Parallels of Abortion and Child Sacrifice
At the risk on the one hand of pointing out obvious parallels and on the other hand of suggesting parallels which some may say are forced, we compare the ancient practice of child sacrifice with the modern practice of abortion. However, before going any further it should be noted that the parallels between the two have been recognized for centuries. The Church Father, Tertullian of Carthage (160–220 AD), commenting on the Roman practice of infanticide by comparing it to the Carthaginian practice of child sacrifice, admonishes:
| ...there is no difference as to baby killing whether you do it as
a sacred rite or just because you choose to do it.
For us murder is once for all forbidden; so even the child in
the womb, while yet the mother’s blood is still being drawn
on to form the human being, it is not lawful to destroy. To
forbid birth is only quicker murder. It makes no difference
whether one take away the life once born or destroy it as it
comes to birth. He is a man, who is to be a man, the fruit is
always present in the seed.1
The most obvious parallel between the rite of child sacrifice and the practice of abortion is the sober fact that the parents actually kill their own offspring. There are however many other parallels. At Carthage, the main reason for sacrificing a child was to avert potential dangers in a crisis or to gain success through fulfilling a vow.2 Today many times when a woman faces an unwanted pregnancy, abortion seems to be the only way to resolve the crisis she finds herself in. The potential danger to reputation, education, career, etc., becomes overwhelming. To avert the seemingly terrifying consequences of carrying a pregnancy to term, the woman may turn to abortion as a means of escape. Another woman may experience much less of the anxiety and fear that accompany a crisis. She may simply see the pregnancy as an intrusion into her self-serving lifestyle and an obstacle in the way of the road to her success. Sadly, this woman’s offspring must be sacrificed so that she can continue uninterrupted with her plans for the future.3
It is no secret that in American society extramarital sexual intercourse (fornication and adultery) is the cause of most pregnancies that end in abortion.4 Pregnancy is a risk many are willing to take knowing that any undesired consequences can be eliminated by abortion. Theologian Carl Henry recognizes this fact in calling abortion “the horrendous modern immolation of millions of fetuses on the altar of sex gratification.”5 Child sacrifice in Canaan may have been a convenient way to dispose of the consequences of the illicit sexual practice of temple prostitution associated with the cult of Molech. If so, the modern practice of men irresponsibly engaging in sexual intercourse with women to whom they do not intend to commit themselves and provide for parallels the wayward Israelite man engaging in extramarital relations with a temple prostitute. In both cases, the men leave the women to bear the consequences of their aberrant sexual practices.
As noted by Stager and Wolff, child sacrifice may have been a means of population control at Carthage.6 At present, abortion is sanctioned around the world, even encouraged, by some societies as a means of population control. In China, communist party agents actually impose great social and economic pressure on couples to abort their offspring if they already have one child. In this country, the sanctions are more subtle. Presumably, Medicaid-funded abortions afford the poor equal access to medical care, but one wonders whether some wealthy policy makers hope to control population growth among the poor under the guise of good will. In this, there is an intimation of a parallel to the Carthaginian practice of the wealthy buying the poor’s offspring to sacrifice in place of their own children. Apart from state funding, occasionally both the rich and the poor will abort later pregnancies if they feel their families are large enough. As at Carthage, socioeconomic concerns often play a prominent role in the decision.
Two inscriptions at Carthage show that occasionally the parents would sacrifice a defective child hoping to later receive a healthy one as a substitute. In one inscription, a man named Tuscus says that he gave Ba’al “his mute son Bod’astart, a defective child, in exchange for a healthy one.”7 It is now standard medical practice to do an amniocentesis at an early stage of pregnancy when congenital abnormalities are suspected. If impairment is confirmed, the parents are advised to consider terminating the pregnancy. To carry to term and raise a defective child is not expected of the parents since they can exchange the frail one they now have for a healthy one in the future. In some states, obstetricians who fail to advise their patients of the need for an amniocentesis can be successfully sued for malpractice on the legal grounds that the delivered infants are “wrongful life.”8
Even the actual rite of child sacrifice has modern parallels in the medical techniques used to perform abortions. In the saline abortion, the dying infant is chemically burned as it thrashes about for minutes to hours before finally succumbing. In the suction abortion, the loud whir of the vacuum pump muffles the sound of the mother crying out in pain and sadness and the ripping and gushing sound of the infant being torn piecemeal from the womb.
