Contraception and the Bible

Discussion in 'Family Forum' started by jpfrench81, Jun 8, 2010.

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  1. jpfrench81

    jpfrench81 Puritan Board Sophomore

    My wife and I are working though the issue of "family planning" together. We have two wonderful children and plan to have more. The question is whether it is Biblically permissible to use contraception to (attempt to) control the timing of births. Up until this time we have used natural family planning and barrier methods, but we would like to consider the issue again. A few questions:

    1. Do you have any recommendations to further study this topic?
    2. Do you think contraception is permitted by God? Why?
    3. If contraception is permitted, what grounds are permitted for usage (illness, finances, etc.)?
    4. If contraception is permitted, what methods are permitted? Obviously not abortifacients, but are barrier methods allowed?
  2. jason d

    jason d Puritan Board Freshman

  3. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    The so-called "truths" (I think they are numbered 7 and 8), place the human body together with the lower creation under man's dominion and stewardship. The Bible, on the other hand, refers to the human body as an integral part of man and essential to his ability to exercise dominion. It is precisely at this point that much modern discussion of the subject departs from biblical truth.
  4. earl40

    earl40 Puritan Board Professor

    I would take a cue from what the universal church thought of birth control before these times. In other words, birth control was not generally accepted.
  5. jpfrench81

    jpfrench81 Puritan Board Sophomore

    A Common line of support for not using birth control is

    Children are a blessing so we should let God bless us without trying to dictate how much blessing we get.

    Desiring God has a response at Does the Bible permit birth control? :: Desiring God Christian Resource Library which I thought was pretty good. An example: having crops to farm as a farmer is a blessing but a farmer doesn't necessarily try to farm as much land as possible--he farms as much as he thinks he can.

    What do you think of this response?
  6. Peairtach

    Peairtach Puritan Board Doctor

    If birth control is so immoral, why is there not one injunction against it in Scripture?

    We do have injunctions against taking human life, which cover forms of "contraception" which destroy life.

    One of the purposes of sexual relations is to "know" ones wife. This is often treated in the Scriptures in isolation to the purpose of procreation.

    The anti-contraception lobby would contend that it is sinful to know one's wife if your intention is not always to try for a baby at the same time.

    This would make it immoral for Christian married couples who knew that they were incapable of having children, e.g. after the menopause, from having this "knowledge" of each other, which is presented in Scripture as something important even although it doesn't lead to pregnancy.

    Being in favour of responsible use of contraception does not mean that you also believe that Christian married couples should follow the modern practice of only trying for 2 or 3 babies at the most.

    Most of the opposition to contraception can be traced back to Medieval and Roman Catholic natural law theory, and a desire that Covenant families should be bigger.

    As I've already said you can believe from Scripture that proper use of contraception is good and acceptable, and yet believe that many Christians are following modern fashions, which they generally shouldn't necessarily, by having families of 1, 2 or 3.

    If you believe in "natural contraception" there is no reason why you should oppose "synthetic contraception". No doubt this specious distinction is something to do with natural law theory too.
  7. jpfrench81

    jpfrench81 Puritan Board Sophomore

    This is a good point. The "coitus interruptus" form of contraception was obviously available to mankind since creation. But neither it or any other kinds of birth control are specifically forbidden. This doesn't necessarily win the whole debate, but it is a good point.

    For those who oppose contraceptives, what is your response to this point? I look forward to your thoughts.
  8. Jimmy the Greek

    Jimmy the Greek Puritan Board Senior

    I have seen instances where begetting as many offspring as naturally possible became a source of spiritual pride. I've seen large families become a burden on the church and community because they cannot provide for themselves. But they keep pumping out babies talking about "full quivers" and saying "God will provide." The agrarian days where one needed to raise his own farm hands is gone.
  9. earl40

    earl40 Puritan Board Professor

    We do have the command to be fruitful and multiply though. I love how the word multiply is used and not add.
  10. Romans922

    Romans922 Puritan Board Professor

    I can't believe no one has brought up Genesis 38 yet, "And Onan knew that the seed should not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in unto his brother's wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest that he should give seed to his brother. And the thing which he did displeased the LORD: wherefore he slew him also."
  11. ReformedChristian

    ReformedChristian Puritan Board Freshman

    I prefer to take the role of the early church fathers on this issue. To me birth control is the same as a regular abortion only it's done orally.
  12. Jack K

    Jack K Puritan Board Professor

    I think that's because regardless of one's position on birth control, the passage about Onan leads to weak arguments at best. His purpose is described as a selfish desire not to want any of his resources to go toward the benefit of his brother's name and family line. This seems to be why God considered his act wicked, and that's a somewhat different issue than the one we face with modern birth control. It may have similar overtones (are we limiting family size so as to protect our wealth-enjoying lifestyle?) but it isn't the same.

