Take a Deep Breath

Often, the debate on abortion boils down to the question: “When does life start?” Christians may include the added question, “When does an entity obtain a soul?” but as “soulness” cannot be determined by the scientific method, this leaves it in the arguments of the theologians. And while the Bible indicates adult humans have souls (Ps. 16:10) and implies that children may have souls (2 Sam. 12:23) it does not (specifically) indicate individuals or souls exist prior to life.

What the Bible does state, though, is that life starts by breathing. Not before. If the Christian is following God’s morals from the Bible, God’s history from the Bible, and God’s description from the Bible, why abandon God’s science from the Bible?

And, upon learning when life starts according to the Biblical God, can the Christian claim that killing a fetus is ending a life?

I see an intriguing vacillation. In the debate between evolution vs. creationism, we are told that science must bend to the Bible. In a conflict, the Bible must prevail. In the discussion of archeology vs. Tanakh, there is equivocation back and forth whether the Bible should be taken as accurate, or archeology.

But in the debate of the start of life, regardless of what science determines, the Bible is completely ignored. Is it…could it be that in this instance the Bible is considered antiquated, and deliberately overlooked?

Starting with the very first Biblically recorded instance of human life—Adam. God packs together a human out of dirt, but in order to make him alive, he gives him the “breath” of life. Gen. 2:7. Prior to breathing, Adam was a lump of clay.

Ezekiel was given a vision of a field of bones. God told him specifically that in order for the bones to live, they must be given the “breath of life.” To make the point evident, God gives the bones muscles, sinews, organs and skin, yet they are still considered dead. Not until they breath are they alive. They did not even animate until they received breath. Ezekiel 37:4-10.

Repeatedly the loss of the ability to breath is directly equated to dying. God mandated that Joshua kill all that lived, and reiterated this by indicated that all were killed; all that breathed were destroyed. Deut. 20:16, Joshua 10:40; 11:11; 11:14.

Job consistently attributed breathing with living. Job 12:10: 14:10. He specifically states that if he hadn’t left the womb, it would be as if he never existed. Job 10:19

When Jesus died, it was considered he had breathed his last. Mark 15:37 Same with Ananias and Sapphira. Acts 5:5-10. Acts also records Paul as considering life and breath to be the same, although Paul himself never uses the term. Acts. 17:25

When God resurrects the witnesses of Revelation, he gives them the “breath of life.” Rev. 11:11

Over and over we see that breath=life; no breath=death.

Now, there may be an argument from the apologist that “breath” is better translated as “spirit” or “soul” and that what God was imparting was the soul, not just the function of the respiration system.

This has numerous problems. Not the least of which, by virtue of these verses, it answers the question when a soul is imparted—when a person begins to breath. In the abortion debate, therefore, it leaves the exact same question on the table—when does life begin?.

When the widow’s son died, the acronym used was that he became so sick there was no breath left in him. What is more interesting is that Elisha asks that the child’s “soul” be returned to him. Upon the soul being returned, the child begins to breath. This would substantiate the claim that a non-breathing individual does not have a soul, and only a breathing individual does. 1 Kings. 17:17-23.

Animals are considered to have died as well when they ceased having the breath of life. Gen. 7:22. To be consistent, this would mean they, too, had a soul. (Although according to Deut. 20:16 Joshua was to kill “every breathing thing” implying livestock, yet in Joshua 11:14 livestock were specifically excluded from “every breathing thing” leaving us with a possible inconsitency.)

Finally, Daniel uses the phrase “…no strength remains in me now, nor is any breath left in me." And I doubt that Christians would argue this means he was losing his soul. Dan. 10:17

So…life is defined Biblically as breathing, and whether one has a soul or not is determined by whether one is breathing or not. To abort something that is not breathing would not be terminating a life. Nor, would it be damning a soul.

Are there any conflicts in the verses used to discuss abortion?

The Bible is extremely silent on the issue of intentional abortion, leaving little direction. The most oft-used passage is Exodus 21:22-25 which states that if men fight, and strike a woman with child, and she gives birth prematurely (some argue “miscarry”) and there is no “mischief” then the men shall pay a fine. If there is “mischief” then it shall be “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, and life for a life.” (There is argument back and forth as to the exact meaning of these verses.)

But for the issue of the moment—“when does life begin” these verse provide no insight. These are verses that prescribe judgments for certain actions. As we shall see, taken literally, even a breathing person may not be considered a “life.”

A quick background of the verses prior to, and after. This is a list of deaths and harms, so clearly some type of harm, whether to the woman and/or the unborn child is anticipated.

A man killing a man is punishable by death. Ex. 21:12. But a child cursing his parents is also punishable by death. Ex. 21:17. We would no longer hold this law as deserving of death. But we would still say cursing one’s parents is wrong. A person beating his servant to death is deserving of death. Unless the servant manages to linger on for a few days, in which case it is no longer a crime at all. Ex. 21:20-21 This law is NOT abolished by the New Testament. 1 Peter 2:20. Yet is anyone stating that we should re-institute slavery to conform to Exodus 21?

