The Biblical Perspective on Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Regardless of where a person stands on the use of stem cell in scientific research, one might want to understand what the Bible says. God gives a person freedom to do right or wrong without neglecting the consequences of a person’s actions. Let us see, then, what we can learn from God’s Word.

Discussion of Current Understanding

First, we need a definition of a stem cell: “Stem cell n (1885): an unspecialized [undifferatiate, primative] cell [with the ability both to multiply and to differentiate into specific kinds of cells] that gives rise to specific cells, e.g., hematopoietic stem cells in bone marrow.”

Stem cells can become nerve, muscle, organ cells, etc. Some scientists say the best source of stem cells come from within embryos, but other sources include umbilical blood, and other adult tissues such as found in bone marrow.

How do scientists and doctors obtain these stem cells from embryos? First, what is an embryo?

An embryo is the first stage of human life after a woman’s egg has been fertilized. Funk and Wagnall’s Encyclopedia says:

The human ovum, fertilized high in a Fallopian tube (q.v.), is brushed by the hairlike cilia in the tube toward the uterus, where it becomes implanted, that is, attached to and enclosed by decidual tissue of the uterine lining. Studies of
primate embryos indicate that, in humans as well as in apes, cell multiplication begins during the journey of the ovum through the tube. The implanted embryo consists of a hollow sphere, the blastocyst, containing a mass of cells, called the embryonic mass, attached by a stalk to one side of the encircling membrane. In a blastocyst less than two weeks old and measuring 1 mm (0.04 in) in diameter, the microscope reveals the amnion (a sac surrounding the embryo), chorion (a membrane that develops around the amnion and lines the uterine wall), yolk sac, and distinct germ layers.

It is from within the embryonic tissue that scientists remove stem cells. To get at the stem cells, of course, the embryo must be cut apart and thus destroyed. While stem cells can be obtained from embryos as consequent of abortions “procedures,” most would be obtained from “unused” embryos resulting from in vitro fertilization.

A recent WSJ article, Don't Destroy Human Life by Robert P. George, a professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University, says:

Still, they are wriggling. White House advisers and members of Congress are looking for a solution or compromise that will enable them to avoid the question whether the destruction of human embryos is in fact the killing of human beings.

They won't find one.

The most recent attempt is by William Frist -- the highly respected pro-life Republican senator from Tennessee who happens also to be an eminent physician. The Frist proposal would ban the funding of research involving the creation of embryos for stem cell harvesting, while permitting the harvesting of stem cells from “excess” embryos created by in vitro fertilization.

The ethical dilemma facing people today initiated by stem cell research is, is it ethical or morally right to use aborted or “excess” embryos to reap stem cells for the possible purpose of saving lives or promoting the health of people with serious or chronic ailments? Whether stem cells will perform as hoped is an unknown. For now, scientists are experimenting. Then the question becomes should scientists continue the research with embryos? If embryos are human beings at a certain stage of life, should they be sacrificed? If embryos are not yet human, then is it more ethical to destroy them before they can reach term (or be born) for their stem cells than possibly use stem cells to effect a cure for certain people. You know the greater good argument. But, notice the codicil: stem cells may promote healing.

For many people in this character-challenged age, stem cells should not only be used but also be increasingly harvested because of the potential curative effects.

Life Begins

To reach an intelligent decision about taking stem cells from aborted fetal tissue, we should know when life begins because the definition of when life begins can determine what conclusion we come to. While scientists know when a particular human life begins, we need to go beyond the here and now, back to the actual beginning of human life and beyond.

Gen 2:7 the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

Before people could reproduce, we needed to have the first human beings. As the Bible verse says, God’s forming human life on the sixth day is when human physical life as we know it began. Or is it? Their reproduction eventually populated the Earth with human beings. But, we must dig deeper, to where the earth originated that God formed Adam from.

Gen 1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

He created the Earth over a period of six godly days to be teeming with life and all manner of creatures and vegetation. So life began at creation. From the time God said, “Let there be light…” until each person is born is a continuation of that light.

Our life is dependent on any number of factors, some twenty-five at least, scientists say. From the air we breathe to the food we eat, God made Earth hospitable to human life. That means in the beginning all the stuff needed to have and maintain life on Earth was created. This is our planet made for us by the great Creator.

