Question: Is intentional childlessness biblical?

We’ve been coming across a few articles on the hot topic of “intentional childlessness” (for married couples)…and whether that is biblical or not.

http://community.focusonthefamily.com/b/jim-daly/archive/2013/08/19/is-intentional-childlessness-biblical.aspx
http://www.boundless.org/adulthood/2004/motherhood-on-trial
http://www.relevantmagazine.com/life/why-i-decided-not-have-kids

Skywalker and I do want children, though perhaps for slightly different reasons. Part of my reasoning is to live in obedience to God’s design for marriage. I believe that marriage is for intimacy AND procreation; and we can’t choose only the parts we want. A lot of the comments we read in response to the articles seem to agree that not all have the gift of parenthood, nor have the desire to be parents, so they should be able to opt out of parenthood. Or that every child should be “wanted”. One commenter replied that “Mary probably didn’t want to be pregnant with Jesus as an unwed, impoverished teen, but she submitted in obedience.”

Certainly God does not promise marriage and children to all. Nor should anyone expect it. But I do believe that if God has blessed you with a marriage partner, then you should be open to receiving children from God out of that marriage. If God does not provide children within the marriage, then perhaps that too is His “gift”…for the couple to build into spiritual children or to adopt or be foster parents etc. I believe it kind of boils down to submitting to what God would give or withhold (and I’m not saying it’s easy either way) as opposed to intentionally choosing not to. I should add that people should also be intentional about why they want to have children too.

We posed this question to @RevTedNg and this was his reply (published with permission):

In a word, the answer is: no.

The Bible at no point provides license to take up this position for theological, cultural and historical/technological (they had no reliable contraceptive options) reasons.  Even in principle no support can be found in the text.  In fact it would suggest the opposite.

I read the articles you sent  along and the first two are rather reflective while the third one was  well, fluff.  One must indeed take into account the age, life-stage, experience and expertise of the authors.

There are two ways to see having children – blessing and  curse.  There really is not legitimate in-between.  As a blessing, children are a natural form of spiritual and life challenge – contributors to character formation as well as joy.  They are also a huge  responsibility.  Responsibility, however, in certain cultures (our own in particular which is still shifting but in this direction) can be seen as negative, even detrimental.   In this perspective, children are a burden, they are inefficient and inconvenient.  Having a child is likened to having a 20 year prison sentence.  And frankly, this is a first-world problem (to use that  hipster phrase).  Our culture also tries to impose that value and our solutions on the rest of the world, whether it be in the form of contraception or abortion.

It is also the choice of an urban developed world issue because of expense. Having children can mean a reduction of living standard and an increase in cost of living.  The argument of “no unwanted child” can be an excuse for a cold pragmatism or even personal comfort. It verges on the reprehensible when we pretend that it is actually for the  sake of the unborn that we do this “good.”  I am also aware that in other cultures, children may have some economic value a workers (especially in agrarian settings) but this is also not ideal as they are reduced to commodities which is incompatible with Biblical values of people.

A case in point is China’s one child law.  So what do we get in this society?  Abortion, infanticide and abandonment not only of girl babies but also those who have disabilities an challenges.  They are treated as burdens, as flesh and not as people.  In the Christian faith, life is supposed to be a miracle and sacred.  Every person bears the image of God.  This is a Biblical value applying to human life whether young or old.

Of note, the Catholic church upholds its ban on contraception based on the theology of sovereignty of God and the sacred mystery of life and therefore speaks against intervening in God’s natural order.  Non-Catholics (and unofficially, a number of Catholics) allow for contraception based on arguing stewardship effectively enough to challenge the Catholic position while maintaining the sacredness of life argument.  It is something still worthy of exploration and openness if not dialogue.

