What did early church fathers think about abortion and infanticide?

Unborn Baby - 10 weeks old
Unborn Baby – 10 weeks old

I noticed that the Southern Baptists over at ERLC had a post up which seemed to say that preaching against abortion was morally wrong, because it hurts women’s feelings. This didn’t seem like a very traditional Christian view to me.

The author Phoebe Cates writes:

So, you don’t have to post internet memes and videos, display bumper stickers, or make rude comments to tell me how terrible abortion is. Nor do you need to shout it from street corners or pulpits—I know. My mother knows. Over 66% of women know.

I quoted her from Pulpit and Pen, and it looks like the post has been edited to remove this shaming of pro-life apologists.

The author thinks that women do think abortion is wrong, despite the fact that young, unmarried women vote overwhelmingly for abortion rights in elections. Her goal doesn’t seem to be to convince women not to have abortions by making a case for the right to life of the unborn. Her goal seems to be to stop Christians from making women feel judged when they kill their children. Her focus is on women’s feelings, not the right to life of unwanted children.

The church has been changing a lot lately to accept the teachings of radical feminism. Radical feminism urges women to abandon chastity, delay marriage, get on birth control, and have reckless recreational sex with attractive, no-commitment men, while pursuing their careers. And abortion is fine with these Christians, because they think it’s just a method of birth control to be used to help women to avoid being “punished with a baby” as Obama said. The concern of these Christians about abortion isn’t that it kills babies, it’s that women feel judged when they kill babies.

So, what did Christians used to believe about protecting children before they tossed out the Bible for radical feminism?

This is from Birds of the Air.

Summary:

Recently I came across a reading of the Didache. “The what?” you may ask. The Didache is a book written somewhere in the first or second century. For a long time it was up for consideration as Scripture. It was believed to be the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles. Eventually it was agreed that the book was an excellent book, but not inspired Scripture. So I was pleased to be able to download this admirable book containing good teachings from the early Church fathers.

The book seemed to be largely a lot of quotes from Scripture. You’ll learn the basic rules of Christianity — “First, you shall love God who made you; second, love your neighbor as yourself.” You’ll learn that “grave sins” are forbidden, like adultery, murder, fornication, and so on. (They specifically include pederasty in the list.) There are instructions regarding teachers, prophets, Christian assembly, and so on. Lots of the normal, good stuff. But, since this was written sometime prior to 200 AD, I was somewhat surprised at this instruction: “You shall not murder a child by abortion” (Didache, Ch 2).

I got curious about what babies look like when they are just a few weeks old, so I went looking for pictures of them.

This post from Life News has ten excellent pictures of life inside the womb.

Here’s my favorite from 10 weeks:

Unborn Baby - 10 weeks old

Unborn Baby – 10 weeks old

This is a first trimester baby!

I decided to go hunting to see what is developed at this time, and found this list:

  • From this week until birth, the developing organism is called a fetus.
  • The fetus is now the size of a small strawberry.
  • The feet are 2mm long (one tenth of an inch).
  • The neck is beginning to take shape.
  • The body muscles are almost developed. Baby has begun movement.
  • While still too small for you to feel, your little one is wriggling and shifting.
  • The jaws are in place. The mouth cavity and the nose are joined.
  • The ears and nose can now be seen clearly.
  • Fingerprints are already evident in the skin.
  • Nipples and hair follicles begin to form.

The unborn baby is now called a fetus. Though the fetus is constantly moving, you will not be able to actually feel fetal movement for several more weeks. All of the organs, muscles, and nerves are in place and beginning to function. As the hands and feet develop fingers and toes, they have lost their paddle like look. The touch pads on the fingers form and already have fingerprints.

During this week of pregnancy the crown to rump length of the fetus is 0.9 inch to 1.2 inches (22 to 30mm), weight 0.07 ounce (2gm). They are now on the way to forming their testicles or ovaries, getting ready for the next generation. Until the ninth week of fetus development, the fetal reproductive apparatus is the same one for the both sexes. The head is still large and curves into chest.

Each week your uterus grows larger with the baby growing inside it. You may begin to see your waistline growing thicker by this time. A pelvic exam will detect that your uterus has grown from it’s normal, size of your fist, to a little bigger than a grapefruit.

