Moses' second speech, Part 9
Jul 26, 2012
When God gave the Sixth Commandment, "You shall not murder" (Deut. 5:17), it was not a prohibition upon killing itself, but rather it limited killing to a righteous judicial process for crimes where restitution could not be done.
We have seen how killing in a time of war is not biblically defined as murder, as long as the war is just and it is approved by the Judge of all nations in His war against crime between nations. Few wars throughout history have been truly led by God, none in the twentieth century, and so those declaring war will be held accountable for their actions at the Great White Throne. Individual soldiers, of course, will be held accountable only for their own personal conduct according to their level of authority.
But there are other types of killing that we must study to see if they are unlawful or not. In the case of deliberate abortion, the Bible is clear that God establishes life prior to one's birth. Hence, to destroy that life is to kill, and unless it is done according to some proper judicial process, such killing is murder. Jeremiah 1:5 says,
(5) Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, and before you were born, I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.
Properly, nothing is truly "formed" until it is fully formed into a given shape and size. Hence, God was talking about the time between conception and birth when Jeremiah was known by God and appointed as a prophet. Likewise, Jacob and Esau were called while they were in the womb prior to birth (Rom. 9:11). This divine recognition of their personhood is beyond dispute to anyone who truly believes Scripture.
God's statement in Jer. 1:5, "I knew you," is not fully appreciated in most circles. The personal application, of course, has to do with the level of intimacy in personal relations. But in the realm of international law, it applies to diplomatic relations between nations. In that application, it has to do with recognition.
If one nation refuses to recognize another, it means there are no diplomatic relations between the two. Often they are in a state of war, perhaps having a truce but no real peace treaty (as in Korea). Deut. 11:28 speaks of "following other gods which you have not known." This means that other gods were not to be officially recognized in Israel. Those gods had no standing, and the law of God will not back their pretentious claims of authority.
When Jesus said in Matt. 7:23, "I never knew you," He did not mean that He had never heard of those lawless faith healers, but rather that they were still in a state of hostility toward Him and His law.
By contrast, Paul says in 1 Cor. 8:3, "but if anyone loves God, he is known by Him." They love God if they keep His commandments, and God recognizes such people as having "standing" in a divine court of law. They have rights as Kingdom people. Likewise, in the great Love Chapter, we read in 1 Cor. 13:12,
(12) For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known.
Recognition in law gives us our standing in law. After this has been established, we may begin to "know" Christ in a intimate and personal relationship. Christ came to reveal and to make known the Father's heart and mind in all matters.
Therefore, when God "knew" Jeremiah while he was yet in the womb, it means that God had given the prophet legal standing before his birth. With that legal standing came God-given rights both as a citizen of the Kingdom and as a prophet by calling. This shows not only that life begins at conception, but also that an unborn child has legal standing in the government of God--including the right to live in security.
This is supported by the law in Exodus 21:22,
(22) And if men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she has a miscarriage, yet there is no further injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman's husband may demand of him and he shall pay as the judges decide.
This is clearly a case of accidental homicide, as the woman in question was not one of the two men fighting but was rather attempting to intervene. The precise penalty is to be determined by the woman's husband and the judges. However, this case does not reference directly the unborn child's legal standing, but rather that of the parents. Even so, the unborn child is given value beyond today's label as "just a piece of flesh."
The early Church faced the problem of abortion and child murder in their own time, and they unanimously condemned such practices. Their view was no different from Judean practice. In the late first century, Josephus testified in his book, Against Apion, II, 25,
"The law, moreover, enjoins us to bring up all our offspring and forbids women to cause abortion of what is begotten, or to destroy it afterward; and if any woman appears to have done so, she will be a murderer of her child."
In those days men had discovered certain herbal potions that would induce abortion. Roman law also permitted abortion and infanticide, as it recognized the father's right of life and death over his children. So the Epistle of Barnabas 14:11 says,
(11) Thou shalt not destroy thy conceptions before they are brought forth; nor kill them after they are born.
The Didache, or "Teaching of the Twelve Apostles," says in 2:1,
(1) The second commandment of the teaching is: "You shall not murder ... you shall not abort a child or commit infanticide.
In 177 A.D. Athenagoras took issue with the rumors circulated by pagans in his day that Christians killed infants and drank blood at their meetings when they partook of communion. He refuted this, saying in his Plea, ch. 35,
"What reason would we have to commit murder when we say that women who induce abortions are murderers, and will have to give account of it to God?"
In 210 A.D. Tertullian, a Christian Roman lawyer in chapter 9 of his Apology, or "defense" of Christianity,
"In our case, murder being once for all forbidden, we may not destroy even the fetus in the womb, while as yet the human being derives blood from other parts of the body for its sustenance."
Around 400 A.D., The Apostolic Constitutions summarized the accepted teachings of Christianity, saying in 7:3,
"Thou shall not slay thy child by causing abortion, nor kill that which is begotten; for everything that is shaped and has received a soul from God, if it be slain, shall be avenged, as being unjustly destroyed."
We see then that abortion is not a new issue in the Church. It was practiced by non-biblical cultures which based this practice on the belief that parents were the originators of life and therefore also had the right to take away the life of their children. God's law does not allow this, even for the worst juvenile delinquent. Even the unborn enjoyed recognition by God in the divine court and were afforded protection by law against parental malice.
This is the ninth part of a series titled "Moses' Second Speech." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones