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Issue and Interchange

ADVOCATE 2: All Forms of Contraception Within the Bounds of Marriage are Forbidden

Due to space limitations, we will adopt the following method of defeating our opponent's position: Advocate One affirms, along with us, that the "Cultural Mandate" of Genesis 1:28 commands believers to have children, and that children are a great blessing from God, as Psalm 127, 128, and Leviticus 26:9 assert. He then asserts that, though having children is the normative duty of Christian couples, Scripture lists exceptions to the norm. To further bolster his thesis that birth control is therefore not forbidden, he offers rebuttals of three common anti-birth control arguments.

Since, "where a duty is commanded, the contrary sin is forbidden" (Westminster Larger Catechism Q. 99:4; Matt. 15:4-6; 4:9-10; Deut. 6:13; 5:11; Jonah 1:1-3,12; Eph. 4:28), we regard the command to "be fruitful and multiply" as forbidding the deliberate hindrance of conception.

If we can demonstrate that Advocate One's exceptions to Genesis 1:28 are no exceptions at all, and follow this by refuting his rebuttals, it will be observed that our view will hold the field: Contraception is forbidden by the Word of God.

Legalism and Freedom of Conscience

Advocate One starts off accusing Christians who are anti-birth control of being "legalists" guilty of "adding to or subtracting from God's Word." This, he feels, is because opposition to birth control is a "humanly contrived commandment." He then says that because of this, the Anti-Birth Control position is seen to be an evil restriction upon Christian freedom.

However, let it be clear that our being judged guilty concerning these two charges depends entirely upon whether we can demonstrate our thesis to be correct and his to be false. If we are correct, then we are automatically cleared (WCF XX, Gal. 5:13; I Pet. 2:16). By including at the very beginning of his paper such a strong and unsubstantiated condemnation of our position, Advocate One is in violation of John 7:50-51. He should have waited for the end of the debate to describe us as teaching "doctrines of demons," or being "under the curse of God."

Romans 14:14

We are most happy to affirm the truth of this Bible passage, but would like to point out Advocate One's incorrect use of it. Scriptural opposition to birth control is not based upon some view that the human body or the material world in general is evil or inferior. On the contrary, we feel that the sexual function has been created and blessed by God (Gen. 1:28; 2:24, 25), but the misuse of this wonderful gift is indeed possible (I Cor. 6:13), and that deliberate destruction of the reproductive nature of intercourse is one of these misuses. Surely our opponent realizes that affirmation of the goodness of creation (I Tim. 4:4) does not validate sexual practices which are clearly forbidden (e.g. Lev. 18).

The Cultural Mandate

We are pleased that Advocate One does in fact recognize that the cultural mandate of Genesis 1:28 does indeed command Christian couples to be fruitful and multiply. In addition, Advocate One also quotes some of our favorite verses (Ps. 127: 3-5; 128: 3,4; Lev. 26:9), affirming that "The Christian ought to desire and actively seek this blessing from God." We most heartily agree.

An Internal Contradiction

In the next two sections, our opponent attempts to expound two Scripture passages as providing justification (in some circumstances) for the use of contraception within marriage. Note that though his main thesis (stated several times in his paper) is that birth control is a "morally permissible option," his interpretation of I Corinthians 7 and I Timothy 5:8 makes the practice of birth control mandatory, which is a very different assertion. Let us point out that though he accuses us of being legalistic for forbidding birth control, he is not afraid to make the practice of birth control a command of God (!) for Christians, something totally unheard of for the first nineteen centuries of the Church, which always insisted on the exact opposite!

I Corinthians 7

Advocate One interprets Paul (who wished Christians to "avoid distress"), as allowing contraception. This is untrue, for several reasons. First, if Paul is really recommending that the Corinthians not have children during the distress of I Corinthians 7:25-28, then what is the only method of contraception he advises? Abstinence, for we read in verse 29: "From now on those who have wives should live as if they have none." But as a matter of fact, Paul cannot be interpreted as recommending abstention as a means of birth control, because Paul previously mentioned abstention as a temporary option (I Cor. 7:5-6) only for special prayer, which agrees with related Old Testament passages such as Exodus 19:15 and I Samuel 21:4-5. Paul viewed having children in marriage as command by God, as one may see from I Timothy 5:14-15.

Since I Corinthians 7 does not then advocate birth control for a married couple, it would be advantageous to examine the only passage in the Bible where God commanded someone not to have children, due to an extreme case of tribulation: Jeremiah 16:1-13. (This command was temporary -- cf. Jer. 29:1-29.) Please notice the divinely appointed means to accomplish this command: "Thou shalt not take thee a wife , neither shalt thou have sons or daughters in this place." Since God's stated goal was that Jeremiah not have children who would die in the terrible siege of Jerusalem, why didn't God allow Jeremiah to marry, and then observe any number of absolutely sterile methods of sexual relations? Our answer is this: because deliberately non-procreative sex is a most heinous crime: that is why God told Jeremiah not to get married.

