Wayne Grudem: What Does the Bible Say About Birth Control?
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What does the Bible say about birth control? On FamilyLife Today, Dave and Ann Wilson host theologian Wayne Grudem, who explores God’s Word about tricky ethics surrounding contraception and fertility.
Wayne Grudem: What Does the Bible Say About Birth Control?
Shelby: Hey, Shelby Abbott here. Just want to give a heads up before you listen to this next program. Today's conversation on FamilyLife Today covers some sensitive but important subjects that might not be suitable for younger ears. Please use discretion when listening to this next broadcast. Alright; now, let's jump into it.
Dave: I can't tell you how many times, in 30-plus years of pastoring, someone would come up to me—usually, in the lobby on a Sunday after a sermon—and ask me this question about birth control: “Is it okay to use birth control?”
Dave: I look at him, like, “Well, I'm not a doctor. Why are you asking me?”
Ann: They're saying, “Biblically, is it okay?”
Dave: They're like, “What is God's heart on birth control?” because we do know that God wants us to reproduce children. That's one of his blessings for us. So for us to intervene, and stop that process, is a real/real tough question.
Ann: And it's interesting because some people are passionate on both ends of that.
Dave: Oh, yes.
Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Dave Wilson.
Ann: And I’m Ann Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
Dave: This is FamilyLife Today.
We've got a man in the studio, Dr. Wayne Grudem, with us today that I think can help us answer this question: “Is it okay to use birth?” Dr. Wayne, thank you for being back on FamilyLife Today.
Wayne: Good to be with you.
Dave: So you've written many books; in fact, we've had you on before; and I didn't even say, “How many books have you written?” Ann and I have written two; I'm guessing you've written a little bit more than two books. [Laughter] How many?
Wayne: —in the vicinity of 30.
Dave: And some of them are very, very thick: Systematic Theology, Christian Ethics. And then you have these little books, which I love, because they're just concise and they take all that theology and they say, “Okay, let's talk: ‘What’s the Bible teach?’” One of them that you've written, literally, is called What the Bible Says About Birth Control, Infertility, Reproductive Technology, and Adoption.
Ann: And I think those questions, too—the reproductive technology that we have today—I think a lot of people are wondering, “Is it okay with God?”
Dave: We'll get there, but I'd love to have you answer the question I've been asked many times. Pretend that I'm walking up to you on a Sunday, after a sermon—or at Phoenix Seminary, where you teach—and someone asks you and says, “Is it okay to use birth control?” How would you answer that?
Wayne: I probably would start with asking a question. Imagine, I'm talking to a couple: “Do you, as a couple agree with the Bible's perspective that children are a blessing?—and that God, ordinarily in almost all circumstances, is pleased for married couples to bear children and raise them? Do you agree with that in general?” Because that’s/there's an anti-child sentiment that's strong in our society today. It's easy for young couples to adopt that sentiment and say, “We just don't want to be burdened with children.”
The Bible is very positive [toward children], from Genesis, Chapter 1, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it.” And Psalm 127: “Children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.” There's a picture in the Bible of God blessing children in Malachi—at the end of Malachi in the Old Testament—“What does God desire?—godly offspring.”
So the first question is: “Do you agree, in general, that children are a blessing?” and “It's right to seek to have children.” Now, if a couple will say, “Yes,” to that, then they're asking, “Is it right to delay having children?”—for instance, perhaps until they get a little more financial stability, perhaps until they finish an educational process—something like that. I think it's morally acceptable, because there's no prohibition against birth control in the Bible/no explicit prohibition; and it's medically possible to delay the onset of having children in a marriage.
Ann: Are there any types of birth control that would be morally wrong?
Wayne: The Bible, I think, teaches that the unborn child should be protected as a human being from the point of conception.
Wayne: So are there morally unacceptable methods of birth control?
- Well, abortion, for sure, because that kills an unborn baby.
- The IUD—intrauterine device—allows the mother’s ovum, or egg, to be fertilized by the husband's sperm; and a new human being begins to grow inside of her. And then it prevents implantation of the fertilized embryo, and that's causing the death of an unborn child; so that would be unacceptable.
