When Is an Unborn Baby Alive?

Updated on November 29, 2017
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Chris has spent 27 years in laboratory work and has had personal experience with cancer, alcoholism and Willis-Eckbom Disease (RLS).

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When Does Human Life Begin: Two Contemporary Viewpoints

When does life begin for the unborn? Humankind has been debating this question for millennia. Two viewpoints dominate the contemporary conversation. One is the medical or scientific position. The other is the Evangelical Christian or the so-called biblical position.

I want to present both the medical and the Evangelical Christian positions so that the differences become crystal clear. You may wonder how I can discuss both sides of this issue accurately. First of all, my bachelors degree is in Biblical Education. I spent ten years in full-time ministry as well as four years at a reputable, evangelical university. Second, I have been involved in healthcare as a laboratory professional for twenty-seven years.

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,     before you were born I set you apart. Jeremiah 1:5.
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart. Jeremiah 1:5. | Source

The Evangelical Christian or Biblical Viewpoint

Let's first look at the Evangelical Christian position on when life begins. Evangelicals nearly across the board concur that life starts at what they refer to as the moment of conception. They believe and teach that the Bible supports this point of view.

I will list the verses from the Bible which Evangelicals use to make this point. The italicized portion is what I will be discussing.

  • Isaiah 49:1-"Listen to me, you islands; hear this, you distant nations: Before I was born the LORD called me; from my mother's womb he has spoken my name."
  • Jeremiah 1:5-"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations."

These are the most common verses quoted when an Evangelical Christian attempts to show that the Bible teaches life begins at the moment of conception. The only mention in these verses regarding the time life starts is that it occurs in the womb. Nothing more.

I'll state it again very clearly. Isaiah 49:1 and Jeremiah 1:5 do not teach that life begins at a so-called moment of conception. They only say that life begins in the womb with no reference to a specific time.

Here are more biblical references which Evangelical Christians use to defend the position that life begins at the moment of conception. As you read these verses, ask yourself what each says about the exact time life begins.

  • Genesis 1:27-"So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them."
  • Genesis 25:21-22-"Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was childless. The LORD answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. The babies jostled each other within her [womb]..."
  • Psalm 139:13 and 15- "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth."
  • Psalm 22:10-11-"From birth I was cast on you; from my mother's womb you have been my God."
  • Luke 1:15-17-For he [John the Baptist] shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb.
  • Galatians 1-15-16-"But when God, who set me apart from my mother's womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being.

These verses are crystal clear. Life, according to the Bible, begins in the womb. Beyond that, there is no reference regarding the exact moment life arises.

Anyone who claims that these verses say life begins at a so-called moment of conception is forcing a meaning on the biblical text that it does not contain.

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The Medical or Scientific Viewpoint

Now let's move on to the medical or scientific position regarding the time of the beginning of life.

Conception is a process that runs from the introduction of sperm into the woman's body to the implantation of the fertilized egg on the uterine wall. When an Evangelical Christian uses the word conception, they are referring to the specific step of fertilization.

The four steps of conception are as follows:

  1. Sperm Transport-Sperm must be deposited and transported to the proper place in the fallopian tubes.
  2. Egg Transport-The ovaries must release the egg for transport to the proper place in the fallopian tubes.
  3. Fertilization and Embryo Development-Sperm and egg must unite.
  4. Implantation-The fertilized egg must be implanted on the wall of the uterus of the woman's body to have any hope of survival.

When an Evangelical Christian says that life begins at conception, they mean life begins at fertilization, the third step of a technical definition of the word. The product of fertilization is a single cell called a zygote.

A sperm cell fertilizing an egg
A sperm cell fertilizing an egg | Source

The Zygote and Blastocyst Stages

The single-celled zygote goes through a series of divisions called mitosis. At the end of this process, it has become a highly organized group of cells called a blastocyst. Only at this point do cells begin to organize into two groups. One group is destined to become the placenta and the other, the fetus. The difference between the two is nearly indecipherable.

