Abortion – Early Church Said Nothing?

Q. I heard a Congress person say something about the early church and the Bible saying nothing against the practice of abortion. Is this true? Does the Bible really say nothing concerning abortion?


Speaking with Lying Authority

I didn’t hear those remarks from a Congress person. But, I’ve heard talk-show hosts and newscasters make similar statements concerning what Scripture says or does not say that are completely false!

It is outrageous and sad. The worst thing is that they make such statements as if they know what they are talking about – as if they were experts.

I think we can safely assume that someone from our Congress and the newscasters speak in ignorance. However, the Bible and early Church Fathers spoke about this subject and we will provide examples for you.

Misrepresenting God

I shudder to think what these “false teachers” will say when they account for their every word before the Lord of the universe! (Matthew 12:36).

In fact, it is probable that the commandment: “Thou shall not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain” (Exodus 20:7) means that we should not misrepresent God.

In fact, Exodus 20:7 may not mean “swearing” at all. Rather, it likely means that we will all be held accountable for how we represented God and explained His Word – His thoughts – to others. Ouch!

Let’s take a look at what the Bible and some of the early church writers say about abortion.

Ten Commandments

Exodus 21:22-23 says,

“If men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she has a miscarriage, yet there is no further injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman’s husband may demand of him, and he shall pay as the judges decide. But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise” (NASB).


Charles Ryrie explains that “miscarriage” in this passage means the baby comes out alive and lives. That is why if “further harm” comes and the baby dies, then the law of retaliation applies (Ryrie 1996, 124).

Some professors twist this passage to mean that miscarriage equates to abortion and that “further harm” means a life-threatening situation for the mother. Yet, this doesn’t make sense when the passage is interpreted that way. We suggest you read it carefully for yourself.

A Dictionary of Early Church Fathers Reveals Truth

The following examples are taken from a compilation of viewpoints of the early Church Fathers. You may find them in A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs (Hendrickson: 1998).

Barnabas (c. 70-130)

The early Christian author, Barnabas, says,

“You shall not kill the child by obtaining an abortion. Nor, again, shall you destroy him after he is born.”

Didache (c. 80-140)

One of the earliest summaries of Christian living, The Didache, points out that “You shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill one who has been born.”

Athenagoras (c. 175) – Taking Drug to Abort

Athenagoras even makes a statement about taking drugs to abort a baby. He says, “We say that those women who use drugs to bring on abortion commit murder. And we also say they will have to give an account to God for the abortion. So on what basis could we commit murder? For it does not belong to the same person to regard the very fetus in the womb as a created being (and therefore an object of God’s care) – yet, when he has passed into life, to kill him. We also teach that it is wrong to expose an infant. For those who expose them are guilty of child murder.”

Exposing Infants, Abandonment, Infanticide

There are many more examples in this early church dictionary about abortion or “exposing infants” – those who abandon their babies along roadsides leaving them to die of exposure or harm – and examples of those who kill their babies by taking drugs in order to abort, or those who cause miscarriage to prevent a child’s birth.

However, let’s limit the size of this treatise in order to clarify that the early church and the Bible do make clear remarks about the practice of abortion.

Ancient Sacrifices

Leviticus 18:21 warns the Israelites, “Do not permit any of your children to be offered as a sacrifice to Molech, for you must not bring shame on the name of your God” (NLT).

Modern Sacrifices

As a nation we are inclined to shudder at the thought of the ancient practices of placing newborns in the arms of an idol to be burned in sacrifices. Yet, we allow our society to stab the brains of infants and suck out the contents – then vacuum the rest out of the mother’s womb. We do this for the sake of “convenience.”

For “convenience” it is estimated that at least 900,000 abortions are performed each year in the United States alone. In fact, since abortion was legalized in 1973 more than 40,000,000 abortions have occurred just in America! (Freeman 2005, 117).

This is an astounding, horrifying statistic.

Sanctity of Life

We do this to those about whom the Lord says through the psalmist David:

“You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous – how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion…You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed” (Psalm 139:13-16, NLT).

Championing those who are Helpless

Yes, the Bible, the early church and the Church Fathers consistently reveal a God who is personally active in creating and sustaining life. The Bible clearly promotes the sanctity of life and reveals our guilt when we disobey Him. Our God cherishes every unborn child and champions those who are helpless to defend themselves. We are called to do no less.

If you have already had an abortion then your unconfessed sin and guilt does you no good. You must follow-up by using the Christian’s “bar of soap” for any known sin in your life:

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, NKJV).

Then “go and sin no more.” Get to work helping those who are thinking about abortion. Let them know the truth about infants and the unborn according to God’s perspective.

Leave your past behind and make the most of your days left upon this earth because the time is short (Eph 5:15; James 4:14). Don’t waste time worrying about past failures because God remembers our sins no more. Why should you?


Beers, Ronald and V. 2007. Life’s questions. Carol Stream, ILL: Tyndale.

Bercot, David, Ed. 1998. A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson. (Pgs. 2-3).

Freeman, Criswell. 2005. God’s survival guide for women. Nashville, TN: Elm Hill.

Ryrie, Charles. 1995. The Ryrie Study Bible, NASB. Chicago: Moody Press.

van de Sandt, Huub and David Flusser. 2002 ed. The Didache. Minneapolis: Fortress. (Pg. 10, 2.1).

Author: Valorie Mays Emilio holds an MA in History from UCLA having specialized in early church history, and a V.O.M. Certificate in Persecuted Church Ministries from Oklahoma Wesleyan University.