The Corporeal Reality Of “Nepes” And The Status Of The Unborn -- By: John C. Rankin

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 31:2 (Jun 1988)
Article: The Corporeal Reality Of “Nepes” And The Status Of The Unborn
Author: John C. Rankin


The Corporeal Reality Of “Nepes”
And The Status Of The Unborn

John C. Rankin*

In this paper Iwould like to make a straightforward presentation that I find exegetically and hermeneutically clear: Human life is a gift from God, and its origin in biological terms reflects the order of creation. Specifically, at the point of conception the one-celled human zygote is a person in the fullest theological sense, an image-bearer of God deserving the same respect and protection that we as Christians afford all human beings.

This conviction defines the issue of abortion for Christians who accept the historical trustworthiness of Scripture. For evangelicals, sola Scriptura is decisive. And for those of a more liberal theological persuasion, with varying degrees of emphasis on the quadrilateral appeal to Scripture, tradition, reason and experience, I believe my argument is still definitive.

There is an inherent difficulty in addressing the question of abortion from Biblical sources since in fact the Bible does not address the subject explicitly.1 The answer, however, is not to construct an argument from supposed silence that abortion is permissible. Any hermeneutic that argues from silence is fraught with danger over a wide array of issues, especially when it affects the making of public policy. Rather, the task is to go to the roots of Scripture and address the deeper and more foundational concerns that reveal a hermeneutic that is honestly applicable to questions of abortion. Another difficulty encountered is the issue of personhood. How does Scripture address or define a concept of personhood that is relevant to the modern judicial and political quandaries surrounding it?

The answer is in understanding the Hebrew term nepes̆ as definitively introduced in Gen 2:7: “And Yahweh God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living nepes̆.”

The term nepes̆ has often been translated or understood as “soul.” The same is true for the parallel NT term, psyche. Though “soul” can be a useful term, there are serious problems with its use as a translation for nepes̆ due to its primary use in English as denoting a metaphysical sense of existence

*John Rankin is a master’s degree candidate in ethics at Harvard Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

separate or separable from the body.

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