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Top Ten #5 // Social justice begins in the womb // Amnesty International = unlimited global abortion

Updated: Oct 25, 2023

Top Ten Pro-life Passages #5 // Job 31


“If I have denied justice to any of my servants,
whether male or female,
when they had a grievance against me,
what will I do when God confronts me?
What will I answer when called to account?
Did not he who made me in the womb make them?
Did not the same one form us both within our mothers? [Job 31:13-15 NIV]


We have already seen that Job plumbs the depths of human experience. Alongside this Job demonstrates an impressive theology of creation – this after all forms the substance of God’s response to Job in chapters 38 to 41. God’s creation encompasses the child in the womb. It is at conception that a new life comes into existence (Job 3:3) and Job goes into great detail about God’s creation of him before birth (Job 10:8–12).


Despite all this some people argue that Job’s intensely personal descriptions are really only autobiographical. Perhaps God did knit Job together in the womb, just as he made David (Psalm 139:13), but that is because Job and David were special individuals, whose stories formed part of Scripture. Like Jacob (Genesis 25:21–26); Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:5); John the Baptist (Luke 1:15, 41–44) or the Apostle Paul (Galatians 1:15), they all had a special mission within salvation history, so it makes sense that God was uniquely involved in their lives before they were born. But, according to this way of thinking, it is impossible to extrapolate from their prenatal life to the value of other unborn children.

Before we explore Job 31:13–15 it is worth recognising how odd an argument this is. Original context is crucial for interpretation, but this cannot be allowed to circumscribe the wider application of the biblical text. Nor practically does anyone limit Scripture’s application to its original subject in this way. Who would argue that because Psalm 23 is ascribed to David, it is impossible for any other believer to speak of the Lord as “my shepherd”? Taken to its logical conclusion this would reduce the Bible to a series of irrelevant spiritual memoirs, as opposed to “examples for us,” “written down for our instruction” (1 Corinthians 10:6, 11; see also Romans 15:4).

With this introductory framework in place, let’s look at Job 31:13–15:


13 “If I have rejected the cause of my manservant or my maidservant, when they brought a complaint against me, 14 what then shall I do when God rises up? When he makes enquiry, what shall I answer him? 15 Did not he who made me in the womb make him? And did not one fashion us in the womb?

Job is presented as a model of the righteous man and for good reason. In his social context Job demonstrates a tremendously enlightened attitude to his male and female servants, treating them as human beings, rather than property, to the extent of investigating their complaints against him! In spite of his great wealth Job knew that he was also a servant of God (Job 1:8; 2:3). His ethic comes close to the New Testament, where those in positions of power and authority are warned to remember that they too have a master in heaven who is watching their conduct (Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 4:1). God is universal judge, hence Job’s first reason for fair treatment (Job 31:14).


His second motivation is that God is also universal Creator (Job 31:15). Inherent human dignity stems from there being just one Creator of all people: rich and poor, black and white, etc. Earlier Job reflected that the grave is the great leveller of social distinctions (Job 3:13–19). But human equality is not an afterthought, evident only in death. It is the Creator’s original intention, whatever distortions people subsequently impose upon society. Job moves here from personal relationship (Job 10:8–12) to shared reality. What is true for himself is true for humanity without exception. And the sphere for this universal creation is unambiguously the womb. We are all fashioned by the same God with the same care in the same place (Job 31:15).


Various important implications flow from this insight. There is a “solidarity in the womb” – we are all, in the words of Paul Ramsey, “fellow fetuses”![1]Every person on the planet was once, as we were, a vulnerable unborn child. This solidarity (based on common creational history in utero) should shape our response to fellow human beings.


Elsewhere the Israelites are exhorted to kind treatment of vulnerable groups by reminding them of their previous status as slaves and sojourners in Egypt (e.g., Exodus 22:21; 23:9; Leviticus 19:33–4; Deuteronomy 10:19; 15:12–15; 16:12; 24:17–22). If shared past experience is a powerful motive for just treatment of those currently in a similar situation (e.g., refugees), it must also be a strong motive for compassion and kindness towards the child currently within the womb. In Job 31:13–15 it is precisely God’s incontrovertible creation of every person in the womb that makes human dignity and value meaningful and universally applicable. On Job’s logic, it makes no sense to refuse to extend human dignity and inherent value to unborn children, those who are at the very stage of development that demonstrates most completely their status as created by God.


Tragically, although historical manifestos on human rights have acknowledged safeguards for the unborn child, today organisations purporting to defend the human rights of all – such as Amnesty International – deny human personhood, dignity, worth and protection to the unborn child, choosing instead to aggressively promote and expand abortion globally. Not only is this a desperately sad distortion of a once noble heritage, it fundamentally undercuts one of the key reasons the Bible presents for equal and humane treatment for all people: our common origin in the womb.[2] As Christians we need to expose such perversions with the light of God’s truth. There is no better place to start than Job 31:13–15.

[1] Paul T. Ramsey, “Reference Points in Deciding about Abortion” in The Morality of Abortion, ed. John T. Noonan (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1970), 67. [2] The Jewish theologian Robert Gordis, calls Job 31:15 “the most striking affirmation in the Bible – unsurpassed anywhere else – of the equality of all human beings, which is rooted in their common origin as the handiwork of God.” See Robert Gordis, The Book of Job. Commentary, New Translation and Special Studies (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary of America Press, 1978, 339). Ominously Gordis goes on to note that a commentary on Job written by German scholar Gustav Hölscher in 1937, at the height of the Third Reich, simply omitted this verse from his discussion. God’s word and genocide do not mix.


 

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