5 Bible Passages That Affirm the Personhood of the Unborn

November 17, 2021

From the uncertain fate of the Texas Heartbeat Act to the upcoming oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case that could overturn Roe v. Wade, abortion continues to be a hot-button issue in America. As the country awaits the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions in these cases, Christians should take the time to consider what exactly the Bible teaches on the subject of human dignity and abortion. Here are several Scripture passages that affirm life beginning in the womb and the personhood of the unborn child.

1. Psalm 139:13-16

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.

King David’s exposition of how God dealt with him while he was still in his mother’s womb is perhaps the most well-known and frequently cited passage of Scripture pertaining to the pro-life argument. David’s usage of the personal pronouns “my” and “I” demonstrates an unquestioning assumption of his unborn self’s personhood. Furthermore, David uses the word “wonderful” to describe the gestation process more than once. This word choice emphasizes the intentionality of the process of fetal development; God is present in the smallest parts of our lives, even before we are born.

2. Luke 1:39-45

In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would beg a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

This passage affirms the personhood and value of the unborn in several ways. First, Elizabeth calls Mary a mother, despite Mary being in the very early stages of her pregnancy. Second, upon hearing Mary’s voice, the unborn John the Baptist leaps for joy in Elizabeth’s womb, meaning John is a person capable of emotion. Third, John’s reaction also means he was capable of recognizing Mary’s voice and acknowledging the unborn Messiah even in utero. Fourth, this encounter represents a partial fulfilment of John’s life purpose: to herald the arrival of Jesus as the Messiah. Even before he was born, John had begun to fulfill his life’s calling. Finally, Elizabeth also affirms the deity of Jesus when she refers to Him as her Lord and again when she and John are filled with the Holy Spirit in the mere presence of prenatal Jesus. It makes the important point that Jesus’ incarnation did not begin at birth but conception.

3. Jeremiah 1:4-5

Now the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

God’s call of the prophet Jeremiah is yet another example of the Bible acknowledging the personhood of the unborn. God consecrated Jeremiah and appointed him to be a prophet while he was still in his mother’s womb. Before Jeremiah was even born, God already had a plan for his life. Not only that, but God said He personally formed Jeremiah and knew him in utero.

4. Psalm 51:5-6

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, you desire truth in the inward being, you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.

In this psalm, David is asking God for forgiveness after committing adultery with Bathsheba. While David is laying his sin before God, he begins to trace his sin to its origin, concluding that he has always been a sinner, even from when he was in his mother’s womb. The personal pronouns used by David to describe his time in the womb also point to his agency and personhood. As an unborn baby, David was not an impersonal entity, but a person with the agency to be a sinner—and a person desired by God.

5. Judges 13:3-5

And the angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, “Behold, you are barren and have not borne children, but you shall conceive and bear a son. Therefore be careful and drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb, and he shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines.”

Here, an angel tells Manoah’s wife that she will conceive and give birth to Samson, who will be a Nazarite “from the womb,” meaning God had a plan for Samson prior to and from the moment of his conception. Nazarites were Israelites whose lives were consecrated to the service of God (Num. 6). Samson’s mother is even instructed to follow the same restrictions a Nazarite must follow while she is pregnant with Samson. The angel uses the personal pronouns “his” and “he” when talking about the boy’s Nazarite status, providing both personhood and agency to a preborn Samson. The plan for Samson’s life, the personal language used to refer to him, and his vocation while in utero all point to Samson being a person known and wanted by God before he was born.

Considering all these verses, it is clear that the Bible is undoubtedly pro-life (even more passages are discussed in the FRC publication “Biblical Principles for Pro-Life Engagement”). The Bible might lack an explicit statement that abortion is morally indefensible, but the principles displayed in these and many other verses point to a God who has intentionally created us all with a plan. He knows and loves each person before they are even born. As we approach the Dobbs oral arguments, Christians must be prepared to stand and defend unborn life and should work to end the scourge of abortion. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

Rachael Tracy is an intern at FRC’s Center for Biblical Worldview.

**On Thursday, November 18th at 8 pm EDT, FRC is participating in a church-led initiative to pray for the upcoming Dobbs case. You can learn more about this free event and sign up at PrayforDobbs.com.