Does the Bible Teach That Life Begins at First Breath?

Author Tim Barnett Published on 06/25/2019

Internet memes can be dangerous.

They almost always present an idea in a humorous way. Sadly, those who are unable to think critically confuse comedy with veracity.

To make matters worse, these memes are easily shared on social media, so the false idea spreads like a virus—infecting minds that lack the knowledge and training to defend against it.

For example, in the last month, I have encountered a particular pro-abortion meme on multiple occasions. Here’s what the meme says (I’ve cleaned up the spelling and grammar mistakes to make it more readable):

Forced-birth extremist: My religion says you can’t have an abortion.

Me: Your Bible says life begins at first breath; clumps of cells don’t breathe air in the womb. Genesis 2:7, He “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and it was then that the man became a living being.”

This response is supposed to leave the “forced-birth extremist” speechless. In fact, the meme ends with a picture of a shocked Pikachu—a Pokémon character—for comedic effect. However, the only thing shocking about this response is how much it misunderstands what the Bible actually teaches.

Memes like this have some rhetorical force at first blush, but most usually lack any substance upon closer inspection.

Before reading any further, I want to encourage you to take out a pen and a piece of paper and think of your own response to this challenge. When you’ve finished, compare your answers with mine.

After a few moments of reflection, I came up with five reasons why this meme fails.

First, the pro-life argument isn’t that abortion is wrong “because my religion says so.” We can make a biblical argument. However, our primary argument isn’t biblical; it’s philosophical and scientific.

The pro-life argument is that it’s wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being. Abortion intentionally kills an innocent human being. Therefore, abortion is wrong.

Notice no Bible verses were quoted. So, this meme doesn’t even come close to addressing the pro-life case. In fact, this meme ignores it completely.

Second, the Bible does not say life begins at “first breath.” Whoever created this meme needs to read their Bible again. It says Adam came to life at first breath (Gen. 2:7). Of course, this is a descriptive statement, not a prescriptive statement. The author of Genesis is not telling us when all human beings come to life. The Bible doesn’t teach that every man comes to life at first breath any more than it teaches that every woman comes from the rib of a man (Gen. 2:21–22).

If we want to know what the Bible teaches about when life begins, we are going to have to look elsewhere.

Third, the Bible elevates the status of unborn humans to valuable persons. For example, Psalm 139:13–16, Jeremiah 1:5>, Job 31:15, and Psalm 22:10–11 all imply the unborn is a valuable human being. Never is the unborn treated as a “clump of cells.” Look these verses up and see for yourself.

Furthermore, Luke 1:41–43 clearly teaches that unborn babies—even in the first trimester—are valuable persons. It says,

And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “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?”

It’s hard to grasp the weight of this paragraph. The third trimester John (who was already “filled with the Holy Spirit” according to Luke 1:15) leaped for joy in the presence of the first trimester Jesus, who was even called “Lord” in His first trimester. How can a “clump of cells” be Lord?

The Bible clearly communicates that Jesus, John the Baptist, Jeremiah, David, and others were valuable persons—living human beings—before they ever took their first breath.

Fourth, referring to pro-life advocates as “forced-birth extremists” is ridiculous rhetoric. This is where the first Columbo question would be appropriate: What do you mean by that?

True, I’m a “forced-birth extremist” if you mean that I don’t believe we should be able to interrupt the natural development of an innocent human being by killing him or her. In that case, I’m also a “forced-breathing extremist” in that I don’t believe we should interrupt the natural development of an innocent human being by suffocating him or her.

This meme tries to make it sound bad to be against killing innocent human beings.

Fifth, the Bible explicitly states, “You shall not murder” (Ex. 20:13). That is, we should not take the life of an innocent human being without proper justification. This command rules out abortion at any stage of development since abortion takes the life of an innocent human being without proper justification.

As I said before, we can make a biblical argument against abortion. The Bible teaches that it’s wrong to take the life of an innocent human being. Abortion takes the life of an innocent human being. Therefore, the Bible teaches that abortion is wrong. But, once again, our main argument does not rely on quoting Bible verses to make our case.

So, this meme fails at every level. The next time you see it pop up, don’t let it go unchallenged. Instead, boldly proclaim truth. Our world desperately needs it.