But the Bible doesn't talk about abortion, does it? Ft. Tim Lewis
Updated: Feb 8
Podcast Transcript | About Abortion with Dave Brennan | Episode 5 - But the Bible doesn't talk about abortion, does it? Ft. Tim Lewis
Dave Brennan: Hello, and welcome to this week's episode of About Abortion. Today I'm joined by my friend Tim Lewis. Tim, welcome.
Tim Lewis: Hi, Dave. Good to be here with you.
Dave Brennan: Thanks so much for making time for us. Tim, tell us a bit about yourself. You've been in pastoral work for a number of years now?
Tim Lewis: Yes, that's right. So over 10 years really in different churches. And I am currently working part-time for a church at the moment in North Yorkshire. I also, a couple of years ago, started part-time, a PhD in biblical studies. And really the focus of that is looking at what the Bible has to say about the unborn child. So the kind of cumulative picture really from Genesis through to Revelation. And my thesis really is that, taken as a whole, the Bible actually has quite a lot to say and does paint quite a coherent and robust picture of the unborn child.
Dave Brennan: Brilliant. And that's what we're going to be hearing more about from you today. Thanks for coming to share that with us. We first met 4 years ago. I came to speak at your church and you were already just getting into that study. So we've been having some good chats about that since.
Tim Lewis: That's right. The research has roughly segued with my knowledge and interaction with Brephos and CBR UK, so it's been a fruitful relationship in that sense.
Dave Brennan: Brilliant. And you are you're a family man? 3 boys?
Tim Lewis: Yes, we have three boys. We have twins that are five and a little baby about seven months. So if I look slightly tired that's the reason why.
Dave Brennan: And also a dog that looks somewhat more like a wolf. I don’t know the breed, but…
Tim Lewis: Yeah, we have an Akita. So I was saying to Dave before we started recording, if you hear
a random dog barking, that will be it. Don't be alarmed viewer. But yes, if anybody would like to adopt a Japanese Akita then do message Dave afterwards.
Dave Brennan: It’s quite overwhelming. It's a lovely dog, but it's a large white wolf-like…
Tim Lewis: It's just moults all the time. That's the main problem.
Dave Brennan: Brilliant. Tim, let's get cracking. You mentioned as if a rebuttal to what's often said, the Bible actually has quite a lot to say on abortion, because of course one could reasonably conclude looking in from the outside, or indeed from within the Church, especially looking back at the history of the Church's engagement on this issue, especially in the 60s and 70s, one could be forgiven for thinking it's up to everyone just to make up their own mind about this issue. Because the Bible doesn't really talk about abortion, does it? So tell us, does the Bible talk about abortion? What's the deal?
Tim Lewis: That's a great question. So the word ‘abortion’ is not the Bible, just as the word ‘Trinity’ is not in the Bible. Does that mean it's not there? I would suggest no. I suppose my approach in this research is looking at the materials which are there to build a very clear picture of the value, the humanity, the worth of life in the womb, indeed from conception. So I think when you have that, then clearly an act that takes that life, which to all intents and purposes is innocent, (obviously as a Christian, I believe an original sin,) but to all intents and purposes, is innocent, then that's a problem. That's a transgression I would suggest, of God's law. So that in a nutshell is where I would come down on that particular issue.
Dave Brennan: That's really helpful because I think there's data coming out showing that only about one in 20 evangelicals have ever heard thorough teaching about abortion in Church. There are plenty of us who've grown up in the Church and yet we've not really been walked through what the scriptures have to say about this. We're going to do that now. We're going to do that together for those listening in. We don't want to assume people have heard this before. So let's look at those things you mentioned.
The way I see it is, yes, the Bible doesn't mention the word ‘abortion’, but it's as simple as two plus two equals four, in that we've got a very clear picture of life from conception, and we've also got a very clear prohibition when it comes to the taking of innocent life. Can you just help us to understand where do we get those things biblically? So specifically, you mentioned life from conception, didn't you? Not just life generally.
Tim Lewis: Absolutely. Let's start at the very beginning. And the interesting thing just in the Old Testament is that the verb for ‘to conceive’ is used well over 30 times, which is interesting. And when that is the case, the text always goes on to describe the child who is born. And the first occurrence of the noun ‘conception’ is actually in Genesis 3 which is talking about Eve's fate post-fall. It's often disguised in a number of translations, but where God says, “I will increase your pain in childbearing”, ‘childbearing’ is actually the word ‘conception’. So we have conceptions of childbirth in view here. So there's a focus, there's an interest in conception, in pregnancy, in offspring, right at the start of the Genesis narratives. And of course, if you look at the verse immediately preceding where conception's mentioned Genesis 3:15 it's through one such pregnancy, of course, that the Messiah will be born, who will crush the serpent's head. So there's a kind of Messianic interest in these things. Salvation, historical, big picture, biblical, theological interest.
But more generally, human existence in the Bible consistently, I would suggest looks back to conception rather than birth. So Job 3:3 famously, when he is in a pretty gloomy mood, I think it's fair to say, he says, “Let the day perish on which I was born, and the night that said, “A boy or male child is conceived.”” So he sees the problem there, beginning, not so much on the day of his birth, but on the night he came into existence nine months previously. And of course Psalm 51:5 has something similar in terms of “being brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.”