    I suppose it's possible to argue that this passage suggests all birth control is wicked, even if one's purpose has nothing to do with Onan's purpose. But it'd make at least as good sense to argue that this passage suggests the covenant family understood and practiced "natural" birth control, usually without incurring any wrath of God. Actually, both arguments sound flimsy to me. Onan's sin was selfishness, and birth conrtol is merely how he carried it out.

    So this passage shouldn't lead to a blanket rule about birth control. I'm not saying such a rule doesn't exist, but it isn't in this particular passage. What I get from this passage is a reminder that all of life, including how I practice sexual relations, must be motivated by godly desires rather than selfish ones.
  13. jpfrench81

    jpfrench81 Puritan Board Sophomore

    My guess is because people tend not to think that this passage is about contraception and more about Onan's attempt to flee from his familial responsibility of producing offspring for his brother.

    ---------- Post added at 02:28 PM ---------- Previous post was at 02:27 PM ----------

    If you're talking about the pill as an abortifacient, you'll get no argument from me (see the original post). However, this doesn't address the issue of barrier methods like the condom.
  14. Romans922

    Romans922 Puritan Board Professor

    Actually Jack and Joshua, I have seen a few times on the PB where that argument is used against all contraceptives.
  15. Peairtach

    Peairtach Puritan Board Doctor

    It would have to be against all contraception because it was a natural form of contraception.

    Elsewhere, where it talks about release of seed by the male (Leviticus 5:16-18) it doesn't indicate anything sinful in these instances, because no sacrifice was required. And it says nothing about how the seed was released in this passage, i.e. you would think that contraception would be addressed in Leviticus if it was a sin, when emissions of seed are addressed.

    I think the Onan passage is very weak against contraception because of what has been said.

    Stronger is the fact that the Bible clearly views carnal knowledge qua canal knowledge as something very significant, whether or not there is conception and whether or not a baby results, by extolling it within marriage, and by hedging it about with numerous injunctions. Often there is no mention of babies. Apparently carnal knowledge is a good in itself for a married couple whether or not they can have a baby or whether or not they wish to have as many babies as possible. In other instances e.g. adultery or rape, it is sinful, whether or not there is conception/a baby.

    The anti-contraception lobby obviously believe that Christian couples should want and try for as many babies as they can, and that this is God's will. If they are persuaded of this from Scripture, that's fine for them, but do they have a weak or a strong conscience on this subject (Romans 14).
  16. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    First, birth control and contraception are two different things. According to the Bible abstinence is permitted in certain contexts. That amounts to birth control.

    Secondly, the use of specific procedures to prevent conception requires the adoption of a philosophy which is contrary to the Bible. As noted, the human body is equated to the life of the lower creation as something which is to be regulated in stewardship. Then sexual relations are reinterpreted as if they possess some unitive benefit apart from being fruitful and multiplying, thus ignoring what the Bible specifically calls "blessing."

    Thirdly, to move the discussion beyond questions of "immorality," which are only going to muddy the waters, a more positive approach would ask what the Bible sets forth as an ideal. An open view of children as God's heritage accords with the whole biblical scheme in both its creation and new creation teaching. Temporal family life is always regarded as being enriched by the multitude of offspring. As far as the redeemed family of God is concerned, the statement of our Elder Brother sums up the positive biblical teaching: "Behold I and the children which God hath given me."
  17. Jack K

    Jack K Puritan Board Professor

    I'm sure. But that doesn't necessarily make it a strong argument.

    Since I've dived in this far, I'll go ahead and respond to Joshua's original questions. I think contraception is nowhere given a blanket prohibition in Scripture, and is therefore permitted in appropriate circumstances. But like many things permitted, it is not necessarily wise for a man of God.

    A few random thoughts...

