Life Begins at ConceptionRev. Robert Fleischmann
Luke 1:31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.
We celebrate Christmas each year on December 25th. While this celebration traditionally takes place on this date, most Biblical scholars believe Jesus’s birth occurred around April. It is the event we celebrate rather than the specific date.
In time, the “Feast of the Annunciation” (the day Mary would conceive the child) came to be celebrated on the 25th of March, the nine-month point before the December celebration of the Savior’s birth. Mary was truly “with child” – her son was not a potential human being or a parasitical blob of tissue. He was the Savior, true God and true man – a life from conception.
Life begins at conception. It has been the mantra of the pro-life movement from the very beginning. The clarity of that statement, however, is challenged regularly.
Scripture speaks more graphically when addressing conception. The Hebrew word for “conceived” in Psalm 51:5 (Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me) is a word to describe animal passion during the mating season. It emphasizes the raw, passionate, physical union of a male and a female that results in a pregnancy.
In Hosea 9:11 (Ephraim’s glory will fly away like a bird— no birth, no pregnancy, no conception), the word “conception” is translated differently than the word used in Psalm 51:5. Here, the word focuses more on the result of that union, namely, the beginning of a pregnancy.
In summary, the specific word in Psalm 51 focuses on the act of procreation that results in a pregnancy, while the Hosea word focuses on the pregnancy that results from the act of procreation.
These two references help us to formulate a Biblical perspective on when life begins. The raw terminology of Psalm 51:5 ties the beginning of life to its earliest possible moment, prior to birth, prior to in utero fetal development (ref. Psalm 139:13), and prior to implantation. The beginning of life is intimately tied to the sexual union that initiates the process.
Scripturally, personhood is ascribed to life in the womb. The personal references to the author in Psalm 51:5 and Psalm 139:13 are evidence of this fact. We see it also in Job 31:15, Jeremiah 1:5, and Luke 1:41.
Biology can now help us understand some of this. The idiosyncrasy of each life from another is found in its unique and distinctive biological make-up. A single sperm penetrates the otherwise impervious outer lining of the egg and, when it connects with the nucleus, a new life begins.
That life keeps growing, multiplying through cell division at a rapid rate. As the late Dr. Jack Willke, a well-known physician and leader in the pro-life movement, often said, “After fertilization the only real change is geography.” That new life in its embryonic stage continues its rapid cell division until it encounters the uterine lining.
The uterine lining receives a signal when the sperm reaches the nucleus of the egg. That signal initiates a change in the lining to prepare it to receive the new life. If all is well with the developing life and the uterine lining, the unborn life embeds in that lining and directly draws its necessary fuel for continued growth from the mother through the uterine lining.
Today, however, the use of some birth control methods and assisted reproductive technologies (ART) like in vitro fertilization (IVF), has resulted in a new view of pregnancy. Pregnancy is now often referred to as beginning at implantation in the uterine lining rather than at fertilization.
With this redefinition, some forms of birth control (primarily hormonal types) can be called “safe” and not an abortifacient. If such birth control acted according to its “third mechanism” in preventing implantation into the uterine lining, the definition makes it sound acceptable because it ignores the beginning and life and focuses on the start of a pregnancy. The same logic is applied to IVF. If eggs are fertilized in a Petri dish and some are discarded prior to implantation, “no problem,” under this new definition, “because a pregnancy did not begin.”
The fact of the matter is this: at conception, we were in our smallest form than what we are today. Life began at fertilization. If science succeeds in current efforts to create an artificial womb and developing embryos are placed there rather than into a human womb, all that really changed is geography. Life truly does begin at conception.
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