Is anyone stating that the slave must not have been alive, since “life for life” is not required? Certainly not!

If a person has an animal with a propensity for harm, and it kills another, then the person shall be put to death. Ex. 21:19. Unless it kills a servant, and then it is only a fine. Ex. 21:32

What then, does “life for life” mean? I doubt anyone would argue that a servant is breathing. Could we equally argue that a servant has no soul?

The trouble here is that if the verse intended to state that harm had come to the fetus, it could easily have stated, “if born dead, then either pay a fine, or be put to death.” It does not. It leaves a demarcation of unclear distinction.

All of the other verses lay out a distinct pattern:

1) Death; followed by
2) Punishment either by death or fine or nothing.

But in this one situation, the pattern is abandoned, and we turn to the elusive:

1) The nebulous word “mischief” followed by
2) A broad list of possible punishments.

The pattern of death followed by punishment is picked up again right after this. These verses intend to convey a different meaning than death (even by accident) and following punishment.

One may argue, “But it claims ‘life for life’ which would anticipate a life lost.” The problem with this (other than the fact that we have already seen “life for life” is not accurate with servants) is that it also says “burn for burn.” Does one argue that striking a woman would someone “burn” an unborn child? Or “tooth for tooth.” Would striking an unborn child cause it to lose a tooth? (And yes, I know of children born with teeth. How rare is it? And who could tell?)

Or is the better statement that the general principle applied is the punishment fit the crime, and the list is not given as an exclusive or exhaustive remedy, but a principle. If you think of it, to make exact retribution, the pregnant female should be allowed to strike the man in the uterus, causing his child to suffer the same malformations. Obviously that would be impossible.

Exodus 21 does discuss poking out the eye of a servant, but not exacting eye for an eye in that regard, as a servant is just property. It would seem that the intention of these verses was to compensate the person as best as possible. It does no good for the servant to see his master lose his eye. The next event that may happen is one of those beatings in which the servant lingers a few days before dying!

In the same way, vs. 22-25 appear to be struggling with how to compensate for the loss of a fetus. There is a loss, no one questions that, but it is not property, like a slave, it is not a life, like a Hebrew, it falls into this nebulous category of recompense as best as possible.

Again, it would have been very easy to state that if the child was stillborn, the man must die. The law had stated that previously, and in a few verses later, will state it again. Those that debate this is the equivalent of a life must demonstrate the reason for the variance demonstrated here. It would be the only instance in which an accidental death required a death penalty.

Further, as raised in other debates, it is addressing an accidental abortion, not an intentional one. If two men were voluntarily fighting, there would be no law imposed on striking each other. But if one simply struck the other, then it would. This would be a situation in which the woman obviously did not voluntarily agree to an abortion, and some punishment, or compensation was necessary.

It is not clear that the fetus is considered a life, and, I am informed, scripture must interpret scripture. Overwhelmingly the other verses consider breath to be life. Exodus would defer to these verses.

The other verses used in the abortion debate, those discussing God knowing a person while in the womb do not necessarily impart “life” prior to breathing. If one holds to foreknowledge of God, He would have known everybody both prior to, during and after the fetus stage. And the verses as to God forming one in the womb (Ps. 139:13; Job 31:15) also do not impart life. God fully formed Adam and Ezekiel’s bones, yet they were not alive. Jesus was fully formed, yet upon giving up his breath was not alive. “Form” does not constitute “life.”

And that’s it. No mandate from Jesus’ lips as to when life starts, or souls are imparted. Even Paul makes no mention of when life starts. It is disconcerting that if this constituted murder, Paul was more concerned about what women said in a church, than explicitly prohibiting abortion based on the loss of life. (1 Tim. 2:12)

Well, not quite it. The Epistle of Barnabas written in the late First Century, or beginning of Second Century, B.C., states at 19:5 “….thou shalt not kill a child by abortion, neither shalt thou destroy it after it is born.” Wouldn’t that be a handy verse to have in the Bible? It would end the consternation presented above. It would shut the door on any of these questions. There it is, in black-and-white.

That one itty-bitty problem. The Epistle of Barnabas is not inspired. We all know 2 Tim. 3:16 that says all scripture that is God-breathed is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction. By virtue of the fact that the issue was seen, and was dealt with, but God consciously chose to not include it in the canon speaks volumes.

Regardless of the scientific findings, the moral quandary, the legal issues, or even the entire issue on abortion--When do Christians say God claims life begins?


DagoodS said...

I should note that I first heard this argument from a Christian in a discussion on abortion. It raises some interesting questions regarding the consideration of life, and how applicable a 3000-year old book is today.

