The Natural Family Planning
Information Site

A Biblical View

There are two documents on the site under this heading:

  1. Stan Martin's "Contraception - Why Not"
  2. David Aldred's "Scripture, Sex and Family Planning"

Birth control has been debated among Christians for centuries; until the early 1900s there was a more or less universal rejection of artificial contraception. Societal changes in the 20th century led to breaks with this tradition in some churches; the Roman Catholic Church remains opposed to artificial contraception but accepts natural means of family planning. Some other Christian groups also continue to reject artificial contraception, with varying stances on natural methods.

For Christians, the Bible is an important - in some traditions the only important - source of teaching. This section of the NFP Information Site examines the Biblical background to a Chrstian rejection of contraception.

Contraception - Why Not?

A recently-married person who had visited the Couple To Couple League for Natural Family Planning's Web site sent me this question. In order to answer him, I attempted to summarize Christian reasoning about contraception. I hope that you may find this summary helpful as a starting point for your own consideration of this important issue.

Stan Martin
stan.martin@acm.org
January 6, 1997

"And one other thing: though I've heard it before, I don't understand the moral dilemma of contraception. And after glancing through all your pages, I couldn't find that anywhere. Could you explain to me what the moral problem is?"

This is a big question. I'll try to do it justice in a brief space but understand that there are whole books on the subject. If what you see here seems of interest, I could send you some of those pamphlets, or recommend some books, if you want more detail.

First, I will offer a strictly Biblical perspective. (All quotations are from the Revised Standard Version). Then I'll offer the natural law view. Finally, I'll offer some information from a pro-life perspective.

The Bible and Birth Control

The book of Genesis is the primary reference for the prohibition on contraception. The basis for marriage is given in Genesis, "male and female he created them"(1:27)..."and they become one flesh" (2:24). The first institution mentioned in the Bible is the family. The first commandment of God to man is "Be fruitful and multiply"(1:28). So we know that in God's intention for Man, before the Fall, men and women were meant to be paired and become "one flesh", in order to fulfil the commandment in 1:28. The original intent was monogamous, lifetime union.

But in Genesis 38, we find the story of Tamar and Onan. Tamar was married to Er, but Er died before they had any children. Following a custom called the "Law of the Levirate", Er's brother Onan is commanded by Judah (their father) to have intercourse with Tamar.

38:8  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".
38:9  But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so when he went in to his brother's wife he spilled the semen on the ground, lest he should give offspring to his brother.
38:10  And what he did was displeasing in the sight of the LORD, and he slew him also.

Several things about this passage are significant. The Law of the Levirate was a mechanism for preserving and perpetuating a family line. But the penalty for not following it was not serious; if a brother refused to perform his duty, the offended sister-in-law could publicly strike him on the face with his sandal, and henceforth he would be surnamed "The Unshod". The death penalty was not involved. But 38:10 informs us that God considered this incident more than a mere refusal of duty; it was such a serious offence that He slew Onan.

For 19 centuries, until 1930 in fact, Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox commentators were in unanimous agreement on their interpretation of this passage: Onan attempted to have the pleasure of intercourse, but defrauded it of its procreative meaning by withdrawing. That this was a violation of the earlier commandments in Genesis was underscored by the magnitude of the divine penalty - God apparently took this very seriously!

The conclusion of Christians (and Orthodox Jews) was applied to all similar forms of sexual behaviour: masturbation, homosexual acts, bestiality, etc.; as well as to chemical and pharmacological attempts to thwart conception [which have been attempted throughout history; the 20th century is unique only in the effectiveness and acceptance of such methods]. Protestant leaders such as Luther and Calvin soundly condemned what we would today call "contraceptive behaviours". Calvin said "If any woman ejects a foetus from her womb by drugs, it is reckoned a crime incapable of expiation."[1] Interestingly enough, in the USA it was the legal process of overturning nineteenth-century Protestant anti-contraceptive laws (Griswold v. Connecticut, 1965) that gave rise to the "right to privacy" argument, later used with deadly effectiveness in Roe v. Wade.

Notice also that Genesis 38 precedes the establishment of the Mosaic Law; Christians understand themselves to be freed from the specifications of the Mosaic Law, but not from other OT morality. So this section of Scripture "still applies" in most interpretations.

An approach to the theology behind this is the "covenantal" interpretation, advanced most thoroughly by John Kippley in his book Sex and the Marriage Covenant. Basically, the idea is that God established a covenant relationship in marriage. The Old Testament Hebrew notion of covenant is actually stronger than the idea of "contract" which we typically equate it with today. To the Jews, a covenant is a promise that establishes a family bond. And all covenants have some act by which they are instituted and re-enacted; usually one at which blood is spilled. Biblical examples would be circumcision and the Passover, as well as Jesus' death on the cross.

Kippley points out that marriage is the first covenant in the Bible; the covenantal act is the act of intercourse, which (in the first instance with a virgin) spills blood with the breaking of the hymen. Therefore, every sexual act is intended by God to be a renewing of the marital covenant, the pledge of total self giving that was made by bride and groom in their vows. However, contraceptive intercourse is a restraining of that self-giving; in effect, it says "I take you for the 'better' of sexual pleasure but not for the (imagined) 'worse' of an additional child". So it defrauds the covenantal renewal of its meaning and is therefore outside of God's will. Incidentally, this interpretation provides a framework for comprehending all Biblical sexual morality; you can probably see that it extends to fornication, masturbation, homosexual acts, and adultery.


