Dear Whoopi Goldberg: What the Bible Has to Say about Abortion

Recently, Whoopi Goldberg made the bold announcement that the Bible has nothing to say about the subject of abortion. An audacious statement, especially since Ms. Goldberg has no scholarly credentials in the field of theology. But it should be noted that Ms. Goldberg is not alone in this belief; other abortion advocates have made such pronouncements as well as made the claim that since the Bible is silent on the issue it must, therefore, be licit.

While it is true that the Bible certainly does not explicitly use the term “abortion” that does not mean that it has nothing to say on the subject. In fact, St. Paul did implicitly write about abortion, specifically in his Epistle to the Galatians. In chapter 5 verse 20 where he mentions the term “pharmakeia”. This Greek word is usually translated as sorcery or magic, but it has a much deeper meaning than just those.  A more precise understanding of the term could be rendered with another modern translation of the term, “pharmacy” or “drugs”. “Pharmakeia”, in Paul’s mind, would have been drugs (or potions) made by a sorcerer. This word had an even darker tone for St. Paul since it would be these “sorcerers” who made potions that caused abortion.

whoopi2But certainly, as some would say, Paul could have merely meant to tell the Christian to avoid magic. This, however, seems to be a narrow and shallow interpretation of the Scripture passage. First, for the reason that the term “pharmakeia” follows after Paul lists certain sexual sins, as one can see in two different translations of the text. The New American Bible translation simply states, “Now the works of the flesh are obvious: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery…”(NAB, Galatians 5:19-20). However, the New Jerusalem Bible offers a slightly different translation, “When self-indulgence is at work the results are obvious: sexual vice, impurity, and sensuality, the worship of false gods and sorcery…”(NJB, Galatians 5:19-20). This translation gives the reader a better historical insight into what Paul was trying to say. One should always keep in mind that Paul lived in the Roman Empire and his writing, while inspired by the Holy Spirit, was directed towards the Galatian Gentile Christians of the age. These Gentile Christians were formerly pagan, not converts from Judaism, and would have practiced pagan activities prior to their conversions. Paul, being familiar with pagan rituals and activities since he grew up in primarily pagan Tarsus, would have understood this reality. Again, one must keep in mind that Paul is warning the Galatians against falling back into pagan (those who worshipped false gods) sexual practices which included promiscuous sex and “sorcerers” who made abortifacient concoctions in order to end those pregnancies.  So it makes perfect sense that Paul would have listed the results of “self-indulgence” as the New Jerusalem text translates, the way he did.  It just flows logically since pagan sexual practices did lead to the very real possibility of abortion.

Secondly, Paul was a Pharisee prior to his conversion. But what does this mean? Paul would have been highly educated in the Jewish law and Jewish law prohibited abortion. In addition, Paul certainly understood the words of Christ, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill” (NAB, Matthew 5:17). Children were seen as a blessing from God under Jewish law. This respect for the unborn as a blessing from the Lord is even mentioned by the ancient Jewish historian Flavius Josephus when he says, “The law, moreover, enjoins us to bring up our offspring, and forbids women to cause abortion of what is begotten, or destroy it afterward…” (See  Against Apion). Paul, in his tome to the Galatians, wishes to convey not only the truth about the beauty of the creation of the unborn child, but that the unjust killing of the unborn child is contrary to the plan of God. He carries the Jewish tradition of the respect for the unborn into the Christian tradition.

Finally, it would seem that this interpretation of Paul is congruent with the thought of the earliest Fathers of the Church. One of the earliest teachings on abortion comes from the early catechism known as the Didache and it mirrors almost exactly what Paul had said to the Galatians, “And the second commandment of the Teaching; You shall not commit murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not commit pederasty, you shall not commit fornication, you shall not steal, you shall not practice magic, you shall not practice witchcraft, you shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill that which is begotten” (See Didache, Ch. 2). Again, notice how abortion comes directly after magic and witchcraft. The anonymous author of the Didache is not writing outside of Apostolic teaching. It becomes quite clear that the author is basically composing, into a teaching volume, the moral theology of the Apostle Paul. St. Barnabas again mirrors this thought in his own epistle when, like the Didache, he states it in such a way that it mimics the way in which it was presented in the Didache. In this epistle he states, “You shall not slay the child by procuring abortion; nor, again, shall you destroy it after it is born” (See Epistle of Barnabas, ch. 19). While the Didache closely resembles the passage from the Letter to the Galatians, this particular epistle mentions abortion first then gets into the list that Paul mentions in the next chapter. While chapter 20 of the Epistle of Barnabas does not mention abortion in the English translation, it does mention poisoning next to the word “magic”. This is interesting since the word “murder” was just mentioned a few words ahead. It is more than reasonable, that the author of this letter is making the connection between abortion and magic like Paul.

