What Is Human Life Worth?


Biblical Truth: Every human being bears God’s image; thus we are accountable for valuing and protecting human life.

Worth Taking Accountability For: Genesis 9:5-6.

[5]  Surely I will require your lifeblood; from every beast I will require it. And from every man, from every man’s brother I will require the life of man. [6]  Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man.  [NASU]

[5]  This verse marks a divine directive regarding human life. Your lifeblood ties this verse to the previous prohibition regarding the value of life (blood), whether animal or human [4]. Human life must be treated with special caution because it is of singular value as life created in the image of God. Here we have a sanction stressing the grave consequences for taking human lifeblood. Human death requires an accounting. I will require occurs three times in the verse: first it designates the general principle and then specifies that animal and fellow human both are under divine sanction. The general rule is that human life when violated, either by animal or fellow human, required the life of the offender. First and foremost, the taking of human life is offense against God; the accounting is a divine initiative and requirement. As verse 6 implies, killing a person who is made in the image of God is a blow against God Himself. Verse 6 shows that the burden of carrying out recompense is on society (by man), but the offense itself is not against the murdered, nor his family, nor society at large. The basis of the prohibition against taking human life is rooted in the transcendent value of human life conferred at creation.

[6]  The poetic stanza of verse 6 has the first two lines arranged so that the emphasis is on man as both victim and avenging agency. The severity of the punishment is required because of the heinous nature of the crime. By man indicates that the appointed instrument of retribution is society’s enforcement agency. Exacting retribution is not a personal matter but a societal obligation. The last two lines explain (for) why execution is the appropriate measure against the malefactor. The language appropriated for this is creation language derived from 1:26-28, which gives another explicit linkage between the first Adam, that is the old order, and the new world of Noah. Justification for penal execution is the value of the victim, the image of God. God alone may make or dispose of a person as He sees fit. This we saw in the case of Cain, whose life is spared by the mark because the Lord reserves for Himself the authority to avenge the violation. To take human life unlawfully therefore is to usurp God’s sovereignty over life and death. For just reprisal God delegates the authority to carry out His vengeance (by man). After establishing the inviolability of human life, how can the divine directive at the same time exact killing the criminal who also is the divine image? Capital punishment is not interpreted as a threat to the value of human life but rather is society’s expression of God’s wrath upon anyone who would profane the sanctity of human life. New Testament writings interpreted capital punishment as a necessary function of society, where the state is defined as the divinely designated “servant” that administers retribution [Rom. 13:1-5; 1 Peter 2:13-14]. Genesis removed personal vengeance and restricted blood feuding that led to reckless killing. Mosaic law limited the excesses of personal and family vengeance as attested in the ancient Near East by the imposition of “an eye for an eye” [Lev. 24:17-21] which insures that the punishment applied must correspond in kind to the crime committed.

Worth Praising God For: Psalm 139:13-16

[13]  For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. [14]  I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well. [15]  My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; [16]  Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.  [NASU]

[13]  Having spoken of the possibility of fleeing from God, the Psalmist now adopts the opposite course of turning in a personal manner unto God and reflecting upon the fact that God has created him. The verse begins with a for, and this word introduces the reason why God is all-knowing and also omnipresent, and that reason is found in the fact that God is the Creator. God knows the entirety of David’s life, both his outward existence and the thoughts of his heart. From this God there is no way of escape, and the reason why God possesses this knowledge and why God is everywhere present is simply that God has created all things and He has created David. By means of the second part of the verse David wishes to show how God has a control over his whole being. When as yet he was in the womb of his mother before actual birth, he was in God’s control. Even in this unborn stage, David was in God’s hands. We are not the creatures of chance, merely happening in some inexplicable way to appear upon the scene of history. We are here, for God has created us, and from the first instant of our creation, even before our birth, we were wholly in His care. Truly the doctrine of divine providence is a blessed thing. It teaches that God cares for us.

[14]  David breaks off in the midst of his argument, and bursts forth into thanksgiving and praise to God. Indeed, one cannot think of God and His wondrous works without bursting forth into praise. He who knows God and loves Him cannot speak of Him without feeling. The greatness of His works of creation calls forth the adoration and praise of the human heart. For indicates that the reason for David’s praise is the fact that God has made him.

[15]  In contemplating the wondrous manner in which he has been formed, David proceeds to assert that from the very beginning he was known to God. Even before his birth God saw clearly the frame of David’s being. That David was speaking of the human embryo is shown by the fact that he asserts that God saw his substance even while it was made in secret, i.e. in his mother’s womb. The origin of our being is in God’s hands. Herein is another evidence of His omniscience and mighty power.

[16]  To God the body of the mother is no covering, and God’s eyes penetrate through the body, so that from Him nothing can be hidden. The thought here is that the entirety of David’s being, even including the days of his life, are inscribed in the book that belongs to God. The conception of a book of God is found elsewhere in the Old Testament (see Psalm 56:8; 69:28; Exodus 32:32-33). Furthermore, it is stated that these days of the Psalmist’s life have been formed before there were any of them. What actually is the Psalmist saying? If we understand his language aright, he is saying that the days of his life were actually formed before even one of them had come into existence. All his life, the details of each day, had been written down in the book of God, before any of these days had actually occurred. The Psalmist has here reached a peak in his exaltation of the all-knowing and all-powerful God. Not only does God know all things, but God has also foreordained all things. His life he regards not as a chance happening, but as a life already planned by God even before he himself was born. God has a plan and hence there are no surprises for Him. He knows what the future will being forth, for He Himself has determined that future. David does not rebel at this thought and neither should we. The contemplation of this profound doctrine leads him to an utterance of the preciousness of God’s thoughts [17-18]. David is content that God has determined in advance his life. As a devout believer in the Lord he knows that whatever God does is right. At the same time we may confidently assert that the fact of divine predestination does not in any sense do violence to our human responsibility. The Bible is filled with commands addressed to us setting forth what God requires of us. It is not necessary for us to harmonize these commands with the Scriptural emphasis upon divine sovereignty as manifested in the foreordination of whatsoever comes to pass. We know that the very fact that God has proclaimed both His sovereignty and also the responsibility of the creature is sufficient warrant for us to believe in both. In God they find their harmony, and that is sufficient for the believer. We can trust God and leave the question of harmonization to Him. David, apparently, was willing to do just that.

