In the comments on my post on the modified pro-choice position someone argued:
The Bible says, “The LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (Gen 2:7, emphasis added).So God does not recognize an unborn child as fully human until it inhales, it was argued, thus abortion is not immoral.
Even after God created the cells and DNA, Adam was not a being until God breathed into him. Therefore we know there is more to being a “human” than just cells.
I’d never heard this argument before, and honestly I didn’t take it very seriously. Then my brother-in-law mentioned someone trying the same argument with him. A quick web search later I realized that this line of reasoning is either growing in popularity or is more common than I’d thought, so I decided to devote a post to addressing it.
I have four major objections to this line of reasoning.
1. It assumes that Adam’s creation tells us something about everyone else’s.
Prior to receiving the breath of life, was Adam’s body recognizable as human but not yet functional, or was it a lump of inanimate earth that only roughly resembled a human body? We have no way of knowing from the text. But this argument assumes that Adam’s body was not only recognizably human but fully functional – it just lacked some special spark that we call “life.” That is more than can be drawn from the text as well.
We do know is that Adam’s origin was unique. Even Eve’s origin was not the same as Adam’s.
Most importantly, though, is that no human since then has been created like Adam. He was a special creation (whether the passage is describing his physical creation or his spiritual creation), and no descendant of Adam and Eve went through that process. Therefore you can’t ascribe everything in Adam’s creation to us.
The Bible is pretty clear that in creating “man” in God’s image, what was true of Adam was to be true of us all. We were not all fashioned out of the dust of the ground; in the same way we cannot say based on this passage that a human body can be fully formed and functional and yet waits upon a “breath of life” to make it fully human.
2. It assumes that the “breath of life” was oxygen.
On the internet this verse is used to argue that an unborn – and even born – human does not have full human rights until it breathes in air (clearly the fetus’ breathing of amniotic fluid is not considered valid), and at least one nut argued that if you can prevent a baby from breathing after birth, you can kill it with impunity.
The problem with this argument is that nothing in Gen 2 requires the “breath of life” to be oxygen. The text makes it just as likely that the “breath” was a metaphysical phenomenon.
Some point to passages like Ezekiel 37, Joshua 10:40, and 1 Kings 15:29 to show that breathing air is required to be “alive,” but I think the metaphors are getting mixed here.
Ez 37 contains the famous dry bones passage. It says, “…the bones came together… and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them” (37:7-8).
In this passage, as well as the ones from Joshua and 1 Kings, breathing is used as a metaphor for life. The bodies reassembled, but they weren’t alive yet; Joshua was commanded to kill everything that breathed – everything that was alive. But turning that into a rule saying that breathing is necessary to be “alive” is biblically unjustified.
Figures of speech abound in the Bible – breath is life; the heart is the seat of wisdom; the heavens sing. Figures of speech occur a lot in the Bible. Both sides can be guilty of taking figures of speech literally, but this seems almost willful.
I’m sure the pro-choice crowd is glad the Bible doesn’t use a heartbeat as a metaphor for life. It does however say that life is in the blood (Lev 17). I’ll let someone else employ that.
3. You’d better not stop breathing.
If breathing is necessary to be fully human, what happens if you stop breathing due to some natural circumstance? If you choke on a grape and stop breathing, are you a human in need of medical assistance or a lump of organic tissue that I should step over and ignore?
We all know that a person who stops breathing – be it due to choking or heart attack or drowning – remains a valuable human being who has a fundamental right to life until God Almighty says otherwise. If this is not intuitively obvious to you, stay out of the medical field, and by all means chew your food carefully.
4. It ignores other passages that imply God is concerned about unborn children.
I’ll admit that the biblical case against abortion isn’t as open and shut as the case, say, against adultery. It’s more like the case against slavery – if you consider A, B, and C then you should conclude D. I’m sure we’re all familiar with the usual passages raised against abortion; among them: Psalm 22:10, 51:5, 139, Jeremiah 1, Luke 1 (esp v41, cf 18:15).
The point is, there are usual passages, and your case must deal with them, especially if your argument is based on a rather unusual usage of 1 verse. Personally I refuse to hold any biblical position based on just one verse, and I refuse to be dogmatic about anything without quite a few passages supporting it.
5. While we’re on the topic, I guess I should stop and mention the other big “pro-abortion” bible passage – Numbers 5:11ff. This is the test for an unfaithful wife. If a man suspects (without proof) his wife has been unfaithful, he takes her to the priest who gives her “bitter water” to drink. If she has been faithful, no harm will come to her; if not, God will cause “her abdomen to swell and her thigh to waste away” so that she cannot have children.
Despite liberal assurances to the contrary, nothing in this passage suggests she’ll miscarry. It’s talking about future childbearing. What would happen if she was pregnant in all of this? The Bible is silent. What the Bible is clear about is that the water does not cause this punishment, and the choice is not any human’s. God is solely responsible.
5.1. Again, here’s Greg Koukl’s article on Ex 21:22.
The notion that the product of two human beings is not a human being until such time as it inhales is not justifiable biblically or logically (or biologically). What it does is demonstrate how desperately people want to find a loophole to make it ok to kill an innocent, unborn human being. And frankly that’s just a bit disturbing.