Friday, November 6, 2009

Is Contraception Sin?

There is a strange alliance out there between patriarchy and the quiverfull movement on one hand, and the Roman Catholic Church on the other. The common ground between these two seemingly incompatible antagonists: contraception. It is the contention of the anti-contraception, or, as they might call themselves, the pro-conception camp that the use of contraception, even natural contraception for the most radical of these groups, is not only "bad" family practice but is outright sin. One would hope that there are biblical arguments to back up these accusations. Alas, as often happens, scriptural support for an anti-contraception stance is virtually non-existent. Still, they make the arguments. My purpose in this post is to rebut the most common of these arguments.

I will be looking at three elements of the anti-contraception position - their three pronged attack if you will. The first section deals with their interpretation and application of the Genesis 1 (and Genesis 9) statement to "be fruitful and multiply". The second section will tackle the infamous "Onan incident". And the third will dig into the topic of sex and marriage and their purposes. Here we go!

"Be Fruitful and multiply"

The first prong of the anti-contraception attack is an interpretation of Genesis 1:28 that makes that blessing a godly command for each and every couple. Conversely, I interpret the command in Genesis 1:28 (if it even is a command which is grammatically debatable) to be directed to the human race in general, and not to each specific marriage. I see several very troubling paradoxes if it indeed applies to the individual marriages and I would be interested in how the other side would solve these.

The "set up to fail" paradox. If "be fruitful and multiply" is a command for every marriage, and if God is the opener and closer of wombs, then God purposely sets up some marriages to fail His command by closing the wombs of the women. Indeed, anyone who is infertile has been set up to sin by God if this command applies to them.

The "not quite good enough" paradox. If we take seriously the "multiply" component in the command, then each set of parents (and that could be 2 or more in ancient marriages) must produce at least one more offspring than the total parents in the family. To fail to produce enough to multiply the race is to fail the command even if there are children in the family. A review of scripture reveals quite an impressive list of families who have "come up short". Just a short list:

Isaac & Rebekah
Joseph & Asenath
Dan & his wife
Moses & Zipporah
Elimelech & Naomi
Boaz & Ruth
Zachariah & Elizabeth

If it is a sin to not increase the population then why is the sin of these families not exposed? Why no condemnation for their failure to "multiply"?

The "called to serve" paradox. Although the marital relationships of Jesus' disciples are not detailed in the bible (except for Peter), it is certain that some, maybe most, possibly all, were married. Many commentators also believe that it is virtually impossible that Paul was not married due to his position in the religious hierarchy. The fact that he speaks of singleness later may be due to the gifts received at his conversion. So, if the purpose of marriage is to procreate, how could Jesus call these men out of their God commanded duty? Did Jesus lead these men into sin by taking them away from their wives?

Dilemmas such as these abound both in scripture and in the here and now if we interpret Genesis 1:28 to be a literal command meant for every set of parents.

It should also be noted that the "contraception contravenes God's command" perspective is quite ungodly. Wade Burleson has pointed out this flaw in a recent blog post as one of his 8 points of rebuttal to the quiverfull theology.

(2). The notion that anyone "prevents" God from naming the number of kids a family has is anti-biblical, anti-logical, and anti-God at its core. Contraception no more "prevents" God from creating a baby who "could have cured AIDS" or "been the President of the United States," etc. than a man shouting at the sun can keep it from shining. God ordains the creation of each human soul, and nobody prevents Him from accomplishing His plans. The sheath of a condom, or the dissolution of a pill, is no more an obstacle to God in the creation of a human being than the lack of matter was an obstacle to God in creating the universe. (Exposing the Biblical Holes in Quiverfull Theology)
The "Onan Incident"

WARNING - Some adult themes and activities are discussed in this and the next section. Please act responsibly. If you are under 15, OR, regardless of age, believe your parents may object to you reading this, please ask them to review the post before reading it yourself.

For those who don't know, the "Onan Incident" is chronicled in Genesis 38:1-10. Onan's sister-in-law had not born any children prior to her husband's (Onan's brother) death. The law stated that Onan should marry his brother's wife and have children (preferably a son) with her to carry on his brother's blood-line. Onan deceitfully refused to fulfill his obligation to get his sister-in-law pregnant. He accomplished this by having sex with her but withdrawing prior to ejaculation and "spill[ing] [his seed] on the ground" (Genesis 38:9). Because of this, God put Onan to death. The question in this debate is "what specifically was Onan's sin?" Anti-contraception advocates argue that the sin was his contraceptive act of coitus interruptus. They extend this interpretation to the point of claiming that any and all contraception at any time is displeasing to God (i.e. sin) and even occasionally go to the point of claiming anyone guilty of the sin of contraception deserves Onan's fate. But is Onan's contraceptive act what he was put to death for?

