Birth Control: Relevant Quotes From Scripture

My latest column at Amazing Catechists is entitled “Birth Control: Relevant Quotes From Scripture.”

Many Christians (and some Catholics) attempt to cite Scripture to justify their use of artificial contraception saying that the Bible has nothing to say on this topic. I agree that nowhere in the Bible are the actual words “birth control” (since this term was first coined by Margaret Sanger in 1914). However, Scripture does have a lot to say in support of the 2000-year Catholic teaching which states that the use of contraception and non-life-giving behaviors is immoral. Fertility and children are always seen as a blessing.

Genesis 1:27-28: “And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. And God blessed them; and God said to them, Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Psalm 127:3-5:
“Behold, children are a gift of the Lord; the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children on one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them; they shall not be ashamed, when they speak with their enemies in the gate.”

Even from the moment of conception, children are seen as a gift from the Lord:

Psalm 139:13-14: “For You created my innermost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”

Isaiah 49:1,5: “Before I was born the Lord called me…and now the Lord says, He who formed me in the womb to be His servant…”

Barrenness is seen a curse:

Hosea 9:10-17: “And they became as detestable as that which they loved. As for Ephraim, their glory will fly away like a bird…No birth, no pregnancy and no conception!”

Exodus 23:25-26: “But you shall serve the LORD your God, and He will bless your bread and your water; and I will remove sickness from your midst. There shall be no one miscarrying or barren in your land; I will fulfill the number of your days.”

Deuteronomy 7:13-14: “He will love you and bless you and multiply you; He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, your grain and your new wine and your oil, the increase of your herd and the young of your flock, in the land which He swore to your forefathers to give you. You shall be blessed above all peoples; there will be no male or female barren among you or among your cattle.”

The clearest indication that birth control and non-life-giving behaviors are immoral is the following passage about Onan, whose brother, Er, had died before he was able to father a child. Onan was being asked to follow the Levirate Law, which commanded him to have intercourse with his brother’s widow.

Genesis 38: 8-10: “Then Judah said to Onan, Go in to your brother’s wife, and perform your duty as a brother-in-law to her, and raise up offspring for your brother. Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so when he went in to his brother’s wife, he wasted his seed on the ground in order not to give offspring to his brother. But what he did was displeasing in the sight of the Lord; so He took his life also.”

The Levirate Law was in place in order to preserve the family line. If a man refused to perform his duty, his sister-in-law could strike him in the face with his sandal. The death penalty was never involved. God considered this incident more than a refusal of duty. It was such a serious offense that He killed Onan.

The following excellent article by Fr. William Saunders is an extensive list of the contraceptive references in the Bible:

http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/religion/re0663.html

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3 thoughts on “Birth Control: Relevant Quotes From Scripture

  1. Hello, I stumbled here by wandering the halls of WordPress, and could not stop myself from responding to your post.

    First and foremost, none of your examples say explicitly anything about the immorality of contraception, they suggest that making babies is wonderful (without any indication of the morality of it), but they do not suggest that not having babies is immoral (would not chastity fall into that category of immorality?).

    The issue with using the scriptures to prove anything is that they have become largely understood to be symbolic, their importance to society is that they are interpretable, their meaning is malleable (which can be both useful and dangerous). If they were to be taken as is, you would have to admit that every sentence uttered in your holy book is meant to be taken perfectly literally, and you wouldn’t do that, would you? So instead, everyone has their own interpretations of what their holy book means to them, and how can you say that your interpretation is the right one? Is that not immoral in and of itself? Your interpretation is right for you, because you are leading the words toward your own agenda (ie, to fit your belief system). It is wrong of you and anyone else in the world (including your priests) to pretend to have the authority and understanding to unearth the *truth* behind the words.

    Additionally, don’t you think children were seen as a gift when these words were written for reasons specific to the ancient days in which they were written, and that perhaps they are specific to the health of the religious society itself?

    Consider religion as an organism subject to natural selection, striving to stay alive in an ecosystem thriving with other competing religions. What’s the number one way to ensure you are strong and healthy? Write rules for your followers which will help them stay healthy, which keep them from in-fighting, and which promote reproduction (to grow the religion itself). These rules are taught in the stories of holy books from ages long past, and may not be relevant today, so what do we do? We reinterpret them to make them relevant to our *present* understanding of the universe, to make them fit into our lives the way we *need* them to. A person of faith is always trying to integrate their faith (what they have been told to believe by their elders) with what they see and experience in the real world. Would you literally stone a person to death? Would you lay with your dead sister’s husband and bare his children out of moral duty?

    In your last example, where Onan ejaculates on the floor instead of into his dead brother’s wife, you suggest he kills himself because the lord thinks it disgraceful (immoral) to waste his seed, but is that not just his own interpretation of what the lord thinks? The lord does not kill him for wasting his seed, he kills himself. Sperm have a life-span, they don’t live indefinitely inside the male body, do you consider the average male morally responsible to use their sperm before they die, if they fail to do so, is that immoral and should they kill themselves for it? Do you also consider your monthly period to be immoral, for you are wasting your egg? Isn’t chastity then immoral? Should you not strive to grow pregnant every time an egg is available?

    It seems to me that if you are against contraception you must then also be against chastity, for they could both be similarly construed to waste the sources of life and go against the bible’s request that we be fruitful and multiply.

