American Tophet

Tophet is one of the most horrifying words in the Bible. The word means “place of burning.” It reminds us of one of the most detestable practices of the human race—child sacrifice. The ancient Canaanites were well-known for this abomination. Israel was commanded to abhor this abomination, and whosoever practiced it was to be put to death (Lev. 18:21; Deut. 18:9-10). Israel was commanded to utterly destroy the Canaanites for their abominations, to make no covenant with them, and to not imitate the Canaanites in any of their abominations (Deut. 7:2; 12:29-31).  Sadly, Israel did not follow God’s directions, and the Canaanites and their gods became a snare to Israel (Jdg. 2:1-3).

Eventually, the kings of Israel and Judah adopted the wicked worship of Molech, which involved child sacrifice. King Solomon first brought the wicked practice to Jerusalem (1 Kgs. 11:7). King Manasseh developed it into a virtual state religion (2 Chr. 33:6). The tophet in Jerusalem was in the valley of the sons of Hinnom, known in New Testament times as Gehenna (2Kgs. 23:10). The prophets of God cried out against the practice, particularly Jeremiah and Ezekiel (Jer. 7:31-32; 32:35; Ezek. 16:21; 20:26; 20:31; 23:37). On account of the innocent blood shed in the tophet of Jerusalem, God promised to pour out His wrath upon Judah and Jerusalem (2 Kgs. 23:36; Jer. 19:6,11).

Wherever the Canaanites settled in ancient times, archaeologists have discovered the evidence of this abominable practice. Carthage, a city in North Africa built by Canaanite colonists, once rivaled Rome for domination of the world. Fortunately for the human race, where the Israelites failed to destroy the Canaanites, the Romans did not fail. Carthage was exterminated and lies in ruins to this day.  Archaeologists have uncovered the cemetery at Carthage where the victims of child sacrifice were buried. Covering acres, the ground contains urns filled with the bones of children from newborn to toddlers.


The ancient practice of child sacrifice is still going on in our world. The forms and procedures are different, but the sin is the same, and the nations of the earth are once again making themselves an abomination in the eyes of God. Their sin is the abortion of millions of unborn children, and it will not go unpunished. The religious ritual has been replaced by a medical procedure, but many of the same motives are evident. Sexual promiscuity, populations control to maintain a “high standard of living”—it is just the old fornication, materialism, and covetousness of the Canaanites brought up to date.

Abortion on demand was first legalized in modern times by the Soviet Union in the 1920s. Other communist countries adopted the practice, which was eventually embraced by die democracies of the West, and has gone all over the world in recent years. Beginning in 1967, legislation was passed in various states providing for abortion on demand. The landmark Supreme Court decision Roe vs. Wade made abortion legal nationwide in 1973. Since that time, it is estimated that over 25 million innocent, unborn babies have been killed in America alone. The carcasses of these victims of the modern American devotion to sex and money are routinely disposed of by incineration. The American tophet has far surpassed its ancient counterparts in Canaan.


So much has been written pro and con on abortion that it is difficult for the uninformed to cut through all the verbiage and see the real issue involved. The issue at the heart of the whole debate is simply this: Is abortion the taking of an innocent human life? If so, it is murder. There are three key terms to focus on: “innocent,” “human,” and “life.”

Is the embryo or fetus in the womb a human life? When does life begin? This question may be accurately answered scientifically and biblically and the answers are the same.

From the viewpoint of the scientist, human life begins at conception. Although consisting of only one cell, that cell is biologically a human being, with the complete set of 46 human chromosomes necessary to human life. Within seconds after conception, the process of cell division and cell specialization commences which results in a newborn baby. In testimony delivered before Congress, “Physicians, biologists, and other scientists agree that conception marks the beginning of the life of a human being—a being that is alive and is a member of the human species.  There is overwhelming agreement on this point in countless medical, biological, and scientific writings” (Report of the Subcommittee on Separation of Powers to the Senate Judiciary Committee S-158,97th Congress, 1st session 1981, p. 7; quoted in Abortion: Questions and Answers, Dr. and Mrs. J. C. Willke, Cincinnati: Hayes Publishing, 1988. rev, ed., p. 40).

