In the following post I seek to lay out a few of the biblical texts related to the Church teaching against contraception. This is not a post intended to give a full defense of the teaching against contraception. I have done that elsewhere, e.g. HERE & HERE & HERE
This post is intended only to set for the kind of biblical logic and background for the teaching which comes to us from antiquity. In fact, no Christian denomination prior to 1930 ever taught the contraception was anything but sinful. The first denomination to depart from this received teaching was the Anglicans, who at the 1930 Lambeth conference set aside more than 5000 years of Jewish and Christian wisdom and embraced the modern contraceptive notion that there is no necessary connection between procreation and sex. One by one the other Protestant denominations fell, such that today, only Catholic and Orthodox Christians, as well as some Orthodox Jews, are left holding the light of ancient antiquity.
These biblical texts display that ancient and beautiful light which reverences and rejoices in new human life, and with God seeks to diffuses this blessed gift far and wide. It is a light which sees human life as a blessing, not a burden, as full of hope, rather than simply being a hardship.
Some proponents of contraception declare that the Bible has little or nothing to say about contraception. And to some extent, they are right. Contraception just wasn’t part of the biblical worldview. People then, loved children, and wanted many. Barrenness was a curse. Fertility, pregnancy, and childbearing were some of life’s greatest blessings. Why would the Bible speak extensively about something that wasn’t even going on? In a certain sense, the Bible’s relative silence on this matter, should shame And startle us, showing how far we have departed from the Biblical norms, and worldview. To a large degree the texts that follow show us how steep has been our fall, and how deep the darkness has become.
Let us then looked at these lightsome texts that show for the biblical case against the contraceptive mentality. The texts are in bold black and italic, in my own comments are in plain red text.
Genesis 1:27-28 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it.
And thus, having established marriage, God gives them their primary directive, “be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it!” It is clear, the God loves human life, and is eager to see this first couple not merely replace themselves, but to multiply, yes, to fill the whole earth.
God is love, and seeks to share his love and diffuse it far and wide. God loves life, especially human life. Here then is a great testimony of the sacredness in the beauty of human life, in the God’s joy at the existence of every human person, and his eagerness to see human life growing and prospering.
It is true, that in biblical history, God will sometimes have to prune, and discipline the magnificent vine he has planted. But His most fundamental demeanor is for life and if he does punish or prune, it is only to foster better growth.
How different is God’s expressed mentality from our own modern mentality, which often sees human life as a problem, which frets over apparent overpopulation (a common modern myth we have discussed. More of that, here Are We Really Overpopulated?). How peevish, how small, and selfish we moderns have become, thinking that every new human life somehow gobbles up resources that I would rather have for myself. There’s little sense of God’s expansive providence or bounty. Having largely dismissed God for our culture, there is no one to trust. And thus we worry of our own resources.
Yes, we are very far from God’s hopeful and joyful proclamation to be fruitful and multiply. Everywhere birthrates are plummeting, our social networks are failing, economies are stagnating, and our selfishness turns back to bite us. To the modern contraceptive mentality God has one thing to say, “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it. Fruitful, faithful and full families are the answer.
Exodus 23:25-26 Worship the Lord your God, and his blessing will be on your food and water. I will take away sickness from among you, and none will miscarry or be barren in your land. I will give you a full life span.
Note that, listed among the top blessings of God, is the fruitful womb. Notice here that God ties it to the blessing of food and water and a fruitful land. We moderns tend to oppose these concepts. Thomas Malthus this and other Malthusian doomsayers have long predicted that we would not be able to produce enough food to feed an increasing population. Time and time again they have been proved wrong.
But note too, they do not have God in mind when they think this way. They think only of diminishing human capacities, but not of God. For a believer, the same God who produces the fruit of the womb, can also bring greater abundance to the land. What seculars separate God joins. God never fails, He sends life, he sends resources.
That there are famines in the land at all this due more to human greed and selfishness. There’s more than enough food in this world, food in abundance. Sadly, in this country we pay farmers not to plant since food is so abundant, it is cheap and has a low profit margin. In other parts of the world, where famines do sometimes occur, We have food to send them but, corruption and war make it difficult to get the food to them.
