Editor's Note: Jonathan Dudley is the author of "Broken Words: The Abuse of Science and Faith in American Politics."
By Jonathan Dudley, Special to CNN
Over the course of the 2012 election season, evangelical politicians have put their community’s hard-line opposition to abortion on dramatic display.
Missouri Rep. Todd Akin claimed “legitimate rape” doesn’t result in pregnancy. Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock insisted that “even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”
While these statements have understandably provoked outrage, they’ve also reinforced a false assumption, shared by liberals and conservatives alike: that uncompromising opposition to abortion is a timeless feature of evangelical Christianity.
The reality is that what conservative Christians now say is the Bible’s clear teaching on the matter was not a widespread interpretation until the late 20th century.
Opinion: Let's get real about abortions
In 1968, Christianity Today published a special issue on contraception and abortion, encapsulating the consensus among evangelical thinkers at the time. In the leading article, professor Bruce Waltke, of the famously conservative Dallas Theological Seminary, explained the Bible plainly teaches that life begins at birth:
“God does not regard the fetus as a soul, no matter how far gestation has progressed. The Law plainly exacts: 'If a man kills any human life he will be put to death' (Lev. 24:17). But according to Exodus 21:22–24, the destruction of the fetus is not a capital offense… Clearly, then, in contrast to the mother, the fetus is not reckoned as a soul.”
The magazine Christian Life agreed, insisting, “The Bible definitely pinpoints a difference in the value of a fetus and an adult.” And the Southern Baptist Convention passed a 1971 resolution affirming abortion should be legal not only to protect the life of the mother, but to protect her emotional health as well.
Opinion: Why the abortion issue won’t go away
These stalwart evangelical institutions and leaders would be heretics by today’s standards. Yet their positions were mainstream at the time, widely believed by born-again Christians to flow from the unambiguous teaching of Scripture.
Televangelist Jerry Falwell spearheaded the reversal of opinion on abortion in the late 1970s, leading his Moral Majority activist group into close political alliance with Catholic organizations against the sexual revolution.
In contrast to evangelicals, Catholics had mobilized against abortion immediately after Roe v. Wade. Drawing on mid-19th century Church doctrines, organizations like the National Right to Life Committee insisted a right to life exists from the moment of conception.
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As evangelical leaders formed common cause with Catholics on topics like feminism and homosexuality, they began re-interpreting the Bible as teaching the Roman Catholic position on abortion.
Falwell’s first major treatment of the issue, in a 1980 book chapter called, significantly, “The Right to Life,” declared, “The Bible clearly states that life begins at conception… (Abortion) is murder according to the Word of God.”
With the megawatt power of his TV presence and mailing list, Falwell and his allies disseminated these interpretations to evangelicals across America.
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By 1984, it became clear these efforts had worked. That year, InterVarsity Press published the book Brave New People, which re-stated the 1970 evangelical consensus: abortion was a tough issue and warranted in many circumstances.
An avalanche of protests met the publication, forcing InterVarsity Press to withdraw a book for the first time in its history.
“The heresy of which I appear to be guilty,” the author lamented, “is that I cannot state categorically that human/personal life commences at day one of gestation.... In order to be labeled an evangelical, it is now essential to hold a particular view of the status of the embryo and fetus.”
What the author quickly realized was that the “biblical view on abortion” had dramatically shifted over the course of a mere 15 years, from clearly stating life begins at birth to just as clearly teaching it begins at conception.
During the 2008 presidential election, Purpose Driven Life author Rick Warren demonstrated the depth of this shift when he proclaimed: “The reason I believe life begins at conception is ‘cause the Bible says it.”
It is hard to underestimate the political significance of this reversal. It has required the GOP presidential nominee to switch his views from pro-choice to pro-life to be a viable candidate. It has led conservative Christians to vote for politicians like Akin and Mourdock for an entire generation.
And on November 6, it will lead millions of evangelicals to support Mitt Romney over Barack Obama out of the conviction that the Bible unequivocally forbids abortion.
But before casting their ballots, such evangelicals would benefit from pausing to look back at their own history. In doing so, they might consider the possibility that they aren’t submitting to the dictates of a timeless biblical truth, but instead, to the goals of a well-organized political initiative only a little more than 30 years old.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jonathan Dudley.
Jeremiah says in Chapter 1 verse 5: "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” So Jeremiah was told by God that he had been set apart by him before Jeremiah was born. In Isaiah 49:1, Isaiah say, "Listen to me, you islands; hear this, you distant nations: Before I was born the LORD called me; from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name." Both of these speak of when the mothers of these prophets were pregnant with them. Does that mean they weren't alive when the Lord spoke their names? Can you hear something if you aren't alive?
