What Does the Bible Say about Birth Control?
Perhaps now more than ever, the topic of birth control is intensely discussed and debated. For some, birth control is simply a means to help plan the conception and birth of one’s children at a pace that works best for them. For others, it is synonymous with abortion and the taking of an innocent life. Still others take a stance somewhere in the middle. Do the Scriptures shed any light on the subject? How should Christians view birth control?
What Does the Bible Say about Where Children Come from?
Modern birth control, as we know it, doesn’t appear in the Bible, but you’ll find an abundance of verses about children and their origin. Indeed, the Bible is very “pro-family” - hence the many genealogies chronicling parents and offspring. Yet no matter the name on the biblical birth certificate, if you will, the Bible is clear about who truly brings children into the world. Psalm 127:3 says that “children are a heritage from the Lord.” This takes many forms in the Old and New Testaments. Women such as Sarah (Genesis 17:16), Hannah (1 Samuel 1:20), and Elizabeth (Luke 1:13) are described as barren, and it is God who intervenes to bring them children that comprise God’s grand story. One of Jacob’s wives, Leah, is given children by the Lord after He notices she is unloved by her husband. (She later acknowledges this in the naming of her son Judah). Similarly, God eventually “closes” the womb of Leah’s sister, Rachel (Genesis 29:31).
Children are so precious to God that He refers to us as His children (see next section). The Scriptures also offer a glimpse into God’s special purposes for believers that begin well before their birth. In the first chapter of Jeremiah, the LORD tells the young prophet that He knew and appointed Him for great things “before I formed you in the womb” (Jeremiah 1:5). The psalmist uses similar language when He acknowledges that “[the LORD] knit me in my mother’s womb. . .my frame was not hidden from you, when I was woven in the depths of the earth” (Psalm 139:13, 15).
What Does the Bible Say about Becoming a Parent?
Because God has chosen to reveal Himself as our Heavenly Father, parents are given honor and dignity in the Scriptures. When God presents His commandments to the wandering Israelites through Moses, the people are reminded of the importance of honoring one’s parents (Exodus 20:12). Indeed, this is the first commandment with a promise. Later in the Old Testament, parents are said to be “the pride of their children” (Proverbs 17:6). In particular, giving birth to a son meant one’s lineage and legacy would continue.
In the Scriptures, the emphasis seems to be more on God promising children, or adults waiting expectantly for children, rather than adults trying not to have children. Certainly, there are passages where a pregnancy proves inconvenient or incriminating - such as when Bathsheba becomes pregnant after David summons her or the “baby race” between Jacob’s wives and their maidservants (Genesis 29:31-30:24). But there is no mention of parenting as an “option” on the human side of things—rather, a status God chooses to grant on a couple or not.
Perhaps the most explicit example of someone avoiding parenthood is the account of Onan in Genesis 38. After marrying his brother’s widow, Onan purposely “wastes his seed” on the ground during intercourse with her. (This is known today as the “withdrawal method” of birth control.) Soon after, God kills Onan for his misconduct.
Some might say that Onan was only punished because he violated his prior commitment - he’d been expected to provide an heir after marrying his brother’s widow and went back on his word, knowing the child “would not be his.” Others might say this passage reveals God’s indignation toward birth control, regardless of the situation.
So are Christians allowed to use birth control to prevent the birth of a child? There are different standards between the Catholic and Protestant churches.
What Is the Traditional Roman Catholic Stance on Birth Control?
According to a PBS article, “the Roman Catholic Church officially banned any ‘artificial’ means of birth control” at the end of 1930. Preventing the fertilization of an egg was equated with murder. This correlates with the belief that procreation is the primary, if not only, reason for sexual intercourse. (As a result, many Catholic families have a large number of children.) This stance was reiterated in 1968 by Pope Paul VI, eight years after the birth control pill first appeared.
However, a nonprofit organization called Catholics for Choice claims that “98% of Catholics in the United States have used some form of birth control at some point in their lives.”
What Is the Traditional Protestant Stance on Birth Control?
In a 2006 Desiring God article, Matt Perman questions the stance that employing birth control for the sake of wisely timing a pregnancy is immoral. He compares the gift of children to the gift of marriage, another privilege frequently mentioned in the Bible. “It can be pointed out that the Scriptures also say that a wife is a gift from the Lord (Proverbs 18:22), but that doesn’t mean that it is wrong to stay single (1 Corinthians 7:8). Just because something is a gift from the Lord does not mean that it is wrong to be a steward of when or whether you will come into possession of it.”
How to Have Conversations with Other Christians about Birth Control
It’s one thing to be given talking points to help refute secular arguments about birth control. It’s another to navigate a conversation about contraception with other Christians. Where does one begin?
Exhibit grace. As Christians, we are all trying to follow the same Lord. Thus, we should strive for the kind of unity that Jesus promoted during his time on earth. Remember that other Christians may have had deeply personal encounters with birth control, which may be accompanied by shame or regret.
Find common ground. Odds are you will agree on the inherent value of children, the sanctity of marriage, the beauty of family, and the providence of God. This is important when discussing something that could easily turn into a contentious debate.
Listen well, and know the facts. Your Christian peers may hear “birth control,” and each think of something slightly different. The term encompasses various methods, some considered more “natural” than others (such as those that rely on pharmaceuticals or implants). Furthermore, some methods take action after conception, while others seek to prevent an egg from becoming fertilized in the first place. Make sure you hear out your conversation partners completely—otherwise, the dialogue may not be as fruitful or well-informed. With a topic like this, it can be easy for strong emotions to rise to the surface. A great way to keep the conversation balanced is to understand how various birth control methods work and how they relate to conception. Does a certain method end a conception or prevent it?
As the dominant culture continues to shed light on birth control, Christians need not feel completely uninformed. Regardless of their denomination, each follower of Christ should emphasize God’s design for family and children—and ask the Holy Spirit for guidance about interpreting contraceptive methods’ nuances.
Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/PhotoAlto/Frederic Cirou
Anna Oelerich is a Chicago-area church youth director, freelance writer, and graduate of Taylor University. She received her B.S. in Professional Writing in 2018, but has loved words—reading, storytelling, list-making, and even handwriting—for as long as she can remember. Previously, she served as the marketing and communications coordinator for a community foundation, where she shared powerful stories of generosity, and encouraged others to give. When writing an article, or developing programming for her students, Anna enjoys highlighting the historical and cultural contexts of familiar Bible passages so others feel they are living the stories for themselves.
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