Abortion and the Christian
March 2009 version

See also http://BibleQuery.org/Practice/Abortion/Abortion.html

This paper tells both what the Bible says and what early Christian writers said about abortion.
What the Bible Says
What did Early Christians Say?
What Did Even Others Say?
After Nicea
What about...
List of References


What the Bible Says

Exodus 21:22-25 "If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman's husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise." (NIV)

Psalm 51:5 "Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful form the time my mother conceived me"

Psalm 139:13-16 "For you created my inmost being; you knot me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw mu unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be." (NIV)

Isaiah 49:5a "And now the LORD says - he who formed me in the womb to be his servant..." (NIV)

Jeremiah 1:5 "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart;..."

Luke 1:41-44 "When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: 'Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy." (NIV)

What did Early Christians Say?

Didache ch.2.1-4 p.377 (c.125 A.D.) "You shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill one who has been born."

Didache ch.5 p.379 (c.125 A.D.) "The way of death is cursings, murder, adulteries, fornication, lusts, magic arts, idolatries, witchcraft, filthy talking, jealousies,"

Letter to Diognetus (c.130 A.D.) Christians do not commit abortion [literally "casting away fetuses"] or infanticide. Letter to Diognetus ch.5 p.26

Letter to Diognetus ch.5 p.27 (c.130 A.D.) "[Christians] marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring (literally cast away foetuses]. They have a common table, but not a common [bed]."

Letter of Barnabas (100-150 A.D.) ch.19 p.148 "Thou shalt not slay the child by procuring abortion; nor, again, shalt thou destroy it after it is born. Thou shalt not withdraw thy hand from thy son, or from thy daughter, but from their infancy thou shalt teach them the fear of the Lord."

Athenagoras (177 A.D.) "We say that those women who use drugs to bring on abortion commit murder. And we also say they will have to give an account to God for abortion. So on what basis could we commit murder? For it does not belong to the same person to regard the very fetus in the womb as a created being..." A Plea for Christians ch.35 p.147

Minucius Felix (210 A.D.) "There are some women who, by drinking medical preparations, extinguish the source of the future man in their very bowels. So the commit murder before they bring forth." The Octavius of Minucius Felix ch.30 p.192

Tertullian (197-217 A.D.) "In our case, murder being once for all forbidden, we may not destroy even the foetus [fetus] in the womb, while as yet the human being derives blood from other parts of the body for its sustenance. To hinder a birth is merely a speedier man-killing.; nor does it matter whether you take away a life that is born, or destroy one that is coming to the birth. That is a man which is going to be one; you have the fruit already in its seed." Tertullian's Apology ch.9 p.25

Tertullian (197-217 A.D.) "The law of Moses, indeed, punishes with due penalties the man who shall cause abortion, inasmuch as there exists already the rudiment of a human being, which has imputed to it even now the condition of life and death, since it is already liable to the issues of both, although, by living still I the mother, it for the most part shares its own state with the mother." A Treatise on the Soul ch.37 p.218

Tertullian (197-217 A.D.) speaks of Gentiles "being decimated" by abortions. Tertullian To His Wife book 1 ch.5 p.41,42

Tertullian (200-240 A.D.) mentions chemical abortion as wrong. On Exhortation to Chastity ch.12 p.57

Tertullian (200-240 A.D.) "Accordingly, among surgeons' tools there is a certain instrument, which is formed with a nicely-adjusted flexible frame for opening the uterus first of all, and keeping it open; it is further furnished with an annular blade, by means of which the limbs within the womb are dissected with anxious but unfaltering care; its last appendage being a blunted or covered hook, wherewith the entire foetus is extracted by a violent delivery. There is also (another instrument in the shape of) a copper needle or spike, by which the actual death is managed in this furtive robbery of life: they give it, from its infanticide function, the name of embryosthaktus, the slayer of the infant, which was of course alive. Such apparatus was possessed both by Hippocrates, and Asclepiades, and Erasistratus, and herophilus, that dissector of adults, and the milder Soranus himself, who all knew well enough that a living being had been conceived, and pitied this most luckless infant state, which had first to be put to death, to escape being tortured alive." A Treatise on the Soul ch.25 p.206

Theodotus the probable Montanist (ca.240 A.D.) "an ancient said that the embryo is a living thing; for that the soul entering into the womb after it has been by cleansing prepared for conception, and introduced by one of the angels who preside over generation,... He [the ancient writer] cited as a proof to all, how, when the angels give glad tidings to the barren, they introduce souls before conception. And in the Gospel 'the babe leapt' as a living thing." Excerpts from Theodotus ch.50 p.49