Even the love poetry of Song of Songs. If you look at Song of Songs 3:4 the woman talks about “bringing her beloved into the chamber of her mother who conceived her.” It's a strange expression really, but I think it just shows that consistent kind of mindset, that life begins at conception. This is when a new life comes to exist.
And I think the other thing to say, particularly Genesis narratives, the stories of the matriarchs and the patriarchs, there's a very strong sense in scripture that without God's involvement there is no conception, there is no pregnancy. God is the one who opens the womb. God is the one who superintends the formation, the development of a child, which is of course seen as a great blessing, something to be celebrating. Psalm 127: “Children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb, a reward.”
And if you go really back to the very first chapter of the Bible, Genesis 1, humanity is made in the image and lightness of God, and part of humankind's commission is to “be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth.” So procreation is part of God's original blessing I would suggest. “God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply.” And of course that is reiterated after the Flood.” So even after God begins again, Genesis 9:1, Genesis 9:7, humankind through Noah and his sons are told to be fruitful, to multiply.
And some people might say, “Okay, that's all very well and good, but this is an ancient near Eastern culture. Social and cultural expectations were a world away from 21st century post-modern Britain. And to an extent that's true. And of course, tragically in the biblical world, there were high levels of infant mortality as well as maternal mortality. Pregnancy and childbirth were very dangerous for women and girls. There's also, of course, a suggestion that, you needed large families, because a lot of children might die very young, but also you needed those families to help support, farm the land, care for parents in old age. There were, in other words social and cultural factors around having big families, the desire for many children, and probably starting families much earlier than we would typically now in the West.
And one could admit that to an extent, one can see that cultural context. But I think other things can't be explained away as easily as that. I think the idea that God is the one in charge, God is the one who opens the womb, God is sovereign in every pregnancy, in every child that comes to be. I don't think you can simply airbrush that out as as easily. So I would suggest that is part of the biblical worldview from the very first page of Genesis, which inform not just Old Testament thinking, but I think they inform Jesus's view of children as a gift from God. And pregnancy is something to be celebrated.
Dave Brennan: And it's worth mentioning there, isn't it, that actually we can take for granted this idea that human beings are at least meant to be intrinsically valuable, that we care about people, not because of what they can do for us, but just because they're people. But actually that's not a universally accepted doctrine. But in the ancient Near East, actually and in Greco-Roman cultures infanticide was rife, abortion also very common. And actually children were not valued automatically. They were not considered valuable in a lot of cultures until they've got at least a potential to become a great warrior or whatever it is. And child sacrifice very common in the culture surrounding the biblical Old Testament writers. And indeed, of course it invaded Israelite culture as well. So it's very easy to think it's obvious we care about life. Actually that's not always and everywhere been the case, from conception or otherwise. So it is distinctive, isn't it?
Tim Lewis: I think so. That's exactly right, Dave. I think every culture generally has struggled with that temptation to end life prematurely or as you say, even once a child is born and I think Greco-Roman culture was particularly abhorrent in that regard, and particularly for young girls, female babies would often just be gotten rid of or it would've been a future of eventual prostitution or slavery, really.
And one of the ironies I think is that often Christians perhaps or or a biblical worldview or the Bible itself is seen as quite patriarchal, seen as a male text with male interests. And I think it's fascinating the amount of air time, if you like the Bible gives to women and their stories. You think of Luke's gospel, it begins really with a conversation between two women, but more generally, I think in the Old Testament there are a huge number of pregnancies that are narrated in some detail, and it's often from the perspective of a woman. And many times it's about how that sort of seed line of promise continues through the matriarchs. But sometimes it's not even that. So for example, Hagar who becomes the mother of Ishmael, (so not part of that promise line of seed,) lovely depiction in Genesis 16 of her story of pregnancy. And it's a pretty difficult beginning to motherhood really. But the text makes it very clear how God safeguards Hagar, safeguards her unborn child even when she's been effectively abandoned by Abraham/ Abram, her husband at that point. And in the context of her pregnancy, she has this revelation, this theophany. God appears to her and she names God in scripture that “you are the God who sees me – El Roi”. It's quite an incredible text. And there are many other stories like that.
You could look a little bit further than Genesis, the story of Tamar in Genesis 38, who goes to the great lengths to be pregnant and then to watch over her child when the father at one point wants to kill her. And Tamar, of course, becomes one of King David's and eventually Jesus' forebears. Or I suppose if you wanted to pick one story in scripture that summed up a problem pregnancy, an inconvenient pregnancy, that would be the story of Bathsheba and David of course. And I guess most folks know David essentially takes this woman, sleeps with her, Bathsheba becomes pregnant. It's intensely inconvenient for David, yet he never contemplates, the text never gives us any hint that he thinks, “Okay, if I just get rid of this pregnancy, if I just get rid of this child, all my problems will go away.” No. He goes to great lengths to get rid of the Uriah which is awful, but that for him is never an option really on the table. And Nathan even talks about this child dying for the sin of others while still in the womb. And I think that can even be seen as prefiguring Christ. So there are some wonderful stories.