By turning to a specific historical case in the Old Testament, we can prove that Advocate One's interpretation of I Corinthians is absolutely wrong. Turn to Exodus 1:6-22 and notice the sequence of events. The Israelites had moved to Egypt, where they "were fruitful and multiplied greatly and exceedingly numerous, so that the land was filled with them" (v.7). Pharaoh didn't like so many Israelites in Egypt, so he commanded a primitive method of contraception in order to prevent their population from growing any larger (vv. 9-14). The Israelites were then made slaves and treated horribly. Now, according to Advocate One's exegesis of I Corinthians 7, this would have been an ideal time for the Israelites, whose families were undergoing intense persecution, to practice non-procreative sexual relations. After all, "what's not forbidden is allowed, and God wants us to avoid unnecessary trials." Besides, fewer children was the decree of the King of Egypt, and we should obey the king in all matters not conflicting with the Bible (Matt. 22:21; I Pet. 2:13). But what does the Bible say subsequently happened? "But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread" (Ex. 1:12). And when Pharaoh got worse, the Israelites had even more children (Ex. 1:20)! And we have the express declaration of Scripture that the Israelites acted according to the will of God (Ps. 105:24). Therefore, one may see that Advocate One's interpretation of I Corinthians 7 is not in accord with Scripture.

Please note that Advocate One says several other things in this section which are in error: He applies Luke 21:23 to believers, when in reality it applied to non-Christians. The tribulation prophesied in Luke 21 was to overcome the unrepentant Jews of the land of Israel, not the Christians, who were commanded to escape (Lk. 21:20-22; Deut. 28:53-57; Lam. 2:20; II Kings 6:23-31; Jer. 19:8-9; Ez. 5:10). Further, Advocate One evidently says that Matthew 13:21 and II Thessalonians 1:4 show that Paul wanted to spare Christians family tribulation. These passages say nothing of the sort, but refer to anti-Christian persecution, which is inevitable (Lk. 6:22, 26; Acts 14:22; II Tim. 3:12).

I Timothy 5:8

Advocate One interprets the above passage to make birth control mandatory for poor Christians who are "not able to provide for a child or another child." Any couple which has children in such a situation violates I Timothy 5:8, which would make them, according to Advocate One "deniers of the faith, worse than unbelievers," and "worse than those who hate God"!

We can prove that this view is wrong. First of all, the Scripture says positively that we Christians are promised what we need to survive (Matt. 6:24-34; Phil. 4:19). Second, these promises of care are applied by God Himself to the children of believers (Ps. 17:14; 37:25-26; 72:4; 103:13, 17-18; 112: 1-2; 115:12-14; Prov. 14:26; 20:7). This is not surprising, since the covenant applies to believers and their children (Acts 2:39; Matt. 26:28). Third, when an individual Christian reaches the point where he no longer has what is needed to survive, it is the command of God for other Christians to help him (Deut. 15:4-15; Acts 4:34-35; Lev. 25:35-39; Deut. 24: 12-15; I Tim. 6:17-19). Further, this giving to a poor Christian is to be sacrificial if necessary (II Cor. 8:1-4, 13-15; Lk. 3:11). So, when a poor brother with many children and insufficient income needs the help of the Church, the Church is to provide him with food, clothing, money, and jobs. Never does Scripture command anyone to practice deliberately non-procreative sex, although, as we have pointed out, such methods of sexual relations are available and easily practiced. (And yes, many of these methods were known in ancient times!)

Let us point out the real boundaries of need and greed: "But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs" (I Tim. 6:7-10). This contentment spoken of by Paul is mandatory, not optional, and those who violate this show lack of trust in God, as the Scripture plainly teaches (Heb. 13:5-6). Now, how can lack of food, clothes, etc. be a valid reason for birth control, if we are promised by God never to run out of them, and if fellow Christians are commanded to help out whenever these things run low? In truth, those who limit the number of their children when they have food and clothes are guilty of violating the command of Genesis 1:28 for the sake of greed.

Let us now logically proceed to examine the ramifications of Advocate One's view of I Timothy 5:8 and compare these ramifications to another passage in the Bible. First, if his interpretation of the verse is correct, then we should view the poor hungry man who impregnates his wife as "worse than one who hates God" (to use Advocate One's phrase). And what does the Scripture say about a person who hates God? He is an object of God's fierce anger (Deut. 7:10), a being sentenced to Hell (Rom. 1:28-32), and should be excommunicated from the Church of Christ (Acts 3:22-23; I Cor. 5:1-2). Now let us compare these easily deduced logical ramifications with a story from the Bible.

