The ProLife Team Podcast 148 | Wesley Huff

Wesley Huff, an historian and doctoral student at the University of Toronto and director of Central Canada for Apologetics Canada, discusses the Bible’s stance on abortion, early church views, and societal implications, emphasizing the intrinsic value of human life and the historical context of abortion practices.


The transcript was automatically generated and may contain errors.

00:05 :

Well, yeah thank you, Wes, for being willing to be interviewed for the Abortion Museum. Before we get started with the first question, would you introduce yourself or. Yeah, someone who may not know you. And when it comes to your connection to the topic of abortion or these questions we’ll be talking about.

00:28 :

Yeah, so my name is Wes Huff. I am an historian and doctoral student at the University of Toronto i also work for an organization called Apologetics Canada, which is a national organization here up in the Great White north that does apologetics outreach and evangelism so I’ve been working with them for about 3 almost four years now as the director of Central Canada so that’s central, Not geographically, but Ontario and Quebec are referred to central Canada here in Canada because of its population. The majority of the population in Canada comes from Ontario and Quebec so I do a lot of speaking and teaching related to the history of the Bible, Biblical studies, and particularly my area of expertise is in early church history and the history of Christian manuscripts.

01:20 :

Awesome. So let’s yeah, let’s get started. So some people claim the Bible is silent on abortion, so there’s no biblical ban on abortion. How do you respond?

01:33 :

Yeah so I would say that if we’re using the word abortion, sure, but that’s sort of a twenty first century. Moniker the bible specifically, and I would point to places like Exodus 20, verse 13, says do not murder. And if we’re defining murder as the purposeful and intentional taking of an innocent human life, when you know two human parents create a child, scientifically, that is a unique human life from the time of conception. So to terminate that life would be the purposeful and intentional taking of that innocent life so in that sense I would say the Bible speaks very concretely about abortion in that it is banned as the taking of a human life not to mention that the very first person to recognize Jesus, our Lord and Savior was in this story that we get with the pregnant Mary taking her cousin or taking herself to her cousin Elizabeth. And the text says that Elizabeth who was six months pregnant at the time with John the Baptist. It says in Luke of the first chapter verse 41 that when Elizabeth heard Mary’s voice the pre born John was first filled with the Holy Spirit and then second left in Elizabeth’s womb at the presence of Jesus being near. So we have this instance of a preborn John reacting to a preborn Jesus and both are being described fully as fully human doing human things and John is even being filled with the spirit prenatally. So we have a lot to say from Scripture as to how the preborn individual is treated and referred to in the sense that Mary is not with fetus, she’s not with clump of cells, she’s with child and then we have preborn John the Baptist reacting to preborn Jesus so I think we can say from a number of places throughout the consistent testimony of Scripture that the preborn human is a human created in the image of God, and that the taking of that human would be and is considered the intentional killing of a fellow human being created in the image of God.

03:45 :

Wow, very good. So the next question we have here is, in your view, does the Bible really say what you know what does the Bible really say about abortion? And what passages can you point to make your case?

04:03 :

Yeah, so I’d point to a number of passages within the Old Testament specifically about being created fearfully and wonderfully made, the life of all human beings being of value because they bear the image of God. And specifically Jesus tells us to love our neighbor. And who is our neighbor well, everyone is our neighbor. Every human being created in the image of God, both those we like and those we dislike. And so in order to love my pre born neighbor, I need to make sure that they are being advocated for, that the most vulnerable within society are those that should be protected. And so like I like I said before, you know, Exodus chapter, chapter 20 verses 13 says don’t kill your neighbor. And our brothers and sisters, our preborn brothers and sisters in the womb are definitely our neighbor so if we are to live out that life that we are called to by Jesus Christ to love our neighbor as ourselves, then we are to make sure that the preborn neighbor is advocated for and is not just advocated for their protection, but is actually to be protected.