It is clear that the earliest Church Fathers understood exactly what St. Paul meant by this term “pharmakeia” and the concept of abortion is intended to be a part of that declaration of what is illicit. Making the claim that the Bible says nothing of abortion because the word is not explicitly mentioned is not only incorrect, but shows a gross ignorance of the Holy Word. Modern polemicists need to tread careful water when speaking about Scripture. Just because Ms. Goldberg played a nun in two movies, that does not make her a Biblical scholar.

Joe Kral has been involved in the pro-life movement since he has been in college.  His MA in Theology was completed at the University of St. Thomas where he specialized in bioethics.  From 1996-2003 he was the Legislative Director for Texas Right to Life.  During that time he was also a lobbyist for the Department of Medical Ethics at National Right to Life.  From 2004-2007 he consulted the Texas Catholic Conference on pro-life legislative initiatives.   In 2006 he was awarded the “Bishop’s Pro-Life Award for Civic Action” from the Respect Life Ministry in the Diocese of Dallas.  He currently serves as a voluntary legislative advisor to Texas Alliance for Life, is a member of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars, taught as an adjunct professor of Theology at the University of St. Thomas, teaches as a Forward Toward Christian Ministry instructor for the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, is a member of the Knights of Columbus, and is doing doctoral studies at Harrison Middleton University where he is specializing in the ethical and legal theory of St. Thomas Aquinas. He has been married to his wife, Melissa, since 2004 and they have 2 children together. They attend St. Theresa’s Catholic Church in Sugar Land.
Articles by Joe:

  • bdlaacmm

    And don’t forget Luke 1:43-44.

    “And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy”

    How could the pre-born John the Baptist leap “for joy” without being already a person, capable of feeling and expressing joy? And how could he recognize the presence of Jesus (who had, after all, been at that moment only a few days at most in Mary’s womb) unless Jesus also was already a “person”?

    • Joseph Kral

      Thank you for your response. This is very true and goes to the issue of life beginning at conception.

  • Perry Dane

    What’s your basis for arguing that “Jewish law prohibited abortion”? Classical Jewish legal sources limited abortion, but did not entirely forbid it. In fact, Jewish law requires abortion in some cases, particularly if the life of the mother is at risk.

    • Joseph Kral

      Thank you for your response Professor Dane. If you are interested in in reading more about the subject you raise you can look at Chapter 3 of Abortion and the Early Church: Christian, Jewish, & Pagan Attitudes in the Greco-Roman World by Michael J. Gorman. You may also want to look at The Rise of Christianity by Rodney Stark, particularly Chapter 5.

  • Daniel Perry

    Ms. Goldberg didn’t play a nun, but a nun impostor…

  • RaymondNicholas

    WG has admitted to five abortions on her TV show, “The View.” IMO, she can only feel good about herself by finding ways to justify her actions. That means discrediting the theology of the bible, attacking pro-life claims, and denying the humanity of the preborn baby. I suspect that what she is doing plays upon her mind constantly and will continue to affect her for many years to come.

    • Joseph Kral

      We must pray for her

    • blake3b

      Five abortions??? My God! Those women (minus Candace Cameron) are just horrible human beings. They defend abortions, make fun of nurses, make fun of Carly F.’s face, etc. They are unattractive women and that comes from the inside out.

      The View should have been cancelled years ago, they have been beaten by their competitor The Talk for years now and I see why. I will celebrate when The View is cancelled forever.

  • melanie statom

    Is ” Thou shalt not kill ” biblical?

    • PalaceGuard

      Particularly so in the sense that “kill”, in that context of the Commandment, is best translated as “spilling innocent blood”.

  • FrJeffrey

    As another biblical reference, God who is Spirit becomes human at the Annunciation, at the moment of the conception of Jesus in his mother’s womb. Since God becomes human at conception, we too begin our lives at fertilization/conception, since Christ “became like us in all things except sin. (Philippians 2)

    • Joseph Kral

      Very well said!

  • http://www.vasumurti.org VasuMurti

    Saying, “The Bible permits killing animals,” isn’t convincing. The Bible permits killing the unborn, slavery and the subjugation of women, too! Genesis 38:24. Tamar’s pregnancy was discovered three months after conception. This was proof that she was sexually active. Because she was a widow, without a husband, she was assumed to be a prostitute. Her father-in-law, Judah, ordered that she be burned alive for her crime. If Tamar’s fetuses had any value whatsoever, her execution would have been delayed until after their birth. There was no condemnation on Judah for deciding to take this action.

