I’m preparing to lead a discussion later this month on abortion as part of our summer Culture & Theology series at Grace Chapel. In my research, I ran across this article on Biblical Ethics in the ESV Study Bible. Here’s a snippet of that article discussing abortion in early Christian literature.
Against the bleak backdrop of Roman culture, the Hebrew “sanctity of human life” ethic provided the moral framework for early Christian condemnation of abortion and infanticide. For instance, the Didache 2.2 (c. a.d. 85–110) commands, “thou shalt not murder a child by abortion nor kill them when born.” Another noncanonical early Christian text, the Letter of Barnabas 19.5 (c. a.d. 130), said: “You shall not abort a child nor, again, commit infanticide.” There are numerous other examples of Christian condemnation of both infanticide and abortion. In fact, some biblical scholars have argued that the silence of the NT on abortion per se is due to the fact that it was simply assumed to be beyond the pale of early Christian practice. Nevertheless, Luke (a physician) points to fetal personhood when he observes that the unborn John the Baptist “leaped for joy” in his mother’s womb when Elizabeth came into the presence of Mary, who was pregnant with Jesus at the time (Luke 1:44).
More than merely condemning abortion and infanticide, however, early Christians provided alternatives by rescuing and adopting children who were abandoned. For instance, Callistus (d. c. a.d. 223) provided refuge to abandoned children by placing them in Christian homes, and Benignus of Dijon (3rd century) offered nourishment and protection to abandoned children, including some with disabilities caused by unsuccessful abortions.
The second paragraph is particularly intriguing to me (and my wife, I’m sure, though she doesn’t know I’m posting this!). What Christians did in the first century was actively seek to provide a better alternative than killing babies. They fostered and adopted abandoned children. As Carly and I anticipate our third child (a boy!) journeying from the waters of the womb to the air of earth, we are beginning to think and pray about how we can be a 21st century Callistus and Benignus. Christians must keep exposing the works of darkness, like abortion, because we know the true Story. But if we truly want to make an impact, we must live the true story by rescuing the most vulnerable among us.
This is not just an individual Christian endeavor—a James Pruch “thing.”. This is an all of us endeavor—a gospel thing. This is an all of us thing because, after all, this is exactly what God, in his mercy, did for all of his children. If you are a Christian, the Apostle Paul writes, you have been adopted through Jesus (Eph. 1:5). God has rescued you from the darkness and into his family of love (Eph. 2:4). Later in that same letter, Paul calls his readers to “imitate God as beloved children” (Eph. 5:1).
How might we imitate God in our cultural context, as it relates to rescuing babies, the most vulnerable among us? What will we do as local churches and as a global church to praise the glorious grace of God for our adoption (Eph. 1:6)? What will you do? Adopt? Foster? Respite care for other foster parents? Disciple women who go into pro-life pregnancy centers? Donate money to people who adopt (adoption is expensive!)? There are an abundance of possibilities!
When we rescue little ones—in any number of ways—we give ourselves up in Jesus-like love. Make no mistake, this is a call to die. But we are not calling little ones to die. It’s a call to die to ourselves. When Christians live like Callistus or Benignus, we are actually living like Christ. We are not saying, “You for me,” like abortion. We are saying, “Me for you,” like Jesus. We are saying, “I’ll give up my comfort, my convenience, my money, my time, my schedule, my reputation, my everything for you.”
Sounds like a better alternative. Doesn’t it?