I would ask (although never insist) that the question of “When does life start?” in terms of the Bible be dealt with here. It is not my blog, nor my place to make the rules, so anyone is free to post anything at the discretion of John W. Loftus—not myself. But equally I am free to choose to not respond to lines of “Abortion stops a beating heart” and “Aren’t you glad your mother was not Pro-abortion?” And I will be making that choice.

I am more interested in consideration of what, specifically the Bible states as to start of life.

Anonymous said...

Isn't the mother breathing for the fetus?

paul said...

fascinating stuff. couple of quick thoughts.
Luke 1:15, indicates John was filled with the Holy Spirit from birth, not before apparently.
On the other hand Luke 1:44 states that when Elizabeth (Johns mom) heard Marys greeting that "the baby(John) in my womb lept for joy." Which would seem to indicate life?

Bahnsen Burner said...

Without the "breath of life," it's merely dust. If the mother is "breathing for the fetus," then the mother obviously has final say in the matter. After all, according to the Triablogoats, the fetus could at best only be a "meat machine."


Anonymous said...

Ah, yet another example of not reading the text literarily but instead anachronistically applying a context never intended by the author and then pretending there is a contradiction.

But I will give you kudos for one thing. You did get it right here:

"Or is the better statement that the general principle applied is the punishment fit the crime, and the list is not given as an exclusive or exhaustive remedy, but a principle."

This is exactly what it is. No one ever taught the literal "eye for eye" since, as the saying goes, that would make the whole world blind. What it does demonstrate is the punishment ought to fit the crime (a principal we still follow to this day).

Anyway, there is no question that God's law in Scripture is not necessarily God's perfect will for what people ought to do. Jesus Himself states as much in the following:

Matthew 19:3-9:
And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, "Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?" He answered, "Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate." They said to him, "Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?" He said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery."

Here we see that God specifically gave a law via Moses that was different from what He wanted perfectly, and it is due to the hardness of the hearts of the Israelites. Thus, God altered His law (out of mercy) and made it contextual to the Israelite. I would argue there are other examples of this in Scripture too (slavery, for example) where God has laws that acomodate the hardness of the hearts of men, but which are not the moral standard He wants people to uphold.

None of this regarding the law should be a surprise for anyone who "used" to be a Christian. There are ceremonial and Judaic aspects to the law that applied to Jews only. But it is a fallacy to say that because part of the Bible is for Jews 3,000 years ago, none of it is applicable to today.

Finally, the Bible does not say that life = breath (although as a general principal it works fine, since it is empirical that living things breathe and dead things don't). The Bible also says, for instance: "For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one's life (Leviticus 17:11)." Indeed, life- blood is a much more important metaphor since it is the entire basis of blood atonement.

The breath of life, the life in the blood, etc. are not scientific arguments about when life begins, but instead they are the manner in which the Israelites expressed "living things." Thus, to say that these comments determine when life begins is to say that "cool as a cucumber" refers to temperature.

DagoodS said...

Anonymous – when a person administers artificial respiration on a non-breathing individual, and is breathing “for” them, is the other person alive?

And the fetus is not breathing on its own. It has blood running through its body that is connected to the mother and that blood is performing the transfer of oxygen/carbon dioxide. If you look at the verses, it talks about breathing through the nostrils, (Gen 2:7) not breathing through the blood.

Every situation talking about breath is post-birth.

paul, good catch on filled with the spirit from birth on John the Baptist. Does it require a soul to be filled with the Spirit? If so, apparently one cannot be filled pre-birth.

In fact, that ties into your next point, John’s leap. Luke 1:41 says that the baby “leaped in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.” (emphasis added.) Was this inclusive or exclusive of the baby’s leap? In other words, was the baby-leap considered part of Elizabeth but NOT John’s filling? That John the Fetus was not a separate entity?

Further, the leap is considered a miracle, of course. (Recognition of the mother of the Messiah, not a bad Taco from the night before.) Miracles are considered anomalies of nature, not part of nature. Does not make the fetus alive, just because it moved at hearing Mary.

The waters of the Reed Sea “moved” at the command of Moses. Does that make them alive? Or a miracle. The Walls of Jericho “moved” at the sound of a trumpet. Does that make them alive? Or a miracle.

Normally we would say, “If it talked, it was human.” A donkey and a snake talked, are they human or miracles?

Simply because a baby moved, does not mean it was breathing, or counted as alive.

So when, would you say, the Bible says life starts? From this verse would you say it was movement? Common at the time, of course, called “quickening.” Still creates a quandary for the Christian, eh?

DagoodS said...

Calvindude – what a well thought-out salient post. Thank you.

(Sidenote – I wouldn’t be blind. Never poked out an eye in my life! ;-) )

I am very aware of the concept of Mosaic Law and new covenant. (Although we would still be under Noahic Covenant, true?) But differing Christian groups do away with differing parts of the Mosaic Law. I hope you understand I am talking to a variety of Christians, not just one particular group that agrees on one particular set of laws.