My conclusion about the Onan incident is that the means he employed to accomplish his sin are irrelevant. The ends don't condemn the means. There are many ways in which he could have accomplished his deceit that in and of themselves are perfectly fine. It is not the action that is sinful but the outcome. Onan was killed for fraud, idolatry, covetousness, lying, and mocking God. How he went about doing that is beside the point. Let's flesh that out.

Consider: if it is only the contraceptive act that is the sin, then all of the other surrounding issues become irrelevant. It is irrelevant that he deceived his father and the community. It is irrelevant that he defrauded his brother. It is irrelevant that he humiliated and defiled his wife. It is irrelevant that he mocked the law and God. All of his treachery is irrelevant if it is simply the contraceptive act that is the sin. In fact, he could have spent a lifetime being fruitful and could have multiplied greatly with Tamar and only done this act once, and according to those opposed to contraception, he would have been guilty of the same sin and deserved and received the same punishment. To disregard all of his wicked intents and manipulations in contemplating what his sin was is quite astonishing.

There is an interesting twist to this little story. The NIV has a very different translation from every other version.

Genesis 38:9 But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so whenever he lay with his brother's wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from producing offspring for his brother. (NIV)
Is it possible that he perpetuated this ruse repeatedly over a period of time? If so, and it is the act itself that is the sin and deserves death, then why did God not strike him down the first time. Conversely, what does it say about the sin that God let him perpetuate it without correction. Certainly, no one would claim that it only became a sin upon repeated execution and after a certain number of repetitions.

I would suggest that God continued to give Onan a chance to repent and set things right. That had he finally changed and made the attempt to fulfill his duty, God would have left him alone to live out his days. So much for the contraception being the sin. Only after it became clear that Onan was determined to continue the fraud, did God pass final judgment. Again in this case, the actual actions used in the fraudulent exercise are really irrelevant. Onan could have employed multiple means to avoid impregnating Tamar and he would have been as guilty. Why? Because it was the fraud itself that was the sin, not the means by which it was achieved.

(BTW - I don't necessarily endorse the NIV translation, but am only accepting it here to explore all sides of the question.)

The Purpose of Marriage and Sex

The final argument by the anti-contraception movement is that the primary, or even, the sole purpose for marriage and sex is to have children. Let's take each of these in turn.

"The purpose of Marriage is procreation" - This seems silly even at a glance because marriage is not a pre-requisite to procreation. If all God wanted for us was to pop out babies, he would have let us fornicate like bunnies and we could have accomplished the task just fine. So, it seems clear God has something grander, or even completely different, in mind when it comes to marriage.

Genesis 2:18,24 - 18 Then the LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him." 24 For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.
At it's core, the reason for marriage is "oneness". Men and women are not complete alone - they need the marriage union and the "one flesh" relationship that results to fully follow and commune with God, to interact and manage the world we live in, and to experience the companionship we so desperately need. Without marriage, the world would be much more of a chaotic place.

Having children relates to marriage in a strange and somewhat contradictory way. Indeed, we do not need children to enjoy the benefits of marriage that are outlined in this verse. But, children are a blessing from the Lord and can enhance the marriage experience. Children also can introduce tension into marriage that tears away at the oneness that marriage was designed to foster. Yet children benefit greatly by having parents in a committed, loving, unified, "one flesh" relationship. So, at best, we can only say that procreation has both positive and negative effects in relation to marriage. Hardly a strong case for children being the "purpose" for marriage.

1 Cor 7:2 But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband.
A mere chapter later from the Genesis verse quoted above, humans messed up everything. Immorality entered the world and created yet another purpose for marriage. Together, we are better equipped to fight the immorality around us. Marriage is an often necessary component to living a Godly life. Again, marriage itself isn't the cause of children. Children can be produced by immoral behavior as easily as moral behavior. So the idea that procreation is presumed as part of the marriage admonitions in 1 Cor 7 is ridiculous. It is more accurate to say that children are presumed in life regardless of marital state. But to avoid some of the immoral failings we are all prone toward, it is best if we get married. Let the children fall where they may.

Revelations 19:7 "Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready."
Lest we not forget, marriage is also a picture of Christ and the church. As such, it is a means by which a couple can enhance their communion with God. Through marriage, God is praised and glorified. Children, again, are not part of this formula. Barren couples can join in this worship and communion as well as exceedingly fruitful couples. The number or even presence of children is irrelevant in this very important purpose for marriage.

In conclusion, I find it hard to find any evidence in the scriptures that the purpose for marriage is having children. Quite the contrary, it seems the purpose for marriage has everything to do with the couple, their needs, their impact on the world, their relationship to each other, and their relationship to God. It seems to me that children are not even on the radar when we look at the purposes for marriage.

And what about sex...

"The natural Godly purpose of sex is procreation" - Understand what is being said here. This proposes that the only natural purpose for sex is to have children. Any other purpose for sex is unnatural and ungodly. So, what do the scriptures have to say about that?

