The Bible’s Viewpoint
When Does Human Life Begin?
SEPTEMBER 21, 1989, was an unusual day for the Fifth Judicial District of the State of Tennessee, U.S.A. On that day the circuit court handed down an opinion on a custody dispute over seven frozen human embryos. The court had to decide which of the divorcing parents was entitled to custody. However, first another issue cried out for settlement: Are the embryos to be considered property or human beings?
Professor Jerome Lejeune of Paris, world-famous geneticist, testified before the court that each human has a unique beginning, which occurs at the moment of conception and that “as soon as he has been conceived, a man is a man.” In other words, beginning at the three-cell stage (zygote), the embryos are, as he told the court, “tiny human beings”!—Italics ours.
When asked if he was testifying that the zygote should be treated with the same rights as an adult, Dr. Lejeune answered: “I’m not telling you that because I’m not in a position of knowing that. I’m telling you, he is a human being, and then it is a Justice who will tell whether this human being has the same rights as the others. . . . But as a geneticist you ask me whether this human being is a human, and I would tell you that because he is a being and being human, he is a human being.”
Based primarily on Dr. Lejeune’s unrebutted testimony, three of the courts salient conclusions are:
◻ “From fertilization, the cells of a human embryo are differentiated, unique and specialized to the highest degree of distinction.”
◻ “Human embryos are not property.”
◻ “Human life begins at conception.”
Does this agree with what the Bible says about the beginning of human life?
Life Begins at Conception
Jehovah God is “the source of life” and “by him we have life and move and exist.” (Psalm 36:9; Acts 17:28) When does the Creator say life begins? He views the life of a child as precious even during the very early stages of development after conception. More than 3,000 years before the above court ruling, he inspired David, his prophet, to write:
“You kept me screened off in the belly of my mother. I shall laud you because in a fear-inspiring way I am wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful, as my soul is very well aware. My bones were not hidden from you when I was made in secret [within the womb], when I was woven [allusion to the veins and arteries, which are embroidered through the body like colored threads of fabric] in the lowest parts of the earth [poetic description of the darkness in the womb]. Your eyes saw even the embryo of me, and in your book all its parts were down in writing.”—Psalm 139:13-16.
From the moment of conception, the developing life follows a precise pattern as if obeying the instructions set forth in a book, a very large book. “The amount of information which is inside the zygote,” says Dr. Lejeune, “would if spelled out and put in a computer tell the computer how to calculate what will happen next, this amount of information is that big that nobody can measure it.”
The Life of an Unborn Is Precious
Thus, the unborn child developing inside the womb is something far more than a mere clump of tissue. It has great value, and for this reason, God has stated that a person would be called to account for injury to an unborn child. His law at Exodus 21:22, 23 warns: “In case men should struggle with each other and they really hurt a pregnant woman and her children do come out but no fatal accident occurs, he is to have damages imposed upon him without fail according to what the owner of the woman may lay upon him; and he must give it through the justices. But if a fatal accident should occur, then you must give soul for soul.”
Some Bibles translate the above verses in such a way as to make what happens to the woman the main focus of the law. However, the original Hebrew text directs attention to a fatal accident to either the mother or the child.* Hence, deliberately induced abortion simply to avoid the birth of an unwanted child is the willful taking of human life.
Some people may argue that a human embryo is not a human life because it cannot sustain itself outside the womb. This is hollow reasoning. No one doubts that a newborn baby—only minutes old—is a human being. Yet, if that child were put naked into an outdoor field, how long would the child survive? It is utterly helpless and, like the embryo or a fetus, lacks the capacity to sustain itself. The newborn baby needs shelter, warmth, and food—the sustenance, aid, and assistance only an adult, like a mother, can provide.
Therefore, the aforementioned legal decision agrees with the Bible’s viewpoint that human life begins at conception. The life of the unborn is not something trivial to be swept away willfully as an inconvenient foreign object. Human life is sacred not only after it leaves the womb but also while it is inside the womb.
The noun “fatal accident” (Hebrew, ʼa·sohnʹ) has no specific link to “a pregnant woman”; thus, the mortal accident is not limited to the woman but would properly include also “her children” in the womb.
[Picture Credit Line on page 26]
Windsor Castle, Royal Library. © 1970 Her Majesty The Queen