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Since the Roe v. Wade leak took the internet by storm, there have been countless Americans (some of which have a Christian background) now puzzled over what to believe. With the Bible being used by both pro-life and pro-choice advocates, I thought it might be beneficial to reach out to respected Bible scholars. Below is Old Testament scholar John Walton’s response to whether or not the Bible clearly addresses abortion. This will be followed by two pieces sent my way from Old Testament scholar John Goldingay (the second piece hits on the conversation the Church is having about homosexuality–see below).

John Walton: The Bible does not specifically refer to abortion. The Israelites would not have been able to weigh in on the science of such issues. They did not even know that the woman contributed an egg to be fertilized. The Bible works within the “science” of their day. Nevertheless, we know that abortions were performed in the ancient world (Hittite Legal texts) and that they are always considered unacceptable. That is understandable because in the ancient world, having children was highly prioritized. Only God could “open the womb” so a child was a gift from God.

Only a flawed view of the Bible would insist that if the Bible does not explicitly prohibit something it is therefore allowable. The Bible is not a comprehensive moral code and does not intend to address all the decisions that we have to make about important issues.

Arguments from the Bible generally focus on the sanctity of life. That is all well and good, but the Bible does not address when “life” begins. Having said that, much more can be found in the Bible supporting the sanctity of life than could be found on the right to choose.

The Bible is not a comprehensive moral code and does not intend to address all the decisions that we have to make about important issues. -John Walton

…much more can be found in the Bible supporting the sanctity of life than could be found on the right to choose. -John Walton

[End of John Walton’s response]

Below is a piece John Goldingay sent my way taken from a memoir he wrote (Remembering Ann) about his first wife, Ann, who suffered from multiple sclerosis for years. The excerpt involves a pregnancy she had.

[From the introduction, to explain what follows]

Ann had multiple sclerosis.  Being wheelchair bound as she was for the last twelve years of life makes a person susceptible to pneumonia.  She had pneumonia four or five times, and each time experts assured me it would be the end of her, though apparently she and/or God had other ideas.  On one of those occasions when she came home from hospital on “hospice care” (that is, we would have some support at home for what was assumed would be a short period so that she could die at home) the hospice people provided me with various useful resources, one of which encouraged a married couple to spend time talking over their life during what was expected to be their last weeks or months.  Because Ann couldn’t speak, we couldn’t do precisely this, and because I am by nature a writer, what I began to do was write our story. I think I may have done this for my sake but also so I could read it to Ann.  I didn’t keep going at it for very long, partly because she as usual declined to die and we resumed our usual unusual life, but after she died I took it up again, and I imagine reading it to her as she lies in her resting place waiting for resurrection day. I have rewritten it a little to provide the background information that wasn’t needed when it was meant only for us, but I have left it in the form of address to her.

The excerpt (we married in August 1967)

At the end of September 1967 I was ordained priest.

Two months later you were pregnant, despite the fact that you were on the pill.  When you were throwing up, at first we thought you had flu, but eventually you had a pregnancy test.  The following Friday the British Medical Journal printed an article declaring that the pill you were on was not as effective as some others; we could confirm that.

Because of the implications for your studies, your parents couldn’t have been more furious if we had been unmarried. They saw the entire fault as mine for not looking after birth control in a more traditional fashion. More significantly, your neurologist, P. K. Thomas, whom you loved, was concerned because of the stress associated with pregnancy for someone with MS, and he wanted you to have an abortion.  We asked for a second opinion and went to see a Dr. P. C. Gautier-Smith. . . .  His comments, as I remember them (though you could not remember this) included the observation that he quite believed from the notes that you had MS, but he could not find any evidence of it in your body.  That was a kind of sign.  You continued with the pregnancy, and there is Steven, now grown up and married with children of his own.

From John Goldingay’s Remembering Ann, Carlisle, UK: Piquant, 2011.

Below is a second piece John Goldingay sent my way which discusses how we can approach the Bible with questions that it doesn’t provide answers for, the essay focusing on the question of same-sex relationships (see end of article for publication information).

Same-Sex Relationships: Asking the Bible for Answers to Questions It Does Not Ask

A Response to Sherwood Lingenfelter’s Paper, “Gay and Lesbian Christians”

In his paper, my colleague and friend Sherwood Lingenfelter twice refers to my views, and it amuses me to note that there is some tension between the two references. The first speaks of a “persuasive argument against same-sex marriage.” The second notes that in asking the Bible about same-sex relationships in the form in which we need to discuss them in our culture, we are asking a question that the Bible does not ask.

