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Sanctity of Life

God values human life. After narrating God’s creation of a world teeming with life, the Bible’s first chapter climaxes with God’s first recorded words. God proclaims His intention to create a final creature “in our image” and “after our likeness” (Gen. 1:26). The crowning act of creation follows. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them” (Gen. 1:27). The chapter concludes with God’s verdict on His creation. “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31).

The theme of God valuing human life is found throughout the Bible. He values human life at its beginning. He values human life at its end. And God demonstrates that He values human life in the humanity of His Son.

God values human life at its beginning.

God’s first command to humans was to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28). But the Bible does not view procreation as occurring independently of God’s ongoing creative work. Psalm 139:13-16 asserts that God creates human life in the womb. “For You formed my inward parts; You knitted me together in my mother's womb. …Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in Your book were written…the days that were formed for me.”1 David’s use of personal pronouns implies his humanness and personhood as a fetus. Psalm 139:15 metaphorically compares a mother’s womb to the “depths of the earth” where, says David, “I was being made in secret, intricately woven.” The metaphor points to the creation account where God breathed into the dust of the earth a “living soul” (Gen. 2:7).

The prophet Jeremiah speaks of God forming, knowing, and sanctifying him in his mother’s womb. “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee” (Jer. 1:5). The prophet also indicates that death in the womb is possible, implying that his fetus was a living person. “Because he slew me not from the womb; or that my mother might have been my grave” (Jer. 20:17).

The Mosaic Law treats the human fetus as a viable person with legal rights. If a man strikes a pregnant woman causing premature delivery and the consequent death of the child, he must pay with his own life according the law of lex talionis (Ex. 21:22-25). Likewise, the account of Samson’s birth assumes the personhood of his fetus. The angel of the LORD twice instructed his mother to keep the Nazarite vow of abstinence from “wine or strong drink” and “the unclean thing” lest she defile the person in her womb to whom the vow actually applied (Jud. 13:3-5, 13-14). Numerous other texts assume the personhood of unborn children (Gen. 25:23-26; 38:27-30; Job 31:15-18; Ps. 22:9-10; Isa. 44:2).

Developments in modern biology consistently uphold the biblical model of the personhood of the unborn. A person’s entire genome (full complement of chromosomes) exists in the zygote—the single cell formed by the union of the male sperm and female ovum. The zygote is a unique combination of genetic information from both the father and the mother. Further, the zygote contains the entire genetic information necessary to navigate the entire process of intrauterine development, growth, birth, puberty, and adult maturation. When human embryos are implanted into surrogate mothers’ wombs, they receive no new genetic information from the surrogate mother. After conception the only physical requirements necessary to sustain fetal life are the same requirements necessary to sustain adult life—nutrition, water, and oxygen.

God values human life at its end.

The Bible depicts human life as inviolable not only in its origins, but also in its termination. Death is a wretched and abnormal condition resulting from man’s rebellion against his Creator. The Bible consistently views death as the worst possible suffering and the greatest curse upon the human condition. Death is inevitable, but not desirable.

The Bible teaches that God determines the limits of human life. The book of Job states, “[Man’s] days are determined, the number of his months are with Thee, Thou hast appointed his bounds that he cannot pass” (Job 14:5). Solomon affirms that for each person, God determines “a time to be born, and a time to die” (Ecc. 3:2). Hebrews 9:27 speaks of God’s appointing man’s death and subsequent judgment. The Bible denies man the prerogative to terminate life apart from God’s intent. Exodus 20:13 declares, “Thou shalt not kill.”

Since the fall, humans have usurped God’s sovereignty over the limits of human life. Humanity’s eldest son became a murderer when Cain killed his brother Abel. In a graphic metaphor Genesis 4:10 speaks of the blood-soaked earth—from which man was formed—crying out to God for justice in the premature termination of Abel’s life. In only three specific cases does God permit humans to terminate the lives of other humans; in cases of capital punishment, in war, and in self-defense (Gen. 9:6; Deu. 7:1-2; Ex. 22:2-3).

Rather than facilitating the death of the elderly, the Bible instructs the younger to value their wisdom and discretion (Lev. 19:32; Prov. 16:31). This instruction applies especially to children respecting their parents. “Hearken unto thy father that begat thee, and despise not thy mother when she is old” (Prov. 23:22). The Scripture does not recognize as legitimate several contemporary justifications for euthanasia, including the right to die with dignity, the relief of financial strains on the family, the relief of burdensomeness to society, or the relief of suffering. We may not understand why God permits indefinite suffering on the part of the dying, or why he allows the elderly to become enduring burdens to their families. But we are certain that God permits trials for the sake of perfecting the Christian’s faith (James 1:2-4). Job suffered severely, but he recognized that his suffering was appointed for him by God, and Job did not arbitrarily terminate his life (Job 23:10, 14).

God values human life in the humanity of His Son.

The Old Testament begins with the creation of man in God’s image. The New Testament begins with the birth of God in man’s image. The virgin birth of Jesus Christ, his experience of human sorrow and suffering, his vicarious atonement, and his sacrificial death on a cruel instrument of torture compellingly demonstrate that God values human life. But God’s love for humanity is not merely temporal, it is eternal. In the resurrected body of Jesus Christ, God permanently assumed the human condition.

Christ’s bodily resurrection emphatically reiterates God’s original assessment of His creation. “And God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is the first act in God’s restoration of the whole creation to its original pre-fallen condition (Isa. 65:17; Romans 8:22-23; Rev. 21:1-5). Creation fell in the first Adam; in the second Adam (Jesus) creation is restored (Romans 5:12-17). Christ’s death reversed the verdict of death that fell upon the human race subsequent to Adam’s sin. Christ’s resurrection offers resurrection life to all who believe (1 Cor. 15:3-4, 12-23).

The Bible is a book about life and death. God values all created life. God especially values human life. And God offers eternal life through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Applications

We believe that followers of Jesus Christ who are governed by the authority of the Bible are ethically obligated to preserve, promote, and defend the sanctity of human life.

We believe that when dealing with areas of uncertainty and ethical dilemmas we should take the safest possible course and promote life. Jesus teaches this principle of carefulness in the Sermon on the Mount when He instructs His followers not only to avoid killing, but to cease from any activity or passion that increases one’s proclivity toward murder (Matt. 5:21-22).

We believe that the Bible consistently depicts fetal life as both personal and human. And we believe that our thinking about issues related to contraception, the harvesting of embryonic stem cells, and aborticides should be governed accordingly.

We oppose suicide on the grounds that God owns human life. (The Bible nowhere depicts suicide as a commendable personal choice [1 Sam. 31:4; 2 Sam. 17:23; 1 Kings 16:18-20; Matt. 27:5; Acts 1:18].)

We oppose all forms of euthanasia, since God reserves the right to determine life’s end (1 Cor. 6:19-20; Job 14:5).

We recognize that scientific advances have raised significant ethical questions concerning the indefinite prolongation of life through medical support systems. These questions have to be handled individually by the family of those suffering. But in general, we believe that although Christians should sustain life wherever possible, we are not obligated to prolong the process of dying.

1 Quoting the ESV for clarity. The KJV reads, “For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb. …My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being imperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.”