When does a life in the womb become a human being?
There are many opinions as to when a human life begins. They differ by culture, time period, and belief system. A scientific approach focuses on the cellular level, while a spiritual perspective is concerned with the presence of a soul. It seems this controversy exists because of a generally agreed upon belief that a human life is valuable.
Many people look to science for answers, but even the scientific community's opinion varies. The genetic position supports that human life starts at conception when the sperm fertilizes the egg. Twenty-three chromosomes from each parent combine to form a unique set of DNA. The implantation position proposes the human life begins when the egg implants in the uterine wall around day six after conception making it more likely to survive. The embryological position holds that human life begins twelve to fourteen days after conception because at this point identical twins cannot be produced. The idea is that an embryo before this point is not a unique individual. However, studies of twins, particularly Siamese twins, defeat this argument in that though they may share the same DNA or body parts, the twins are still two distinct people. The neurologic position states that human life begins when the brain has matured enough to engage in mental activity and is generally considered to be between twenty and twenty-six weeks. The ecological position is based on when a fetus is viable, meaning it can survive outside of the womb. The issue with this argument, though, is that advances in medicine and technology are allowing babies to survive earlier and earlier outside of the womb. The birthday position is that human life begins at birth when a baby takes its first breath.
People also look to culture for answers. For example, Hindus believe that life is in a continuous cycle of birth, life, death, and rebirth. Muslims believe life begins in the womb and although the exact timing can vary it is widely accepted that at some point the fetus receives a soul while in the womb. Modern secular culture puts the decision in the hands of an individual, allowing each person to decide when life begins according to his or her personal opinion. Most Jews and Christians believe life begins in the womb and specifically at conception.
Neither science nor culture can provide us with a clear answer, but the Bible does. Scripture supports that human life begins at conception. In fact, the Bible tells us that God not only creates and develops us in the womb, but also already knows us and the plans He has for our lives. In the Psalms, King David wrote that God knew him in the womb: "For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them" (Psalm 139:13–16).
God knew Jeremiah and declared that he would be a prophet while he was still in his mother's womb (Jeremiah 1:5). Job said that God created him while he was in the womb (Job 10:8–9). Samson was referred to as a boy "from the womb until the day of his death" (Judges 13:7). When Mary was pregnant with Jesus she visited her cousin Elizabeth who was pregnant with John the Baptist. As they greeted each other Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy" (Luke 1:42–44). John the Baptist experienced and expressed the emotion of joy from Jesus' presence while in the womb. The Greek word for baby used in this passage is the same Greek word used to describe baby Jesus after He was born (Luke 2:12, 16).
We also see the truth that life begins at conception from a bit of a different angle. Psalm 51:5 makes it clear that we are sinful from birth. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the garden of Eden, they introduced sin to humanity. Every human now has a sin nature, present from conception, and is separated from God. But God provided a way of salvation. He desires to have a relationship with us so He sent His son, Jesus, to die for us and redeem us from sin.
Why is it important that life begins at conception? God values human life. He is the one who created human life to begin with, and He is the one who provides a means of redemption and the way of true life through Jesus Christ (John 3:16–18; 10:10). Every human being, from conception, is created in God's image (Genesis 1:27). Every human life has value. If human life begins at conception, then abortion is murder and disobedience to God. If we claim to follow God, then we must value life as He does, from the moment He began creating us.
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