- And the morning-after pill does the same thing.
So those would be methods that I would say Christians should avoid using.
Dave: If birth control is, in your opinion, allowable by God, one argument would be: “Shouldn't I just trust God? He knows how many kids I should have and when I should have them, and so He'll let me or us get pregnant when it's on His time. I don't need to jump in.” That's one of the pushbacks I've heard. How would you respond to that?
Wayne: I don't think that God wants us to trust Him for things He has not promised in His Word. And I don't think He has promised in His Word to govern the number of children we have.
I know, in the Christian world, there are some people writing and saying: “Children are a blessing. Why do you want to refuse more blessings from God? Shouldn't you maximize the number of children you have to maximize the blessings?” It's faulty reasoning—the reasoning is—“If something is good, you should get as much of it or do as much of it as you can.” But we are finite creatures, and we don't have infinite amounts of time or resources.
Sleep is good—it's a blessing—but that doesn't mean we should get as much sleep as we possibly can. Food is good, [and] it's a blessing; and work is good—it's a blessing from God to have to have fruitful work—but we don't work as much as we absolutely can for our whole lives. Physical exercise is good; evangelism is good; worship is good—there are many blessings in this life—but we have responsibility to allocate our efforts, our time, our talents to wisely follow the path that God has for each of us individually. I cannot say that there's one steadfast rule for how many children a couple should have, because God's calling will vary on different individuals and different families. It's for them to pray and seek the Lord's wisdom on how many children they should have.
Dave: We didn't have our first son until six years. And part of our planning was: “Let's get our marriage stable,” “Let's get us/our marriage to a place, where we can handle kids.” We found out: “Ah, that's never going to happen.” [Laughter]
Ann: Well, but we did need those years; because we did struggle at the beginning. And I was/I was only 19 when I got married. So I had an opportunity to wait a little bit too.
Dave: Yes, I was kidding; but you know, we thought, after six years, “We're ready”; and then we had child number one. We're like, “Are you ever ready?” [Laughter] I mean, it was, “Wow!”
Ann: Yes, because then you see other cracks and weaknesses in you that God wants to refine.
Dave: Yes; so we've talked about types of birth control that would be wrong. What are types that would be acceptable?
Wayne: Whatever type of birth control is used so that it doesn't cause the death of an unborn child.
Dave: And what would you say the Bible says about couples that just are unable to get pregnant/unable to have children.
Wayne: Well, the Bible views that as a point of sadness. It's part of the fall of Adam and Eve. Falling into sin is that our bodies don't function perfectly. We're subject to shortcomings; and in some cases, illness and disease.
You have situations where, for instance, Zechariah and Elizabeth, in the first chapter of Luke: “They were both righteous before God, walking blameless before Him; but they had no children for Elizabeth was barren.” It says she was unable to bear children.
Ann: Don't you like how he has the verses all memorized? [Laughter] I bet you have a lot of verses memorized.
Wayne: —a few.
Ann: But that's a good example: they loved God; they were married; and they weren't able to conceive.
Wayne: And it wasn't because of sin on their part. Sometimes, people, who are unable to have children, think, “God is punishing me because of my sin.” But Luke 1 says: “They were righteous before God, walking before God blameless.” So it was for God's purposes, that we don't always understand. But then there's a great blessing that comes when God allows them to have a child, and that child turned out to be John the Baptist.
Ann: And there are a lot of those cases: Abraham and Sarah—I mean, a lot of infertility—Hannah, where there is infertility.
So let's then go into the adoption process.
Wayne: Yes; I should interrupt [for just a minute and say, interestingly enough, I'm reading through a chapter in the old Testament, a chapter in the new Testament each morning.
Ann: Me too.
Wayne: And this morning, I read Genesis, with the birth of Isaac to Abraham and Sarah/Abraham and Sarai, when he was 100 years old; and she was, I think, 90.
Wayne: Yes, a blessing.
Dave: And yet, there are some couples, obviously we know, that never have that miracle/the blessing of being able to get pregnant. I'd love to hear you talk about adoption.
Wayne: Well, God has adopted us as His children, and adoption is a beautiful option, available to Christians. Many Christian families adopt children, who otherwise would not have parents to bring them up, and bring great blessing to their families as a result of that.
