On a Related Note: Jesus Never Addressed Abortion

In Weekend Fisher's (WF) last post on slavery, WF pointed out that when it comes to social issues, "Jesus did not set himself out as a political change agent on a "social reform" platform to target one of them at the expense of others." In fact, Jesus primarily addressed the concerns of the time: idolatry, hypocracy in the Jewish leadership, love for your neighbors/enemies, and the need to lives in accordance with the will of the Father. (Oh yeah, Jesus also spent some time on that bit about salvation through Him, but that is another matter.)

Of course, another issue that draws the same type of accusation is the idea that Jesus never addressed abortion so it must be alright. This argument is usually advanced by those who believe in abortion on demand, and starts with the contention that abortion was legal at the time of Jesus' ministry, and therefore if He was really concerned about it, He should have mentioned it. But His failure to address the issue means that He was in favor of the then-current practices of abortion in the Jewish community.

How does this argument look in practice? Consider the following posted as a comment by Susan on a blog named Jesus Politics in an entry entitled "Christians for Kerry/Edwards":

It seems like all of us who are Jesus followers, before we decide about candidates should focus on what Jesus teachings are and I believe Jesus himself never said ONE SINGLE WORD about abortion or being gay even though we know such things existed long before Jesus was walking around here on earth. He did however say PLENTY OF WORDS about the poor, the outcasts, the hungry, the imprisoned, etc. Therefore, it seems that we should be focusing on what Jesus focused on - trying to address hunger, homelessness, poverty, prison reforms, etc.

But, of course, this claim begs the question about what the Jewish view of abortion was at the time of Jesus' ministry. Quite simply, the record concerning abortions in ancient Israel is vague and uncertain. One cannot gather from the data available under what conditions and how often abortions occurred. While it is certainly probable that some abortions occurred, it is far from certain that abortions would be considered such a common event that Jesus would feel the need to address this practice.

Simply because Jesus didn't speak about an issue does not mean that Jesus would have found them to be morally neutral. Jesus never spoke about incest, rape, environmental destruction or child sacrifice -- all of which certainly occurred around Him in some degree or another -- but it is hardly appropriate to draw from His silence moral acceptance of the practices. Of course, we cannot say for certain that Jesus didn't address these issues -- rather we can only say that the apostles did not record in their Gospels what Jesus said about these issues. Certainly, it is possible that Jesus addressed these issues in His three years of ministry but that the apostles (who admit that they did not write down everything that Jesus' said and did) did not include his statements about these practices because they were already in line with what most people would expect, i.e., consistent with the Jewish scriptures.

Of course, the issue isn't whether Jesus said something about abortion or not. The question is whether we can glean his position on issues from what He did say. It is also important to note that since Christians believe that Paul, Peter, James, Jude and John, when speaking in the Epistles, were doing so with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, then it is equally important to work into the analysis what these said which can be applied to the issues before concluding that God is silent on the issue. I think that His position would have been clear given the moral logic of the pro-life position (as nicely summarized by Greg Koukl), and I leave it to the reader to decide whether that logic is accurate following their own investigation of the facts.

But there is one final point on this issue that is easily refuted: the idea that the early Church did not take a stand against abortion. Take, for example, this quote from the Democratic Underground Forums as an example of this way of thinking:

See, for 1,800 years, the Catholic church believed the same thing as the Jews, atleast that is my understanding, then that changed in Vatican 1, in the 1800's, when a bishop wrote a paper saying life begins at conception.

So the basis for life begins at conception is not biblical.

Perhaps the church did not state in so many words that life began at conception, but they certainly recognized that abortion was wrong from the very beginning. Consider the following from the Saint Pachomius Library containing quotes from the Early Church Fathers on the subject of abortion:

From the Letter to Diognetus
(speaking of what distinguishes Christians from pagans):

"They marry, as do all others; they beget children but they do not destroy their offspring" (literally 'cast away fetuses').

From the Didache
"You shall not slay the child by abortions".

From the Letter of Barnabus
"You shall not destroy your conceptions before they are brought forth; nor kill them after they are born".

From St. Clement
"Those who use abortificants commit homicide".

From Tertullian
"The mold in the womb may not be destroyed".

From St. Basil the Great
"The woman who purposely destroys her unborn child is guilty of murder. The hair-splitting difference between formed and unformed makes no difference to us".

From St. Augustine
"Sometimes their sadistic licentiousness goes so far that they procure poison to produce infertility, and when this is of no avail, they find one means or another to destroy the unborn and flush it from the mother's womb. For they desire to see their offspring perish before it is alive or, if it has already been granted life, they seek to kill it within the mother's body before it is born".

