employ.
One easy way to dramatically reduce abortions would be evangelical funded prenatal centers all over America so pregnant women seeking abortions had options. These centers would offer FREE prenatal care, counseling and of course cover all expenses until the child was born and provide a powerful support network if the mother decided to keep her child.
Their primary focus would be to mitigate the mother’s reason for seeking an abortion. They would offer assistance to the mother by way of free childcare services staffed by evangelicals as an act of love and service to God. Perhaps they could provide jobs or skills training again provided by evangelicals committed to the life of the baby. Another service would be educating young mothers on child rearing, budgeting, menu planning etc…
And as a last resort, if after receiving all this assistance, the mother still wanted to give up her baby, an adoptive system could be set up to place the child with a loving family. Proceeds from this would go towards funding these centers.
This idea would require two things evangelicals have in abundance. Money and a willingness to devote their lives to saving the unborn. If they were really as committed to the unborn as they claim, ideas such as this would have been put in place decades ago.
Evangelicalism has suffered its worst black eye in its history. This idea would help to restore “their brand.” It would prove to a skeptical world how far they were willing to go to “practice what they preach.” The women who came through their centers would be exposed to the gospel in action. No one could accuse them of using abortion as a political football.
Christianity is at its core evangelistic. There are many issues where evangelicals could set themselves apart from the world and demonstrate higher standards, but they don’t. They have watered down New Testament teachings in every area that affects them directly.
The final word
The blatant disregard for human life at all stages found throughout the pages of the Bible particularly of non Israelites should not surprise anyone. This is not reflective of an all loving and merciful God but a tribal deity. These ancient peoples struggled each day to survive. Local battles were a regular part of life and often were vicious and cruel. Any notion of innocent life was rare as each side tried to exterminate the other reducing the changes of future reprisal.
I can confidently say this article is an attack on the Bible’s depiction of God. I do not know if “God” (whatever that may mean) exists, but I do know if he does, he is not the brutal and blood thirsty dictator portrayed throughout the Bible. Thank God!