Why Is the New Testament Silent about Abortion?

by Jul 13, 2022Uncategorized0 comments

Christians in the coming years will be asked questions like, why is the New Testament is silent about abortion? if abortion is so important, Why did Jesus not speak about the subject? If Paul loved the unborn – Why is there no clear prohibition in Paul’s writings? Many biblically literate in the pro-choice camp will point to the biblical text and ask, ‘where is the “thou shalt not abort.”?’ In reality, all these questions are a form of moral posturing, a way to show up those stupid Christians. It is a way to insinuate Christian’s don’t know what’s in the bible. Most do not expect an answer nor care to hear one. Yet in case someone wants an answer below is an simple answer to the question, “Why Is the New Testament Silent about Abortion?”

In his essay, “Why Is the New Testament Silent about Abortion?”(1) New Testament professor Michael Gorman helpfully points out that the fact that the New Testament is silent about an issue is not evidence that early Christians did not have a settled position on the matter. In fact, quite the opposite.

That the New Testament never directly addresses abortion (or exposure or infanticide) does not mean that the first-century churches were ignorant of this practice or that they believed it to be a matter of “individual conscience.” On the contrary, the silence simply tells us that abortion was not an issue in need of resolution. The silence indicates that there was little or no deviation from Judaism.(2)

In addition to what the Old Testament says about the sanctity of human life and about abortion itself, Second temple literature (considered extra-canonical Jewish literature) is clear on the topic. The Jewish wisdom literature, Sentences of Pseudo-Phocylides (c. 50 B.C.-50 A.D.), directs that “a woman should not destroy the unborn in her belly, nor after its birth throw it before the dogs and vultures as a prey.”(3) Included among the “wicked” in the apocalyptic Sibylline Oracles were women who “produce abortions and unlawfully cast their offspring away” and sorcerers who dispense abortion-causing drugs.(4) Similarly, the apocryphal book 1 Enoch (first or second-century B.C.) declares that an evil angel taught humans how to “smash the embryo in the womb.” (5) Finally, the Jewish historian, Josephus, maintained that “The Law orders all offspring to be brought up, and forbids women either to cause abortion or to make away with the fetus.” Observes Gorman, “No contradictory early Jewish texts . . . have been discovered, thus suggesting that a Jewish anti-abortion consensus did exist in the first century.”(6)

Similarly, the non-canonical literature of the early Church reveals an consensus of ethical opinion. The teaching of the early church in the Didache (50-120 A.D.), for instance, was uncompromising: “Love your neighbor as yourself . . . You shall not murder a child by abortion nor shall you kill a newborn.” (7) The Epistle of Barnabas (80-120 A.D.) commands the Christian: “You shall love your neighbor more than your own life. You shall not murder a child by abortion nor shall you kill a newborn.” (8)

Granted, these books were not received into the New Testament canon. But they do reveal accurately the mind-set and attitudes of the early Christian community. In fact, the historian Eusebius notes that these books were “publicly read by many in most churches.”(9) Simply put they were not part of the authoritative canon but were on the shelf at the church’s book store.

Furthermore, as seen in the early church’s teachings from Didache and Barnabas, the prohibitions against abortion are rooted in the doctrine of neighbor love. Such a connection indicates that early Christians viewed the unborn as members of the community worthy of love and protection. So, in a real sense, the New Testament’s silence on abortion shouts like a megaphone. From the birth of the Church and throughout her first several centuries, no serious Christian found abortion to be an acceptable practice.

 

 

Footnotes

1. Michael J. Gorman, “Why Is the New Testament Silent about Abortion?” Christianity Today, January 11, 1993, 27-29.
2. Ibid. 28
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid.
6. ibid.
7. Ibid. 29
8. Ibid.
9. Ibid.

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