I would grant you it would be much easier if you all got together and agree on the precepts of Christianity, so we could narrow our discussion. Won’t happen today. Maybe tomorrow.

I like this addition of life being in the blood. Not sure how, exactly a Christian would work this, though. In addition to Leviticus, by the way, Deut. 12:23 is a parallel to Leviticus and Gen. 9:4 refers to lifeblood. You may be on to something.

We would still need to account for all the passages about breath of life, but that does not make these go away, does it? It would seem the simplest resolution is to incorporate both—it requires breathing and blood. I think you and I would both agree without one of those, we would be dead. And, since breathing is the second event, it would still default to birth.

Now, if somehow we could erase or ignore all those other verses about breath of life, and limit it to blood…Would you say life begins when the fetus has blood?

I would personally agree with you that breath of life and lifeblood are not scientific terms. That this was the way people viewed the world 3000 years ago, and subsequent science has proven them incorrect.

One problem. I don’t hold this as inspired by a God, either. I further would say they were just as wrong about cosmology, development of the planet, development of the sun, development of plants, animals and humans. I do not worry about a God breathing into a clay Adam. Never happened.

They were wrong about Astronomy, the atmosphere, the earth, animals, science, and history. Why should it surprise me they were wrong about biology, too?

See, cavlindude, these phrases are not solely in poetry. They are in actual recorded events, as if those events happened. Now, if you are going to say that these are inaccurate, I am very curious (as always) as to what methodology you use to determine which parts were the writers of the Bible were as wrong and which parts they were correct.

Aaron M Rossetti said...

Great discourse, I must say.

What's more important, the life here on the earth or the eternal destination of a soul?

I was wondering about something a couple of weeks ago regarding the topic of abortion and salvation...

Most within Christendem today would believe that...
1. Abortion is wrong, especially when it's done for the reason of 'convenience.'
2. Salvation from eternal damnation is attained by faith in Jesus Christ.
3. All aborted babies go to heaven.

All of these put together didn't make sense to me one day. Here's the thought and I didn't hunt down all of the latest statistical data on this, so I'm forced to use words like 'most' and 'chances are', but the question still seems valid...

It seems reasonable to say that 'most' of those who get abortions do not come from genuinly Christian homes and if a child is not raised in a Christian home, the chances are greater that a person won't be a Christian than would be a Christian.

Knowing the Christian perspective of the eternal vs. the temporal (life on earth), it seems clear that someone's eternal destiny is the most important thing.

Therefore, why not support abortion to guarantee a 'safe landing' into heaven rather than bring the child into the world only to have a chance of burning in hell forever.

What's more important, the life here on the earth or the eternal destination of a soul?

Aaron M Rossetti said...

Yeah... ok, so there's an 'o' and not an 'e' before the 'm' in Christendom. Some o' y'all gotta relax a little. :-)

nsfl said...


This point has already been bantered about on Paul Manata's blog.
PM writes:
It may not the case that an abortion is a one way ticket to heaven. Only the elect will go to heaven and, as the Westminster Confession of Faith says, "Elect infants, dying in infancy" will enter heaven. We do not know if all infants are elect...
[comment section]Paul replies: All elect aborted souls do. But what does this have to do with murder being wrong. Does murder all of a sudden not become murder if the victim goes to heaven? I don't get your illogic?

These Calvinists neatly sidestep the issue by implying that God may decide to throw fetal souls into the pit of hell. How they maintain a straight face, I don't know...

Assuming that God isn't such a cruel monster as to throw a fetus' soul into hell, of course, the "illogic" disappears. It is not that it suddenly isn't murder, but that murder is the "lesser of two evils" if we prevent a soul from burning in eternity.

I would take it a step further and posit that true love would in fact willingly sacrifice its own soul for the soul of another -- that even if murder of the fetus was somehow unforgivable and could not be repented of, so long as that person sent a soul to heaven, it is almost a moral obligation to do so. Besides, there is this odd ambiguous line of demarcation between "the elect, who err, and maybe have an abortion, but repent and come back to the faith," and "the goats". In that sense, getting an abortion does not necessarily entail losing your soul, therefore, one has even less of a personal risk, and therefore, the moral impetus is all the greater to prevent another soul from eternally roasting.

This is all nullified if their God is such a monster as to throw fetal souls into hell. Sad that they can even entertain such a notion, then call their God "love". Sad.

Anonymous said...


I think ultimately your problem is one of linguistics here. Metaphorical language need not appear only in poetry. In fact, we use it constantly in our everyday language, which explains such things as idiomatic expressions.

The expression "breath of life" should not be taken as "breath = life" since that's not what it is saying. The term means "living things." Just as it is improper to take single words out of context, it is also improper to take phrases out of context.

