The Biblical position for life is not a novelty amongst Christians. From its earliest foundations, the Church wholeheartedly rejected the practice of abortion. This stemmed from their belief in the testimony of the Scriptures concerning the sanctity of life. However, their commitments were not limited to correct doctrine but stretched beyond to practical action on behalf of the innocent. Tremendous sacrifice characterized their whole way of life as they rescued infants being left to die from abandonment and exposure.
Christians have a historical record of shaping the consciences of entire nations when it comes to the protection and care of the needy. Virtually all of the institutions we regard as mercy ministries directed toward the orphan and the widow came from the activity of faithful believers. Before the worldwide spread of the Gospel and its subsequent cultural effects, believers acted at great risk to preserve innocent life in the midst of pagan contexts that disregarded the image of God.
The following quotations drawn from leaders in the early church demonstrate three Biblical truths about this issue:
- Preborn children are made in the image of God, having the same value as those already born.
- Killing a human being (fetus) in the womb by any means is murder.
- All who participate in the act are responsible.
All three of these teachings are completely aligned with the truths found in the Bible that speak to the sanctity of life, God’s prohibition against homicide, and the demand of justice for the innocent (Genesis 1:26-27, Exodus 20:13, 21:22-25, Leviticus 19:15, Psalm 139:13-16).
It is worth noting that the same Christians who risked their lives to save little ones, and even adopt and raise them in the fear and admonition of the Lord, were completely resolved on the position that it was both a sin and a crime for anyone to take their lives at any point. Both justice and mercy were held in proper balance. Believers viewed the murder of the preborn as an issue worthy of church discipline as well as an issue of civil justice to be tended to by governing authorities. If we are to see the judicial end of abortion in our day, we would do well to learn from our predecessors and consider that ancient landmarks are not to be carelessly moved.
“She who has deliberately destroyed a fetus must bear the penalty for murder. Moreover those who aid her, who give abortifacients for the destruction of a child conceived in the womb are murderers themselves, along with those receiving the poisons.”
–Basil of Caesarea, Canons 118.2
“There are two ways: the way of life and the way of death, and the difference between these two ways is great. Therefore, do not murder a child by abortion or kill a newborn infant.”
–The Didache, Didache 1.1; 2.2
“You shall love your neighbor more than your own life. You shall not slay a child by abortion. You shall not kill that which has already been generated.”
–The Epistle of Barnabas, Epistle of Barnabas 19.5
“We say that women who induce abortions are murderers, and will have to give account of it to God. The fetus in the womb is a living being and therefore the object of God’s care.”
–Athenagorus, A Plea for the Christians 35.6
“Our whole life can proceed according to God’s perfect plan only if we gain dominion over our desires, practicing continence from the beginning instead of destroying through perverse and pernicious arts human offspring, who are given birth by Divine Providence. Those who use abortifacient medicine to hide their fornication cause not only the outright murder of the fetus but of the whole human race as well.”
–Clement of Alexandria, Paedagogus, 2.10.96
“Our faith declares life out of death. Therefore, murder is forbidden once and for all. We may not destroy even the fetus in the womb. To hinder a birth is merely a speedier man killing. Thus it does not matter whether you take away a life that is born, or destroy one that is coming to the birth. In both instances, destruction is murder.”
–Tertullian, Apology, 8.6; 9.4.
“They deny in their very womb their own progeny. By use of parricidal mixtures they snuff out the fruit of their wombs. In this way life is taken before it is given. Who except man himself has taught us ways of repudiating our own children?”
–Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, Hexameron, 5.16.58
“They who drink potions to ensure sterility are guilty of rebuffing God’s own blessings. Some, when they learn that the potions have failed and thus are with child through sin, practice abortion by use of still other potions. They are then guilty of three crimes: self-mutilation, adultery, and the murder of an unborn child.”
–Jerome, Letter to Eustochium, 22.13
“They provoke women to such extravagant methods as to use poisonous drugs to secure barrenness; or else, if unsuccessful in this, to murder the unborn child.”
–Augustine, On Marriage, 1.17.15
For further information on these quotes and an in-depth look at the Pro-Life activity of the early church, see George Grant’s work “Third Time Around: A History of the Pro-Life Movement From the First Century to the Present.”