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Abortion and the Baby John the Baptist
By Gary F. Zeolla
This article is excerpted from my new book God’s Sex Plan: Volume Two: What the New Testament Teaches About Human Sexuality. It is taken from “Chapter Eighteen: The Gospel According to Luke.”
5[There] was in the days of Herod [the Great] the king of Judea [i.e., reigned ca. 41-4 B.C.] a certain priest by name Zacharias, from [the] division of Abijah, and his wife [was] from the daughters of Aaron, and her name [was] Elizabeth. 6Now they were both righteous before God, going in [fig., observing] all the commandments and regulations of the Lord blameless. 7And no child was [born] to them, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in their days.
Zacharias and Elizabeth are a good example of God’s ideal—one man and one woman together for a lifetime. Even without children to help hold the marriage together, they had been married for many years. Note also that they did not let their disappointment with not having children cause them to become bitter towards God. Instead, they have been living righteously before Him, following His commands. In this, they are also an example for us, not to let our disappointments in life lead us away from God; but instead, let disappointments become a cause for us to trust God and to be even more focused on living for Him.
8Now it happened, while he [was] serving as priest in the [appointed] order of his division before God, 9according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to offer incense, having entered into the temple of the Lord. 10And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense. 11And an angel [or, messenger] of [the] Lord appeared to him, having stood at [the] right [parts] [fig., on the right side] of the altar of incense. 12And having seen [him], Zacharias was disturbed, and fear fell upon him.
By this time, the tribe of Levi had grown so large that a priest would only get to serve once in his lifetime in the inner temple, if that. Therefore, it was a great privilege to do so. But now Zacharias not only has this privilege, but an angel appears to him!
13But the angel said to him, “Stop being afraid, Zacharias, for your petition was heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear a son to you, and you will call his name John. 14And [there] will be joy to you and great happiness, and many will rejoice at his generation [or, birth]. 15For he will be great before the Lord, and he shall by no means drink wine and strong drink, and he will be filled [with the] Holy Spirit even from [the] womb of his mother. 16And he will turn many of the sons [and daughters] of Israel to [the] Lord their God. 17And he will go before Him in [the] spirit and power of Elijah, to turn hearts [i.e., entire inner selves, including the intellect, volition, and emotions] of fathers to children and disobedient [people] to the way of thinking of righteous [people], to make ready a people having been prepared for [the] Lord.”
There are several points to note on this paragraph. First, Zacharias and Elizabeth had been praying to God about Elizabeth being barren. We saw in the OT that prayer should always be turned to in such cases.
Second, God is in control of human conception. We saw that idea throughout the OT, and it is now being repeated in the NT.
Third, their son is to be named John. The significance of this name is that John Maccabee was one of the heroes of the Maccabean era that preceded this time and is recorded in the apocryphal/ deuterocanonical books of 1,2 Maccabees. Those books are included in Volume Five of this writer’s *Analytical-Literal Translation, but since there are debates about their inspiration, they are not being referred to in this book. But they are worth reading, especially 1Maccabees, as they give important background to the NT, such as the import of the name of John given here. For more on these books, see *Volume One of this writer’s three volume Why These Books? set.
Fourth, John is to be filled with the Holy Spirit from the womb. Pro-abortions often refer to what is inside of a pregnant woman as a “blob of flesh” or “mass a tissue.” But such could not be filled with the Holy Spirit, only a human being, a person can be so filled. Therefore, this is yet one more indication of the personhood of a preborn baby.
Fifth, John’s preaching will turn the hearts of fathers to children, showing the importance of fathers in the raising of children, while fathers being absent from their children’s lives can have disastrous effects on the development of their children. We will discuss this vital issue more as we proceed. But here we see absentee fathers are such a concern to God that part of John’s ministry will be to ensure fathers are concerned about their children and are involved in their lives.
18And Zacharias said to the angel, “By what [fig., How] will I know this [will happen]? For I am an elderly [or, old] man, and my wife is advanced in her days?” 19And answering, the angel said to him, “I am Gabriel, the one having stood in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to proclaim the good news to you [of] these [things]. 20And listen! You will be silent and not being able to speak, until which day these [things] occur, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their [appointed] time.”
Zacharias should have believed what the angel told him, since the angel is a messenger of the LORD, and the LORD is in control of human conception. But since Zacharias did not believe, he will be mute until John is born.