What one might ask of intentionally childless couples, however, is self-reflection regarding why they chose to be so.   Short of medical issues (which include a host of things including the risks of age) more comes to light about one’s thoughts and condition.   This may ultimately be a matter of discipleship.  We treat those who have this perspective with kindness and understanding, inviting them to share their perspective so that we can come alongside to understand and explore the issue with sensitivity.  Of course, time, in itself will make the issue moot.

So while it is impossible to argue for intentional childlessness from the Bible, it does not necessarily fall into the category of intentional sin.

I have known people who have been traumatized by their upbringing to the degree that they are adverse to having children.  Perhaps, in time, God  will be able to heal their emotional wounds where they can move beyond  that perspective.  At the same time, I have listened to friends  who took this position but after some time (with much listening to God) they changed their minds.

One book that I think is very significant to anyone considering (or not considering) parenthood is Sacred Parenting by Gary Thomas.  A friend who said they would never have kids reversed their position after reading this book.  Now he is the happy father of two.  I do not assume that this is the norm but I do wonder.

Anyways, I hope this provides some framework for considering how we respond to this issue with truth and grace in hand.

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18 responses

  1. That is a very hot topic. I can’t comment with an educated theory. But I can comment on myself.

    That being said, when Chris and I were trying we knew conceiving would be very tough. My prayer every night and all day long was to have children. I ached to be a mom. Everything was working against us. We had medical professionals tell us that we would never conceive on our own. Even if by some low chance we did, I would never carry to term. Yet I proved everyone wrong…twice in a years time.

    I guess what I’m saying is that if God chooses you to become parents than it is part of His plan. Should He choose to not bless you with children, I imagine he has other plans and blessings for you along your journey with Him.

  2. What an interesting topic for discussion! I’m actually not too sure what my stance is on biblical childlessness. I think Pastor Ted Ng has some pretty thoughtful points on how one should examine our motives for not having children and I do see marriage and childbearing as a gift and God’s design for humankind as a whole, however, I’m not sure this is a black and white issue. To me, the bible doesn’t address this issue fully or absolutely (if anything, it leaves me with more questions than answers).

    I guess some questions I would have are:

    If having children is a gift and God’s design, and we are to allow our biology (as God created it) to naturally determine if we can or can’t have children, then how is the use of contraceptives for Christians at all acceptable? Why should we be allowed to control the timing of when we have children?

    And if a couple is unable to naturally have children through regular intercourse and decide to turn to laboratory means to have children, would they be going against God’s intentions in trying to “force” child bearing to happen for them despite their natural God given biology?

    And just Paul in the New Testament felt called to stay single for the sake of the kingdom of heaven (and wished this for others as well so that they would not be distracted from serving God), could God not also call a couple to hold off from having children for a period (or for the rest of their lives) so that they could better serve the Lord without distraction?

    I don’t think singleness is God’s design for the majority of the human race. God did tell humankind in Genesis to be fruitful and multiply and children are considered a blessing. But I wonder if this is more of God’s general will for mankind (in the same way marriage is) than a command/call for every person. While childlessness can never be argued as God’s overarching design for humankind, I’m not sure I could in good conscience say that a couple choosing not to bear children for the sake of fulfilling committing to another calling in their life are spiritually/morally misguided. If my husband and I are at prime child bearing age and don’t feel compelled to have kids yet, but on the flip side, sense God calling us to fully devote our time and energy to serving him in a specific capacity, I don’t think our motives would be misplaced for choosing to temporarily (or never) have children. If anything, I think it could be argued that some missionaries and pastors are irresponsible in bringing children into the world when they are unable to devote sufficient time/energy to the healthy upbringing on their children.

    I know I barely scratched the surface here and have not done a good job in fully explaining and fleshing out my thoughts on this topic, so hopefully others will have more to add.

    It would be interested to hear more view from both sides.

