Being Fruitful: A Biblical
View of Birth Control
Within the family renaissance movement the
issue of birth control has been one of the hottest topics. It is natural that those who
are reevaluating their views of the family regarding such matters as education, roles of
husbands and wives, socialization, immunizations, etc. would also grapple with the
question of whether birth control is right for Christian families. And, indeed, the issue
has been grappled with in books popular within the movement, most of which have at least
seriously questioned the practice, some labeling it a "great sin." Many families
have come to view a former decision to sterilize either the husband or wife as sin and
have obtained surgical "reversals."
To properly evaluate an issue like this
from a Christian perspective we need to ask ourselves, What does God in his Word have to
say about it? But it may also be useful, first, to ask ourselves, What is the current
consensus among Christians and how did they arrive at their point of view on this topic?
We should always be ready to change our beliefs and practices if we find that they have
been shaped by the world instead of the Word.
Most Christians today believe that the
practice of birth control is OK, if indeed they have ever really thought about it. Safe to
say, the average Christian who practices birth control could not give you a carefully
reasoned biblical argument in favor of the practice. He just assumes it is a morally
neutral issue. "After all, it is just the Catholics who oppose any form of artificial
birth control, right?" Well, probably so, at least as far as major Christian groups
are concerned. But the real question is, Where did the acceptance of birth control
originate? Did it come from God and his Word, or is it another example of the world's
perspective seeping into an unwary church?
The Abortion/Birth Control
As we look at contemporary Western culture,
one of its depressing characteristics is that it is pro-death. This should not be
surprising. The Lord, speaking as Wisdom in Proverbs 8:36 says, "all who hate me love
death." Our society has been steadily turning from God and showing its hatred of him
in many ways. Not the least of these is the popularity of abortion as a way to solve
difficult personal problems. The slaughter of the unborn baby is preferred to the
challenge of caring for an inconvenient child.
It is disturbing to realize, moreover, that
the culture which created abortion on demand is the same one that is in love with birth
control. In fact, abortion is actually just another form of birth control and arose out of
the same mindset. Behind both practices is the attitude that children are an inconvenience
and that adults have the right to choose when and if to have any.
Disturbing, too, is the realization that
both birth control and abortion have exactly the same effect (though substantially
different means), namely, the prevention of another human being. The one kills the product
of conception, the other prevents conception; but both aim to prevent the birth of a
person. The failure to prevent conception has led many to murder the "mistake"
that results. Isn't it reasonable to conclude that commonly behind both acts there is the
same love of self and hatred of God? Has not the birth control mindset been the mother of
the abortion mindset? Certainly the two are connected in our culture. Whether it is
possible to separate the two is another question, but the connection should give
Surely all true Christians would agree that
abortion is wrong, but how many of them are influenced by the same mindset that resulted
in the abortion holocaust? How many have unwittingly breathed in the foul moral air of a
death-loving culture and concluded that children are an inconvenience and parents have the
right to decide if and when they want any? Unfortunately, most Christians still shrink in
horror at the thought of a large number of children; and you hear comments in the church
like: "Well, I know I've got all the kids I can handle," or "I can't wait
for summer to be over so the kids can get back to school." The same anti-child
attitude that plagues secular society has infected the church. This is just one of many
areas in which the church is almost indistinguishable from the surrounding world. Instead
of setting a shining example of how things ought to be, the church mimics a dying culture,
and then wonders why it is so ineffective (didn't Jesus say something about salt losing
So before even considering the biblical
data, we ought to be suspicious of a practice that is so much at home in the anti-child,
anti-life 1990's. It would be reasonable to conclude that Christians may have been led
astray on this issueunless, of course, the Bible gives warrant to the practice of
What exactly does the Bible say that bears
on our issue? You will look in vain in your concordance for any entries under "birth
control"the same holds true for "abortion"but the Scripture
certainly speaks to both. When consulting God's Word on a matter like this it is important
to realize that there are several ways in which the Bible can shed light on the subject.
It may address it with an explicit precept, a clear command that speaks directly to it. It
may give a general principle that must be applied with wisdom under the Spirit's guidance.
Or it may display a pattern of life to follow through good examples that are approved (or
evil patterns that are disapproved). Though the words "birth control" do not
appear in the Bible, there are precepts, principles and patterns there to guide us.
Fruitfulness is God's Will
The very first recorded words of the
Creator to the man and woman he had made in his image were, "Be fruitful and increase
in number; fill the earth and subdue it" (Gen. 1:28). This precept was repeated after
the flood to Noah and his sons: "As for you, be fruitful and increase in number;
multiply on the earth and increase upon it" (9:7). God's plan is that married couples
multiply descendants to fill the whole earth.