    I would suggest morality plays little part in the act of ejaculating or menstruating, and that contraception and chastity are perfectly moral. I hope you are not offended by my perspective, for it is simply my perspective; but I also hope that maybe you will consider what I say, and think critically about your beliefs.

  2. Thank so you much for your comments, Casey. You had a lot to say and a lot of questions, some of which I realize were rhetorical, but I would like to try to respond to as many of your comments and questions as I am able to. That being said, I am a busy homeschooling mother, with lots to do, and I won’t be able to be part of a long back and forth debate. However, I did want to make sure that I responded to your initial comments.

    My article was by no means an attempt to prove that Scripture states categorically that contraception is immoral, just that Scripture has a lot to say on the subject. Here’s what I actually said: “Scripture does have a lot to say in support of the 2000-year Catholic teaching which states that the use of contraception and non-life-giving behaviors is immoral.” I said “in support” of the Church’s teachings, not proves.

    I have never believed that Scripture proves everything. As a Catholic, I believe that within Catholic teaching, we have available to us these three things: Scripture, Tradition (the oral teachings of Christ) and the Magisterium or teaching authority of the Church. Anyone can twist Scripture passages to “prove” just about anything and they can also use Scripture to justify what is immoral. God loves us so much that He didn’t leave our ‘holy book’ open to interpretation. He promised to safeguard it, and He has, through our Magisterium.

    You said, “It is wrong of you and anyone else in the world (including your priests) to pretend to have the authority and understanding to unearth the *truth* behind the words.” I don’t pretend to have any authority. I believe that the Catholic Church has the authority. BTW, Catholic means universal and I believe these truths are universal to all.

    I don’t, however, believe in “forcing” someone to believe a certain thing. You were given the gift of free will and can choose to believe anything you’d like and to do anything you’d like. The question is: are you choosing to do something which is wrong, and which you are trying to justify is right?

    You said, “Additionally, don’t you think children were seen as a gift when these words were written for reasons specific to the ancient days in which they were written, and that perhaps they are specific to the health of the religious society itself?” Children were and still are a great gift. It is our society which has diminished this by accepting contraception and abortion. Most couples nowadays see nothing wrong with contraception because society has accepted it. Also, there is a direct link between contraception and abortion. Even within contraceptive methods, there are some which act as early abortions.

    By the way, just for your knowledge, up until 1930, every single Christian Church agreed that any sort of contraceptive behavior was wrong (and many, like Luther and Calvin, called these behaviors evil).

    Secondly, you misunderstood the Onan quote, and I can understand why, since I didn’t quote the entire passage. When I capitalized He, it means God. God slew Onan for “spilling his seed.” Onan did not kill himself. What Onan did was selfish and he misused God’s gift of sexuality so God killed him. Here’s the quote: “But what he did was displeasing in the sight of the Lord; so He took his life also.” Sorry for the misunderstanding.

    Your suggestion that morality plays little part in the act of ejaculating is quite astonishing, in my opinion. Within the “art” of ejaculating is the potential to create a new human life. I find it hard to believe you see that morality has little or no part in that. We all exist because our parents came together (hopefully in love). Ejaculation had a big part in our conceptions (or we wouldn’t be here.) So I respectfully disagree that morality plays little part in that act.

    Chastity is not immoral, on the contrary. It is a virtue. What happens in the course of a nocturnal emission is a natural occurrence and it is the male’s body getting ready to produce more ejaculate. It is not immoral and it is not a mis-use of sexuality. However, a man having intercourse with his wife and then purposefully pulling out and “spilling his seed,” is immoral. This is not a natural act. This is an act of selfishness, an act which says, “I want the pleasure of sex but none of the responsibility.”

    The gifts of sexuality and fertility are exactly that, gifts which should not be misused. In a nutshell, the Catholic Church’s teachings on this topic are not only based on Scripture, but are also based on the 2000 year tradition of Church teaching, as well as natural law.

    It is also hard within the context of a reply here on my blog to try to explain the entire Catholic Church teaching to you. This is something that both my husband and I have studied for many years. I have written extensively on this topic for numerous magazines and websites. Like you, I enjoy fiction and writing fiction. As you may have seen here, I have written two novels which promote the Church’s teachings on marriage.

    For a more extensive explanation about the Catholic Church’s beautiful teaching, please check out the link I included, which is an excellent article written by a priest: http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/religion/re0663.html

    You say, “I hope you are not offended by my perspective, for it is simply my perspective; I also hope that maybe you will consider what I say, and think critically about your beliefs.”

    BTW, I am not at all offended with your response. I appreciate the friendly dialogue. Your philosophies and rhetorical questions are not new to me. I have been involved in some pretty intense debates on this topic, debates involving friends, relatives and others. I have thought critically about my beliefs, and I have no doubt in my mind that the Catholic Church is unequivocally right on this one.

    God bless you…

  3. Children truly are a blessing and a gift, each and every one of them unique and unrepeatable. When a couple chooses to use artificial birth control they are withholding an important part of the very fundamental gift of their love from each other, that which is free, total, faithful, and fruitful, an image of God’s love.

    Chastity within marriage requires a great deal of willpower and strength of character, especially when a woman is fertile and a couple prayerfully decides to refrain from relations at this time. However, if a person is unable to stop himself from responding to a blogpost, it is entirely conceivable that he may not understand how someone else might exercise restraint and self-control in other areas of life.

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