I am reminded of something I learned when I was taking Spanish. A Spanish idiom from one of the Central American countries (I don't remember which now, unfortunately) is translated as: "He's as uncomfortable as a crocodile in a wallet factory." If we use language the way you are using it in the "breath of life" instance, we would have to say that these Spanish speakers think crocodiles are cognizant of what happens in a wallet factory, and that they likewise know that the wallets are made from their skin. Such would, of course, be absurd.

Regardless, you do get to the point that needs addressed when you ask: "I am very curious (as always) as to what methodology you use to determine which parts were the writers of the Bible were as wrong and which parts they were correct." Firstly, I would not say that we determine when they were "wrong" and when they were "right" but instead we seek to interpret them as they intended to be understood.

Unfortunately, our public school system is dismal at training people how to read anything correctly. Thus, there is a lot of disagreement between groups who claim they've got the "actual" interpretation. People can't even read general fiction correctly, so it's no surprise that philosophy gets differing opinions.

That said, there are some general rules by which you read any text. I use these same rules whether I'm reading Hamlet or Romans.

1) The original text was written so that contemporaries of the author could understand it. Thus, it used language common at the time of the authorship. Words change meaning over time. Thus, to understand a text completely one must be familiar with the context of the people alive during the time of the authorship.

2) People tend to not write contradictions. Yes, there are some exceptions to this, but people try to write everything accurately. If I see something that could be a contradiction but which could be explained another way, I read the author charitably and assume it's not a contradiction.

3) Words should be understood in the context of their sentence; sentences in the context of their paragraph; paragraphs in the context of their pages; pages in the context of the book as a whole. Understanding the whole is key to the parts.

4) People do tend to have universal experiences. Thus, when a text is relating to a universal thing (such as love--everyone has experienced it) then we can relate that to our own experiences too. Thus, it is possible to figure out meaning of some passages based on our own contexts too (but this is a secondary aspect to understanding the original context, and I would not make as dogmatic claims using this technique).

So, let's apply these to the "breath of life" thing. The people who the Scriptures were originally written for would not have understood concepts like DNA, genetics, or the "scientific" definition of life. Thus, were the Scriptures written for people who do have those concepts, they would have been incomprehensible to the original audience.

Thus, I conclude that the language is not as "scientific" precisely because it is intended for the masses and not for scientists who wouldn't exist until the 20th century.

If we try to make a contradiction between "blood-life" and "breath-life" (which you didn't do, but this is just for example), then that would violate the 2nd principal since it is not necessary to interpret these things in a contradictory manner.

The context of the usage of the phrase "breath of life" primarily deal with either the "soul" or simply the fact that things are alive. Where this term occurs is never anywhere near a passage trying to define when life begins. Likewise, the example of Adam being formed of clay and then having the breath of life breathed into him is a unique event, as no other person has ever been created in this way, and thus it is improper to use his creation as a pattern for ours.

Finally, we all even today recognize that most animals that we interact with breathe, and that they die when they cease breathing. Thus, it is logical even in our own day to interpret "breath of life" as "living beings."

Given all these, I see no reason why we have to say that the Bible claims life begins at birth when a baby begins to breathe.

DagoodS said...

Thank you for your response, CalvinDude,

The problem with using “breath of life” as solely an expression, regardless of poetry, is that immediate and obvious actions are taken which demonstrate breath = life. Adam was not alive until he received breath. Ezekiel’s bones were not alive until they received breath. The Widow’s son was alive until he lost his breath, and then became alive when he re-gained his breath.

Jesus is considered dead when he stops breathing. The witnesses of Revelation come back to life with breath. It is not just an expression denoting life, it is used as a specific determinative between life and death. While I agree that it was used as an expression, these specific examples do not go away.

But let’s get to your methodology. Thank you, first of all, for providing one. It is extremely rare I get a response to that question, so it is to your credit that you provided one. Secondly, I think it is important to do so, so that we can determine whether the method is a proper one, and whether it can be correctly applied to the situation.

For example, suppose I say, “Taiwan is the smartest country in the world.” And you ask my methodology, in which I say I determined it by number of Ph.D.’s per capita. You may point out that perhaps Taiwan issues Ph.D.’s for just about any study, or it has a small population, or China has a vast number of Ph.D.’s, but it has too large a population to prevail, or another county has fewer Ph.D.’s but more patents, more prize winners, and more scientists, etc.

We see that I may have a methodology, but in reviewing it, the methodology is flawed. I do not think yours is, by the way, just very difficult to apply to the Tanakh.

1. Written so contemporaries could understand it. I agree.

Unfortunately, we are not contemporaries of Canaanites in the First millennium, BCE. Even applying this as best we can, we are left guessing. As I am sure you know, the Hebrew language only had 30,000 words or so. I heard recently English just topped 1 Billion! Therefore, while they may have understood the various meanings, based upon the position in the sentence, or how the word was traditionally handed down, translators are constantly bickering over the correct English translation to use to convey the right meaning.