Fascinating!

33 thoughts on “What did early church fathers think about abortion and infanticide?”

  1. Fascinating, indeed! One can infer that they had methods of aborting children then….and apparently the debate raged even then! Ark

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    1. Oh, yes, lots of ways to abort then and prior to then.

      Lots of ways to murder outside of the womb also – something about Cain.

      But, less a debate about abortion than a reminder that Christians are not allowed to sacrifice their children inside of the womb either, and doing so will put one at serious risk of Hell-fire.

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  2. A little off topic, but now I’d be curious to see how they decided what to include or not as “scripture”, what did they reject, and why. I’ve become very distrustful of church leaders, although moreso with today’s than those who knew Jesus.
    The church has no use for single men. I’d go as far as to say the dislike for single men is very strong.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s more of a modern problem based on my readings. During the Apostolic and Anti-Nicene era’s the church at times had the opposite problem (e.g. some of the early churches founded to the east of Israel in places like India nearly died out due to taking the admonitions of Paul and Thomas about the preference towards celibacy and singleness to the point where they had similar growth paths as the Shakers in the US).

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      1. Ditto. It’s all catered to emotions. There is no serious discussion or discipleship. Nothing in the Bible sets boundaries on women’s behavior, and men are shamed into handing over their resources to someone who has no obligations to them, and abdicating their leadership on moral and spiritual issues.

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        1. I’m bothered by the support of female missionaries (nearly all of whom are single). They aren’t qualified as teachers (obviously), and their service based ministries are really just welfare/feel good projects that creates dependency on American dollars.
          This practice exists even is super conservative churches. No one bats an eye, and they all love sending their daughters oversees.
          That’s why I don’t give to missions funds anymore.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Don’t forget the refugee operations and the assistance for unskilled illegal immigrants. This is more visible in Europe than here.
            I think that missions should be about sending people to other countries who are equipped to discuss the truth claims of Christianity with non-Christians, and provide reasons why their audience should become Christians. But when the church is all about feelings and not truth, it just becomes about going abroad and doing anti-poverty work, which makes the missionary feel so good, and makes for nice instagram pictures showing exotic travel and compassion.
            Theology and apologetics are harder, and the pictures are not as good.

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    2. There are several excellent sources for New Testament:
      (1) Bruce Metzger’s book (The Canon of the New Testament…)
      (2) ntcanon.org
      (3) Michael J. Kruger’s Canon Fodder Series https://michaeljkruger.com/the-complete-Series-10-misconceptions-about-the-nt-canon/
      (4) Biblindex, a free online search engine for allusions and citations and quotations of Scripture and Apocryphal books https://www.biblindex.mom.fr/ (to get a sense of how the Bible was cited/quoted)

      I think that the *Protestant Church*, as an overreaction to Catholicism, has little use for single men, although (I got married in my upper 30’s about a decade ago) I did find ways to serve. I did go to seminary (Master of Divinity):
      – taught Apologetics 3x
      – taught Koine (New Testament) Greek, the first-year graduate course, became adjunct Greek instructor via seminary
      – taught several other adult Sunday school classes (Discipleship, Spiritual Formation, World Religions from a Christian Perspective)
      – coordinated several rounds of Christian leadership development (ongoing training); our application project was to make recommendations to help Christians be more engaged with the church
      – led Bible Studies for 13 years
      – event coordinator for my church’s biggest annual outreach
      – singles ministry leader (my last year or so being single)
      – Church seminary intern (visitation, missions secretary)
      – leadership selection committee (3 years)
      (And other ministries.)

      My home church, I think keys were:
      – be regular
      – get involved
      – see how you can serve (look for opportunities)
      – be faithful in the small things
      – network / dialogue / market: let your interests and abilities be known

      My first apologetics class was a result of some after-class discussions (I forget the class I was teaching), where I mentioned I loved apologetics and two other guys and I started talking about that. We all collaborated in teaching that!

      Once I built up enough trust with church leadership in multiple venues, they let me do different things (like lead a Bible study by myself or come up with my own class topics).