Hippolytus bishop of Portus (225-235/6 A.D.) "When women, reputed believers, began to resort to drugs for producing sterility, and to gird themselves round, so to expel what was being conceived on account of their not wishing to have a child either by a slave or by any paltry fellow, for the sake of their family and excessive wealth. Behold, into how great impiety that lawless one has proceeded, by inculculating adultery and murder at the same time!" The Refutation of All Heresies book 9.7 p.131

Cyprian of Carthage (246-258 A.D.) "the womb of his wife was hit by a blow of his heel. And, in the miscarriage that soon followed, the offspring was brought forth, the fruit of a father's murder." Letters of Cyprian Letter 49 p.326

Council of Ancyra (314 A.D.) "Concerning women who commit fornication, and destroy that which they have conceived, or who are employed in making drugs for abortion, a former decree excluded them [from the church] until the hour of death, and to this some have assented. Nevertheless, being desirous to use somewhat greater lenity, we have ordained that they fulfill ten years [of penance], according to the prescribed degrees." canon 21 p.73

Lactantius (c.303-325 A.D.) (Implied) "Therefore the soul is not air conceived in the mouth, because the soul is produced much before air can be conceived in the mouth. For it is not introduced into the body after birth, as it appears to some philosophers, but immediately after conception, when the divine necessity has formed the offspring in the womb, for it so lives within the bowels of its mother,... In short, there must be a miscarriage if the living young within shall die." On the Workmanship of God ch.17 p.297

What Did Even Others Say?

Philo the Alexandrian Jew (20 B.C.-50 A.D.) "But if any one has a contest with a woman who is pregnant, and strike her a blow on her belly, and she miscarry, if the child which was conceived within her is still unfashioned and unformed, he shall be punished by a fine, both for the assault which he committed and also because he has prevented nature, who was fashioning and preparing that most excellent of all creatures, a human being, from bringing him into existence. But if the child which was conceived had assumed a distinct shape in all its parts, having received all its proper connective and distinctive qualities, he [the man] shall die; for such a creature as that is a man, whom he has slain while still in the workshop of nature..." Then he goes on to say exposing infants [to die] is forbidden too. (The Special Laws 3 ch.19 (108) p.605)

Apocalypse of Peter v.25 Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.9 p.146 "And near that place [in Hell] I saw another strait place in to which the gore and the filth of those who were being punished ran down and became there as it were a lack: and there sat women having the gore up to their necks, and over against them sat many children who were born to them out of due time, crying; and there came forth from them sparks of fire and smote the women in the eyes: and these were the accursed who conceived and caused abortion." Clement of Alexandria quotes this in Eclog. 48.

Among heretics, the Ebionite Clementine Homilies (uncertain date) homily 4 ch.11 p.255 says that a woman who destroys what is in her womb has a child murdered.

After Nicea

Basil of Cappadocia (357-378 A.D.) "The woman who purposely destroys her unborn child is guilty of murder. With us there is no nice enquiry as to its being formed or unformed. ... the punishment [i.e. being forbidden from communion in the church] should not be for life, but for the term of ten years. And let their treatment depend not on mere lapse of time, but on the character of their repentance." Letter 188 ch.2 p.225.

Basil of Cappadocia (357-378 A.D.) Women also who administer drugs to cause abortion, as well as those who take poisons to destroy unborn children, are murderesses. So much on this subject." Letter 188 ch.8 p.226-227

Canonical Letter of Basil to Amphilochius Canon 2 Post-Nicene Fathers Second Series vol.14 p.604 "Let her that procures abortion undergo ten years' penance, whether the embryo were perfectly formed, or not."

Canonical Letter of Basil to Amphilochius Canon 2 Post-Nicene Fathers Second Series vol.14 p.605 says that man or woman is a murderer "they who take medicines to procure abortion; and so are they who kill on the highway,..."

Ambrose of Milan (370-390 A.D.) Hexaemaron book 5 ch.18.58

Apostolic Constitutions (compiled c.390 A.D.) book 7 section 1 ch.3 p.466 "You shall not slay your child by causing abortion, nor kill the baby that is born. For 'everything that is shaped and has received a soul from God, if it is slain, shall be avenged, as being unjustly destroyed'" (quoted form Ezek 21:23 Septuagint) (quoted from A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs. David W. Bercot, ed. p.3)

Gregory of Nyssa (c.356-397 A.D.) (Partial) "Again, on the other hand, no one who can reflect will imagine an after-birth of the soul, i.e. that it is younger than the moulding of the body; for every one can see for himself that not one amongst all the things that are inanimate or soulless possesses any power of motion or of growth." On the Soul and the Resurrection p.458-459

John Chrysostom (martyred 407 A.D.) homily 32 in his Commentary on Romans

Jerome (373-420 A.D.) was against abortion. Letter 22 ch.13.

