Friday, March 23, 2012

The 2nd Commandment and Pictures of Jesus

The purpose of this study is to answer what constitutes a violation of the second commandment, especially in regards to pictures of Jesus Christ.
Exodus 20:4-6 (NASB) states “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing loving-kindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.”
1.       Pictures of Christ: A Theological Study:

a)      God Revealed Himself:
Suppose that you are talking casually with a friend, when he pulls a photograph out of his pocket of a man who is five foot eight with broad shoulders and straight blonde hair, claiming that it is a picture of Jesus. The question that should naturally arise is ‘how do you know that is a picture of Jesus?’
The response will appeal to an authority: if the authority appealed to is other than God, the theocentric origin of the second commandment is completely overthrown. God is the Lord your God, God brought the Israelites out of slavery, God is the jealous God, God visits the iniquity of people and God shows loving-kindness. The 10 commandments are God’s commandments: God spoke them.
Because God has not revealed Himself through that picture, and Jesus Christ is fully God, that picture cannot but be a violation of the second commandment; there is no Divine evidence that God revealed himself through that picture. God revealed Himself in certainty; we are not to guess about God. Man is not permitted to represent God apart from how He has revealed Himself.
b)      The Second Commandment:
The Hebrew word for ‘not’ in verse four is ‘lo’, which constitutes an absolute and unequivocal prohibition. Whatever is forbidden in the second commandment is absolutely forbidden. There are two related but different commands within the second commandment; the first prohibits man from making an image of God, the second prohibits worshipping or honouring that idol. The second clause is dependent on the first clause – God prohibits man from making an idol, and God prohibits man from worshipping any idol that man makes.
God reveals Himself, therefore man-made images cannot represent God, and man-made images are idols that cannot accurately depict or serve God. In the first clause, God prohibits humans from attempting to visibly represent Him. Numerous ancient cults (e.g. Egyptian) attempted to visibly represent God in various created and creaturely forms. Such idols are not God. God is “the LORD your God”; any attempt to visibly depict God in any way that He has not revealed Himself is to depict God as an idol.
In the second clause, God forbids men from worshiping Him through an idol. God forbids idolatry because He is Lord and God. God is to be worshipped and served: if an image of God does not bring you to worship Him, it is an idol. But if the image does being you to worship God, you are worshiping a man-made depiction of God, which is an idol. God must be worshipped as He commands and desires.
While Moses was in the mountains with God, the Israelites built a golden calf to symbolise God. Exodus 32:8 states, “They have quickly turned aside from the way which I commanded them. They have made for themselves a molten calf, and have worshiped it and have sacrificed to it and said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.’” The verse lists two ways in which the Israelites violated the second commandment:
Firstly, they disobeyed the first clause of the second commandment by building the golden calf as an image of God (Exodus 20:4). Secondly, they disobeyed the second clause of the second commandment by worshiping the golden calf (Exodus 20:5). The Israelites sinned against God in both making and worshipping the Golden calf. Making an image of God is sinful; it is a violation of the second commandment in itself.
Pagan traditions that surrounded the Israelites made images of their gods and worshiped these images of their gods. In Deuteronomy 4:16 God commanded the Israelites not to “act corruptly and make  a graven image for yourselves in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female…” To make a graven image is to act corruptly. To make a graven image of God is a violation of the second commandment.
2.       Objections Answered:
The two common objections to this position are as follows:
(a)    “There is no problem with making an image of Jesus, a problem only arises if that image is worshipped”.
The first clause of the second commandment which condemns making an image of God in itself refutes this argument. Moreover, this argument would prove too much: it would also therein permit making images of God the Father, as long as one does not worship that image.
(b)   “Jesus was a man, therefore we may make an image of him.”
God is one in essence; therefore to make an image of Christ is to make an image of God. Therefore any image of Jesus Christ must depict him as only man, which is contradicted by the Incarnation. In the Incarnation, the Second Person of the Trinity did not relinquish His deity: He added to it by taking on a full human nature. The Divine and human natures are united in one person, therefore any image of Christ cannot do justice to the doctrine that His two natures are united in one person, without positing that it is permissible to make an image of the pre Incarnate Second Person of the Trinity.
To be consistent, those who use ‘argument b’ must believe one of the following heresies in order to not make an image of God. The only options are to deny the unity of two natures in one person (Nestorianism), deny that God is one in essence (Tritheism), reject the deity of Christ altogether (Ebionism, Arianism), or assert that Christ no longer was fully God or fully man (Monophycitism).
Any image of Jesus Christ must represent both his divine and human natures. As Jesus Christ is fully God, any image of Him cannot represent His deity, and therefore does not represent the Jesus Christ revealed by God in Scripture.
3.       Pictures of Christ: A Historical Study:
Below I have compiled thirty quotes from numerous Reformed confessions and theologians, spanning from the Reformation to the present day:
“Since God as Spirit is in essence invisible and immense, he cannot really be expressed by any art or image. For this reason we have no fear pronouncing with Scripture that images of God are mere lies. Therefore we reject not only the idols of the Gentiles, but also the images of Christians. Although Christ assumed human nature, yet he did not on that account assume it in order to provide a model for carvers and painters. Images are forbidden by the law and the prophets (Deut. 4:15; Isa. 44:9).” – Second Helvetic Confession.