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I highly recommend John Ensor’s books (Answering the Call, 2003, updated 2012; Stand for Life, 2012, that he and Scott Klusendorf co-wrote).
    He covered the Didache as well as Early Church Fathers (Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Ambrose of Milan, Jerome, Augustine of Hippo, Basil the Great/Basil of Caesarea, Emperor Valentinian, Emperor Justinian, etc.)

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    1. Probably the two most important of the Early Church Fathers to cover concerning canonization would be Origen and Augustine. By the time of Origen, in the early 3rd century, all of the NT books were essentially held as Canon and he writes a bit on how books were chosen from the Septuagint (LXX) to make up the Christian OT. Consider the modern Jewish Canon didn’t really become settled until after the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. After him it’d be Augustine, has he was, IIRC, the organize of the three councils that officially canonized the Bible of the Western Church (Roman Catholics) starting in AD 393, though it was more of a formality than anything else.

      For the Protestant bible, one might want to read works from Luther as he remove some additional books from the OT (and attempted to remove some from the NT as well).

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      1. Hey I just want you to know that Luther didn’t remove any books from the Bible. He made an attempt to remove certain books from the Bible, but the books were set and not changed hundred of years before Luther. And his own people disagreed with him on his views.

        I’m guessing you must be Catholic, because they have all sorts of false beliefs about the Reformation that are never questioned by skeptics.

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        1. I believe Luther was pressured by his publisher to keep the last 4 books of the NT. According to legend, Both him and Calvin expressed personal doubts as to the veracity of Johns epistles, and revelation. (To their error). Other than that, they mostly ignored those books, and refused to comment on them.

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          1. I’d say of the books they tried the remove the best arguments could be made for removing Hebrews, though I think some of them are based purely on the problems it makes for reformed theology.

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        2. Not Catholic and it was Luther’s push that got the Apocrypha books first removed from Canon. The Synod of Hippo in 393 included those books. Some of the earlier suggested canons included even more books, particularly in the NT.

          I have several issues with Luther, even more with Calvin, as I tend to be a blend of Weslyan/Arminian on theology (though I’m a student at a seminary traditional associated with the SBC).

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          1. Apocryphal books were often accepted as lower influence not fully inspired books. The Catholic churches elevation of certain books to promote heresy such as prayer die the dead and other things did much to cause a counter point that completely tossed them as a result.

            An absolute shame becaue the book of macabbes for example are very good books even if there are a few points of error. They can be read like a normal preaching work that is judged against scripture

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  4. Off topic: If men relegated unrepentative women in their lives that had abortions to a defacto second class citizen, (not worthy of marriage and resources, etc); women would make better decisions in life. (They also wouldnt hear as much preaching that hurts their fee-fees, either)

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  5. Apart from the Didache, Christian opposition to abortion appears in Chapter 19 of the Epistle of Barnabas (either a later first century or early second century text).

    Chapter 19 of this anonymous epistle (attributed to Barnabas only later) has several striking similarities to the Didache. The similarities are fascinating because the Didache is grounded in very traditional, Jewish piety while Barnabas seems to be trying to pull away from Judaism, with the letter detailing elaborate allegorical interpretations of the Mosaic law.

    It is possible both texts are drawing upon older, oral teaching material. Either way, the commonalities between the opening of the Didache and chapter 19 of Barnabas suggest that these moral teachings (including prohibition of abortion) were widely distributed across very different Christian communities in the 1st-2nd century.

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  6. Widespread abortion is a sign of female empowerment hence its prevalence in late Rome. In early, patriarchal Rome, infanticide was more common. Of course, a Christian condemns both.

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      1. Well I guess no point to infanticide if the mom kills the baby first.

        Mass abortion inevitable in a gynocracy.

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  7. “When a society allows its mothers to murder their unborn children, what’s next?”

    Mother Teresa

    I can guess: involuntary euthanasia (a nice synonym for murder).

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    1. Yes, because when you make health care “free”, you get fewer people willing to work for free (doctors and nurses) and more people wanting to use the free health care. You get a shortage. Which means that you need to cut costs. And how do you cut costs? You cut off the number of people using the system, especially the ones who are old, since they won’t be voting much longer.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Thr gov’t wants abortion because they promise to help all the poor to get votes. But they don’t want too many poor people to feed so it is better to remove as many as possible through programs like abortion

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