    Exodus 21:22-24. If two men are fighting and one injures a pregnant woman and the fetus is killed, he shall repay her according to the degree of injury inflicted upon *her*, and not the fetus. Born-again author Brian McKinley comments: “Thus we can see that if the baby is lost, it does not require a death sentence-it is not considered murder. But if the woman is lost, it is considered murder and is punished by death.”

    This is grounded in Exodus 21:22. That biblical passage outlines the Mosaic Law in a case where a man is responsible for causing a woman’s miscarriage, which kills the fetus. If the woman survives, then the perpetrator has to pay a fine to the woman’s husband. If the woman is killed, the perpetrator is also killed. This indicates that the fetus has value, but does not have the status of a person.

    Pro-life apologists argue the unborn has *some* value in Exodus 21, if not actual personhood, but the New Testament is more permissive than the Old! Paul not only claims Mosaic Law has been abolished and refers to his previous adherence to the law as “so much garbage”, but claims the risen Jesus said to him three times, “…my grace is sufficient for thee…” (II Corinthians 12:8-9).

    Some pro-life Christians misinterpret this verse to mean they’re free to do as they please — ignoring the rest of the moral instructions Paul gives throughout his epistles! If their view prevails, what basis do pro-life Christians have for opposing abortion? Doesn’t “three times…” justify choice?

  • Pastor Pass

    It amazes me how animated people get about abortions and how they use the Bible to justify what they believe. They steal, kill, lie, cheat and manipulate the written Word of GOD to push an earthly agenda. Abortion is wrong. There is no doubt that. But the scripture speaks loudly about liars having their own place in hell but I don’t see many who don’t love their politicians. The scripture tells us that the Lord told His people to go into this city and kill everything that breathes; men, women, and children. That would include pregnant women, nursing women, and all. This is not something that our Lord allowed, this is something He commanded. I don’t pretend to know why He made that commandment I just honor it because I don’t have to understand what He does to love His decisions. I will preach the gospel every day of my life to women be for and after they have abortions. I will preach the gospel to the men who for whatever the reason stand with them. I will not ridicule them because there would be too much I would have to answer for if it were not for Jesus Christ. But you people who hate the sin and the people you continue on if you have a mind to but just remember what tool in your box you use to judge will be used to judge you whether you had an abortion or committed some other sin you don’t think is a bigger deal.

  • Nancy from Ave Maria

    Don’t forget the Didache:

    The Teaching of the Twelve ApostlesThe Didache

    (1st Century AD)

    The Lord’s Teaching to the Heathen by the Twelve Apostles:

    1 There are two ways, one of life and one of death; and between the two ways there is a great difference.

    2 Now, this is the way of life:…

    The second commandment of the Teaching: “Do not murder; do not commit adultery”; do not corrupt boys; do not fornicate; “do not steal”; do not practice magic; do not go in for sorcery; do not murder a child by abortion or kill a newborn infant. “Do not covet your neighbor’s property; do not commit perjury; do not bear false witness”; do not slander; do not bear grudges. Do not be double-minded or double-tongued, for a double tongue is “a deadly snare.” Your words shall not be dishonest or hollow, but substantiated by action. Do not be greedy or extortionate or hypocritical or malicious or arrogant. Do not plot against your neighbor. Do not hate anybody; but reprove some, pray for others, and still others love more than your own life.

  • https://twitter.com/RooForLife RooforLife

    Abortion and the Bible:

    Pro-Life or Pro-Choice?

    God’s Terms for Unborn Human Life http://gospelway.com/morality/abortion.php


    James Wilson, one of only six men to sign both the Declaration and the Constitution, was a Supreme Court justice. Recognized as “the most learned and profound legal scholar of his generation,” Wilson’s “Lectures on Law” were attended by President George Washington, Vice President John Adams, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, and a “galaxy of other republican worthies.” Constitutional scholar Walter Berns remarks, “Wilson, when speaking on the law, might be said to be speaking for the Founders generally.”

    Here is what Wilson and the Founders say about the right to life:

    “With consistency, beautiful and undeviating, human life from its commencement to its close, is protected by the common law. In the contemplation of law, life begins when the infant is first able to stir in the womb. By the law, life is protected not only from immediate destruction, but from every degree of actual violence, and in some cases, from every degree of danger.”[2]


    Mary (pregnant with Jesus) Visits Elizabeth (pregnant with John the baptist):

    LUKE 1:39 Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, 40 and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. 45 Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.”

    MATTHEW 18: Jesus Warns of Offenses

    6 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea. 7 Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes!”

    Holy Moses! in EXODUS 21:22-25

    “If men fight, and hurt a woman with child, so that she gives birth prematurely, yet no harm follows, he shall surely be punished accordingly as the woman’s husband imposes on him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.

    But if any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.”

    O:) (The 10 Commandments are in the previous chapter 20!)

    Tell Whoopi Goldberg! (Not that we are going to stone anyone.)

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