The Biblical View on Abortion pt. 2
Written by: MacArthur Jr., John Posted on: 04/01/2003
The following message was delivered at Grace Community Church in Panorama
City, California, by John MacArthur Jr. It was transcribed from the tape,
GC 90-68, titled "The Biblical View on Abortion" (Part 2). A copy of the
tape can be obtained by writing, Word of Grace, P.O. Box 4000, Panorama
City, CA 91412 or by dialing toll free 1-800-55-GRACE.
I have made every effort to ensure that an accurate transcription of the
original tape was made. Please note that at times sentence structure may
appear to vary from accepted English conventions. This is due primarily to
the techniques involved in preaching and the obvious choices I had to make
in placing the correct punctuation in the article.
It is my intent and prayer that the Holy Spirit will use this transcription
to strengthen and encourage the true Church of Jesus Christ.
The Biblical View on Abortion
John MacArthur Jr.
We continue tonight where we left off this morning in our discussion of
this matter of abortion, and as I did this morning, I want to begin with an
introduction that sort of defines the problem as we face it. I approached
it somewhat statistically this morning and tonight I would to approach it
somewhat from an ethical viewpoint. Let me just share with you some
thoughts that may help to set this thing in your mind and then we will go
to the Word of God for specific answers.
For centuries the Western World has operated on what we could call a
"sanctity of life" ethic. That is to say, a person had a right to life
simply because he was human and was considered human because he was alive,
but there has been a shift in recent years toward a quality of life ethic,
rather than a sanctity of life ethic. This new ethic basically says, "A
person doesn't have a right to live simply because he's human. A person
only has a right to live if he meets certain criteria, certain qualities."
According to that new modern viewpoint, a person has no rights simply
because he is alive. Even if he is physically alive he must meet some
additional criteria for being fully human. If he fails to meet the
criteria he doesn't have the rights of a human, including the right to
live. The unborn must meet some kind of a vague standard of genetic
worthiness, or they must have a life worth living, or they must be wanted
by society, or they must meet the mother's personal criteria to be
This shift subtly allows for the nightmarish scenarios of utopia's going
awry, as well as the kind of genetic purification programs that were
pursued by Hitler and the Nazi doctors. The same kind of ethic allowed the
Nazis to weed out unwanted genetic elements in the population. When one
Nazi Death Camp guard was asked how he could exterminate thousands of
people his reply was, "They were not regarded as human." The parallel to
our modern situation is uncomfortably close. According to a number of
researchers, Margaret Sanger (sp.) who, by the way, is the founder of
Planned Parenthood, the world's largest supporter of abortion--according to
the researchers who study her--she essentially agreed with Hitler's
approach and sought to weed from the human race blacks, southern Europeans,
Hebrews, and other "feeble-minded." She regarded abortion as part of a
genetic improvement program for the human race. This then moves us from
the sanctity of life to a quality of life right to live, and that quality
of life is to be determined by the genetic engineers or the philosophers or
Although shocking, these eugenic proposals are not very different in
principles from the present practice of aborting babies for any reason at
all. A baby who has "Down Syndrome," a baby who has some other birth
defect, or a baby who would be an inconvenience doesn't have a life worth
living; therefore, isn't human; therefore we can dispose of them readily.
Respected scholars have already proposed different criteria for this
quality of life and you can read endlessly on this. One illustration,
Nobel Laureate James Watson, proposed that a person not be declared having
the quality to live until three days after birth, to be sure he's healthy.
In other words, wait three days and then if the child doesn't meet the
criteria--take its life. Other proposals would require that someone be
several years old before he could be considered a human and thus qualify to
live. I heard recently that in some Scandinavian countries they are now
saying a person may not be truly considered to be human until they are
seven years old.
Of course, if criteria can be imposed near the beginning of life then it
can be imposed at anytime in life. Joseph Fletcher (you associate him with
"situation ethics") suggested that to be considered a person one must have
a measurable IQ of at least 40. Infants would not qualify, nor would the
aged who are senile, nor would others who had certain types of accidents.
"In such cases," argues Fletcher, "abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia
are not taking personal life, but merely biological life."
Attempts to justify abortion by claiming that it will eliminate suffering
not only forsakes the sanctity of life ethic, but also ignores the facts.
Some people say to do this will eliminate suffering--that's not true. It's
like the argument that the handicap don't have a life worth living; that
there is validity to the fact that unwanted children are going to be abused
children and, therefore, if they are unwanted abort them so they aren't
born and being unwanted become abused. By the way, studies show that there
is very little correlation between how much a child is wanted before birth
and how much that child is wanted after birth.