21And the people were waiting for Zacharias, and they began wondering [why] he [was] delaying in the temple. 22But having come out, he was not being able to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he was making gestures to them and was remaining mute.
23And it happened, when the days of his sacred service were completed, he departed to his house. 24Now after those days, his wife Elizabeth conceived, and she kept herself in seclusion [for] five months, saying, 25“In this way the Lord has done to me, in [the] days in which He took notice of [me] to take away my disgrace among people.”
With being mute, Zacharias could not explain what had happened, but using a crude form of sign language, he got the idea across.
After his service time in the temple is completed, Zacharias returns to his home, and the LORD keeps His promise. Elizabeth gets pregnant despite being past the age of childbearing.
Note that it was a disgrace for her to have been barren, but now she is blessed with being pregnant. As we saw often in the OT, getting pregnant is a great blessing from God, as children are a great blessing.
39Now Mary having risen in those days, she went to the mountainous [countryside] with haste, to a city of Judea. 40And she entered into the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. 41And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leapt for joy in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with [the] Holy Spirit. 42And she exclaimed with a loud voice and said, “You have been blessed among women, and the fruit of your womb has been blessed! 43And why [has] this [happened] to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44For listen! When the voice of your greeting came into my ears, the baby in my womb leapt for joy with great happiness! 45And fortunate [or, blessed] [is] the one having believed, for [there] will be a fulfillment to the [things] having been spoken to her from [the] Lord.”
There are three very important points in this passage for the abortion debate. First, note the phrases, “baby … in her womb” and “baby in my womb.” The Greek word for “baby” is brephos. It is used here of a preborn baby, but it is then used in in this very same book for the newborn baby Jesus when He is laid in the feeding trowel (or manger; Luke 2:12,16). Consequently, the Bible makes no distinction between a baby still in the womb and one who has been newly born. In fact, this Greek word means:
etym. complex; ‘fetus’ (Hom.), then ‘newborn child’] – 1. ‘unborn offspring’, fetus, baby Lk 1:41, 44. – 2. ‘newborn or very young child’, infant, baby Lk 2:12, 16; 18:15; Ac 7:19; in imagery 1 Pt 2:2. – apo brephos from infancy 2 Ti 3:15 (Danker).
(1) unborn child, babe (LU 1.41); (2) newborn child, infant, baby (LU 2.12); (3) childhood (2T 3.15); (4) metaphorically, of a new or immature Christian (1P 2.2) (Friberg).
The same usages are also seen in classical Greek literature, “the babe in the womb, Lat. foetus: of an unborn foal, Il. II. the new-born babe” (Liddell).
This is why the term “preborn baby” has been used throughout this two-volume set rather than “fetus.” Some use the latter term to indicate less than personhood and to distinguish a preborn baby from a newborn baby. But the Greek language and thus the Bible knows no such distinction. A preborn baby and a newborn baby are considered one and the same.
The same goes for the Latin language. The word “fetus” is Latin and can mean “embryo, fetus/ fetus, young while still in the womb” and “brood/litter, children (of a parent), offspring/young (animals)” (Latdict). We saw back in Volume One in our discussion on Genesis 25:22 that the same situation exists with Hebrew, with the Hebrew word for “sons” being used of preborn twins.
Therefore, in the Hebrew, Greek, and Latin cultures, there was no distinction between a preborn and a newborn baby. It is only in English that we have invented such a distinction by using a Latin word for the former and an English word for the latter. But the Hebrews, Greeks, and Latins got it right. Nothing changes to a baby when he or she moves from being in to out of the womb, other than where the baby is living.
Second, note that this preborn baby “leapt for joy” when Mary came to Elizabeth. This is also mentioned twice in this passage. But this is a preborn baby! How can a “blob of flesh” or “mass of tissue” experience such strong emotions? Such cannot, but a human being, a person can. And that is what a preborn baby is, a fully human being, a true person.
Third, notice the exact wording of Elizabeth, “the baby in my womb leapt for joy with great happiness!” She does not say, “A part of me leapt for joy.” As such, Elizabeth clearly recognized that what was inside of her was a separate human, distinct being from herself, and she refers to him that way. In no way does this expression allow for Elizabeth thinking the preborn baby was somehow a part of her own body.
