John 10:10 (ESV) – The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
Throughout the Roman Empire, it was common for children to be severely beaten and even tossed out into the garbage or dung heap to either die or be taken by someone and used for their purposes (i.e. a slave, prostitute, gladiator, etc.). Infant mortality was so high that only half of children lived to their fifth birthday, and less than 40% lived until their 20th birthday.
Consequently, a family would need to birth five children to have two, and usually waited between eight and nine days after the birth to name the child to see if they lived through the first week. Poorer families often had children to help earn income and care for them when they grew old. Infanticide was common, particularly with disabled children and girls, and included abandonment in the desert, being thrown in a river tied to a rock, and even suffocation by the hand of their parent. Contraception and abortion of varying kinds were also common in the ancient world.
Since the earliest days of the Church of Jesus Christ, Christians also took strides toward social equality—especially when it came to unwanted children. Children in the time of Jesus often lacked legal protection or parental affection. Sacrificing and abandoning children was common. Discarded children often died from exposure or were taken as slaves, prostitutes, or gladiators. This was especially true for children from the bottom rungs of society.
But that’s just where Jesus came from. He was the King of the Universe come as a baby to a poor rural family. In a society that dismissed and abused children regularly, Jesus loved kids and kids loved Him. They flocked to Jesus, and He welcomed, embraced, and prayed over them, as we learn from some of the fondest Bible stories ever.
Because of His example, Christians began to treat children differently, including adopting discarded children. That work still continues with orphanages, foster care, and adoptions around the world developed and operated by Christians who have God’s heart for the value of all children from all backgrounds.
If you’re interested in learning more about where abortion fit into the early church fathers’ writings (spoiler alert: it was forbidden), you can do a bit of research on Tertullian, Marcus Minucius Felix, Augustine, The Epistle of Barnabas, or the Didache.
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