Furthermore, Dr. Lenoski (sp.) Professor of Pediatrics here at USC, showed
that 91% of battered children were from planned pregnancies. Another study
demonstrated more deviant behavior in wanted babies then in those who are
unwanted. So any argument that an unwanted child becomes an abused child
just doesn't stand up to any kind of test. On the contrary, there seems to
be a correlation between abortion and child abuse. When abortion was
legalized in the United States there were 167,000 child abuse cases per
year (it was legalized in 1973). By 1979 there were 711,000; in 1982 there
were 1,000,000! Britain experienced a tenfold increase in child abuse
after liberalizing abortion laws.
Now you ask, "What's the correlation?" The correlation is: you begin to
educate the whole society that a child is a non-person, not worth living
and shouldn't be any kind of intrusion into your world, and you begin to
treat them that way. Professor of Psychiatry Philip Nay, concluded in a
widely publicized study, that the acceptance of violence against the unborn
lowered the parents resistance to violence against the born--that should be
Abortion is often portrayed as benefitting women; yet ironically when
decisions are made on the basis of sex, girls are aborted far more often
then boys. Out of 8,000 amniocenteses, that is abortions, done in Bombay,
7,999 of them were girls--one was a boy. This is true in China: they are
only allowed to have one child and if it is a girl they kill it. In one
study in the United States, 29 out of 46 girls were aborted--only 1 out of
53 boys were aborted. So the idea that abortion benefits women doesn't
seem to fit the facts; it winds up in the slaughter of women around the
Some argue that abortion in necessary because of over population, but that
ignores principles of production and distribution. How in the world do
abortions in the United States alleviate over population in crowded parts
of Africa? There is no correlation. Furthermore, the United States and
Europe have a different population problem: the numbers being born are not
replacing the aging and dying! I was told this morning by someone who
works for the IRS, that one of the formidable problems the IRS and social
security is facing now is the fact that there are so many abortions that
there is not going to be enough people born to pay your Social Security by
the time you retire. So what they are doing now: in a very few years they
are going to raise the Social Security level to 67, and some years after
that the plans are to raise it into the mid 70's. Why? Because there is
no funding because there aren't going to be another wage earners to support
us when we get old.
Pro-Abortionists argue that restricting abortions will return us the era of
back-alley butchers. Dr. Bernard Nathenson (sp.) who was one of those
abortionist and converted over to a non-abortion position replies that not
only were deaths in the pre-Roe vs. Wade days grossly inflated, in fact, he
said they lied about how many deaths occurred in illegal abortions because
they wanted abortion legalized for business reasons. So they fabricated
all the figures to make people think that more people were dying than
actually were in illegal abortions; but he went on to say that developments
in medical technology and pharmacology will mean that even illegal
abortions will be medically safe. Not that that is right, but they use
that as an argument that if we ever stop legalizing abortion--non-legal
abortions done in less than proper medical facilities and with less than
proper medically means will result in many deaths; and he says, "That's not
the case, because of the technologically we have."
The present toleration of abortion is deeply rooted in this new kind of
individualism and personal rights movement. The Pro-Abortion people always
argue that a woman has the right to control her own body and, therefore,
she has the right to abort any intrusion into that body. Yet society
recognizes rights must be limited when they conflict with another person's
rights; and certainly the person in the womb of the mother has rights. A
Supreme Court Justice Antonio Scalla (sp.) said, "Whether a woman's right
over her body extends to abortion depends on whether the fetus is a human
life." We already saw this morning that the fetus is a human life, not a
part of the mother's body but with an identity all its own: it has its
unique set of genes, its own circulatory system; its own blood type (very
often), and its own brain. It can live and die separately from the mother,
and the mother can live or die separately from it--it is a separate life!
But we are reengineering our thinking and the philosophies that are
dominant in our culture today are self-serving philosophies: then intend to
remove any kind of intrusion into people's freedoms and liberties.
Now what does the Bible say about this matter of abortion? We go back to
where we were this morning. The first point that I gave you was this: (and
we will cover the remaining ones with just a brief review of this one),
1. Conception is Act of God.
We pointed out this morning that God creates personally every life. Now
this morning I said to you that at the very moment of life God does a
creative work. Theologians have debated this issue for centuries I
suppose. Those of you who are familiar with theology might remember
something called "Traducianism." The debate basically is, "Do we have as
male and female in the procreative process somehow the element in our
procreative power to produce a soul?" The difficulty with that question
is, "Can two dying humans produce an eternal soul?" Well the answer to
that probably is no. On the other hand, the question is if we don't do
that, if that is an independent life being passed on [then] how is it that
it is born with Adam's sin? You say, "What is the answer?" I have no
I find myself hard pressed to land on either side because I know that God
will not produce a sinful soul. I also know that two dying humans cannot
produce an eternal soul; and so I would simply say, to leave it as simple
as my mind can allow, at some point in the incredible procreative process
God injects the eternality into that soul--we stain it with our fallenness.
