When does life begin?

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Whatever you think about the issue, it is hard to deny that the prospect of an abortion is momentous and life-changing, both for the mother who has found herself pregnant, probably when she did not want to be, and for the baby whose life is in danger.

There is much debate raging over this topic and it can become very heated and sometimes hostile. Although this is a very emotional issue, we need to think carefully and rationally about what abortion actually involves.

One important issue in the debate is seeking the answer to the question, “When does life begin?”

What does the Bible say about this?

The Bible teaches us that the child in the womb is very much alive, human and very precious. There are many Biblical proofs for the humanity of the child in the womb. John the Baptist leaps for joy in his mother’s womb when his mother greets Mary who is pregnant with the unborn Jesus [1]. David uses personal pronouns in referring to himself as a child in the womb [2]. In the Bible we read of some unborn babies being set apart [3], blessed [4], filled with the Holy Spirit [5] and even charged as sinful [6].

The Bible teaches not only that human life starts in the womb, but more specifically, it starts at conception. The clearest witness to this is the conception of the Lord Jesus who was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary [7]. His humanity started in the womb at conception.

Scripture does not dispute the humanity of the unborn. Neither should we.

The biology

In the last few decades scientists have discovered many things about the events at and soon after conception. An egg and a sperm meet and fuse together in the process of fertilisation. In the image at the top of this article, the nuclei from the father’s sperm and the mother’s egg can be seen next to each other at the moment before they unite together to form one cell, the new individual. (Only one sperm can fertilise a female egg to form an embryo; once fertilisation occurs the outside of the embryo becomes impermeable to any other sperm.)

Fertilisation is the moment of conception and the beginning of new life. Repeated division from this one cell leads to the development of the embryo (literally meaning ‘young one’) and then the foetus (literally meaning ‘offspring’). The embryo’s cells have their own unique DNA that determines hair and eye colour, and height, amongst many other things. The baby’s heart starts to beat at about 27 days after fertilisation  and independent movement starts at 6-8 weeks. By 12 weeks the little baby is about 5-6 cm long and the eyes, nose, hands, fingers, knees can be seen and the internal organs are formed.

So we now know a little more of how a child is “knitted together” in their mother’s womb. We can see that each baby is “fearfully and wonderfully made” [8]. He or she is made in the image of God [9] and is precious in His sight.

Protected by God

Because every human being is made in the image of God, each ought to be protected by God’s law which condemns killing [10]. However, no sin is beyond the forgiveness of the Lord Jesus, who Himself was killed that we might be forgiven for all our sins. Abortion involves breaking God’s law by taking the life of an unborn child. Many try to weigh the life of the baby in a set of scales against the mother’s feelings and difficulties. Yet no circumstance, except a risk to the life of the mother, should be rightly balanced against human life, which is sacred.


  1. Luke 1:41 & 44 “And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb…For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.”
  2. Psalm 139:13-16
  3. Jeremiah 1:5 ”…before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”; Galatians 1:15 “But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace…” Judges 13:7 but he said to me, ‘Behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. So then drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb to the day of his death.
  4. Luke 1:42 ”…and blessed is the fruit of your womb!”
  5. Luke 1:15 “…and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.”
  6. Psalm 51:5 “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.”; Psalm 58:3: “The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies.”
  7. Luke 1:35 “And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.”
  8. Psalm 139: 13-16 “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.”
  9. Genesis 1:27 ”So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”
  10. Exodus 20:13 “You shall not murder.”
  • The authors would like to acknowledge the influence of Peter Barnes’ book: Barnes, P. 2010, Abortion: ‘Open Your Mouth For The Dumb’, The Banner of Truth Trust, USA.