Genesis 1; Exodus 1; Psalm 139; Mark 10: January 20—Value of all human life
Jan 13, 2013

Mark Rathel is a professor of theology at The Baptist College of Florida in Graceville.
Sunday, January 20, marks the fortieth anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion in the United States. In the ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a fetus is “potential life” rather than a human being. The Court ruled, therefore, the embryo did not have any constitutional rights. Over 53 million humans died since the ruling of the court.

The key issue is the national debate about abortion is a single question: What is the unborn? My friend Stott Klusendorf is a Southern Baptist pro-life defender. He developed the acronym SLED to underscore the vital importance of this one issue. The only difference between an embryo and a human being is Size, Level of development, Environment, and Degree of Dependency. None of these factors determine value. Large people do not possess more rights than other people. Adolescents are more developed than pre­schoolers but they do not possess more rights. Regarding the issue of environment, Klusendorf wrote, “How can a journey of eight inches down the birth canal suddenly change the essential nature of the unborn from non-human to human?” An individual dependent on insulin or dialysis does not cease being a human being because of dependency.

What does the Bible teach about the value of human life?

First, the Bible affirms the value of life (Gen. 1:26-27). Humans are the crown, apex, and culmination of God’s creative activity. Genesis highlights the unique status of human beings by three factors. First, the narration of the creation of human beings is more detailed than the creation of plant or animal life. Second, the Bible refers to animals as “living creatures” (1:20-21) but uniquely relates humans to God. Third, God deliberated (“let us”) only in connection with the creation of human beings. If functioning at a certain level defined human life, then neither an infant or an adult with Alzheimer’s qualifies to meet the criteria for the definition of human. Because God created humans in His image, all human life is valuable from conception to death.

Second, the Bible lifts up as faith heroes individuals that risked to protect life (Ex. 1:15-17). Pharaoh commanded the Hebrew midwives to kill the male children. The Bible names two women who served as the leaders of the midwives. The Bible never named the Egyptian Pharaoh or his magicians yet named these two lowly women as a way to commend their faithfulness. The midwives choose to obey God rather than man. The “fear of God” motivated their action. Christians may need to practice civil disobedience against government intrusion opposed to the sacredness of human life.

Third, the Bible encourages the celebration of purposeful life (Ps. 139:13-16). This passage sets forth four key thoughts about the sacredness of human life. First, God created the psalmist to be His possession to enjoy. The term translated “create” in the Holman Christian Standard Bible is not the usual term for create. Here “create” means “to acquire or create to enjoy like a possession.” Embryonic life is God’s possession. Second, God created humans emotionally. The Hebrew term translated “inward parts” refers to the emotional aspect of human life. Third, God created the psalmist purposely. The verb “knit” implies purposeful, intentional, design—in other words, purpose. The text states God’s involvement with and intimate knowledge of embryonic life. I consulted three scholarly Hebrew dictionaries; all three defined the Hebrew term translated “formless” in the HCSB as “embryonic.” Fourth, Psalm 139 sets forth the continuity of personal identity throughout the entirety of human life. The Psalmist invited the God who knew Him (v. 22), and knitted him as an embryo (vv. 13-16) to search him (vv. 23-24).


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