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Why Is the New Testament Silent about Abortion?

Christians who oppose abortion on demand are frequently taunted by their challengers with the observation that the New Testament is silent about abortion. Why did Jesus not speak about the subject? Why is there no clear prohibition against abortion in Paul’s writings? Nowhere in the biblical text does one find a “thou shalt not abort.” Is this evidence that the Bible has nothing to say about the topic?

In his essay, “Why Is the New Testament Silent about Abortion?”1 New Testament professor Michael Gorman helpfully points out that the fact that the New Testament is silent about an issue is not evidence that early Christians did not have a settled position on the matter. In fact, quite the opposite.

That the New Testament never directly addresses abortion (or exposure or infanticide) does not mean that the first-century churches were ignorant of this practice or that they believed it to be a matter of “individual conscience.” On the contrary, the silence simply tells us that abortion was not an issue in need of resolution. The silence indicates that there was little or no deviation from Judaism.2

In addition to what the Old Testament says about the sanctity of human life and about abortion itself, the extra-canonical Jewish literature is clear on the topic. The Jewish wisdom literature, Sentences of Pseudo-Phocylides (c. 50 B.C.-50 A.D.), directs that “a woman should not destroy the unborn in her belly, nor after its birth throw it before the dogs and vultures as a prey.”3 Included among the “wicked” in the apocalyptic Sibylline Oracles were women who “produce abortions and unlawfully cast their offspring away” and sorcerers who dispense abortion-causing drugs.4 Similarly, the apocryphal book 1 Enoch (first or second-century B.C.) declares that an evil angel taught humans how to “smash the embryo in the womb.”5 Finally, the Jewish historian, Josephus, maintained that “The Law orders all offspring to be brought up, and forbids women either to cause abortion or to make away with the fetus.” Observes Gorman, “No contradictory early Jewish texts . . . have been discovered, thus suggesting that a Jewish anti-abortion consensus did exist in the first century.”6

Similarly, the non-canonical literature of the early Church reveals an amazing consensus. The teaching of the early church in the Didache (50-120 A.D.), for instance, was uncompromising: “Love your neighbor as yourself . . . You shall not murder a child by abortion nor shall you kill a newborn.”7 The Epistle of Barnabas (80-120 A.D.) commands the Christian: “You shall love your neighbor more than your own life. You shall not murder a child by abortion nor shall you kill a newborn.”8 Lastly, in the Apocalypse of Peter (100-150 A.D.), the author declares: [In a vision of hell] I saw . . . women . . . who produced children out of wedlock and who procured abortions.”9

Granted, these books were not received into the New Testament canon. But they do reveal accurately the mind-set and attitudes of the early Christian community. In fact, the historian Eusebius notes that these books were “publicly read by many in most churches.”10 Furthermore, that these prohibitions against abortion are rooted in the doctrine of neighbor love indicates that early Christians viewed the unborn as members of the community worthy of love and protection.

So, in a real sense, the New Testament’s silence on abortion shouts like a megaphone. From the birth of the Church and throughout her first several centuries, no serious Christian found abortion to be an acceptable practice.11 Perhaps it is time for Christians to return to their historical roots.


Michael J. Gorman, “Why Is the New Testament Silent about Abortion?” Christianity Today, January 11, 1993, 27-29. For a fuller treatment of the subject see his volume Abortion and the Early Church: Christian, Jewish and Pagan Attitudes in the Greco-Roman World (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1982).


Ibid., 28.










Ibid., 29.








See also Kairos Journal article, "Abortion & Early Pagan Culture."