The most logical place to start is Song of Solomon. This wonderful erotic love poem in the bible extols sex as a gift from God for the enjoyment, pleasure, bonding, and relationship building of the marriage. There is no sense trying to quote verses because the whole book is the proof. God designed sex for our pleasure and to help us grow in our attraction and love for one another. Now, sex does not equal love, of course. But much love is expressed through sexual relations.

Ezekiel 16:8 - "Then I passed by you and saw you, and behold, you were at the time for love; so I spread My skirt over you and covered your nakedness. I also swore to you and entered into a covenant with you so that you became Mine," declares the Lord GOD.
Another clear purpose of sex in God's eyes is as the covenant sealer in marriage. We did not make up the term "consummate the marriage" out of thin air. It is a biblical concept. Many times in scripture, both in good situations and bad, sex is seen as the "handshake" to formalize the marriage. Now, that doesn't mean that you are married to anyone you have sex with. But the value of sex in making a marriage a Godly marriage is evident. In fact, each time a couple has sex, they are in essence re-covenanting with each other. So this concept of "sealing" the marriage vow through sex is very important in God's overall design for marital relations.

Proverbs 5:18-19 - 18 Let your fountain be blessed, And rejoice in the wife of your youth. 19 {As} a loving hind and a graceful doe, Let her breasts satisfy you at all times; Be exhilarated always with her love.
Again we see the sexual relationship has purpose in relationship building. In fact, this passage goes on to tell how a dynamic and consistent sexual relationship is a guard against adultery (much as 1 Cor 7 shows it as a guard against fornication). Sex should be so "exhilarating" and "satisfying" in our relationship that "wild horses couldn't drag us away" from our spouse. Here the purpose for sex is literally to defend the marriage from attack and to create an unbreakable bond with each other. If sex were about the pure mechanics of making babies, it would have no effect in building strong marriages. This scripture indicates that it is for so much more.

1 Cor 7:3-4 - 3 The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.
Sexual relations are to be equal and reciprocal. God recognizes that men and women both have sexual desires and needs. The patriarchal concepts that sex is a right for men and a duty for women are wholly unbiblical. The most important thing to note here is that women have just as much of a right to sexual access and enjoyment. But there is no need for women to enjoy sex if it is just for making babies. So, why would God build in sexual need and enjoyment for women if His only purpose for sex was procreation? Well, he wouldn't.

God designed sex in a unique way in human beings and that uniqueness is what embodies God's purpose for sex in the human race. Having sex to make babies is what we share with all of creation. Having sex to bond with a spouse, build a relationship, and experience pleasure, are the natural purposes that God bestowed uniquely on the human race. In fact, scripture abounds with sexual references with these purposes in mind. On the contrary, having babies is really an after affect. What scripture really says is - have sex because it's good for you and may you, in return, be blessed with children.


  1. The "set up to fail" paradox - yes! the same paradox I point out to people who tell me their comp marriage is heaven on earth.

    Hmmmm...I can't say that I can fully agree with you here brother:
    "Men and women are not complete alone - they need the marriage union and the "one flesh" relationship that results to fully follow and commune with God"

    I can pick back up with you here: "to interact and manage the world we live in, and to experience the companionship we so desperately need. Without marriage, the world would be much more of a chaotic place."

  2. Thanks for the comment Kay. I agree with you to a point. We are all individually complete in Christ and don't need another human to complete us. I think that is what you are getting at. And, certainly, we know that some people are gifted with singleness and that singleness has it's advantage in the new paradigm to "go and make disciples". So, your objection is well founded.

    My point is that, at least in the original design, "it is not good" for "the man" (i.e. Adam) to be alone". Adam absolutely needed Eve, and I would contend, that Eve needed Adam just as much. One flesh is not accomplished by a single person. And I still believe that marriage is the God desired status for the vast majority of people. In essence, their godly purpose is only fulfilled through their godly marriage. To that end, they need each other and the one flesh union of their marriage to "be all they can be" according to God's design.

  3. And about Onan...always fascinating to me how that ended up written in Scripture...I mean who told?? Oh, surely not the totally submissive little wife of Onan bad-mouthing her spiritual 'head' husband, right?? Onan himself - are you kidding??

  4. You mean the "submissive little wife" who later posed as a prostitute and lured her father-in-law into her bed so that at least one male in Er's line would stand up and be a man? Yea, she was quite the demure little wall flower.

  5. I thought that was what you meant - just checking. :)

  6. "Ezer warrior" is the way one author describes her - she was bound and determined to get his family to keep his line going, wasn't she! I have to say the lengths of her loyalty totally amaze me.

  7. I'd say that lineage was a lot more important then than it is today. :)

  8. To answer the question, yes, contraception is a sin. That was the position of the whole of orthodox Christianity until the last century of so and it was based on sound Biblical exegesis. In years of researching the matter, I've yet to find even one orthodox Christian who condoned the practice before the last quarter of the 19th century no denomination which endorsed it until the Anglican Communion in 1930. Well into the 20th century, many Protestant denominations opposed it in no uncertain terms. See David Kennedy's "Birth Control in America".

