At this point, we need to separate two issues that are confused in Parker’s and Kristof’s argument. The first is the historic Christian understanding of the morality of abortion. The second is the question of when what some theologians have called “ensoulment” takes place. The second question is not a helpful theological question, nor is it answerable. The only consistent biblical logic is to affirm the sanctity and dignity of every human life from the moment of fertilization.
As for the first question, the evidence is irrefutable. The early church was decidedly, vocally, and courageously pro-life and opposed to abortion. One of the earliest documents of Christianity after the New Testament is the Didache, dated to around AD 80–120. The teaching describes two ways: the way of life and the way of death. The way of life demands that Christians “shall not murder a child by abortion nor commit infanticide.” Both abortion and infanticide were common in the Roman Empire. Christians were forbidden to murder any child, born or unborn.
Clement of Alexandria (AD 150–215) made clear the sin of women who “in order to hide their immorality, use abortive drugs which expel the matter completely dead, abort at the same time their human feelings.” Tertullian (AD 160–240) taught even more comprehensively: “For us, we may not destroy even the fetus in the womb.” These church fathers are just two examples of a pro-life position rejecting abortion that also included—at the very least—Athenagoras, Hippolytus, Basil the Great, Ambrose, Jerome, John Chrysostom, and Augustine.
As ethicist Ronald Sider comments, “Eight different authors in eleven different writings mention abortion. In every case, the writing unequivocally rejects abortion.” Michael J. Gorman states in Abortion and the Early Church: “All Christian writers opposed abortion.” Every mention of abortion in the early church rejects it forcefully.
The shame is not that evangelicals hold these pro-life convictions now. The shame is that there was ever any evangelical equivocation on such a matter of life and death and human dignity. Furthermore, there can be no question that historic Christianity condemned abortion and affirmed the sanctity of human life, born and not yet born.
Let there be no confusion on this question. The Bible reveals the sanctity of all human life, the early church affirmed the sanctity of every human life, and anyone who performs an abortion is not “doing God’s work.” Rather, he is undoing it. As the Didache, echoing Deuteronomy, reminds us from so long ago, we are to choose the way of life, and never the way of death.