Contraception and Biblical Teaching (Fer or Agin)?

Contraception and Biblical Teaching (Fer or Agin)? February 12, 2020

This is a portion of my book, The One-Minute Apologist (Sophia Institute Press: 2007). All biblical quotations in my book (as usual) are from the RSV, unless otherwise noted. It is slightly different from the book chapter because it is my own original manuscript.

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MARRIAGE AND FAMILY

The Catholic ban on contraception is an arbitrary, unbiblical restriction

It’s just one of many areas where Catholics are out of the mainstream

Initial Reply
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The prohibition of contraception was commonly accepted by all Christians: Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox, until 1930. It is a biblical and patristic belief.

Extensive Reply
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Here is the classic biblical passage having to do with contraception:

Genesis 38:8-10: “Then 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.”

This involved what is known as the “levirate law”: the duty to produce offspring with the wife of a dead brother. But this is not why God killed Onan, since the penalty for that was public humiliation and shunning, not death (Dt. 25:5-10). Context also supports this interpretation, since immediately after this (Gen. 38:11-26), is the story of Onan’s father Judah refusing to enforce the law and allow his other son, Shelah to produce a child with Tamar, his daughter-in-law. He was afraid that Shelah would be killed like Onan and his other wicked son, Er (38:7, 11).
Judah acknowledges his sin in 38:26: “She is more righteous than I, inasmuch as I did not give her to my son Shelah.” He wasn’t killed, so it is unreasonable to contend that Onan was judged and killed by God for the very same sin that Judah committed (in the same passage). Onan was judged for contraception (sex with the deliberate intent to unnaturally prevent procreation). There are a host of other biblical passages which exalt fertility and the blessing of many children, and the curse of none:

1) Married couples are to “be fruitful and multiply”; this is a blessing (Gen. 1:28; 9:1, 7; 28:3; 35:11; Dt. 7:13-14; Ps. 107:38; 115:14; 128:1-4; Prov. 17:6; Ecc. 6:3).

2) Barrenness is contrary to blessing and “glory” (Ex. 23:25-26; Jer. 18:21; Hos. 9:11).

3) Procreation is central to marriage (Mal. 2:14-15).

4) Childbearing is so sacred that women are even said to be “saved” by it (1 Tim. 2:15).

5) It is God Who opens and closes wombs and causes a conception to occur (Gen. 20:17-18; 29:31; 30:2, 22; Josh. 24:3-4; Ruth 4:13; Ps. 113:9).

6) Children are a gift from God (Gen. 17:16, 20; 29:32-33; 33:5; Ps. 127:3).

Objection
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But it is unreasonable in this day and age, in urban environments, to have ten or fifteen children. This is an outdated understanding of the meaning of marriage and parenthood. It may work on a farm or a desert, but not in cities and towns.

Reply to Objection
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The Catholic Church doesn’t force married couples to have ten children! But it does require them to agree to be fruitful and always open to life as the deepest meaning and purpose of marital union (thus ruling out artificial contraception). The problem today is not the refusal to have ten children, but the (often selfish or cynical) decision to have none at all, or very few, so that in Europe, most countries are below zero population growth, meaning that couples are averaging less than two children (while Muslims continue to have lots of children).

This is an “anti-child” mentality. Children are often viewed as a mere inconvenience or a burden (even to the point of being slaughtered before they are born). The Bible, on the other hand, clearly states over and over that children (and many of them) are a blessing. Yet, sadly, millions of Christians today are far closer in outlook to secular (or ancient pagan) culture than the biblical worldview:

1 Chronicles 25:5: “All these were the sons of Heman the king’s seer, according to the promise of God to exalt him; for God had given Heman fourteen sons and three daughters.”

Psalm 127:3-5: “Lo, sons are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the sons of one’s youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them! . . .”

Martin Luther (the founder of Protestantism)
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But the greatest good in married life, that which makes all suffering and labor worth while, is that God grants offspring and commands that they be brought up to worship and serve him. In all the world this is the noblest and most precious work, because to God there can be nothing dearer than the salvation of souls. Now since we are all duty bound to suffer death, if need be, that we might bring a single soul to God, you can see how rich the estate of marriage is in good works. (The Estate of Marriage, 1522; Luther’s Works, Vol. 45, 46)

G. K. Chesterton
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It has been left to the last Christians, or rather to the first Christians fully committed to blaspheming and denying Christianity, to invent a new kind of worship of Sex, which is not even a worship of Life. It has been left to the very latest Modernists to proclaim an erotic religion which at once exalts lust and forbids fertility . . . The new priests abolish the fatherhood and keep the feast – to themselves. (The Well and the Shallows, New York: Sheed & Ward, 1935, 233)

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Related Reading

Dialogue w Several Non-Catholics on Contraception [1996 and 1998]

Contraception: Early Church Teaching (William Klimon) [1998]

Dialogue: Contraception vs. NFP: Crucial Ethical Distinctions [2-16-01]

Books by Dave Armstrong: Family Matters: Catholic Theology of the Family [Dec. 2002]

Why Did God Kill Onan? (Bible and Contraception) [2-9-04]

Dialogue: Why Did God Kill Onan? (Contraception) [2-13-04]

Onan, Contraception, & Two Protestant Bible Dictionaries [2-21-04]

Contraception: Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, & Teddy Roosevelt [2-21-04]

Dialogue: Contraception & Natural Family Planning (NFP) [5-16-06]

Humanae Vitae: (1968): Infallible Teaching Against Contraception [12-31-07]

Q & A: Catholic Sexual Morality and Contraception [1-1-08]

Bible on the Blessing of [Many] Children [3-9-09]

Protestants, Contraception, the Pill, & NFP [8-12-11]

Birth Control Pills Often Cause Early Abortions (Links) [8-12-11]

Natural Family Planning (NFP) & “Contraceptive Intent” [8-28-13]

Why Did Baker Books and Crossway Omit John Calvin’s Strong Remarks Against Contraception in His Commentaries (Genesis 38:10)? [9-14-13]

Biblical Data Against Contraception: Onan’s Sin and Punishment: a Concise “Catholic” Argument  [3-7-14]

Orthodoxy & Contraception: Continuity or Compromise? [2015]

Contraception, Natural Law, & the Analogy to Nutrition [2-21-19]

C. S. Lewis: Views on Procreation & Contraception [11-1-19]

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Photo credit: Family of Ole Hanson (1874-1940), mayor of Seattle and founder of San Clemente, California (c. 1919) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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