“The sins forbidden in the second commandment are …the making any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of any creature whatsoever; all worshiping of it, or God in it or by it.” – Westminster Larger Catechism
“What does God require in the second commandment? That we in no wise represent God by images, nor worship him in any other way than he has commanded in his word.  Are images then not at all to be made? God neither can nor may be represented by any means; but as to creatures, though they may be represented, yet God forbids us to make, or have any resemblance of them, either in order to worship them, or to serve God by them.” – Heidelberg Catechism
“We declare, on the contrary, that the making of images of the Trinity is absolutely forbidden. We neither know the spiritual nature of the angels nor the true physical appearance of Christ and the apostles. Thus, the images made of them are without resemblance, and it is vanity to make an image and say: That is Christ, that is Mary, that is Peter, etc. … In the first place, one may make no images of God whatsoever; that is, of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” – Wilhelmus a Brakel
“The majesty of God is defiled by an absurd and indecorous fiction, when he who is incorporeal is assimilated to corporeal matter; he who is invisible to a visible image; he who is spirit to an inanimate object; and he who fills all space to a bit of paltry wood, or stone, or gold.... Hence it is manifest, that whatever statues are set up or pictures painted to represent God, are utterly displeasing to him, as a kind of insult to his majesty" – John Calvin
"Now we must remark, that there are two parts in the Commandment—the first forbids the erection of a graven image, or any likeness; the second prohibits the transferring of the worship which God claims for Himself alone, to any of these phantoms or delusive shows." – John Calvin
“The Reformed tradition has taught that Christians should not make or use any images of Christ, however sincere their motives and however careful they are not to worship such images. For example, the Westminster Larger Catechism (Q. 109) includes the following among the things forbidden in the second commandment: "the making any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of any creature whatsoever." – David Van Drunen
‎"It is not lawful to have pictures of Jesus Christ … because, if it does not stir up devotion, it is in vain, if it does stir up devotion, it is a worshipping by an image or picture, and so a palpable breach of the second commandment.” - James Durham
“The preceptive or commanding part is expressed in two things, verse 4. and 5. at the beginning. 1. That no image be made: And 2. That it be not worshipped. … Men are forbidden to make either similitudes or likeness, that is, no sort of image, whether that which is engraven in, or hewn out of stone, wood, silver, &c. or that which is made by painting; all kinds are discharged.” – James Durham
“May we not have a picture of Christ, who has a true body? By no means; because, though he has a true body and a reasonable soul, John 1:14, yet his human nature subsists in his divine person, which no picture can represent, Psalm 45:2. Why ought all pictures of Christ to be abominated by Christians? Because they are downright lies, representing no more than the picture of a mere man: whereas, the true Christ is God-man” - James Fisher
“The prohibition: we are here forbidden to worship even the true God by images.…  It is certain that it forbids making any image of God (for to whom can we liken him?) or the image of any creature for a religious use. It is called the changing of the truth of God into a lie, for an image is a teacher of lies; it insinuates to us that God has a body, whereas he is an infinite spirit. It also forbids us to make images of God in our fancies, as if he were a man as we are. … When they paid their devotion to the true God, they must not have any image before them, for the directing, exciting, or assisting of their devotion. Though the worship was designed to terminate in God, it would not please him if it came to him through an image.” – Matthew Henry
“God cannot be represented by an image.  We ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device. We wrong God, and put an affront upon him, if we think so. God honoured man in making his soul after his own likeness; but man dishonours God if he makes him after the likeness of his body. The Godhead is spiritual, infinite, immaterial, incomprehensible, and therefore it is a very false and unjust conception which an image gives us of God.” – Matthew Henry
“With Egypt fresh in their memories, Israel was aware that other gods’ were worshipped with the help of idols. The second commandment, however, does not refer to the worship of alternative gods – that had been dealt with in the first commandment – but to the worship of the true God in a false way, and it lays down an absolute prohibition of the use of visible representations as an adjunct to worship. God is not to be worshipped by any human contrivance (idol), nor identified with any aspect of the visible created orders.” – Alec Motyer
"Pictures of Christ are in principle a violation of the second commandment. A picture of Christ, if it serves any useful purpose, must evoke some thought or feeling respecting him and, in view of what he is, this thought or feeling will be worshipful. We cannot avoid making the picture a medium of worship. But since the materials for this medium of worship are not derived from the only revelation we possess respecting Jesus, namely, Scripture, the worship is constrained by a creation of the human mind that has no revelatory warrant. This is will-worship. For the principle of the second commandment is that we are to worship God only in ways prescribed and authorized by him. It is a grievous sin to have worship constrained by a human figment, and that is what a picture of the Saviour involves." – John Murray