Dave: Our middle son has adopted one child. They thought this little boy would never have another brother. And they got a call one day and said, “His mother just had another baby. You have two hours to decide if you want to foster his little brother.” [Laughter] They've had them both in their home, now—what?—two years?
Ann: —since birth. The older brother just turned four; the younger brother just turned two. They're amazing. And it's just sweet to see the life that they're living, and even the discipleship, and the house that loves Jesus. It's been really sweet, and they have two other siblings.
Let's talk about just what we have today in our modern medical facilities that we now can use in vitro fertilization, artificial insemination, and even having a surrogate mother to enable a couple to have a baby. Of all of those—and this is very controversial, even in the Christian world of what is okay, in terms of where God would say, “Yes; I give My nod of ‘yes,’ to this,” or “No,”—how do they determine, and how should we determine, from a biblical viewpoint?
Wayne: Well, in this little book, What the Bible Says About Birth Control, Infertility, Reproductive Technology, and Adoption, I bring up the question of methods of helping a couple to conceive a child and bear child. I start out by saying:
- It seems to me there are three principles from the Bible to take into account in evaluating these various methods of reproductive technology. The first is modern medicine is, in general, basically a good thing; because modern medicine helps us overcome some of the illnesses that result from the fall.
- And number two, an unborn child should be protected from the moment of conception.
- And number three, it seems to me that the pattern in Scripture is that God intends that a child should be born to a mother and father, who are married to each other. And so the command: “You shall not commit adultery,” is in part to guarantee that, when children are conceived and born, they're born to a mother and father, who are married to each other.
We take those principles—modern medicine is good; the unborn child should be protected from the moment of conception; and a child should be born to a mother and father, who are married to each other—and then we ask: “Now, what about artificial insemination?”
Artificial insemination, by husband, would mean that the husband's sperm is transferred into the mother's womb; but the principles are followed—because the unborn child is protected from the moment of conception; and the child is born to a mother and father, who are married to each other—and so this seems to be a morally acceptable alternative to me, and overcome the physical deficiency of a husband and wife, who aren't able normally to conceive children in the normal way.
My mind keeps coming back to this instance from my childhood, when I ask my mother where babies came from. [Laughter] I've been thinking this for the last five minutes in the interview, so I'm going to say it. [Laughter] If you cut it out, that's fine; but—
Dave: Go for it.
Wayne: Her answer was: “Well, the mommy and daddy pray and ask God for children. Sometimes, He gives you children.” That was my introduction.
Dave: How, how old were you?
Wayne: I don't remember. [Laughter]
Ann: It's really sweet though; isn't it?
Wayne: Yes, but that was the only explanation that I got for it.
Ann: —ever? [Laughter]
Wayne: —for a while.
Then, another method is in vitro fertilization, where the husband's sperm and the wife's egg are united in a test tube or a Petri dish in the chemical laboratory. I think that's also morally acceptable. It's not the natural way of conceiving children; but the child is born to a husband and wife, who are married to each other. And the unborn children are not put to death. Now, some object to that and say that it's not always successful; and therefore, some of the fertilized eggs will die: I can see that viewpoint. It seems, to me, it's morally acceptable; because the purpose is, not to put the unborn children to death, the purpose is to have a live baby born and healthy.
Another option is artificial insemination by donor, where the sperm comes, not from the husband, but from another man, not married to the wife in the marriage. That seems, to me, to be morally objectionable; because the child is not born to a father and mother, who are married to each other. It's born to a father, who is not married to the mother. It can result in a very significant strain on a marriage; because the woman is carrying a baby that doesn't belong to her husband, physically. And so I would have moral objection to that.
Ann: But with an adoption, you're raising a child that's not of either parent, and you're raising them.
You're saying: “Morally—
Wayne: —"I find it [in vitro fertilization] very doubtful/very questionable.
Adoption is taking care of a child, who's already been born; so that's a different situation. And that actually leads to something that I was previously unaware of; and that is, snowflake babies—frozen embryos—that have sometimes been ten, or fifteen, or more years, frozen. A couple will adopt the embryo, implanted in the wife's womb; and a normal child will be born. Some of these snowflake children are now in their late teens/early 20s—perfectly healthy children—born 17 years after they were first conceived.
