What Is the Biblical Basis for the "Sanctity of Human Life"?
Where does the Bible speak about the “sanctity of human life?” I've noticed that the more widely a phrase or slogan gets thrown around, the fuzzier its meaning seems to become. This one is a good example. I’m forever hearing Christians talk about “the sanctity of human life”—in church, on Christian radio and television, and in fund-raising letters from non-profit ministries. In spite of this, I’m not sure I understand exactly what it refers to or where it comes from. Is there a biblical basis for this idea?
We would argue that the Bible is the one and only original source of the belief that human life is unique in all creation and sacred in the eyes of God. This concept in turn provides the foundation for such highly cherished ideals as human rights, human dignity, equality, liberty, and social justice. These principles are indispensable to democracy. We take them for granted in western culture. And yet the truth is that they flow directly from the Christian worldview and the scriptural teaching that undergirds it.
In theological terms, the sanctity of human life is rooted in the Imago Dei. According to Genesis 1:27, all human beings are created “in the Image of God.” Every individual ever conceived bears that Image. It doesn't matter who or what he is or who his parents happen to be. This means that, in some mysterious way, each one of us is a “copy” or “graphic image” of the Creator. Every human being is a formal, visible, and understandable representation of who God is and what He is really like. It also implies that we've been designed to enjoy interpersonal communion with Him and with each other for all eternity. That’s because community, fellowship, and relationship are basic to the very nature of the Trinity.
Note that we said “every individual ever conceived.” That was intentional. The Bible clearly indicates that God knows and regards us as unique human persons while we are still in the womb (and even prior to that time): “For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb… My frame was not hidden from You when I was made in secret… Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them” (Psalm 139:13-16); “Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying: ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nation’s” (Jeremiah 1:4, 5).
It’s true that the Image of God in man has been marred by sin. But Scripture also makes it clear that man’s fall has not destroyed or removed the Imago. It has merely broken or disfigured it. The mirror may be cracked, but it still reflects. Though a sinner, man is still redeemable and worth redeeming. That’s why God sent His Son into the world to die on our behalf.
This is a crucial point, since it is precisely our redeemability and the fact that we still bear God’s Image that makes us different from the rest of creation. As theologian Louis Berkhof puts it, “The doctrine of the Image of God in man is of the greatest importance in theology, for that Image is the expression of that which is most distinctive in man and in his relation to God. The fact that man is the Image of God distinguishes him from the animal and every other creature” (Systematic Theology, p. 206).
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