But every conception is nonetheless an act of God as we saw Scripture
indicates--You made me; You formed me; You breathed into me the breath of
life; You ordained that I would live; You opened the womb; You made me to
be the one You wanted me to be. This is the testimony of Scripture. Now
let's go to a second point.
2. The Person Created is Created in the Image of God.
The person created is created in the image of God. In James 3:9, "With it
we bless (speaking about our tongues)--with it we bless our Lord and
Father, and with it we curse men who have been made in the likeness of
God." The person created and we know now that creation occurs at the
moment of what? Conception. And at the moment of conception God puts the
reality of life (and I don't know if it's at the exact split second; if
it's a few milliseconds after that), at some point (I don't know where), at
some point God infuses personhood and that eternal soul that will never die
is created by God: that real being that is not just the collection of
genetics, but is something eternal. Exactly at what split-second in the
process that happens no one can know, but nonetheless whenever God does
it--that creation is made in the likeness of God, or in the image of God.
What we are saying here then is that what is created and what is conceived
is not an animal. It is not just a biological sequence. It is not just a
collection of cells. It is not fetal matter. It is not just human tissue.
It is created by God in His image, and everything that is there for acting,
and thinking, and feeling, and knowing, and trusting, and hoping everything
that is rational, and moral, and emotional is there.
Go back with me to Genesis, chapter 1. If you need a reminder, it says in
verse 25, "God made the beasts of the earth after their kind, the cattle
after their kind, everything that creeps on the ground after its kind, and
God saw that it was good. Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image
according to our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea, and
over the birds of the sky, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and
over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. And God created man in
His own image, in the image of God He created him male and female, He
We are not mere mortals; we are not merely flesh--we are immortal. The
shell of skin and bones and muscle is only a vessel; it's only a repository
in which something of the very image of God resides. In Genesis, chapter
9, verse 6, a familiar verse, says, "Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his
blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man, and as for you:
be fruitful and multiply." If you kill somebody--you die! Not because of
an affront against that human flesh, but because of such an affront against
the image of God.
There is a dominion; there is a personhood in man that does not exist in
animals. There is a transcendence that rises above the rest of the created
order. Turn with me to Psalm 139. There is so much to say and I am kind
of editing as I go, but this is one of the more important texts to be
reckoned with. In Psalm 139 you have this great passage which teaches that
the unborn child is the special work of God created in His image. Verse 13,
For Thou didst form my inward parts; Thou didst weave me in my
mother's womb. I will give thanks to Thee, for I am fearfully
and wonderfully made; wonderful are Thy works, and my soul knows
it very well. My frame was not hidden from Thee, when I was
made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the depths of the
earth. Thine eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Thy
book they were all written, the days that were ordained for me,
when as yet there was not one of them.
Verse 13, look at it, "Thou didst form my inward parts,": literally, "It is
You who made my kidneys," is what he says. "You made me in the deepest
part of my being, and You did weave me in my mother's womb." That is an
absolutely beautiful picture: the weaving together of all that is part of
humanity; the weaving of chromosomes in the DNA. The weaving together of
all the components in the incredible human body, woven together with the
soul and the spirit. In verse 14, "I will give thanks to Thee, for I am
fearfully and wonderfully made." "Fearfully" means awesomely: used of
God's great power calling for surpassing reverential awe since we are made
in His image. He says we are "fearfully and wonderfully made," full of
majesty as the work of God.
In verse 15 he says, "My frame was not hidden from Thee," King James says,
"my substance," literally "my strength, my bones, and my sinews, and my
muscles." It was not hidden from you when I was made "in secret" (the
secret place is the womb). Then in verse 15 that interesting phrase, "and
skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth;" literally "skillfully
wrought" in the Hebrew could be translated "when I was interwoven of
various colored threads." To put it another way, "When you embroidered me,
You made the very fabric; You pulled together every tiny little piece, and
You wove it all to make me."
It is a beautiful picture of the complicated, elaborate texture of the
human being; "and You did it in the depths of the earth," a reference to
the womb: you can compare Isaiah 45:19 for similar usage. Verse 16, "Thine
eyes have seen my unformed substance," my unshaped embryonic substance:
literally, again in the Hebrew, "something rolled together," when I was
just a little ball of life, when I was just a little ball of chromosomes.