I think the most detailed descriptions from those pregnancy stories come in the story of Rebecca and her twins Jacob and Esau, which is Genesis 25. And again, it's an amazing account. Rebecca's been unable to conceive for a long time, as many of the matriarchs are. Eventually after 20 years, Isaac prays and Rebecca conceives, but the problem with her pregnancy is there's these very violent uterine movements. And of course a lot of women would be reassured by movements in the womb. But for Rebecca, these are a little bit foreboding. And she actually goes to seek the Lord to make sense of what on earth is happening. And of course, she's told that she's actually carrying two peoples or nations, even at that time, within her womb. And the older will serve the younger. And Jacob and Esau are fighting in the womb. It’s seen very much as a precursor to their tempestuous relationship as adults and the people they then come to represent. So Israel as Jacob, and Esau as Edom. And of course, Jacob comes out grasping Esau's heel. So their independence, their character, their personality is communicated while they're still in the womb. That informs very much the biblical portrait of them, later in Hosea, for example, talking about Jacob and Esau. They're absolutely not simply a part of their mother's body. They are individual, separate people who make their presence felt and when the Hebrew scriptures were translated into Greek, it's interesting that the words used for their movements, these kind of fairly violent movements, is the same word actually, that Luke uses for John the Baptist leaping in the womb when he hears Mary's greeting. Although there it's a kind of joyous moment. So that's interesting.
And then, finally, one final scripture would be Judges 13 which is the story of the birth narrative to do with Samson and Samson's mother and Manoah's wife. We're never actually told her name, which is interesting and you might think that denigrates her as a character, but the other person we're never told the name of in that story is the angel, who is a fairly glorious and awesome presence. So I think we are meant to make a link there between the angel and Manoah's wife. And Samson is described very clearly as a Nazarite from the womb, meaning within the womb. And because of that, his mother is given certain Nazarite stipulations to observe during her pregnancy. Obviously today we have all sorts of pregnancy vitamins and things to do when you're pregnant to help the baby. But the Lord, the angel of Lord gives her a sort of certain regime to follow for the sake of her unborn child. And the text makes it clear that Samson's mother follows the angel's instructions to the letter, which is a little bit more than can be said for Samson, because his story is a bit of a mixed bag really. So I would suggest that women and women's stories and particularly including their pregnancies, are very much a part of the biblical narrative in that regard.
Dave Brennan: That's fascinating. Because what so many of those passages really emphasize is the continuity, isn't it, of life from conception, right the way through? We see Jacob and Esau's temperaments almost, their destinies, already beginning to be played out in the womb. And what's all the more remarkable about that of course is this is millennia before there's anything like the kind of technology we've got today, where we can see at least in the biological sense, the continuity. We know from conception, that's where the new DNA is formed. We know the sex is determined biologically speaking there and then. And it's amazing. The more I'm learning about what goes on in the womb, it is in so many cases, it's the baby actually that triggers certain responses in the mother. It's the baby that emits signals right after fertilization saying, “I'm here, don't expel me.” And then later on when it's time for delivery, it's the baby that sends out those signals. So of course they're not conscious protagonists and it is not a willful decision, not a decision of the will in that sense. But the baby is an independent, distinct living human being, and it's amazing that these inspired, biblical writers saw that in such detail, because one could forgive (it's a crude word,) but a pre-scientific culture being totally unaware or at least ambiguously silent about the wonder of life in the womb, especially from conception, weeks before you can feel any movement, observe any movement, and weeks before you can really see any difference in the mother's body.
Tim Lewis: Absolutely Dave. I think that idea of continuity is really important. And one of the things that scholars would say is that the vocabulary that's used of the child in the womb, these are words that describe children, or sometimes even adults once they're born. So it's exactly the identical kind of vocabulary for a life before birth compared to a life after birth. And that's interesting because even in some of the voluminous rabbinic discourses following the Old Testament, a kind of distinct vocabulary at times is developed by the rabbis to describe what we might call an embryo or a fetus. You don't really get that so much in the Old Testament or in the New Testament. It's that identical kind of language.
And just going back to what you're saying about the child triggers the response, there are some amazing scriptures. Look at Hosea 13:13 for example. It's figurative language, it's making a kind of point about salvation history, something else, but it talks about “an unwise child not knowing when to present itself at the opening of the womb,” which is just a fascinating little aside in the text. But I think it shows you that pervasive worldview really. And one of the fascinating things – there are several words for ‘womb’ in Hebrew and Greek, but probably one of the most significant, the word ‘Rechem’ is connected in its roots with the Hebrew word for compassion: ‘Rachamim’. And that's something that's long been observed by theologians, but also feminist theologians have taken that up and run with it, particularly developed that motif because it's quite significant in this association between God's love on the one hand, and the intense and intimate love of a mother for her child, the fruit of her womb on the other. And essentially saying that within the human sphere, in terms of how we understand love, perhaps the closest analogy we get to divine love is that sort of maternal affection which begins during pregnancy. And I think when God wants to express the depth and strength of His love, He often turns that metaphor. So think of Isaiah 49:15 – “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?” And of course the rhetorical response is ‘no’, but the scripture goes on, “Even though these may forget, yet I will never forget you”.