  9. Hi GL. I have also spent "years in researching the matter" and I've yet to find any evidence of the "sound Biblical exegesis" you refer to. Maybe you could point some out to me. Considering that the bible never even addresses the subject directly, I am understandably curious how it could be so clearly condemned.

  10. I should clarify. I have read a number of orthodox church statements on contraception - mostly Catholic. I find little exegesis and much opinion within them. Even when citing the bible, not a one that I have ever read can quote a verse, let alone a law, that directly condemns contraception. Ultimately, they rest their case on the arguments I have already discussed in this post - arguments that create a whole host of unintended consequences. In the end, I find those arguments anything but "sound". At any rate, I can confidently say about them all that they are NOT exegetical and are barely biblical.

  11. Now - to GL's personal argument - that the church condemned contraception up until recently and therefore it is sin - I only respond that that is both an argument from age and an appeal to widespread belief - logical fallacies. There are many, many things that the orthodox church has believed and promoted throughout history. Do we believe and prmote the same things now? Sometimes, but not always. For example, most of the churches teaching from the 4th centruy all the way up until the turn of the 20th centruy on the nature of women was horribly mysogynistic. Not even the most traditional and patriarchal denominations today still believe that women the lowly, devious, subhuman creatures that the orthodox church for centuries portrayed them as. So, simply saying that the orthodox church believed something doesn't prove that it is true. Show me that it is scriptural and I will be pursuaded, and maybe even convicted. Show me that a bunch of people simply believed it is so and I will yawn, but remain unmoved.

  12. Obviously, I hit a nerve. Good. I am always amused by modern Christians (at least those who label themselves "conservative" -- liberals are honest in their self-assessment -- who reject the wisdom of their fathers in matters of faith. If you are liberal Christian, then, frankly, you have no touchstones in past and Christianity is for you a moving target, offering no object truths. The question you posed, then, has no real answer because their is no objective way of answering it. If you are a self-styled conservative (which I assume because I assume that only a conservative would care about this issue) then I will try, in my next post to begin answering your posts. If you are a liberal, please let me know so that I may save my time for a more productive use. I'll wait five to ten minutes before I begin the effort to give you time to respond.

  13. I am indeed conservative. I do not believe that Christianity is a moving target. But apparently you believe that the orthodox church has always been an expert marksman. We shall see.

  14. I will have to break up my reply into several parts.

    Part I:

    “Considering that the bible never even addresses the subject directly, I am understandably curious how it could be so clearly condemned.”

    With the understanding that you consider yourself a “conservative Christian”, let me begin with the observation that conservative Christians believe Scripture condemns a number of things which are not addressed directly (by which I assume you mean explicitly).

    For example, most conservative Christians believe that Scripture condemns polygamy – as do I – but it is never condemned explicitly. I could make the case that it is implicitly condoned. St. Paul enjoins St. Timothy to only ordain men who are the husband of one wife. That implies that there are men in the Church (i.e., Christians) who are the husband of more than one wife. There is no indication that such men are not Christians in good standing, or else they would not be eligible for ordination in any event. So, apparently, there were laymen in the early Church (as in Africa today) who had more than one wife. Yet, we find no condemnation of these men. And, in fact, in the Old Testament, we see the great heroes of the faith with multiple wives. (We, of course, see how this often created bad results, but it is never explicitly condemned.) Why do we believe polygamy is wrong despite no explicit condemnation of the same? Christ’s teaching on marriage. Yet even here, we don’t read of Christ teaching explicitly that polygamy is a sin.

    Another example is abortion. Scripture, of course, condemns murder and manslaughter, but does not explicitly reveal whether the killing of a fetus is covered by the injunction. For those in doubt, however, we have a very early condemnation of the practice in the Didache, indicating that the early Christians harbored no doubt on the subject.

    My observation of conservative Christians who demand an explicit condemnation of contraceptive to accept it is that they are inconsistent in applying this test in that they themselves believe Scripture implicitly condemns some acts which they must admit that it does not explicitly condemn. The inconsistency obviously flows from their acceptance of contraception and their rejection of polygamy, etc.

  15. Part II:

    Second, I am not so sure that Scripture does not explicitly condemn contraception. In both Galatians and Revelation, those who practice pharmakeia, which is typically translated sorcery or witchcraft, but which obviously relates to drugs in some way. And this condemnation is always included along with the condemnation of other things, including sexual immorality. Further, immediately before abortion and infanticide, along with sexual sins, are condemned in the Didache, pharmakeia is condemned. Several scholars have argued that the condemnation of pharmakeia relates to contraceptives, though some limit this to abortifacients. I’ll be the first to admit, however, that this particular reference is too uncertain to form a bases for a definitive condemnation of contraceptives, whether by abortifacients or not. Nonetheless, it is worth pondering, though this is really just an aside.

