How Should Christians View Contraception?
Ultimately, all Christian arguments concerning birth control or “family planning” must be based on Scriptural principles. But we find very little explicit teaching about contraception, unlike numerous texts concerning human sexuality and marriage.
1. The Bible is very clear about procreation from the “cultural mandate” in Genesis 1:28: “And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.'” God repeated this mandate to Noah (Gen 9:1), and promised Abraham a multitude of descendants that would include many nations (Gen 15:5; 17:6; 22:17). Children are a blessing from God (Psa 127:3; 128:3-4). All forms of abortion is murder, and therefore a grievous sin against God and man.
2. There are three texts that at first glance seem to be related to contraception. First, a deliberate act to produce sterility is implied in Deuteronomy 23:1, “No one whose testicles are crushed or whose male organ is cut off shall enter the assembly of theÂ Lord.” This is certainly not due to accidents or illnesses. In the second, the death of Onan, one of Judah’s sons, was not only caused by his sin of spilling his seed on the ground rather than producing offspring, but also by his denial, according to the Law, of levirate marriage by which the family line is preserved (Gen 38:9-10). Thirdly, sexual intercourse is prohibited during a seven-day period of the wife’s menstrual flow when she is considered unclean (Lev 18:19; 15:19).
3. The New Testament continues the Old Testament teaching about families and households. Children were very important to Jesus (Matt 19:14), and children of believers are set apart for God (1 Cor 7:14). Parents are to bring their children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph 6:4).
4. However, because of sin, many life situations are not clear-cut black and white. For example, divorce is against God’s law, but because of sin, is permitted by Scripture. A few examples are sufficient to provide caution if the command to “be fruitful and multiply” is presumed to be an absolute command against any form of birth control.
a. We are stewards of creation. Genesis 1:28 also commands man, “Subdue it and have dominion over … every living thing that moves on the earth.” Genesis 6:1, 5 seems to imply that the earth became full of wickedness because of the increase in population, “When man began to multiply on the face of the land …Â TheÂ LordÂ saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth.” Because of man’s sinful nature, ungodliness, crime, immorality, and environmental pollution increase with population.
b. The cultural mandate is related to God’s design for man to fill the whole earth with worshipers and so make the whole earth his glorious Temple, as the psalmists repeatedly proclaim in hope (Psa 66:1-4; 98:4; 100:1). God did not desire that the earth will be full of wicked people, but of godly offspring (Mal 2:15).
c. Does overpopulation cause poverty?Â To be sure, overpopulation is not primarily the cause of poverty and social problems, but political corruption, mismanagement of resources, and the overpopulation of urban areas are the bigger contributors. However, in democratic countries like the Philippines, it is apparent that the population and resources cannot be redistributed to lessen poverty in overcrowded cities.
5. We are stewards of our families, especially the men who are to provide support and security for their families. A few texts in the New Testament provide some principles concerning this stewardship and some situations that call for refraining from childbearing.
a. Paul condemns those who marry and have children but couldn’t and wouldn’t provide for their families, “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Tim 5:8). Spiritual responsibility is also commanded, and it is a great sin when parents bear children they cannot raise in the fear of God.
b. Celibacy is an option for Christians (1 Cor 7:7-8). Even voluntary sterility is commended by Jesus, if it is for the sake of the kingdom of God (Matt 19:10-12).
c. Paul also commends couples who agree to abstain from sexual relations for a limited time “that you may devote yourselves to prayer” (1 Cor 7:5), for their spiritual nourishment. Thus, a marriage is not for the purpose of bearing the maximum number of children during their fruitful years, but includes a higher purpose, including the material and spiritual welfare of the family. Thus, birth control must never be for the purpose of convenience, career advancement, sexual immorality, or any other selfish end.
d. Abstinence during the wife’s menstrual period can be a means of birth control.
e. In times of distress, e.g. war, it seems that we can also forego childbearing (Luke 21:23).
f. Some couples are not even given children by God, but this situation is obviously not because God is not pleased with them. The command to procreate does not even apply to them.
6. Taking literally one verse, “Be fruitful and multiply,” without regard for what other texts in Scripture say, leads to legalism. We should not bind the conscience of a person based on a single text.
7. In summary, there is no explicit endorsement or condemnation of birth control. The Bible is clearly for procreation, but there are exceptions to the Genesis 1:28 command, especially when stewardship of nature and family is considered. Man is created in the image of God as a responsible vice-regent and steward of God’s creation. As such, he is to deliberately order his actions to maximize his stewardship of God’s creation and his God-given family.
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