When Does Human Life Begin – What Say the Scriptures?

From one standpoint this question may seem to be one of mere speculation. From another it may seem to be one of relatively small importance. However, as soon as we change the wording of the question its importance suddenly soars!

When we asked the question: "Who is covered by the Ransom?" "Does the Ransom include those who died while still in the womb?" Now the matter takes on an enormous proportion! Will there be a resurrection of the unborn?

As Bible Students we look to the Word of the Lord first. There we are informed that at the end of the Gospel Age He would give the saints special guidance through a special messenger. – Rev. 1:1; Matt. 24:45-47; Eze. 9:3,4,11

There are two possibilities.

1. Those who die in the womb WILL have a resurrection.
2. Those who die in the womb will NOT have a resurrection.

Let us look at the "arguments" which have been used by Bible Students to support these two positions. Our goal is to see if we can answer all questions satisfactorily and in harmony.

In Support of position 1. Those who die in the womb WILL have a resurrection.
What Pastor Russell said

We suggest reading all of E99:1-E100:3. Below are a few excerpts.

"The Scriptures hold out the thought that all existence, living energy or being, comes from the father and not from the mother."

"The word father has the significance of life-giver."

"Thus also the whole race was in and sprang from Adam their father.. And thus it is written that “all in ADAM die.”"

"Scientists find abundant and conclusive proof in nature that life or being comes always from the male."
"Those whose eyes of understanding begin to open to this subject, so that they see that the word “soul” signifies intelligence, being, and the word “breath” or “spirit of life” signifies the divine power to live, can readily see, from the foregoing, that every creature which possesses life-consciousness has, first of all, a body or organism; secondly, the spirit of life animating it, and thirdly, existence, being, soul, as a result.. The body is not the soul, though the body possesses the qualifications necessary to soul; neither is the breath or spirit of life the soul it is the power which came from God, and which is necessary to the production of the sentient creature. The body, when properly united with the breath or spirit of life, produces a new thing a being, a soul, a sentient creature." E340:2
"The begetting is the beginning of life." – Q374
Who gives this “breath” or “spirit of life?” – The father. If the child is not alive until birth, until after it comes out of the womb, wouldn't that make the mother the life-giver?
The words "spirit of life," however, signify more than merely breath; they relate to the spark of life itself, without which breath would be an impossibility. This spark of life we receive from our fathers, it being nourished and developed through our mothers. – E308-309

While several scriptures may be given in support of the fact that life is passed on from the Father, we suggest the following one.

"And all the souls that came out of the loins of Jacob were seventy souls: for Joseph was in Egypt already." – Exo. 1:5
God is His own Interpreter, He will make it plain

Let us trace each usage of the Greek word for "babe" (G1025) as used in the New Testament so that we may be certain that this always refers to a living soul.

Strong's G1025
Of uncertain affinity; an infant (properly unborn) literally or figuratively: - babe, (young) child, infant.
"And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.. [16] And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger."Luke 2:12, 16 – Clearly the "babe" Jesus was a living soul.

"And they brought unto him also infants, that he would touch them: but when his disciples saw it, they rebuked them. [16] But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God."Luke 18:15-16

"The same dealt subtly with our kindred, and evil entreated our fathers, so that they cast out their young children, to the end they might not live."Acts 7:19

"And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus."2 Tim. 3:15

"As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby."1 Pet. 2:2

In each of the above there can be no doubt that God's word is speaking of a living soul. These are all cases where clearly the child has already been born.

John the Baptist – A child (living soul) while still In The Womb
"And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda; [40] And entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth. [41] And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit: [42] And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. [43] And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? [44] For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy."Luke 1:39-44

The most obvious item to notice here is that the babe (John the Baptist) in Elisabeth's womb leaped for joy! If this is not a living soul, how could it possibly experience any emotion?

Further we note that Elisabeth was not coming up with this on her own for the scripture states clearly that "Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit."

The same Greek word (Strong's G1025) is used in every one of these references. Each one clearly referencing a living soul. Would it make any sense to claim that the one case of John the Baptist "leaping for joy" while he was still in the womb of his mother Elisabeth would somehow be an exception? Surely not!

We believe it is safe to say that John the Baptist was indeed a living soul prior to his birth.

