In our first post we took a preliminary look at abortifacients, noting that hormonal contraception has the possibility of causing an abortion and is thus not an option for pro-life Christians regardless of their stance on preventing conception. We also examined some health risks associated with contraception, delaying and limiting child bearing, and neglecting nursing. Additionally we saw how contraception creates the idea of an “unintended pregnancy” and increases the likelihood of abortions taking place, as well as how contraception facilitates sexual promiscuity.
Next we saw that contraception is not a recent invention. Its use was rampant in the ancient world, and down through history pagans have used it but Christians have not because of their understanding of the blessing of children, the purpose of marriage, and the sin of onanism. And just like the state of the Church during the Babylonian exile and other times of persecution (Jer. 29:6), Christians have always understood that procreating and “raising up godly seed” (Mal. 2:15) is vital for the growth of the Church.
The Pattern of Scripture Towards Child Bearing.
Scripture assumes that children are a necessary result of marriage and that procreation is a fundamental purpose of marriage. Barrenness is seen as a disastrous thing; every instance of barrenness is in the context of weeping and despair, it is considered a great affliction and curse (except the women that Jesus refers to in Luke 23 who are thankful for being barren and also wish that the mountains would fall upon them).
“Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.” (Ps. 127:3-5).
Especially in times of trouble for the church, childbearing is important because it is the primary method of discipleship and God is pleased to extend his church through covenant families. When Israel was suffering in Egypt and Babylon, one would think that childbearing would be inconvenient and difficult, however, God’s people saw it as a means of survival. “But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew” (Ex. 1:12). “Take ye wives, and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; that ye may be increased there, and not diminished.” (Jer. 29:6).
“The Lord hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant. And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth.” (Mal. 2:14-15).
“Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.” (1 Tim. 2:15).
“I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully.” (1 Tim. 5:14).
Additionally, in 1 Cor. 7:1-16, 1 Timothy 2 and 3, Titus 1 and 2, Col. 3:18-21, Acts 21, Luke 23:28, Luke 1:7, etc. children are assumed to be a part, and a contingent result, of marriage. Thus it is clear that actively attempting to make oneself unable to conceive and bear children is altogether inconsistent with the pattern of Scripture regarding child bearing, as Dutch Reformed theologian Jacobus Koelman wrote:
“In this connection [to the marriage bed], God must in a special way be acknowledged, feared, and adored in faith. He opens the womb and closes it (Gen. 16:2; 30:22; 1 Sam. 1:5). Children, says the psalmist, are a heritage from the Lord, and the fruit of the womb is his reward (Ps. 127:3). We must therefore humbly ask the Lord that it please him to favor us with the gift of children, as Isaac and Hannah prayed (Gen. 25:11; 1 Sam. 1:12). And people must especially be on their guard against being afraid to have children, doing something to prevent having them, or to be sad if the Lord should make the marriage fruitful and bless it.” (The Duties of Parents, p. 37).
The Dominion Mandate.
Besides the general pattern of Scripture about the blessing of children, Scripture also teaches that procreation is commanded, not just for Adam and Noah in order to populate the earth, but for all mankind as a fundamental purpose and duty of marriage. As John Calvin states in his commentary on Genesis 1:28, “This blessing of God may be regarded as the source from which the human race has flowed. And we must so consider it not only with reference to the whole, but also, as they say, in every particular instance.” Contraception violates the dominion mandate to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it…“
The blessing and duty to be fruitful and multiply is stated repeatedly in Scripture. God gives it to Adam (Gen. 1), then Noah (Gen. 9), and was repeated in substance to Abraham (Gen. 17), Jacob (Gen. 28 and 35), Moses (Lev. 26), Jeremiah (chapter 23), and Ezekiel (chapter 36). It is important to note that the last reference (Ezekiel 36) is used by Jesus to refer to the New Covenant age (John 3). And in Jeremiah 23 the time period is specified as the time when “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth.” (v. 5). This demonstrates that procreation within marriage is a creation ordinance which continues until the consummation (Matt. 22:30), rather than simply a positive command given only to Adam and Noah at times when the earth’s population was low. It continues to be the norm for married couples and humanity as a whole.
Procreation: a Fundamental Purpose and Duty of Marriage.