Deuteronomy 7:12-14 If you pay attention to these laws and are careful to follow them, then the Lord your God will keep his covenant of love with you, as he swore to your ancestors. He will love you and bless you and increase your numbers. He will bless the fruit of your womb….You will be blessed more than any other people; none of your men or women will be childless, nor will any of your livestock be without young.
See that children in abundance are considered a great blessing from the Lord. Israel will be blessed more than any other nation with many, many children. How different this mentality is from the modern contraceptive age, anxious of of overpopulation even as we close schools see our populations age.
Psalm 127:3-5 Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their opponents in court.
Psalm 128:1-4 Blessed are all who fear the Lord, who walk in obedience to him. You will eat the fruit of your labor; blessings and prosperity will be yours. Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table. Yes, this will be the blessing for the man who fears the Lord.
Again, something of a striking contrast to modern times is expressed in these Psalms. In the biblical world, children are very great blessing, they are to be desired in great numbers. Oh the blessing of a fruitful life! Oh, to have many children like arrows in a quiver, like fruitful olive plants around the table. The joy of new life in abundance. Such a blessing to be sought!
Compare this to the modern disdain, even scoffing and harsh criticism for any family that dares to have more than two children. Yes there is even a kind of dismay over how someone can possibly enjoy life with “so many children!“
1 Chronicles 25:5 Bukkiah, Mattaniah, Uzziel, Shubael and Jerimoth; Hananiah, Hanani, Eliathah, Giddalti and Romamti-Ezer; Joshbekashah, Mallothi, Hothir and Mahazioth. All these were sons of Heman the king’s seer. They were given him through the promises of God to exalt him. God gave Heman fourteen sons and three daughters.
1 Chronicles 26:4-5 Obed-Edom also had sons: Shemaiah the firstborn, Jehozabad the second, Joah the third, Sakar the fourth, Nethanel the fifth, Ammiel the sixth, Issachar the seventh and Peullethai the eighth. For God had blessed Obed-Edom.
See in both these passages what a blessing it is considered for these two families to have so many children. One has 17 children, another 8. Apparently these ancient Jews never got the memo that these children are going to “be a burden and inhibit the enjoyment of life’s pleasures.” Many moderns would consider such a family size to be downright irresponsible. Thus what the Bible calls light, the modern world calls darkness, and what God calls blessed the world calls burdensome.
Hosea 9:10-17 When I found Israel, it was like finding grapes in the desert; when I saw your ancestors, it was like seeing the early fruit on the fig tree. But when they came to Baal Peor, they consecrated themselves to that shameful idol and became as vile as the thing they loved. Ephraim’s glory will fly away like a bird— no birth, no pregnancy, no conception. Even if they rear children, I will bereave them of every one. Woe to them when I turn away from them! I have seen Ephraim, like Tyre, planted in a pleasant place. But Ephraim will bring out their children to the slayer.” What will you give them LORD? Give them wombs that miscarry and breasts that are dry. “Because of all their wickedness in Gilgal, I loathed them there. Because of their sinful deeds…. Even if they bear children, I will slay their cherished offspring.” My God will reject them because they have not obeyed him; they will be wanderers among the nations.
Here is, our first dark passage. In effect, due to her infidelity of sleeping with other gods, Israel will lose for a time her fruitfulness. Embracing the darkness of idolatry and turning away from the light of God, Israel has sinned mightily, even going so far as to offer her children in sacrifice to the Canaanite gods.
If Israel will desecrate life and treat it as fodder for false gods, her punishment is that she will not be blessed with life at all. The punishment ancient Israel my have considered among the worst punishments of all, God decrees, namely, that at least for a time their wombs will be barren and their breasts dry.
And what of us, in the decadent West who have also turned to the dark side, offering our children, through abortion, in sacrifice to the false goddess of sex and the false god of greed. What of us who no longer love life?
In effect, God says fine, you will not have it. And thus, in many places the birth rates of some of the most decadent populations has gotten that they risk nonexistence. God’s message is clear, that we should love life, seek to foster its growth, and treat all human life as sacred.
Genesis 38:6-10 Judah got a wife for Er, his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death. Then Judah said to Onan, “Sleep with your brother’s wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to raise up offspring for your brother.” But Onan knew that the child would not be his; so whenever he slept with his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from providing offspring for his brother. What he did was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death also.