And there are other parts elsewhere in Isaiah 46:3, God talks about “carrying the house of Israel from birth, carrying them from the womb” even. Isaiah 42:14, God compares himself to a woman in labor, gasping and panting to bring forth her child, to bring forth His people. So I would suggest that's a really interesting other fruitful avenue of exploration really.
Dave Brennan: And that's something that's worth picking up on in that, for those listening in, maybe some listening in who aren't even Christians, but you're just interested, you’re really welcome and we love having you here. And I think something that we Christians sometimes miss, perhaps in our tradition, more so Protestant Reform tradition, is just how wondrous it is the way God has left his fingerprints everywhere in creation. We see something of what God is like in creation. Nothing is by accident, the way He's designed things. They're gloriously suggestive so often of what He is like. And that's especially true when it comes to human beings. So when we think about the way God has designed, for example, the female body, the way he's designed this womb as this place of unique embrace, and safety, and secrecy, and hiddenness, and whatever else, we mustn't just dismiss that of as a bit of biology. But God is actually showing us something of His own nature and His own love, especially in the way He’s designed human beings and the functions of our bodies and the way we relate to each other. And in particular, as you say, that parental relationship, that, time and again, the marriage relationship, the parental relationship are picked up as analogies, aren't they, for God's love for us, for His people. And it's worth just spending a bit of time chewing that over and contemplating that. And I think our tradition is sometimes guilty of that. We can forget the expansiveness of the revelation of God in the natural world which He made. We don't believe in a God who is not interested in physical matter, in biology, science. No. All of this is created by Him and it's just glorious, isn't it, to consider?
Tim Lewis: Absolutely. And I guess within the Old Testament, Dave, some of the most detailed descriptions of the unborn child come within what we might describe as the Wisdom Literature. So the Wisdom Literature is Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes, and certain Psalms are often seen as Wisdom Psalms. But the interesting about Wisdom Literature is it's often presented as, or has a major focus on creation and creation theology. And it's often seen as a little bit of a bridge perhaps from Israel into the nations around. And because we all live in the natural world, we can all make sense of a beautiful sunset or the wonders of creation, if you like. And I think it's interesting that some of the most detailed descriptions come within, say for example, the book of Job, e.g. Job 10. I won't read the the Scripture now, Job 10:8-12 are incredible in the context of Job's wrestling with God. And, it's important to understand what the context is here. Job feels he's being mistreated, and wants to point God back to the way God fashioned him with such care, patience, and love in the womb. But Job 10:8-12 is a fascinating scripture. One theologian and bioethicist David Albert Jones says that it goes into more detail about the process of embryogenesis than any other passage of the Hebrew cannon. And as I say, I won't read it, but there are various ways that happens. So in verse 9 God speaks of molding the infant body like clay. And of course that's I think, a fairly obvious allusion to Genesis 2 where God molds Adam, the first human being from the dust of the earth, dust and clay being used interchangeably. And in the same way, the creation of every child in the womb, I suggest, involves that intimate involvement of God. I think you described as God's fingerprints are on us in a way akin to the way they were on Adam and then Eve. Job 10:11 - God clothes the child, and of course, to be clothed by God in the scriptures is incredibly significant. It confers status, dignity, importance and within those detail descriptions there's a high level of anatomical detail. So Job talks about skin and flesh, bones and sinews. And those four terms appear elsewhere together only in Ezekiel 37, which is the prophet Ezekiel's amazing vision of the the valley of dry bones becoming an army of resurrected people. And I'd suggest a couple of things are going on there. There's a link there between the wholeness and completion of the body of the child in the womb. And also a connection between God's recreation of a resurrection body and the creation of the body at its origin in the womb of a woman. And in the later tradition that the Old Testament inspires sometimes called the intertestamental literature, that is picked up. So when people are mocking the idea of resurrection, often what happens is God's people point them back to the miracle of life in the womb, to say, “If God can do this, then why on earth can't he recreate bodies at the judgment in the resurrection? And verse 12 just finally describes God's gift of life to the unborn child. It is God's gift. It is not ours to give or take. It's God's gift of life. It expresses His covenant love, even in utero, even at that early stage of development.
So if people do nothing else after watching this, I would suggest they go back to read Job 10:8-12, because I think Psalm 139 is probably the most well known and understandably so, and it's a beautiful passage and I'll say a couple of things about that, but I would encourage folks to read Job 10 and certainly in the context of Job, which interestingly Job is a book which mentions the womb more than any of the book in the Bible by quite some distance.
Dave Brennan: That is interesting, isn't it? And also what get in Job, and also in Psalm 139, is a real emphasis - we mentioned it earlier on - with conception in particular. God's direct and personal involvement is not just that he designed the womb and the way that conception works and so on, which in itself is wondrous. God is not just an inventor who set up the blueprint and then, off it goes and it runs itself, replicates itself. No. He's intimately involved. And that just seems to be stressed again and again, doesn't it? You mentioned it with conception. God opened the womb and allowed whoever it was to conceive, especially in the Book of Genesis. For anyone interested we have had a couple of podcasts on the Brephos website about IVF and talking about God's intimate involvement in conception and the significance of that. But there's a passage isn't there, in Job 31, that makes it clear that it's not just that God has a special interest in some people. It's not just, okay, God had an eye on David and Jeremiah or whatever but no, we can actually say that God personally created each and every human being.
