The Bible and Birth Control
Tim ChalliesTim Challies, a self-employed web designer, is a pioneer in the Christian blogosphere, having one of the most widely read and recognized Christian blogs anywhere (www.challies.com). He is also editor of Discerning Reader (www.discerningreader.com), a site dedicated to offering thoughtful reviews of books that are of interest to Christians. He is author of The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment, published by Crossway.
- 2012 Mar 02
I have been asked to write about the Christian position on birth control. This is something I have discussed in the past, but there are many ways to approach the topic and this time I would like to approach it from a bit of a different angle. I intend to share how I have gone about arriving at my own position. I will begin by immediately stating what the Bible clearly forbids when it comes to birth control. From there I will survey the Bible to find principles that are helpful in the discussion. That will take us to the end of this article, leaving me to say more another day.
We begin here: The Bible is silent on any explicit discussion of the subject of birth control. (If you are wondering about Onan, feel free to scroll to the bottom of this article.) Nowhere in the Bible does God command that a couple must or should use birth control at any stage in their marriage. Likewise, nowhere in the Bible does God explicitly forbid the use of birth control. It’s not that birth control did not exist in the day the Bible was written, but simply that God, for his own good purposes, chose not to give us explicit direction. However, the Bible has so much to say about marriage and sexuality and family and human life that we are not simply left guessing and hoping for the best.
What God Forbids
From what the Bible teaches about life and marriage, we can all affirm that two methods of birth control are clearly forbidden by Scripture.
God Forbids Abstinence. The Bible tells us that spouses are not to deprive one another but, rather, are to regularly enjoy the sexual relationship. The only exception is given by the Apostle Paul who says that a couple may abstain for a short time in order to devote themselves to prayer. “Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (1 Corinthians 7:5). Long-term abstinence within marriage is not to be used as a method of birth control.
God Forbids Abortion. The Bible places the highest value on human life. Time and again Scripture affirms that we are to treasure and protect life, knowing that God is sovereign over life and death. Therefore, we may not destroy life as a method of birth control. I will have more to say about this in our next article (including the difficult subject of ectopic pregnancy).
At this point we know that the Bible does not explicitly command or forbid birth control and we know that at least two methods of birth control are forbidden to us. This helpfully narrows the scope of our conversation. We now need to determine if God allows any form of birth control at all. Once we have done that, and if we determine that at least some forms may be acceptable, we can move on to a discussion of whether one form or method of birth control is morally superior to another.
What I want to do next is look to the Bible to find principles that can offer guidance as we consider this issue. I have simply surveyed the Bible to gather pieces of information that may be helpful in this discussion. Consider each of these a potential piece of the puzzle.
Be Fruitful and Multiply. God created human life and as one of man’s primary roles told him to “be fruitful and multiply.” It is our duty as humans to procreate and our special duty as Christians to fill the earth with people who know and love the Lord. Therefore it is reasonable to say that as a general principle God expects that a husband and wife will have at least some children and raise them for his glory.
Children Are a Blessing. The Bible is clear that we are to regard children as a blessing and not as a burden. Psalm 127 says “Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward.” Where our culture too often sees children as a financial, emotional or psychological burden, the Bible tells us that they are a blessing and a reward. Further, Many Children Is a Great Blessing. God gave no conditions to his command that we be fruitful and multiply. He did not say “multiply up to and including eight children at which point you must stop.” At the same time he did not say “be fruitful and multiply until you have exceeded two children.” We are given no rules about how many children are appropriate in God’s eyes. We do hear hints, though, that God approves of large families and that many children represent a special blessing. Psalm 127 continues, “Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one’s youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them.” Many children represent many blessings.
God Is Sovereign. God is absolutely sovereign, having foreordained every pregnancy. Whether a woman has one children or seven, God has decreed the beginning and end of each pregnancy. It is the Lord who opens and closes the womb and he makes no mistakes. In the same vein, God is sovereign over provision. Scripture tells us time and again that God will provide for all of our needs. We are to have confidence that no matter how impossible our needs may seem, he will provide. This means that when it comes to our confidence in God’s provision, a family with fifteen children can have the same confidence as a family with one child.
There Is No Built-in Birth Control. God has not given humans the innate ability to enjoy the sexual relationship while absolutely avoiding pregnancy. This means that under normal birth control-free conditions, and during the childbearing years, there is always the possibility of a pregnancy when a husband and wife obey God by enjoying the sexual relationship.
These are some of the principles we will want to keep in mind as we consider the morality of birth control. And that is where we will turn in the next article.
A word about Onan: The story of Onan is recorded in Genesis 38 and it goes like this: “Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord put him to death. Then Judah said to Onan, ‘Go in to your brother’s wife and perform the duty of a brother-in-law to her, and raise up offspring for your brother.’ But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his. So whenever he went in to his brother’s wife he would waste the semen on the ground, so as not to give offspring to his brother.” God did not kill Onan because he used coitus interruptus as a method of birth control, but because he refused to fulfill his duty toward his brother and his brother’s family. He made a mockery of the commands of God, being willing to take pleasure in his brother’s wife but being unwilling to accept the responsibility of raising a child in his brother’s name. While this story may not be entirely irrelevant to our discussion, it is not the place to begin.