It is a well documented fact that prior to the 1930s, contraception was generally condemned by all the major branches of Christianity (Protestant, Roman Catholic and Orthodox), including by major reformers like Luther and Calvin. For example, here is what John Calvin wrote concerning the issue:
"It is a horrible thing to pour out seed besides the intercourse of man and woman. Deliberately avoiding the intercourse, so that the seed drops on the ground, is double horrible. For this means that one quenches the hope of his family and kills the son, which could be expected, before he is born. This wickedness is now as severely as is possible condemned by the Spirit, through Moses, that Onan, as it were, through a violent and untimely birth, tore away the seed of his brother out the womb, and as cruel as shamefully has thrown on the earth. Moreover he thus has, as much as was in his power, tried to destroy a part of the human race. When a woman in some way drives away the seed out the womb, through aids, then this is rightly seen as an unforgivable crime. Onan was guilty of a similar crime" (Calvin's Commentary on Genesis, vol. 2, part 16).”
The Comstock Law, passed in 19th century America to combat a modern Western ‘sexual liberation’ movement then in its incipiency, reflects the historic perspective of Christendom:
“Be it enacted... That whoever, within the District of Columbia or any of the Territories of the United States...shall sell...or shall offer to sell, or to lend, or to give away, or in any manner to exhibit, or shall otherwise publish or offer to publish in any manner, or shall have in his possession, for any such purpose or purposes, an obscene book, pamphlet, paper, writing, advertisement, circular, print, picture, drawing or other representation, figure, or image on or of paper of other material, or any cast instrument, or other article of an immoral nature, or any drug or medicine, or any article whatever, for the prevention of conception, or for causing unlawful abortion, or shall advertise the same for sale, or shall write or print, or cause to be written or printed, any card, circular, book, pamphlet, advertisement, or notice of any kind, stating when, where, how, or of whom, or by what means, any of the articles in this section…can be purchased or obtained, or shall manufacture, draw, or print, or in any wise make any of such articles, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and on conviction thereof in any court of the United States...he shall be imprisoned at hard labor in the penitentiary for not less than six months nor more than five years for each offense, or fined not less than one hundred dollars nor more than two thousand dollars, with costs of court.”
http://www.reformed.org/webfiles/antithesis/v1n4/ant_v1n4_issue2.html presents in outline form what scripture teaches on this topic:
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."
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).
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.
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!
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).
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.
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).
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.
PROVAN, CHARLES D.
The Bible and Birth Control
"...we have found not one orthodox theologian to defend Birth Control before the 1900's NOT ONE! On the other hand, we have found that many highly regarded Protestant theologians were enthusiastically opposed to it, all the way back to the very beginning of the Reformation ...those in favor of Birth Control will find no one in the orthodox Protestant camp for the first four centuries to ally themselves with. (Provan, p. 63)
Westminster Annotations (1657); Calvinist
Commentary on Gen. 38.9 (by John Ley of the Westminster Assembly) - "...in that there is a seminal vital virtue, which perishes if the seed be spilled; and by doing this to hinder the begetting of a living child, is the first degree of murder that can be committed, and the next unto it is the marring of conception, when it is made, and causing of abortion: now such acts are noted in the scripture as horrible crimes, because, otherwise many might commit them, and not know the evil of them: it is conceived, that his brother Er before, was his brother in evil thus far, that both of them satisfied their sensuality against the order of nature, and therefore the Lord cut them off both alike with sudden vengeance; which may be for terror to those Popish Onanites who condemn marriage, and live in sodomitical impurity, and to those who, in marriage, care not for the increase of children, (which is the principle use of the conjugal estate) but for the satisfying of their concupiscence."
- The Westminster Annotations are available at: http://www.swrb.com/catalog/W.htm
This issue is very much in view in this question and answer from the Westminster Larger Catechism:
Q. 136. What are the sins forbidden in the sixth commandment?
A. The sins forbidden in the sixth commandment are, all taking away the life of ourselves, or of others, except in case of public justice, lawful war, or necessary defence; the neglecting or withdrawing the lawful and necessary means of preservation of life; sinful anger, hatred, envy, desire of revenge; all excessive passions, distracting cares; immoderate use of meat, drink, labor, and recreations; provoking words, oppression, quarreling, striking, wounding, and whatsoever else tends to the destruction of the life of any.