“Many there are who, not comprehending, not being affected with, that divine, spiritual description of the person of Christ which is given us by the Holy Ghost in the Scripture, do feign unto themselves false representations of him by images and pictures, so as to excite carnal and corrupt affections in their minds. By the help of their outward senses, they reflect on their imaginations the shape of a human body, cast into postures and circumstances dolorous or triumphant; and so, by the working of their fancy, raise a commotion of mind in themselves, which they suppose to be love unto Christ.” – John Owen
“The beauty of the person of Christ, as represented in the Scripture, consists in things invisible unto the eyes of flesh. They are such as no hand of man can represent or shadow. It is the eye of faith alone that can see this King in his beauty. What else can contemplate on the untreated glories of his divine nature? Can the hand of man represent the union of his natures in the same person, wherein he is peculiarly amiable? What eye can discern the mutual communications of the properties of his different natures in the same person?” – John Owen
“Thou shalt not make any likeness of anything” for use in worship. This categorical statement rules out not simply the use of pictures and statues which depict God as an animal, but also the use of pictures and statues which depict him as the highest created thing we know­ as human. It also rules out the use of pictures and statues of Jesus Christ as a man, although Jesus himself was and remains man; for all pictures and statues are necessarily made after the “likeness” of ideal manhood as we conceive it, and therefore come under the ban which the commandment imposes.” -  J.I. Packer
“The point here is not just that an image represents God as having body and parts, whereas in reality he has neither. … But the point really goes much deeper. The heart of the objection to pictures and images is that they inevitably conceal most, if not all, of the truth about the personal nature and character of the divine Being whom they represent.” – J.I. Packer
“God did not show them a visible symbol of himself, but spoke to them; therefore they are not now to seek visible symbols of God, but simply to obey his Word. If it be said that Moses was afraid of the Israelites borrowing designs for images from the idolatrous nations around them, our reply is that undoubtedly he was, and this is exactly the point: all manmade images of God, whether molten or mental, are really borrowings from the stock–in–trade of a sinful and ungodly world, and are bound therefore to be out of accord with God’s own holy Word. To make an image of God is to take one’s thoughts of him from a human source, rather than from God himself; and this is precisely what is wrong with image–making.” – J.I. Packer
“We are forbidden either to make or to worship any image representing God, or to give either inward or outward worship, either with heart or knee or body to any creature or image." – Samuel Rutherford (English modernised by myself).
“Those who make pictures of the Savior, who is God as well as man in one inseparable person, either limit the incomprehensible Godhead to the bounds of created flesh, or confound his two natures like Eutyches, or separate them, like Nestorius, or deny his Godhead, like Arius; and those who worship such a picture are guilty of the same heresy and blasphemy.” – Philip Schaff
“God is a spiritual, invisible, and incomprehensible being, and cannot, therefore, be represented by any corporeal likeness or figure. … The Israelites were expressly forbidden to make any image of God. In Deut. iv. 15, 16, Moses insists that "they saw no manner of similitude on the day that the Lord spake to them in Horeb, lest they should corrupt themselves, and make them a graven image." And, therefore, he charges them (ver. 23) "to take heed lest they should forget the covenant of the Lord their God, and make them a graven image." The Scripture forbids the worshipping of God by images, although they may not be intended as proper similitudes, but only as emblematic representations of God. Every visible form which is designed to recall God to our thoughts, and to excite our devotions, and before which we perform our religious offices, is expressly prohibited in the second commandment.” - Robert Shaw
"I cannot conceive of a greater wounding of the heart of Christ than to pay reverence to anything in the shape of a cross, or to bow before a crucifix!" – Charles Spurgeon
“This commandment forbids, on the other hand, every form of will-worship, or such as is false, requiring that we neither regard or worship images and creatures for God, nor represent the true God by any image or figure, nor worship him at or by images, or with any other kind of worship which he himself has not prescribed.” - Zacharias Ursinus
“We may here remark, that the words of the second commandment forbid two things. They first forbid us to make and to have images, saying: Thou shalt not make unto thyself any graven image, nor the likeness of anything, & then they forbid us to worship images and likenesses with divine honour, saying : Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them nor serve them.” - Zacharias Ursinus
“The law does not, therefore, forbid the use of images, but their abuse, which takes place when images and pictures are made either for the purpose of representing or worshiping God, or creatures. That these are all positively forbidden in this commandment, may be argued, 1. From the design of this commandment, which is the preservation of the worship of God in its purity. 2. From the nature of God. God is incorporeal and infinite ; it is impossible, therefore, that he should be expressed, or represented by an image which is corporeal and finite, without detracting from his divine majesty … To whom then will ye liken God? 3. From the command of God. Take ye, therefore, good heed unto yourselves, (for ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that the Lord spake unto you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire,) lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image, the similitude of any  figure, the likeness of male or female ; the likeness of any beast that is (Deut. 4 : 15, 16.) 4. From the cause of this prohibition, which is that these images do not only profit nothing, but also injure men greatly, being the occasion and cause of idolatry and punishment. In short, God ought not to be represented by any graven image, because he does not will it, nor can it be done, nor would it profit anything if it were done.” – Zacharius Ursinus