Now, since we are (once again) infected
with the world's perspective at this point, we are probably inclined to reason:
"Sure, God told Adam and Noah to multiply because the earth was empty of people in
both cases and they had to populate the planet from scratch; but we have plenty of people
in the world today (maybe too many), so surely there is no need for multiplying children
any more." But who are we to conclude the earth is "full" and God's command
no longer applies? The fact is that the earth is far from full [see "Overpopulation:
The Perennial Myth" elsewhere in this issue]. When and if the earth ever actually
becomes full, we can trust God to deal with the situation his own way. Our job is to obey
Marriage is a "one flesh" union
of a man and woman (Gen. 2:24). While this expression clearly means more than mere
physical union it does include the physical union, and this union will result in the
multiplication of children. Having a number of children is the normal fruit of marriage,
and it is God's will for marriage. In 1 Timothy 5:14 the Holy Spirit through Paul counsels
younger widows to marry and "have children." Malachi 2:15, referring to a
married couple, says, "Has not the Lord made them one? In flesh and spirit they are
his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring." God created the marriage
bond to populate the earth with God-fearing worshipers. Maybe the world will shirk the
multiplication command; but Christians should "seize the day," grasping the
opportunity afforded by the abortion/birth control craze to fill the world with
Some may object that reproduction is not
the only purpose for marriage. This is obviously true (marriage is also for companionship
and ministry, for example), but it is also irrelevant. Multiplication remains one of the
purposes for marriage, and the fact that there are other purposes does not negate this
one. We must strive to fulfill all of God's aims for making us one flesh.
We should quickly grant that sex is for the
pleasure and emotional bonding of the couple as well as for reproduction. But does not the
very God-created design of the male and female bodies demonstrate that God intends for
pleasure and fruitfulness to be united in the one act? What right have we to separate the
aims of pleasure and procreation that God has built into sexual intercourse? Any sex act
outside of marriage separates these two (masturbation, fornication, prostitution, etc.).
On what grounds can they be separated within the marriage? Our dying world seeks pleasure
apart from responsibility; hence the increase of birth control and abortion. The safest
course for the Christian is always to obey God's command and act in a way that is
consistent with his design. God's command supports his design: be fruitful and multiply.
The command to be fruitful is a
straightforward precept that speaks directly to the issue of birth control. Following are
three principles that, while not directly addressing the issue, have clear implications
Children Are a Tool for
Let us hear again the first words out of
God's mouth to our first parents: "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth
and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every
living creature that moves on the ground" (Genesis 1:28). A couple verses earlier the
Trinity had been consulting together: "Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image,
in our likeness, and let them rule...over all the earth'" (v. 26).
Joined in this initial word from the Lord
are the dual commands to be fruitful and to rule over the earth; have children and take
dominion. God made man in his image, and this means, among other things, that man was made
to rule. Just as God rules the universe, so he has delegated to man the responsibility to
take dominion over this planet to God's glory. The man, with the help of his wife (Gen.
2:18), was given the assignment of working and taking care of the earth (2:15). Mankind's
perpetual job description is to take all the resources of this earth (including human and
spiritual resources), apply his labor, and offer the product as worship to God. A stone ax
and an oratorio are both a form a taking dominion.
It is clear that there is a vital
connection between the "be fruitful" command and the "take dominion"
command. Adam would have had a hard time completing God's dominion mandate all by himself,
or with just his wife. But God arranged that out of their one flesh union a whole army of
additional helpers would arise to assist in the enormous task. That task is far from
complete even today, and there is still a need to keep multiplying the number of godly
The original dominion mandate has been
supplemented with the mandate of Jesus to make disciples of all the nations, commonly
called the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20). Jesus now has "all authority in heaven
and on earth" (v. 18), and under his dominion Christians are called to take the
kingdom of God to every nation. It is only through the gospel of Jesus Christ that men can
produce the dominion results that are pleasing to God; disciples implement the will of God
as they obey everything he has commanded (v. 20).
Christians have been forgetting the most
important means of seeing the Great Commission fulfilled: multiplying godly offspring. If
a man has six children who each have six, and so forth through the generations, and if he
trains them to be disciples of Jesus, that man will be the patriarch of a godly clan of
1,300 great-great grandchildren! If there were only two children per generation, the
"clan" would consist of only 32 people. Would you rather confront your enemy
with an army of 32 or 1,300?
