Buttigieg on Abortion: Bible Says 'Life Begins with Breath'

In an interview with Charlemagne tha God on "The Breakfast Club" Friday, Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Ind., and a presidential candidate, argued that Christians can support abortion because the Bible says life begins with breath.

"There’s a lot of parts of the Bible that talk about how life begins with breath," Buttigieg said. He was criticizing how conservatives "hold everybody in line with this one kind of piece of doctrine about abortion."

Citing "parts of the Bible that talk about how life begins with breath," Buttigieg said, "even that is something that we can interpret differently."

Mayor Pete's interpretation echoed a wacky and wrong-headed pro-abortion argument that focuses on Adam's creation in Genesis to the exclusion of the rest of the Bible's testimony on life in the womb. Pro-abortion advocates have cited Genesis 2:7: "Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature."

This verse is only about Adam, however. It does not mean that in the case of normal human conception, pregnancy, and birth life only begins when the baby takes his or her first breath. In fact, such a view would contradict the many Bible passages suggesting life begins well before birth — and the witness of early Church history that Christians have always opposed abortion.

While Genesis 2:7 suggests Adam did not become "a living thing" until God breathed into him, many Bible passages clearly teach that unborn babies have personality and dignity in the womb.

A prayer of praise to God, Psalm 139:13-16, reads, "For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them."

When God calls the prophet Jeremiah, He says, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations" (Jeremiah 1:5).

Job 31:15 refers to God making people in the womb, and in Psalm 22:10 King David writes, "from my mother's womb you have been my God."

The Gospel of Luke even refers to an unborn Jesus Christ as "Lord," and recounts John the Baptist leaping while in his mother's womb.

"And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, 'Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?'" (Luke 1:41-43).

In his letter to the Galatians (penned in approximately 55 A.D.), St. Paul issued a catalog of sins (Galatians 5:20). Among other sins, he condemned pharmakeia, the making and administering of potions. In Revelation 21:8, St. John the Evangelist condemned "sexual immorality," and then he immediately went on to condemn pharmakois, the plural form of the same word Paul used in Galatians 5:20.

While the word is often translated "sorcery" or "witchcraft," Alvin J. Schmidt, in his book How Christianity Changed the World, noted that "it is quite likely that when Paul used the word pharmakeia in Galatians, he meant the practice of abortion, because administering medicinal potions was a common way of inducing abortions among the Greco-Romans."

The pagan Plutarch used the word pharmakeia to refer to contraception and abortion potions, and the early Christian document the Didache (or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, written between 85 and 110 A.D.) argues that abortion is forbidden, using the words ou pharmakeuseis, "you shall not use potions," immediately followed by "ou phoneuseis teknon en phthora," "you shall not kill a child by abortion."

Other early Christians, including Clement of Alexandria, Minucius Felix, Bishop Ambrose, and St. Jerome, mentioned and condemned the common practice of women using potions (pharmakeia) to commit abortion. Even if the word pharmakeia in Galatians and Revelation does not refer to abortion, early Christians almost unanimously condemned the practice.

Perhaps one of the clearest statements came from Tertullian, a north African church father who died around 220 A.D. In his Apology, Tertullian wrote, "We may not destroy even the foetus in the womb," and added, "Nor does it matter whether you take away the life that is born or destroy the one that is coming to birth."

Athenagoras, a Christian philosopher writing to the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius in about 177 A.D., defended his fellow Christians against the charge of cannibalism (a Roman misunderstanding of the Christian belief that believers receive the body and blood of Christ in the Lord's Supper). "What reason would we have to commit murder when we say that women who induce abortions are murderesses?" Athenagoras asked.

In contrast to ancient Roman society, Christians opposed abortion, infanticide, and child abandonment. Early Christians would rescue the children of pagans who had been left in the woods to die.

Even if Buttigieg's argument about breath had merit in the Bible, it would contradict the witness of modern science. From the moment of conception, unborn babies have a complete set of human DNA, making them genetically unique individuals. Indeed, a recent study showed that 95 percent of biologists say life begins at conception, and most Americans think biologists should make this determination.

Buttigieg is far outside the mainstream of biblical Christianity on this point. His position has no biblical support and it is contradicted by the actual history of the Early Church.

Mayor Pete is welcome to his own opinion, but that does not make it true. If he wants to convince Christians to be open to abortion, he'll have to do better than this.

Follow Tyler O'Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.