Considered biblically, the unborn child, from its conception is considered fully human. (For a full treatment of this the reader is referred to Abortion: Toward an Evangelical Consensus, Paul B. Fowler, Portland: Multnomah Press, 1986. pp. 135-158). This fact is clearly seen in how the Scriptures speak of the unborn. In the New Testament, the word brephos is used both of infants and unborn children. The definition of brephos is “a child; whether unborn, or embryo, fetus, Lu. 1:41,44; or just born, an infant, Lu. 2:12,16; Ac. 7:19; or partly grown, Lu. 18:15; 2Ti.3:15.. “(The Analytical Greek Lexicon Revised, ed. by Harold Moulton, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1977, p. 73; cf. also Thayer, p. 105). The word brephos is used in Luke 1:41,44, in speaking of John the Baptist leaping in the womb of his mother Elizabeth. Huios means “son” and is used in Luke 1:36 of John being conceived in Elizabeth’s womb: “And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age” (Lk. 1:36). The Spirit chooses words that convey to our minds the humanity of John even while in his mother’s womb.

While Bible writers never explicitly say, “Life begins at conception,” they consistently refer to conception as the starting point of human life.  Some forty scriptures refer to conception as the start of new life in the womb of the mother. In the Genesis narratives alone, the phrase “conceived and bore” is found eleven times. The close pairing of the two words clearly emphasizes conception, not birth, as the starting point of life (Gen. 4:1,17; 21:2; 29:32-35; 30:5,19,23: 38:3,4) (Fowler, p. 136).

The Bible teaches that the very words of Scripture are inspired (1 Cor. 2:10-13).  Jesus demonstrated the validity of using single words to make an argument from Scripture in His dispute with the Sadducees (Mt. 22:23-32). On that occasion, He used the present tense of the verb to prove that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob still lived. Therefore, how the Bible speaks of the unborn, and the choice of language used in referring to them, reveals significant truth about them from God.


Murder is condemned by God’s Word (Ex. 20:13; 1 Jn. 3:15). Man is made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27; Jas. 3:9). The Scriptures teach us to respect human life (Gen. 2:7; Num. 35:33). The only time that taking human life is justified is when the Judge of all the earth has specifically authorized it. In the Law of Moses the death penalty was prescribed for certain crimes. The Scriptures authorize the death of those who are guilty of taking human life (Gen. 9:6). This is the only instance in which human life may justly be taken—if that life is guilty of taking human life. God has given the civil government (not the kingdom of God) the responsibility of administering this justice (Rom. 13:1-4). Giving the civil authority the power of life and death over murderers does not grant that authority the power to decide, in general, who lives and who dies. Quite obviously, the innocent unborn do not fall within the parameters laid out in God’s Word for putting someone to death. The only crime of the abortion victim is that they are unwelcome intruders upon the “freedom” of those who abort them. Human government can attempt to legislate abortion into the realm of acceptability, but it is still murder in God’s eyes. (It is a matter of interest to this writer that many of those who support abortion are opposed to the death penalty. “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil” [Isa. 5:201.)

While pro-life political activism is not an appropriate response for New Testament Christians, we can and must use the resources available to us to make a difference in the world. In our teaching, whether public or private, we need to take a stand for the truth on this issue. In evangelizing the world, we may be shocked to discover that most people look upon abortion as a non-moral issue. We need to clearly teach the immorality of abortion. We need to teach our children respect for human life and the wickedness of shedding the blood of the innocent. Perhaps most needful is fervent prayer. We must pray that our leaders would see the wickedness of abortion, or that they might be replaced by leaders who do see it as wickedness.  It should be our fervent prayer to see the day when the American tophets are no more.


Article by: Smith Bibens