A Simple, yet Very Powerful Line of Reasoning

"Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am." – John 8:58

There can be no mistake about the meaning of these words. Our Lord avers that he existed before Abraham. Nor do the Scriptures in any place intimate that the existence of the Only Begotten ever ceased from the time it began, as "the beginning of the creation of God," until it ceased at Calvary for three days; after which he was raised from the dead to die no more, death having never more dominion over him. (Rom. 6:9) The incident of his birth as a human being, "a little lower than the angels," for the purpose of being man's sin-sacrifice, did not involve a death to the spirit nature preceding the birth as a human babe, but merely a transference of his life from a higher or spirit nature to a lower or human nature. Hence our Lord's words, "Before Abraham was I am," signify that there had been no cessation of his existence at any time in the interim, and positively identifies Jesus, the Son of God, in the flesh, with the Logos, the first-born of all creation. E90
There is no mistake about that expression. Since his humanity resulted from the transference of the life-principle from spiritual to human conditions; the being, the individuality, was the same. Jesus as a man, recognized himself as the same being – the Son of God, and could remember his former glory. "I am" expresses his continuous existence. R1059

So, what does this scripture (John 8:58) and the above remarks by Br. Russell have to do with our current discussion as to when live begins? Simple. Where was Jesus during the nine months of Mary's pregnancy? The scriptures seem to be clear that he was in the womb of his mother Mary. Was he a living soul during that time? His own answer to that question is "Before Abraham was, I am."

So now we have at least two clear cases (John the Baptist and our Lord Jesus) who are identified in Scripture as being living souls prior to their coming out of the womb.

What about the New Creation?

"Jerusalem which now is, .. is in bondage with her children. But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.. Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise." Gal. 4:25-26,28

"Now [while we are on earth, in the womb of the covenant] are we [not some day after we are born on the spirit plane, but now] the sons of God." 1 John 3:2

We are so alive now that, heaven forbid, we could leave our covenant arrangement (leave the womb of the covenant.) For us that would mean the second death, just as it would for a human child in the womb. If it is not developed enough to survive outside the womb, it will die. In either case (a human child or a spiritual child) in order to die one must first be alive.

Supposed Objections Considered
In Support of position 2. Those who die in the womb will NOT have a resurrection.
What Pastor Russell said
RESURRECTION – Re Still-born.

QUESTION (1916) – 3 – Will there be a resurrection of dead-born children?

No child is a soul previous to birth. The Scriptures speak of "Every soul of man in whom is the breath of life," and it is all these souls of Adam that are redeemed [Q597] by the soul of Jesus, and therefore these are the only souls to be brought forth from the tomb. Whoever has not been born has not been redeemed. If not born, then not redeemed; and if not redeemed, then not raised. Such children as those referred to in the question have not been born, have not been redeemed, and will therefore have no part in the resurrection.

Many years ago Br. Edward Lorenz told how Br. Russell handled Question Meetings. He normally received the questions in one of two ways. Brethren would simply hand him a question on a piece of paper, which he would immediately put in his pocket. The other way was questions, turned in to the convention chairman, would then be handed to Br. Russell during the question meeting. In either case the first time he saw the question was during the question meeting. This meant that his answers were all "off the top of his head."

Considering his answers to these questions have been so helpful to the Lord's people over the years, we are once again impressed that the Lord certainly knew what He was doing in His selection of that Faithful and Wise servant.

We may, however, make a difference between such answers he gave at such question meetings and those he had more time to consider and put in the Towers. While it is rare that we would look at his answers to these questions in such a manner, it seems appropriate in this case.

Is there a way for us to determine which of the questions we find in the Question Book ("What Pastor Russell Said") were given under these circumstances? Probably not with certainty. We may, however, make a reasonable guess. If the question has a Reprint (or Tower) reference given to it, then it was NOT likely one of these "off the top of his head" answers.

When looking at the answer to the question "Will there be a resurrection of the dead-born children?," we note that his answer does not contain a Tower reference. While the reasoning is logical, it does not appear to take into account the other points raised in the previous section.

Our thought is that this one remark appears to be in conflict with his statements about the spirit or spark of life coming from the father and not the mother. Also:

The word "spirit" is, in the Old Testament Scriptures, from the Hebrew word ruach. Its signification primarily is breath; and hence we have the expression "breath of life," or "spirit of life," the spark of life once started is supported by breathing. E308.
"If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman's husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. [23] And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, [24] Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, [25] Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe." Exo. 21:22-25

The argument here is that a woman with child is caused to mis-carry, the child in the womb dies. Yet the man who caused the death of the child does not forfeit his life (a life for a life.) This (supposedly) proves that the child in the womb is not considered to be a human being yet.

This appears to be rather direct. It would also then, at first glance, seem to be in conflict with the scriptures used above which show the living soul being still in the womb. Is there a way to harmonize these two seemingly contradictory scripture expressions?

Let us look at the context in Exo. 21:18-21.

"And if men strive together, and one smite another with a stone, or with his fist, and he die not, but keepeth his bed: [19] If he rise again, and walk abroad upon his staff, then shall he that smote him be acquitted: only he shall pay for the loss of his time, and shall cause him to be thoroughly healed.
"[20] And if a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished. [21] Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money."

It appears that the context is that of Property Law. This would explain why death of the unborn child was not to be considered as important as that of a mature full-grown individual (in this case, the woman.) This would be consistent with Joseph being sold for 20 pieces of silver, because he was not yet a full-grown man, for whom the going rate was 30 pieces of silver. Gen. 37:28; Zech. 11:12-13; Matt. 26:15.