Part of the reason Christians are hesitant
to have children is their fear that they will not grow up to be Christians. What if a man
ended up with 1,300 pagans as posterity? This fear is encouraged by a common view that how
our kids turn out is a matter of chance. This lie is a denial of Proverbs 22:6 and of
God's consistent promise to bless faithfulness. The only question is whether we will be
faithful in raising the children for the Lord.
We need to regain the biblical perspective
on children. They are arrows in the battle for godly dominion in this world (Psalm
127:4,5). Why would we want to "control" the birth of these image-bearers of
God, these workers, these warriors in the battle of the ages? We ought to desire as many
as the Lord should choose to give us! Which brings us to the next theme of Scripture we
want to consider.
God Alone Gives and
"Sons are a heritage from the Lord,
children a reward from him" (Psalm 127:3) The most abundantly documented truth in the
Bible concerning children is that they come from God as his gift and that he, and he
alone, has the privilege of giving and withholding children.
The story of Jacob's wives Rachel and Leah
(and their handmaids) is an account of the Lord opening and closing the womb as he
choosesand this in the midst of human finagling to control the process of birth!
(Genesis 29:31-30:24) When it was all said and done, Jacob would speak of his sons as
"the children God has graciously given" (33:5). Refer also in this connection to
these passages: Gen. 16:2; 20:18; 48:9; Lev. 20:20,21; Jdg. 13:3,24; Ruth 4:13; 1 Sam.
1:5,11,19,20; Job 42:12,13; Is. 8:18; Lk. 1:7,24,25.
In condemning his unfaithful people in
Ezekiel 16:20-21, God says, "And you took your sons and daughters whom you bore to me
and sacrificed them as food for idols....You slaughtered my children...." Our
children are God's children. That ought to affect how we view conception and birth. God
gives children and so they are his!
It is part of the arrogant presumption of
our age that men and women believe they can control the process of conception and birth.
Yet how many have we known who have become pregnant despite efforts to avoid it, or who
have "decided" to have children only to find that they cannot conceive? God
still opens and closes the womb, and he is still better at family planning than we are.
Who are we to presume that we know when a
new human being should be born. Children are not trifles; they are eternal beings who have
a purpose and significance in God's hands that we cannot even imagine. What audacity to
think that we have sufficient wisdom to decide if and when another should begin his
eternal sojourn! The Bible does not even hint that such a decision belongs in the hands of
man; it is God's prerogative alone.
Children Are a Blessing
"Your wife will be like a fruitful
vine within your house; your sons will be like olive shoots around your table. Thus is the
man blessed who fears the Lord" (Psalm 128:3,4).
Since God wants a marriage to result in
multiplying children, since children are the necessary means to taking dominion, since it
is God's prerogative to give and withhold children, it is not surprising to find that the
Bible consistently teaches that children are a blessing. How could they be viewed
otherwise? Not having children was considered a serious deprivation of blessing (and at
times an actual curse) and the barren woman in Scripture invariably seeks relief from her
condition. (Gen. 11:30; 15:2; 30:1; Jdg. 13:2; 1 Sam. 1:2; 2 Sam. 6:23; 2 Ki. 4:14; Hos.
9:11; Lk. 1:7; 20:29)
Only a people who lose God's perspective on
life would come to see children as a burden, and that is where we have come in Western
society. We have already mentioned how this anti-child feeling has crept into the church.
Those who see children as a burden or a curse want to limit or eliminate them; hence birth
control and abortion. Those who see them as God's blessing want all that God chooses to
give them, and they receive them with joy and thanksgiving. Why would anyone choose to
deprive himself of God's blessing?
Birth Control Is Severely
While the term "birth control" is
not mentioned in the Bible there is one example of its practice (this provides us with a
pattern to be avoided): "Then Judah said to Onan, 'Lie with your brother's wife and
fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to produce offspring for your brother.' 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. What
he did was wicked in the Lord's sight; so he put him to death also" (Gen. 38:8-10).
Onan had an obligation, later codified in
the Mosaic Law (Deut. 25:5,6), to give his dead brother's wife a child to carry on the
name of the deceased and inherit his land and goods. He refused this obligation by
practicing a form of birth control. His goal was to prevent his brother from having an
heir, and his method succeeded as well as if he had murdered the heir. God killed him for
Did God punish Onan for his refusal to
fulfill his brotherly responsibility, for practicing birth control by wasting his seed, or
both? The text does not precisely identify for us the "what" that was so
"wicked in the Lord's sight." We know Onan sinned by refusing to father a child
for his sister-in-law. We know he sinned by enjoying sexual relations with her and
appearing to fulfill his duty without actually fulfilling it. Do we know what God thinks
of the act of spilling his seed on the groundtaking the act apart from its context?