But how far along was Elizabeth at this time? Back in verse 36, Gabriel told Mary, “Elizabeth your relative, she also has conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month to her.” Therefore, this is the third trimester for Elizabeth and her preborn baby. Note that, “The third trimester begins at 27 to 28 weeks from conception.” (Fact Check). As such, there is no doubt a preborn baby at this time can experience strong emotions like joy. But what about earlier? And what else can a preborn baby experience, and when?
Can a Preborn Baby Experience Pain?
If a preborn baby can experience joy, can he or she also experience pain? And when?
Surgeons entering the womb to perform corrective procedures on tiny unborn babies have seen those babies flinch, jerk and recoil from sharp objects and incisions.
“The neural pathways are present for pain to be experienced quite early by unborn babies,” explains Steven Calvin, M.D., perinatologist, chair of the Program in Human Rights Medicine, University of Minnesota, where he teaches obstetrics.
Medical facts of fetal pain
Anatomical studies have documented that the body’s pain network—the spino-thalamic pathway—is established by 20 weeks gestation.
• “At 20 weeks, the fetal brain has the full complement of brain cells present in adulthood, ready and waiting to receive pain signals from the body, and their electrical activity can be recorded by standard electroencephalography (EEG).” — Dr. Paul Ranalli, neurologist, University of Toronto
• An unborn baby at 20 weeks gestation “is fully capable of experiencing pain. … Without question, [abortion] is a dreadfully painful experience for any infant subjected to such a surgical procedure.” — Robert J. White, M.D., PhD., professor of neurosurgery, Case Western University (Minnesota).
There is also some evidence that the pathways responsible for experiencing pain are developed prior to this time.
We found that the adult-like pattern of skin innervation is established before the end of the first trimester, showing important intra- and inter-individual variations in nerve branches. We also present evidence for a differential vascularization of the male and female genital tracts concomitant with sex determination. (Cell).
Note that along with pain sensitivity being developed very early, so are the sexual characteristics of the baby. Therefore, whether a child is a boy or girl is a very early and intrinsic part of the baby, not something to be decided on later.
However, there is much debate in regard to pain sensitivity at this early stage, given the political implications. The problem is, pain is subjective. There is no way to actually measure it. All that can be done is to observe how a preborn baby reacts to external stimuli and to draw conclusion from that. But such reactions may or may not indicate awareness of pain. It is also possible that a baby’s perception of pain might differ from that of adults.
Some experts argue, as Anand does, that pain in the fetus is not precisely the same as in an adult and may occur earlier than 20 weeks. Martin Platt, an honorary and clinical reader in neonatal and pediatric medicine at Newcastle University in the U.K. who has criticized arguments against early fetal pain, told us in an email that “it is now clearly recognized that infants and preterm babies process pain through different structures than adults, so ‘adult based’ arguments are not relevant.” Still, he said, “we are no closer to defining a gestational age below which pain might not be felt” (Fact Check).
It is thus not possible at this time to establish an exact time below which a preborn baby cannot experience pain. It is even less possible to determine when a preborn baby can experience joy and happiness. But all sides do agree that not too long after 20 weeks, a preborn baby most definitely can experience pain. And the fact that the baby experiences pain while the mother does not proves that the preborn baby is a distinct person from herself and in no sense a part of her own body.
Therefore, at the very least, this information should suffice when it comes to debates over abortions after 20 weeks. However, and very unfortunately, it has not. The bill “H.R.36 - Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” was before the US Congress in early 2018: It states:
This bill amends the federal criminal code to make it a crime for any person to perform or attempt to perform an abortion if the probable post-fertilization age of the fetus is 20 weeks or more.
A violator is subject to criminal penalties—a fine, up to five years in prison, or both.
The bill provides exceptions for an abortion: (1) that is necessary to save the life of the pregnant woman, or (2) when the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. A physician who performs or attempts to perform an abortion under an exception must comply with specified requirements.
A woman who undergoes a prohibited abortion may not be prosecuted for violating or conspiring to violate the provisions of this bill (Congress.gov).
This bill passed the House of Representatives. But then on January 29, 2018, despite being based on science, having provisions for hard cases, and only allotting for the person performing the abortion to be prosecuted, not the woman, and the Senate being controlled by Republicans, most all of whom ran for office on pro-life platforms, “In a 51–46 vote, the bill failed to make it out of debate and to a final floor vote” (note: 60 votes were needed).