Tim Lewis: Absolutely, Dave. Because that is often a point that's made where people say, “Okay, these are lovely descriptions, but they're about special people - Jeremiah, David, Job or Jacob. There's no surprise God has a special little bit focusing on their origins. It doesn't really apply to everyone else.” I think that's a curious argument for many reasons. I don't think it's very hermeneutically sound, but I think it's directly challenged by what Job goes on to say later. Job 31 is a chapter where Job is asserting his innocence of various sins and ethical transgressions. And he says to God in verses 13 to 15, "If I've rejected the cause of my manservant or my maidservant when they brought a complaint against me, what then shall I do when God rises up, when he makes inquiry, what shall I answer him?" So Job is expressing a fairly enlightened position for his time that he's open to investigating complaints against himself, even by his own servants. He's willing to do that because he recognises he has an ultimate master that He is going to give an account to. And of course you get similar ideas in the New Testament, but then he goes on in verse 15 to say this; “Did not He [meaning God] who made me in the womb make him [i.e his servant,] and did not one fashion us in the womb?”
So in other words, along with God's just judgment Job's other reason for fair and equitable treatments for his servants, is that Job and his unnamed and otherwise unknown servants have the same creator. They were made in the same place, in the same way, that is within the womb. I think what Job is saying of his servants I think he's stating as a universal truth for human kind. And that was a context, a culture where there were major social differences, but whatever differences came to be after birth, they were not intended by God. I saw a t-shirt the other day that stated, “Social justice begins in the womb”. And I would suggest that's exactly the point Job is making in Job 31:13-15. And if that's Job's logic, then it's bizarre really, isn't it, to deny human status to the very individuals, the very people (children in the womb) he's using to argue for a common humanity and he's using to argue for a common created status. If they're not human, then it doesn't make any sense, does it? And so it's texts like that, Dave, they also give us a kind of legitimacy to extrapolate to other texts, say Psalm 139 or earlier in Job 10, that scriptures teaching on God's ways in the womb have a relevance, have a significance for all people.
Dave Brennan: That's helpful, and again, worth pointing out how distinctive this is, and this was in that culture. We're talking about a culture in which kings were seen as gods or semi-gods, where there were in many cultures, religions the priests were a kind of god-like class and slaves were like property. Growing up in a Christian, or at least a post-Christian culture we pay lip service to this idea that all people are valuable, but it's a Judeo-Christian principle. And perhaps most fundamentally and famously, it's founded on this idea which is connected to what we've been talking about, but we haven't gone for it head on yet, the fact that we are made in the image of God. And this is certainly universal. We talked about, “Oh, is it just David? Is it just Job?” No, it's ever so clear right from Genesis 1:26 – “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness.” It's really clear. That's reiterated again in Genesis 9 after the Flood. So post-fall it's still true. Made in the image of God. And it's a really important concept. Now, we're not going to go into it in any great detail here in terms of what it actually means. We're going to do another whole podcast on that. But let's just talk about some of the implications of the fact we're made in the image of God, especially early on in Genesis, how do we see that being applied?
Tim Lewis: I think the image of God is one of those things that's had a huge influence on Jewish and Christian, (especially Christian) theology I would suggest, and anthropology of course, which is interesting because the phrase itself, as you say, David only appears those three times in Genesis. So Genesis:1, Genesis 5:1-3. It's interesting because that's essentially Adam's genealogy, but it begins with God, which is interesting. And it's talking about Adam passing on his image to his son Seth. And of course we can look at any mother and child, or father and child and we see often a family likeness or resemblance which often is the case that the baby, the child, becomes increasingly to look like their parents. So Genesis 5:1-3 talks about Adam passing his image onto Seth, but it's very clear that the image he passes on is the image of God. So God's image remains, I would suggest, after the Fall and theologians debate the extent to which it remains or has been damaged or defaced. But whatever you want to say about that, it remains. It remains after the Fall. It also remains after the Flood. We've talked a little bit about Genesis 9, where Noah is sometimes seen as a second Adam. God starts his project afresh really because of the wickedness that has come to take over the earth, and the lack of respect actually for human life that the world is rife with violence. That's the word that's used. So God begins again. But as I say, He communicates that desire to to recreate, and He also warns mankind very clearly that they are not to take life. And the rationale for that is this third usage of the image of God, that human beings are made in God's image. Human beings are on a scale above the animal kingdom. We're to take care of the natural world, we're to steward it well. So Christians should be concerned about those things, but we're also to recognize there's a very clear ontological difference between a human being and a chimpanzee or a dog or whatever. Only humans are made in the image of God. And sometimes there’s a functional element to that, that is linked to rulership and stewardship of the earth. But I would suggest there's at least as strong an argument for a kind of ontological status there, and that it doesn't matter whether you've got a child, doesn't matter whether you've got someone who's very seriously handicapped or disabled, doesn't matter if you've got someone who's quite old and has lost some of their mental faculties. That person is still a person. They're still in the image of God. They are still owed respect and human dignity. And Genesis 9 makes it very clear that one is not to take human life at any stage or in any way, shape, or form. I think that's important. And if you look at the New Testament, it's clear from the book of James 3:9, that humankind continues to be an image of God, whether Christian or non-Christian, regenerate or not, human beings are human beings, and are owed a certain dignity.