    • Thanks for the comment Jella!
      Some quick responses that come to mind, though it doesn’t address everything either…cuz this is a very big topic…
      1. I struggled with the timing question too…but I think stewardship ties into it. In my case, with my thyroid, I was specifically told to NOT get pregnant until everything stabilized as that would be dangerous to me and the child. But I think many use timing in terms of controlling their own lives…”when is it more convenient” or “when are we ready” ? But readiness is again to do with giving up the comforts and conveniences of childless living. Or fear.
      2. I personally do believe turning to laboratories (or third parties) to “make” a child happen is taking control from God. Yes God gave us science, but not to replace Him. Again, personally, as discussed with Skywalker, going as far as taking fertility meds is our grey area. Beyond it is a definite no.
      3. Paul prefers to be single…and specifies that’s his opinion and not God’s. If single, then obviously no kids. But I think marriage is a package that should always include the possibility of children. If you were whole heartedly serving before children, having children won’t stop you. In fact it may open other doors. And it will challenge/grow your faith in new ways. Certainly some have erred in putting too much into ministry and not enough into their own families. But that’s more part of broken human condition rather than ministry…b/c this happens all the time outside of ministry. The problem is more b/c the person finds identity and worth in their status or position or wealth or list of accomplishments.

      THoughts still stewing around….good questions you brought up! Keep them coming…

      • I do agree that marriage should also include the possibility of children, but I’m not sure if it MUST ALWAYS include children when possible.

        Another question that would come up for me is, most couples (christian or not) make the decision to stop procreating after one or two children for practical (or some might say “selfish”) reasons eg. not feeling financial comfortable enough, don’t want to retire too late, want to still have a social life, etc. These are all personal and practical reasons, not “God’s will” reasons.

        It just seems hypocritical to me that a person would shake their finger at a married couple for choosing not to have any children, when they (and probably I as well) would likely choose to not have more than one or two children for the same “selfish” reasons. I have yet to personally met a Christian couple who is willing to fully surrender their procreating future to God.

    • I did not read the linked articles, but I don’t think RevTed provided much substantiation for his answer other than dismissing the concept assertively.

      Since we all agree the text is the first place to start, the first passage that comes to mind is indeed Gen 1:28 “God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it…”
      I am open to other and better interpretations, but I understand that as a general prescription for mankind and not as a specific mandate we are to follow to its maximum (most kids) in all circumstances. I think this is pretty clear if you just think about the practical ramifications of doing so. And as you bring up Paul, he expressed some parameters that would modulate how each person interprets this general mandate to her specific circumstances. In his case, he alluded to the present persecution of believers and stressful times, as well as the benefit of more time serving the Lord as factors. If I can take it a step further, he demonstrates independent and logical thinking he took to interpret the general mandate specifically. I personally find it hard to believe that the practical life factors that he cited that impacted him in making this decision are exhaustive, also.

      I think the questions Jella brings up re: contraception and serving the Lord in particular illustrate help demonstrate the difficulties if someone were to interpret Gen 1:28 beyond its general mandate, and into something that applied specifically to all people at its maximum extent.

      • Thanks, BTP. You did a much better job articulating where I was going with my thoughts than I had. I also appreciate your point about Paul and the parameters he used to understand and apply Genesis 1:28 verse to his personal/environmental situation.

      • But Paul was refering to himself as a single male. And he personally, not God, prefers that everyone remain single to do God’s work. This of course will end in one generation’s time. =)

        Maybe a different way of asking the question is “should sex always allow for possibility of children?” And if you don’t want children, could it be said that you shouldn’t have sex?

        The bible depicts the barren wife as an undesirable status to have. Throughout the Bible, children are gifts and blessings from God (except the part about the end times where it will be difficult to have children). While the text doesn’t explicitly say that ALL who are married MUST be open to having children, it definitely does NOT say it’s biblical to willfully close the door on a gift/blessing that God might give.

