Genesis 38: 9-10


Onan, however, knew that the offspring would not be his; so whenever he had intercourse with his brother’s wife, he wasted his seed on the ground, to avoid giving offspring to his brother. What he did greatly offended the LORD, and the LORD took his life too.

I was reading through and came across these verses. Is this verse a sign that birth control is not looked upon well in the eyes of the Lord?




The idea is less that birth control is frowned upon and more that a unifying act between spouses be open to the fruitfulness of creation, because unity is essentially creative. It is dishonest to disrupt creation in the unifying act.

That doesn’t mean all acts between spouses are creative, as far as children are concerned. But they should be open to creativity.


The passage that most closely resembles birth control is Deut 23:1—

“An eunuch, whose testicles are broken or cut away, or yard cut off, shall not enter into the church of the Lord.”

The sentence for this is that the violator cannot offer take part in ceremonies (a form of Excommunication). The sentence for refusing to add to the progeny of one’s brother under the law is a public humiliation and societal disgrace as seen in Deut 25:5-10—

“When brethren dwell together, and one of them dieth without children, the wife of the deceased shall not marry to another: but his brother shall take her, and raise up seed for his brother: And the first son he shall have of her he shall call by his name, that his name be not abolished out of Israel. But if he will not take his brother’ s wife, who by law belongeth to him, the woman shall go to the gate of the city, and call upon the ancients, and say: My husband’ s brother refuseth to raise up his brother’ s name in Israel: and will not take me to wife. And they shall cause him to be sent for forthwith, and shall ask him. If he answer: I will not take her to wife: The woman shall come to him before the ancients, and shall take off his shoe from his foot, and spit in his face, and say: So shall it be done to the man that will not build up his brother’ s house: And his name shall be called in Israel, the house of the unshod.”

Neither of these other occasions calls for a death penalty. However the angel Raphael explains to Tobit why the 7 husbands of Sara had been slain on their wedding night in Tobit 6:16,17—

“Then the angel Raphael said to him: Hear me, and I will shew thee who they are, over whom the devil can prevail. For they who in such manner receive matrimony, as to shut out God from themselves, and from their mind, and to give themselves to their lust, as the horse and mule, which have not understanding, over them the devil hath power.”

So in the case of Onan: 1) He did not want to increase his brother’s name—2) He did engage in sexual activity with the wife—3) willfully impeded God’s blessings by restricting the sexual act to one of lust—4) was slain as a result.
St. Paul will tell us later in Col 3:5—

“Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, lust, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is the service of idols.

Traditionally, Josephus and Philo (Jewish historians) attest to the idolatry of lust and fornication here and it is worth noting the early Church’s penalty for contraception was excommunication (reduced from lifetime to 10 years at the Council of Arcania) you’re still to refrain from communion even today. [Quotes from D-R]


If this is all true, then why are churches not encouraging widows to marry their ex-husbands brothers versus finding another man?

I may be wrong, but the verse about someone with ‘broken’ testicles not being able to enter a church, should this not also apply to men who get vasectomies for non-medical reasons?


Hi Mikekle. A couple things come to mind. In the culture that we’re talking about, the first-born son was an important status and was given much of his father’s estate along with certain responsibilities. So there was a societal interest in the continuation of the brother’s progeny. The other is that during these times, marrying within one’s clan was encouraged to keep the faith in God and right-worship intact. It seems when they married from outside of ‘God’s people’, they fell often to the idolatry of those cultures. Even St. Paul, later warns about being ‘un-equally yoked’, but in the new covenant, the whole of the earth (Jews and Gentiles) are invited to share in Divine Sonship. So while marrying outside your clan is no longer warned against, we need to be strong enough in faith to be a light to all the nations, not allowing others to draw us away from our faith.

This shouldn’t be understood that you can’t enter into the church but that you are not able participate in full communion; then, where you couldn’t offer sin offerings, etc and now that you cannot receive sacraments while in this state. Like you said, Josephus (Jewish historian 1st. century) shares the views of this action in book 4, chapter 8 of the Antiquities of the Jews:

“Let those that have made themselves eunuchs be had in detestation; and do you avoid any conversation with them who have deprived themselves of their manhood, and of that fruit of generation which God has given to men for the increase of their kind: let such be driven away, as if they had killed their children, since they beforehand have lost what should procure them; for evident it is, that while their soul is become effeminate, they have withal transfused that effeminacy to their body also.”

The Early Church Fathers testify likewise. Originally, the penitential sentence (both men and women) was lifetime, later reduced to 10 years, now we don’t have specified years. Today, there are many people, who have been raised without right faith, and have indulged in certain means, without full knowledge of their gravity; only to later more fully understand the nature of this sin. Thanks be to God for His mercy, though we must always be contrite and ready to accept penance for our sins.


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