    --First of all, contraception as way to safely engage in extramarital sex without the consequence of pregnancy is clearly wrong and huge problem in our society.

    --Within marriage, contraception can lead to a cheapening of sex if it tends to turn a couple's sex life into something where the mindset becomes only about physical gratification. Making babies deepens sexual intimacy and is a godly part of married life, and it ought not to be kept out of the picture lightly.

    --As I stated earlier, contraception can be motivated by selfishness or by a control-based pursuit of the "American Dream." We think our lives will be better or easier with fewer kids, so we try to control the number of children not out of necessity or prudence but rather for our comfort and convenience. We foolishly think the fewer people we have to share our life with, the better we'll be.

    --Or we foolishly imagine that when the time comes that we do want kids, it'll be easy to have them. But that might not be the case, and we shouldn't wait too long to start trying. I know many couples who desperately want more kids (or any) and can't have them, but few who're sorry they had so many. How many people, on their death beds, say they wish they'd had fewer kids? Children are, indeed, a great gift from God.

    --I do not see a meaningful difference between "coitus interruptus" and barrier methods. The pill has health considerations and messes with natural biology and so makes me more wary.

    My own story is that my wife and I married late in our 30s and so wanted to have kids pretty quickly. Still, we practiced contraception for the first year of our marriage out of a desire to enjoy a year of married life without the complications of pregnancy or children. In retrospect, I wonder if we were being selfish, controlling and unwise. Then after having two kids, we went back to contraception thinking that at our age it was prudent to stop. I feel better about the motives behind that decision.
  18. Romans922

    Romans922 Puritan Board Professor

    Jack, I am not disagreeing you necessarily. But this is your line of argument: Contraception is not prohibited and is therefore permitted. This line of reasoning is contrary to Scripture and seems more Lutheran than anything.

    The principle of Scripture is rather, "You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the LORD hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods. Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it." In other words, Scripture's principle is: If it is commanded you shall do it, if it is not commanded than you shall not do it.
  19. satz

    satz Puritan Board Senior

    But what then is the scriptural command that prohibits contraception?

    If it is to be fruitful and multiply, how does that gel with the fact that the bible acknowledges that some will remain single, and even exhorts that there are certain benefits to singleness?

    Also, if a couple were to use contraception for the first year or two after their marriage, any maybe in certain years after that, but at the end of their lives had a very large family with many children, how have they not fulfilled the command to be fruitful and multiply?
  20. earl40

    earl40 Puritan Board Professor

    What would be antithetical to be fruitful and multiply? Could it be practice contraception?

    In other words, to practice contraception would be to do what is the exact opposite of what God commands.
    Last edited: Jun 9, 2010
  21. Jack K

    Jack K Puritan Board Professor

    You're right that my "it's not prohibited so therefore it's permitted" comment needs fleshing out. Clearly that's not the way to think about every sphere of life. The verse you quoted applies to how we worship, and for that we take an "only do what's expressly allowed" approach. But I think you'd agree that I may, say, drive a car even though the Bible doesn't expressly allow it or even anticipate motorized transportation.

    What about modern contraceptive methods? They're also not anticipated. In fact, I might argue much of the Bible doesn't even anticipate a society where people might want to limit the number of their children. So there's no clear command either way. In such cases, we look at the totality of Scriptural principles and we apply godly wisdom. That's probably a better way to say what I was getting at. In the absence of a direct command we're free to apply wisdom (which may vary based on individual circumstance and motive). This is not the same as free to do anything we want. Nor does it mean individual choice. Forums like this one help us determine together what is godly wisdom.

    That's how I get to the point of saying I think contraception is permitted in appropriate circumstances. It's NOT the same as saying it's permitted if you want to do it.

    As for the "be fruitful and multiply" command... That's a pretty strong bit of wisdom arguing against contraception. It speaks to a basic, God-ordained purpose of man. But let's not forget that it's given in the garden with Adam and Eve and then again at the re-beginning with Noah. The purpose is to fill and subdue the earth. One could argue that's been done. Seeing as this command doesn't reappear at Sinai or in the New Testament (where singleness is actually encouraged in spots), I don't think we have clear command for our day.
  22. Hebrew Student

    Hebrew Student Puritan Board Freshman


    I agree that the main problem with anticontraception arguments is that they are exegetically weak.