  16. Part III:

    Third, to the more certain case against contraception from Scripture, I believe the Christians who wrote best on the subject are St. Chrysostom and Martin Luther and the most persuasive case by each of them is that the use of contraception is an explicit denial of the teaching of Scripture that children are a blessing from God. Scripture in numerous places declares in no uncertain terms that children are a blessing from God and that barrenness is a curse. Indeed, the very first blessing by God to man was to be fruitful and multiply. Luther called these words of God recorded in Scripture more than a mere blessing and even more than a command. The blessing was repeated several other times in Scripture, including to Noah and his sons after the flood, to Jacob, and to Israel as a people. Further, in Psalm 127, Scripture explicitly states that the man who has many children is especially blessed.

    Now, I’ll concede that some couples find themselves in circumstances in which a pregnancy (not a child himself) could be seen as not being a blessing. Most notably, if a woman is likely to die from a pregnancy, the couple would have real reasons to avoid conception, not because they reject a child as a blessing, but because of the risk of the pregnancy. That, of course, begs the question as to whether any and all means are licit means to the justifiable end of avoiding a risky pregnancy, but I will leave that aside for the time being.

    Absent such circumstances, it is hard to imagine why a couple would use contraceptives except that they are denying God’s word that children are a blessing and that the man who has many is especially blessed. Contraception (absent truly exigent circumstances) reflects a profound lack of trust in God and His Holy Word. It says either that God is a liar or is mistaken when He declares children to be a blessing. Hence, St. Chrysostom calls its use “contemning the gift of God” and asserts that the one who uses it is declaring to be a curse what God declares to be a blessing. Luther (among others) specifically dealt with those who used poverty to justify the use of contraception by exposing the explicit distrust of God manifested in such a declaration.

    So, in the end, Scripture declares children, and specially many children, to be a gift and a blessing from God; contraception denies this teaching of Scripture. I’ve never seen a clear, cogent, and convincing argument to the contrary.

  17. Part IV:

    Finally, you appear to be one of those Christians who rejects the orthodox teachings of the Church catholic (i.e., those truths taught by all – Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox – from A.D. 33 through A.D. 1833) and yet insists that they are conservative. Somehow, these folks believe that they have a better understanding of Scripture than did all the generations of Christians who came before them. The fact is (and I challenge you to prove otherwise) that NO orthodox Christian denomination, pastor or theologian condoned the use of contraception prior to the last quarter of the 19th century and no orthodox denomination gave its approval to it until 1930. And, when the Anglican Communion did so, the then self-styled conservative denominations in America condemned the use of contraceptives with just as much vigor as self-styled conservative denominations today condemn abortion and same-sex “marriage”. Again, see David Kennedy’s “Birth Control in America”. I would also cite Kathleen A. Tobin’s “The American Religious Debate over Birth Control 1907-1937".

    In point of fact, those who reject what C.S. Lewis termed the almost unbroken and universal condemnation of contraception (broken, at last, by his own beloved Anglican Communion) are moving the boundary stones set by their forefather, in direct disobedience to Scripture. They are by their rejection of this teaching saying that we modern Christians have a better understanding of Scripture than they did. That is, I must say, hubris of the worst sort.

  18. GL - I am just leaving for the night as I am doing sound for a Christmas production and we have the final dress rehearsal. If you don't get a response until the weekend, be patient. It will take some time to digest and address the considerable detail which you present.

  19. Have a good rehearsal. There are things far more important than internet debates.

  20. While I'm waiting, I've decided to address some of your initial comments rather than just answering your post directed to me. First, your "set up to fail" paradox.

    I don't take be fruitful and multiply to be a command, but take it for what Scripture plainly calls it, a blessing. (Luther had some interesting thoughts on this blessing which are worth reading.) Not everyone need have biological children. Our Lord had none (Dan Brown's blasphemies notwithstanding). Nor, apparently, did St. Paul.

    But if a man and woman marry, their intimacy must be open to life unless, of course, the deny the Word of God that children our a blessing -- see my earlier post on this point. Marital intimacy is an essential part of marriage (not to be abstained from for more than short periods per St. Paul) and what God has joined together (sexual intercourse and procreation) man may not separate (by contraception or sodomy). (For this same reason, IVF and AI are sinful in that they also seek to separate sexual intercourse from procreation. See C.S. Lewis, "That Hideous Strength" ("Their real children they fabricate by vile arts in a secret place.") God decides whether to bestow His blessing of children. His not doing so does not make a marriage a failure so long as the couple does nothing themselves to deliberately refuse any blessing which He may choose to give. Ours is simply to trust and obey, as the old hymn puts it.