05:22 :

Very good. So the next question I have here for you is how did the early church view abortion, and were there any different camps or distinctions made reflecting legitimate Christian disagreements on the topic?

05:43 :

The very first Christians were Jewish believers in Jesus as the Messiah. And I think what we can say is that at least around Jesus’s day, there’s a there’s a very a clear revulsion towards the practices of Greco Roman antiquity for the participation of culturally accepted abortion. And so you have Jewish writers like Josephus and Philo of Alexandria who are openly expressing abhorrence towards the practice of infanticide and exposure as well as abortion within their culture and they condemn this as a barbarous act and so we can see that the Christians inherit this perspective, that all people are created in the image of God, and that these cultural practices within the ancient Near East and within Greco Roman antiquity are abhorrent and the early Christians, I would say, even took this up a notch because Christians would actively seek out these unmentionable children that are often left to die, that are being left in poles and garbage dumps outside of city gates. And where we have an advocacy in the writings of individuals like Josephus and Philo, we have an actual practice proactively of early Christians, particularly Christian midwives who would rescue infants at birth and then raise them as their own. And we see this as being described as silly and even moral immoral rather by early Roman writers, because the Christians paved the way and set the standard for cultural change that it eventually reversed practices with the ancient world. But the Greco Roman society had no problem with these things and actually saw the taking of unmentionable human life as moral within their day that this was right to do for the sake of society where as Christians, early, the earliest Christians within this period that we refer to as the early Christian period, you know really the second, 3rd, fourth centuries they look at the society around them. They have this inherited perspective from the their Jewish heritage that All in all individuals created in the image of God are worthy of safety, protection, value by nature of them being human and so they don’t just condemn these practices they then go out with into the society. They rescue these children, and eventually they overturn the perceived concepts of who are unmentionable and what the value of human life actually is.

08:25 :

Awesome thank you for entering that. So the next question I have for you is how did the medieval or early modern church view abortion? Were there any big changes compared to church views in the four centuries of Christian thought?

08:43 :

So admittedly, I don’t know the answer to that question because medieval history kind of falls out of my area of expertise. So it’s a good question. It requires a good answer, but after the sixth century my sort of area of knowledge kind of falls off in terms of the specifics of that kind of issue.

09:06 :

Yeah, no worries we’ll move on to the next one. In the Roman world, they had Peter Pastas, Power of the father. What is that law and how did it affect home life, women’s rights and childbirth?

09:26 :

Yeah so we do have this law that’s specifically mentioned in the BC era a number of times. And I think we both have to be candid about the fact that the first born male within the household and particularly the father had a level of legal agency that was seen as above the rest of the family. But I think we also need to be careful not to push that too far because although we do have instances where fathers are given the authority to, say, kill their children, because a child, and particularly an infant, is not seen as a full human being which is why part of the first critiques of early Christianity was that they were full of slaves, women and children, because Christianity gave advocacy for these groups. But at the exact same time, I think we also need to be careful not to push that too far and say that this was, this was unanimous throughout Greco Roman antiquity. Now, we do have instances, particularly in the writings of Cicero, where he advocates for his children and says that it is his, the well-being of his children actually reflect poorly on him so if they’re not being taken care of or they’re not, he specifically mentions it within a writing where he’s writing a letter and he’s saying that his young son is asking for what is basically an allowance because he’s running out of money and saying that although he’s annoyed at this, it’s actually inappropriate for his son to run out of money so he he’s going to give his son more money, even if it kind of grieves him to do that so I think there is an aspect where we can say that this law of the father exists, but not to push it too far however, I think sort of to grasp in my area of expertise within early Christian manuscripts, we do have some letters that reflect on this. It’s not just this law, but actually the perceived idea within the Greco Roman antiquity of how much power a father had and particularly a freeborn Roman male. So there’s a writing that is found in the upper ancient city of Egyptian oxyreincas and it’s known as Pioxy 4. Dot seven four and it’s a letter from a man named who was living in Alexandria his name was Larion and he writes to his wife Aleas. And this letter is dated to the 1st century BC. And on this papyrus fragment, what it actually says is he says, you know, he has some kind words for his wife and he tells her to be taking care of herself because she’s pregnant she’s with child. But on lines 9 to 10 of this particular manuscript, it says this quote i ask you and Entreat you take care of this child and especially when I have received my pay, soon I will send it up to you. But notice this, he says above all, if you bear a child and it is male, let it be, If it is female, cast it out. And so this is where we see not just sort of the kind of glibness of what is basically gender selective infanticide, but the fact that the father has no qualms telling his wife that if she bears a daughter to get rid of it, to dispose of it as if it’s nothing. But if it is a son, well, he actually wants a son, so keep it and so this is an actual instance where this law of the father’s advocacy and power within the household would have actually come to fruition, where he both has the legal right and the sort of social status within his rights as a father to say this very candidly, to write to his wife, you know, say nice things to her, tell her that he’s about to get paid, so he’s going to send her some money and then just offhandedly say, you know, take care of the baby, but only if it’s a male, because if it’s a female, I want you to dispose of it. So while I think we can say we have to be careful with how we talk about this law, that is not unanimous and it’s not kind of perceived as the same everywhere all throughout the Roman Empire. We do have very concrete cases within documentary papyri of where it actually plays out practically within a father advocating for and specifically saying, you know, I don’t want a daughter, so if you have a daughter, you know we’re going to get rid of her and I want you to do that for me.

