The Personhood of the Unborn
One of my jobs as a Registered Nurse is to teach patients, families and the public about their bodies and how to take care of them. At the very moment of conception within the mother’s womb there is a single cell that contains a DNA helix that is not the DNA of the mother. The genome of the mother and the father combine to form a complete new DNA helix that has never existed before. DNA is the programing to build an organism. In this case, the DNA in the mother’s womb (that is not hers) is the DNA to build a human being.
“Such arguments, of course, are based in natural theology; it employs the data of general revelation only.”1 The question is “What is the biblical position on the personhood of the unborn.”
In his book, Christian Theology, Erickson gave five passages that have been employed throughout church history to give a biblical position on the personhood of the unborn; two Psalms passages, two New Testament passages and one Law passage:
1. Psalm 51:5, in this passage David acknowledges his sinfulness from conception, thereby indicating that he was a human being from conception.2
2. Psalm 139:13-16, in this passage David speaks of God knitting him together in his mother’s womb and of God knowing him before he was fully formed, again indicating that a fetus is a human being.3
3. Luke 1:41-44, tells of how John the Baptist leaped in his mother’s womb by the greeting of Mary who was carrying Jesus. This could be seen as a sign of prenatal faith, the faith given to human beings by the Holy Spirit.4
4. Hebrews 7:9-10, the writer of Hebrews speaks of how Abraham paid tithe to Melchizedek and said that Levi paid tithe because he was still in Abraham at the time. This could be understood as God seeing every person that would exist as a human being even before conception.5
5. Exodus 21:22-25, Jack Cottrell demonstrated through exegetical work on the Hebrew word יָצָא (yatsa) that Exodus 21:22-25 means, “if there is destruction of the fetus.”6
Erickson concludes by saying, “Indeed, none of the passages we have examined demonstrates conclusively that the fetus is a human being in God’s sight.”7 However, he goes on to say that there is enough evidence to say that it is likely.8
I think that there is a reason that the bible never explicitly says, “The fetus in the mother’s womb is a human being.” Justo L. Gonzalez wrote, “During the early decades of the life of the church, most of what Christians wrote addressed a concrete problem or specific issue. This is true, for instance, of the Pauline Epistles, each of which was prompted by a particular circumstance, and in none of which Paul attempts to discuss the entire body of Christian doctrine.”9
The reason that scripture never explicitly says, “The fetus in the mother’s womb is a human being is because it was not necessary. Everyone knows that what is being carried in a mother’s womb is a human being; those who deny it are simply “suppressing the truth in unrighteousness.”10
1 Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd ed., (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013), 505.
4 Ibid, 506.
6 Ibid, 507.
7 Ibid, 508.
9 Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity Volume I The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation, Revised and Updated, (New York: HarperCollins, 2010), 83.
10 The Holy Bible, Updated New American Standard Bible, (La Habra: The Lockman Foundation, 1995) Romans 1:18.