"And in Your book they were all written," all my days, all my years, all
the events of my life, my eternal destiny--everything. Then verse 17, he
says, "How precious also are Thy thoughts to me, O God! How vast is the
sum of them!" It is so incredible to think about You thinking about me
before I was ever made. The whole thing behind this is this sense that
this creation is so wonderful and so awesome because it is a creation in
the very image of God. That image has been marred.
In Psalm 51, we read something of that marring of the image; Psalm 51:5,
"Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived
me." Now he doesn't mean that he was illegitimately conceived, because he
wasn't (David speaking); he simply means that from my conception there was
something else going on in me too--and it is sin. Did God create that sin?
No, I believe that we pass on the sin--God only creates the eternallity:
the eternal soul and spirit. Only a person, by the way, can be a sinner.
That little tiny life, that little tiny baby, that little tiny rolled up
ball of genetics, that little fetus, is already designated as a sinner in
the womb from conception: and only a person is a sinner. So we are created
in the image of God, which image is stained by the sin of Adam, passed on
from generation to generation. So we can say that, that eternal soul is
the creation of God, but its sinful propensity is the legacy of man. No
human being, then, is ever conceived outside God's will or ever conceived
apart from God's image. Life is a gift from God created in His own image.
Thirdly, in considering points to understand the issue:
3. The Helpless Creation is the Special Object of God's Loving Care.
That helpless creation which He has conceived in the womb of a woman is the
special object of His loving care. First of all, I want to deal with that
on a general level if I might. We have now seen that, that little life is
considered a person, albeit a person created by God in His own image, and
yet a sinner. That person then becomes the special object of God's care.
The Lord identifies with sinners; the Lord identifies with the needy; the
Lord identifies with the poor; the Lord identifies with the widow; the Lord
identifies with the orphan; the Lord identifies with the defenseless.
In Psalm 82 we find a general reference to that which can be a basis for
our understanding. In Psalm 82:3, "Vindicate the weak and fatherless; do
justice to the afflicted and destitute. Rescue the weak and needy." It is
true that God has a special concern for the helpless. Is anyone more
helpless, is anyone weaker, is anyone more defenseless than that unborn
child? So they, as all others who are weak and defenseless, become the
"Special Care of God."
I don't have time to go over all of the medical phenomena that protects the
baby in the womb, but it is absolutely incredible. How wonderfully God has
insulated that little life for warmth, and health, and safety. How He has
designed the womb of the mother to be a protector. I will never forget
when Patricia was pregnant with one of our little ones, and I am trying to
remember which--I think it was Mark; yes, it was Mark (I have to associate
kids with certain houses and remember which house this happened in)--One
day I came home from wherever I was and I came in the house and she was
lying in the bed and she was not feeling well, and I said, "What happened?"
She said, "Well, I fell off the television." I said, "You what?" She
said, "I fell off the television." Now that is a strange place to be in
the first place--on the television. We had a little portable television
sitting on a little metal rack, and she climbed it to fix the drapes, and
she fell. We had a concrete floor covered with just a sheet of linoleum
tile in this little room, and she said, "The worse of it is--I landed right
on the baby!" She had a huge bruise right in the center of her stomach,
and she said, "I know, don't give me any speeches about 'You're not
supposed to be climbing on top of the television when you are nine months
pregnant'" (and she was; Mark was born soon after). Now the reason I
hesitated to name the child is because you may be looking at Mark oddly in
the future, imagining that something might have happened, but it didn't.
We were thrilled because, from then on until Mark was born we wondered if,
indeed, there would be some result; We were, after he was born, thrilled to
see with all of her weight falling full on concrete on that little life,
how perfectly protected that little one was. God has such compassion on
I remember reading some years back about a lady that I got to know, a lady
that some of you remember--her name was Ethel Waters. She was a real
instrument for the Lord; giving her testimony she shared a wonderful little
story. She said,
A pretty black girl was attacked and raped by a white man in
Pennsylvania. She was barely past her thirteenth birthday and
soon was found pregnant. And Ethel Waters said, "No, abortion,
no." Instead, a healthy baby girl who came to love Christ and
sing for His glory and make millions happy: a girl whose theme
song was "His Eye is On the Sparrow;" and that girl was me.
The love shown to a helpless little baby without a father born because a
mother wouldn't have an abortion gave the world a wonderful gift. That
story can be repeated millions of times.
Innocent, defenseless people have a special protector in God who wants to
bring them to birth no matter what the circumstances might be that brought
about their conception or what difficulty there might be in the life to
come. God has His purposes. I might say on the other side that even
sinners who will spend an eternity in Hell will serve the purpose of God.
