Question: "Why is abortion wrong when God sometimes commanded the death of people in the Bible?"
Answer: We who support the sanctity of human life are sometimes asked, “Why are we not allowed to kill people by our own decision when God kills people and sometimes orders His people to kill in the Bible?” This question may be followed by, “Why is abortion wrong, and why is murder wrong if God kills people sometimes?”
The Bible clearly expresses the sacredness of human life (Genesis 9:5–6; Matthew 5:21; 1 Timothy 1:9; James 2:11–12). In Exodus 20:1–21, God gave His people the Ten Commandments. These instructions provided the Israelites with the absolutes of spiritual and moral living. The Lord commanded, “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13).
Abortion is wrong because it takes the life of an innocent person, an act that God expressly forbids (Leviticus 20:1–5; 2 Kings 24:2–4). The Law of Moses viewed unborn babies as human lives worthy of the same rights and protections as adults. God required the same punishment for killing a child in the womb as he did for killing a grown person. The penalty for murder was death, even if the life taken was not yet born (Exodus 21:22–25). Abortion is wrong for the same reason any act of murder is wrong. Killing an unborn child is no different from killing our parents, neighbor, or the annoying guy at work.
In the Old Testament, God intentionally kills many people. Notable examples include the Great Flood (Genesis 6:1—8:22), the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:1–29), and the pursuing Egyptian army (Exodus 14:26–31). Why is killing okay for God or for those He commanded to do it but not for us when we decide to do it? The answer is simple: God the Creator is the author of life. In His hands alone belong the right and authority to give and take away life (Genesis 2:7; Job 1:21; 12:10; Acts 3:15; 17:25).
For those who argue that a fetus is not a life, God considers an unborn child to be as valid and valuable as any adult. God knows us before we are born. He formed, consecrated, and appointed Jeremiah while he was still inside his mother (Jeremiah 1:5). God called people and named them while they were in the womb (Isaiah 49:1). The whole span of our lives is known by God while we are still developing inside our mothers (Psalm 139:13–16). Over and over, the Bible affirms that life begins at conception.
Supporters of abortion stress that a woman has the right to choose whether or not to continue a pregnancy; it is her fundamental human right to have reproductive freedom. But if an unborn child is a human being, as the Bible supports, shouldn’t the unborn be granted the same fundamental right to life that every other person is afforded?
Because we are not the Creator of life, we do not have the right to end a human life outside of certain exceedingly rare occasions permitted by God. For example, the destruction of the Canaanites in the book of Joshua was part of God’s divine punishment upon wicked people. Before the Lord destroyed them, He warned the people of Israel not to involve themselves in detestable acts that God hates: “You must not worship the Lord your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the Lord hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods” (Deuteronomy 12:31).
When God established a covenant with Noah after the flood, He said He would never again destroy the earth by water. And He gave this command: “And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being. ‘Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind’” (Genesis 9:5–6). Post-flood, humans were still corrupt. Rather than periodically flooding the earth to wipe out evildoers, God handed us humans (who are created in His image) the task of carrying out His justice on earth (Romans 13:4; Jeremiah 51:20). Sometimes, that involves taking another human life as the penalty for murder.
In some places in the Mosaic Law, God prescribed execution for crimes other than murder (Exodus 22:18–20; 35:2; Deuteronomy 21:18–21). A few, such as working on the Sabbath and disobeying one’s parents, strike us as particularly harsh today. But, in context, these regulations helped keep God’s chosen people pure and set apart from surrounding pagan peoples. They also underlined for them the depravity of sin and the depths of its destructiveness. Like the rest of the law, those regulations were fulfilled with the coming of Christ and are no longer legalistic obligations for God’s people (Matthew 5:17; John 1:17; Romans 10:4). Today, the only morally permissible circumstances for killing another human include execution for murder, self-defense, and killing in the context of warfare. Yet, even in these cases, you will find Christians who disagree.
Abortion lands solidly outside the narrow conditions set by the Bible for taking a life. The unborn have not harmed or offended anyone and have not committed murder. For those who cite rape and incest as justification for an abortion, only a tiny percentage of abortion cases involve a child conceived through such crimes (www.johnstonsarchive.net/policy/abortion/abreasons.html, accessed 1/17/23). Abortion, if chosen, only adds to the violence. At the heart of the gospel, God offers a life-giving option for women whose pregnancy is the result of rape—adoption (Romans 8:14–17).
If you are a woman who has had an abortion, you may come to the end of this article feeling condemned. Perhaps you are experiencing post-abortion trauma involving deep emotional, spiritual, and psychological scars. Maybe you are a man who has supported or funded an abortion, a doctor who has performed abortions, or a clinic worker. Yes, abortion is wrong. Scripture says God hates it (Proverbs 6:16–19). But, like every other sin we commit, God forgives abortion. He is a God of compassion and forgiveness (1 John 1:9). May this reading be the start of your healing process—receiving God’s abundant forgiveness and then forgiving yourself.