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Natural Law and Birth Control

A philosophical, as opposed to strictly theological, approach is the "natural law" view. This philosophy was widely taught and advanced from the 14th century until our own; only in recent decades has it tended to be dismissed - largely because it conflicts with modern relativism. Simply put, each action or object in the world has been imbued with a certain inherent nature. Anything which tends against that nature is improper. The sexual act clearly has two purposes: the first is for the procreation of offspring; the second is for the bonding of mates. These two functions naturally happen together. But, contraception elevates the second function and eliminates the first function. (This is a very simple view of natural law argument) This was one of the arguments advanced in the papal encyclical Humanae Vitae (On Human Life). You may have heard the terms "procreative aspects" and "unitive aspects" [of intercourse].

If you haven't read Humanae Vitae, I recommend it. Even if you aren't Catholic, it is still valuable for its discussion of natural law arguments, as well as theological ones, and it now (27 years later) appears prophetic in the discussion of the effects of widespread contraception upon society. It isn't long, maybe 10 letter-size pages.

Pro-Life and Birth Control:

Finally, from a pro-life perspective, we can examine the connection which exists between contraception and abortion. Lest you doubt that there is such a connection, read the Supreme Court majority decision in "Casey vs. Planned Parenthood", where they state that abortion must remain an option because it has been widely depended upon as a backup for contraceptive "failures" for twenty years. But I will speak primarily here about literal connections rather than psychological ones.

The birth-control pill ("The Pill") is widely understood by the medical profession (but not by the general public) to have an abortifacient mechanism. The Pill basically has three mechanisms for preventing births:

  1. suppressing ovulation.
  2. thickening cervical mucus, thus preventing sperm migration and reducing sperm life.
  3. altering the uterine lining (endometrium) to prevent implantation of the embryo.

Of these three, only the first two are actually "contraceptive"; that is, acting to prevent conception. The third acts only if the first two fail; it prevents the new life from implanting in the uterus. Therefore, it is truly abortifacient. Early studies of the older, high-oestrogen Pills indicated that (3) could be operating in as many as 15% of the woman's cycles. However, the high-oestrogen Pills are rarely used because of their side-effects. Most modern Pill formulations rely primarily (or exclusively) upon progesterone. It is progesterone that provides the (3) mechanism; modern formulations are understood to more frequently fail to suppress ovulation

In fact, the existence of mechanism (3) was cited at Congressional hearings regarding the importation of RU-486; supporters of RU-486 argued that if Congress was consistent in their logic (for excluding RU-486) that they would have to ban the birth control pill as well. Since the Pill was legal, they argued, RU-486 should similarly be legal.

  • Norplant is also a progesterone-only formulation.
  • The IUD also acts to prevent implantation; it has no known effect upon ovulation.

For an exhaustive and compelling discussion of this issue, see "Does The Birth Control Pill Cause Abortions?", an article written by a Protestant minister about his attempt to answer this important question. Pharmacists For Life also has exhaustive documentation for every formulation of chemical contraceptive currently on the U.S. market. According to their estimates, the largest cause of abortions worldwide, the Pill and its chemical cousins, are causing anywhere from 8 to 13 million abortions per year in the U.S. alone[2] through their mechanisms which prevent implantation of the newly-conceived embryo[3].


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epilogue

My wife, Cindy, was on the Pill for the first five years of our marriage. Besides experiencing a number of health problems which we now realize were probably pill-related, I estimate (conservatively) that we unknowingly aborted two babies during that time. If anyone had suggested to us that the Pill worked in any way besides suppressing ovulation, we would not have used it - neither of us was comfortable with the thought of abortion - but it was never mentioned. As it was, our primary concern was with health effects.

+----------------------------------------------------------------------+
|Stan Martin, P.E.  (stan.martin@acm.org)(972) 575-5990                |
|======================================================================|
| Software Systems Engineer: Raytheon Systems Company                  |
| Certified Teacher (#982):  The Couple-To-Couple League, International|
| Disclaimer:  The views expressed here are mine; not anybody else's.  |
|      Unless I say they are.  Take that, legal demons from Heck!      |
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Footnotes

[1] Calvin's Latin Commentary On Genesis (38:10), as quoted on p-25, The Bible and Birth Control, Charles D. Provan, Zimmer Printing, Monongahela, PA 1989. Note that the online version is a slightly different translation from that quoted by Provan. Return to Text

[2] Dr. Bogamir M. Kuhar, Pharm. D. (president of Pharmacists For Life), Infant Homocides Through Contraceptives, Eternal Life, P.O. Box 787, Bardstown, KY 40004. Return to Text

[3] There are numerous sources of information on the abortifacient properties of the Birth Control Pill, Norplant, and other chemical/hormonal contraceptive devices; such properties have been disclosed in various public references including Congressional hearings. For medical detail, in addition to reference [2], refer to a current Physician's Desk Reference. See also p-9, Kippley, John. The Art Of Natural Family Planning, fourth ed., The Couple-To-Couple League, Cincinnati, OH. 1996. ISBN 0-926412-13-2 Return to Text