All churches which adhere to the Westminster Standards in the sense they were originally adopted by the Church of Scotland in the 1640s, such as the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, are morally bound by those standards, as well as by scripture, to uphold the historic position of Christendom on this matter of contraception. It is the morally proper position.
A FURTHER NOTE: I posted the following in a discussion on this topic on the rfw email list-
Re: [r-f-w] Quotation re. contraception
Thank you, Rev Bancroft, for responding on this issue.
Ř Matthew Poole on Genesis 38:9. I have already written previous to this endorsing the Matthew Poole interpretation.
I am glad to see this.
Chris, it looks like your interpretation of scripture concerning contraception is contrary to that of Rev Bancroft, Rev Winzer, Matthew Poole, Martin Luther, John Calvin and virtually every pre-20th century Christian theologian. But your interpretation wins the prize for novelty and modern popularity.
> Church of England or the Church of Scotland in the 1650s
I am glad you bring them up, Rev Bancroft, because there is abundant historical evidence neither body would have tolerated the commercial sale or use of contraceptive devices like condoms for the purpose of contraception, viewing such contraception as sinfully tending “to the destruction of the life”.
given minister, elder, or member, from a human standpoint, may certainly hold
> that contraception or spilling of the seed is a violation of the 6th Commandment; but it is a forced interpretation to require that the same be the interpretation of the Larger Catechism QA 136 ("and whatsoever else tends to the
> destruction of the life of any.").
Rev Bancroft, when I assert that contraception is contrary to the implication of the principle laid out in Larger Catechism QA 136, I am not equating it with the stated principle, any more than Christ *equated* adultery and looking at a non-spousal woman so as to lust after her (Matthew 5:28). Rather, I am stating that one implication of the stated principle is that contraception is wrong, similar to the way the prohibition on adultery has implications on what we do with our eyes regarding women. It is the position of scripture, and was the position of the Reformers, that contraception sinfully tended to the destruction of life. Hence, prohibition of contraception is an implication of the stated general principle that “whatsoever tends to the destruction of the life of any” is wrong. But that is certainly not the only implication of the principle. For instance, another implication is that willfully killing a human fetus is wrong.
The Catechism lays out principles, but does not elaborate every implication. The Reformers certainly had this in mind when they included these words in Larger Catechism QA 136 : “and whatsoever else”. They realized they could not enumerate every conceivable implication concerning destruction of life. Nevertheless, the implications logically come with the principles. See WCF chapter 1, paragraph VI.
I would also point out your acknowledgement that scripture teaches prohibition of contraception (like by use of condoms), even though there is no express statement in scripture to that effect. Why is that? Because it is an implication of the principles stated or implied in scripture. For that same reason, and consistent with that same logic, it is correct to assert that the Westminster Standards teach prohibition of contraception (like by use of condoms), even though there is no express statement in the Westminster Standards to that effect. There is sufficient evidence, as there is with scripture, that it is an implication of the principles laid out there.
This also recalls a previous list discussion concerning the issue of Sabbath public transport as it relates to the Westminster Standards, addressing the way the FPCS dealt with an implication of the Sabbath command (see http://www.puritans.net/news/sabbathpublictransport042605.htm ). The FPCS is constitutionally committed to uphold the doctrines of the Westminster Standards, **including their implications**, in the sense those standards were originally adopted by the Church of Scotland.
Chris, are you seeking to be
willfully ignorant of what the Reformers wrote and
felt on this matter? They believed and felt that contraception did tend "to
the destruction of the life of any". John Calvin's view is *representative*:
"It is a horrible thing to pour out seed besides the intercourse of man and
woman. Deliberately avoiding the intercourse, so that the seed drops on the
ground, is double horrible. For this means that one quenches the hope of his
family and kills the son, which could be expected, before he is born. This
wickedness is now as severely as is possible condemned by the Spirit, through
Moses, that Onan, as it were, through a violent and untimely birth, tore away
the seed of his brother out the womb, and as cruel as shamefully has thrown on
the earth. Moreover he thus has, as much as was in his power, tried to destroy
a part of the human race. When a woman in some way drives away the seed out the
womb, through aids, then this is rightly seen as an unforgivable crime. Onan
was guilty of a similar crime" (Calvin's Commentary on Genesis, vol. 2, part
By "spilling the seed" through condom use one is *purposefully* preventing what
could have resulted in a human life. And they rightly regarded this as tending
towards the destruction of life.