In our present situation, I think the verses in Job hurt. We have events recorded as historical that indicate breath was required to live, and Job, in writing prose, also indicates that breath was required to live. That if he had never come out of his mother’s womb, he never would have existed. It would appear that, in this case, the contemporaries also felt that breath = life.

2. People tend to not write in contradictions. Again, I agree.

You are correct, there are exceptions. One of those is recording myths already established in the community. The author may not have a choice, but to record it as stated, even though it is inaccurate. King Arthur getting a sword from the stone, yet also the Lady of the Lake comes to mind.

Now, however, we begin to have difficulty in applying this method. The books were written by individual authors. “The Bible” does not have one author. These authors could contradict each other, while being internally consistent. For example the author who recorded David’s census of 2 Sam. 24 heard the tale one way, but the author who recorded David’s census of 1 Chron. 21 heard it another. Thus they are internally consistent in their tales (sorta) but end up contradicting each other.

And we do not even know who authored what. It does appear, though, that even separate authors were involved in one book. See 1 Chron. 27 on David’s Census for example. Or the multiple authors of Isaiah.

And even with the original authors, we have subsequent redactors and modifiers. Adding “daric” to David’s coin collection. 1 Chron. 29:7. Or “Dan” to cities Abraham visited. Gen. 14:14.

Without knowing who wrote what when, it becomes a matter of higher criticism, and, frankly, speculation to determine authorship of sections.

Again, in our present situation, not much help. We have various authors all giving breath as the modicum for life. We have three situations (to be safe, I would presume three authors) that give blood as life. Even granting that, with your method, you are stuck aligning these two statements. Granting you both, by default, we are still left with life at birth, since it is the later event. If you claim life begins when the fetus has blood, and not breath, you have to explain why that, in your argument is NOT a metaphor, but actual, AND you will have to explain away all those other verses on breath.

Good methodology. Hard to apply. Doesn’t help our situation here.

3. Words in sentences, sentences in paragraphs. Again I agree.

(I told you I would.) But, again, we have the problem that different hands touched different parts of different books of the Tanakh, as well as the Bible as a whole, and therefore we are left with the situation that words may NOT be interpreted correctly by looking at them in their sentence. The adding of “of Nazareth” in Mark 1:9. Or the Johannine Comma. The ending of Mark.

Over and over we see manipulation of the text. Granted, we couldn’t even see THAT if we weren’t applying your methodology, so it is valid. But many question marks are left as to what words fit in what sentences, and so on.

I did not see any example where you indicated I took the words, sentences or paragraphs out of context, so I need not address it.

4. People tend to have universal experiences. Alas, I must finally disagree.

Different cultures provide various experiences. “Universal” becomes too broad. The oriental thought process is much different than the American thought process. Agricultural societies would view things differently than industrial societies. The airplane and the internet has modified how we experience the world.

How we view life will be different than a Hebrew living in Canaan in 800 BCE. How they viewed life is part speculation.

I do understand the point you make, that when we read someone is “angry” we don’t question, “what does that mean?” or they are in love, etc. However, the values placed on such things may be vastly different, and it may effect how the item should be read.

In applying your methodology as a whole, I heartily concur that the people who the Scriptures were written for would not understand DNA, or how a fetus was formed, or genetics, and that it would be incomprehensible to them.

Uhhh….isn’t that supposed to by my point? That the scriptures were not written for the technology of the 21st century, rather for a specific people for a specific time that has long ended and, as such, should be discarded as authoritative?

I would agree that the Bible is inaccurate as to science, history, cosmology, evolution, biology. Are you agreeing that it is inaccurate in this area—start of life—as well?

Let’s apply your 4th methodology. Would agree that it is a universal principle that people only write up to the technology of the time in which they wrote? Unless it was fiction, people did not write about steam engines prior to their invention.

Is that we are saying about the Bible? Just like any other book? To be fair, I blogged this toward Christians who held the Bible as authoritative on all subjects. If you do not hold it as authoritative in the field of science, then this would probably not apply.

Note: Adam was not unique. Look at the bones of Ezekiel.

I liked this methodology. You tended to slip into the Bible as being a cohesive whole, which it is not, due to various authorship.

Even with it, I don’t see how that veers away from the very clear language that breath = life.

paul said...

i've only had time to skim what's been writen so far, forgive me if this becomes a tautology, just grabbing some time to contribute where i can.
to the original question:... "specifically, what the Bible states as the beginning of life"

A few more thoughts, hopefully different angles.

