Does the Bible allow for contraception?
The Christian teaching on contraception was fully formed by the 4th century in the work of Augustine, in that the deliberate prevention of life was a sin. Martin Luther, Wesley, Calvin and all Protestants were together on this thinking until 1930, where the "Eugenic" movement spearheaded by Planned Parenthood founder, Margaret Sanger, convinced the Anglican Council of Lambeth, to accept birth control. Within 30 years contraception spread to all denominations except one, the Catholic Church.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church (Eph 5:25)
Christ's Love is a life giving love, and if we are to love our wives as Christ loves the Church, we would not withhold life.
Catholics feel the most vivid example is the account of Onan in Genesis 38:6-10.
Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn; her name was Tamar. 7 But Er, Judah's firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the LORD, and the LORD put him to death. 8 Then Judah said to Onan, "Go in to your brother's wife and perform the duty of a brother-in-law to her; raise up offspring for your brother." 9 But since Onan knew that the offspring would not be his, he spilled his semen on the ground whenever he went in to his brother's wife, so that he would not give offspring to his brother. 10 What he did was displeasing in the sight of the LORD, and he put him to death also.
Modern Evangelicals think this passage is not condemning contraceptive practice, but rather Onan's neglect in fulfilling his duty to carry on the lineage of his dead brother. The succeeding three verses, Deuteronomy 25:7-9 indicate that the penalty for abstaining from sex with your brother's widow was public humiliation NOT death:
"then 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; and she shall answer and say, 'So shall it be done to the man who does not build up his brother's house.' "(Deuteronomy 25:5-9)
Onan's penalty of death in Genesis 38 was the result of a greater sin which Catholics and early reformers understand to be contraception. Catholics point that out refusing to carry on the lineage of his brother was punishable by public humiliation only, not death.
" Onan must have been a malicious and incorrigible scoundrel. [Genesis 38:9, 10].This 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 to produce semen and excite the woman, and to frustrate her at that very moment ... He committed an evil deed. Therefore, God punished him..." (Luther, Martin Luther's Works, Volume Seven)
"Besides [Onan] ... preferred his semen to putrify on the ground, rather than to beget a son in his brother's name....It is a horrible thing to pour out seed besides the intercourse of man and woman. Deliberately avoiding the intercourse, so that the seed drops on the ground, is double horrible. For this means that one quenches the hope of his family, and kills the son, which could be expected, before he is born. ...Moreover he thus has, as much as was in his power, tried to destroy a part of the human race. When a woman in some way drives away the seed out the womb, through aids, (contraception) then this is rightly seen as an unforgivable crime. Onan was guilty of a similar crime, by defiling the earth with his seed, ...." (Calvin, John Commentary on Genesis)
"Onan, though he consented to marry the widow, yet to the great abuse of his own body, of the wife he had married, ... he refused to raise up seed unto his brother. Those sins that dishonour the body are very displeasing to God, and the evidence of vile actions. Observe, the thing which he 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. " (Wesley, John Commentary on Genesis)
In the Bible, all infertile methods of intercourse were subject to the death penalty:
- Bestiality in Leviticus 20:15-16,
- Homosexuality in Leviticus 20:13,
- Withdrawal in Genesis 38:6-10.
Other passages that Catholics feel refer to contraception include Deuteronomy 23:1, Luke 23:28-29.
There are many references to where God refers to Himself as the Husband and to His people (the Church) as His wife (Isa. 54:5; 62:5; Jer. 2:2; 3:1, 14; 31:32; Eze. 16:8; 23:5; Hosea 2:7, 19, Ephesians 5:25, 2 Cor.11:2, Revelation 21:2)
Catholics believe that even by its very words, contraception represents a slight and denial of creation itself. "Contraception" means "against the beginning". When God speaks about creation he says "In the beginning." (Jn 1:1)
Does subduing the earth and having dominion over all things include contraception?
A well meaning Evangelical man who doesn't want to give up contraception listed Bible verses that he uses to justify his contraceptive relations.
“And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” Gen 1:28
He thought this gave parents dominion over reproduction rights and over "people" that haven't even been conceived yet.
The Catholic Church denounces the New Age idea that there is a heavenly soul floating around looking for a body before conception. Conception is the start of everything, body and soul. There is no entity before that. Therefore, the line "every living thing" cannot apply.
Even if we tried to twist the Scripture to mean some humans have dominion over others, that would be saying slavery is OK. This passage was giving humans dominion over creation, over non-humans. It was setting humanity above Creation, not other humans. Psalm 8 makes Genesis 1:28 clear:
4 what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?
5 You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.
6 You made him ruler over the works of your hands;
you put everything under his feet:
7 all flocks and herds,
and the beasts of the field,
8 the birds of the air,
and the fish of the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas. (Psm 8)
This demonstrates that Genesis 1:28 is setting humanity apart from the rest of creation. It is not about parents having dominion over "preconceived souls." Another scripture that this person pointed to was:
"Behold, children are a gift of the Lord; The fruit of the womb is a reward." ~ Psalm 127:3
This is not a justification for contraception. It is the opposite. It is a pro-conception statement. This is clarified in Genesis 8:17 which says "be fruitful and multiply." Another Scripture:
"Parents, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." ~ Ephesians 6:4
The trinity and contraception
The Nicene Creed professes this about the Trinity: "We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life who proceeds from the Father and the Son." ... Catholic theology understands the Father as God knowing himself; the Son as the expression of God's knowledge of Himself; and the Holy Spirit as the result of God's knowledge of Himself. The Father 'looks' at the Son and the Son 'looks' at the Father. They behold in one another their mutual divine goodness and beauty. The love between the Father and the Son 'generate' (not "create" as there is no creation of God) another person, whom we call the Holy Spirit. And so, the Holy Spirit is love 'proceeding' or 'coming from' the first two persons of the Blessed Trinity.
The human family has, of course, a rather striking parallel to this. The ultimate act of intimacy in a marriage mirrors the eternal procession of the Trinity since the act of love itself 'generates' another human being. (Generation is probably even a better term to describe the act than create since humans can create nothing, and so the analogy is closer to the Trinitarian relationship than one might have originally assumed.)" Clearly then, we can see the great difficulties encountered when contraception is admitted into Trinitarian Christianity.
- The case against contraception from natural law
- Contraception in Africa and the third world, the UN and the Catholic Church
- Pope Benedict's comments on condoms in Africa
- The Early Church Fathers and contraception
- Why are Catholics against gay sex?
- Gay Sex in the Bible
Thanks to John Pacheco for many of the points in this article
Another reference is the audio recording, "Contraception, Why Not?" by Janet E. Smith, PhD produced by "One More Soul"