In America this has become a thorny question. It is often answered on the basis of what one’s position happens to be on the question of abortion. Pro Life advocates will usually point to conception. Abortion supporters will usually use birth as the defining moment (although some have pushed it out to months or even years after birth).
But what does the Bible have to say on he subject? Three Scriptures come to mind.
- Luke 1:44. In this verse, Elizabeth related to Mary that as soon as Mary’s greeting sounded in Elizabeth’s ear, her unborn baby “leaped in [her] womb for joy.” Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit (v. 41), Elizabeth assigned emotion to the movement of her unborn child and emotion is one of the defining characteristics of personality.
- Jeremiah 1:5. God revealed to Jeremiah the circumstances of his call to the ministry, which predated his birth. The language of the first section of the verse indicates that from the moment of conception (“Before I formed you in the womb”) and certainly prior to birth (“Before you were born”) God had already “sanctified” and “ordained” Jeremiah to his life’s calling.
- Exodus 21:22-25. As Moses laid out the laws for what would happen in the event of a violent fight, verses 22-25 address the case of a pregnant woman who gets caught in the struggle. If the combatants wounded her to such a degree that she gave birth prematurely, there were varying levels of punishment depending on the harm done. If they “hurt a woman…yet no harm follows” (harm to the child), then punishment would vary depending on the whims of the husband and the judges. However, if identifiable harm followed (not just to the woman, but to the baby), than the punishment meted out would be based on the injuries sustained. Both mother and unborn child were protected under this law as equals.
These three Scriptures indicate that human life bears the identifying and unmistakable marks of personality before birth, and in the case of Jeremiah, all the way back to conception.