Does the Bible actually say that life begins at conception?

If so, which verses? If not, why are Christian Fundamentalists so insistent on this point?

No, of course the Bible does not say that life begins at conception. Your question regarding Christian Fundamentalists is probably impossible to answer factually, so I won’t even try to do so.

I’ve seen mentions of a passage from the book of Jeremiah, chapter one, verse five New International Version), that could be interpreted as supporting the belief that life begins at conception.

Pro-choice folks looking for biblical support, on the other hand, can turn to Exodus 13:2, which as much puts the crucial moment at birth:

Everybody wins! Woo!

RayMan, I know you’re just helpfully answering the question that you were asked, but if that quote from Jeremiah is the basis for the “God hates abortion” view…well, that’s just pathetic…

AFAIK that and numerous other passages about God making people in the womb just “support” the idea that life begins at conception, even though it clearly refers to the person existing before they were in the womb.

The passage that’s usually used to condemn abortion is Exodus 21:

"“If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.”

Which to my mind doesn’t clarify the position one bit.

Watch what you’re saying. Right now. I made no claims as to whether or not God hates abortion or not. I made no judgments about abortion whatsoever. I did not offer any statement as to whether or not I even agreed with the belief that this quote may or may not support a pro life stance. I was attempting to factually answer a question, as factually as a question like this can be answered. I am offended by your comment. I believe your comment has no place in GQ. I expect an apology.

RayMan, I don’t think lhovis73 meant that comment as a criticism of you. (In fact, he gave you credit for “helpfully answering the question”.) I think he’s saying that if the people arguing that “God hates abortion” have no better basis for their view than that one line from Jeremiah, then that’s pathetic of them.

At least, that’s how I read it.

I’ve now reread my post five times and I can’t see what the big deal is, so I’ll leave it to others to say whether I crossed a line with that post. I’ll confess to being a smart-ass, and I’ll confess to adding nothing in way of an answer to the original question with that last comment, but I think you (RayMan) would have to seriously misread it to get so offended. I was just expressing surprise that this line from Jeremiah that you cite could be used by anyone to defend the “life begins at conception, therefore, abortion is murder” position (or as I put it in my smart-assed way, the “God hates abortion” position). The Bible’s a big book, and it’s surprising to me that this little scrap of scripture is the best that the pro-lifers could come up with to ground their anti-abortion ideology in the Bible. As tim314 points out, I began my post by recognizing that you’re just presenting information here, not taking an opinion on it, and I was reacting to the information that you were presenting. So…I meant no offense.

lhovis73, it may be not just what you said, but where you said it. The place to discuss particular ideas/opinions is IMHO or GD. Here in GQ, we like to stick to facts. SDMB is rather strict about this, as many message boards are not. Feel free to start an abortion debate in one of those two forums (well, actually, check and see if there isn’t one already running, and consider the fact that there have already been dozens of threads, so do we really need one more? etc.) but in THIS thread, it’s probably better to just talk about facts, y’know? Welcome, in any case.

To elaborate, my understanding is that it was not until 1869 that the Roman Catholic church declared that life began at conception. Previously, the stance had been that a fetus was ‘a life’ at around seven weeks, which was based on some writings of St. Thomas Aquinas. There had also briefly been a ruling that life began at conception by a 16th-century pope, but that was reversed. (Others more knowledgable, please correct any of this if wrong).

The Bible also doesn’t specifically mention anything about cloning, or whether it’s cool to start a meth lab, or when it’s okay to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike.

Biblical-era knowledge of (or concern with) the technical details of embryology had to be pretty low. Given that the people didn’t understand the details of how conception and fetal development happened, a detailed revelation or mandate on this point would have been pretty incomprehensible and pointless. Moreso, given that abortion as we know it was also more or less a non-issue for them.

To suggest that because the Bible doesn’t discuss a specific hot-button political issue in our modern day terms, then there can’t be a biblically-inspired modern day position on such issue, strikes me as almost intentionally tendentious (and the OP’s reference to “Christian Fundamentalists,” as if only they (and not, for instance, RCs) had a position on this point, does not allay this suspicion).