Dave Brennan: And I wanted to pick up on that James reference actually, because I think what the Genesis 5 reference shows us… I remember finding that very striking. We are made in God's likeness, and then Adam has a son in his likeness. We can therefore say that at least in part, at least in some way, being made of the image of God is akin to being father, son. We resemble him. And there’s a limited sense therefore in which all of us are God's children, we're all God's offspring. That's there in the Book of Acts when Paul's preaching to pagan audiences, Acts 17, in Athens. We are His offspring. Now, of course that's not true in the special sense of only when we trust in Christ, we're born again and we become the children of God who are actually brought into his family. But there is a sense in which every human being, in the way that Seth or Adam's likeness because he was his son, there's a sense in which we all bear God's likeness because we are His children. And I see in scripture that God takes the killing of human beings, innocent human beings, God takes that personally. I think in our culture, you're not allowed to deface are you, an image of the queen? It's seen as a personal attack on the queen. And in some similar way, God takes it personally when his innocent image bearers are killed or otherwise mistreated. I'll come on to that in a second, but just very briefly, Ezekiel 16 is very striking. The Lord's talking here about child sacrifice. And he's taking issue with His own people who adopted child sacrifice. And He says this in verse 21, "You slaughtered my children and sacrificed them to the idols". “My children”, the Lord says, so He's taking this personally. You're attacking God's kids here. And that's a really big deal. But what's very striking in James 3, and actually the whole book of James is interesting and the language is so strong, but we're talking about not paying people's wages here or bad-mouthing people. It's mild compared to the violence of actually killing someone, although that's there as well, that's suggested. But here in James 3:9, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men who have been made in God's likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.” The suggestion here is that praising God is directly at odds with cursing men. Why? Because men are made in God's image. So the cursing of men is not irrelevant to how we're treating God. Actually, again, God's in some way taking that personally. You can't just curse men because they're made in My image.
Tim Lewis: Absolutely. And going back to the Ezekiel passage for a second, Ezekiel 16:20 is interesting because it's talking in the context of Israel sacrificing their own children to God. But in Ezekiel 16:20, God says that you "give birth to children, sons, and daughters for me". So who does the child belong to, whether the child is in the womb or whether the child has just been born? It's not society, it's not even the parents, actually. The child belongs to God, so every human being is ultimately God's property, if you like. Who are we to take the life of a child? We are all made, we're all stamped, I suggest with that image. Ambrose, the Church father Ambrose of Milan has a lovely phrase where he talks about God's artistry and making human beings like a beautiful painting. And he says, “Who are we to erase that painting? Who are we to erase God's image in another human being?”
Dave Brennan: It's particularly this being made in the image of God which connects us to: Therefore, do not take innocent life. And that's the other great and very clear teaching of scripture with regard to abortion. It doesn't mention the word ‘abortion’, but it's ever so clear that the shedding of innocent blood is a really serious offense. It has an effect on the standing of the nation before God, it has an effect on the land, there's a curse brought in the land. And we could go a lot more into that. So I think we've established beyond any doubt human beings begin life from conception, they are made in the image of God, they're precious. We're not permitted to take innocent life. And of course that's where some Christians stop, isn't it? They say, “Okay, I won't therefore have an abortion. That's my Christian response to abortion. I won't have one.” But scripture does go beyond that, in terms of what we're obliged to do proactively and the cause of justice and not just standing by. Do you want to throw anything in on that front for us?
Tim Lewis: Yes, obviously the whole tenor of scripture in the Old and the New Testament is about safeguarding the vulnerable and having a concern for those who are in need, whether that's the poor, whether that's the orphan, the widow the sojourner. And of course, Proverbs talks about the way we treat the poor, for example, being a reflection on our attitude to God as creator. And that kind of motif is almost taken up by Jesus in the parable as sheep and the goats in Matthew 25, where Jesus talks about the way you acted, the way you treated the least of these is a direct consequence, a direct reflection on your attitude to me actually. So that's of course interesting because Jesus puts himself in the place of God in that kind of ethical tradition.
But ultimately, how can you have an ethic about the sacredness of life? It's never a purely in-house thing, Dave. Life is universal. Life is for everyone. God gives life. It's God's prerogative to take life. It's not ours. So of course, I think there is a consequence beyond the boundaries of the Church. We are obliged as Christians to contend for the unborn, just as we would contend for those sold, trafficked into slavery as children or sex workers or any other human injustice. We are obliged, I believe as God's people to contend on that. Of course, if you go back to the early traditions of the Church, it's very clear right from the first centuries, that abortion is something that puts one out of the Christian mainstream. So the decalogue mentions abortion very clearly when it's discussing murder. So there's no kind of moral ambiguity about what abortion is or what it involves for the early Church, I would suggest.
Dave Brennan: And what, to those who might say, “Yeah, we see a lot about justice and reforming the culture in the Old Testament, but now we're in New Testament, New Covenant. Our focus just needs to be preach the gospel and we don't really see that same emphasis.” How would you help people to see the continuity there?
