The Sanctity of Human Life
Is it ever justifiable to take human life? What about “mercy killing”? Capital punishment? The life of the unborn? One’s own life?
These issues are by no means new; some are almost as old as man himself. But they are certainly very relevant in today’s world, and particularly so in North American society. Moreover, there are divergent opinions on each of them, so it ill behooves us to hastily pass judgment on those who do not see eye to eye with us. What does the Bible teach?
In subsequent issues of “Food for the Flock,” we shall examine some of these problems. Essential to any Biblical consideration of them, however, is the concept of the sanctity of human life, which the Bible does emphasize and which itself is based on the distinctiveness of human life (Gen. 9:5, 6). As an introduction to these studies, we should consider these subjects.
The Distinctiveness of Human Life
Since, obviously, no human being was present to witness or record the origin of human life on earth, our knowledge of this must come from God’s revelation in His Word: in Genesis 1:26, 27 and 2:7. These two accounts are not contradictory but complementary: the first describes the creation of man in relation to the rest of God’s creation; the second gives the physical details, and man’s relationship with his immediate environment on earth. Both clearly indicate that man did not evolve from other creatures but came directly from the hand of God; he was created by a definite act of God. This, of course, totally contradicts “theistic evolution.”
That human life is distinct and on a different plane from that of all other living creatures on earth is evident from the following:
1. The creation of man is the culminating act of Genesis 1. The verses before verse 26 are preparatory; God was making a suitable environment in which to introduce the climax and crown of His creation: man. Of all the earlier stages, God said: “Good” (verses 4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25); of this final stage — the creation of man — God said: “Very good” (31).
2. The word “create” occurs on three separate occasions in Genesis 1: in relation to 1. “the heaven and the earth” (1); 2. living creatures in general (21) — including fish, birds, and, subsequently, beasts; and 3. man (27) — of whom the word is used three times in one verse (and several times throughout Scripture). Evidently, man was a distinct creation of God.
3. In creating other creatures, God said: “Let the waters bring forth… let the earth bring forth…” (20, 24). The creation of man necessitated a council in heaven, when Father, Son and Spirit made the momentous decision: “let us make man .
4. God made other living creatures on earth “after his kind” (21, 24, 25). Only of man did He say: “Let us make … in our image, after our likeness” (26). Whatever else may be meant by this statement, it clearly marks man as different from and superior to the animate and inanimate creation around him. Likewise, of no other creature is it said: “God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life …” (Gen. 2:7). Even the evolutionist, Sir Julian Huxley, admitted that “man is unique in virtue of his power of conceptual thought.”
5. Man was, at the time of his creation, given dominion over the rest of living creatures (26).
6. After the flood, God allowed Noah and his descendants to use as food “every moving thing that liveth” but prohibited the taking of human life (Gen. 9:1-6).
7. The Ten Commandments include the command: “Thou shalt not kill” (Ex. 20:13) — that is, murder —the taking of human life. Yet God commanded His people to “kill” bullocks, sheep, goats, etc. as offerings on behalf of man.
8. Our Lord, while on earth, gave His assessment of the value of human life, when He asked, “Are you better than they (the fowls of the air)?” (Matt. 6:26), and: “Ye are of more value than many sparrows” (Matt. 10:31), and when He reproached the religious leaders of His day for their criticism of His healing of humans on the Sabbath, while they cared for their own ox or ass on the Sabbath (Luke 13:14-16).
9. In 1 Corinthians 15:39, Paul distinguishes the flesh of man from that of beasts, fish and birds.
Alas, it is true that many humans have stooped morally to or below the level of beasts, but, in His grace, God can raise them — even to “sit in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6).
The “Animal Rights Movement” denies the Scriptural view of human uniqueness in its stand against the use of animals in research related to human diseases, and even in the provision of food. Thus, ethics professor Peter Stringer (in “Animal Liberation: A New Ethic for our Treatment of Animals”) argues: “It can no longer be maintained by anyone but a religious fanatic that man is the special darling of the whole universe or that other animals were created to provide us with food, or that we have divine authority over them or divine permission to kill them.” Cruel and needless animal experimentation is never justified. Without animal research, however, many of the modern remedies for human disease would not be available, and medical knowledge of the cause and treatment of both animal and human disease would be much more limited.
The Sanctity of Human Life
In His first recorded commands to Noah after the flood, God emphasized the sacredness of human life and the seriousness of taking life (Gen. 9:1-7). The basis of the sanctity of the life of man is stated to be: “for in the image of God He made man” (v. 6). When He created man, God said: “Let us make man in our image and after our likeness” (Gen. 1:26) — a statement of the Triune God which is far beyond the intellectual grasp of His creature man. “Image” in Scripture has the sense of representation: as the image on the coin presented to the Lord represented the emperor, Caesar (Matt. 22:20, 21), and idols are often called “graven images” —representing “gods.” Thus God created man in His image to represent Him on earth. This he could only do if he bore some resemblance to the Creator — indicated by the word “likeness.” This is obviously not a physical likeness — for God is Spirit (John 4:24) — but rather moral, intellectual, spiritual.
Since man is made in the image of God, it is very serious, indeed, to take human life; to do so is to express the utmost contempt for the Creator, represented by that human being. One who kills another has forfeited his own right to live.
This divine prohibition regarding the taking of human life is reiterated through the Old Testament, including, of course, the sixth of the Ten Commandments: “Thou shalt not kill.” The Lord Jesus Himself reinforced it in His teaching (Matt. 5:21, 22).