Monday, November 09, 2009

Instone-Brewer on Abortion

David I-B's sermon on abortion is linked here. Christians are sometimes vexed by the lack of any mention regarding abortion in the NT. David I-B discusses this point by discussing 1st century moral values among the Jews and the Greco-Romans:
"Originally, in rural Greek & Roman society they did “expose” infants
- and some people still did so in the 1st century, but it was difficult in towns
- it was easier to quietly smother the baby at birth and throw out the corpse
- some people did still leave babies on a hillside, leaving them to the ‘gods’
- but in practice this left them to the dogs, and to brothel keepers who sometimes rescued infants as an investment for their business. "

"Jews thought that this Roman custom was barbaric, and they said so
- Philo pulls no punches when he described what actually happened in practice:
“Some of them do the deed with their own hands; with monstrous cruelty and barbarity they stifle and throttle the first breath which the infants draw or throw them into a river or into depths of the sea, after attaching some heavy substance to make them sink more quickly under its weight. Others take them to be exposed in some desert place, hoping, they themselves say, that they may be saved, but leaving them in actual truth to suffer the most distressing fate. For all the beasts that feed on human flesh visit the spot and feast unhindered on the infants; a fine banquet.”(Spec.3.114-5)
- Josephus contrasted Jewish & Roman cultures in Conta Apionem, incl: [2.202]
“The [Mosaic] Law… forbids women to cause abortion of what is begotten, or to kill it afterward; and if any woman appears to have done so, she will be a murderer of her child, by killing a living creature and diminishing human kind.”
I-B finds a clue in Acts 15 instructions to new Gentile Christians:
19 "Therefore it is my R897 judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, 20 but that we write to them that they abstain from things R898 F362 contaminated by idols and from fornication R899 and from what R900 is strangled and from blood.
The bolded item seems curious and out of place. Some translations for pnictos use "strangled meat." So is it another form of dietary restriction?

I-B cues in:
The fourth word, pnictos is very rare but is usually translated “strangle”
- why? because it sounds similar to pnigos and that means “strangle”
- actually, this isn’t too far off, because I later concluded it means “smother”
- but what does it mean in this context? How does it make any sense?
All the other examples of pnictos were used with regard to food
- in particular a certain type of meat called “smothered meat”. What’s that?

but what would the original readers think?
- well, I think they would be confused at first
- it is rather like saying: the four worst sins you can commit are idolatry, fornication, murder and eating Pate de Foie Gras!

Studylight has a translation of pnictos:

suffocate, strangled
  1. what is strangled, i.e. an animal deprived of life without the shedding of blood
  2. of cooking: our "smothered" as a culinary term

David I-B sums it up here (bold added):

What would they explain? They tell them why “smothering” is so bad
- not the smothering of new-born baby animals, ready for eating
- but the smothering of new-born babies, or killing them any other way

Why did they use this strange rare word for “smothering”
- I think the euphemism “exposed” didn’t contain any negative value
- that’s just the normal thing you do, as a sensible father and good citizen
- instead they wanted to use a word which took away the pretence
- like anti-abortionists talk about murdering babies instead of aborting fetuses
- it may not be the most accurate language, but it conveys the moral truth
- no-one, after hearing these four words explained, would forget the message

The Apostolic Decree told new Gentile believers about a new morality
- they weren’t allowed to sacrifice to idols or eat in pagan temple dining rooms
- they weren’t allowed to have sex with slaves, or prostitutes, male or female
- they weren’t allowed to kill slaves or eat blood (probably both messages)
- and they weren’t allowed to kill babies as a means of birth control

His publication appears in Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. 52, 2009, 301-321

Also note that the Didache, the 1st century instructions to new Christians prohibits abortions.

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