Biblically and legally, procreation has always been understood to be a fundamental purpose and duty of marriage. The Westminster Confession of Faith emphasizes the fundamental role of procreation (among other things) when it states that “Marriage was ordained for the mutual help of husband and wife; for the increase of mankind with a legitimate issue, and of the Church with an holy seed; and for preventing of uncleanness.” (24:2). The Westminster Larger Catechism similarly states that marriage, conjugal love, and cohabitation is a duty of the 7th commandment for those that don’t have the gift of continency (Gen. 1:28; 1 Cor. 7:2, 9; Prov. 5:19-20; 1 Pet. 3:7; Prov. 31:11, 27-28). (Q. 138)
Also, the Westminster Annotations and Commentary on the Whole Bible states that the increase of children “is the principle use of the conjugal estate” (at Gen. 38:9). The Book of Common Prayer refers to “the procreation of children and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord” (as well as “mutual joy, help, and comfort” between the spouses) as one of the main “purposes for which it was instituted by God.” Westminster Divine William Gouge repeatedly spoke of the procreation of children as “one main end of marriage” and “the duty of due benevolence” (i.e. conjugal relations), one purpose of which is “for increasing the world with a legitimate brood” in his work Of Domesticall Duties. John Calvin comments regarding procreation from Genesis 1:28 “that pure and lawful method of increase, which God ordained from the beginning, remains firm; this is that law of nature which common sense declares to be inviolable” (p. 98). Arthur Pink lived in a time when the universal and historic understanding of contraception was transitioning so he had this to say:
“Now it is clear that marriage must have particular reasons for the appointment of it. Three are given in Scripture. First, for the propagation of children. This is its obvious and normal purpose: ‘So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him: male and female created He them’ (Gen. 1:27)—not both males or both females, but one male and one female; and to make the design of this unmistakably plain God said, ‘Be fruitful and multiply.’ For this reason marriage is called ‘matrimony,’ which signifies motherage, because it results in virgins becoming mothers. Therefore it is desirable that marriage be entered into at an early age, before the prime of life be passed: twice in Scripture we read of ‘the wife of thy youth’ (Prov. 5:18; Mal. 2:15). We have pointed out that the propagation of children is the ‘normal’ end of marriage… We do not believe in what is termed ‘birth control…'”
AW Pink (1886-1952), comment on 13:4 in An Exposition of Hebrews
Martin Luther stated that “the purpose of marriage is not pleasure and ease but the procreation and education of children and the support of a family…. People who do not like children are swine, dunces, and blockheads, not worthy to be called men and women, because they despise the blessing of God, the Creator and Author of marriage” (Christian History, Issue 39, p. 24). John Locke and William Blackstone referred to procreation as the “chief end” of the institution of marriage (Justice Roberts, Obergefell v. Hodges, dissenting, p. 6), and even up to modern times secular legal experts have admitted that procreation is a foundational purpose of marriage and that severing this connection has resulted in logical and cultural precedent for sodomite marriages, “If this traditional understanding of the purpose of marriage does not ring true to all ears today, that is probably because the tie between marriage and procreation has frayed” (Justice Alito, Obergefell v. Hodges, dissenting, p. 4). Lastly, Alan Keyes in his debate with Barack Obama for the Illinois Senate makes an argument along these lines that was flabbergasting to the moderator and audience here.
Many more can be cited but this is sufficient to demonstrate that procreation is a fundamental purpose of marriage and is rooted in the created order. In the last two posts of this series we will examine how contraceptive acts (i.e. hormonal, barriers, coitus interruptus, etc.) are sinful because they act against the nature of marriage and sex (not that the possibility is absent, but acted against). And we will distinguish these acts from others such as the rhythm method, or Natural Family Planning (NFP), which is not sinful in finis operis (the end of the act) but if used to prevent conception it is sinful in finis operantis (the end of the actor). cf. Reformed Scholasticism: Distinguishing Ends.
Does this mean that elderly people beyond child bearing years cannot get married or that barrenness nullifies a marriage? We will answer this objection in our next post and we will consider the finis operis (the end of the act) and the finis operantis (the end of the actor) regarding acts that are sinful as well as lawful intentions that Scripture gives for husband and wife temporarily abstaining from sexual relations, none of which are for the purpose of preventing conception.