    For example, take the phrase "Be Fruitful and Multiply." If you look at it in its context, you get the following:

    Genesis 1:26-28 Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." 27 God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 28 God blessed them; and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth."

    Notice how the plural form "them" is used to refer back to "man" ['adam]. When the Hebrew term 'adam is the antecedent of plural suffixes, it generally functions as a collective noun, meaning something like "mankind." Hence, when the text says "male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them," the "them" that is being commanded to "Be fruitful and multiply" is not an individual couple. There is virtually no reason for separating the "them"s here. Hence, it is not every individual man who is commanded to "Be fruitful and multiply," but the human race as a species.

    To illustrate what I am saying, let us say that I am a science teacher, and I divide the class into groups, and tell one group of six children that I want them to make a model rocket. So, two people go out and buy all of the materials, another two students draw up the plan for the model rocket, and the other two students take the rocket, and build it. Now, let us say that they bring it back into class with all of their receipts and plans, and I give them an A on the project. Would it be acceptable for one of the kids to complain with, "You gave them a command to build a model rocket. I only see one model rocket. There should be six model rockets. You need to give everyone but one person an F." I would very politely take that child asside and tell him that I have that command to the entire group, and not to every individual in the group.

    However, it gets worse when you look at the context. Consider the next phrase "fill the earth." If "Be fruitful and multiply" is a command that every individual married couple must obey, then by what reasoning does anyone suggest that "fill the earth" is not a command that every individual married couple must obey? Hence, not only are couples commanded to have children, but, apparently, they are also commanded to have seven trillion of them so that they "fill the earth." According to this logic, and couple that has twenty children has sinned; the text commands them to have seven trillion so that they "fill the earth." If you take "Be fruitful and multiply" in this way, there is no logical reason to take "fill the earth" in this way.

    However, if the commandement is given to the human race, and not to individuals, the entire text makes sense. It is the human race as a whole that is to be about having children. It is the human race that is to "fill the earth."

    In fact, this command is repeated in Genesis 9:1, and it specifically directed towards *Noah* and his sons. However, if you read Genesis 10:1, you find that Noah only had three sons that he already had before the flood, and the giving of this command. Did Noah disobey this command? Genesis 10 seems to say that the command was fulfilled, as it talks about the filling of the earth. It seems far more likely that this command was, again, meant for the human race, and not for individuals.

    As far as the story of Onan, we also need to remember that this line of Judah and Tamar is the elect line [Matthew 1:2-5]. This is the line out of which came David and Jesus, on top of the fact that he is being selfish, and bringing cultural disgrace on Tamar. Hence, he is way out of line here, and it has nothing to do with contraception.

    Also, the idea that children are a blessing needs to be taken in context with all of the wisdom literature. I have presented this argument before, but I believe this text [and others like it] hold the key:

    Proverbs 25:16 Have you found honey? Eat only what you need, That you not have it in excess and vomit it.

    Now, obviously, this is not just talking about honey; it is talking about all excesses of God's blessings. Yes, children are blessings, as are other things. However, God expects us to be good stewards of the blessings he gives by taking "only what we need." Otherwise, we will have them in excess, and vomit them. The wisdom literature presents the enjoyment of the blessings of God, but within the context of liminality. Hence, we cannot just go around grabbing anything that we see that is a blessing; we have to consider "what we need," and do all of this in the context of liminality.

    Also, as far as the church history arguments go, there are plenty of material that shows that, as far as church history goes, the idea that contraception is wrong developed over time. I would recommend the book by Dr. John T. Noonan, Jr. called Contraception: A History of Its Treatment by the Catholic Theologians and Canonists. He goes through the patristic writers, and demonstrates exactly how the teaching developed over time from the original source documents.

    Also, it really is odd to see these kinds of arguments from the early church. Normally, when the Roman Catholic Church comes to us with things from the early church that have no scriptural support, we reject them as binding upon the contience of believers. However, I have to ask why we are using Roman Catholic arguments here, when there is no scriptural prohibition against contraception?

    Now, as far as works on this subject, I do think that Mark Driscoll and John Piper have probably done the best work in this area, and their stuff has already been linked. I think it really boils down to whether you are convinced of the scriptural arguments as a protestant. I believe that they are very weak. However, don't take my word for it. Go to a library, and crack open a commentary, read some of the ANE backgrounds of these texts, and evaluate what you read. Ultimately, the issue is whether it is consistent with scripture or not.