Tim Lewis: Sure. Let's dive into the New Testament from the Old Testament. That's probably an appropriate transition point. And I think just to say there are loads of other scriptures we could have touched on. We've not really gone into Psalm 139 at all, or Ecclesiastes 11:5-6. But the New Testament, of course, picks up very much where the Old Testament left off. And Matthew and Luke have these amazing infancy narratives which tie together, bring a lot of these threads and themes together around birth narratives in the Old Testament from conception to the birth of children. And the message is very clear that Jesus is our redeemer and to quote one book's title, ‘He's a redeemer in the womb’, from the womb. This is where life begins. This is where human life begins. And so Christ, as the perfect human, His life begins at the same point. Jesus is fully human from conception. Of course, that tells us something significant about the incarnation, about the lengths God goes to, and the humility of the Son to save the world, becoming a baby in the tiny confines of the womb, but also something profound about the nature of the unborn child. How can the child in the womb from conception not be regarded as a human? Because if that's the case, then what is Christ in that state? Christ is not in some sort of limbo state. He's not somehow less than human, less than a person. He is still a person even at that early stage. So I would suggest incarnation is the crowning proof for the humanity of the unborn child. So we take all those amazing descriptions from the Old Testament, which cumulatively paint this beautiful picture of God's creation, God's intimate concern and love for the unborn child, God's plans for the unborn child from the womb of course, even before the womb. That's true as well, but certainly from within the womb. And they crown that with the incarnation, which of course is unique to Christianity. And one of the phrases I've used recently is, “If the gospel is about God's entering the womb to bring life and salvation to the guilty, how can man entering the womb to bring death and destruction to the innocent, how can that not be a “gospel issue”? How can that not have an impact on our preaching, on our teaching, on our kind of ethical thinking?
The Apostles Creed: “I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit.” There's that word again, ‘conceived’, born of the Virgin Mary. For Orthodox believers, (and this is not actually just for evangelicals,) for any kind of Orthodox Christian believer these things are non-negotiable. The infancy narratives are not myths. They can't be airbrushed out without doing substantial damage I suggest to Christology, to soteriology, to how we're saved and to human anthropology. And we've talked about women in the Old Testament. Of course, Luke, he puts women front and centre in chapter one of his gospel. There's a lovely exchange of conversation between the older Elizabeth and her younger relative Mary who are both pregnant. And focusing on the unborn John for a moment, in Luke 1:15 Gabriel tells John's father, Zechariah, that John is going to be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. And so immediately thinking of this other Nazarite, Samson, because John is told he must refrain from wine and strong drink, of course, as Samson was told, whether or not he stuck to it, I don't know. So Gabriel's description of John picks up those Old Testament threads, but it elevates it. This John is going to be filled with the Holy Spirit and his life is going to be a successful ministry, unlike Samson's, of turning people back to God. Actually reconciling parents with children interestingly.
And of course Luke goes on Luke, 1 v41 to v44 to talk in more detail about what happens when Elizabeth hears the greeting of Mary. John leaps in her womb. And that's that word that was used in the Greek translations of the Old Testament for Jacob and Esau doing battle. Here John is leaping for joy. With Jacob and Esau obviously they're in the same womb. Here John is leaping in Elizabeth's womb at the presence of Jesus, who is maybe only a few days old at this stage. He's a zygote or whatever. He's a really embryonic stage. But at the presence of Jesus, John leaps in the womb. It's a beautiful picture. I think it's very hard to read those scriptures and to say, “This is just poetic”, or “There's no significance here for other human pregnancies.” And one very final point, a biblical theological point: Theologians get very excited with the way Luke has presented his material in terms of Mary's journey to Elizabeth in the hill country of Judea, and then her eventual return to Bethlehem and then presenting the child Jesus at the temple in Jerusalem. Jesus is a light to the nations, a light to the Gentiles. And of course, I think what Luke is doing there, (this is the biblical theological connection,) is that he is mirroring what's happening in 2 Samuel 6, where the Ark of the Covenant is taken up into the hill country of Judea, where it remains for three months, before eventually coming back to Jerusalem. And David leaps and dances in front of the Ark of the Covenant just as Elizabeth and John leap. And Mary, in other words, is the Ark of the Covenant. Jesus is God's presence, the Word made flesh. The Ark of the Covenant contained the Tablets of the Law, God's word written, if you like. Jesus is God's word made flesh. And he is even at that stage in Mary's womb, our redeemer.
Dave Brennan: That's fantastic, because what I think you've helped us to see there is that the abortion issue, and being pro-life, is not some distraction from the gospel. It's not an embarrassment. It's not something that if we have to do it, we'll try and do it quickly, and get it over and done with. Because actually, this is part of bearing witness to who God is and what He's like and what the Gospel is. The Gospel inherently, as you say, it's care for the vulnerable by the strong. It's sacrifice, self-sacrifice for others. And there's something about authentic Christian martyrdom, that is, if I can put it this way, it' more than the sum of its parts. I'm thinking of Bonhoeffer as one example. When someone lays down their life for Christ's sake, it's not just an extreme act devotion, it's Christlike.
