Case in Point


This blog site will feature essays, columns and musings that deal with the intersection of Christianity and journalism and the American Songbook.

“Our humanity begins with the moment of conception” (article: National Right to Life News)

Christian Perspective column
National Right to Life News
April 1977

In last month’s “Christian Perspective” we looked at the incarnation of Jesus Christ to show that human life begins at conception. In this month’s CP we will look at some other Biblical passages which teach the same thing.

One might be tempted to ask why bother with tracing the humanness of an individual back to conception? Why not just prove that life begins in the womb and leave it at that. Indeed, in addition to the passages teaching life begins at conception there are over 60 passages in the Bible dealing with life in the womb! So the Scriptural evidence is there for anyone to investigate. The reason I believe we must go back to conception to see the beginnings of our humanity is that God has forced us back to that point by his revelation. For the evangelical Christian there need be no other reason.

This commitment to God’s word is best illustrated in John 6:67-68. In this passage many disciples are leaving Jesus because his teachings are too difficult. The Lord turns to the twelve disciples who are left and asks, “Do you want to leave too?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.'” That’s why the evangelical goes back to conception to see our humanity – the words of eternal life take us back to that point. There is no place else for us to turn for the truthful answers.
Turning first to the Old Testament, we see after careful study that literally every major section of the Hebrew Scriptures speak of personhood beginning at conception. The Old Testament has been historically divided into three main sections: the law (Pentateuch written by Moses), the prophets (the prophetic writings), and the writings (poetry and history). We look first to Moses in Genesis 25:21, “And Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was barren, and the Lord answered him, and Rebecca (his wife) conceive’.” Note that Rebecca was barren”. This word “barren” in the Hebrew means “sterile” or “rooted out”. This was Rebecca’s condition as Isaac prayed for a child. We then read that the Lord “answered” Isaac, and the Lord’s “answer was not birth, nor even pregnancy, but “conception.”

Moving from Moses and the law we come to I Samuel and the writings. We read of a similar incident in the birth of the prophet Samuel in the first chapter. In verse eleven we hear Hanna’s vow to God, “0 Lord of hosts, if You will indeed look on the affliction of thy maidservant and remember me, and not forget thy maidservant, but will give thy maidservant a son (literally, “seed of men”) then I will give him to the Lord. . . .”
In verses 19 and 20 we read of the Lore’s answer to Hanna’s prayers “And Elkahah had sexual relations with Hanna his wife, and the Lord remembered her. And it came about in due time, after Hanna had conceived, that she gave birth to a son. And she named him Samuel (meaning “heard by God”). . . .” Note that it is in response to Hanna’s prayer that she conceives and the product of her conception is called “heard by God” in honor of the Lord’s faithfulness to hear her prayers for a “seed of men”.

In 2 Samuel ll:5 we have another key verse. This involves David and Bathsheba and the child of their illicit liaison.

After they had had sexual intercourse (we read in verse 5), “And the woman conceived; and she sent and told David, and said, ‘I am pregnant.'” Now obviously, Bathsheba did not tell David she was pregnant the moment she conceived, so “being with child” (Hebrew for “pregnant”) at the moment of conception is not the main focus of this verse. What is, however, being taught is the clear continuum between “conception” and “pregnancy”. That is, conception always (except in the case of abortion or miscarriage) leads to pregnancy, and I might add, birth, (verse 27).

Moving now from the historical books to the books of Hebrew poetry we come to Job. In Job 3:3 we read of the great man’s lament: “Let the day perish on which I was to be born, and the night perish which said, ‘A man-child is conceived.’” It doesn’t take much to notice that the humanity (“child”) and the gender (“man”) is established at “conception”. What is in view, of course, is that Job was born during the daytime but was conceived during the nighttime. See also Job 1018-12 and 31:15.

Staying in Hebrew poetry we go to the Psalms. Psalm 51:5 is a classic verse teaching that our humanity and personhood begins at conception. The verse reads, “Behold, 1 was brought forth, in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.” There are four points to be noted in this important verse.

First, the word “brought forth” can also be translated “shaped” or “formed” or “to writhe in pain with”. The word is used in many places to indicate the formation of something out of nothing (Deut.32:16; Ps.90:2; Prov. 8:24-25; etc.). The point being that David becomes “I” when there was nothing precedent, i.e., at conception!

Second, David was “shaped” in “iniquity” and “sin”. Since “sin” is a part of our humanness from the point of our humanity (Rom.5:12-21) and not something which is added to our humanity later in our existence we are again pointed back to our earliest days, i.e., conception in this verse.

Third, we see David saying that he was “conceived” in “sin”. Now the Hebrew word of “conceived” in this case is not the usual word used so we can’t base our argument on this one word. However, the word, taken with the rest of this verse clearly teaches that at David’s “conception” he was a “sinner.” A parenthetical note at this points it is David’s nature that is “sinful”, and not the act of sexual intercourse (Hebrews 13:4).

Finally, David uses the personal pronoun twice in the verse (“I”, “me”) to refer to himself at conception. Thus, he clearly indicates his humanity (“sin”) and ascribes to himself personal existence at that early biological stage. Before I leave the Psalms I would commend Psalm 139:13-16 for profitable reading and meditation.

The last bit of Hebrew poetry we will look at is Song of Solomon 3:4, which reads, “Scarcely had I left them when I found him and would not let him go, until I had brought him to my mother’s house, and into the room of her who had conceived me.” Here we have the Shulamite maiden wooing her beloved into the very room in which she, herself, was “conceived” in the physical expression of love between her mother and her mother’s beloved. Furthermore, she (as David in Psalm 51:5) recognizes her humanity at the moment of conception because she too uses the personal pronoun, “me”.

Moving now to the prophetic books we read in Hosea 2:5, “For their mother has played the harlot. She who conceived them has acted shamefully.” As in Ps. 51:5 and Song of Solomon 3:4 we have Hosea using the personal pronoun (“them”) to refer to the Israelites at the conception of their being. Both Isaiah (44:2, 24) and Jeremiah (1:4-5) also speak of the personality of the inter-uterine child. I might point out that in both the Isaiah and Jeremiah passages the Hebrew word of “formed” is used many times to indicate the creative activity of God (.e.g., Gen.2:7-8).

Moving lastly to the New Testament we read in Luke 1:36, “And behold even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived, a son in her old age. And she who was called barren is now in her sixth month.” Here we have the angel Gabriel’s words to Mary at the time of the annunciation. Notice that the humanity and gender (“son”) of Elizabeth’s conceptus is identified by Gabriel.

To conclude then, I am convinced that Scripture gives overwhelming evidence that God considers his image to be imparted to the human being at the moment of conception. From the Pentateuch to the New Testament, from Moses to Luke the physician (Colossians 4:14) God’s word unanimously confirms what the incarnation teaches-our humanity begins at our conception.


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