“Why may we not make use of images for a help in our worship of God? Because God has absolutely forbidden it. … Is it not lawful to have images or pictures of God by us, so we do not worship them, nor God by them? The images or pictures of God are an abomination, and utterly unlawful, because they do debase God, and may be a cause of idolatrous worship. Is it not lawful to have pictures of Jesus Christ, he being a man as well as God? It is not lawful to have pictures of Jesus Christ, because his divine nature cannot be pictured at all; and because his body, as it is now glorified, cannot be pictured as it is; and because, if it do not stir up devotion, it is in vain; if it stir up devotion, it is a worshipping by an image or picture, and so a palpable breach of the second commandment." - Thomas Vincent
“Is it wrong to make paintings or pictures of our Saviour Jesus Christ? According to the Larger Catechism, this is certainly wrong, for the catechism interprets the second commandment as forbidding the making of any representation of any of the three persons of the Trinity, which would certainly include Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, God the Son. … As interpreted by the Westminster Assembly, the second commandment certainly forbids all representations of any of the persons of the Trinity, and this coupled with the truth taught in the Westminster Standards that Christ is a divine person with a human nature taken into union with himself, and not a human person, would imply that it is wrong to make pictures of Jesus Christ for any purpose whatever” – Geerhardus Vos
“The Bible presents no information whatever about the personal appearance of Jesus Christ, but it does teach that we are not to think of him as he may have appeared "in the days of his flesh," but as he is today in heavenly glory, in his estate of exaltation (2 Cor. 5:46). Inasmuch as the Bible presents no data about the personal appearance of our Saviour, all artists' pictures of him are wholly imaginary and constitute only the artists' ideas of his character and appearance. … [Liberals] inevitably think of Jesus as a human person, rather than thinking of him according to the biblical teaching as a divine person with a human nature. The inevitable effect of the popular acceptance of pictures of Jesus is to overemphasize his humanity and to forget or neglect his deity (which of course no picture can portray). In dealing with an evil so widespread and almost universally accepted, we should bear a clear testimony against what we believe to be wrong.” – Geerhardus Vos

“If it is not lawful to make the image of God the Father, yet may we not make an image of Christ, who took upon him the nature of man? No! Epiphanies, seeing an image of Christ hanging in a church, brake it in pieces. It is Christ's Godhead, united to his manhood, that makes him to be Christ; therefore to picture his manhood, when we cannot picture his Godhead, is a sin, because we make him to be but half Christ - we separate what God has joined, we leave out that which is the chief thing which makes him to be Christ.” – Thomas Watson
“The Second Commandment teaches us how we are to worship. We are to worship God only as He had commanded us to worship him. Anything that man devises, invents, or imagines corrupts the true reverence and worship of God. This commandment is frequently violated when Christians have pictures of Jesus. When it is said that they are legitimate because they are not used in worship, we reply that they are not legitimate because one cannot have a proper thought of feeling with respect to Christ other than that of reverenced and worship”. – G.I. Williamson
“The second commandment is broken when men attempt to make a graven image or a picture of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Bible teaches us that there is one God. It teaches us to worship the three persons, the father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, as one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory. But Paul tells us that we "ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone graven by art and man's device" (Acts 17:29).” – G.I. Williamson
4.       Conclusion:
God revealed Himself by His own authority; men cannot and may not represent God by a man-made image. God is an infinite Spirit; because God is spiritual and invisible, He cannot be represented as a visible image. For an image to stir devotion is to worship God by an image.
Christ’s Divine nature cannot be pictured. An image of God cannot contemplate His divine nature, or the union of the two natures in one person. Christs deity united to His humanity constitutes the Person of Christ; but a picture of Christ cannot capture His deity. An image of Jesus Christ must depict Him as a mere man, whereas He is the God-man: God Incarnate.
“You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing loving-kindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.”
In the second commandment, God commanded man not to make a representation of God, or worship God by images. We are not to make or worship any images of God: That includes of Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, God the Son.
© Jonathan Williams, March 2012.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Limited Atonement

The death of the Passover Lamb is typological of the death of Christ (Matthew 17:19, 26:28). The Passover Lamb was sacrificed for God's chosen people, not for the Egyptians who were not chosen (Exodus 12). Consider three things:
(1) Who the Passover Lamb was sacrificed for is inseparably connected to who God chose. God chose to redeem a people in Christ. The intent and efficacy of the atonement is in virtue of the Covenant of Redemption: The Father gave all His elect to the Son who would willingly take their place. 
(2) Unbelieving Egyptians could partake of the Passover Lamb, as there was no deficiency in the sacrifice itself to exclude the Egyptians from partaking of the Passover Lamb. The sufficiency of the atonement is in virtue of the dignity of the Sacrifice. The atonement is infinite in value (sufficient for all) because Christ suffered as the Divine-human person.