While the zygote/blastocyst waits to implant on the uterine wall, something else happens. Fifty percent pass naturally from the woman's body. They cannot survive. If fertilization is the beginning of life, then half the human race has died before being born.

The blastocyst is now in the uterus waiting for changes to occur in the uterine wall, a period of about seventy-two hours. During this time, the blastocyst does not receive any nourishment directly from the mother.

Approximately one week has now passed since fertilization took place.

When the uterine wall is ready, the blastocyst sheds its outer covering and moves toward the uterine wall. This is the moment when implantation occurs.The blastocyst reaches out with trophoblast cells and sinks them into the uterine wall. This is the source of adhesion.

The placenta begins forming, and the blastocyst is fed directly by the mother. Without this moment of implantation, the mother's body will most certainly flush the blastocyst.

The only chance a blastocyst has to survive is to implant itself on the uterine wall. Without this step, life is impossible.

The Sculptures "Threatened Family," of the Exhibition "Traces of Humanity" in Munich

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The Future of the Debate About When Life Begins

Evangelicals have taken references from the Bible to be their guide regarding when life begins. Some medical professionals agree with those in the Evangelical Christian community that life begins at the moment of fertilization.

Medical professionals and scientists don't always agree among themselves on the exact moment when life begins, but their efforts at defining that moment are grounded in observation and scientific study.

I have written this article for two reasons. First, I believe it is essential for Evangelical Christians to look closely at the biblical references they quote to support their position that life begins at fertilization. Those verses state that life begins in the womb, but they are far from the contemporary Evangelical position. It is, in fact, possible for anyone who believes life begins at any point before birth to lay claim to the same biblical references.

My second reason for writing this article is to describe how science can show us the detailed stages of the development of life. They have proven this to us, at least. If a zygote, which is the stage before the blastocyst, were to be placed against the uterine wall, it would, without question, wash out of the woman's body. But the blastocyst, given the same opportunity, can and often does, take hold and live.

There is a qualitative difference between the zygote and the blastocyst, a distinction that may very well hold the answer to this contemporary issue.

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    • nikkikhan10 profile image

      Nikki Khan 12 days ago from London

      Thanks for agreeing as much as you could. Smile.

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      Chris Mills 12 days ago from Missoula, Montana at least until March 2018

      I couldn't agree more, Nikki.

    • cam8510 profile image
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      Chris Mills 12 days ago from Missoula, Montana at least until March 2018

      Eric, I think our ramblings are our way of exploring the limits of certain thought processes. It is like taking a side trail just to see where it leads. Sometimes there is the reward of a scene that is rarely taken in by human eyes. Our minds can discover gems like this as we allow ourselves to take the brain pathway less traveled. Lazy mindedness leads to the status quo.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 13 days ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      This was fascinating. I always wonder about people's thoughts on this very fundamental question.

      I go with the flawed notion in Roe v. Wade. I say flawed because science as moved the time of independent survival back at least a month.

      It is such an ugly way to describe life but "parasite" has some measure here.

      But my view is just personal. I am adopted. I was fully chosen before my physical birth. Which to me means a concept like us being loved by God even prior to conception. Man can only deal, in so many ways, with the physical. Surely God can deal with a soul that is still unborn or even conceived.

      I tried for a bit thinking that "thou shall not kill/murder" meant any living creature. And then I wondered why no interpretation of the Bible used the term "homicide" which is the only proper term for human death at the hand of another.

      Just some ramblings.

    • nikkikhan10 profile image

      Nikki Khan 13 days ago from London

      Of course Chris, all views should be brought into light on this topic.Then we can get a clear picture of when soul enters.

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      Chris Mills 13 days ago from Missoula, Montana at least until March 2018

      Mizbejabbers and Nikki, I am certainly getting an education here in the comments. It looks like this hub will need a revision sooner rather than later that presents the Quranic, spiritualist, Buddhist, and Hindu views.

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      Chris Mills 13 days ago from Missoula, Montana at least until March 2018

      Ann, look at you down there at the very start of the comments without a response from the author. I read your comment, and appreciate every kind word you said. Yes, wouldn't it be nice if adults "looked at a situation carefully and objectively before we made a decision?" i.e. acted like adults.

