When Does Life Begin?
By Dr Peter Kraus
(Editor's note: Dr. Peter Kraus is a Christian gynecologist & obstetrician who has been in practice for many years. I asked him to tackle the ancient and very difficult topic of "ensoulment" i.e. "When does the soul enter the baby in the womb?" .)
When does an individual become an individual, a person, in their own right? When do they start a life of their own? When does the spirit enter the flesh?
These puzzling questions are important. On the answer rests the rightness or wrongness of, for example, abortion. Very few people would be happy to literally kill a child, unborn or otherwise, but many people with a highly developed sense of morality agree with abortion, at least early abortion, on the grounds that the baby at that point is a “potential” life only.
At what point does the “potential” life become a real life? If it is when the unborn baby, (foetus,) reaches “viability,” that is, when it can live on its own outside the mother, then the spirit’s entry into the body must be programmed by Heaven to be at different times through the ages, as medical science is able to save babies now when they are born more prematurely than was possible even a few years ago. If “viability” would be the time of entry of the spirit into the body, then today’s baby is getting his or her spirit earlier than yesteryears!
Some may feel the spirit enters the body when the body is fully formed. But when is the body fully formed? The baby is a “fully formed” baby, with little arms, legs, head, etc. all there by about “12 weeks” gestation, actually that is 10 weeks after conception. But viruses which damage the unborn, such as the rubella virus, will affect that part which is being formed at the time the virus is in the body, and the rubella virus can be a problem up to 16 weeks. So is 16 weeks the point of full formation? If this were so then the baby would be viable at 16 weeks, but we know this is far too premature to live outside the mother. Although the architecture of the body may be there the systems are far too immature to cope on their own. Like wet paint. The color is there and it looks good, but it’s not ready to be touched yet.
Many feel that the spirit enters the body at conception. The difficulty with this is that at the moment of conception there really is no body as such. Two cells, the egg and the sperm, each with half the final total of chromosomes only, join to become one cell, with each chromosome double, so we all inherit characteristics from both our parents in a unique mix. I never cease to wonder at this miracle. The more you look at the body the more complex you realize it is. Yet this tiny microscopic cell has encoded all the information to build this incredibly complex living machine, and the means to build it. No wonder many feel that this tiny new cell must have a spirit.
But this cell, wonderful though it is, is not the baby. You might equally call it the placenta, the umbilical cord, the membranes surrounding the baby, or even the yolk sac that is rapidly absorbed in mammals. All these structures develop from this little single cell as it divides into 2, the 2 into 4, the 4 into 8 and so on, this little ball of cells then “differentiating” into these various structures, only one of which is the developing embryo. Miscarriages occur when this process does not go right. The problem causing the miscarriage may even be that when all this happens, everything develops except the baby, a so-called “blighted ovum.” If the spirit enters at the time of conception, do these “blighted ovums” as they are called, have a spirit?
Then there are those who believe the spirit enters the body at birth. To answer this let’s get a woman’s view. The following is taken from notes made by my wife Heather for a talk at a women’s conference, on abortion, .
“People say a lot of conceptions do not develop into a full pregnancy. My answer is, there are births where the babies have deformities or handicaps. Jesus had compassion and healed many people deformed from birth. They are still people and He loves them.
We also have that very beautiful exchange when two pregnant women meet. Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist meets Mary the mother of Jesus.
Luke 1: 39-45. Mary is going to meet Elizabeth. “She entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. It happened that when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary that the babe leapt in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit”. It goes on to say that Elizabeth then being filled with the Holy Spirit prophesied over Mary and said. “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb, but why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me for indeed as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears the babe leapt in my womb for joy. Blessed is she who believeth for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.”
... We are told that Mary remained with Elizabeth until she was about 3 months and then she returned to her house
... Both babies in their mothers’ womb were spiritually aware. One soon after conception the other at 6 months gestation.
...The spirit of John the Baptist, in his mother’s womb, recognized the Spirit of Jesus, freshly conceived in His mother’s womb. All pregnant mothers know when their babies get excited and start kicking. This whole account is a clear demonstration of the spirit being within the foetus from the time of conception.”
So, like many others, Heather believes the spirit enters the body at conception. With my scientific training my only reservation relates to those conceptions where a baby is never properly formed. Heather is a God fearing Spirit filled Christian woman. I have a lot of respect both for her feminine intuition and for her spiritual awareness.
As a gynecologist I deal frequently with women at the time of a miscarriage, or ask about their previous pregnancies in my routine questioning. While many women accept a miscarriage as just one of those things, quite a few refer to a miscarriage as a baby they lost. I have to check whether they are talking about a miscarriage or a stillbirth. This has nothing to do with their spiritual awareness or beliefs. Maybe it has a lot to do with their feminine intuition and maternal instinct.
In Jeremiah ch1 v5 we read that the Lord said to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; Before you were born I sanctified you.”
And again, in Psalm 139 v 16, David writes, “Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them.”
I believe that this is all explained by the fact that the spiritual world is eternal, while this physical world we live in until we go to be with the Lord, is temporal. We live in the dimension of time.
Eternity is not just everlasting time. It is a dimension outside time. We cannot at present understand this any more than a person totally blind from birth could understand what you were talking about if you tried to explain shades of color to them. Just because this is beyond our comprehension doesn’t mean it is either impossible or unscientific. As I understand it, those scientists who believe in the “big bang” theory of the beginning of the universe, including some rock solid Christians, seem to believe that time also began at the “big bang,” and that at least nine dimensions were compressed into our 3 1/2. (Time is actually only half a dimension. Unlike the 3 dimensions of space, we can travel in time in only one direction.)
So we have scientists, including atheists and agnostics as well as Christians, believing in dimensions outside our own. While this is a difficult concept to grasp it is no more difficult than a deaf person accepting that his companion by his side, responding to a sound, has experienced something he, the deaf person, cannot comprehend.
When we ask a question such as, “when does the spirit enter the body?” we are touching on the interface between time and eternity, between things we can understand and things we know about but cannot comprehend
I believe the medieval unanswerable question was, “How many angels can dance on the point of a pin?” Ponder these things by all means, but don’t get distracted from the task at hand. The task at hand? Remember, “Go ye into all the world...” Also Proverbs 24, v11 “Deliver those who are drawn toward death And hold back those stumbling to the slaughter.”
We are living in the end times and the spiritual war is hotting up. We should be stripped for battle and concentrating on the fight to save all God’s elect before the final curtain comes down at Armageddon, possibly in our lifetimes. It is important that we have answers or directions for life’s imponderables, but we can sit in the Officers’ Mess and debate these things over a cool drink after the battle.
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