These verses plainly teach the individuality of a child while it is still in its mother’s womb. No one can read these verses thoughtfully today without considering their obvious bearing on the contemporary problem of abortion. The chief issue in discussions about abortion concerns the identity of the fetus. People who argue for the right of a woman to have an abortion usually argue that the fetus is not yet a person, but is only a part of the woman’s body that she can elect to have removed. This is why language describing the unborn child has changed so radically. A generation ago everyone referred to the unborn child as a baby, and pregnant women knew they were carrying a baby. It is hard for anyone to think calmly about killing a baby. So today people talk about the fetus or the embryo or even mere “tissue” instead. To get rid of tissue doesn’t seem so bad. But this is not the way the Bible speaks of the unborn child. In the perceptive wording of this psalm David is speaking of his unique individuality from the first moments of his existence in the womb. From that very first moment, God knew him and had ordained what his life was to be. If that is how God views the unborn child, dare we call it only tissue and destroy the unborn?

Worth Valuing: Proverbs 1:10-11,15-16,18.

[10]  My son, if sinners entice you, Do not consent. [11]  If they say, "Come with us, Let us lie in wait for blood, Let us ambush the innocent without cause; [15]  My son, do not walk in the way with them. Keep your feet from their path, [16]  For their feet run to evil and they hasten to shed blood. [18]  But they lie in wait for their own blood; They ambush their own lives.  [NASU]

[8-19]  The young must note that the fear of the Lord is linked with respecting parents. God speaks here through the mouth of a parent or teacher, blending paternal tenderness with His divine authority. The command supposes the godly character of parents and recognizes the responsibility of both parents. Children are rational creatures. Instruction, not blind submission, must be inculcated. If sinners entice you points out the certainty that this will indeed happen. The only safe response for our spiritual well-being is do not consent. Do not give in to the temptation. Giving in constitutes the sin. Eve consented before she picked the fruit. David gave in before he sinned [2 Samuel 11:2-4]. But Joseph resisted and was saved from the sin. When you are tempted, do not blame God, or even the devil. The worst the devil can do is to tempt us; he cannot force us to sin. When he has presented his most subtle arguments, we choose to give in or to resist. The sensitive conscience becomes more compliant every time it gives in. Who can stop himself once he starts on this downhill path? One sin makes way for another. David committed murder to hide his adultery. The only safe course of action is to flee temptation. There is not one sin that the best of God’s saints will not commit if they trust in themselves. The sight of danger leads to the avoidance of danger. If the trap is set in the sight of the bird, then the bird will avoid the trap [17]. Yet man is so infatuated with sin that in his pride he will not do what the bird does by instinct. She flies away from the net that she has seen being spread out, but man rushes into it. These men sought to kill others but ended up ambushing their own lives.

Worth Protecting: Proverbs 24:10-12.

[10]  If you are slack in the day of distress, Your strength is limited. [11]  Deliver those who are being taken away to death, And those who are staggering to slaughter, Oh hold them back. [12]  If you say, "See, we did not know this," Does He not consider it who weighs the hearts? And does He not know it who keeps your soul? And will He not render to man according to his work?  [NASU]

[10]  This verse calls the reader to summon courage to face whatever challenges lie ahead. Remember that when we seek strength from our own resources, when faith gives way to distrust, praise to complaining, hope to despondency, then we falter in times of trouble. Commit yourself daily to him, for His supply of grace is sufficient for you. So go forward, weak and strong at the same time; weak in order to be strong, strong in your weakness.

[11-12]  Imagine a fellow creature who is in imminent danger, as he is being taken away to death. Excuses will always be at hand as to why we should pass over his sad condition. We excuse ourselves by saying we did not know this. But the true reason is that we lack love but abound in self-love. Our defect is seen by our reluctance to carry out our duties to our brethren, while we excel in excusing ourselves. But does not God, who knows the condition of every heart, know your brother’s needs, the sorrow of his heart, and the grief that presses down his soul? Does He not view your excuse of ignorance as a cover for selfishness? In vain do you plead ignorance before the all-seeing God.

Questions for Discussion:

1.      Why did God command the death penalty for murder [Gen. 9:6]? Why is understanding the significance of being created in the “image of God” so crucial for seeing the value of human life?

2.      How do you react to all your days being ordained by God [Psalm 139:16]? Is this a comfort to you or do you rebel against the idea? How did David respond to this truth?

3.      What does Psalm 139:13-16 teach about the value and nature of the unborn child? How does this help you in your thinking about abortion?        


Genesis, James Boice, Baker Books.

Genesis 1-11:26, Kenneth Mathews, NAC, Broadman Publishers.

Psalm 139, Edward Young, Banner of Truth.

Proverbs, Charles Bridges, Crossway Books.

Get Founders
in Your Inbox
A weekly brief of our new teaching resources.

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Teaching BY TYPE
Teaching BY Author
Founders Podcasts