You could also interpret it to say that God was saying that your spirit is eternal that you are who you are, regardless of whether you are born on this earth.
Can a god that doesn't exist call your name?
My point in saying this should have been obvious, however, I guess some people are unable to grasp the obvious. Science has shown that unborn children CAN and DO hear the voices of those around them. Obviously, the most often heard voice is the mother, however, they also hear, and can distinguish other voices as well.
And on November 6, it will lead millions of evangelicals to support Mitt Romney over Barack Obama out of the conviction that the Bible unequivocally forbids abortion.
And when voters vote based on superst i tions and magical ideas that is a dangerous thing.
And millions of liberals who believe that protecting animals is paramount over protecting humans, that all men are rapists and vouch for their selective extermination, and that white people should be slaves will vote for Barack Obama.
It sounds ridiculous to cast "millions" of people as one issue voters.
there is no modern, free society without Christianity
even Voltaire gave the Jesuits their due for training him.
you are just ranting bigoted, primitive hate.
Your interpretation of Exodus 21:22 could not be any further off base or misleading than what you have typed.
This is what the bible says. It says nothing whatsoever about it not being a capital offense, in fact it is just the opposite. The husband could actually ask for the death of the person who killed his wifes unborn child.
"If men quarrel, and one strike a woman with child, and she miscarry indeed, but live herself: he shall be answerable for so much damage as the woman's husband shall require, and as arbiters shall award."
Please get your facts straight when you attempt to write an article this sensative agin.
Its all Reagan's fault for bringing the moral majority into the governing arena. This country has gone downhill ever since religious zealotry became a basis for governing.
ahh, again the facts are re-interpreted" to match beliefs
bottom line, only two churches have Apostolic succession to substantiate their theology, and both call themselves Catholic (Roman and Greek Orthodox, the heirs to Byzantine or Easter Roman Catholicism)
so evangelicals weren't agreeing with Chritian orthodoxy until they became pro-life. the Old Testament isn't theologically binding for Christians, the New Testament is.
Here, folks. I can this abortion/right to life argument right now.
If you are opposed to abortion for any reason, don't have one. Don't "accidentally" get a female pregnant. Us birth control or some other sort of protection.
End of debate.
That's like saying to some people, "if you don't believe in genocide and murder, don't commit it".
Clearly there are other moral issues at stake for a large swath of the American populace, and to them, doesn't fit squarely in the right to privacy.
Excellent argument. And if you are against killing people. Don't kill them.
I wish the Pro-life advocates would put as much effort and money into the babies and children who are already here. With better funding, mental health care for families in need and parent education, child abuse could be considerably reduced, adequate medical and dental care for children could be provided and with good access to affordable birth control we could reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies. It breaks my heart every time I read about the death of a small child who has been beaten over a long period of time. The suffering these children go through, even when they survive is tremendous. Unfortunately many abused children grow up to become child abusers themselves. Pro-lifers, put your efforts and your money where it really counts; with those children already born.
what a tired response that ignores the reality that a huge number of pro-life advocates are doing this very thing. Please cease with the 'either/or' false dichotomy and open your eyes to the 'both/and' response of the pro-life ethos and practice. Murdering the innocent is not the solution to the abuse of children who have survived the womb. Pro-life advocates are generally very involved in seeking the welfare of those living – both in and out of the womb.
whats really funny is science and specificaly biology gave us a better understanding of birth and thus changed RELIGION... do you think they knew what a zygote was in bible days??? they couldn't even SEE what a sperm or egg looked like and what it becomes on day 1 – birth ... you ignorant moronic religious people are hilarious ... and its sad how much power you give people like you to make decisions that affect all of us... one main reason democracy is on of the
WORST types of goverment ...
Science failed when changing your diaps. You leak.
Liberals are for allowing gender specific 9th month abortions but against the death penalty
Well, that would be terrible IF your description of liberal thinking actually applied to most mainstream liberals. But, like so much that goes on in the conservative echo chamber, it's just something you folks made up to demonize the rest of us.
Oh, come on!!! That's right-wingnut BS, and you know it. If your cause is truly genuine, why do you rabid "pro-lifers" have to LIE???
Isn't it funny how conservatives have to define the liberal point of view in order to win an argument. Why don't you stick to defining what you believe and let the liberals state their own point of view, which is different from what you have said.
what a bunch of hogwash.