(3) Adam did not sin a certain amount for one person, a certain amount for another person, and would have needed to sin more if more sinners were to be condemned in him. Similarly, how many people Christ died for is irrelevant to the sufficiency of the atonement. If Christ died for everyone, for one thousand people, or for only one person, the same Sacrifice of infinite value would be necessary.
The atonement is sufficient for everyone in virtue of who Christ is: for this reason we can say that whosoever trusts in Christ alone will be saved.  The atonement is intended for and efficient for only the elect in virtue of who God chose to redeem in Christ, who willingly took the place of those God chose. Limited Atonement means that the atonement was only intended for and is only applied to the elect. Christ’s atonement rendered certain the salvation of those the Father had given Him. Christ secured the salvation of the elect by His redemptive work, to be applied by the Holy Spirit.
© Jonathan Williams, March 2012.

Monday, March 5, 2012

How Abortion Necessitates Infanticide and Genocide

WARNING AND DISCLAIMER: The content of the following essay may disturb some readers. The author does not take any responsibility for any negative side effects that may result from reading this article. This article is absolutely not suitable for children.
The Plot of an Upcoming Movie:
After finishing another long day of work, Jack was casually picking his five year old daughter Kim up from school, when he suddenly received a phone call from the hospital informing him that his wife Nina had gone into labour. Jack’s heart skipped a beat as he aggressively threw his car left towards the hospital. Bouncing on her seat, Kim couldn’t contain her excitement that she’ll finally get to meet her new baby brother.
Forgetting to lock his car, Jack raced to the reception desk. Without taking a breath he demanded directions to Nina’s room.  Jack couldn’t keep up with a Kim so excited to be about to see her brother. A smiling Kim approached the room with her arms already outstretched to hug her mother.
Suddenly there was a gunshot. Jack rushed into the room to ensure the safety of his wife, daughter and newborn son. He entered just in time to see Kim collapse to the ground in tears to hide herself from the horror that had just unfolded before her eyes – Kim had just watched the doctor shoot her newborn brother at her mother’s wish.
Nina then remarked to Kim, “That parasite you saw get shot was not a person – you are just a fanatic who needs to come to your senses and accept this value. That thing was not capable of attributing to its own existence, and the deprivation of its existence represents no loss. This is widely accepted – the problem is that you are an intolerant fanatic.”
The Issues Being Debated:
It disturbed me to type those paragraphs. You will be glad to know that the inhumane plot outlined above is not the plot of any real movie. The situation is worse: that is the plot for reality. This is the situation that we are facing today. Last week, the Telegraph reported that a group of ethicists had published an article in the Journal of Medical Ethics titled “After-birth abortion: Why should the baby live?” that advocated the killing of newborn babies from the precedent of abortion. The article can be read here:
I will never conceal my repulsion at the unjustified taking of any human life: this includes abortion and infanticide. Two of my previous works on abortion can be read here and here. In this essay, I will attempt to prove:
(a) In agreement with the medical journal, the legitimacy of the argument that a legalisation of abortion logically necessitates a legalisation of infanticide (b) In opposition to the medical journal, the immorality of both abortion and infanticide. If the premise of the medical journal is correct, then to support abortion is to support the inhumane plot scenario that I outlined above.
The Analysis:
(a)    The Argument:
The title of the Telegraph article accurately describes the argument “Killing babies no different from abortion.” I wholeheartedly agree with the premise. The argument presented in the journal is that “killing a newborn should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is” as “both foetuses and newborns do not have the same moral status as actual persons.”
(b)   Not Actual Persons:
To quote the Telegraph, the Journal of Medical Ethics asserts that “newborn babies are not ‘actual persons’ and do not have a ‘moral right to life’”. I will address the issue of absolute morality later in this essay.
My concern at the moment is the notion that newborn babies are not actual persons. My first question to the advocate of such a position is “At what time in the life cycle do we classify a person as a person?” If their answer in any way rejects personhood from conception, the abortion advocate must violate the law of biogenesis: that life cannot come from non-life whereby each living thing reproduces according to its own kind. If human life does not begin at conception, human life cannot scientifically begin at all. It will benefit you to keep this in mind as you continue to read.
The Journal stated “The moral status of an infant is equivalent to that of a foetus in the sense that both lack those properties that justify the attribution of a right to life to an individual.” What properties do infants and foetus’ ‘both lack’ to disqualify them from the ‘attribution of a right to life’? They answered by saying “rather than being ‘actual persons’, newborns were ‘potential persons’ … ‘Both a foetus and a newborn certainly are human beings and potential persons, but neither is a ‘person’ in the sense of ‘subject of a moral right to life’”.
There is a glaring contradiction in that statement: how is a human being not an actual person, or how can a human being be a potential person in light of the law of biogenesis? Humans are either human or they are not. Moreover, how does a human being not have a moral right to life? Here the burden of proof rests on my opponent to justify the killing of a human being. If they cannot, that is to concede in admitting their advocacy of murder.
The journal answered such questions by saying that newborns, like foetus’ only become “‘persons’ in the sense of ‘subjects of a moral right to life’” at “the point at which they will be able to make aims and appreciate their own life.” This answer is fallacious, as the ability to make decisions does not alter the constitution of the human being.
