God Is Moral Part Nine
The previous article demonstrated that infanticide (the willful, premeditated killing of an infant at birth or afterward) is an abomination that God hates and that provokes Him to anger. It fits the dictionary definition of murder. The fact that God required Israelites under the Mosaic Law to execute capital punishment on any person in their land who committed infanticide indicates that He regarded it as murder (Lev. 20:1–5).
Does God also regard abortion as murder? To answer this question, we must address several issues.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines abortion as “the procuring of premature delivery so as to destroy offspring.”1 The word procure means “to contrive, to bring about by contrivance; to effect; cause.”2 Thus this definition regards abortion as the willful, premeditated procedure designed to destroy offspring before birth.
Webster’s New International Dictionary of the English Language says, “In law the term abortion usually implies criminality in producing miscarriage.”3 A more technical term, feticide, refers to the “act of killing a fetus, causing an abortion.”4 These definitions imply that at least in the past, abortion was regarded by law as the criminal act of killing offspring before birth.
The Great Controversy
Abortion was one of the most controversial issues in society during the last quarter of the 20th century, and it continues to be so during the 21st century. The mention of the word generates strong emotions in many people, and the issue has polarized much of society into two extremely vocal, opposing camps. Pro-life people claim that abortion destroys a personal human being and, therefore, is morally wrong. Pro-choice advocates assert that abortion simply destroys impersonal tissue and therefore is not immoral. Others say they do not know which view is correct.
The conflicting assertions of the pro-life and pro-choice people indicate that the key to the issue is the point at which a human offspring becomes a personal human being, possessing a human soul.
Medical science has shed considerable light on this crucial question through its significant research concerning the development of human offspring from conception to birth. As far back as 1979, such research caused obstetrician-gynecologist Dr. Bernard N. Nathanson to reject his pro-abortion views.
Nathanson, a former atheist, once owned America’s largest abortion clinic. He crusaded to legalize abortion and in 1969 cofounded what is now the mammoth National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL Pro–Choice America). Yet in the December 11, 1979, issue of the Chicago Sun-Times, he repudiated abortion and wrote, “Science has disproved my pro–abortion views.”
“Biology,” wrote Dr. Nathanson, “requires any civilized society to react with revulsion at the Supreme Court’s policy of abortion on request for any reason when the embryo or fetus is there—alive—an inescapable part of the human community.” He concluded, “Only a life—that of the mother—can justify the taking of another life.”
In addition to the findings of science, mankind should heed divine revelation. God has given revelation concerning when a human offspring becomes a personal human being, possessing a human soul. First, God revealed that He created mankind in His image. Second, He gave revelation concerning the origin of human souls.
God created mankind in His image, meaning, He made humans to be personal beings—possessing intellect, emotion, and will—and moral beings, responsible to God for their conduct.(Previous articles addressed the subject of God creating mankind in His image.)
These facts indicate two important truths. First, human beings are different from and superior to animals and plants because mankind was created in God’s image; animals and plants were not. Second, since the image of God in mankind signifies that human beings are personal and moral beings, and since the personal and moral aspects of human beings are related to the realm of the human soul, it can be concluded that the image of God in human beings is related to the realm of the human soul. Therefore, God’s statement in Genesis 9:5–6 that it is wrong to murder a human being because God made mankind in His image affirms that it is wrong to murder a human being because a human soul resides in that person.
If the soul is present at conception, then the offspring is a personal human being at conception and not merely impersonal tissue. Thus abortion at any time from conception on involves the taking of a personal human life and is murder. By contrast, if the soul were absent until after conception, then the offspring would merely be impersonal tissue, not a personal human being, until that time after conception when the soul would be present. Abortion before that point of time would not involve the taking of a personal human life and would not constitute murder.
The Origin of the Human Soul
Consequently, the real issue related to abortion is the point at which human offspring obtain human souls. To resolve this critical issue, one must study the origin of the human soul. Historically, there have been at least three major views concerning the origin of individual souls.
