Content adapted from Religion Saves: And Nine Other Misconceptions by Mark Driscoll.
There’s no doubt the Bible says children are a blessing, but the Bible doesn’t seem to address the specific topic of birth control. Is this a black-and-white topic, or does it fall under liberties? Mark Driscoll provides some thoughtful responses to common anti-birth control arguments.
Does God command people to have children?
It is argued that God commands his people to have children, yet in Genesis 1:28 we read, “God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.’” Children are a blessing, not a command. Were we commanded to have children, then those who never marry, like Jesus, and those who are barren would be in sin for not obeying God’s command. To turn a blessing into a command is a common error of legalism, which twists something we get to do in delight into something we have to do in duty. Christian married couples typically should desire and pursue children, either on their own or through adoption or fostering, and celebrate if or when God blesses them with children. Yet to state that any couple that is not continually doing all it can to have children is sinning is to misrepresent what God communicated to our first parents.
If children are a blessing, does that mean Christian couples should try to have as many as possible?
It is argued that because children are a blessed gift from the Lord, Christian couples should seek to have as many as possible. The staff at John Piper’s Desiring God ministry has issued an insightful refutation to this point:
It is very important to delight in the reality that “children are a gift of the Lord.” But some people go further and argue from this that since children are gifts from God, it is wrong to take steps to regulate the timing and number of children one has.
In response, it can be pointed out that the Scriptures also say that a wife is a gift from the Lord (Proverbs 18:22), but that doesn’t mean that it is wrong to stay single (1 Corinthians 7:8). Just because something is a gift from the Lord does not mean that it is wrong to be a steward of when or whether you will come into possession of it. It is wrong to rea- son that since A is good and a gift from the Lord, then we must pursue as much of A as possible. God has made this a world in which trade-offs have to be made and we cannot do everything to the fullest extent. For kingdom purposes, it might be wise not to get married. And for kingdom purposes, it might be wise to regulate the size of one’s family and to regulate when the new additions to the family will likely arrive. As Wayne Grudem has said, “it is okay to place less emphasis on some good activities in order to focus on other good activities.” . . .
In reality, then, although it is true that “blessed is the man whose quiver is full of [children],” we need to realize that God has not given everyone the same size quiver. And so birth control is a gift from God that may be used for the wise regulation of the size of one’s family, as well as a means of seeking to have children at the time which seems to be wisest.30
The Genesis 38:10 Argument:
It is also argued by some Protestants and many Catholic theologians that birth control is forbidden based upon Genesis 38:10. Both Abraham and Isaac dreaded the thought of their sons intermarrying with Canaanite women because it would cause them to wander from God (Gen. 24:3; 28:1). Nevertheless, Judah did just that and had three sons named Er, Onan, and Shelah. Er then married a woman named Tamar and, without fanfare or details, we are told that Er was a wicked man whom God killed. It was customary in that time for a widow to marry her husband’s brother, who would care for her, protect her, and give her sons to ensure she had a stake in the family’s inheritance and to look after her in her old age (Deut. 25:5-6). The duty to care for Tamar fell on the next son, Onan. Onan was happy to have sex with Tamar but refused to meet his obligation of impregnating and caring for her. So, he practiced coitus interruptus, pulling out of Tamar at the moment of ejaculation, in an effort to not impregnate her, like so many teenagers do in our own day.31
Nonetheless, Onan’s sin was disobeying God and dishonoring Tamar by having sex without wanting to be obligated in any way or care for her, or, as Genesis 38:8 says, to “perform the duty of a brother- in-law.” In short, Onan got whacked for treating Tamar like a booty call and not a bride.
Response to the Anti-Birth-Control Arguments:
While God has not changed, the world has, and his people need wisdom, not legalism, to live in it. It is true that some people sinfully postpone children for reasons motivated by greed and selfishness. It is conversely true that some idealists have children prematurely, before they are truly able to care for them. In summary, using no birth control of any kind beyond prayer is acceptable for Christian couples. However, it is sinful when it is imposed upon or demanded of all Christian couples.
- 30. “Does the Bible Permit Birth Control?” Desiring God Resource Library, January 23, 2006, http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Articles/ByDate/2006/1440_Does_the_ Bible_permit_birth_control/.
- 31. Pulling out is not an effective form of birth control for at least two reasons. (1) The timing is difficult since the average male ejaculation occurs at 28 miles per hour (Cutrer and Glahn,The Contraception Guidebook, 73). (2) There are roughly 250 to 500 million sperm in one male ejaculation, many are present in the seepage before the ejaculation, and it only takes one good swimmer to make a baby (Douglas E. Rosenau,A Celebration of Sex: A Guide to Enjoying God’s Gift of Married Sexual Pleasure [Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1994], 62).
Source of Article: CrosswayBlog
- The Ethics of Birth Control. Part 1 (waltbrite.wordpress.com)
- The Ethics of Birth Control Part 2 (waltbrite.wordpress.com)
WB, this is so well written, wise, and insightful. My g/f and I, whilst reading out one-year read the referenced story as we would each year, but the colour you brought to it is incredible. Miss you sir!
Dear Ryan, It is so good to hear from! How have you been? This post is in deed incredibly well written and rich, but the credit goes to my friends at CrossWayBlog. The staff over there put it together. I wish I could write that good and with such perspective. Good to hear from you. Say hi to the folks at GT. Miss you too Ryan!