    • nikkikhan10 profile image

      Nikki Khan 13 days ago from London

      well I don't agree with Manatita,,soul enters at 3rd to 4th month,thats why baby moves.Without soul,how can he move.According to Holy Quran which is God's book as well,soul enters at around 120 days after conception which is around 4th month,and it seems realistic as well,because baby starts moving at 4th month.

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      Mizbejabbers 2 weeks ago

      Well, just as with fundamentalists, spiritualists can't agree on when the soul or spirit enters the body either . I believe that depends on the soul and the readiness of the body. My training says the soul enters immediately after birth, like with the first breath. My actual experience, so my mother tells me, was that I would not breathe after I was born. She says the doctor worked over me for several minutes before he got a breath and a howl out of me. It was a home birth and I almost didn't live.

      I had a friend who said that he remembers his birth, or that he was present for his birth but refused to enter the body. He said he remembers the spirits having to coax him into the body. His actual words were "that baby was turning blue" (dying) before he was convinced to enter.

      Looking back, I've had a very stressful and karmic life, so maybe something similar happened to me. Or maybe the body was so fragile at birth that it took the doctor's ministrations to get it to live. I have no memory of that.

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      Chris Mills 2 weeks ago from Missoula, Montana at least until March 2018

      Thanks manatita...back atcha.

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 2 weeks ago from london

      Lol. Thank you.

      That is why we say that the spiritual life is mystical. The mind can take us only so far. In the depths of meditation, so much more is revealed! But we cannot hurry.

      All sincere teachers, including the Christ, will encourage the foundation. That is to say: Love, mercy, prayer, selfless service; empathy ... you know the drill. The rest will come at God's hour.

      Your life itself is fascinating too. I always say that you are a good man, Chris. I can feel your inner Light. Keep up the good work.

    • cam8510 profile image
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      Chris Mills 2 weeks ago from Missoula, Montana at least until March 2018

      manatita, This is fascinating information. I have heard some of it before, but it has come in bits and pieces. If I modify the article in the future, I will consult with you about including some of these concepts.

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 2 weeks ago from london

      Sri Chinmoy: Between six and eight months before birth is the usual time for the soul to enter into the body. On rare occasions it may enter at the time of conception. The latest time for the soul to enter is usually about thirteen or fourteen days before the child is born.

      In very rare cases the soul enters into the body just two or three days before birth and sometimes it may even come shortly after birth. At that time the soul may be waiting until the last moment before making a decision because it is doubtful about the family. Some souls feel that by waiting for a longer time they will be able to make a better decision.

      Again, some souls simply take longer to make the decision just as some people take more time to make a decision than others. But some souls don’t wait; they know immediately what to do and it is done within a few months after the time of conception.

      Sri Chinmoy, Eternity's soul-bird, part 1, Agni Press, 1974.

      From the standpoint of Yoga Philosophy, it is the Soul that gives life to the form. The Soul is an individual spark of Consciousness and a direct representative of the Divine.

      When we speak of death, it is the physical that dies but the Soul is immortal and return to its abode. When we speak of birth or better still, life in the child, we refer consciously or unconsciously to the spark that gives it life. Bear in mind that Yogi's say that the Soul chooses before it leaves Heaven. This includes family, geography, etc...

    • cam8510 profile image
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      Chris Mills 2 weeks ago from Missoula, Montana at least until March 2018

      Larry, thank you for your succinct comments. Contention? You must be referring to the topic because I am never personally at a point contention. (roll eyes).

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 2 weeks ago from Oklahoma

      Always a point of contention. Interesting stance.

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      Chris Mills 2 weeks ago from Missoula, Montana at least until March 2018

      MizBejabbers, Thanks for that informative comment. The meaning of Jeremiah 1:5 is mostly about God, not Jeremiah. It is about God calling a man to a certain work and lifestyle. It was not written with science in mind. What was created in the womb was that part of Jeremiah that would proclaim God's words. The emphasis is not on the physical, but, as you say, on the spiritual, the soul. Excellent insights. Thank you.