It "just so happens" that Nehemiah 5:1-16, contains just the scenario envisioned by Advocate One's exegesis of I Timothy 5:8. Notice that in the fifth century B.C., the people of God, who were living in Palestine, had been suffering grinding oppression, which was so bad that they had been selling their children as slaves to pagans, to raise money to even buy food to eat (vv. 2,5)! This oppression had been going on for years prior to Nehemiah's arrival (v. 15). And the people of God had plenty of children (v. 2). Now let us apply Advocate One's interpretation of I Timothy 5:8 to the situation in Nehemiah. First, Nehemiah should have condemned these poor Israelites for being so wicked as to procreate children in such awful conditions, which were so bad that individual families didn't have food to eat! (After all, Advocate One says, speaking of covenant children, that "we are forbidden to take on obligations, no matter how well-intentioned, which would lead us to fail to provide for our families.")

Second, Nehemiah should have excommunicated them for hating God, and third, these evil procreating, starving people (newly deprived of Israelite status) could then be sold as slaves to the Gentiles to pay off the debts owed to the righteous (and richer) Israelites who were left. Of course, this was not the course of action followed by Nehemiah. When he heard that the rich Israelites had been greedy and hadn't shared with their poor brothers, he immediately was angry with the rich, and commanded them to "give back to them immediately their fields, vineyards, olive groves, and houses, and also the usury you are charging them -- the hundreth part of the money, grain, new wines and oil" (v. 11). Then he made them take an oath to cancel the debts of the poor, pronouncing a curse upon all those who would not do so! Note that this is the exact opposite of the course Nehemiah should have followed if Advocate One's exegesis of I Timothy 5:8 is correct.

On Unnaturalness

A very good anti-birth control argument is that birth control is unnatural; hence Advocate One's attempt to escape from this objection. He tacitly agrees that contraception is unnatural, but proceeds to say that: (1) lots of "unnatural" activities (such as shaving) are actually morally neutral; and (2) that if we completely follow "nature" in some areas, we would be violating Scriptural commands such as feeding the sick.

We agree with both of Advocate One's propositions -- nature is an imperfect teacher, as is stated by Scripture. Nature proclaims the existence and characteristics of God, but the Gospel is needed to enlighten men unto salvation (Ps. 19:1-3; Rom. 10:14-15; WCF I:1). Further, habits which occur naturally in the animal world have been forbidden to human beings (Gen. 9:4; Deut. 4:21; Lev. 7:22-25). As regards the sexual activities of animals, we find some natural occurrences which are forbidden to men. For example, dogs are known for mating with any available female (I Corinthians 6:15), and lions are known for monopolizing a large number of lionesses and excluding other lions from any activity (I Cor. 7:2).

But we rest our case upon the united and irrefutable testimony of nature that the sex act in all animal groups occurs in such a manner as to facilitate (and never obstruct) the production of offspring. No male animal uses condoms; no female or male deliberately avoids sex during ovulation, etc. This is as we should expect things, since animals are commanded by God to be fruitful and multiply. Scripture itself testifies to the undoubted testimony of nature in this regard, by pointing to the foul example of male and female homosexuals (Rom. 1:26-27). What is unnatural about these people? Not physical closeness between those of the same sex (John 12:23; I Thess. 5:26). Not non-sexual love between those of the same sex (II Sam. 1:26). What marks the most degraded sinners in Romans 1 is this: they avoid the natural function of women: procreation. And that is exactly what those who practice birth control do also.

For completeness' sake, let us make it clear that our definition of contraception means that we do not endorse any method of child limitation within the bounds of marriage. So Advocate One's slam on variations of the Rhythm method does not affect our position at all.

The Case of Onan -- Gen. 38:8-10

Advocate One says that opponents of birth control must "read into the text" in order to get the anti-birth control viewpoint. This is patently untrue. The passage is very short: Onan does only one physical act, and it is specifically stated that Onan was killed for what he did. The fact of the matter is that the anti-contraceptive view is the first one which suggests itself.

Anyone who does research into the Onan incident will soon realize that the only other passage in the Old Testament which speaks about the unusual custom of Levirate marriage is Deuteronomy 25:5-10, and that passage says that anyone who refuses to raise up seed to his brother is to be humiliated only. It is therefore logical to conclude that Onan was not killed merely for violating the Levirate, but was killed for something much worse. And what is it that differentiates Onan's case from the Deuteronomy case? Onan wasted (literally "destroyed, killed") his seed on the ground.

