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Does “Breath of Life” in Scripture Mean an Unborn Child Isn’t Human Until They’re Born and Breathing?

unborn

I read someone’s argument on social media that “Human life occurs at the moment God breathes into [naphach] the biological life the breath of life [neshamat chayyim, ‘soul life’]. This happens at birth.”

When several other commenters pointed this person to what Scripture has to say about God forming the unborn, they responded,

Job 31:15 & Psalm 139:13 refer to God’s involvement in the “mediate” creation of biological life, which began after God created Adam & Eve through “immediate” creation. Biological life is created from existing material, whereas soul life is created after a pattern (God’s) at birth.

…The bible clearly teaches soul life is imputed at birth. The pattern of creation is: 1) biological life is completely formed 2) God breathes soul life into the completed biological life 3) Human life is created.

…Scripture is clear about human life beginning at birth. Even Christ elucidated that BIRTH is the beginning of human life, just as being BORN AGAIN is the beginning of our spiritual life. He didn’t say we must be “conceived again.”

Likewise, some prochoice religious groups argue that as Adam’s life began when God breathed into him, so each human life begins when the baby is born and takes his first breath. This demonstrates a misunderstanding of the nature of the unborn’s respiration. John Davis writes in his book Abortion and the Christian:

While breathing in the usual sense does not begin until birth, the process of respiration in the more technical biological sense of the transfer of oxygen from the environment of the living organism occurs from the time of conception…it is the mode but not the fact of this oxygen transfer which changes at birth.

The creation of Adam was historically unique, never again to be duplicated, and has no parallel to the birth of a child. As Harold O. J. Brown put it in his book Death Before Birth:

If God took inanimate matter and made a man from it, as Genesis 2:7 seems to be saying, then obviously what he created was not a human being until it was given life. But the fetus is not “inanimate matter.” It is already alive. And it is already human….to apply Genesis 2:7 to human beings who were carried for nine months in a mother’s womb before birth is clearly ridiculous. This argument is seldom used by people who take Scripture seriously.

Since Scripture clearly refers to the unborn as living beingsas it does to Jacob and Esau and David conceived a sinner, and hence a human being, in Psalm 51before they took their first breath outside their mother’s body, it refutes the contention that Scripture teaches life begins with the first breath. (See Biblical Perspectives on Unborn Children.) What more would you want these passages to say if they were suggesting that life begins long before a child is breathing on his own?

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Randy Alcorn is the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries (www.epm.org), a nonprofit ministry dedicated to teaching principles of God’s Word and assisting the church in ministering to the unreached, unfed, unborn, uneducated, unreconciled, and unsupported people around the world. Before starting EPM in 1990, Randy served as a pastor for fourteen years. He is a New York Times best-selling author of over fifty books, including Heaven (over one million sold), The Treasure Principle (over two million sold), If God Is Good, Happiness, and the award-winning novel Safely Home. His books sold exceed ten million copies and have been translated into over seventy languages.