Augustine of Hippo (388-430 A.D.) regarding abortive conceptions, "For if we shall decide that these are to rise again, we cannot object to any conclusion that may be drawn in regard to those which are fully formed. Now who is there that is not rather disposed to think that unformed abortions perish, like seeds that have never fructified? But who will dare to deny, though he may not dare to affirm, that at the resurrection every defect in the form shall be supplied, and that thus the perfection which time would have brought shall not be wanting" Enchiridion ch.85 p.265.

Augustine of Hippo (388-430 A.D.) "And therefore the following question may be very carefully inquired into and discussed by learned men, though I do not know whether it is in man's power to resolve it: At what time the infant begins to live in the womb: whether life exists in a latent form before it manifests itself in the motions of the living being. To deny that the young who are cut out limb by limb from the womb, lest if they were left there dead the mother should die too, have never been alive, seems too audacious..." Enchiridion ch.86 p.265

Council of Quinisext (692 A.D.) canon 91 p.404 "Those who give drugs for procuring abortion, and those who receive poisons to kill the foetus, are subjected to the penalty of murder."

What about...

Gen 2:7 (breath) - context not killing babies

Num 5:11-31 - context is barrenness, not killing

Ps 51:5 - sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Claimed that since they were potential sinners so they were a potential person. Actually we do have a sinful nature from before we were born. It is not sins that give us a sinful nature, but rather our sinfulness causes us to sin.

Ps 139:13,16a (p.146) - formed in mother's parts

Ps 139:16b (p.147) - before one of them came to be. Prior to birth or prior to conception

Lev 17:11,14; Gen 9:4; Dt 12:23 - life is in the blood (blood cells 20 days after fertilization)

Job 10:18-19 (p.147) - wished he was a miscarriage - as though he had not been

Ps 22:9,10; 58:3; 71:6; Isa 49:5 under God's care from the time of birth.

Ps 22:10 from my mother's womb. Others do not specify prior to birth God's care or not - Ps 71:5 from my youth

Ecclesiastes 11:5 (p.147) not know how bones formed in the womb, spirit comes, - so don't speculate

Isa 43:1,7; Rev 3:5; Lk 10:20 God calls by name p.149-150

1 Cor 15:46 (p.148) - first the natural, then the spiritual - context is salvation, not fetuses

List of References


http://www.ccel.org. Christian classics Ethereal Library has the Pre-Nicene Fathers as well as Nicene Fathers on-line.

Alcorn, Randy. ProLife Answers to ProChoice Arguments - Expanded & Updated 2000. Eternal Perspective Ministries Sandy, OR 97055 www.epm.org

Austin, Bill R. Austin's Topical History of Christianity. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1983, 1987.

Bercot, David W. (editor) A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs. Hendrickson Publishers, 1998.

Kelly, J.N.D. Early Christian Doctrines. Revised Edition. Harper & Row Publishers, 1960, 1965, 1968, 1978.

Malaty, Fr. Tadros U. The Sc hool of Alexandria Book One Before Origen. Pope Shenouda III Coptic Theological College, Sydney, Australia. 1995.

Richardson, Cyril C. (editor) Early Christian Fathers. Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1970.

Roberts, Alexander and James Donaldson. Ante-Nicene Fathers. 10 volumes Hendrickson Publishers, 1994.

Schaff, Philip and Henry Wace. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers First Series. Translated by Henry R. Percival. Hendrickson Publishers, 1994.

Schaff, Philip and Henry Wace. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Second Series. Translated by Henry R. Percival. Hendrickson Publishers, 1994.

Schaff, Philip (editor) revised by David S. Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom. 3 volumes. Harper & Row, 1931.

Stewart-Sykes, Alistair. Melito of Sardis On Pascha. St. Vladimir's Press, 2001.

www.BibleQuery.org - My site, with early church writers.


References on Jewish Writers

Whiston, William. Josephus : Complete Works. Kregel Publications. 1960.

Yonge, C.D. (translator) The Works of Philo : Complete and Unabridged New Updated Version. Hendrickson. 1993, 1997.

For more info please contact Christian Debater™ P.O. Box 144441 Austin, TX 78714 www.BibleQuery.org

by Steven M. Morrison, PhD.