The Sin of Contraception (Birth Control) is Murder
by Stuart DiNenno
In the Bible, having many children is counted a great blessing (Psa. 127:3-5, 128:3-4) and there is no question that God has commanded his people to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28, 9:1, 9:7). Therefore, it would seem that, even if the Bible did not speak particularly regarding the use of contraception (or birth control), it must follow that it is sinful, not only because it is the rejecting of God’s blessing, but also because it is a direct violation of God’s commandment. However, just in case these things are not enough to convince some, let it be understood that there is no need for any doubt about this matter because the fact is that God has spoken to His people particularly about the practice of contraception, as we shall see.
The purpose of this document is to closely examine the one biblical example of the use of birth control, in order that we might gain a better understanding of the gravity of this sin which is so prevalent today, not only in the world in general but no less so among the innumerable sects of professing Christians. This one example is recorded in Gen. 38:8-10 and it is an example of what would today be called “the withdrawal method.”
“And Judah said unto Onan, Go in unto thy brother’s wife, and marry her, and raise up seed to thy brother. And Onan knew that the seed should not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in unto his brother’s wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest that he should give seed to his brother. And the thing which he did displeased the LORD: wherefore he slew him also.” (Gen. 38:8-10)
It is obvious that God considered Onan to have committed an act worthy of death. In order that we might learn from this frightening example of God’s wrath, and avoid that same wrath, it behooves us to determine exactly what was the nature of Onan’s sin, and thereby understand why it brought such swift and horrendous punishment upon him. Let us consider all of the possibilities.
Some say that Onan was killed because he disobeyed God’s command to “raise up seed” (conceive children) for his deceased brother. But there are two points which should be considered in regard to this position: (1) The law requiring a man to raise up offspring for his deceased brother had not been given at this point. There is no scriptural evidence to support the belief that the practice of levirate marriage was anything more than a social custom in the time of Onan. (2) Even when the law was given, there was no penalty for disobedience other than a public shaming. (see Deut. 25:5-10) There was no material penalty and no corporal punishment, much less was it considered an act worthy of death. Those who maintain that Onan was punished with death because he failed to uphold the levirate marriage custom must bear the burden of explaining a phenomenon which plainly appears to be inconsistent with the nature of God’s justice. That is, why a man was punished much more severely for transgressing this precept before its observance was commanded by God, than he was after it was encoded into the divine law.
We know that Onan was guilty of disobeying his father because it was his father who told him to marry his brother’s wife and raise up seed to him. There is a provision in the law of God for the execution of rebellious children (Deu. 21:18-21), but this seems to apply to juvenile delinquents who are habitually disobedient and will not respond to chastening (beating). There is no indication that Onan was such a young man. Furthermore, though being disobedient to one’s parents was certainly sinful from the beginning, no specific punishment for such disobedience was given until the Mosaic law, which was long after Onan’s death.
Onan was also guilty of bearing false witness because he pretended to fulfill his father’s command. But lying is a sin that is committed numerous times in the Bible, and there is no provision in the law for punishing liars unless their false testimony would have brought punishment upon others (Deut. 19:16-19), which was not the case with Onan.
It is possible that God set forth Onan as a special example to be punished for one or more of the aforementioned sins, just as Ananias and Sapphira were punished with death for lying about the amount that they had received for the sale of a possession (Acts 5:1-11). However, in light of the fact that the passage is so specific about the events which led to Onan’s punishment, it seems unlikely that he was punished for any of these things. In the Scriptures, sexual intercourse is typically referred to in non-descriptive terms just as it is earlier in the passage about Onan (verses 8 & 9). “Went in unto,” “knew,” “lie with,” are expressions that are often found in the Scriptures to obliquely refer to the act of copulation. But in this case we have been given graphic details about Onan’s sexual behavior. Why would it be so if the matter for our consideration were an act of lying, disobedience to authority, or refusal to fulfill family obligations? It certainly would not have been necessary to record that Onan “spilled it on the ground” in order to teach us the evil in these things. It seems sure that God has recorded such details for a purpose, and that purpose can only be that this passage is meant as an explicit warning against the particular act that Onan committed.