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      MizBejabbers 2 weeks ago

      This really is a superb nonjudgmental presentation, Chris. After studying spirituality for 40 years, our teachers are now saying that science and spirituality are melding and in the next few centuries will become one and the same, which I find interesting.

      I believe that the Bible is written in layers, so the believer can take his or her beliefs as high as his spirit takes him. For a long time I have believed that your quote:

      Jeremiah 1:5-"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations."

      is speaking of the soul or the spirit rather than the physical body. Most fundamentalists don't think any higher than the body when they want to argue about when life begins. Just recently I listened to a lecture by a Director of the A.R.E. who quoted this very scripture and said that Edgar Cayce also believed it meant the spirit or soul. So that passage, and others, can be argued more than one way.

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      Chris Mills 2 weeks ago from Missoula, Montana at least until March 2018

      Nikki, Thanks for confirming that the message I intended came through. Currently, the debate is being carried on by Christians who have little understanding of the process of conception and surprisingly little understanding of what their Bible actually says about the matter. I hope this article can add a little clarification.

    • nikkikhan10 profile image

      Nikki Khan 2 weeks ago from London

      Excellent article on Life and reproduction.You really have done good work in this,Especially telling through Bible.Very informative in sense of when life starts.Thanks for sharing Chris.

    • cam8510 profile image
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      Chris Mills 2 weeks ago from Missoula, Montana at least until March 2018

      S marde, you’v Made some valid and important points. Thanks for reading and responding. I’m goiyto attempt to keep the discussion about when life begins and not about the other issue.

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      S Maree 2 weeks ago from North/Central Indiana

      When the blastocyst implants, growth is enabled. Without nourishment, nothing can survive. Nothing will grow. What grows lives. What grows is alive!

      I am a Christian. I do not have issues with prevention of conception. Neither sperm or egg alone contain everything necessary to create a human, much less a frog or goat.

      The moment of implanting & drawing of sustenance will be my personal benchmark. But it is only for me. Women will have to examine their consciences and choose for themselves.

      Christian, Jewish & Muslim women will adhere to the statutes of their faiths. Other women must be weigh their beliefs and be prepared to live & die with their decisions.

      God will deal with abortion as He has dealt with all other human actions that end life. Holy books contain provisions for dealing with such actions. The rest of the world will act as their personal beliefs dictate. They who choose to gamble must accept the pips on the dice.

      I will encourage women to keep implanted babies. I cannot order them to do so. I will try to help such women financially and spiritually, and assist in finding good homes if the children cannot be kept.

      But neither I, nor the government of my country, can stop woman's choices. Determined women will find the means to end pregnancies, often at the risk of their lives.

      Yes, I will admit, I consider abortion murder. But unlike any other type of murder, it involves forcing a person to carry, for around nine months, a life that is unwanted. And though rare, it might cost a woman HER life to bring that life to full term.

      THAT is a why I cannot decide for another woman. She must do what she must, as when Christ told Judas to go and do what he had to do. Whatever she decides, she must live with it forever.

      My job is to give her a shoulder for tears and support. Condemnation and forgiveness for abortion are the provinces of God alone. He does not close out those who repent and cry out to Him! My job is to witness to that.

      Prevention is the key! No woman should feel pressured by her man to forego preventative measures. And every woman has the right to close access until those measures are met!

      Even marriage does not preclude that right. A man who forces his wife to bear a child she is is not prepared to mother does not love his wife. He loves himself and his power.

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      Ann Carr 2 weeks ago from SW England

      This is a well-presented, clear description of the process of reproduction. It is also a clear presentation of the biblical quotes. In fact, you have done a great job of doing both without coming down on one side or the other, just asking people to look closely at the information available.

      This is what we should all do in life generally. How many problems would be solved if we all looked at a situation carefully and objectively before we made a decision?

      Superb article, Chris.

      Ann