14:03 :

Wow, that’s really interesting the next question I have for you is some archaeological and written records from the Greco Roman world suggest they had a practice of infanticide called exposure. What is that and how did it work?

14:25 :

Yeah, so abortion and exposure was a practice that was common all throughout the Greco Roman ancient world so both in Greece and Rome where they would take unwanted babies and they would leave them out to die. So they would do this by leaving them outside the city gates, which was largely a an area that was kind of vacant. They would leave them in garbage dumps and they would bury them in holes. And we know this because we found infant bodies within holes and that we know from ancient writings that this was going on. In fact, this was a common practice in Greco Roman antiquity almost throughout its entire Pagan era before a kind of Christianity takes on the influence that it does within the Roman Empire. And one of the best known texts that talks about this refers to this practice within the Greco Roman world by Plutarch. And so Plutarch is an ancient Greco Roman writer. He’s also a priest of Apollo, and he describes where these practices kind of came from and he particularly mentions the Spartans and says that the Spartans who despised smaller girls and deformed infants, would actually throw them off of the Cliff and so they would fall into the chasm at the Mount of Mont Tejetes. And so he talks about this history going back to Sparta, and he Plutarch claims that regarding Sparta. And then there’s another writer named Dionysus of Harley Carnassus, which he is writing in the second century BC. They both speak of actually, not just that this practice was common, but that this was actually a legal responsibility to dispose of defective infants. Because when you’re talking about the Greco Roman world, they’re looking for strong, capable individuals. And so they actually saw it as not just a practice that happened, but actually as a moral right. And this is one of the things that the early Christians and Jews looked on and were horrified by. But we have this perspective, if you want to call it, you know, the later perspectives of the Ubermensch that existed within ancient Greece and Rome, that it was the responsibility of citizens within the Greece and Roman society to make sure that the society, the culture stayed strong and one of the ways you did that was by having strong children and so if the children are weak, the children are deformed, the children have some sort of abnormality, then you dispose of the children for the greater good of society.

17:22 :

Wow. Very interesting as well. So some say that the Bible is such an old and outdated book that even if it did forbid abortion, that has no bearing on us today in the modern world. How do you respond to that?