Adam was entirely human after God formed him except for one thing. Going back to Genesis 2:7, Adam needed the breath of life, a spirit from God, which makes man sentient complete with language, vocabulary and grammar as demonstrated by Adam’s naming the various creatures roaming the world to be completely human.

Gen 2:20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field.

At his first breath, a person is imbued with a godly spirit and becomes completely human made in the image of God. Yet, all that is a person is, was there before the spirit of man is inspired. More on this later.

Gen 1:27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

Regardless of the predilections some people have about their sexuality, physically, God made people male and female. That is most obvious. More importantly, God made man in His image, the image of the life giver.

The Beginning of Human Life

People will tell you that human life begins at conception or when attached to the womb, or during the second trimester, or when a baby is viable, or at birth. They say this without considering all prior things that took place in the universe and on Earth to make it possible for that conception, etc.

We, obviously, can trace our heritage back to our parents, our two sets of grandparents, and back many generations to the first homo sapiens. Most scientists by far and away believe in evolution. But, even in evolution, the thread of life can be traced back to humanoids, and farther back to the primordial soup. Actually, life began spontaneously at a certain time some billions of years ago. Scientists don’t know how, but we know from the Bible that God created life when the Earth was ready to receive it.

While science believes (but, cannot really prove it) in evolution, I believe that Adam was formed from the clay of the Earth and that God created the universe from nothing. And there is nothing in science that can disprove Adam, and Eve formed from Adam’s rib or side. There had to be a first human couple because they had to procreate humans leading to us. How evolutionists explain a mutation or an evolution of a male and female homo sapiens simultaneously, I could not begin to fathom. One individual might mutate, but a male and female together at the same time! Mathematically, the odds are astronomical. Then maybe some Neanderthal mated with the first homo sapien. Their offspring would contain genes of both. How long would it take for the genes to become fully human? Never! It doesn’t work that way.

The Bible says something quite extraordinary about when a human life begins, at least for certain people. God chose His People from the beginning before the creation of the physical universe. So these people trace their beginning, not from conception or birth, not from the first parents, but from the thoughts of God in the beginning.

2Th 2:13 But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.

Before God created the physical world, He created His Word, the Bible, which was the blueprint for salvation. Over the years, He revealed His Word to those who would believe and obey Him.

More importantly than God having His People in His mind in the beginning, Jesus was in God’s thoughts then. While God did not cause Mary to be pregnant with Jesus until some two thousand years ago, his beginning began in God’s thinking from the beginning.

Joh 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
Joh 1:14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

“Word” in John comes from the Greek, logos:

Greek: logos
Definition: something said (including the thought); by impl. a topic (subject of discourse), also reasoning (the mental faculty) or motive; by extens. a computation; spec. (with the art. of John) the Divine Expression (i.e., Christ)
Derived from: Greek: lego
Definition: prop. to "lay" forth, i.e. (fig.) relate (in words [usually of systematic or set discourse]); by impl. to mean

Used in the context of John 1:1, and 14, God’s idea, “the thought,” (logos) was in God’s mind from the beginning. Therefore, God had Jesus in mind (logos) from the beginning of time as He had other faithful believers. As time went on God went about making sure His thoughts (logos) and plans for Jesus came to fruition. When the time was right, His Word (logos), the Bible, and His thoughts (logos) became flesh. What a joy it is to have one’s plans (logos) come into being.

Since God had Jesus and others in mind (logos) when He created the universe, their lives began in the beginning. Everything God did worked toward bringing these people into life at the right time. So the people God wants born will be because their logos began in the beginning.

If God knows every hair, or lack thereof, on a person’s head, He certainly knows all to whom He would give the breath of life to in all ages and times. So while He is particularly concerned with Jesus and believers, he knew (logos) from the beginning that the creation was intended to populate the Earth with creatures made in His image, that is, human beings.

Thus, human life did not begin with Adam and Eve; it began in the beginning. Adam and Eve were just a culmination of a continuum of events leading to their formation and from them to Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Jesus and us.

The Thread of Life

We might say that there is a kind of thread leading from the initial creation of the heavens and the earth to now. It makes sense then that a person’s life is a result of that unbroken thread from the beginning. What would break the thread? Any number of circumstances from abortion to castration would prevent someone from being born or coming into existence. God wants lots of people to have the experience of life and life more abundantly, even eternal life.

Gen 1:28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.”