I don't have my Tanach with me, so, this needs to be checked, but i believe that in Gen. 2:7 "...and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." breath is ruach (transtlated spirit or breath, wind) and soul is nephesh (this word being used when referring to life in the blood [by the way, think that came up?], seat of appetites, emotions, passions). This would seem to say the spirit enlivens the soul.
Another different scripture talking of death is Ecc. 12. Specifically v. 6 speaks of the "silver cord is severed". Sorry, no christian scripture to define this one, but in my studies of Buddhism, this "silver cord" is what connects the spirit to the body.
In Gen. 25:8, 35:29 KJV, Abraham and Isaac (respectively)"gave up the ghost, and died".(again ruach, spirit i believe)
In Luke 23:46 Jesus commends his "spirit" to God and having done so "gave up the ghost." Interesting more literal translation of "gave up the ghost" is "he breathed out the spirit".
As an aside, Jesus says in Jn. 10:18 that "...no man taketh his life, he lays it down...", so the process of death seems spelled out: Jesus commends his spirit then breaths it out and is dead.

These scriptures all seem to connect life with the spirit as well.

paul said...

correction on the last entry (sorry!) the Gen. 25:8, 35:29, the word is not ruach, rather it is "gava". a translation of which can be: "breathed out his life".

Anonymous said...


Over this weekend I will look comprehensively at the individual passages that you pointed out. Since I'll deal with them all, I'll probably just throw it on my blog when I'm done since it'll be fairly long.

A couple of quick points regarding what you said here.

Unfortunately, we are not contemporaries of Canaanites in the First millennium, BCE.

Yes, but that doesn't mean we know nothing about them or that we don't have enough universal experience to figure out the basics with a little common sense.

By the way, the perspecuity of Scripture doesn't mean we'll understand every single thing in there, but instead that we understand the Salvation plan. That is blaringly obvious in Scripture, even if there may be some texts that we lack the context to understand.

As I am sure you know, the Hebrew language only had 30,000 words or so.

And no vowels. But no one ever said that learning Hebrew was easy.

By the way, you mention that English may have 1 billion words now (I'm not sure if that's the case or not, but I know we've got lots). However, the average person only uses about 6,000 words in their vocabulary. We have a lot of words in the English language that no one uses anymore (hence the difficulty in reading Shakespeare).

I would agree that the Bible is inaccurate as to science, history, cosmology, evolution, biology. Are you agreeing that it is inaccurate in this area—start of life—as well?

A) I would not argue that it is "inaccurate" when you read it according to it's correct context. Instead, I would say it is "imprecise" because it is limited by the understanding of individuals. In fact, all Revelation from God suffers from the fact that God must "dumb-down" it for people to understand.

B) I don't think "breath of life" is even remotely connected to the idea of when life begins, but instead is an idiomatic expression. I'll demonstrate this more as I go through each passage for you.

As to the different cultures, I am fully aware of the distinction in modes of thinking (for example). My parents are both missionaries to Ukraine, and the way that Ukrainians think is vastly different from the way that Americans think.

However, I think you are being too sharp in your distinction. That is, while there are differences those differences are not so great as to disable a person from the West from communicating with a person from the East. In point of fact, since we can learn languages from these other cultures, we are able to understand their views too.

Here's the thing about universal experiences and how they cut through the relativism of various cultures.

A) The world is objective. It is as it is. People, by and large, have the same senses. A person in China sees with his eyes just as a person from America does, etc. Thus, the way we take in data from the world is identical.

B) People are basically identical on the genetic level. This is not to say there isn't a great variety in the DNA; however, when you consider that a chimp and a human are 96% identical (and we can see what a vast difference that 4% makes), we know that humans in order to look like all other humans must be close genetically. Thus, not only do we experience the world in the same manner, but we also are created (a term you probably don't like *s*) in the same manner.

C) Language deals with either concrete objects or else personal experiences. Concrete objects exist for everyone; thus we have objective means of viewing them. Personal experiences are subjective. However, virtually everyone experiences the same things at various points in their life (due in part to A & B above). We all have the same emotions (save, perhaps, the sociopath): love, fear, hope, sadness, etc. These things transcend culture--they are products of humanity. Since people have the same types of emotions, they also have the same types of ideas regarding their surrounding world.

This is why, for instance, you don't have to teach someone in the rainforest about the concept of "love" as if it is something only our "culture" could have come up with. (As an interesting aside, I would also point out that the belief in some sort of deity is also a universal human experience as we did not have to travel to the rainforest as missionaries to teach the people there to believe in a deity--they already did. Every culture has some concept of God.)

Now, there will always be exceptions to everything, and I do acknowledge that I must speak very broadly and generally here. However, I do think that the point is made that cultures are not so radically alien from one another as they may at first seem.

Note: Adam was not unique. Look at the bones of Ezekiel.

The bones of Ezekiel weren't real. That was a prophetic vision. Adam was real. Thus, Adam is unique.

Anonymous said...