As an Episcopalian and a Californian, I live in a cultural context in which it is simply assumed that same-sex relationships are just as moral and natural and good as heterosexual relationships, but the argument that goes with that first reference makes me unable and unwilling simply to assimilate to my culture. With regard to the second reference, one could add to this comment the fact that the Bible nevertheless does suggest a framework for thinking about a question such as this one that it does not discuss. It does so when it distinguishes, on the one hand, between the way things were by God’s creation design and, on the other hand, the way Scripture’s instructions also make allowance for human stubbornness (e.g., Matt. 19:1–9). It is a framework that Jesus relates to a question that people did ask in his day, the question of the propriety of divorce, and one we might consider in relation to questions we need to ask.

The Creation Ideal in a Stubborn World

Over the past century or two, the church has faced a number of tricky questions about the relationship between God’s creation ideal for marriage and the way things are in a stubborn world. As well as the questions of divorce and same-sex relationships, there are also the questions of polygamy and the deliberate avoidance of procreation. All four fall short of the creation vision in Genesis. In general, Western Christians are horrified by polygamy; Protestant Christians take birth control for granted and do not look askance at the idea of a couple’s avoiding having children; and we go through the motions of being horrified about divorce, but generally welcome divorced and remarried Christians into the fellowship of the church without asking too many questions. But evangelical Christians in the West are in a turmoil over same-sex relationships.

Genesis points towards a marriage relationship that involves one man and one woman for life in a relationship that will generate children. All four of the issues I have noted involve relationships that fall short of God’s creation ideal at some point. Yet we treat them very differently. I am especially struck that the issue the New Testament most explicitly discusses, divorce and remarriage, is the one over which Christian attitudes have most remarkably changed over the past fifty years or so. The change has come about not as a result of more careful attention to Scripture, but because the church regularly adjusts to cultural realities. I am vaguely aware that there has been considerable missiological reflection on attitudes toward polygamy. I do not know if there has been similar reflection on divorce and remarriage. Perhaps such reflection would help us to think about same-sex relationships.

Guidelines for Thinking about Tricky Moral Questions

As well as commenting about the difference between God’s creation vision and the way Scripture makes allowance for human stubbornness, Jesus has some other guidelines for thinking about tricky moral questions. One of them is his observation that the entirety of the Torah and the Prophets is an exposition of love for God and love for one’s neighbor. One can see how the rule about divorce illustrates this principle as well as the stubbornness principle. In a world gone awry, marriages break down, and in particular, men throw their wives out because they are tired of them or because they cannot have children. In a traditional society this action leaves the wife in a vulnerable position, without anywhere to live, without means of survival, and without any documentation of her position. The rule about divorce papers provides her with some evidence of her status, and is thus both a concession to human stubbornness and an expression of love.

A question Lingenfelter’s essay raises is whether there could be some equivalent proper expression of love toward those who are attracted to people of the same sex. I understand that some states have two forms of marriage, regular marriage and covenant marriage. The terms are rather odd, as one would have thought that all marriage was covenantal, but the distinctiveness of covenantal marriage is that the couple forgo (much of) their right to divorce. I have heard it suggested that we need to broaden the idea of two forms of marriage. There could be marriage —with the potential to match the creation ideal—between two people of the opposite sex who do not have a former partner still living and who are open to having children, and aother form of marriage for people who lack one of these elements. I cannot see, however, any way in which we can simply agree with the culture that same-sex marriage is just as good as heterosexual marriage.

Questioning Assumptions

My final comment is as follows. In a panel discussion at Fuller Theological Seminary, I was once asked what I thought was the biggest thing to be wary about at seminary. I said “sex.” The questioner responded with a follow-up query that indicated his assumption that I was referring to same-sex relationships. I was not. I was referring to the fact that our culture assumes that there is nothing wrong about consensual sex between a single man and a single woman, and that Christian young people commonly make the same assumption. They do not see any harm in sexual relationships between single people. That assumption seems to me a much more important issue than same-sex relations. “The Bible contains six admonishments to homosexuals and three hundred and sixty-two admonishments to heterosexuals. That doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love heterosexuals. It’s just that they need more supervision” (a comment from the cover of Lynne Lavner’s album Butch Fatale).

“Asking the Bible for Answers to Questions It Does Not Ask.” In Dwight
P. Baker and Robert J. Priest (eds.). The Missionary Family, pp.
244-46. Pasadena: William Carey, 2014.