We cannot separate the act from its context in Onan's case.
Given all that we have seen in the
Scripture about the purpose of the sexual act and God's view of children, it is entirely
reasonable to conclude that Onan's act of birth control was itself an abomination
deserving God's wrath. However, this account does not provide an iron-clad answer to the
question. A "reasonable" conclusion is not by itself the basis for an absolute
rule of conduct.
While the Onan incident is not the airtight
anti-birth-control case that some writers make it out to be, it may well indicate God's
hatred of such acts, and it is at least consistent with the rest of Scripture which offers
absolutely nothing to encourage the practice of birth control.
Dealing With Doubts and
Taking together all the relevant teachings
of Scripture we are left with the conclusion that we should let God do our family
planning. He will open and close the womb as it serves his inscrutable purposes, and we
should accept with joyful thanksgiving all the children with which he chooses to bless us.
Easier said than done! Letting the Lord
plan the family size is a frightful prospect for most who come to believe it is the right
way to go. It is not easy to overcome years, yes perhaps generations, of conditioning. And
how do you answer family members or church friends who asks, "How are you planning to
provide for all those children? Where will you get money for college, for goodness
sake?" Then there is the matter of your emotional health. How many children can you
handle before you crack? Safe to say, most of us are full of doubts and fears as we
contemplate letting God plan our families.
To help us here we need to consider yet one
more teaching of Scripture: the doctrine of providence. "Providence"the
word sounds sort of austere and vaguely holy; what help does it give us? Noah Webster's
1828 dictionary defines the word in part as "the care and superintendence which God
exercises over his creatures....A belief in divine providence is a source of great
consolation to good men." Our problem is that we have been so infected with the
spirit of the age that we often no longer believe the simple truth: God is in complete
control of us, and he is good, so we can rest in his loving care. (Matt. 6:25-34; 7:7-12;
Phil. 4:19; Rom. 8:28,32)
If we doubt that God is going to provide
for us and our children then we will be afraid. If we doubt that he will give us the grace
necessary to adapt to each new child, then we will panic. If we doubt that he will give us
the wisdom we need to raise all the children he sends, then we will fear.
We need to learn to see our lives in God's
hands and get over our delusions of self-determination and self-sufficiency. We do not
provide for our familiesGod does. We cannot control the futureGod does.
We must identify and confess the unbelief
that infects our hearts. Let's just tell God the truth: we are afraid to let go of our
"control" of the number of children we have because we do not trust him to give
us what we need materially and emotionally. We are afraid that he will not take care of
us. Isn't that what it boils down to? We simply need to trust God.
Your loving Father would never give you a
child without also giving you what you need to raise that child for him. He sees every
bird that falls. He knows the number of the hairs on your head. He will care for you and
the children he gives you. "A belief in divine providence is a source of great
consolation to good men."
Abstinence and Stewardship
Is there any room for the exercise of
stewardship and human responsibility in the matter of conception and birth? What about the
man who fully embraces the Lord's plan to multiply godly offspring but believes that a
measure of spacing between children is best for his wife's long-term capacity to have many
children? (He could even point to the apparent design of God to space children through the
natural inhibition that nursing is to pregnancy.)
The easy answer is: "No, these folks
just have to trust God like everybody else. No exceptions." It is true, of course,
that there are no exceptions to the rule that we must trust the Lord in the matter of
having children. But could trust and a limited exercise of control be compatible?
We must be very careful that in our desire
to return the people of God to holy living we do not become Pharisees. That is, we have to
be very sure that we do not add our rules to the Word of God and bind one another's
consciences by these man-made rules. God says, "Be fruitful." That we can enjoin
on one another. But can we tell a brother with seven children he is sinning because he
avoids pregnancy for six months after the latest birth?
Of course, this raises the question of
methods of birth control. Let's quickly dismiss them all insofar as they physically alter
the body (pill, IUD, sterilization, etc.) or physically block the man's seed and make it
ineffective or kill it (condom, diaphragm, foam, etc.).
But what of temporary abstinence from
sexual relations? This practice is required (Lev. 18:19) or approved (1 Cor. 7:5) for
other reasons in Scripture. Might it be acceptable for a man and woman to agree for a
limited time to forego sexual relations during the woman's fertile time of the month?