17:43 :

Yeah, I think sort of that the accusation of ancient irrelevancy, it probably means that the if someone is making that accusation, they’re probably not aware of how many of the moral values that we just assume within modern Western society are actually taken from this ancient collection of books that we call the Bible. Or they assume things that don’t only find their grounding within the pages of the Judeo-christian Scriptures the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments. And a number of historians have pointed this out, individuals like Rodney Stark and Tom Holland and Glenn Scrivener. They’ve pointed out the fact that though we assume these things today, to say that these are irrelevant to the Bible is irrelevant because it’s this ancient book actually shows that we think that we are floating in on an island somewhere culturally, and that that’s just not true. We find our history within a particular tradition, and that is the Western judeo-christian tradition and in fact there are lots of things that we would just assume today, even something as simple as consent. Now this is a value that we hold very highly within our society, but in the ancient world, prior to the rise of Christianity and the judeo-christian worldview, and even branching outside of the geographical and ethnic bounds of Israel, there was no such thing as consent. In fact, in both the ancient world and the ancient Near East and in Greco Roman antiquity, it was expected that female modesty included absolute virginity until marriage and complete chastity within it. But modesty for men in the ancient world was largely limited to not going too much into excess near sexual exploits, and in classical Latin there is no natural way to refer to a male virgin. So it was just expected that if you were an adult male, you were not a virgin, and that there’s no understandable way to refer to a male virgin in that language. And yet, at the exact same time, there are 25 different ways to say prostitute in classical Latin. So because of the moral and sexual economy of the day, it relied on something like the free availability of sex for any male who wanted it at any time, whether that’s with concubines or prostitutes or slaves. And the ability for particularly freeborn male citizens to possess the bodies of anybody they so desired was considered an absolute right. So if we’re going to cast kind of doubt on the fact that this document that we call the Bible is it’s just this old and dusty document, Well, even something as simple as consent, which we would hold to as a high value. Well, that has a number of assumptions that come with it that assumes that your body is more like a temple than it is a playground. And so where do we find those assumptions well, we find those assumptions within the pages of Scripture that every person has value and purpose and meaning and that their body and their autonomy is sacred. Well, that’s an ideal that you get not within ancient Near Eastern worldly perspectives, not within Greco Roman ancient perspectives, not even within the philosophical perspectives of the East of Taoism, Taoism, Buddhism, Hinduism, or from the later perspectives like Islam. This is an idea that you get within the concepts from the pages of Christian scripture that you’re created in the image of God and you have purpose and meaning and value. And so if we’re going to castigate the Bible for being an old dusty document, well then we’re really sawing off the branch we’re sitting on. Because it probably indicates that someone is ignorant of the true societal history that we inherit as modern individuals. And at worst, it’s just planting our feet firmly in midair and claiming chronological snobbery.

22:02 :

Very Good has a good, excellent answer. Abortion choice advocates often claim that anti abortion views are just a religious position and their view forcing pro-life policy into federal or state law violates the separation of church and state. How do you respond to that?

22:26 :

Yeah, well, I would say it’s probably a mistaken idea of what the separation of church and state means. I’m Canadian and so we don’t have the same sort of perspective of church and state and the separation of that. But none the less, if I was posited to that, whether I was South of the border in the United States or here in Canada, I would say that laws are the enactment of morality. And so in one sense, morality is a very religious perspective because it requires us to be able to ground what we consider good. So at a very simple level, if we want to say that morality is subjective, then we run into philosophical issues. But outside of that, I would just simply say that the issue of abortion is one of I believe in human rights for all humans. Doesn’t matter their size, their development, where they find themselves geographically or where they, whether we consider them wanted or not, human rights are human rights despite all of those factors and if we start to put qualifiers on human rights, we get ourselves into a lot of danger. So ironically, I think a lot of these people who advocate for what the quote, unquote, pro-choice perspective, they fail to understand is that in their zealousness for justice, they actually failed to understand and realize that the unjust action of taking an innocent human life in an abortion is saying that somebody is worth value and life because they are human plus something. So in the transatlantic slave trade, we would say, OK, you don’t, you have the right not to be enslaved if you are human plus not being black or in 19, thirties nazi germany, they would say you have the right to live within society if you are human, plus not being Jewish or human, plus not being disabled or human plus not having Down syndrome, all of these things right. When we start to actually say, well, human plus something, that’s where we run into some very dangerous categories and so I would say it is a religious perspective in that I’m that even the idea that humans have intrinsic worth by nature, being human comes from scripture, from being created in the image of God. But even more than that, if we’re going to talk about the advocacy of human rights, then i would say that you can’t start tacking on qualifiers to who is and who isn’t human, and whether they have the right to live or not.