The word “contraception,” is a modern word. The biblical word, and the word used by Christian antiquity to describe what we moderns call “contraception” is Onanism. The word comes from this passage wherein Onan “spills his seed on the ground” and God kills him for it.
Some argue it was the breaking of the Levirite Law that was wicked and thus God slew Onan. But if this is so, why were his brothers, who did the same not killed by God? Onan is uniquely killed by God for the unique thing he did, namely spilling his seed on the ground.
Further, death is not the prescribed penalty for breaking this Law (a custom really): For we read in Deuteronomy 25:5-10 of the true penalty for breaking this law: If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband’s brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her. The first son she bears shall carry on the name of the dead brother so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel. However, if a man does not want to marry his brother’s wife, she shall go to the elders at the town gate and say, “My husband’s brother refuses to carry on his brother’s name in Israel. He will not fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to me.” Then the elders of his town shall summon him and talk to him. If he persists in saying, “I do not want to marry her,” his brother’s widow shall go up to him in the presence of the elders, take off one of his sandals, spit in his face and say, “This is what is done to the man who will not build up his brother’s family line.” That man’s line shall be known in Israel as The Family of the Unsandaled.
Hence the sin of Onan for which he is killed is not the non-observance of the Levirite duty, but of spilling his semen on the ground. Ancient moral manuals until 20th Century see the sin here for what it si and thus termed what we call today “contraception” as Onanism.
Luke 23:28-31 A large number of people followed him (on the way to Golgotha), including women who mourned and wailed for him. Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then “ ‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills, “Cover us!” ’ For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”
Here is a stunning passage where the Lord Jesus points to a time that would be so dark and miserable, that people would actually say “Blessed are the wombs that never bore, and the breast that never nursed.
While some argue that he was speaking of the events of 70 A.D., Scriptural texts which may have historical references, also point beyond themselves and the first Century. And the Lord’s words also prophetically describe our times, when so many say “Blessed are the wombs that are barren, that are sterilized, blessed are the breast that never nursed.”
The Lord is saying that times can get so dark that people actually think like this. So, welcome to the dark times of the 20th and 21st centuries where people are terrified of children, fear fertility, and call God’s greatest blessings a burden.
The Lord tells us to weep regarding times like these, times which get so dark that God’s blessings are perceived as burdens. Yes weep for times like these when contraception is held out as a virtue, when being against what God is for, is called good and responsible. Weep for yourselves says the Lord and weep for the few children you do have. For in sowing the wind, you are reaping the whirlwind.
The following texts all center on the use of the Greek word “Pharmakeia” which many (rightly argue) is associated with, among other things contraceptive and abortafacient drugs used among prostitutes and libertines in Greek culture. Hence in the passages that follow I indicate the Greek term in the body of the scriptural text and then comment on it below the three passages.
Galatians 5:19-20 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and sorcery ( φαρμακεία (pharmakeia); hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Revelation 9:20-21 The rest of mankind who were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood—idols that cannot see or hear or walk. Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts (φαρμάκων (pharmakon)), their sexual immorality or their thefts.
Rev 21:8 But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts (φαρμάκοις (pharmakois)), the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”
In each of these texts the word φαρμακεία (pharmakeia) is used. It is from pharmakeuo (where we get the word pharmacy) meaning the use of medicines or potions, drugs or spells. Such drugs where often used by sorcerers to induce ecstatic states. But pharmakeia were also used by prostitutes and libertines to suppress fertility and to induce abortion.
Some will argue that pharmakoi can refer to a wide variety of things, and while many modern translators prefer to couch their use in witchcraft and magic arts, note that each time the reference to pharmakoi is made in the verses above, it is in a verse that also directly references sexual immorality. Hence the more ancient manner or seeing them as references to contraceptives and abortafacients seems more plausible.
Here then is a setting forth of the Biblical logic against contraception. We can see, in reading texts like these how 180 degrees out of phase the modern world is with the biblical wisdom, a wisdom that loves life and seeks this gift in abundance. We moderns, despite, or on account of our affluence, fear life, and see children as a threat to our enjoyment of “better things.” Perhaps it is best to end with the advice of the Lord, “Weep for yourselves and your (few) children.”
We are a sad and shrinking lot from any biblical perspective.