Yet, there is a time for life and a time for death. For example, God determines that there would be many spontaneous abortions for various reasons including malformations. He also cuts off certain people preventing their line to continue; for example, He demands premeditated murderers be executed if they can be proven guilty without a reason to doubt.

God is the author of life, not death. Only when people commit heinous acts, like murder, does God demand their lives end. Otherwise, living brings knowledge, hope, love and the possibility of eternal life.

Only those who are born, obviously, have the opportunity for eternal life. At the end of the age, no one else will have the chance for life because the Earth will be destroyed in the super nova. Throughout the ages many disdained the wonder of life eternal, but they at least had a taste of life. Those who were not, are not, and will not be born, even though conceived and even borne in the womb for some time, due to the efforts of mankind, well, it’s very sad indeed.

Life Begins

To reiterate, aside from a person’s life traced back to THE beginning, some say life begins with the first breath. Others claim life only begins when it begins to form in the womb.

Gen 25:23 = The LORD said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.”

Finally, people say that life begins at conception.

But, Jer 1:5 = “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

Luk 2:21 = On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived.

Scientifically and Biblically, a individual’s life begins at conception. At that time, the genes of the sperm and those of the egg cells combine to make all that is a person, from eye color to height and probably length of days.

The Dilemma

When there are “extra” embryos due to the in vitro process, these living human beings, at the embryonic stage of life, are either discarded, a euphemism for killed, or frozen for future, hopefully, implantation in a womb. Should these embryos be killed for the purpose of extracting stem cells without his or her consent or will? The person, a several weeks old embryo, never had an opportunity to take that breath of life and receive the spirit from God or to learn about God and His plan to bring that person, possibly, into the Kingdom of God. Again, no matter what a person rationalizes about the beginning of an individual’s life, it begins at conception because it is at that point that all that the person will be is in the fertilized egg, as far as genetics are concerned.

Even on a physical level, the embryonic person, would never taste food, smell flowers, never see the sunrise and the moon light, never hear the stirring music of Beethoven or the laughter of children. Even cripples and the mentally impaired can feel an orange and taste its sweet fruit and learn to love from being loved. When asked, they prefer life to non-existence.

Is it right to deprive an embryonic person of developing to term and being born, so some person already alive my live a little longer or better?

And it is not as if the only place stem cells can be obtained is from butchered embryonic tissue. Adult bone marrow contains stem cells, as does the blood in the umbilical cord to mention just two other sources. But, scientists say embryonic stem cells are the best source. They, of course, know better than God the purpose of embryonic stem cells.

What scientists say about stem cell research is that it has potential to help in many diseases. Like many panaceas, it may not turn out as expected. They cannot know the long-term side effects. And, if it turns out as expected, are the costs and deaths worth it?

Exo 23:7 Keep thee far from a false matter; and the innocent and righteous slay thou not: for I will not justify the wicked. (KJV) and [Exo 23:7] Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest [person] to death, for I will not acquit the guilty. (NIV)

Since a person goes through several stages from conception to birth to childhood to old age and death, the embryonic person is an innocent incapable of doing any wrong.

Then the Bible suggests we follow the money trail.

Deu 27:25 “Cursed is the man who accepts a bribe to kill an innocent person.” Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”

Looking for Health in the Wrong Places

Since God created us, in the beginning, it is likely He might have a few things to say about sickness and health. He does. He says sickness is due to sin in almost all cases. Sin also leads to death. Does that mean we should never avail ourselves of medical care? Obviously not. But, healing comes from God, period. Even on the natural level, the body’s immune and other systems heal, not the surgery or drug, which may facilitate the body’s healing. Frequently drugs mask symptoms and allow a person to ignore the malady. God created the body to heal itself. When the body is beyond healing, nothing can bring it to health.

Exo 15:26 He said, “If you listen carefully to the voice of the LORD your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, who heals you.”

And sooner or later, with all the organ transplants, surgeries, medicines and stem cells, all will die. What then? God promises the resurrection to eternal life for the righteous, those who do right. If anything, this life with all its pleasures and pain is the training and proving ground, for entrance into the Kingdom of God.

What would God say to the scientists who destroyed a person at the embryonic stage of life? What would God say to a person using stem cells from a destroyed person at the embryonic stage of life to gain a few hours or days or years of life? Would He admit them to the Kingdom of God?

Amen.

Gil Kovacs

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