It reminds us of the cross where Jesus himself laid down his life for others. And martyrdom itself bears witness. Martyrdom tells a story. We're not talking about suicide bombers here. We're talking about people who lay down their lives and allow themselves to be abused for the sake of the gospel. And I think it's very common when we're in those moments in history, to think, “Oh, we don't want to get caught up in that. Bonhoeffer, don't worry about the whole Jewish thing. Let's just preach the gospel. Here we are today. Let's not get caught up in politics.” No, there's an amazing opportunity here to bear witness to the glories of the gospel in the way we actually position ourselves as the strong on behalf of the weak, and take the ridicule and whatever else. Why? Because God cares for these people. And we want to follow Him in that.
So this has been really enriching. Thank you Tim. Before we round up, is there anything else you want to put out there? Anything you'd like to leave with people? Any particular thought or challenge or something for people to go away and chew on? Or just anything we've already talked about that you think needs to be especially highlighted?
Tim Lewis: I could go on for a long time. Just picking up on what you said, very briefly, that idea of witness to Christ and of course ‘witness’ and ‘martyr’ - it's the same word. If you go to the very end of the New Testament, Revelation 12, it's interesting that God's people, God's children, if you like, part of their witness to the world is cast in this incredible kind of mythic vision of a woman about to give birth, and the dragon wanting to destroy the fruit of her womb. And even once she's given birth, the dragon pursuing her children. So I think absolutely this is baked into the script.
Just a couple of final threads in the New Testament. Of course Jesus has a great love for children, and of course we see that in various places and we see that in Him welcoming children to him. I think Jesus is absolutely formed in that Old Testament Jewish mindset, that children are a gift from God and He receives children, which in Luke 18 is ‘brephe’, the plural of ‘brephos’ which is the word for a child within or without the womb. So how would Jesus welcome a child once they're born, but not have anything to say to them or any interest in that child for the nine months or so they're in the womb? It just doesn't make sense to me. And in Jesus' other other teachings, for example, John 16, he uses the image of pregnancy and childbirth to talk about His resurrection. The disciples are going to weep and be in anguish like a woman in childbirth until the baby is born, at which point, her sadness and her grief, her anguish evaporates. In the same way it's going to be like that with the vision of the resurrected Christ. So Jesus is all the time using this kind of imagery. And I think what you said just briefly on the New Testament about these ideas of welcoming the other, hospitality, how we understand the body as Christians. Ultimately none of our bodies belong to us. Our bodies are the Lord's and how we use our bodies reflects our relationship with God. “Glorify God in your bodies. You are not your own. You were bought at a price.” And I think there are the materials in the New Testament in Paul's writings around welcoming the other, hospitality. You've done a lot of good stuff on ‘Who is our neighbour?’, and how the unborn child, of course qualifies as our neighbour. So hospitality to welcoming the other, and I would understand pregnancy as a very particular and unique form, but am understanding of a situation of hospitality where one puts one's body and one's life, if you like, at the service of another human life, for a certain window and time. One uses one's body for the sake of another in a very particular way. I think there's a lot of work to be done on Christian understanding there of pregnancy from the New Testament.
I think what I'd leave people with is, we've mentioned a lot of scriptures, I would, I think first and foremost, I would encourage people to go back and read some of those scriptures, read some of those wonderful depictions, and whether it's Psalm 139, whether it's Job 10, or Ecclesiastes 11:5, or some of these people who are talked about from the womb, and that includes Paul, it includes Jeremiah, the plans God has for them. Just immerse yourself in the scriptures, because I don't think this is something we are inventing as Christians. It is something that emerges, I would suggest, organically from God's Word. I think God's Word gives us wisdom for the whole of life. And I would suggest for an understanding of the unborn child and the related issue of abortion, God's word I think has the resources to develop a robust Christian account of these things. And I would just encourage you, if you are a Christian, great. If you're not a Christian get into the Word and see what you make of them for yourself.
Dave Brennan: Thank you, Tim. I love how you mentioned that idea that we are not our own, our bodies are not our bodies. And that does real violence, doesn't it, to the thinking of our day “my body, my choice”? Not just in the consequence that’s sometimes played out there, to the point of taking the life of an innocent human being, the baby in the womb. But actually even prior to that, just this idea that it's my body, it's my choice. Actually what we're talking about here is really quite radical. It does violence to that cherished idea of our culture. We are not our own. And if the people out there are wanting to be radical as disciples of Christ, they want to go the whole hog, let's get our head around this idea that really is diametrically opposite to what we're hearing all the time. And if you're out there listening, you're not a Christian, but you want to understand what is Christianity all about? Be prepared, we are talking about something that is a radical overhaul of your values, your thinking. But it's so good and it's glorious and it's because God has made us. And it's a real joy to my heart actually to be talking about this and to be reminding one another that we're not our own. It is so much better to be living for the God who created us than trying to do our own thing.
Tim, thank you so much. Really enjoyed this. Wish we could go on, but I think we aimed to be about thirty minutes. I think it's coming up to an hour.
Tim Lewis: Thank you Dave. You can tell I'm probably passionate about this. I spend a lot of time thinking about these things and reading into them. And so I'm just delighted to have this opportunity and thank you. God bless you and your ministry which is just shining a light on these things, and I'm so grateful to the work of CBR and Brephos which I've had the most interaction with. So thank you.
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