Scot McKnight posted a interesting discussion on abortion in his blog, The Jesus Creed. I find it so interesting that I am reposting it here in full.
In my new book, The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible, one of my major points is that the Church has learned to read the Bible by discernment instead of treating everything as law. I got a letter recently about abortion, and I’d like to sketch — inadequately — the basics of how discernment works when it comes to the abortion issue.
Okay, here it is: I’m passionately committed to having all my theologyand practice be based on Scripture, interpreted as the original authorswould have intended it to be. To the best of my ability to determinethat, of course. So having assessed some of my other evangelical idolsin light of what the whole of Scripture actually says, I thought as athinking pro-life Christian I should do the same with abortion.
I believe the pro-life side has framed the debate properly. This isfirst and foremost about when the fetus becomes a “person” (a moreaccurate description than saying “when life begins”). We can argue itlegally or scientifically, but I needed to start with Scripture. I wasalways taught the first step in exegesis is gathering the evidence. Soto build a theology of the beginning of human life, I needed to gatherall the passages that apply to that issue, properly interpreted incontext. I haven’t gotten far into it, but here’s sort of a summary ofmy cursory research so far:
The Bible is ambiguous.
There it is. I said it. To clarify, the Bible says life:
– begins before birth (Ps. 51:5; Ps. 139:13; Luke 1:41)- is found in the blood (Lev. 17:11,14; Deut. 12:23; Ezek. 3:18)–canthere be life where there is no blood? At what point can we say thefetus has its own blood distinct from the mother’s?- begins/ends with the breath (Gen. 1:30; 2:7; 6:17; 7:15,22); 7 timesin Scripture “breathed his/her last” means “he died”; of course inHebrew & Greek the same word is used for breath & spirit–can there belife without breath?- In the Law, a person is not “counted” until one month old! (Lev. 27:6;7x in Num. 3; Num. 18:16; 26:62)
First here is what you say and it is very important for me to begin right here: “Okay, here it is: I’m passionately committed to having all my theology and practice be based on Scripture, interpreted as the original authors would have intended it to be.”
I’m with you and our method is fine until we come to something, like abortion or prolonging life indefinitely with drugs or machines or heart transplants or nuclear war, that clearly isn’t discussed in the Bible because it was a document of its times (the point of my book Blue Parakeet). The Bible doesn’t address your issue because the biblical times didn’t have that kind of sophistication about this kind of issue.
When this happens, we are driven to make discernments the best that we can.
That means we don’t have “certain” clarity but have “faith” discernment.
That means we have to work with other Christians who share our general orientations.
That leads to a discernment in light of Scripture rather than a judgment based on something clearly stated in Scripture.
Abortion is one of those: I confess that those texts you quote don’t really interest me in this decision because those texts are not talking about “when does a fetus/etc become a human, an Eikon of God” but they are dealing with other things. Since these authors had no idea how humans formed, their words are metaphorical to some degree.
What we (mostly Evangelical) have discerned is based on one very big and very clear point made in the Bible: humans are Eikons of God, that is, they are made in God’s Image. This makes humans special beyond what any of us can fathom.
They are Eikons once they are conceived (RCs push this back to the sperm and egg more than to just conception so they are against birth control practices) because this is the “process” God has created for us to become co-creators with God in this wonderful world. We are fruitful and multiply, that is we extend God’s creation, when we reproduce. So, the very act of reproduction is part of the Eikon-forming process.
Eikons are sacred. This is the point of Genesis 1-2. Eikons are “like God.”
Abortion is therefore an act of irretrievable violence against the sacredness of Eikons whom God has made.
The Bible doesn’t say “Abortion is wrong.” The Bible gives us the raw materials to discern how to live out the gospel in our day.
There is much more to be said, and scientists have important insights in these very matters, but what I’ve sketched is an approach through Scripture.