Finally, the flourishing of abortion in modern America, like child sacrifice in ancient Carthage at the height of its civilization, is an unmistakable parallel. The words written by P. Mosca at the conclusion of his doctoral dissertation dealing with child sacrifice might well be written of abortion today:
| ...it is impossible to deal with this subject at any length
without coming to terms with the human dimension: how
could a culture so well developed morally, intellectually and
materially tolerate so ‘abominable’ a custom? How could a
sophisticated people sanction what seems to be such a barbaric
practice for so long a time? How at the most visceral and
critical level could human parents bring about the destruction
of their own child?9
One religious truth emerges in comparing ancient child sacrifice to modern abortion, i.e., people become like the gods/god they worship. The Carthaginians worshipped Ba’al Hammon, equivalent to Kronos and Saturn. Not surprisingly they became like him, willing to sacrifice their children to avert potential danger and gain success in their self-serving endeavors. Modern autonomous man worships himself and is willing to abort his own offspring in order to resolve crises and achieve his own goals. In serving the idolatrous self, men become more and more like the self-serving idol they worship, i.e. sinful man. They are willing to disregard any of God’s gracious laws in order to accomplish their own ends. In their self-idolatry, men have set themselves on a downward spiral of depravity and destruction from which only God’s gracious mercy can deliver them.
In contrast to those who worship themselves, those who worship the holy God become holy. God sets Himself before His people as the standard of righteousness, “Be holy because I the Lord your God am holy” (Lev. 19:2). In serving this righteous God, men and women become more and more like Him in righteousness. Of course, even the holy people of God have faith not in their own righteousness, but in the saving work of their righteous Lord, Jesus Christ.
Since there are many parallels between ancient child sacrifice and modern abortion, it is reasonable to conclude that the attitude of our unchanging God towards abortion today is similar to His attitude towards child sacrifice in the past. What then can we rationally surmise is God’s judgment regarding the practice of abortion both among Christians and those who are not His people?
Like child sacrifice in ancient Israel, the practice of abortion by Christians is spiritual prostitution to an idol, defiles God’s sanctuary and profanes His holy name. God alone is the Author of life and it is not the creature’s prerogative to question the Creator’s wisdom in bringing to life a fellow human being at conception. Whenever men disregard their Creator’s wise judgment by destroying His innocent creation, they are serving another god. They are, in fact, spiritually prostituting themselves to the idolatrous self whom they believe is wiser in its value judgments. Some values which are put forward to justify abortion are clearly idolatrous, e.g., the mother’s right to choose, which is placed at the top of the pyramid of values by those who call themselves pro-choice. Other idolatrous values are more subtle, e.g., empathy for a mother’s suffering in the midst of the crisis arising from an unwanted pregnancy or concern for the quality of life of a defective fetus. Both of these later values are good in themselves but become idolatrous when they abrogate the Creator’s wise judgment in creating human life. It is not as though God fails to realize in creating some human beings that they may become a source of conflict in an unplanned conception or that a handicapped person will indeed face difficulties.
Whenever Christians disregard the Creator’s true value judgments, they dethrone God and by their sin defile the temple in which He dwells, the temple of their own body (I Cor 6:19). Dethroned and defiled by the idolatrous sin of abortion, God threatens to abandon the wayward Christian unless there is repentance. For God will not dwell in a temple in which another god is enthroned and a sanctuary polluted by sin. And the Christian who approves of or participates in the sin of abortion not only affects himself but he profanes God’s holy name. People intuitively know that a man’s attitude and behavior reflect his values. The Christian claims that God’s authoritative Word determines his values. If a Christian then speaks or acts in a way that is contrary to that Word, he brings dishonor to God’s name. For to those who do not know God, the Christian is their chief witness to the Word of God. And the Christian who approves of or participates in the practice of abortion is testifying to the world that his God condones the practice. He is in reality bearing false witness, for by his attitude and behavior he infers that the Creator consents to His creatures destroying innocent fellow creatures. This false witness actually implies through his testimony that God is at odds with Himself. For in creating a human being God has clearly judged that person to be of value. If God approved of abortion, He would be essentially saying that his value judgments are sometimes wrong.