Two Republicans — Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — continued their support for abortion by crossing the aisle to vote with the Democrats against the bill. Meanwhile, three Democrats — Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Bob Casey Jr. of Pennsylvania, and Joe Donnelly of Indiana — broke ranks and voted with Republicans in favor of the legislation. The vote split along similar party lines in 2015, the last time the Senate considered similar legislation….
This vote is yet another indication of how radical today’s Democratic party has become on abortion. The 46 senators who opposed this legislation today stand not for choice, but for late-term abortion procedures that involve lethally injecting and dismembering highly developed, near-viable fetuses. In supporting this gruesome reality, they stand against a majority of Americans. Recent polling from Marist finds that two-thirds of Americans support a 20-week abortion ban, including more than half of Democrats and more than half of self-described pro-choice Americans (National Review).
The bill was drafted with the knowledge that babies at that gestation feel pain and aborting them would be inhumane….
there is some outrage at Democrats: Do they, the “party of science,” actually disbelieve, or worse, want to ignore, that a baby who moves and kicks in her mother’s womb at 20 weeks can’t feel pain? On a moral level, that any Democrat would vote against a bill that would keep tiny humans from pain seems unconscionable. But on a political level, Democrats have always stood firm on the platform of choice — and there they will remain with the exception of the brave three who broke rank….
The fact that the GOP, which boasts a majority, couldn’t even persuade a few Democrats to vote for a bill which describes what biology has known all along, is frustrating but not surprising. They can’t vote to defund Planned Parenthood despite it being under federal investigation. If Republicans are going to curb abortion, they need to either inspire an army of bipartisan support so the bill passes or forget about proposing bills like this altogether and approach it from a different, altogether more creative, style of legislation (Washington Examiner).
As a result of this bill failing to be passed, abortions after 20 weeks are still legal in the USA. But how long after 20 weeks are they legal?
When is Abortion Still Legal?
Way back in the mid-1980s, I got into a debate with a female I worked with about abortion. Though she was pro-choice, she was appalled at the idea that an abortion could occur in the third trimester and refused to believe that such was legal. I didn’t think of it until later, but I should have told her to call Planned Parenthood and to tell them she was six months pregnant and wanted to know if she could still have an abortion. If she had, she would have found out that sure enough, she could still have gotten an abortion at that time.
Roe v. Wade permitted abortion without restriction in regard to gestational age. Even advocates of abortion rights are often surprised to learn that this court decision permitted abortion through all 9 months of pregnancy. Despite one’s position on elective abortion, the concept of termination of a fetus after viability is repulsive to a great number of individuals. Subsequently, many states began restricting abortions around the definition of viability, although some states still permit late-term abortions. While the political debate carries on, the definition of viability keeps getting pushed earlier as neonatal science advances. The New England Journal of Medicine recently reported a survival rate of about 23% for actively resuscitated neonates born at 22 weeks (MedScape).
Note again, the third trimester begins at 27 to 28 weeks from conception, so it is possible for a preborn baby to survive outside of the womb up to six weeks prior to that. And as medical technology advances, that date will be pushed further back.
My co-worker back in the ‘80s was appalled at the idea of a late term abortion as, quoting her, “That is a baby.” But at what point does what is growing in a woman’s womb become a baby? Or more to the point, at what point does that “blob of flesh” become a person? What change occurs in the growing preborn baby that causes the change?
Medical science cannot even pinpoint the exact time that a preborn baby experiences pain. It most certainly cannot answer such philosophical questions. But one thing is certain—all that is required for a human being is present at the moment at conception. From that point on, barring any unforeseen trauma, all that is needed for that fertilized zygote to grow into an adult human being is time plus nutrition, the same as it is for a newborn baby. The only difference between a preborn and newborn baby is where this growth occurs and how the nutrition is ingested.
That is why Christians are opposed to abortion at all stages of pregnancy. There simply is no dividing line between when what is inside a pregnant woman goes from being non-human to being human or from being a non-person to being a person. Human life is a continuum within and without the womb and should be protected at all stages of that continuum from conception to death.
It is for these reasons that the state of Mississippi passed a law restricting abortion after 15 weeks. That law was immediately challenged in court. But it will be interesting to see how the case progresses through the court system.
Mississippi lawmakers on Thursday [March 8, 2018] passed what is likely to be the nation’s most restrictive abortion law, making the procedure illegal after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
The House voted 75-34 in favor of the measure, and Gov. Phil Bryant has said he will sign it.