In order to shed some light on the grievous nature of this sin, it is helpful to closely examine the words that God has chosen to record the event in the passage describing Onan’s act. The word translated “seed” here is the Hebrew word “zera,” which both refers to a man’s sperm (Lev. 15:16-18, 32), and refers to his offspring or children (Gen. 46:7, Exo. 32:13, 2 Chr.22:10). And the word translated “spilled” in the passage is the Hebrew word “shachath” which literally means “to destroy,” and is so translated in 96 of the 147 times that it appears in the Bible. Thus, it is accurate to say that when he spilled his sperm on the ground, he destroyed his own offspring. In destroying his seed he was destroying life, and God punished him with death because his act was an act of murder. But the reader may ask: “How can contraception be murder if it is used before conception? How can one be guilty of taking a life through the use of birth control, if a life has never been conceived?”
To fully appreciate the magnitude of the sin of birth control use, one must have a proper understanding of the nature of sin. Sin is a spiritual condition. It does not primarily consist of physical action, it is only sometimes manifested by physical action. One need not actually perform a physical act to be guilty of sin. This is why the Bible teaches that if a man covets, he has committed idolatry, even though he has never bowed down to an idol. (Eph. 5:5) If a man looks upon a woman with lust, he has committed adultery with her, even though he has never touched her (Mat. 5:28). If a man hates his brother, he is a murderer, even though he has not laid a hand upon him (1 John 3:15)
Now if one can be a murderer by only despising his brother in his heart, how much more guilty of murder is the contraception user who (1) has not only committed sin inwardly by despising his own offspring and God’s blessing of children, but who has also performed outward acts to destroy his offspring, and (2) whose outward acts are also premeditated acts? The birth control user not only destroys his offspring, he has also planned in advance to do so. For this very reason, contraception is sometimes referred to by the euphemism “family planning.”
God looks on the “thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Heb. 4:12) Just as in the case of abortion, the intent of the contraception user is to prevent a child from being born. Whether that is accomplished by killing the seed and egg before they come together or killing the fertilized egg or fetus after conception, both the intent and the result are the same. If one is poisoning the womb through the use of birth control pills, or spilling his seed into a condom, he is destroying the components by which God brings life. In both the case of abortion and birth control, both the intent and the result is the destruction of life, and it must follow that the punishment will be the same.
Consider the following parable:
A man plowed a field and then planted seeds in the furrows which he had made. The ground was fertile, the seeds were of a high quality; he had every expectation that his seeds would germinate. But, unknown to the man, his enemy had poisoned the ground the night before the seeds were sown. Because of the enemy’s actions, the seeds never germinated, no crop was produced, and no new seeds could be sown until the rain had washed away all of the poison. The end result was that no crop was produced during that growing season. The enemy thought that he had committed his crime undetected but he had actually been observed by witnesses. The crime was reported by the witnesses and the accused was taken before a judge. Would not that judge, if he were a righteous judge, convict the enemy of destroying the man’s crop? Would he accept the defense that the seeds never germinated so, therefore, no crop was destroyed? And will the righteous Judge of all men accept the argument that none of your seeds had yet germinated, when you allowed your wife to poison her womb through the use of birth control pills?
The prevention of life, by whatever means, is murder. In the ten commandments, which are given in the negative, the positive side of the commandment is equally binding. Just as the positive of “Thou shalt not commit adultery” is “Thou shalt be faithful to thy spouse,” and the positive of “Thou shalt not steal” is “Thou shalt deal honestly,” so the positive of “Thou shalt not kill” is “Thou shalt promote life.” If one is intentionally poisoning the womb, or intentionally wasting his sperm, he is destroying the components by which God brings life. He is guilty of violating the Sixth Commandment. He is a murderer.
The accounts of God’s judgments against evildoers such as Onan are written as a warning to us. “Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.” (1 Cor. 10:11) Woe unto those who do not heed God’s warnings!