    God Bless,
  23. Peairtach

    Peairtach Puritan Board Doctor

    It is also odd to see the regulative principle of worship being applied to things like contraception.

    It is quite appropriate to apply this in the case of worship, where we need God's approval for what we bring before Him in worship.

    It is quite wrong for this principle to be applied erroneously and simplistically to things like contraception and even the role of the civil magistrate, as I've heard of some trying to do.

    If contraception is morally wrong - I agree that even although it is lawful, it is not always expedient - it is strange that it is not dealt with in Leviticus 5, which treats emissions in a purely ceremonial way -under the touch not, taste not, handle not rules, which the Apostle says were passing away.

    There are also rules about having relations with menstruating women, but nothing about contraception, e.g. coitus interruptus, at all.

    It's not inherently sinful, but may be sinfully or unwisely used. But many people prefer a simple rule. A similar thing happens with alcohol and other areas of ethics, even in Reformed circles.
  24. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    I do not think the regulative principle applies here. It applies to faith and worship. A normative principle applies to all of life. WCF 20:2. But we are looking for norms to regulate vocational life, that is, how the Christian is to serve God in the world, even in the unredeemed world. As such we are not free to adopt any philosophy of life to draw it into the service of God. We are bound to the biblical philosophy of life and vocation. The question reduces itself to a simple matter of discerning whether the biblical philosophy of life and vocation allows for contraception.

    For myself, I am yet to see any argument which maintains the affirmative while remaining true to biblical values. The "philosophy of death" promotes its ideals in numerous ways. What do we hear in favour of contraception? The body is like the lower creation; sexual relations are an end in themselves; human life is equated to the fruits of the earth and honey; many children are a burden on the church. These all spell death to the philosophy of life which the Bible teaches. God has set before us the way of blessing and cursing, the way of life and death. God's covenant people are called to choose life.

    What are the norms of the biblical view of human vocation and life? If we look at creational norms, there is not doubt that children are regarded as the fruit of sexual relations. If we look at fallen norms, we see the curses of God allow for the continued function of the procreational norm. If we look at redemption norms, child-bearing functions significantly in relation to salvation -- both in the history of salvation leading up to the birth of the Messiah, the Prince of Life, and in personal salvation from a life of world-seeking. Grace does not destroy nature, it restores it; this is a fundamental reformed principle. Deliberately destroying the "gift" of procreating the image of God is not a restoration of nature but a mutilation of it. Choose life!
  25. Peairtach

    Peairtach Puritan Board Doctor

    I think a Christian couple that use legitimate contraception wisely and expediently and do not follow the crowd in having 1,2 or 3 children, but try for, and/or have, 7 or 8 are in the spirit of what you say, Matthew, and in the spirit of the Scriptures.
  26. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    Richard, in the spirit of Philippians 3:15-16, I think we should continue to press towards perfection together, live up to the understanding we have attained, and look to the Lord for further light as we progress towards the mark. I hope our firm advocacy of personal convictions does not hinder the strong degree of unity we share in the faith.
  27. Peairtach

    Peairtach Puritan Board Doctor

    Amen to that, dear brother.
  28. Kevin

    Kevin Puritan Board Doctor

    The fathers taught much that was wrong on the subject of sx, this is only one example.

    The citation of the creation order to "multiply" as has been made in this thread suffers from a fatal flaw, in my opinion. The fall is cited by God as having a specific effect on the female reproductive system. So however God intends it to work, we don't observe it in our world today.
  29. christianhope

    christianhope Puritan Board Freshman

    1Ti 2:15 Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.

    I've always understood this verse to mean that women ought to continue in the role that God has placed them, which the bearing of children signifies, the pain of it having been part of the curse the woman received upon the fall in the Garden of Eden which this verse is making reference to. To have relations with the deliberate intention of not bearing children smacks of a method for evading the curse of God which He justly placed upon the woman.

    Perhaps there could be some sort of act of mercy in very rare cases, like a medical condition perhaps, which would warrant non-abortive/natural contraceptives.

    I mean no offense, it's a very personal issue to be sure, though my conscience is convinced by the Word of God that He speaks to it.
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