25:27 :

Wow, very good answer. Thank you. What would you say to a woman facing an unplanned pregnancy, confused and scared and thinking abortion is her only option?

25:44 :

Yeah, I would say first and foremost that it’s completely understandable that there is confusion, that person is scared at the exact same time. I think they need to know that abortion is not their only option, that there are countless organizations, people, situations that exist in order to help people exactly like that, and that there is a precious human life that has been created. And so, despite being scared, despite being in an unpredictable situation that may come with a lot of situations that they might not have been expecting at this point in time, their choice doesn’t have to resort in unexpectedness resulting in further trauma, trauma for that child and maybe even trauma for themselves for terminating that child. And so there would be lots of organizations, lots of people who I would try to connect them with to say, you know, we can get you help. We can get you people who can support you, and we can even help your child, whether that’s in the case of adoption or in the case of making sure that you are able to raise them in an environment that is one that they should be living in so there are countless pregnancy care centers. There are countless people who are willing to contribute to being able to support individuals within their exact situation so just because there might have been an unforeseen circumstance doesn’t mean that more hurt, more trauma, more pain needs to be tacked on to that in destroying the life of this innocent human being.

27:44 :

Very good. Is there anything else you’d like to share with us today that I didn’t ask you about maybe about abortion or pro-life or into these related topics?

27:59 :

Yeah, i think one thing that I’ll say is maybe the fact that we often think that this is, this is a this is an issue that is more recent. One of the things that i’ve found interested or interesting in my studies is that if you look at archaeological discoveries of brothels in, excuse me, the ancient world, which were very commonplace within antiquity and in fact it wasn’t a perceived taboo brothels were one of the most common gathering places for Roman men, and it was seen as antisocial for men not to engage in activities with prostitutes. And yet there are a couple main ways that we know that we’ve uncovered archaeologically, a brothel building, and the first is signage. We see signs that say things like occupata, which is Latin for occupied, or inscriptions that talk about celay or maritique, which is prostitutes. But another way that we find them is and can identify them is because of the discovery of the mass graves of children. And in Roman antiquity, children were not, like we talked about before, considered real people until they were at least the age of two. And there were those kind of legal allowances for fathers to do things like dispose of children, Infanticidis rabid. And the presence of particularly fetal newborn skeletons in mass graves gives archaeologists an indication that what they’re excavating could very well have been a brothel. And I think that should repulse us today, that we should, when we find these masquerades of children. And one of the ways we know where that building is, it’s because these were women who were practicing in sex work and so the natural, the natural kind of thing that happens with sex work, particularly unprotected sex work, is children. And they would dispose of these children. They would sacrifice these children for the sake of this kind of societal ill And we look at that today and we think that that’s terrible and I think it is terrible however, in our day and age, we largely do very similar things and we just stress it up and make it a little bit cleaner. And so we’re not burying children in holes outside of the brothels, but we just because we tidy it up doesn’t mean that it’s any less terrible. And so as a as a student of history who has seen some of these kind of archaeological discoveries and I’ve seen the reactions of people who discover them, I think we have this right and purposeful revulsion of that. But we just tidy it up nowadays, and I think we should realize that there’s a lot more moral revulsion that should be happening in our day and age in the kind of analogous things that we see going on today.

31:38 :

Wow thank you Wes. This was very enlightening and helpful to hear your thoughts on these things.