From St. John Chrysostom
"Why do you sow where the field is eager to destroy the fruit? Where there are medicines of sterility? Where there is murder before birth? You do not even let a harlot remain only a harlot, but you make her a murderess as well. Indeed, it is something worse than murder and I do not know what to call it; for she does not kill what is formed but prevents its formation. What then? Do you condemn the gifts of God, and fight with His laws? What is a curse you seek as though it were a blessing. Do you make the anteroom of slaughter? Do you teach the women who are given to you for a procreation of offspring to perpetuate killing?"

More such quotes exist, but I fear that I am already engaging in overkill on this point. Quite simply, it may be that the reasons that conservative Christians oppose abortion is wrong. It may be that Jesus would have spoken out in favor of the pro-choice movement. But at present, there is no reason to infer from Jesus' silence that he would have favored abortion or that any of the Church Fathers thought Jesus would have either.


D. P. said…
Now it makes sense:

Jesus silent on slavery = Jesus bad
Jesus silent on abortion = Jesus good

Guess it all depends on the answers you're fishing for.
biblemike said…
Jesus did not speak on abortion, because it was not necessary to do so. There were many topics that Jesus chose not to address as they were already covered by other things he had said. Jesus was interested in the contents of the human heart as that was the source of all that man does. Jesus said that what comes from a man’s heart is what defiles him because what came from the heart was what man valued. He taught that if we valued God and our relationship with Him above all else then all that we did would honor God and that we would treat our neighbor as we would want to be treated. Valuing anything else is idolatry. Those who value “personal freedom,” or “privacy,” or “woman’s choice” over God have established who and what they worship. Changing people’s minds about abortion won’t work as effectively as changing their minds about Christ.
msprecha said…
I had an abortion and talk about it in my book I Am Not A Victim, I'm A Ministry Gift. I invite you to read it because it tells how God healed my heart concerning this issue. Here's a link to the book found at: Saber Ministries.
Anonymous said…
What is bothersome is that many Christians feel it’s okay to go to war and kill enemies but a woman’s choice to limit her family (contraception) or a woman’s choice to abort a pregnancy are wrong. I am prochoice up until quickening. I am prochoice when it comes to rape, before quickening. And I am certainly prochoice to preserve the life of the mother. In fact, mother and child are one entity until that child can survive outside of the womb on its own bodily systems.

It seems to me when discussing abortion Christians frequently do not want to address rapes, a mother’s health, underage girls, etc. I find it hard to believe that Jesus would want a nine year old to destroy her mental and physical health carrying the seed of a rapist. Or that he would want a woman with three children and no husband to die in childbirth. Prolife values the seed at the expense of the mother, which is wrong because the child cannot not exist without the mother. It is her body. But more than that, it is their body. Since the only rational being in the body is the mother she gets to make the decisions. Free will is God’s gift and she should be able to exercise it.

Just like I can’t tell you to chop off your arm or to have surgery or not, I can’t tell a pregnant woman whether she can carry a child to term or not. Bodily integrity and free will are yours.
wedding dresses said…
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TMFB said…
The unborn child is not part of the woman's body and science will tell you why. Every tissue in a woman's body shares the same DNA if you we're to sample blood, hair, skin, liver, unfertilized egg etc.. They would all share the same genetic code of the woman, however if you we're to sample the egg seconds after conception it would show you a different code specific only to itself. The new DNA code would be similar to the mother and father but different than both. It's proves it is another being merely growing inside the mother. The question should be does the mother have the right to evict/kill the child growing inside of her?
As far as cases of rape and incest, these are the minority of abortion cases but we should look at the morality of both. In both cases something horrible has occurred and the mother is definitely a victim of a crime. The question we must ask ourselves is this " how do you correct one wrong and give retribution to the victim by destroying/ending the life of the child that has done nothing but be created?"
The only case where an abortion could be justified is to save the life of the mother. However the mother's health is a term that has a wide variety of interpretation, pro choicers like to think that any thing could be used to show the mother's health is in danger even "stress brought on by pregnancy". Clearly if such a case were justified it would be like this" the dr comes to the father and says the situation is so dangerous that he must choose between the mother and the child. With medicine as advanced as it is, this is a very unlikely scenario.
Finally to all of the pro lifers out there that say " I am prolife but if someone wants to abort their child that is their decision" . I ask you this, would. you have been against slavery personally but been ok with others to own slaves. At the end of the day all of these questions come down to one very basic one, "who does your life belong to." Does it belong to the state, the pope, the collective, society or does it belong to the individual? I say that life belongs to the individual from conception and know one has a right to take it except in defense of their own life.

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