Might that degree of stewardship in the process of conception and birth be compatible with
a genuine desire for fruitfulness and joyful acceptance of all the children God sends?
Periodic abstinence is not part of the
birth control game which separates the pleasure and procreative potential of sex. It is
simply choosing not to have sex at a particular time; and there does not appear to be a
biblical requirement for sexual relationships on some schedule. The couple is sovereign
over when they engage in the practice (keeping 1 Cor. 7:3-5 in mind).
The key here is the heart attitude of the
couple. They must not be avoiding fruitfulness in their marriage (regular abstinence on a
long-term basis to avoid pregnancy would be wrong). They must be ready to accept a child
as God's gift if he overrules their attempt at timing; they must acknowledge their limited
perspective and willingly yield to whatever God does in their lives.
Any attempt to pronounce such abstinence
"sin" would appear to be a Pharisaic extreme. (It is not more holy to be
stricter than God; that is sin.) Since abstinence is acceptable for other uses, since the
couple is not blocking God's design for sex, and since they are yielding to God's planning
of their family and are not attempting to disobey his command to be fruitful, then the
practice is not prohibited by biblical precept or principle.
Much more difficult to discuss is the
occasional "hard case" wherein, for example, the wife almost dies in birth and
is counseled by a doctor against getting pregnant again. Her husband, as an act of
protection for his wife and an exercise of dominion over her health and his family's
future, chooses to avoid pregnancy. Is this acceptable, or is this sin?
The following principles would seem to
1) God is still in charge, and none of his
children will die apart from his will. Doctors have often declared pregnancy
life-threatening only to be proven wrong by a normal healthy delivery the next time
around. It is not a foolish act to entrust oneself to a loving Father in the face of
medical advice to the contrary. (Many physicians consider having more than two or three
children foolish and find it easy to recommend avoiding pregnancy.) How much of God's
mighty works on our behalf do we never receive because we don't take the "risks"
that call forth his special grace?
2) God does have special grace for women in
the process of bearing children. "But women shall be preserved through the bearing of
children if they continue in faith and love with sanctity with self-restraint" (1
Tim. 2:15). The battle for the man and his wife may be in balancing medical counsel and
3) Any measure of "control" the
couple seek to exercise should be through abstinence (as above). Measures that alter the
body or render the sex act sterile are never appropriate. By submitting to God's plan for
sexual relations the couple will be within God's will and will be open to his plan if he
should choose to overrule their efforts.
4) The couple must have a humble heart that
is ready to acknowledge that any decision of theirs may be wrong and the Lord has a better
way. If there is fear in their hearts, they should confess it and ask for grace to trust
him and wisdom to know how he wants them to proceed.
There may be some cases where it appears
that the commands to be fruitful and to take dominion are hard to reconcile. A man should
always be skeptical of his wisdom and his ability to control his or his wife's life; yet
he may conclude that he ought to try to avoid pregnancy to protect her. Surely no one else
can judge that choice as sin even though there may be hidden sin in his motivation. As
long as his outward conduct conforms to the Word of God, the rest of us should assume the
best about his motivation and give him support, not condemnation.
It seems to this writer that God's Word is
very clear. Christians should not partake of the world's birth-control mindset. They
should embrace God's plan for marriage, including the procreative purpose of sex, and
joyfully accept as blessings all the children that God sends them. Further, they should
develop the long range vision that sees children as the means to advance the kingdom of
Christ and defeat his enemies. The more children he gives, the better. They know that God
is a loving Father who will provide for every child of his.
Within this larger framework the practice
of periodic, temporary abstinence from sexual relationships is an acceptable exercise of
godly stewardship in the process of building a family. Such a stewardship of the process
of conception must be utilized very cautiously, however. The couple would have to examine
themselves closely to be sure they are not resisting God's plan for children nor giving in
to a spirit of doubt and fear. They will be judged by the Lord in this, but they should
not be judged by others.
The bottom line is this: to the extent that
Christians embrace a biblical view of marriage and children the people of God will grow
greatly in numbers over the next couple of generations. Meanwhile the lovers of death in
our culture will commit collective suicide through birth control and abortion.
As usual, the real question is whether
Christians will do things God's way or the world's way.
How about you? Don't you like the thought
of your 1,300 great-great grandchildren gathering to honor the memory of the godly
patriarch who founded their Christian clan? It seems like that would please the Lord, too!
From Patriarch Magazine----used
with permission 2001