      • Paul is single and not married, but in choosing singleness he is also choosing to not abide by the most basic interpretation of God’s general will in Genesis, which is, God’s desire for humankind to be biologically involved in multiplying the human race. So in that sense, I think he does fall in the same boat as a married couple choosing not to bear children. While I think it’s possible that Paul’s decision to stay single stems from his own will/preferences rather than God’s conviction, I don’t think we can know for certain. It’s odd to me that a man so familiar with God’s word and so committed to carrying out God’s will would make that lifestyle choice purely based on personal desire without consulting his Lord and Master on the matter. It just seems out of character to me.

        If Paul did indeed make that decision without having clear signs or direct instructions from God to live this way, well, I think I might still be ok with that (provided that God did not directly convict him to start a family). I would be ok with that because I think the bible is vague enough about the topic of singleness and child bearing that there is room for personal desires/interpretations to come into play (otherwise, we wouldn’t be having this discussion). Just as a devout Christian would hope to submit everything to God–his/her career, ministries, and relationships to God for His glory– so would I too hope to submit my child bearing future into God’s hands, but when God’s answer isn’t clear, I can only be faithful to the passions and opportunities God places in my heart and in my midst at the moment.

        If we go back to Genesis 1:28, to reiterate, I personally don’t interpret that verse to be a command for every person but as God’s general will for the preservation of humankind and the multiplication of goodness. What I grasp as the heart and essence of Gen 1:28 is that God felt his creation was very good, so He wanted His created beings to further bless the world by multiplying His goodness. To me, it’s like saying: “Eating apples are good and healthy for you so go eat lots of apples all over the place.” It’s NOT saying everyone must eat apples even if you’re allergic to it or hate it. Again, this comes from my interpretation of the verse as a general rather than specific mandate and I understand not everyone will share this interpretation.

        The second part of this is, I think context is key. When God spoke Gen 1:28, there earth was extremely sparsely populated and it made sense for people to multiply, and multiply A LOT. It was necessary for survival. But in Paul’s day and our present day, I’m not sure if the focus on multiplying just for the sake of multiplying makes sense or is even a blessing anymore (especially in some over-populated and impoverished countries like India). I think your example of a barren wife is a great example of this. In most of history and in most cases being barren is considered undesirable, but then in the devastating context of the “end times” (Matt 24:19) it would actually be considered a tragedy to have children. It’s not that God’s truth or heart for children is changing throughout history, but scripture passages need to be interpreted and applied in context so that we don’t lose the heart and essence of it. In general, children are a blessing and in general, it would be good to multiply, but it’s not always the case in every circumstance.

        In response to your question of “Should sex always allow for the possibility of children?” or “Should marriage always allow or the possibility of the children?”. I say YES and YES, it should— as a possibility, but not as a requirement. “And if you don’t want children, could it said that you shouldn’t have sex?” NO, because sex isn’t only for procreation. It’s also for pleasure and intimacy between a husband a wife.

        So, I guess to sum up my thoughts: I do believe that God’s general will is for humankind to bear children and multiply His goodness. If you are married, you should be open to the possibility of having kids but this doesn’t mean you must have kids in every circumstance or that your personal preference/circumstances can’t, at least in some cases, play a role in this decision. Also, just as I suspect that God could have played a role in influencing Paul’s personal conviction to not get married and not have children (a conviction which Paul recognized as a personal only and not to be applied to everyone), so do I think it would be possible that God could play a role in a devout Christian’s couple decision to not have kid.

      • I went to bed thinking “What a great discussion! Some good points to take away.” And then at 3am my brain woke up with these thoughts (dah! ha ha):

        1. Singleness. Yes some choose it – maybe out of fear or out of not wanting the commitment and responsibilities of marriage. Some don’t choose it…they just haven’t met someone appropriate yet. And others, though far less, and I believe Paul is this, have no inclination or desire to be in an emotionally/physically intimate relationship; which can be called a “gift”. The only scenario where someone is intentionally single is the first one…and whether or not that’s biblical is a whole other can of worms. So I don’t know if I could compare Paul’s singleness to a married couple’s choice to not bear children…because I don’t think it’s necessarily a choice for him.