Just a few verses later (Exo. 21:32) we are told that when an ox "pushes" a slave ("manservant or maidservant") the owner of the ox shall pay their master 30 pieces of silver. Thus, 30 pieces of sliver was the price of a slave.

This entire section from Exo. 21:18-36 appears to be what we might term "property law." If we read it with that thought in mind, the apparent contradiction with the prior section of scripture concerning life in the womb disappears.

Further Considerations
Why Gabriel in Lieu of Michael?

We know the names of only three angels. Michael, Gabriel and Lucifer. Why?

Angels are messengers. When the message is from God it usually does not matter who had the privilege of relaying God's words to His people. The message is still from God.

However, it seems we needed to know the names of these three. Lucifer, Satan, the Devil. We need to know of him and his evil. We need to know that he is real and not some mythical creature. He was (and is) the Chief Enemy of Our Lord Jesus and of the True Church, the Bride of Christ.

Michael was made known to us in the book of Daniel. This is also where we learn of Gabriel. We are told in Dan. 12:1 that when Michael stands up several remarkable things would take place, including running to and fro, increase of knowledge and a great time of trouble.

In Jude 9 we learn that Michael is the archangel. And in 1 Thes. 4:16 we learn that Michael is another name for our Lord.

Why do we need to know of Gabriel? We suggest that we (and more particularly Zacharias, Elisabeth and perhaps even Mary, the mother of Jesus) needed the assurance of someone who was familiar (by reference in Scripture) to give the message that she would have a son by a miraculous means.

In the case of Zacharias and Elisabeth, they may have needed to have their faith strengthened in this manner, so Gabriel identified himself.

What about Mary? Here was a righteous woman who was given such an incredible message, is it any wonder that it would be delivered by someone she knew of from the book of Daniel?

This brings us to the natural question. Why did God use Gabriel? Why not use Michael, the archangel, to deliver this most important message? The answer to this question is simple. Michael could NOT deliver the message. Why not? Because at that time God was in the process of transforming him from the spiritual to the human nature.

We have already established that Jesus (as the Logos) had a continued existence from the time of his creation until he died on the cross. When Jesus (still a living soul) was changed from the spirit nature into the human nature, where was he at that moment? Clearly he was now in the womb of Mary. Was he still a living soul or did his existence cease for nine months? "Before Abraham was, I am."

All Life is a Blessing
Mark this point well. The present life, which from the cradle to the tomb is but a process of dying, is, notwithstanding all its evils and disappointments, a boon, a favor, even if there were no hereafter. – A127:2

This would seem to be a valid principle, which oddly brings us to another subject.

The Case of the Traitor, Judas

So what does Br. Russell's remark about all life being a blessing from God have to do with Judas, and what does that possibly have to do with the subject of when human life begins?

"Woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! it had been good for that man if he had not been born." Matt. 26:24

If we assume that Judas was of similar age to Jesus, i.e., around 30 years old, how then do we explain the Master's words: "It had been good for that man if he had not been born?" Isn't all life a blessing from God? Even if Judas died the second death, weren't the first thirty years a blessing? How do the words of Jesus harmonize with this thought?

At first glance they appear to be at odds with the idea that all life is a blessing. At least until we examine what he said a little more closely. Jesus did NOT say: "It would have been good for that man if he never came into existence," but only that he had never been born! Once we recognize that life indeed comes from the father and that a child in the womb is already a living soul, then we are better able to understand the words of Jesus. If Judas had died prior to having been born, he would be brought up with the world of mankind in the resurrection and thus have life then, and would have the opportunity to walk up the highway of holiness and attain to perfect human life. But, since he was born, he did betray our Lord and, we believe, did die the second death, it would indeed have been better for him had he died from his mother's womb.

Some Other Related Scriptures
"And Isaac intreated the LORD for his wife, because she was barren: and the LORD was intreated of him, and Rebekah his wife conceived. [22] And the children struggled together within her; and she said, If it be so, why am I thus? And she went to enquire of the LORD. [23] And the LORD said unto her, Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger." Gen. 25:21-23

God could refer to them as "two nations" because they were already living souls while in the womb of Rebekah.

"Why died I not from the womb? why did I not give up the ghost when I came out of the belly?[12] Why did the knees receive me? or why the breasts that I should suck? [13] For now should I have lain still and been quiet, I should have slept: then had I been at rest.. Or as an hidden untimely birth I had not been; as infants which never saw light." Job 3:11-13,16

The reason the Bible calls death a "sleep" is because there will be an awakening from that sleep. In this verse Job is enduring such suffering that he is wishing that he had died while still in the womb. Then he would have a resurrection but would not have to endure the suffering he was then going through.