Many Christians who accept or take part in the practice of abortion have not made a conscious decision to sin and bring dishonor to God by condoning idolatrous values. Regardless of the motive, however, these Christians are unacceptably serving God. Indeed God hates the detestable sin of abortion. For not only is abortion a sin against God and His innocent creation but it is a sin against the family and community as well. Scripture throughout teaches that children are a blessing from the Lord and that loving nurture is the godly response of parents toward their offspring. Abortion is the rejection of the God-given role to parent His creation. For an unmarried woman unable to cope with the doubly difficult role of single parenting, the child may be God’s gift through her to a barren couple within the community. Whether God’s blessing is received and lovingly nurtured by the biologic parents or given to adoptive parents, the birth of a child is a blessing to the family and community.
Often abortion is the evil solution to the consequences of a sexual sin. Whether a pregnancy results from fornication or adultery, where the mother is a guilty participant in the sin, or a pregnancy results from rape or incest, where the mother usually is the guiltless victim of another’s sin, abortion is an ungodly solution. For the Sovereign Redeemer is able to bring about good where there was evil. A new creation resulting from a sexual sin is an extraordinary witness to this redemptive truth.
Sadly, many Christians refuse to completely submit to the Lordship of the Creator and fail to appreciate the redemptive power of their God to save man from the full consequences of sin. The defective fetus is the victim of that original sin which resulted in the fall of all creation. A mother may be the victim of her own or another’s sexual sin or the victim of corporate societal sin, e.g., unjust poverty. In all of these situations, abortion has no redeeming character; for God never deals with sin or its consequences by countering it with sin but with righteousness. The unhealthy child should be loved and cared for more because of its weakness, not less. The pregnant woman should be counseled to do what is right and given assistance in every possible way to support a godly decision to nurture in her body God’s creation during its first nine months of life. Christians must always affirm, both by word and deed, the sovereignty of the Creator and recognize His power to righteously redeem mankind from the results of sin.
Up to this point we have been trying to discover God’s attitude towards abortion among Christians, based on Scripture’s testimony of His attitude towards child sacrifice among the Israelites. We now turn to God’s judgment regarding abortion among those who are not Christians and the Christian response to the practice among them.
As previously noted, in the theocratic nation of Israel, some non-Israelite customs were tolerated and some, like child sacrifice, were not. Today God’s people in the United States do not live in a theocracy; rather, they live in a democratic state. As such, Christians must determine, based on the principles of God’s law, when they should become actively involved in the democratic process to restrict the behavior of some individuals in the interest of other individuals and society-at-large and when they should tolerate different values and customs. Abortion is clearly a practice which is intolerable and must be restrained by the state (Rom 13:3–5), instead of receiving its endorsement and protection. For abortion is the denial of the inalienable God-given right to life10 of an innocent human being and it is an attack at the very foundation of our society, i.e., the family and community. Even many of those who are not Christians acknowledge that abortion is wrong. For God’s law is written on the hearts of men and women to which their conscience bears witness (Rom 2:14). Others have suppressed God’s truth by substituting their own self-serving idolatrous values. The truth of God’s power and divinity have been revealed in creation (Rom 1:18ff). But men and women have suppressed this truth, and their rejection of this revelation of God is clearly evident in the sin of abortion. For scarcely is the power and divinity of God more clearly seen than in His creative power bringing to life each human being, everyone made in His own divine image (Gn 1:27; 5:1–3; Jas 3:9). No manmade technology has the power to create life, much less a human life stamped with the divine imprimatur. Rather, through the medical technology of abortion, mankind rebels against the creative power of the Almighty by destroying divine image bearers. No, abortion is not acceptable as practice by Christians or non-Christians and must not be tolerated by this or any other society. Those individuals who fail to heed God’s law by condoning abortion will surely face God’s judgment if they remain impenitent. Even those who do not condone abortion but fail to take action against it will face judgment as well. Leviticus 20:1–5 indicates that both the Israelite who sacrificed his child to Molech and those who closed their eyes to the sin faced the judgment of God. And if a society as a whole persistently rejects God’s laws, it will surely corporately face God’s judgment. The city of Carthage and the nation of Israel are but two of many historical testimonies to the outpouring of God’s wrath against unrelenting corporate sin.11
Something is happening in this land which God did not command nor did it enter His mind—this place is being filled with the blood of the innocent. So beware, for blood is on our hands and God will set his face against us unless we repent and are cleansed by his merciful forgiveness.
