The use of artificial contraception is clearly prohibited in Scripture. Of course, if you view Scripture in the same manner I view Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion — with a deep sense of skepticism and a distaste for prosaic, old men on ego-trips — then perhaps the fact that contraception violates the natural law is an argument better suited to your tastes. If, however, you are of the radical belief that Sacred Scripture is sacred, do read on:
I begin with a rather obvious point, that if one were to approach an ancient Jew and give him any variation upon the theme of “I prefer my women infertile,” he would be mocked. Our contraception-uber-alles culture would be utterly incomprehensible to the ancients, simply because the Israelites were forever recovering from, involved in, or avoiding near annihilation.
And when you’re a race constantly enslaved, warred upon, kicked around the Mesopotamian Basin, and generally given a hard time, the last thing on your mind is, “Dang, how to reduce our numbers?” It’s more like, “Dear Jesus, I hope I survive long enough to procreate.” Without the Jesus part.
So there exists no commandment specifying “Thou shall not place snakeskin wraps around thy genitals, nor put poison nor wool in thy wife’s birth canal” (as Egyptian civilizations were wont to do), because it was a given. Duh Lord, we want kids. Who else is going to slit the throats of our enemies when we’re old and crippled? Who else will take care of us? Who else but our children will continue to be your chosen people?
Thus it is made clear throughout Scripture that having children was considered a blessing: “Behold, children are a gift of the Lord; the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children on one’s youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them; they shall not be ashamed, when they speak with their enemies in the gate” (Psalm 127:3-5).
But there still exists a clear rejection of contraception in the Bible:
“Judah said to Onan, ‘Go in to your brother’s wife, and perform the duty of a brother-in-law to her, and raise up offspring for your brother.’ But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so when he went in to his brother’s wife he spilled the semen on the ground, lest he should give offspring to his brother. And what he did was displeasing in the sight of the Lord, and he slew him also” (Gen. 38:8–10).
So there you have it. The practice of coitus interruptus was prohibited. Now it may be argued that Onan was not punished for his contraceptive act, but for his refusal to raise offspring for his brother’s widow. But the biblical penalty for not giving your brother’s widow children was public humiliation, not death (Deut. 25:7–10). Public humiliation as in “his brother’s wife shall go up to him in the presence of the elders and pull his sandal off his foot and spit in his face.” (Which we should bring back.)(Dammit woman, give me back my sandal!)(Admit it, having a singular sandal sounds mightily emasculating.)))
But Onan received death as punishment for his crime. So the Bible-believing Christian is left with two choices. Either God inexplicably broke his own law and and killed a man –and thus God is a tyrant — or Onan was being punished for more than just a failure to fulfill his duty to his brother’s wife. I hold that God was punishing him for his act of contraception, for having all the pleasure and none of the procreation — For distorting the natural end of sex. To which there may be the following complaints.
A) But Jesus changed all that!
Really, where in the Bible does he take back this particular divine action? The Early Church certainly couldn’t tell:
“Because of its divine institution for the propagation of man, the seed is not to be vainly ejaculated, nor is it to be damaged, nor is it to be wasted” (A.D. 195, Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor of Children 2:10:91:2).
“…on account of their prominent ancestry and great property, the so-called faithful [certain Christian women who had affairs with male servants] want no children from slaves or lowborn commoners, [so] they use drugs of sterility or bind themselves tightly in order to expel a fetus which has already been engendered” (A.D 255, Hippolytus of Rome, Refutation of All Heresies 9:12).
B) But the Early Church was all corrupted by Catholicism, Martin Luther reformed all that!
Actually, Martin Luther was much meaner about the whole contraception issue than any one I’ve read so far.
“[T]he exceedingly foul deed of Onan, the basest of wretches . . . is a most disgraceful sin. It is far more atrocious than incest and adultery. We call it unchastity, yes, a sodomitic sin. For Onan goes in to her; that is, he lies with her and copulates, and when it comes to the point of insemination, spills the semen, lest the woman conceive. Surely at such a time the order of nature established by God in procreation should be followed. Accordingly, it was a most disgraceful crime. . . . Consequently, he deserved to be killed by God. He committed an evil deed. Therefore, God punished him.” (Luther’s Works, Vol. 5, p.332)
C) But John Calvin–
Nope. “Deliberately avoiding the intercourse, so that the seed drops on the ground, is doubly horrible. For this means that one quenches the hope of his family…” (John Calvin, Commentary on Genesis.)
D) But John Wesley–
Stop that. “Those sins that dishonor the body are very displeasing to God, and the evidence of vile affections. Observe, the thing which he [Onan] did displeased the Lord—and it is to be feared; thousands, especially of single persons, by this very thing, still displease the Lord, and destroy their own souls.”
E) But some one —
No. Not one, single Protestant denomination before the 1930’s held that the use of artificial contraception was anything but sinful. May I ask, what on earth has changed, besides the fact that we now live in a culture that really, really wants birth control?
D) But I —
(For a more in depth explanation of why this punishment must be seen as a direct result of Onan’s contraceptive act, go here.)