"What if God, willing to make vessels who are fitted unto wrath to bring
Himself glory," chooses to allow that--that's His own purpose.
I am convinced that the fury of God will someday fall on the murderers of
His creatures who have not sought His forgiveness. God is the protector of
the innocent. Now to illustrate this Biblically; go back to Exodus 21.
This is one of the really important passages about abortion, Exodus 21:22;
and here in this section of Scripture following the Ten Commandments, God
gives a number of laws that regard life and all of its myriads of
circumstances. In Exodus 21 we have a very interesting account; it says to
us in verse 22,
If men struggle with each other (now you follow carefully) and strike a
woman with child (I don't know what you version says; some say "so she has
a miscarriage," some say, "So she has an untimely birth"), yet there is no
further injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman's husband may demand
of him; and he shall pay as the judges decide. But if there is any further
injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye,
hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for
Now what is this saying? One of the unfortunate translations in the New
American Standard is the translation "miscarriage." I don't know why they
translated the Hebrew term here "miscarriage." There is no reason, at
least in my mind, to believe that verse 22 refers to a miscarriage. There
is a contextual support for that as well as linguistic. The literal Hebrew
reading is simply this, "And if men struggle with each other and strike a
woman with child (here's the Hebrew) so that her children come out."
That's what it says. In other words, it causes the child to come out.
"Yet there is no further injury, then he shall surely be fined as the
husband (or the woman's husband) may demand of him; and be paid as whatever
the judges or the courts allow." Yalad is the common Hebrew word for child.
The only irregularity here in that word is that it is plural. And it is
unlikely that it means a developing fetus that has been miscarried.
The verb (Hebrew, yasa) often refers to ordinary childbirth, and so it says
the struggle happens: two men are fighting, one gets involved in this
fight; and probably a woman steps in (you know, the wife to try to stop the
fight) and she gets struck so that her children come out (just looking at
it on the plural sense); that is, an ordinary childbirth takes place. By
the way, that term (Hebrew, yasa) referring to ordinary childbirth is used
in Genesis 15:4 and Isaiah 39:7 of a childbirth generated from the loins of
the father and also in Genesis 25 and 26, and Jeremiah 1, about a birth
that comes out of the womb of the mother. So from the father's side and
the mother's side the term is used to express a child that is born.
In no case does that term (Hebrew, yasa) refer to a miscarriage. Numbers
12:12 uses it but it refers to a still birth--not a miscarriage. The
Hebrew word for miscarriage (shakal) used in Exodus 23:26, Hosea 9:14, is
not used in this verse. So what you have here is a premature birth.
Now, follow the thought: two men are fighting, the woman probably steps in;
she gets hit in the process and consequently the trauma causes a premature
birth. If all that happens is that the child comes out and there is no
further injury, then there should be a fine for the discomfort, for the
problems that might come to take care of the child, and to take care of the
woman because of whatever trauma she suffered. If there is any debate
about it, then the judges can discern what that should be. "But if there
is any further injury. . . ." What would "any further injury" be? Well,
it would have to mean something more severe, including the loss of life;
"then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life."
What's the point? The point is: if you are responsible for killing an
unborn child you pay with your life. That's the point. It is constituted
"No further injury," then in verse 22, has been incorrectly taken to mean
that there has been some kind of a miscarriage. The equivalent of
"further" doesn't appear in the Hebrew text. It simply says (you'll notice
probably that "further" is in italics), it just says "if there is no
injury." If the child is born and there is no injury--fine. Settle
whatever be the medical costs, if there are any, but if there is more than
that, if there is injury to the child, if there is injury to the mother
then "lex talionis" [Latin], that is, "tit for tat" takes place. If the
child has suffered in one area--the penalty is the same. If the child dies
then the penalty is life. It is just the idea of appropriate punishment,
but what it points out is: if the child comes out and his eye is
injured--you lose your eye. If he comes out and his hand is injured--your
lose your hand. If his foot--his foot, and so forth, and so forth. Wound
for wound--that's justice, but if the child dies you pay with your life.
"Lex talionis" the law of retaliation.
So Scripture teaches us then very, very clearly that conception is an act
of God; that every person conceived is conceived in the image of God, and
that each person is the special care of God. Nothing illustrates that more
than if you injure a child that is untimely born and you have inflicted
that injury--you pay a just punishment including, if you kill that
child--you pay with your life. God has special care for those who are
There is a fourth point in our little outline and it kind of ties in with
4. Compassion is to be applied to all of God's creation ma
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