Where the world comes to study the Bible

Q. Is Birth Control Sin? How Should A Couple Decide How Many Children To Have?

Dear *****,

I should begin by saying a couple of things. I am 80 years old, and have been married to my wife for sixty years. We have been blessed with six children (one died in childhood). As a man, I cannot fully identify with all of your struggles, though as a husband and church elder I have observed some of these afflictions from a distance. I do take your struggles seriously.

It seems to me that you have raised at least two major questions. The first question is whether birth control is sin or not. My wife and I had to deal with this after having six children, and knowing that others would likely follow. Here is the text which helped us to decide that birth control was not sin. But before going there, let me point to a text which might cause some to conclude that all birth control is sin:

1 And it came about at that time, that Judah departed from his brothers and visited a certain Adullamite, whose name was Hirah. 2 Judah saw there a daughter of a certain Canaanite whose name was Shua; and he took her and went in to her. 3 So she conceived and bore a son and he named him Er. 4 Then she conceived again and bore a son and named him Onan. 5 She bore still another son and named him Shelah; and it was at Chezib that she bore him. 6 Now Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. 7 But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was evil in the sight of the LORD, so the LORD took his life. 8 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.” 9 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. (Gen. 38:1-9 NAU)

It is obvious that Onan practiced a form of birth control, and for this God took his life. The important thing here is to observe that not only Judah, but later on, the law required it as well:

“When brothers live together and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the deceased shall not be married outside the family to a strange man. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her to himself as wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her” (Deuteronomy 25:5).

This was to assure the continuation of an Israelites’ seed (children) if he died before having a child with his wife.

Thus, we can see that the practice of birth control can, in some circumstances, be sin.

But here are a couple of texts which have indicated to me (and to my wife) that birth control can be a good decision:

1 Now concerning the things about which you wrote, it is good for a man not to touch a woman. 2 But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband. 3 The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 5 Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 6 But this I say by way of concession, not of command. 7 Yet I wish that all men were even as I myself am. However, each man has his own gift from God, one in this manner, and another in that (1 Corinthians 7:1-7).

Can we not agree that here in verses 1-7 Paul is saying that it can be good for someone to be like Paul in choosing not to marry? Thus, while marriage is a wonderful gift from God, it can also be “good” to choose not to marry. (We shall see this further explained in verses 25-35).

Now concerning virgins I have no command of the Lord, but I give an opinion as one who by the mercy of the Lord is trustworthy. 26 I think then that this is good in view of the present distress (or crisis), that it is good for a man to remain as he is. 27 Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released. Are you released from a wife? Do not seek a wife. 28 But if you marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. Yet such will have trouble in this life, and I am trying to spare you. 29 But this I say, brethren, the time has been shortened, so that from now on those who have wives should be as though they had none; 30 and those who weep, as though they did not weep; and those who rejoice, as though they did not rejoice; and those who buy, as though they did not possess; 31 and those who use the world, as though they did not make full use of it; for the form of this world is passing away. 32 But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; 33 but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, 34 and his interests are divided. The woman who is unmarried, and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband. 35 This I say for your own benefit; not to put a restraint upon you, but to promote what is appropriate and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:25-35).

In verse 26 Paul further explains his words in verses 1-7, by adding one kind of circumstance which could justify the choice to remain single. He refers to this as a “present distress” (verse 26). That word “distress” is used elsewhere to refer to a broad range of troubles, and not just one particular kind of “distress” (like having a cruel government which opposes Christianity). Thus, during certain times of difficulty remaining single is preferable to getting married. (Can you imagine, for example, if Paul were married, and his wife had to endure his suffering with him?)

There is a second reason (in verses 29-35) which Paul gives us for remaining single, rather than choosing to marry. As the time approaches for our Lord to return, there is a greater urgency to proclaim the gospel, and to keep oneself from being overly absorbed in the things of this world. Marriage, as God has designed and described it, places significant obligations on both the husband and the wife. Paul says that some will choose to avoid the distractions, which marriage rightly imposes on a person, for the purpose of pursuing “undistracted devotion to the Lord” (verse 35). Thus, while marriage is the norm, and can rightly be enjoyed, it may also be set aside – for the right reasons. (In or time, marriage is being set aside, but for the wrong reasons.)

