In today’s example, pro-choice proponent Pam Keith tries to correct pro-life Christians by appealing to something Jesus (supposedly) did not say. Here’s her logic: If Jesus didn’t mention the unborn, then they didn’t matter to him. And if they didn’t matter to him, they shouldn’t matter to us.
There are actually three fatal flaws in this approach. First, even if it is true that Jesus didn’t say anything about the unborn (and we don’t actually know that), nothing logically follows from it. We certainly cannot conclude—as Pam Keith implies—that the unborn didn’t matter to Jesus. That’s a textbook example of a fallacious argument from silence.
Second, Jesus clearly did say a lot about the authority of the Old Testament. And the Old Testament affirms the value and dignity of human beings before they are born. Therefore it’s reasonable to think Jesus would affirm their dignity and value, too.
Third, in the New Testament, even Jesus and John are treated as themselves—genuine, complete, valuable human beings—while they are still in utero.
In today’s example, pro-choice proponent Pam Keith tries to correct pro-life Christians by appealing to something Jesus supposedly didn’t say. Here’s the tweet: “In the Gospels, Jesus speaks often about how to treat people. He covers a lot of turf on the sick, the lepers, the afflicted, the poor, widows, daughters, sons, tax collectors, travelers, strangers, learned men, fools, the old and the young. But not one word about the unborn.”
Pam seems to think that Jesus’ apparent silence is significant. In a follow-up tweet, she says, “If they were important to him, at least one of the Gospels would reflect it.” Here’s her logic: If Jesus didn’t mention the unborn, then they didn’t matter to him. And if they didn’t matter to him, then they shouldn’t matter to us. You know what we gotta do, right?
There are actually three fatal flaws in Pam’s approach. First, let’s just assume Pam is right and Jesus never said anything about the unborn. What then can we conclude about Jesus’ view of the unborn? The answer’s simple. Nothing. Zip. Zero. Nada. Think about it. The historical record is also silent on Jesus’ view of slavery, sex trafficking, spousal abuse, child abuse, drug use, sexual assault, systemic racism, and gay bashing. Should we take his silence on these issues to mean that they didn’t matter to him?
Also, there’s a big difference between the record being silent about Jesus’ opinion on something and Jesus being silent about it. Remember, there are many things that Jesus said and did that just weren’t written down. John tells us that.
And by the way, we shouldn’t expect Jesus to weigh in on every moral issue. His primary purpose was to seek and to save the lost, not to construct a comprehensive code of ethics.
Incidentally, Jesus spent much of his time speaking to Jews who treated children, including unborn children, as a blessing, a reward, and a fulfillment of God’s promise. In other words, explicitly condemning abortion, to the Jews, was unnecessary since it was a non-issue. So even if Jesus didn’t say anything about the unborn, nothing follows. Pam’s attempt is a textbook example of an argument from silence—trying to conclude what someone did believe by what they didn’t say. Bottom line, Jesus’ silence is not approval.
This leads to the second flaw, the failure to realize that sometimes we can infer Jesus’ view on one thing by listening to his view on a related thing. Stay with me on this. We all know Jesus was convinced the Old Testament was authoritative. He referred to it as the Word of God that cannot be broken. That’s why he constantly refuted his opponents by appealing to the authority of the Scriptures. Yet, implicit in Pam’s tweet is the presumption that Jesus’ words, or lack thereof, are more authoritative than the rest of Scripture. But that wasn’t Jesus’ view.
All Scripture was God’s word to him, not just the red letters. And that includes this passage from Psalm 139:13: “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.” Notice, according to this passage, the psalmist was himself even before he was born. So in light of Jesus’ explicit affirmation of the Scriptures, we know what he believed about the unborn—the same thing the psalmist believes—namely, that we existed in the womb as ourselves before we were born.
Third, Luke, the Gospel writer, makes the exact same point the psalmist makes. In Luke 1:41–44 he records a pre-birth interaction between Jesus and John the Baptist that speaks directly to a biblical view of the unborn. When John is in the presence of Jesus, he’s filled with the Holy Spirit, and he leaps for joy. And why is this significant? Because this happens when John is a second trimester fetus and Jesus is a first trimester embryo.
So what have we learned? First, even if Jesus didn’t say anything about the unborn—and we actually don’t know—we certainly cannot conclude, as Pam implies, that the unborn didn’t matter to Jesus. That’s a textbook example of the fallacious argument from silence.
Second, Jesus did say a lot about the authority of the Old Testament, and the Old Testament affirms the value and dignity of human beings before they were born. Therefore, Jesus would affirm their value and dignity too.
Third, in the New Testament, even Jesus and John are treated as themselves—genuine, complete, valuable human beings even in utero. So even if the Gospels are silent on the unborn—and they’re not—that does not mean Jesus would condone the taking of innocent human life through abortion.