I don'tknow thaI totally agree that the bible doesn't say we existed before we were born. Acts 17:29, Rom 8:16, for example both mention being offspring of God. The only way that is possible is that we are literally his spirit offsping, we were spirit children of our father in heaven before we were sent to this earth. There ar a few others that mention a soul of man.
I would also suggest that blood is what makes us mortal not necessarily living in the eternal sense of life. Our bodies are what live and die here not our spirits. The spirit returns to God upon the mortal death. Weather or not spirits or ressurected beings breath air I can say I don't know. So while I realize you are trying to determine if by the bible I can, as a christian, say when life begins I would say yes it began before we were born.
When we look for other life in the universe we are satisfied with microbes but when we want to jjustify abortion we want to say that it really isn't life until a baby leaves the womb. I would say that a fetus is a separate entity from the mother from conception as it then is bcoming a human being. Does the fetus already have the combined DNA from both parents at conception?

DagoodS said...

rich, I am not sure I am following your point. You seem to be saying that souls are pre-existing to humans, and therefore we are “alive” before we are even conceived.

What I am looking for would be a Biblical passage that indicates when the soul is infused into the human. As paul has helped out, the idea of “breath” is akin to spirit, and the word is interchangeable in the Hebrew. Adam was no alive until he received breath. Are you saying he had a soul before that, though?

And if a soul is pre-existent, does this also eliminate the use of contraception? As that would be preventing a soul from living by separating the egg and sperm.

I looked at your verses. Not sure how “offspring of God” translates to “living.” In fact, if you look at Romans 8:16, the next verse indicates that the offspring of God will share in God’s glory. Are you saying that everyone “living” will go the Heaven?

If you are a universalist, this would not be a problem. Otherwise, there is a radical jump of definition between vs. 16 and vs. 17 that does not appear to be warranted.

Anonymous said...

I am saying we existed as spirits before coming to this earth. I follow your logic with breath=life and someone suggested blood also equaling life. I say mortal not alive. I don't know that there is a passage that gives you the answer to that. One here about john jumping in the womb when mary entered the room to me would suggest that he was aware of his surroundings somehow. unfortunately the bible is missing alot of valuble info that would help all of us. Adam is also different then us as he was created as a full grown man not in the womb of a woman so I don't know that his example really helps this debate.
About contaception, not that I am aware of.
Offspring meaning the same as your offspring(children). Offspring of any creature is a living thing. We lived with God before we came to this earth as his spirit offspring. We are litereally his spririt children. And unless you are a son of perdition to be cast out of heaven then yes everyone living will go to heaven. Where you go in heaven depends on how you live here. Its a test of obedience, this life I mean.
I mean to say, and this is the gospel of Rich mind you, that life as a human being begins at contraception. Once that egg is fertalized it is a seperate human being. There is no scriptural back up to this and opinions vary greatly. This is my opinion. I belive abortion is ok for rape and incest victims but that is the line drawn for me. As far as this post I hink you are after a scriptural reference as to when mortal life begins. I don't know of one but I am looking. As for souls that has been entered in here our soul existed before it entered our body and somehow breath,blood, and soul are united in a mortal body. When either the blood or the breath or both leave our mortal body so does our spirit/soul.

Joshua Luke Roberts said...

I am against abortion in principle (as in ad hoc, "oh yes, let's do it whenever we feel like it"), but have to admit to being curious how, in particular, evangelical Protestant Christians with their view of the Protestant Bible as the inerrant word of God, answer the question you have put forth?

I personally don’t know of anywhere where abortion is specifically mentioned in the Bible (none of the surviving Canons I know of anyway), in fact Exodus 21: 22-23 has no like for like punishment for the killing of an unborn, instead focusing on the severity of damage to the mother. This fits in with the currently existing Jewish view that a foetus becomes a full life at the moment of birth – the spirit is believed to enter the body as the head emerges from the womb. Thus in Jewish understanding a foetus is a part-life or potential life, containing only a Nephesh or soul, not a spirit. Jews also allow access to abortion for mothers if permission is granted by a panel of Rabbis.

From the 5th Century CE and beyond the following Christian fathers views are interesting:

St Augustine of Hippo: Believed ensoulment occurred only when the baby was completly formed, thus abortion before this would not constitute murder.

St Jerome: Believed that the foetus started off with a vegetable soul, developed an animal soul before finally gaining a human soul at 40 days (in girls 90 days).

To my understanding more modern Christian conceptions of life can be traced to a series of debates which culminated in the following declaration from the Catholic Church:

Pope Pious I (1869) “Life is formed at conception.”

However, it is worth noting that The Didache (or Teachings of the Apostles), a Christian text from the early 2nd century CE condemns the practices of abortion and exposure (apparently some Christians would go around adopting babies left out to die, which was allowed under Roman law). Such a condemnation seems to have come from a respect for life and the teaching of love and non-violence towards fellow humans that many early Christians advocated so strenously.

The Didache does appear to have been considered scripture by some of the early Christians, so perhaps it can be used to justify an anti-abortion stance for an inerrantist Christian, but most would probably either not know of this text or would not consider it to be scripture.

For anyone particularly interested, the following evangelical site goes through 10 reasons as to why abortion is wrong:


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