I don't know of ANYONE in the U.S. who believes in "allowing gender specific 9th month abortions".
btw, lying will not win the election!
conflict - it would be more swaying if instead of gender specific abortions, you had used "gender specific abortions targeting males in the 9th month". That would hyperbolize the liberal position, but would hyperbolize it consistently.
That is simply crap and you know it.
It really doesn't make sense that the body has a soul at the moment of conception. I think most people are led astray by the idea that conception is an instantaneous event, whereas birth can take tens of minutes, even hours. But thnk about this: at birth the new human is completely devoid of any life experiences, can't reason, judge or be guilty of anything. It TAKES awhile for enough personality to grow for even the idea of it having a soul to make any sense.
I used to sing to and play with my kids while they were still in my wife's womb. I remember when the nurse first recommended playing "tag' with them. They'd kick, I'd push back, they would kick back – play. They would get real active whenever there was music. Kids, long before they are born, are very aware of their world. Always shocks me how people without kids are such experts.
that doesn't necessarily mean they have a "soul". that's just a reaction the fetus has because something is pushing against it, which requires it to push back. Kinda like when the doctor hits your knee with his little hammer and makes your leg jump.
I think biblical scholar is kind of an oxymoron.Sort of like being a comic book scholar!Don't you think?I mean what could be more ridiculous than the bible?
A fetus in the womb is essentially in the same box as Schrodinger's poor cat: both dead and alive at the same time. Life as we know it begins at birth with that first breath – no first breath, no life.
Slippery Slope bud - when the child is birthed but before the umbilical cord is cut, it hasn't taken a breath. My presumption is you still feel that child is alive.
BTW, I'm pro-choice, but I think as a pro-choice individual, you have to allow that our position is based on faith and arbitrariness as much as the pro-lifers.
Embarrassing lack of scholarship.
We have many witnesses to the opposition of early Christians to abortion, in stark contrast to the practices of pagan society around them.
And the Catholic Church's teaching on the matter never hinged on either speculation about just when the soul entered the picture, or on what science discovered about exactly how life begins in the womb and how the new life develops. Without doubt, the scientific information that has become available in recent centuries about exactly what happens when sperm and egg meet, and how the new life develops, has buttressed opposition to abortion, but to claim that the Church's opposition arose from that is simply wrong. I'd like to think the author is honestly mistaken, as opposed to deceptive.
Quoting actual sources is not a "lack of scholarship." But you ignoring one person's sources in favor of others that you've cherry-picked, that just might qualify.
Your defense of a defenseless postion is embarassing to you or it should be.
There's something a little strange about this Romney guy!
I know. I can't put my finger on it, but I know what you mean.
According to most biblical scholars Exodus 21:22–24 speaks to a fine of the premature birth and survival of the child, not death. A premature death would be dealt with in the "mischief" part of the verse at which point the offender would face a capital punishment. The author should also mention other biblical scholars' response to the referenced 1968 article. Here's one: http://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/ted_hildebrandt/OTeSources/02-Exodus/Text/Articles/House-Exod21-WTJ.pdf
Gordon is more conservative than Dallas? That's pretty funny.
@JT...." If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman's husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine."
If two men fight and cause a woman to miscarry, but do not hurt her, then the one who hurt her shall pay her husband an amount determined by the judges. Only if the woman dies is the punishment to be death. Apparently, then, with respect to abortion, God is pro-choice since he considers a woman's life to be more important than that of the fetus.
Ted – I said biblical scholars, but if you would like to debate translations pick one (there are many more):
New International Version (©1984)
"If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman's husband demands and the court allows.
New Living Translation (©2007)
"Now suppose two men are fighting, and in the process they accidentally strike a pregnant woman so she gives birth prematurely. If no further injury results, the man who struck the woman must pay the amount of compensation the woman's husband demands and the judges approve.
English Standard Version (©2001)
“When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine.
New American Standard Bible (©1995)
"If men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she gives birth prematurely, yet there is no injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman's husband may demand of him, and he shall pay as the judges decide.
King James Bible (Cambridge Ed.)
If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman's husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.
GOD'S WORD® Translation (©1995)
"This is what you must do whenever men fight and injure a pregnant woman so that she gives birth prematurely. If there are no other injuries, the offender must pay whatever fine the court allows the woman's husband to demand.
King James 2000 Bible (©2003)
If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no mischief follows: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman's husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.
American King James Version
If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman's husband will lay on him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.
