The incarnation demands a pro-life position

April 14, 2021

The fight against abortion is a hearts-and-minds campaign.

Pro-life advocates rightly pursue legislative and judicial means to end the evil of legal abortion, but a large part of our struggle is persuasive in nature. And we need all kinds of arguments in our tool belt as we seek to persuade people both inside and outside of our faith communities that unborn life ought to be defended. We should appeal to Scripture to demonstrate the dignity of all human life, including life in the womb. We should appeal to science to show the undeniable truth that unborn human life is indeed both human and living. We should appeal to philosophy to show the capriciousness of denying human personhood to a particular class of human beings.  

Jesus at conception and the dignity of the unborn

But there are also theological arguments that we can marshal in our fight against abortion. As Christians around the world celebrate the seasons of Advent and Christmas over the next several weeks, it is worth considering a specifically Christological argument that can buttress our belief in the dignity of unborn human life.

Consider that the central claim of the Christian faith is the belief that God the Son—the eternal Second Person of the Godhead—became a human being in the womb of the Virgin Mary. As the classic Christmas carol “O Come All Ye Faithful” puts it, “God of God, Light of Light; Lo, he abhors not the Virgin’s womb!” God the Son became a human being by taking to himself a complete human nature: a true body and a rational soul (see the Definition of the Council of Chalcedon, AD 451).

And the New Testament makes it clear that this assumption of a human nature began at Christ’s conception, not at his birth. This is evident from Gabriel’s annunciation to Mary concerning the miraculous nature of Christ’s conception (Luke 1:26-37). The “power of the most High” would come upon Mary and would “overshadow” her, as the Spirit once hovered over the waters of creation (Gen. 1:2) and as the presence of God hovered over Israel of old like an eagle over its young (Deut. 32:11).

Christ, then, was “conceived by the Holy Ghost” and “born of the Virgin Mary,” as the Apostles’ Creed puts it. (We could also point to the parallel account of John the Baptist’s miraculous conception and his capacity for Spirit-filled joy even in the womb of his mother Elizabeth; Luke 1:15, 44)

The problem with denying personhood at conception

To fine-tune this argument a bit, consider the Christological implications of denying the truth that the Son’s assumption of a human nature began at the moment of his conception in Mary’s womb. Consider what must be the case if the Son assumed his human nature at some point after conception—perhaps at birth or at some later point during the pregnancy of Mary.This position would entail that there was an already existing human nature, independent of its personal assumption by the Son, which was at some later point taken by the Son in personal (hypostatic) union.

So what was the status of this human nature before its assumption by the person of the Son? Did it constitute a human person on its own right? If so, then this position would entail the ancient heresy of Nestorianism, the view that there are actually two persons in Christ: the person of the eternal Son and the human person of Jesus, who was adopted by the Son at some point in his life.  

If the human nature in Mary’s womb did not constitute a distinct human person, then what was it? Did it have a soul as well as a body? The nature and timing of “ensoulment” is an interesting and somewhat debated issue in the history of Christian theology, but the most compelling position maintains that the human body and soul come into existence simultaneously (see, for example, the arguments of St. Maximus the Confessor against the Platonic idea of preexistent souls). This body-soul composite is what constitutes a human person.

But what if ensoulment (and thus personhood) occurs at some point after conception? This would entail a heresy of its own when applied to Christ. If the human nature in Mary’s womb existed for a time without a human soul, then we are left with another Christological heresy: a kind of “temporary Apollinarianism,” as Oliver Crisp puts it, in which the Son’s human nature was temporarily incomplete, being comprised of a body without a soul. All of these Christological problems can be avoided, if we attend more closely to the church’s traditional understanding of the Son’s incarnation.

The historic position of the Christian church

The historic position of the Christian church is that the human nature of Christ was “without a person” (anhypostatic), in the sense that it did not constitute a human person distinct from the person of the Son. Instead, the human nature of Christ was personalized (enhypostatic) by its assumption by the person of the Son. So there was never a moment in the history of the human nature of Christ when it was not assumed by the person of the Son.

When we are confronted with Jesus of Nazareth in the gospels, there is no person there other than the eternal person of the Son of God in his incarnate state. This is precisely what makes the redeeming work of Christ efficacious for the salvation of the world. Nor was there some impersonal human nature (whatever that would mean) that was assumed at some point after it came into existence. No, the human nature of Christ was assumed by the person of the Son at the very moment of its conception.

So, at least in the case of the incarnate Christ, personhood began in the womb. If we assume that Christ’s experience was paradigmatic for human personhood, then the same would apply to all human beings: human beings in the womb are human persons. And, thanks be to God, it was for the sake of fallen human persons that the divine Son of God abhorred not the Virgin’s womb, but took to himself a human nature “for us men and for our salvation.”

This article originally published on December 21, 2015.

R. Lucas Stamps

R. Lucas Stamps is a Faculty Lead and Associate Professor of Christian Studies at California Baptist University. His areas of focus include Christology, Trinity, historical theology, and Baptist theology.  Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24