        2. Sex is intended for the married. Sex is for procreation and, I totally agree, it’s ALSO for pleasure and intimacy between husband/wife. But can sex be ONLY used for pleasure and intimacy? Or is that outside of what God intended sex to be for? Our culture has made sex to be only about pleasure…doesn’t even need intimacy…and in the same breath culture warns against STD’s and pregnancy like it’s in the same category. I think that’s the part that caught my thinking…even within marriage, I don’t think sex can ONLY be used for intimacy and pleasure to the exclusion of the possibility of children.

        So I guess, after all this, my view is that all who are married should be open to the possibility of receiving the blessing of a child/children that God might give. I feel that personal preferences/circumstances play into a “not now” decision rather than a “not ever” decision. Personally, I can justify a “not now” decision, but I can’t justify a “not ever” decision simply because I always have to be open to what God might want.

        Thanks for bringing some great questions to the table Jella! =)

      • Oh yeah…and forgot to add…Genesis mandate was for the Man and Woman unit, not just the Man. So Paul isn’t choosing against God’s instruction since he never married. =)

        But now I do really want to read the book Sacred Parenting….see if I’m missing some major theological interpretation…which I probably am.

      • I agree with Jella’s conclusion and answer pretty much point for point, it is articulated very clearly. In particular Jella I thought your point about the context determining different interpretations while God’s heart stays constant (in Genesis vs. the Mt 24. end times) was a very sharp insight. Something that may add additional color to this discussion is that I believe many theologians think that Paul was married once but that his wife left, and when he later talked about believing husbands not chasing after non-believing wives he fit that category. I don’t have a citation for this but I have heard it from different sources before.

        re: whether sex can be used for pleasure/intimacy in marriage rather than having children, I think the answer is a strong yes. The Bible often emphasizes the intimacy characteristics and benefits of marriage without the childbearing ones, not just in its original description of marriage (‘one flesh’), but all over in the Pauline epistles (that it is more important than even food, or that single ppl should get married if just to satisfy their physical desires). In practice, any time a married couple has sex w/ contraception, or when procreation is not possible whether due to a temporary or permanent condition, exercises this benefit.

        If I can extrapolate a bit on Jella’s musings about the applicability of the first mandate, “fill the earth and subdue it”, even in today’s times, my personal opinion is that it applies as much as ever. The word subdue I think has a deep and underrated meaning. I think if we grasp the essence of the first mandate, it is to emulate the way God’s creation brings order out of chaos, a product whose very nature attests to the presence of a rational, loving, amazing Creator. Early North American believers understood this when they built universities for the stated goal of mankind better understanding his Creator and creation. We have this opportunity today as ever whether in advancing science to uncover more of nature, inventing technology that gives us increasing mastery over our environment, or improving our social contracts and pushing the bar in our conception of human freedom.

        As I do not detect a limit in scope to our Creator’s first mandate, I think humanity can and will solve challenges such as limited drinking water, agriculture and food. The sheer amount and pace of technological invention in the last half-century suggests that many things we do not currently have a solution for can yet be solved. No doubt doing so in a sustainable way that celebrates the right values will be a continuing challenge (e.g., Tower of Babel), but we remember that creation is inherently good and the magnitude of the opportunity is awesome.

      • So I had a side conversation with Mrs PR about this and she’s of the mindset that sex should always allow for the possibility of children. It was something taught in their pre-marital counseling and in teaching about sex in general. That if you have sex, then be open to the possibility of children. Or if you don’t want children, then don’t have sex. The question is about whether intentional (and decidedly permanent) childlessness is biblical (and excludes situations where some permanent condition renders someone unable to have children, in which case yes, sex will only be for intimacy/pleasure). While the Bible does strongly emphasize intimacy characteristics/benefits of marriage without mentioning the childbearing ones, it CANNOT be read to say that permanently intentionally avoiding the possibility of children is biblical. Back in the day, they really had no contraception other than abstaining so the assumption is that if you’re being intimate with your spouse, you’ll probably have kids. (Or, consider what Onan did in spilling his semen to the ground. That was wicked in the Lord’s sight, so he was put to death by God Himself. Yes it’s also because he refused to fulfill his duty to provide an offspring for his brother’s line but then can you extrapolate to say that it’s a husband’s duty to try to produce offspring with his wife?)