Your argument about the natural loss of sperm reminds me of the warped logic of
Dr Donald Macleod, the principal and professor of Systematic Theology in the
Free Church College, who expressed in satire the following:
"For the "abortion doctors" we would need gallows, since they are "murderers"
(a concept slightly befogged by the fact that God Himself permits 50 per cent
of pregnancies to abort spontaneously. Why is the Christian Right doing so
little to end this "natural" Slaughter of the Innocents?..."
(see the article at http://www.puritans.net/news/fcs051805.htm )
Neither the natural loss of sperm nor spontaneous abortion justify human
contraception or abortion, contrary to the arguments of you and Dr MacLeod. It
is like justifying murder on the grounds that God decrees it, given God decrees
everything. We are not God, either in power, knowledge or intent. For
example, we cannot raise life back to life. And God can mean for good what men
mean for ill. So your arguments from nature are groundless.
You ask: "believe that life begins at this conception, at the joining of sperm
and egg, and not way back prior to that conception at the point of
ejaculation....is this what you really believe?"
My response: Chris, I believe murder "begins" with unjustified anger, and
adultery "begins" with looking at a non-spousal woman so as to lust after her.
Analogously, I believe murderous abortion "begins" with contraception. No, not
in the literal sense, but in the rational sense. When human reason is in the
mode of wanting to have sex without having children, it issues in legalized
contraception and eventually legalized abortion. It was not mere historical
accident that revocation of the Comstock Law gave way to legalized abortion.
Again, people want sex without children. But God says, NO!
Such sex is profane.
- Parnell McCarter
Attender, ARC of GR
Seek member in FPCS
> In a message dated 11/21/2005 8:28:53 AM Eastern Standard Time,
> firstname.lastname@example.org writes:
> "Hence, prohibition of contraception is an implication of the stated general
> principle that â€śwhatsoever tends to the destruction of the life of anyâ€ť
> Due to this post above and your recent posts, understanding your actual view
> is quite challenging, regardless of agreement or disagreement.
> I asked this in another post to you and did not receive a reply, and your
> above statement brings this to mind again.
> Even with out contraception, quite a bit of semen is wasted through natural
> processes, in re-absorption into the body, and spilled in urine and in
> nocturnal emissions. We even watch out for false/positives of microhematuria
> urinalysis urine dipsticks which are used for normal evaluation of the
> of blood in the bladder, as these false positives are sometimes caused by
> the natural presence of expelled semen in urine that sometimes occurs.
> Save for medieval times and the Preformationsts (whether they were
> "spermists" or "ovists") and the concept of the homunculus, when such folk
> claimed that the sperm (or the egg, if one were an "ovist") was in fact a
> whole "little man," a homunculus, that was placed inside a woman for growth
> a child, I know of no one who views such individual preconception semen,
> those which fail for whatever reason to make it into a fertile womb, as a
> destroyed life.
> For your view to make any sense to me, a sperm would have to be regarded in
> medieval terms, as a complete, intact, human life, as a homunculus. If this
> were the case, then roughly 300 Million lives are lost in every ejaculation,
> regardless of whether an eventual conception takes place or not. Still more
> are lost trough urination and nocturnal emissions. Most Protestants I know,
> understanding the reality of a sperm having 23 chromosomes and needing an
> with itâ€™s 23 chromosomes to join and make 46 chromosomes and thus have a
> fertile conception, believe that life begins at this conception, at the
> joining of
> sperm and egg, and not way back prior to that conception at the point of
> ejaculation....is this what you really believe? That non abortive barrier
> contraception destroys life because of the medieval homunculus view of
> Christopher Coombes
> Lynchburg Reformed Presbyterian Fellowship,
> Lynchburg, VA
> Member, Triangle RPC