The Preexistence Theory. Proponents of the preexistence theory assert that a community of bodiless souls exists somewhere in the universe prior to each soul’s entering into a physical body. Some proponents of this theory believe that these bodiless souls have existed eternally. Others claim they were all created at one time. Still others propose that, originally, souls were not separate from each other but were all part of one universal world soul. All proponents claim that each soul leaves the community of bodiless souls and enters a physical body either at conception or birth.
The preexistence theory is pagan. It has been advocated by Hinduism and other Eastern mystical philosophies and religions, by reincarnation proponents, and by some secular philosophers and psychologists.
There are at least two reasons why those who hold to the authority of God’s biblical revelation must reject the preexistence theory. First, it has no biblical support. Second, it contradicts the biblical teaching that all human beings sinned in the first human being, Adam.
According to Romans 5:12–19, sin entered the world through the first man’s original sin and physical death came to all mankind as a result of that original sin. All people are condemned to die, not because of individual acts of sin that they commit after birth, but because all human beings sinned the original sin when the first man committed it. (In Romans 5:12 the active voice of the verb translated “sinned” in the expression “because all sinned” indicates that, somehow, all of Adam’s descendants participated in his original sin.) The same truth is indicated again in 1 Corinthians 15:21–22, which declares that death came by man and all human beings die “in Adam.”
Although sin negatively affects the human body, it is primarily related to the realm of the human soul. It was in the realm of his soul, where his mind and will resided and functioned, that Adam made his decision to sin against God. All mankind’s decisions to sin are made in the realm of the human soul because decisions are functions of the mind and will, which are aspects of the human soul.
Consequently, the only way all people could have sinned in Adam is if their souls were related to or derived from Adam. If, as the preexistence theory asserts, individual human souls exist somewhere in the universe before the conception of each physical human body, then each human soul could not be related to or derived from Adam—although each human body is derived ultimately from Adam by virtue of procreation or reproduction.
The Creation Theory. Proponents of the creation theory assert that each human body is procreated by human parents, but each human soul is created directly and individually by God and is embodied by Him in the human offspring either at conception, birth, or sometime between conception and birth. According to this theory, the creation and embodiment of each human soul take place at the same time. Each human body is derived ultimately from Adam through human parents, but each human soul is not derived from Adam through human parents.
The creation theory of the origin of the human soul is considerably better than the preexistence theory. Several secular philosophers have proposed it. Since it claims that human souls come into being by creative acts of God, many fine Christians have advocated it.
The creation theory has several problems, however. First, it does not explain the biblical teaching that all human beings sinned in Adam. Since sin is related primarily to the realm of the human soul, how could all human beings have participated in Adam’s original sin if God created their souls directly and individually sometime after that original sin?
Second, the creation theory does not explain the sinful nature of all human beings from the time of their conception. The Bible teaches that all people are sinful by nature (Rom. 3:9–18, 23; 5:19; Eph. 2:1–3) and that each person is in this state of sin from conception (Ps. 51:5). Since sin is related primarily to the realm of the soul, and since all people are in this state of sin from conception, then all people must have human souls at the time of conception; and each soul is in a state of sin from its beginning.
But how can the creation theory explain the fact that each soul is in a state of sin from its beginning if, as that theory asserts, God creates each soul individually and directly? Does the holy God create sinful souls? Certainly that cannot be true. It was noted earlier that the source of mankind’s sinfulness is mankind, not God.
Third, the creation theory finds it difficult to explain the fact that children often inherit the intellect and character of their parents. If God creates each soul individually and directly, why do children often resemble their parents in these qualities, which belong to the realm of the soul, not to the realm of the body?
The next article will consider the third major view concerning the origin of individual souls.
- The Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1961), s.v. ”abortion.”
- Webster’s New International Dictionary of the English Language, 2nd ed., unabridged (Springfield, Mass.: G. & C. Merriam Company, 1939), s.v. “procure.”
- Ibid., s.v. “abortion.”
- Ibid., s.v. “feticide.”