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Is It WHAT, they Say It Is?
Published on May 3, 2005 By Sabbatismus In Religion
The Sin of Onan and Contraception
Is it WHAT they say it is?

Even if you think you are going to read the same old party line, you are in for some surprises. I'm both Christian and Catholic, I don't have an agenda in writing this one way or the other. I do believe what I write is an honest assessment of the scriptures regarding the sin of Onan and the subject of contraception as it pertains to Onan. .

Some Catholic authors will us the sin of Onan as an example of God's abhorrence of contraception. In this case they are speaking of "spilling his seed" or withdrawal. Mind you, I am not speaking in context of birth control pills or abortions. I'm only addressing the withdrawal method as a form of birth control from the biblical context and content.

The Rule of the Family of Abraham
A family rule of the Abraham descendants was to by covenant become a great nation. The rule predated the Law of Moses for the sake of growth of the nation of Israel, the children of Abraham. In this rule, if a brother died who was married, but had no children, one of his other brothers was to marry, even if already married, his deceased brother's wife and become a surrogate father that she might have children. However, the children would be named after the deceased brother, her first husband, not the living one. The Jewish term is halitzah.

Thus, we read the story of Onan and God's displeasure with him, in Gen.38:1-11. Here's the scripture from the KJV. ......"1And it came to pass at that time, that Judah went down from his brethren, and turned in to a certain Adullamite, whose name was Hirah. 2And Judah saw there a daughter of a certain Canaanite, whose name was Shuah; and he took her, and went in unto her. 3And she conceived, and bare a son; and he called his name Er. 4And she conceived again, and bare a son; and she called his name Onan. 5And she yet again conceived, and bare a son; and called his name Shelah: and he was at Chezib, when she bare him. 6And Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, whose name was Tamar. 7And Er, Judah's firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD slew him. 8And Judah said unto Onan, Go in unto thy brother's wife, and marry her, and raise up seed to thy brother. 9And 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. 10And the thing which he did displeased the LORD: wherefore he slew him also. 11Then said Judah to Tamar his daughter in law, Remain a widow at thy father's house, till Shelah my son be grown: for he said, Lest peradventure he die also, as his brethren did. And Tamar went and dwelt in her father's house."

What is important to see here is that Onan MARRIED Tamar (Vs.8) and had relations with Tamar after Er's death to be his wife according to the rule. Therefore, he was obligated to make sure that she had children to continue her first husband's name. Onan, for possibly out of greed, decided he was going to use Tamar sexually but try to make sure that she did not bring forth children by spilling his seed upon the ground. This was deceitful, abusive and surely evil according to the covenant rule.

This is where it gets dicey for the Catholic. The Catholics will use these verses to show that "spilling seed upon the ground" at any time is evil. However, that stretches the example. Onan was intent on Tamar NEVER having any children. That was his motive. Yet, his whole reason for the marriage of his brother's wife was to secure her bearing of children for the extension of his brother's name. And this is what the scripture in context underscores. Notice that Judah commands Onan to MARRY and to have children "for his brother". Onan refused to have to allow his brother's name to be continued by fathering children to Tamar, yet still wanted to take advantage of Tamar, while she bore the cultural shame of being barren. The Jewish Study Bible published by Oxford, says, "Onan woul have to expend his own resoursces to support the child, that is legally someone else's and the childe as heir to the first born would replace Onan in the line of inheritance to boot" pg 70. Therein, likely lies the motive for Onan acts.

The Catholic's and others would have right use this example as against contraception, if Onan had already given Tamar one, two, three, four, ¦five, six, seven or eight children. However, that isn't the case. Onan was refusing to allow Tamar ONE child.

The rule by which brothers were to surrogate children his deceased brother's wife became law. And we see this law in Deut. 25:5-10. But, there is one glaring exception. By this time, the law had made a place for an exception where the brother simply didn't want to marry his brother's wife and become a surrogate father. In that case, he was taken to the elders and shamed. Notice, Deut. 25: 6And it shall be, that the firstborn which she beareth shall succeed in the name of his brother which is dead, that his name be not put out of Israel. 7And if the man like not to take his brother's wife, then let his brother's wife go up to the gate unto the elders, and say, My husband's brother refuseth to raise up unto his brother a name in Israel, he will not perform the duty of my husband's brother. 8Then the elders of his city shall call him, and speak unto him: and if he stand to it, and say, I like not to take her; 9Then shall his brother's wife come unto him in the presence of the elders, and loose his shoe from off his foot, and spit in his face, and shall answer and say, So shall it be done unto that man that will not build up his brother's house. 10And his name shall be called in Israel, The house of him that hath his shoe loosed"

Some Catholic and very conservative Protestant apologist try to connect the sin of Onan and Deut.25, they are, but it doesn't have anything to do with contraception as we know it today, used to control having numerous children or more than one can reasonable support.