| This is what the Lord says:
Look! I am preparing a disaster for you and devising a
plan against you. So turn from your evil ways, each one of
you, and reform your ways and your actions (Jer 18:11).
Oh, that we might not respond like ancient Israel:
It is no use. We will continue with our own plans, each of
us will follow the stubbornness of his evil heart (Jer 18:12).
[This article was first published in the Journal of Biblical Ethics in Medicine, and has been reproduced here with permission in an abridged and edited format.]
1 Tertullian, Apologeticus IX. 6,8. The Loeb Classical Library.
2 Stager, L.E. and Wolff, S.R., “Child Sacrifice at Carthage—Religious Rite or Population Control?”, Biblical Archaeology Review, Jan./Feb. 1984, p. 45.
3 ABR editorial note: Perhaps the most egregious and morally repugnant example of this can be seen in so-called “twin reduction”. This sanitized term describes a practice whereby a woman (often with the approval of her male partner) chooses to eliminate one of her perfectly healthy twin babies in utero, primarily because of prospective financial hardship or interference with career ambitions.
See this highly disturbing story online, The Two Minus One Pregnancy, at http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/14/magazine/the-two-minus-one-pregnancy Last accessed November 17, 2011.
4 ABR editorial note: Estimates vary slightly amongst reporting agencies, but about 82 percent of the women having abortions are unmarried or separated. See http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/pdf/ss/ss6001.pdf Last accessed November 21, 2011.
5 Henry, C. in a review of Gareth Jones’ book, Brave New People, 1985, Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans. Book cover.
6 Stager and Wolff.
7 Kennedy, C., “Queries/Comments,” Biblical Archaeology Review, May/June 1984, p. 20, citing J. Feuvie’s article “Une Sacrifice d’Enfantchez les Numides,” Annuaire de l’Institut de Philogic et d’Histoire Orientales et Slave, 1953.
8 Schmidt, S.M., “Wrongful Life,” Journal of the American Medical Association, Oct. 28, 1983, Vol. 250, pp. 2209–10.
9 Mosca, P.G., Child Sacrifice in Canaanite and Israelite Religion, Ph.D. dissertation, Harvard University, 1975, pp. 273–74.
10 The Declaration of Independence of the United States of America, July 4, 1776.
11 ABR editorial note: It does seem quite natural to make the connection between Carthaginian child sacrifice and their civilization’s subsequent destruction by the Roman Empire. We know from the testimony of Scripture that God judged Israel through both the Assyrians and the Babylonians because of Israel’s idolatry, which included child sacrifice. We do not have such explicit testimony from Scripture concerning the Carthaginians, and so we must urge caution in interpreting God’s purposes in extra-biblical historical events not explained in Scripture. There are, however, many passages which warn nations not to engage in such evil and immoral practices. We can confidently affirm that, if a nation perpetually persists in defying the laws of God, God will eventually bring judgment in His way, and in His time. As Christians, we can urge our nation(s) to repent before such divine acts take place.