The journal defined a person as “an individual who is capable of attributing to her own existence some (at least) basic value such that being deprived of this existence represents a loss to her.” Brain activity and breathing do attribute value to one’s own existence. If a newborn (or foetus) did not breathe and their brain was inactive, their body would not function. It is absurd to say “the loss of this life does not represent a loss”, as the fact that an action must occur to end a life presupposes that there is a life to lose, which continuation of is partially dependant on that individual. If the foetus did not attribute to their own existence at all, the abortion would not do anything. This is in opposition to the Journal’s assertion that infanticide should be legal because “for a subject to have a right to X is that she is harmed by a decision to deprive her of X.”
Another attempt to defend the statement that newborns like foetuses are not actual people was that a condition of being an actual person is that “she is harmed if she is prevented from accomplishing her aims by being killed. Now, hardly can a newborn be said to have aims, as the future we imagine for it is merely a projection of our minds on its potential lives.” I have already pointed out that such reasoning is fallacious because the ability to make decisions does not alter the constitution of the human being. That there is purposed brain activity and development in a newborn/foetus runs contrary to the assertion that newborns do not have aims, as without such purposed bodily functions, the newborn/foetus would not be alive.
A further argument raised to defend the notion that “merely being human is not in itself a reason for ascribing someone a right to life was that “many humans are not considered subjects of a right to life: spare embryos where research on embryo stem cells is permitted, foetuses where abortion is permitted, criminals where capital punishment is legal.”
Firstly, that statement contains numerous unproven assumptions; most notably that embryos and foetuses do not have such a right to life. Secondly, the inclusion of criminals subject to capital punishment is in contradiction to the Journal’s definition of person, as the Journal defined a person as a human being who is “able to make aims and appreciate their own life”, in virtue of which they have a right to life. This is further proof that the legalisation of abortion not only logically necessitates the legalisation of infanticide, but it logically necessitates the legalisation of the killing of adults also. Thirdly, those who commit capital crimes do not lose their right to life in virtue of their humanity; they lose it in virtue of the crime they committed.
Such problems are compounded by statements such as “the different moral status does not spring from the fact that the first one is a ‘person’ and the other is not, which would be nonsense, given that they are identical.” How would such a definition take the right of life away from a person who has committed a capital crime?  It cannot, because the DNA constitution of the person on death row is not altered by their crime – people do not cease to be human after they commit a capital crime. By extension, how can there be a different moral status for a foetus, a newborn or an adult? The essential humanity of the child must be rejected to support such a statement, in opposition to the law of biogenesis.
Such truths render most arguments presented meaningless. For example, it was argued that “‘if a potential person, like a foetus and a newborn, does not become an actual person, like you and us, then there is neither an actual nor a future person who can be harmed, which means that there is no harm at all. So, if you ask one of us if we would have been harmed, had our parents decided to kill us when we were foetuses or newborns, our answer is ‘no’, because they would have harmed someone who does not exist (the ‘us’ whom you are asking the question), which means no one. And if no one is harmed, then no harm occurred.”
A foetus, like a newborn is a person. Regardless, it does not logically follow that the fact that a foetus does not grow up, means that “no harm occurred” – even by the articles own admission, there was the taking of a life.  If there was no harm done at all, then the foetus/newborn would not be impacted by being killed. The argument collapses on such internal contradictions, the absence of a change in the constitution of the person, and the interrelated fact that babies are actual persons.
The Journal states “On these grounds, the fact that a foetus has the potential to become a person who will have an (at least) acceptable life is no reason for prohibiting abortion.” If you are going to extend the validity of abortion to where a person is mostly dependant on others, then five year olds would not have the right to life either. How many people do not depend on another person at all to survive? The poor depend on the money provided by the rich to survive. The middle class depend on the employment provided by the rich to survive. Such an argument leads to worldwide genocide.
The point raised in the journal that if a foetus is not a person in virtue of dependency on others, then a newborn cannot be a person either is valid as far as it goes. However, as shown above, the logic goes much further, to also include everyone from toddlers to middle class adults. Where the Journal asserted that “merely potential people cannot be harmed by not being brought into existence” they are wrong to call any human being a potential person unless they apply the term potential person to any person dependent on another. But such a redefinition would render ‘potential person’ and ‘actual person’ as synonyms, and therein collapse their argument and conclusion.
The Journal did attempt to defend itself against one counter argument. I quote, “This does not mean that the interests of actual people always over-ride any right of future generations, as we should certainly consider the well-being of people who will inhabit the planet in the future.” To begin, I will point out that the argument equivocates between discussing an individual as an individual, and discussing an individual as just one of humanity.  If people are viewed individually, and everyone chose to abort their children, there would be no future generations. Future generations consist of individuals. As specific foetuses/newborns will constitute humanity in the future, they have failed to provide a rebuttal (to a low priority and peripheral objection).
