GREENVILLE PRESBYTERIAN THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY
IS THE USE OF CONTRACEPTION BIBLICAL?
AP 42 Ethics
March 26, 2016
The question of whether or not using contraception is biblical is a difficult one because there are many variables at play. Despite the variables, however, principle must determine practice; practice ought not make principle. Therefore, the first question to ask regarding the use of contraception is to ask what the principle for using contraception is. The principle must be taken from Scripture, and while Scripture has little to say about contraception directly, it does have much to say about children, which is directly related to the matter of contraception. In a sinless, unfallen world, contraception wouldn’t even be considered, because covenant children are a blessing from the Lord, without qualification. On this ground, some argue that contraception is necessarily evil because it prevents the blessing of having children, and no one should ever intentionally take measures to limit or prevent God’s blessings to man, no matter what the blessing may be. It is agreed that if one is using contraceptives to limit the wonderful blessing of children, that is sin. The question is not, however, whether there are sinful uses of contraceptives, but whether or not there is any biblical use of contraceptives. In this present, fallen world, there is a use for contraceptives because God has cursed women with pain in childbearing (Gen. 3:16), and contraceptives help to eliminate and manage the pain of childbearing.
The principle, then, is that pain exists because of the curse of sin, and since it is not wrong to avoid the pain that comes from the curse of sin, it is not wrong to use contraceptives to mitigate the pain of childbearing. Certainly, any contraceptives that causes abortion of a baby is wicked because it snuffs out the image of God in the womb of a mother. That kind of contraceptive is always sinful, but for contraception that does not kill human life, such contraception is permissible. If one argues that children are so great a blessing that they should be sought at all times despite pain in childbearing, then one should argue that man should not cease working, even though the toil produces sweat of the brow and pain because of God’s curse on Adam and his posterity (Gen. 3:17-19). There are times when men can become so weakened and injured with physical labor that they must take extended time off to recuperate; likewise, women should be afforded the same opportunity in regards to having children when necessary. Work itself is still a blessing despite the toil, and children are still a blessing despite the toil, yet both must be avoided at times because the toil is so great.
This is not to say that men should never work and women, if God wills, should never seek to conceive and have children. In fact, God’s command is that men work and that women be fruitful. This is the only way we can fulfill the dominion mandate to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth and subdue it (Gen. 1:28). It is true that, due to laziness and neglect of our divine commission, men often refuse to work and just have sex, and women like to just have sex but avoid pregnancy and rearing children in the home. The solution is not to work ourselves to death in the field or for women to have so many babies so quickly that their bodies are permanently damaged and they are thereby unable to nurture and care for their children (or husbands). The blessing of children is real, and all children are blessings. But all children enter this world through conception, and all conception and childbirth is cursed and painful. To be principled biblically, couples should seek the blessing of children and should also be wise in seeking to avoid the curse of sin so that it does not incapacitate them from enjoying and raising the blessed covenant children.
The present writer and his wife have had three children in thirty-nine months. After each child, the mother’s legs grew worse and worse due to varicose veins, to the point where if she did not wear compression socks during the entire pregnancy, she would be immobile and on bedrest. These leg issues have a history in her family, and some of her sisters are dealing with leg issues the likes of which few doctors have ever seen in patients so young. The next pregnancy could do permanent damage to the legs where the mother could not walk easily, even while she was not pregnant. The responsible, Christ-like, and loving thing to do as a husband is to use contraceptives to avoid pregnancy, not due to lack of love for children, not because of a faithless fear that God will not provide a way to afford raising them (Matt. 6:25-34), but because husbands are called to love their wives as Christ loves the church, and to love their wives as their own body, nourishing it just as they nourish their own when they rest and seek refreshment from their physical labors (Eph. 5:25, 28-29).
Nourishing the wife’s body will require discussion and communication between husband and wife. There may be a point where the wife believes she can have no more children at the present time, but the husband believes she can. While motives should be examined, wisdom dictates that the husband should ordinarily defer to the wife since she is the one who is in fact carrying the baby and knows how her body feels. If the husband believes his wife is a sanctified woman (and it is his job to make efforts to ensure that she is), then she should not be lying about her ability to have another child, and the husband should trust her. It may be a more difficult situation when the husband believes the wife is unable to have another child presently, but the wife believes she is, and strongly wants another blessing from the Lord. The husband as head of the household must use wisdom, including the wisdom of doctors, to determine if his wife is fit to carry another child at the present time. The husband may say to his wife that, even though she may well be capable of bearing another child without permanent damage to her body, she could also be mistaken, and it is best to err on the safe side for the time being.
Some have argued that God would never allow a Christian woman to get pregnant with a child that she could not healthfully carry and deliver. In this case, practice does show that this is simply not true, but principle likewise reveals that this is not the case. Pain in childbearing includes pain that leads to death, and therefore the curse on childbearing is a curse that can, and often does, cause death, just as man’s working in the field can cause death. To rest from physical labor or child labor is no more a doubting of the sovereignty of God than is taking medicine or wine for ailments (as Paul commands in 1 Tim. 5:23). Moreover, the fault of pain in conceiving is due, not to the child as such, but to the curse on this world and women due to sin. In a real sense then, it is because of God’s just punishment that contraception is necessary, and it is not a necessary evil but a necessary good because it helps husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the church.
There are many couples who wish they could have children and are unable to do so. They would seemingly have children no matter the cost, even if it risked the mother’s life. They may believe that they are being unfaithful to the command of God to be fruitful and multiply, and therefore take all measures, including spending far more money than they have, to do all they can to have a baby. Such couples should be alleviated of their burden to produce offspring. They should plead with the Lord through prayer that He would open the mother’s womb, and they may in fact take measures to help conception, but such a desire does not need to become an all-consuming passion. Adoption is a wonderful alternative, and it parallels the beautiful message that the elect have been adopted by God through the blood of Christ. If doctors indicate that the mother’s life would definitely be in danger if she were to conceive, it may actually be putting God to the test by not using contraceptives. Certainly, doctors have been wrong, and women have conceived and had a healthy and successful delivery of a baby when no one expected the mother to survive. This is a wonderful thing, but there are also times when the mother may not make it, and that is tragic.
There are also times when there are little or no indication that the mother would be in danger by having another child, and yet she does not live through the delivery. This does not mean that the husband has failed to love his wife as Christ loved the church. It is, rather, a reminder of this broken and fallen world, and that King Jesus needs to return to make all things new. Ultimately, couples should not see contraceptives and childbearing as a puzzling and terrifying labyrinth that provides no way to do the right thing. The right thing is simply to seek the blessing of children and the blessing of good health, and to pray to God for guidance and wisdom when the two collide with one another, trusting that the Lord of all will always do what is right.