It's amazing. But it seems to me that's a way of adoption of a child, who is waiting to be developed, and to grow into a healthy baby. There are thousands of these unborn embryos, just waiting in storage places, to be adopted.
Ann: So you would say: “Would those be morally wrong?”
Wayne: No, not at all. I think they'd be—
Ann: Because you're basically saying you're adopting them; however, they're not of either parents’ genetics.
Wayne: But they're already conceived; they're human beings. Shouldn't we care for them?
Ann: Oh, I've never thought of all these things. [Laughter]
Dave: I know—modern medicine—I mean, part of me wants to know: “What's their real age?
Ann: Yes, that's true; right?!
Dave: “Are they 0 at birth or are they 17?”
Ann: But they're these healthy babies and children being born. So you're saying, instead of in vitro—what do they call it?—when it's a donor/with a donor—
Wayne: —artificial insemination by donor.
Ann: —by donor.
Ann: So that would be morally wrong; however, you could take one of these snowflake babies—have it implanted in the mother; right?—it would be like an adoption, but she's carrying the child.
Ann: And you're saying that would be morally correct?—according to the Bible.
Wayne: I believe so; I believe so.
Ann: That's fascinating.
Wayne: Another question that comes up often is surrogate motherhood. Is it right for a couple, who can't have children, to ask another woman, outside the marriage, to become pregnant by the husband's sperm—even if it's just medically, not physical intercourse—and then bear the child.
The biblical parallel to that is [Abram] and [Sarai] being unable to have children. And they took it into their own hands: [Sarai] said, “Here's my maid, [Hagar]. [Abram,] go ahead and have a child with her.” He did have a union with the maid servant, and she bore a son Ishmail; but there was trouble, from the very beginning, and Ishmail was making trouble for Isaac.
The narrative, overall in Scripture, shows that this sort of surrogate motherhood arrangement was not really what God wanted. It was [Abram] and [Sarai] trying to take matters into their own hands: having a child, born to a man and a woman, who weren't married to each other.
And then you think of the mother, for the nine months of pregnancy, thinking, “I'm carrying another man's baby in my womb.” That would put a strain on the marriage that I think would be very difficult. I cannot think of surrogate motherhood as a legitimate option.
Shelby: That's Dave and Ann Wilson with Wayne Grudem on FamilyLife Today. We'll hear some final reflections on this important and tricky conversation; that's coming up in just a minute.
But first, Wayne Grudem’s book is called What the Bible Says About Birth Control, Infertility, Reproductive Technology, and Adoption. You can pick up a copy at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can give us a call at 800-358-6329; that's 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Okay; now, back to Dave and Ann with Wayne Grudem and some final reflections on how we should think about the topic of birth.
Dave: You know, I think one of the best things I've heard today is what your mom told you. [Laughter] You know, honestly, when you think about modern technology and modern medicine, which is a real blessing—
Ann: —and gift from God in many ways.
Dave: It's a gift from God. But even, if you use modern technology/modern medicine, and it helps you conceive, that baby still was conceived because God said, “I'm going to bring life into this world, to you, through the miracle modern medicine.” But God's really the One that births every baby.
Ann: But I like, Dave, too, that she said: “A mommy and daddy pray.” They pray first. I think that: even to pray for wisdom; to get some wise biblical counseling; even, I bet some of you, like me, have not thought through all these different ways to conceive—but even—“Biblically, what would be morally correct?”
So thank you for answering all these questions: you know, that you're putting in the work to know, biblically, what is okay with God.
Wayne: And I should say, Ann, that Christians differ on the moral rightness of these things—so I'm not saying this is the only acceptable view for Bible-believing Christians—but trying to explain these principles: of modern medicine being good; the unborn child should be protected; and children should be born to a husband and wife, who are married to each other. Those seem to be wise principles to help us in our decision-making process.
Ann: Thank you.
Shelby: That's Dave and Ann Wilson with Wayne Grudem on FamilyLife Today.
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