They continued, “We are talking about particular individuals who might or might not become particular persons depending on our choice, and not about those who will certainly exist in the future but whose identity does not depend on what we choose now.” If every individual was aborted, how can there be certainly that there will be future generations? Some specific foetuses must certainly exist in the future for there to be any future generations.
Lastly, the writers of the Journal prepared themselves for the objection that adoption is a viable alternative. The Journal said, “We also need to consider the interests of the mother who might suffer psychological distress from giving her child up for adoption.” In light of the previous statements, the Journal cannot make this counter argument.
The Journal stated elsewhere that “a foetus and a newborn, does not become an actual person, like you and us, then there is neither an actual nor a future person who can be harmed, which means that there is no harm at all. So, if you ask one of us if we would have been harmed, had our parents decided to kill us when we were foetuses or newborns, our answer is ‘no’, because they would have harmed someone who does not exist.”
According to the Journal, the mother never had a child to be distressed over giving up, as “a foetus and a newborn, does not become an actual person”. By the standards of the article, the mother only ever knew her child as a potential person – never as an actual person. Weather the child was killed by infanticide or adopted, the mother would have lost only a potential person. By the logic of the proponents of infanticide, as the newborn is only a potential person, the mother is grieving over loosing nothing. The Journal failed to evidence that infanticide is better than adoption is any case, as in both scenarios the mother is only losing a potential person (by the Journal’s standards).
Also, that the mother might experience psychological distress does not speak to the morality of the issue. Having an out of control teenager can also cause psychological distress to a mother, yet the solution is not to kill your teenaged children.
(c)    The Real Issue:
The lead of the article states “Parents should be allowed to have their newborn babies killed because they are “morally irrelevant” and ending their lives is no different to abortion.”
From the onset, we are faced with the crucial question: by what standard is something ‘morally irrelevant’? Until that question can be answered objectively and without begging the question, all that can be offered is opinion – no moral absolute is possible. If I said ‘the life of my fifteen year old daughter is morally irrelevant and I should be allowed to have her killed’, on what objective basis could you disagree with my subjective opinion? Why is your subjective opinion valid while mine is not? Or am I allowed to kill her, as after all she depends on me for food, water (to survive)?
The problem is that “parents should be allowed to have their newborn babies killed because they are ‘morally irrelevant’” is nothing but a subjective opinion. If I were to present the rebuttal of “I disagree”, on what ground could the infanticide/abortion advocate say that their opinion is right, but my opinion is wrong? By what objective moral standard can the infanticide/abortion proponent prove that their position is correct? A subjective opinion is just that. By what objective standard should parents be allowed to have their newborn babies killed? The reason why you cannot think of an answer is because there is no answer. If God does not exist, then absolute morality cannot exist. If God does not exist, no one can prove that anything is moral or immoral; morality cannot exist, period.
Only if the God of Christianity who has revealed Himself in the Bible is presupposed, can objective morality exist. Morality expresses the holy and righteous nature of God. Something is moral because it is in conformity to the character of God. Something is immoral because it is not in conformity to the character of God. God’s commands are in conformity to His character. So, according to God, are abortion and infanticide moral or immoral?
A baby is a person from conception (Psalm 51:5 139:13-16). Therefore, a baby is in the image of God from conception (James 3:9). What does God say about shedding the blood of a person in God's image (Genesis 9:6)? God has revealed that abortion and infanticide are acts of murder. By God’s standard, the only objective standard, abortion is murder. That is the objective truth.
(d)   The Other Arguments Considered:
The journal stated a few other immoral arguments, which I will briefly refute. As you read the arguments, note how all the arguments are in the structure of “this situation might occur, therefore X is should be legal”. None of the arguments provide a moral justification for the killing (action) itself.
(i)                  “Parents should be able to have their baby killed if it turns out to be disabled when it is born.”
The disability is a constant, regardless of age. This is an argument that anyone has the right to kill any disabled person who is dependent on them.
(ii)                “A serious philosophical problem arises when the same conditions that would have justified abortion become known after birth. In such cases, we need to assess facts in order to decide whether the same arguments that apply to killing a human foetus can also be consistently applied to killing a newborn human.”
The condition will not only be present as a foetus and as a newborn. The condition is a constant. Therefore, if this argument for abortion is valid, it would not only be an argument for infanticide, it would be an argument to legalise the killing of any person with such conditions, regardless of age. It would provide a basis to kill many thirty year olds.
(iii)               “A disabled child would represent a risk to her mental health.”
A disabled sixteen year old child would also represent a risk to the mother’s mental health. If this is a reason why infanticide should be legalised, it is also a reason why it should be legal for the parent to kill their sixteen year old child with the corresponding condition.
(iv)              “Having a child can itself be an unbearable burden for the psychological health of the woman or for her already existing children.”
Having a newborn child can be a burden for the psychological health of the woman or for already existing children. But, having an out of control teenager can also be a burden for the psychological health of the woman or for her other children. If the ‘burden argument’ is a reason why abortion should be legal, it does follow that it is logically also a reason why infanticide should be legal: but, if such is a reason why abortion should be legal, it is also a reason why it should be legal for a parent to kill their psychologically challenging teenagers.