The owner of Mississippi’s only abortion clinic has said she’ll sue if the bill goes into law — a move lawmakers not only know to expect, but seem to be encouraging, in hopes of eventually getting the nation’s highest court to revisit its rulings and allow states to begin restricting abortion earlier in pregnancy.
“It seems like a pretty simple bill designed to test the viability line that the Supreme Court has drawn,” said David Forte, a law professor at Ohio's Cleveland State University (NBC).
Mississippi’s governor signed a law Monday [March 19, 2018] banning most abortions after 15 weeks’ gestations, the tightest restrictions in the nation.
Republican Gov. Phil Bryant has frequently said he wants Mississippi to be the “safest place in America for an unborn child.”
House Bill 1510’s only exceptions are if a fetus has health problems making it “incompatible with life” outside of the womb at full term, or if a pregnant woman’s life or a “major bodily function” is threatened by pregnancy. Pregnancies resulting from rape and incest aren’t exempted….
The state is bracing for immediate lawsuits. Abortion rights advocates say the law is unconstitutional because it limits abortion before fetuses can live outside the womb. The owner of Mississippi’s only abortion clinic in Jackson opposes the law and has pledged to sue (Fox News).
In whatever manner the court system decides this case now, someday, America will wise up and realize the horror that is the abortion holocaust. And when it does, those future Americans will look back at our Age of Abortion with the same distain as we now look back at the Age of Slavery in America and at those who defended and participated in that equally abhorrent practice.
57Now the time was fulfilled to Elizabeth [for] her to give birth, and she bore a son. 58And the neighbors and her relatives heard that [the] Lord was magnifying His mercy with her, and they were rejoicing with her. 59And it happened on the eighth day [that] they came to circumcise the young child, and they were going to call him by the name of his father Zacharias. 60And answering, his mother said, “Not [so], but he will be called John.”
The command to circumcise the male children on the eighth day was given to Abraham way back in about 2100 BC and reaffirmed in the Law of Moses in 1400 BC. In this text, it is about 4 BC, and Jews are still following this command, as they are still doing down to this day. It can thus be seen how seriously Jews have and continue to take this command. But it is disturbing that Bible believers do not take all of God’s commands so seriously, like the various command about sex and divorce discussed in this two-volume set.
All Scripture references from Analytical-Literal Translation of the New Testament: Third Edition. Copyright © 2012 by Gary F. Zeolla (www.Zeolla.org). Previously copyrighted © 1999, 2001, 2005, 2007 by Gary F. Zeolla.
BibleWorks™ Copyright © 1992-2015 BibleWorks, LLC. All rights reserved. BibleWorks was programmed by Michael S. Bushell, Michael D. Tan, and Glenn L. Weaver. All rights reserved.
Cell. Tridimensional Visualization and Analysis of Early Human Development.
Congress.gov. H.R.36. Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.
Danker, Frederick William. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Third Edition. Copyright © 2000 The University of Chicago Press. Also, The Concise Greek–English Lexicon of the New Testament, Frederick William Danker with Kathryn Krug, © 2009 by The University of Chicago All rights reserved. Both on BibleWorks.
Fact Check. Does a Fetus Feel Pain at 20 Weeks?
Fox News. Mississippi enacts law banning most abortions after 15 weeks.
Friberg, Timothy and Barbara. Analytical Greek New Testament. Copyright © 1994 and Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament. Copyright © 1994. Both on BibleWorks.
Latdict. Latin search results for: fetus.
Liddell. The Abridged Liddell-Scott Greek-English Lexicon. From the public domain. On BibleWorks.
MedScape. A Growing Body of Research Shows That Fetuses Can Feel Pain.
Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life. Unborn babies can feel pain.
National Review. Senate Fails to Pass 20-Week Abortion Ban.
NBC. Mississippi passes law banning abortion after 15 weeks.
Washington Examiner. Of course Republicans couldn't pass the pro-life Pain Capable bill — they're just grandstanding.
God’s Sex Plan: Volume Two: What the New Testament Teaches About Human Sexuality
Abortion and the Baby John the Baptist. Copyright © 2018 by Gary F. Zeolla of Darkness to Light ministry (www.zeolla.org/christian).
The above article originally appeared in Darkness to Light
It was posted on this website May 1, 2018.
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