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John "leapt for joy" in the womb - or did he?

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Question #1:  Robert, I read some time ago in your Satanic rebellion series about "breath" ...soul....life , entering a newborn, and picked up on an intimation that you concluded that unborn "flesh" although biologically "viable",  was not really a "person" yet, until the Breath of life (God) entered, etc. And the implications for "murder" definitions and all that goes with the abortion debates of today seemed foggy to me.

Response #1:  This is obviously a sensitive topic.  You might see the link in the Bible Basics 3A "Anthropology" study:  section II.3, "The Human Spirit".  One footnote in particular is worthy of duplicating here.  It comes in the context of explaining the biblical position that life begins at birth:  

"This is not at all to imply that for this reason the fetus has no worth in God's eyes. Quite to the contrary, the unborn are highly valued in scripture (Ex.21:22; Job 10:8-12; Ps.139:13-16; Is.44:24; 49:4-5). Further we may note that in the Bible children are considered a great blessing (cf. 1Sam.2:1-11 and Lk.1:46-55), with infertility seen as a curse (Hos.9:14; cf. Gen.38; Lev.20:20-21; 1Sam.1:11), and pregnancy as a blessing and occasionally even a means of justification (cf. Num.5:11-31 and Lk.1:25).   Whereas, on the other hand, the sacrifice of children is an abomination (Lev.18:21; Deut.12:31; 18:10; Ps.106:37-38).

Murder is one of the most if not the most heinous crime a person can commit.  That does not mean that any other sin or crime a person may commit is for that reason cannot also be of a deadly serious nature, just because it is not murder.  I am loath to post exchanges like this one on the web-site because this is one of those issues which has become politicized within the Christian community.  Instead of asking what the Bible says, people tend to have made up their minds on this one and are only going to scripture for "ammunition" one way or the other.   To my mind, nothing in scripture makes abortion defensible.  But more to the point, the biblical mind-set finds it strange that anyone would consider abortion desirable.   I always try to make it a point to leave my personal feelings and politics out of it when I go to the scriptures, and that has made a huge difference.  In my view, we go to the Bible to be instructed, not to have our opinions validated - if we have any real hope of spiritual advance thereby, that is. 

I well understand that anyone who is actively committed to an anti-abortion political agenda will find the comments in the link above hard to swallow because they may seem to take away a strong argument, just as those who may be in favor of allowing abortion may embrace them for the same reason (even though they are not in any way meant to endorse either the pro or con agenda).  But in terms of personal, Christian behavior (the thing I am interested in here), nothing in anything I have written (which I believe is a correct and honest explication of what scripture teaches) would make anyone any more enthusiastic about being party to an abortion or offer any scriptural cover to suggest that it is not wrong.  And if that is true on the individual level, then the only harm that could be done is on the political level (and I don't believe in politics).  

On the other hand, there is always harm done to individual spiritual growth by misconceptions about what the Bible actually says.  This harm is not always obvious at first, but just as every positive point of truth helps to build a network of truth in the heart, so every false doctrine and misconception undermines the edifice of faith we are trying to construct.  In this case, placing an unscriptural emphasis upon conception makes the issue almost strictly one of biology rather than of spiritual creation, and focuses the effort on "man's will" in "creating" a "new life" rather than upon the Creator who actually gives the life.  I don't think I need to belabor this point to show how a splinter like this in the heart could cause disproportional damage to faith. 

So I suppose my take on this would be to ask not "how might this teaching be received by those concerned about this issue?" but rather "what does the Bible say?"   I hope that this will always be my take, for it is only by following the truth wherever it takes us that we can hope to advance as far as God wills us to go. 

In Him who is the only truth, the only way and the only life, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #2: 

Thank you. How does the leaping of " pre-breath" John the Baptist in the womb coincide with these thoughts? 

Response #2:  

You're most welcome.  The best I can do on Luke 1:41-44 for you is to note that this passage is prophetic of the herald, the friend of the Bridegroom, rejoicing before the One heralded, the Bridegroom (who is also "prenatally present").  John would be "filled with the Spirit" from the point of birth (Lk.1:15), but here it is Elizabeth his mother who is Spirit filled (Lk.1:41), and that is the event which occasions her prophetic blessing of Mary and Jesus.  Luke records the factuality of the event in verse forty-one by saying that when Elizabeth heard Mary's voice, the baby "leapt".  Whether we take this as a sign (as I am inclined to do) or whether we see it as a not unparalleled physical reaction among pregnant women, this verse suggests that it is Elizabeth's reaction that is important: 1) she hears; 2) the baby in her womb jumps; 3) she is filled with the Holy Spirit.  Later, Elizabeth reports this event by saying "For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy" (NASB).  The Greek word order, however, suggests that the correct translation for the second half of this verse should be "the baby-in-my-womb leapt in joy".  A couple of observations here.  First, this is what Elizabeth says, and not as part of her inspired blessing.  While we have no indication that there is anything technically incorrect in what she is saying, these are not the words of our Lord or of a prophecy, rather they are the expressions of a person, accurately recorded in scripture, and we always need to be careful about building doctrine on such pronouncements (this is especially true of the book of Acts, for example, where there are many well-meant pronouncements of believers which are not necessarily completely reflective of divine truth - cf. the book of Judges).   Second, even Elizabeth connects the baby and his actions very closely to herself and her experience, 1) by  repeating that it is the voice reaching her ears, not the baby's, which occasions this response, and 2) by calling him "the baby-in-my-womb" (as suggested by the Greek word order).  Thus even from this short context, when we look closely, it seems that not even Elizabeth is willing to give this unborn baby his own independent existence.  As is clear from the above, Elizabeth does not think that the unborn John actually hears Mary's voice independently of her - any "hearing" and therefore any "response" is entirely conditioned upon her hearing (and by implication her response).  All this leads me to believe that if there is any attribution of "joy" here to the unborn John it is entirely as a projection along the lines of what mothers and fathers do today when they "talk" to their children still-in-the-womb (not really under any impression that they are being heard).  It probably is the case that the "leap" is brought about by the Spirit, but that would make it part of the prophetic nature of the event as discussed at the outset of this response (and would also beg the question of why special divine intervention is necessary to produce this event if all the unborn are alive without the breath of God just as if they had been born and received it).  Finally, while in an English translation of this verse it seems, because of the rules of English word order, that the "joy" has to be John's, in Greek this attribution is not so clear:  "in MY joy" is as least just as possible as "in HIS joy" and is in fact to be preferred in this case, since 1) Luke's interpretation doesn't contain the phrase, only Elizabeth's does, and 2) the whole experience has been put by her, as we have seen, entirely from her point of view.

In short, while there is much more I would like to know about this passage, those who wish to use it to disprove the principle of life being given by God at birth, a principle that is otherwise taught very clearly in my view in many other places in the Bible, ought to be very nervous about doing so (especially in light of the qualifications developed above).

Please also see the following important link:

Life Begins at Birth

Hope this helps.

In Him,

Bob L.

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