(v)                “To bring up such children might be an unbearable burden on the family and on society as a whole, when the state economically provides for their care.”
How do you know that the person will be a burden in every way? I know many teenagers who are burdens on their family and will probably be burdens on the state too; would you recommend a similar solution? Why does every benefit have to be financial – how many parents have children because they think they will financially profit from them? Here is a newsflash: having children will cost you both time and money. Should we apply this solution to everyone who is am economic burden for the state?
(vi)              Actual people’s well-being could be threatened by the new (even if healthy) child requiring energy, money and care which the family might happen to be in short supply of.”
A person’s well-being could be threatened by any of their children, regardless of age. Why shouldn’t you kill your fourteen year old son, and keep your newborn baby instead? Both of them require energy, money and care - which after all, are ‘in short supply’. This argument also provides a justification for killing any dependent, regardless of their age.
(vii)             “If criteria such as the costs (social, psychological, economic) for the potential parents are good enough reasons for having an abortion even when the foetus is healthy, if the moral status of the newborn is the same as that of the infant and if neither has any moral value by virtue of being a potential person, then the same reasons which justify abortion should also justify the killing of the potential person when it is at the stage of a newborn.”
If social, psychological and economic factors justify abortion, it does follow that they would also justify infanticide. But, as I have continually demonstrated above, there are likewise such benefits to not having any children. If these arguments justify abortion, they must logically also justify not only infanticide – but the killing of any child.
(viii)           “If economical, social or psychological circumstances change such that taking care of the offspring becomes an unbearable burden on someone, then people should be given the chance of not being forced to do something they cannot afford.”
Economic, social and psychological circumstances can make taking care of newborn offspring burdensome, but they can also make taking care of teenaged offspring burdensome. If these are valid arguments for abortion and infanticide, they must also be arguments to allow such parents to kill their teenaged offspring.
(ix)              Prof. Savulescu of Oxford University said, “The goal of the Journal of Medical Ethics is not to present the Truth or promote some one moral view. It is to present well reasoned argument based on widely accepted premises.”
Why are widely accepted premises right? Many decades ago, that abortion is murder was a ‘widely accepted premise’, does Savulescu accept this premise? The validity of racism, the morality of slavery, and that the earth is the centre of the universe were all ‘widely accepted premises’ in the past. Does Savulescu accept these premises, and the exact opposite premises to each of these in virtue of that they were/are ‘widely accepted’? Otherwise, by what standard does he know that the premises against the humanity of the foetus are valid?
(e)   A Dose of Irony:
The Telegraph commented that “The journal’s editor, Prof Julian Savulescu, director of the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, said the article's authors had received death threats since publishing the article. He said those who made abusive and threatening posts about the study were “fanatics opposed to the very values of a liberal society”.
I am not encouraging people to take the law into their own hands or send death threats. However, there is a hypocritical irony in complaining about receiving death threats for advocating infanticide (murder), when murder is precisely what the authors are promoting in statements such as “killing a newborn should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is”.
(f)     Final Remarks:
The Medical Journal titled “After-birth abortion: Why should the baby live?” concluded that “what we call ‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled”, as “there was no difference to abortion as already practised” because “the moral status of the individual killed is comparable with that of a foetus”.
To that conclusion I wholeheartedly agree: if abortion should be legal, infanticide should be legal too. But, that only answers an ’if, then’ in relation to the pro-abortion arguments: it does not answer if the situation should be ‘because abortion, therefore infanticide’ or ‘because not infanticide, therefore not abortion’. The basic limitations of the paper are that it does not prove that the pro-abortion arguments are valid to make the logical positive inference that the legalisation of abortion necessitates the legalisation of infanticide, and it does not answer the morality of the issue. To answer the legitimacy of the inference and the morality of the issue, we must search God’s word.
The inference that “ending newborns lives is no different to abortion” is correct. But it does not go far enough. Unjustifiably ending the life of a newborn is no more murder than unjustifiably ending the life of not just a foetus, but any person regardless of situation or age. This is because all people are in the image of God from conception. The command not to murder is grounded in the fact that all people are made in God’s image (Genesis 9:6). Infanticide is murder just as much as abortion is and just as much as shooting another person is. God commands us not to murder (Exodus 20:13).
(g)    First Things Last:
I began this essay with a rather disturbing overview of a hypothetical movie. If you were repulsed by the storyline, yet advocate abortion and/or infanticide, you are being inconsistent even by the standards of those who advocate abortion and infanticide. If you viewed the shooting of the newborn as immoral, you must logically oppose both infanticide and abortion. Would it be immoral for the doctor to shoot Kim too? If you think that shooting would be immoral, you must logically also oppose abortion and infanticide.
But, according to liberals, if you were repulsed by the storyline, then you like Kim, are a fanatic who needs to come to your senses and accept that there was nothing wrong with the mothers or the doctors actions. According to liberals, murder is not murder. According to God, human life is valuable.
© Jonathan Williams, March 2012.