  21. The Onan Incident:

    "My conclusion about the Onan incident is that the means he employed to accomplish his sin are irrelevant. The ends don't condemn the means. There are many ways in which he could have accomplished his deceit that in and of themselves are perfectly fine. It is not the action that is sinful but the outcome. Onan was killed for fraud, idolatry, covetousness, lying, and mocking God. How he went about doing that is beside the point."

    This is all very interesting, but your introduction to the quote above reveals the problem with it: "My conclusion about the Onan incident is . . . ." Have you read what the Early Fathers about Onan? What about Luther or Calvin? What about Matthew Henry or John Wesley? What about Walter Maier, Sr. or John Rice? The point is that while Onan's faults and sin are many, I have found NOT ONE commentary writing prior to the 20th century who denied that a part of Onan's sin was his contraceptive (or sodomitic, as Luther put it) act. The denial of this aspect of the Onan incident is a 20th century novelty, just like the denial of the condemnation of homosexual acts found in both the Old Testament and the New Testament is a 20th century novelty. And both have their genesis in a desire to reject 19 centuries of teaching accepted by all branches of the faith on acts which the one denying the historic understanding wants to defend and, likely, engage in himself. Why should I reject the united voice of the Church catholic on this matter for its first 19 centuries and accept the novel interpretation? (I'm Presbyterian, so when I use the term "Church catholic" I mean the teaching of the faith held by all, everywhere and at all times up to the second half of the 19th century (i.e., what is commonly called the Vincentian Canon).)

  22. The Purpose of Marriage and Sex:

    Let's start with the classic rite of matrimony from the classic 1662 Book of Common Prayer:

    "DEARLY beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this congregation, to join together this Man and this Woman in holy Matrimony; which is an honourable estate, instituted of God in the time of man's innocency, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church; which holy estate Christ adorned and beautified with his presence, and first miracle that he wrought, in Cana of Galilee; and is commended of Saint Paul to be honourable among all men: and therefore is not by any to be enterprised, nor taken in hand, unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly, to satisfy men's carnal lusts and appetites, like brute beasts that have no understanding; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God; duly considering the causes for which Matrimony was ordained.
    First, It was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name.
    Secondly, It was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ's body.
    Thirdly, It was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity."

    Marriage is ordained for three purposes: (1) procreation, (2) a remedy against sin, (3) mutual society, help and comfort. All three are found in Scripture, the first is found explicitly in the blessing of the first married couple, Adam and Eve, that they be fruitful and multiply. The blessing, as I noted above, is repeated several times in Scripture and in each setting, it is clear that it is not merely given to the individuals specifically addressed, but to their progeny as well, which would, of course, be all of mankind. Again, what God has joined together (i.e., the three purposes for which marriage is ordained) man may not separate. God may, in His wisdom, choose not to bless a couple with children, but the husband and wife may not so choose.

    Our marriages are types of the True Marriage of Christ and His Church. He is the groom and we are His bride. That marriage too is meant to be fruitful, hence our command to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Marriages are never to be sterile by choice; they are meant to produce children for God's kingdom; they are meant to be life giving, just as the marriage of Christ and His Church is life giving. Can you imagine Christ choosing to make His marriage to the Church to be sterile? Can you imagine the Church desiring to be sterile? Of course not. Yet, we pretend that our marriages are types of His marriage and yet we seek to make our marriages sterile or to limit its fertility.

    Why would we want less for our marriages than what God wills to grant us (unless we deny that children are a blessing and believe what God would give us in children would be more a curse than a blessing)?

    Come my friend and brother in Christ, surely you can see what God's word plainly teaches on this matter, even if no explicit command not to thwart His blessings is given on this subject. May God open your eyes and heart to accept and love the gifts which He chooses to send you way.

  23. There was one other point which I meant to address, the "contraception contravenes God's command" rebuttal. I'm not a "quiverfull" Christian. I believe there are many flaws in their thinking on these matter. It is true that God can intervene and cause contraception not to work. Indeed, He does this often, which is one reason why we have so many abortions. However, the Wade argument proves to much. By his rebuttal, we could declare no act a sin. God can prevent our abortions from being effective and so we may attempt them. God could have caused Lee Harvey Oswald's shot to miss JFK and so it was no sin for him to attempt to shoot the president. God can provide for the poor and so we need not do so. The issue is not whether God can prevent the effects of our sins, but whether His ability to do so means we may sin with impunity. Further, that God may prevent the effects of our sins does not mean that He will. He most often does not. Nearly 50 million babies have indeed died from abortion. JFK did die on November 22, 1963. The poor do suffer due to lack of our charity. It is a great mystery as to why God permits evil, but He clearly does. That in no way gives us license to commit evil. In the end, Wade's rebuttal is totally off point. It may be so because of flaws in the quiverful arguments he is rebutting, but because of those flaws, it does not address the licitness of contraception anymore than it addresses the licitness of murder or lack of charity.