Some Catholic authors make the mistake of confusing Onan (Gen.38:1-11) who spilled his seed upon the ground after he had agreed to marry his deceased brothers wife, and the Levitical law of who was married and refuse to have A SINGLE off-spring as commanded by the Levirate Law when a brother died according to the Law of Moses, and the law of Moses concerning the brother who REFUSED to MARRY his brother's widow (Deut.25:5-10) They are entirely two different penalties. The penalty in Deuteronomy 25 is for not marrying! The penalty in Gen. 38 is not carrying out the Levirate obligation AFTER marriage. Gen. 38: explicitly says that Onan would not give ANY OFFSPRING to his brother's wife.

Sex Without Consequence?
Those discussing contraception with a Catholic will likely hear the Catholic say, that a Christian cannot have sex "without consequence". According to the church, there can be no sex without consequence, i.e. the chance of having pregnancy result.

Applying this, the Catholic Church has at times told that married couples that could no longer have children, because of a medical condition, that they must "live as brother and sister. That becomes the logical conclusion extrapolated from the theology of "no sex without consequence" thinking. In more recent years, the church has said that corrective surgeries for health issues that end in being sterile are acceptable as long as they do not have a motive to cause infertility.

The Apostle Paul addresses marriage for the sake of the finding relief for sexual impulses within context of marriage, that the man *would not "burn" with lust and make him seek a harlot.* The scripture "What God has * joined together, let NO MAN put asunder. The commandment from Paul is that neither the man nor the woman was to withhold themselves from due benevolence except for a period of fasting And the reason? " that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency. " Scripture makes no commandment of forbidding the rightful union between husband and wife in the bonds of marriage whether they can have children or not. Yet, Catholic Church had taught that due benevolence did not need to be rendered, if there wasn't a chance of conception. The first commandment of marriage is for "the two shall become one flesh", in the sanctity of the bonds of marriage. The second commandment in marriage is "be fruitful and multiply" . The scripture does not say how many is necessary to fulfill the commandment within marriage.

Jewish Teaching at the Time of Christ
Some Catholic authors rely heavily on eœclassical Jewish thought, I thought it beneficial that they would have known what Hillel taught at the time of Christ and the Apostles; “The Bible itself never addresses the question of how many children is required to fulfill the commandment (be fruitful and multiply). the Talmud's prevailing view as articulated by Rabbi Hillel, is two, one child of each sex, in other words, a couple are obligated to replace themselves (Mishnah Yevamot 6:6) From "Biblical Literacy", Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, Chapter 147, pg 401. William Morrow and Company Publishing, New York.. Also, found in "What Do Jews Believe" by Rabbi David Ariel, Schoken Books, New York. Pg 71.

NFP (Natural Family Planning) Is It Contraception?
Of course, it is. Natural Family Planning was devised as an answer to the popularity of contraception used by both Catholics and Protestants. NFP, is an attempt to plan to have martial sexual relations during the time when the woman is least likely to become pregnant. It doesn't rule out any chance of pregnancy but narrows the chances because there are periods of time when a woman is less likely to conceive. However, not all women are that regular in which you can schedule the acts. The withdrawal method certainly doesn't mean a woman will not get pregnant because it does not take an ejaculation to cause conception. That is a "misconception about contraception". Yes, it "narrows the chances" of pregnancy but it doesn't remove the chance of pregnancy, exactly as NFP does. The diffference between Onan's practice and NFP is that Onan's was not a natural act but a human intervention for selfish means. NFP still contains the natural acts of a loving couple in marriage, while using nature to assist in controlling the number of children in a family..

The sin of Onan was not refusing to have a fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh or eighth child, it was his refusal to have A single child[, after agreeing to marriage solely for the purpose of bring forth children./B] and to keep the rule or law by which he vowed in the marriage of his brother's wife. The sin of Onan cannot be justly used as a sinful example of modern day birth control after a family has two children have been born to a family. That being said, Onan's sin, of spilling his seed upon the ground, was an unnatural act and humiliated Tamar. Onan, was using Tamar as a harlot rather than respecting her as a woman in marriage. There is no justification for abortion and destruction of infants. That isn't contraception, it's a terrible unnatural sin against the most innocent and helpless unborn by their own mother. Common to both religions, Jewish and Christian is that the sexual union of male and female is more than physical act. Both religions see the sexual union as a spiritual union also. The union brings about a relative spiritual joining that may spring forth in new creation in conception created in love. In this regard, the spilling of the seed is seen as an intervention that attempts to interupt the possible creation out of the act of love between two married partners. "The two shall become one flesh" and thus, they "become fruitful and multiply". Whatever your thoughts about the sexual unions, when it reaches beyond the physical into the spiritual, love and purity will naturally follow.

on May 04, 2005
the sin of onan might as easily and more simply be construed as wilfull disobedience without involving or entailing the tribal, political and cultural baggage (seeing as how so many of the prohibitions and prescriptions of the old testament have been rejected as being no longer applicable).
on May 04, 2005
Thanks for both of the kind replies.