        I do agree with you that the Earth CAN sustain our growing population though (if only we could get greed and corruption out of the picture).

      • Wow, this has really been a thought-provoking topic!

        To clarify my own view, I do not argue that intentional childlessness is biblical—just that I don’t see enough biblical support to firmly assert that intentional childless is unbiblical. It’s not unfathomable to me that God might call/convict a particular to couple to dedicate the prime of their life (into and well past their fertile years) to serving in a ministry environment that would be totally unsuitable for raising children. Some couples, by faith, may still choose to have children in dangerous/unstable ministry environments (maybe God gave them peace and assurance about this) and that’s OK. But other couples may not be able to handle/bear/juggle such a burden and if they choose not to bring children into the world for personal/practical reasons (and if God didn’t ask them otherwise), and well, that’s OK too. I cannot know how God has personally revealed His will to them and there is not enough biblical evidence for me to make a firm moral judgement on the ‘rightness’ of their decision.

        In Onan’s story, I think there are definitely some societal/contextual implications to consider. You had noted the spilling of the seed, but had also pointed out that there was also Onan’s duty to consider. In biblical times, a widow without a husband/children to support her, had no status, no future and was pretty much destined for starvation. Surival was probably one (but not the only) reason why that strange brother-in-law/widow marriage law (Duet 25:5-10) was in effect back in Onan’s day (Genesis 38:8-10). I’m sure there are different interpretations for why God punished Onan, but when I read the passage I didn’t interpret the spilling of seed as the sin, but Onan’s motive behind the act that was the condemnable sin. Onan wanted the pleasure of sleeping with his brother’s widow without the need of fulfilling his duties/obligations to her. He was after sex without commitment and had no concern for his brother’s legacy or the future survival/wellbeing of his brother’s widow. I feel for him a little bit as this is not a desirable arrangement for him, but he was still a fraud in going through with sleeping with his deceased brother’s wife knowing full well that this was not what his father or the widow had in mind. The sin I see here is the shirking of family responsibility and the intentional and fraudulent exploitation of a vulnerable woman (not to mention, family member), and this sin, was manifested in the intentional spilling of his seed.

        Whether or not it could be extrapolated from the story that it is a husband’s duty to provide offspring for his wife—I think, sure in most cases, but not necessarily in every case. I guess it would depend on whether you see duty as morally or intrinsically good/valuable/right or if you see duty as a means to morally good/valuable/right ends (consequences). Jesus was always very aware of his Father’s heart in every law/situation, and even though he was well-versed in both traditional/spiritual laws, he was known to break various religious rules/norms of his day (even ones laid out ages ago by God himself) for the sake of grace, new life, or even practical, common sense reasons like hunger (John 9:14-16, John 8:3-7, Luke 6:2). He didn’t break rules for self-serving reasons or to spite spiritual obligations, but fully understood his Father’s heart/intent and the spirit of the law, and all his actions flowed from that compassionate motive. So my personal worldview is to always look at the heart of a duty/obligation and to consider how my exercising duty would serve God and help others in a given situation. For example, I believe that as a daughter it is my duty to care for my parents in their old age, but if they insist/demonstrate (even at age 90) that they are still financial independent, capable and prefer to care for themselves, then I don’t have a problem with not exercising my duty. Should things deteriorate in my parent’s health/abilities, then my duty is back in effect. If my parents are healthy and capable unto death, then I might never have to exercise that particular duty and that’s fine by me. All in all, this is my long-winded way of saying that while a couple’s childbearing duty does always exist and can be called upon at any time for the good of society or for God’s purpose, it might not be required or called upon even time depending on the situation.