  24. I will review your parts I, II, and IV in this comment, and part II in the next. After that I will take a look at your rebuttal of my arguments in the blog post.

    Part 1.

    "let me begin with the observation that conservative Christians believe Scripture condemns a number of things which are not addressed directly (by which I assume you mean explicitly)."

    Yes – I am quite familiar with several including drinking, dancing, and going to movies. Even within the marriage bed, some Christians believe some or all non-coital practices are sinful. In times past, (and maybe even today), certain Christians even believed that certain sexual positions were evil. Christians of various stripes are quite fond of creating their own lists “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots” without a shred of biblical support. We call this legalism – it is the same flawed approach to human behavior that Jesus condemned in the Pharisees. Paul also condemns such legalism in his treatises on food sacrificed to idols and circumcision. It, in and of itself, is ungodly. But the practices condemned are amoral - their acceptance and condemnation depends on motives and outcomes.

    Now, regarding your two case studies, I would not say that those fall into this category. While there are not specific “thou shalt nots” associated with polygamy (well, not universal at least) and abortion, there is an explicit biblical path which leads to their condemnation.

    Polygamy - Polygamy violates God’s declared design for holy marriage, which is heterosexual AND monogamous. Therefore, polygamy is inherently ungodly. If something is in opposition to a universal godly prescription, then that something is universally proscribed. The condemnation is explicit by exclusion from that which is approved by God.

    Abortion - Abortion stops an innocent human life. Therefore, abortion is inherently murder. I am sure you would agree that the bible doesn’t list every form of murder imaginable. Condemning murder in total is an explicit condemnation of every form of murder.

    Now, there are some who reject the idea that the only valid godly marriage model is monogamous (or even heterosexual), or that a fetus is not an independent human being. But I believe you would agree with me that those perspectives also have no biblical foundation. And so, we are left, at least you and I, with explicit biblical condemnation for both. The same can not be said of drinking, dancing, etc., and it certainly can not be said of contraception.

    Part II.

    "I am not so sure that Scripture does not explicitly condemn contraception. In both Galatians and Revelation, those who practice pharmakeia… I’ll be the first to admit, however, that this particular reference is too uncertain to form a bases for a definitive condemnation"

    I agree – this is hardly biblical proof.

    Part III – in a minute

    Part IV

    "Finally, you appear to be one of those Christians who rejects the orthodox teachings of the Church catholic… saying that we modern Christians have a better understanding of Scripture than they did."

    You present a fallacious “argument from age”. I’ll give my own. For centuries Christians accepted slavery. Only relatively recently have Christians interpreted scripture in a way that condemns slavery. Should we go back to slavery?

    I, in fact, do believe that in many areas (not all, certainly) we modern Christians have a better understanding of Scripture than the early fathers. One I can think of in particular is gender relations. If you would like a rather sobering view of the “orthodox teachings of the Church catholic” regarding women, I will make my own book suggestion – “When Dogmas Die” by Susanna Krizo. I hate to break it to you, but sometimes, our forefather’s were just plain wrong.

  25. I conclude with a look at Part III – the only response that attempts anything close to a biblical proof.

    "So, in the end, Scripture declares children, and specially many children, to be a gift and a blessing from God; contraception denies this teaching of Scripture. I’ve never seen a clear, cogent, and convincing argument to the contrary."

    Let me see if I can summarize this in argument form.

    1. the bible declares that children are a blessing, and…
    2. people who use contraception reject this teaching, and…
    3. rejection of God’s teaching is de facto rejection of God, and…
    4. rejection of God is by definition sin…

    It is concluded that people who use contraception are sinning in doing so because that behavior inherently rejects God’s teaching.

    First off, please let me know if I have misrepresented the argument. I think I have it pretty straight. The next step is to see if there is sufficient evidence to prove the presumptions. If so, the conclusion must be accepted.

    1. The bible certainly does declare that children are a blessing. That is an indisputable, documented fact. It may make a difference whether or not this is a universal (applies to every individual child ever created) vs. a general (applies generally to humans but not to everyone individually) truth, but it is not necessary to go there right now.

    2 . People who use contraception reject this teaching. What?!? On what anecdotal evidence, statistical sampling, or biblical teaching do you base that presumption? Oh, that’s right, Chrysostom and Luther said so. Well, their saying so doesn’t make it so. They also offer no proof that this is actually the case. Instead, they (and you) take a particular speculative possibility and translate it into a universal truth for all contraception users. But not only is such a presumption unproven, it is demonstrably false on several fronts.

    Anecdotal – I can tell you personally that we used contraception at times in our marriage but never once doubted, let alone rejected, the truth that Children are a blessing. We are hardly unique amongst contraception users.

    Statistical – Many contraception users (I would say the vast majority) are not seeking to perpetually avoid pregnancy but only to postpone it for a time. Many, in fact, have children who were intentionally conceived. They clearly agree with the biblical truth that children are a blessing, but desire to wait to have children until a time that they as parents can be of the greatest blessing to those children.