American Standard Version
And if men strive together, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart, and yet no harm follow; he shall be surely fined, according as the woman's husband shall lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.
If men quarrel, and one strike a woman with child, and she miscarry indeed, but live herself: he shall be answerable for so much damage as the woman's husband shall require, and as arbiters shall award.
Darby Bible Translation
And if men strive together, and strike a woman with child, so that she be delivered, and no mischief happen, he shall in any case be fined, according as the woman's husband shall impose on him, and shall give it as the judges estimate.
English Revised Version
And if men strive together, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely fined, according as the woman's husband shall lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.
Webster's Bible Translation
If men shall contend, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit shall depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman's husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.
World English Bible
"If men fight and hurt a pregnant woman so that she gives birth prematurely, and yet no harm follows, he shall be surely fined as much as the woman's husband demands and the judges allow.
Young's Literal Translation
'And when men strive, and have smitten a pregnant woman, and her children have come out, and there is no mischief, he is certainly fined, as the husband of the woman doth lay upon him, and he hath given through the judges;
Barnes' Notes on the Bible
The rule would seem to refer to a case in which the wife of a man interfered in a quarrel. This law, "the jus talionis," is elsewhere repeated in substance, compare the marginal references. and Genesis 9:6. It has its root in a simple conception of justice, and is found in the laws of many ancient nations. It serves in this place as a maxim for the magistrate in awarding the amount of compensation to be paid for the infliction of personal injury. The sum was to be as nearly as possible the worth in money of the power lost by the injured person. Our Lord quotes Exodus 21:24 as representing the form of the law, in order to illustrate the distinction between the letter and the spirit Matthew 5:38. The tendency of the teaching of the Scribes and Pharisees was to confound the obligations of the conscience with the external requirements of the law. The law, in its place, was still to be "holy and just and good," Romans 7:12, but its direct purpose was to protect the community, not to guide the heart of the believer, who was not to exact eye for eye, tooth for tooth, but to love his enemies, and to forgive all injuries.
Clarke's Commentary on the Bible
And hurt a woman with child – As a posterity among the Jews was among the peculiar promises of their covenant, and as every man had some reason to think that the Messiah should spring from his family, therefore any injury done to a woman with child, by which the fruit of her womb might be destroyed, was considered a very heavy offense; and as the crime was committed principally against the husband, the degree of punishment was left to his discretion. But if mischief followed, that is, if the child had been fully formed, and was killed by this means, or the woman lost her life in consequence, then the punishment was as in other cases of murder – the person was put to death; Exodus 21:23.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
If men strive,.... Quarrel and fight with one another, which is to be understood of Hebrews, as Aben Ezra observes:
and hurt a woman with child; who being the wife of one of them, and also an Israelitish woman, interposes to part them, or help her husband; but the other, instead of striking his antagonist as he intended, gives her a blow:
so that her fruit depart from her; or, "her children go forth" (z), out of her womb, as she may have more than one; through the fright of the quarrel, and fear of her husband being hurt, and the blow she received by interposing, might miscarry, or, falling into labour, come before her time, and bring forth her offspring sooner than expected:
and yet no mischief follow: to her, as the Targum of Jonathan, and so Jarchi and Aben Ezra restrain it to the woman; and which mischief they interpret of death, as does also the Targum of Onkelos; but it may refer both to the woman and her offspring, and not only to the death of them, but to any hurt or damage to either of them: now though there was none of any sort:
he shall surely be punished; that is, be fined or mulcted for striking the woman, and hastening the childbirth:
according as the woman's husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine; the husband might propose what fine should be paid, and might ask it in court; and if the smiter agreed to it, well and good, but if he judged it an exorbitant demand, he might appeal to the judges; for the husband might not lay what fine he pleased: this, if disputed, was to be decided by the judges, and as they determined it, it was paid; of which Maimonides (a) gives this account:"he that strikes a woman, and her fruit depart, though he did not intend it, is obliged to pay the price of the birth to the husband, and for hurt and pain to the woman; how do they estimate the price of the birth? they consider the woman how well she was before she brought forth, and how well she is after she has brought forth, and they give it to the husband; if the husband be dead, they give it to the heirs; if she is stricken after the death of her husband, they give the price of the birth to the woman."
(z) "et egressi fuerint nati ejus", Pagninus, Montanus, Vatablus, Drusius. (a) Hilchot Chobel Umazzik, c. 4. sect. 1. 2.