        Actually, even though I’ve really gotten into this discussion about childbearing, I don’t really know how helpful it is to look at childbearing from the perspective of duty/obligation and right/wrong. Today a friend reminded me that while childbearing is not mainly for enjoyment or self-fullfilment, it is also not mainly about suffering or performing a human service. Like marriage, childbearing is about love and growth. It is a great privilege and I think there are aspects of God love and grace that only a couple will children will fully grasp. It is a beautiful thing and an experience like no other that shouldn’t be casually discounted because it seems hard or inconvenient (and yes, at times, it will be hard and inconvenient). However, if childlessness is in God’s plan for you, then I also trust He will grow, love and enrich you in other ways unfathomable to the majority of the population, and you too, will not be lacking in joy or purpose as you seek to honor him with your opportunities and life choices.

      • Great thoughts Jella!! =D THanks!
        Jesus knew God’s heart. We, at best, can guess at it….but He knows our hearts more clearly than we’d be willing to admit. I understand your point…that the possibility exists for God to move a couple to serve in areas that are high risk for having children. I’d agree….but it’s much more the rare exception rather than the rule…though I still kind of think if childlessness is God’s plan for you, then He would close your ability to have children. Where’s the line between us exercising stewardship and us trying to take control from God? Still thinking this through…but it’s a big jump from 0 kids to 1 kid.

        When I read the comments in the articles about how so many “don’t feel called to be a parent”, I recall doubting whether it’s really a “calling” or just a spiritual term we hide our selfish motives behind. Because I confess, I had the same thoughts and then had to honestly own up to my selfishness and my justification for selfishness….I daresay pretty much any couple in the Western world needs to admit this instead of hiding behind a “calling”.

        Anyways…if you read Sacred Parenting, would love to hear your thoughts on it. =)

      • > While the Bible does strongly emphasize intimacy characteristics/benefits of marriage without mentioning the childbearing ones, it CANNOT be read to say that permanently intentionally avoiding the possibility of children is biblical.

        Which of the arguments in the thread that advanced this viewpoint do you disagree with?

        > Or, consider what Onan did…can you extrapolate to say that it’s a husband’s duty to try to produce offspring with his wife?

        I think some care needs to be taken if we attempt to extrapolate a Hebrew civil law to today’s culture in a liberal way. First, we recognize this command from Deut 25 is not a moral law that applies timelessly (like the 10 commandments), but rather a civil one that only applied to a particular culture. Then we have to extract the general principle, if there is any, and contextualize it in today’s culture. Finally we have to accurately interpret the Lord’s anger in that story to what specifically Onan did was offensive.

        My personal interpretation is that if there is a general principle to be extracted at all, it does not add anything to the general mandate in Gen 1. First, if we read carefully, the command is actually not unconditional. Also, details in the punishment hint that it was something unique to the Israelites at the time, such as the insult on the family line, something that I think would have little if any resonance in today’s Hebrew culture, let alone others.

        re: why Onan was struck down, my take is that it is the way he did it and not his general disobedience that really offended the Lord, b/c there is already a well-defined process for dealing with it.

        In sum I don’t think we can say it’s a husband’s duty, or even a marital couple’s, to procreate other than in the sense of the general mandate in Gen 1.

      • > Which of the arguments in the thread that advanced this viewpoint do you disagree with?
        I disagree with the idea that sex can be used solely for pleasure to the exclusion of the possibility of children. So if the Bible emphasizes intimacy between husband and wife, then children would generally naturally result as “two becoming one” in a very literal sense of two half sets of DNA coming together. I think God should be the only one to close that otherwise natural progression.

        Good point re civil law then and now.
        How do you interpret Malachi 2:15? Psalm 127:3-5?

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