    Biblical – Nowhere does the bible make the claim that you and these Church fathers make. You say “the Christians who wrote best on the subject are St. Chrysostom and Martin Luther”. Funny that the Christians (or OT Jews) who best wrote on the subject were not Moses, the Gospel writers quoting Jesus, or Paul. Don’t you find it disturbing that there are Christians who present themselves as scriptural experts on something scripture never says?

    There is no need to progress to presumptions 3 and 4 because the proof fails at presumption 2. There are a number of logical fallacies with this presumption and its corresponding arguments including non-sequitur, straw man, appeal to probability, appeal to tradition, appeal to authority, and cherry picking to name a few. All this adds up to a proof that is begging the question.

  26. I'm disappointed. Not a single quote from Scripture in Part I. Hopefully that will come, though even in part II you only quote my Scriptural arguments, you offer no quotes to counter mine. For the record, I enjoy a good beer or glass of wine (as do the pastor and elders in my church), can't dance very well, but enjoy watching folks who can, and enjoy good movies (and TV shows and rock music) both for myself and for my children. Now on sexual intercourse, I agree with the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which states:

    Fecundity is a gift, an end of marriage, for conjugal love naturally tends to be fruitful. A child does not come from outside as something added on to the mutual love of the spouses, but springs from the very heart of that mutual giving, as its fruit and fulfillment. So the Church, which is "on the side of life," teaches that "it is necessary that each and every marriage act remain ordered per se to the procreation of human life. "This particular doctrine, expounded on numerous occasions by the Magisterium, is based on the inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act." CCC Para. 2366.

    So long as "each and every marriage act remain ordered per se to the procreation of human life", I see no Scriptural problem with how a couple engages in foreplay or their positions. The difference between drinking a good ale, dancing or seeing a movie and how sex is consummated is that Scripture does not either implicitly or explicitly condemn any of the former per se as intrinsically evil, while it does explicitly state that children are a blessing and that what God joins together, man may not rent asunder (e.g., marital intimacy and procreation).

    Your leap into slavery is a canard. Yes, SOME Christians defended slavery, just as SOME Christians today defend abortion and sodomy. I do not rest my entire argument against contraception on tradition, but on Scripture as historically understood by the Church catholic (Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox, not just SOME Christians) for its first 1900 years.

  27. I wouldn't call your syllogism completely accurate, but I'll credit it with being close enough for our discussion. How can you say that the use of contraception (absent exigent circumstances where the aim is not to avoid children, but to avoid real and unusual risks from pregnancy) is not a rejection of the clear and unambiguous teaching that children (all children) are a gift from God, that it is God who opens and closes the womb. Contraception is most often used because the user don't want a child to result and why would they do that unless they denied God's word that all children are gifts from Him.

    I have tried and I won't beat a dead horse. The fact is the modern Christians, even those who delude themselves into believing they are conservative and orthodox, have abandoned 19 unbroken centuries of agreement among all Christians on this subject. And this is leaves those Christians unable to effectively oppose the further lose of orthodoxy. For example, as the current Archbishop of Canterbury observed:

    n a church that accepts the legitimacy of contraception, the absolute condemnation of same-sex relations of intimacy must rely either on an abstract fundamentalist deployment of a number of very ambiguous biblical texts, or on a problematic and nonscriptural theory about natural complementarity, applied narrowly and crudely to physical differentiation without regard to psychological structures.

    Those who practice contraception have not only neutered themselves biologically, they have neutered themselves logically in resisting same sex "marriage" and ordination. Our Lord's admonition in Matthew 7:1-5 applies to their arguments in opposition. (Note, Luther is not alone in condemning contraceptive intercourse as an act of sodomy.)

    Good luck and may God bless you. I am sorry that I have been unable to convince you to be open to all the blessings which our Lord might choose to send your way. I am blessed mightily by all those which He has sent mine and mourn only that someone had not convinced my wife and me to be open to His gifts from the day of our wedding. I pray that He will send to you a more effective advocate than I have proven to be and that you will with all sincerity pray and consider the view which you now reject.

    God Bless.

  28. Since GL has nothing more to offer, I will leave his dead horse alone as well. I suspect the reader can reach their own conclusions. As for me, GL is absolutely correct on one point: he was unable to convince me of anything other than what 19 centuries of illogical, fallacious, unscriptural arguments caused many people to belive.

  29. In all fairness, GL's main scriptural argument deserves closer scrutiny. Mind you, I do not believe the argument is as GL has worded it. It is demonstrably false that contraception using Christians reject the truth of the teaching that children are a blessing and a gift. What I think GL really means is that they reject the actual blessing and gift. Now, that may be a foolish thing to do. But I am not so convinced that is a sin. It appears there will have to be a sequel sometime down the road where I will deal in depth with this additional argument.