Keil and Delitzsch Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament
If men strove and thrust against a woman with child, who had come near or between them for the purpose of making peace, so that her children come out (come into the world), and no injury was done either to the woman or the child that was born,
(Note: The words ילדיה ויצאוּ are rendered by the lxx καὶ ἐξέλθη τὸ παιδίον αὐτῆς μὴ ἐξεικονισμένον and the corresponding clause יהיה אסון ואם by ἐὰν δὲ ἐξεικονισμένον ᾖ; consequently the translators have understood the words as meaning that the fruit, the premature birth of which was caused by the blow, if not yet developed into a human form, was not to be regarded as in any sense a human being, so that the giver of the blow was only required to pay a pecuniary compensation, – as Philo expresses it, "on account of the injury done to the woman, and because he prevented nature, which forms and shapes a man into the most beautiful being, from bringing him forth alive." But the arbitrary character of this explanation is apparent at once; for ילד only denotes a child, as a fully developed human being, and not the fruit of the womb before it has assumed a human form. In a manner no less arbitrary אסון has been rendered by Onkelos and the Rabbins מותא, death, and the clause is made to refer to the death of the mother alone, in opposition to the penal sentence in Exodus 21:23, Exodus 21:24, which not only demands life for life, but eye for eye, etc., and therefore presupposes not death alone, but injury done to particular members. The omission of להּ, also, apparently renders it impracticable to refer the words to injury done to the woman alone.)
a pecuniary compensation was to be paid, such as the husband of the woman laid upon him, and he was to give it בּפללים by (by an appeal to) arbitrators. A fine is imposed, because even if no injury had been done to the woman and the fruit of her womb, such a blow might have endangered life. (For יצא roF( to go out of the womb, see Genesis 25:25-26.) The plural ילדיה is employed for the purpose of speaking indefinitely, because there might possibly be more than one child in the womb. "But if injury occur (to the mother or the child), thou shalt give soul for soul, eye for eye,...wound for wound:" thus perfect retribution was to be made.
I guess that means all of our Zodiac signs are off by nine months. Unless of course the ancients were a lot smarter than us....
Something I find fascinating... 51% of Americans are pro-life... but only 0.5% are vegan.. meaning 50.5% of Americans are against causing a blob of cell with no sensory system 'pain', but are just fine with causing full grown creatures that can demonstratively feel suffering and pain, well, pain.
Good example of religion trumping science and, well... reality... the 'soul' means the blob of cells feels, but the science of looking inside brains (or just into their eyes) of animals does not count because they are 'soulless'. How convenient...
Religion is whatever they want it to be this week.
How do you get "gives birth prematurely but no suffers no other injury" from Exodus 21:22 as " the destruction of the fetus is not a capital offense"? This is what you get when secular writers try to "quote" the bible.
Secular writers whose position is not already brainwashed to one evangelical point of view rather than possibly the truth
Secular writers? The author was raised as an evangelical and attended Yale Divinity school. But I'm sure you have the correct interpretation...
Can we all agree that abortion is a sad situation for anyone involved. It's not an easy choice to make for anyone. It's a sad situation. Many women do well after having one, many do not. It's not an easy choice to make. It's sad and hard choice that will be with one for the rest of her life.
Spot on, Jennifer.
THE GOVERNMENT HAS NO RIGHT TO TELL YOU WANT YOU CAN OR CANNOT DO TO YOUR OWN BODY. PERIOD!
"unambiguous teaching of Scripture."
you gotta be kidding..........
the bible is the most conflicted book I have ever read
lance, perhaps you should try reading it again. But then, perhaps you have not really read it thoroughly and thoughtfully in the first place? I am always a bit amused by those who make such dogmatic claims about having 'read the Bible' when in fact what they often simply means is that one time they a few chapters here and there.
@Doug And I'm sure you, unlike lance, have read it thoroughly and thoughtfully and your interpretation is the correct one. I am always a bit amused by those who make such dogmatic claims about those making claims about having "read the Bible."
I'd have to go with Doug on this one - of all the claims made on the internet about having "read the bible", I'd assert that an virtually infinitesimally small percentage actually have read it. Doug doesn't have to have read the bible himself to point that out, while the guy making the claim that the "bible is the most conflicted book [he's] ever read" does have to have read the bible.
Your play on words is illogical, given the context.
@Doug...Perhaps it is you who need to read the book again. Because it is definitely full of contradictions....Why are there two version of the creation of the earth? Why do women in the bible only give birth to boy (with one or two exceptions)? Why was night and day created BEFORE the sun was created? Why does the bible waffle on punishment for adultery? Who exactly is to blame for original sin??? Have a nice day.
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