So step two in examining the Onan story by comparison with pertinent Scripture (the only way to study Scripture: WCF I:9; Matt. 4:5-7) again yields an anti-contraceptive view of Genesis 38.

Advocate One attempts to sidestep this logical comparison by bringing up the example of how God killed Ananias and his wife in Acts 5; he says God killed them "apart from civil restraints." This is not true: their New Testament death agrees entirely with Old Testament civil law. Ananias and Sapphira were not held guilty until they promised the whole amount to God (Acts 5:3-4, 8), in accordance with Deuteronomy 23:21-23; they were killed by the direct intervention of God in accordance with Old Testament law (Acts 5:2-3; Josh. 7:1,11; I Kings 8:31-32; Eccl. 5:4-6). Not only does Advocate One's dodge not prove his point, it further illustrates the amazing interrelatedness of Scripture.

Let us now examine some further assertions of our opponent: he asserts that he has uncovered two death penalty offenses which made Onan worthy of execution: adultery and sexual relations with a sister-in-law. Both of these assertions are untrue.

First, the death penalty crime of adultery is possible only for relations with another man's wife (Lev. 20:10); Tamar's husband Er was already dead (Gen. 38:7; Rom. 7:1-4). Further, Onan, by the assumption of Levirate duty, had thereby married Tamar (Deut. 25:5; Matt. 22:24), and how exactly do you commit adultery with your wife? (Even if he didn't marry her by this, his offense is fornication, the penalty for which is that he must marry Tamar, not death -- Deut. 22:28-29).

Second, Onan was not killed for having relations with his sister-in-law either, because the penalty for this crime is not death, but childlessness (Lev. 18:16; 20:21).

We will make one more observation. Advocate One continually attacks the anti-contraceptive interpreters of Genesis 38: 8-10 with charges that we ignore the clear teaching of the passage; we read into the text; we adopt a tenuous view; we are confused; then he tops off his description of us by saying that our method of exegesis could result in monstrosities like condemning burying things by reference to Achan's story! We have this to say in reply: the anti-contraceptive view of the Onan passage is the universal view of orthodox Christianity of the first nineteen centuries; the greatest minds of the Christian faith have interpreted it this way: Augustine, Calvin, Luther, the Bible commentary put out by the Synod of Dort, the Westminster Annotations, and a host of others (Prov. 11:14; 15:22; 24:6).

It should be apparent which view of Genesis 38:8-10 really involves confusion and reading into the text.

Trusting in God

I would not say that those who practice birth control do so simply because of lack of faith -- surveys indicate that upwards of 80% of those who use contraception do so for monetary reasons, so I would say that greed has a lot to do with it. Lack of Scriptural watchmen (Ez. 33 & 34) to warn the flock of God is another important reason; many people who speak authoritatively on sexual matters are actually familiar with nothing more than their own desires and have never studied Scripture in depth.

Our opponent in this section makes a comparison which illustrates the fact that his views have been influenced by the ungodly culture in which we live. He says that, just as we are permitted to do things to prevent starvation, thievery, diseases, car wrecks, eye injury, sunburn, and anarchy, so we are permitted to prevent the conception of covenant children and/or the horrible troubles they will bring! Is it proper to say such things and call it a Christian view? We think not.

Advocate One attempts to flip the "lack of faith" argument back upon us by accusing us of advocating irresponsible production of children by unilaterally condemning birth control. Our simple refutation is this: if God forbids us to practice birth control, then we are obligated to have as many children as God sends us. Obeying God's command is wise, no matter what happens (Matt. 7:24-26), and it is better to be righteous and poor, rather than rich and ungodly (Prov. 28:6). We know that, contrasted with the mere teachings of men, the commandments of God result in true liberation (Matt. 11:29-30; 23:4), and we are sure that such will be the case in the area of children (Ps. 127 & 128). We are ignoring the wisdom of the world -- Proverbs 3:5 says, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding." God has given us the equipment, the desire, and the command to be fruitful and multiply; it is He, according to the Scripture, who is involved in the entire process of childmaking (Job 10:10-12; Ps. 139:13; Gen. 4:1). Yes, we can trust the Lord. We can trust that he who commands us will not let us or His children starve (Matt. 7:9-11). Those who believe in the sovereignty of God emphatically believe in the vengeance of God even when it is unpopular to do so; should we not also believe that God is compassionate to believers and their children, since it, too, is affirmed in Scripture (Deut. 7:9; 13:17; Ex. 20:5; 22:26; Ps. 111:4; Lk. 1:50).

Conclusion

Advocate One has stated in his paper that the cultural mandate does indeed command Christian couples to have children. Our opponent has provided no Scriptural exceptions to Genesis 1:28, and his three additional arguments are invalid.

Thus it may be seen that contraception is not morally permissible.


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