“Before I formed you in the womb…”

by K.W. Leslie, 12 July

Jeremiah 1.5.

May as well state my biases up front: I’m prolife.

In the United States we use this term to describe a person who doesn’t approve of aborting a pregnancy. Depending on the person, we either want the practice discouraged, banned outright, made a crime, or even made a capital crime with death penalties all around. Which goes way too far for me, because I’m prolife in the proper sense of the word: I don’t want anybody to die. Not just fetuses.

The real problem with abortion is a society which claims they care about women and motherhood, but they only care about self-supporting women and mothers. When women get pregnant, hadn’t planned on it, and don‘t know how they’re gonna have the time or money to raise a child, society’s response isn’t, “How can I help? Whatever you need, just ask; I’m there.” It’s usually condemnation: “You should’ve expected this.”

No moral support, no financial support, no personal support; God forbid we suggest government support. So the pregnancy is turned into a massive burden… and the easiest way out of the burden appears to be abortion. Social Darwinism turns into actual Darwinism.

You honestly want abortion to be gone, or at least rare? Start supporting women. Start caring for the needy. Love your neighbor. Don’t be one of those hypocrites who only care about fetuses, but not about women struggling to raise kids. Rant over.

So. In conservative Evangelical churches, it’s kinda taken for granted we’re prolife. Most of us are. But not all; you can kinda tell who’s not, by how much they squirm in their seats whenever the speaker starts to condemn abortion.

Me, I start to squirm whenever they misquote bible in support of their cause. I’m pretty sure “Thou shalt not kill” Ex 20.13, Dt 5.17, Mt 5.21 does the job just fine. But prolifers feel we gotta quote other verses to defend our worldview. Any verses which suggest “a person’s a person, no matter how small” Horton Hears a Who! and actually references a fetus, is trotted out as “proof” God considers them people.

This bit from the first chapter of Jeremiah in particular. For some reason, I hear people quote it in the NIV more so than the KJV. I suspect it’s because the KJV uses the word “belly,” which isn’t clinical enough for ’em.

Jeremiah 1.5 NIV
“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.”

“See?” prolifers will point out, “God knew us before we were born.”

Um yes, but y’all need to read that verse again. It says Beterem echorkha vebeten/“At [a time] before I formed you in [the] womb.” Not when God formed Jeremiah in the womb; before.

The verse is about foreknowledge, not fetuses. God knew Jeremiah before God created Jeremiah.

The context.

The whole passage isn’t generically about every human, and how God creates every baby in every womb. He does, but still: It’s about Yirmeyáhu ben Khilqiyáhu (KJV “Jeremiah the son of Hilkiah”), a prophet who was active from 627 to 587BC. This is probably the first thing the LORD told Jeremiah, in 627, when he commissioned the boy to be his prophet.

Jeremiah 1.1-10 KWL
1 Words of Jeremiah ben Khilqiyahu, one of the priests from Anatót, land of Benjamin.
2 The LORD’s word was given to him in the days of Judah’s king Josiah ben Amon, in the 13th year of his reign;
3 and in the days of Jehoiakim ben Josiah, Judah’s king;
and till the end of the 11th year of Zedekiah ben Josiah, Judah’s king; till Jerusalem’s exile in the fifth month.
4 The LORD’s word was given me to say, 5 “I knew you before I formed you in the belly.
I consecrated you before you came out of the womb. I made you a prophet to the nations.”
6 I said, “Oh LORD my master! Look, I don’t know how to speak. I’m a boy.”
7 The LORD told me, “Don’t say ‘I’m a boy’:
Everywhere I send you, go. Whatever I command you, speak.
8 Don’t be afraid before them. I’m with you, to save you,” uttered the LORD.
9 The LORD reached out his hand and tapped my mouth.
The LORD told me, “Look, I put my words in your mouth.
10 Look, today I appoint you over nations, over kingdoms
to uproot, knock down, undo, break apart—to build, and to plant.”

Same as Joseph ben Jacob, Samuel ben Elqanah, or Isaiah ben Amoch, God starts talking to many of his prophets when they’re kids. (They don’t all start in their eighties, like Moses.) God doesn’t waste time in their lives, but starts conditioning them to recognize his voice when they’re young.

God knows exactly who he wants to represent him. And since God knows the future, he’s obviously known this since before they were born. John the baptist was a really obvious example. Jeremiah less so, which is why the LORD told him directly: “I knew you before I formed you.” If Jeremiah wanted to argue his assignment was a miscalculation on God’s part, God’s statement silenced that. It was entirely calculated.

Speaking of John the baptist: You want scriptures which indicate a fetus is a living, active baby? John’s story kinda makes it obvious.

Luke 1.41-45 KWL
41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the fetus in her womb jumped.
Elizabeth was Holy Spirit-filled, 42 and exclaimed loudly,
“You’re blessed above all women; the fruit of your womb is blessed!
43 How is it the mother of my Master might come to me?
44 Look: When I heard the sound of your greeting, the fetus in my womb jumped for joy.
45 How awesome for she who believes the things the Lord told her will be fulfilled!”

But Christians want a nice, tidy, one-verse scripture as a proof text. Pity we don’t necessarily care what it’s properly about.