Oh, and here’s another verse the pro-life crowd draws on as inspiration:

Psalm 139:13

That passage is the subject of mistranslation, and I’ve seen it used more often to support abortion than condemn it. In recent translations, it’s been carefully worded as you posted above, using the words “she gives birth prematurely” rather than the more accurate “she has a miscarriage”. The deliberate choice and placement of the words “serious injury” in both sentences misleads the reader into thinking that the passage refers to injury to the baby, when in fact it refers to injury to the mother.

The original intent of the passage clearly indicates that the life of the unborn baby is not equivalent to the life of the mother, since a miscarriage is worth only monetary damages but injury to the mother is worth “eye for an eye” damages.

Well, for what it’s worth, my take on it is that the comment was clearly directed at the inadequacy of that particular Bible verse as an argument against abortion. It was clearly *not *directed at RayMan - not an ad hominum.

Although this site’s perspective is clearly anti-religious, it does appear to present the historical background in a factual manner:

I believe some theology on this point rests in Genesis 25:23; God is speaking to Rebecca about the twin boys Jacob and Esau:

The Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.”

By addressing the unborn Jacob and Esau as “nations” and “peoples”, God seems to be saying they are somewhat equivalent to persons, hence the usual prohibitions against killing would apply.

Paul, in his letter to the Romans, also emphasizes the fact that God made decisions about Jacob and Esau before they were born:

"Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” (Rom 9:11-13)

Paul here intended to show that actual physical descent from Abraham was not necessary or sufficient to receive the promises and blessings of God (God’s promises in the OT then apply to whomever God chooses, thus justifying the split of Christianity from Judaism). However they can also be interpreted to mean God can grant grace to the unborn, and from there it’s an easy moral step to forbidding abortion.

For completeness sake, Romans 9 isa also at the root of election theology (grace from God alone, not thru merit). Not that it bears on this discussion, but there it is.

Alternatively, since there were not two nations literally in her womb (but in fact, two potential nations), the reference could be interpreted to mean that the twins were at that stage ‘potential’ people.

The major point here is that the Bible, even for “fundamentalists” (which always seem to be a vaguely threatening term no one quite understands) is not the sole source of theology.

FWIW, Judaism considers abortion to be included in the prohibition of murder that is amongst the seven Noahide commandments. The source for this is the Hebrew phrasing of Genesis 9:6, which in simple translation, says “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed.” In Hebrew, the word “by man” can also mean “in man”, which would yield the meaning “Whoever sheds the blood of man in man, shall his blood be shed.” This double-entendre (it most emphatically is not meant as a negation of the simple meaning) is taken to mean that killing a fetus (“man in man”) is also capital murder.

First of all: I realize it wouldn’t have made sense for the Bible to discuss abortion specifically, since it wasn’t an issue at the time. And you are of course correct, this doesn’t mean you can’t form an opinion about whether or not it is allowed based on the Bible. What I don’t understand is why, in the absence of a specific Bible verse discussing it, so many of those who support a literal interpretation of the Bible have come to the same conclusion about whether their religion allows abortion. This caused me to wonder if there was some Biblical verse that was more explicit about the subject than I would have expected, hence the OP.

Why didn’t I mention Roman Catholics? Well, Catholics have a leader who determines the official Church stance on such issues. So it is not surprising that most Catholics would follow that leader’s decision and oppose abortion. Whereas, as I understand it (perhaps incorrectly), Protestant Christians more often determine what to believe about theological issues by examining the Bible on their own, or under the leadership of their local religious leader, rather than by following the directives of a central authority. Which is what made it surprising to me that so many, particular among those supporting a more literal interpretation of the Bible, agree that their religion strongly condems abortion.

As far as the term “Christian Fundamentalists”, I actually carefully chose that term thinking it was the correct, unoffensive term (as opposed to the usually derogatory “fundies”.) But some people seem to be suggesting “fundamentalists” is derogatory too. If so, please suggest to me what would be a better term to use.

I really did try to make the OP unbiased. For those who don’t think it was, I’d be interested to know how you think I could have phrased it so as not to suggest any bias.

I thought it was a reasonable OP, and your clarifications were reasonable and well-expressed, tim314.

The short answer to the thread title’s question is no, not specifically and unequivocably. As already noted above, there are a few verses which have been interpreted in ways so as to imply this, but such interpretations are questionable and not universally accepted.

I don’t think there’s a GQ-type answer to the OP’s second question, though there are plenty of GD-type things one could say about it.