One more text should be considered here:

9 “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” 10 The disciples said to Him, “If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry.” 11 But He said to them, “Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given. 12 “For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept this, let him accept it” (Matthew 19:9-12).

In this text Jesus seems to set forth the same principle which Paul later sets forth in 1 Corinthians 7: Some men (and women) rightly set aside the choice to marry and bear children for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Note, here, that it is not just marriage that is set aside, but also child-bearing.

We should not overlook the fact that not only Paul, but our Lord Jesus set aside marriage and child-bearing.

Now some might agree that marriage can be set aside in the will of God, but would argue that child-bearing cannot, if one is married. Matthew 19:12 would seem to challenge that position. But I think that there is a principle underlying all these texts, a principle which does apply to child-bearing:

Just as there are good reasons for setting aside the joys (and obligations) of marriage, there are also good reasons for setting aside the bearing of children. This could mean the choice to have no children (as would be the case if one made himself a eunuch – Matthew 19:12), or of limiting the number of children one has.

By the way, the Bible makes it clear that God sometimes prevented the birth of children, until child-bearing fulfilled His purposes (see, for example, Genesis 25:21; 29:31; 30:1-2, 22; 1 Samuel 1:1-20; Luke 1).

Back to my wife and myself. We had six children, and at least one miscarriage. Had we not limited our ability to reproduce, we could well have born a dozen, or more, children. In our situation, it would have made it very difficult for a family of 12 or 14 to be invited into some folks’ home for dinner, or fellowship. It would have required me to spend a great deal more time with my family, giving each child individual attention. If we were headed for the mission field, it would greatly increase the amount of support that would have to be raised. And thus, we decided that the principle Jesus, and Paul, set forth, applied to child-bearing, as well as to marriage.

This would probably be called our personal conviction, rather than obeying a clear command. But it would be a liberty which we could rightly exercise.

Whether this applies to you and your husband is something you two must decide.

Now, that brings us to some other questions, which your and your husband should discuss and decide upon. The first of these questions is this: Is the bearing of children simply a matter of the wife submitting to her husband? We are told that it is both the husband’s and the wife’s responsibility to sexually satisfy their mate:

Now concerning the things about which you wrote, it is good for a man not to touch a woman. 2 But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband. 3 The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 5 Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control (1 Corinthians 7:1-5).

Using birth control greatly enhances a woman’s ability to have pleasure in sex, while dreading another child can greatly hinder sexual enjoyment (which Paul is saying is essential). Indeed, refraining from sexual fulfillment can lead to a temptation to sin.

Now, regarding your husband’s desire to have three children. I do not personally see that a husband’s desire (or the wife’s, for that matter) for a certain number of children has biblical support. The number of children we would like is simply a desire. Under normal circumstances, both the husband and the wife should agree when they have had enough children, and then they do something (birth control) to prevent further conceptions.

Here Are Some Texts Which I Believe Your Husband Should Consider:

You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered (1 Peter 3:7).

1 Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies. 2 If anyone supposes that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know; 3 but if anyone loves God, he is known by Him. 4 Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one. 5 For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, 6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him. 7 However not all men have this knowledge; but some, being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. 8 But food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat. 9 But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols? 11 For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died. 12 And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble (1 Corinthians 8:1-13).

[If I could sum up this chapter, as it applies to you, I would say: Love should motivate me to surrender my rights, when exercising my liberty hurts another.]

1 Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, 2 make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. 3 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. 5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:1-11).

See also Paul’s teaching about “personal convictions” in Romans 14 and 15. I do not believe that a husband should expect his wife to “submit” to his wishes when doing so may violate her convictions.

*******, I hope this gives you and your husband something to discuss and decide.


Bob Deffinbaugh

Related Topics: Christian Life, Ethics, Marriage, Relationships

Report Inappropriate Ad