8 And Judah said to Onan, “Go in to your brother’s wife and marry her, and raise up an heir to your brother.” 9 But Onan knew that the heir would not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in to his brother’s wife, that he emitted on the ground, lest he should give an heir to his brother. 10 And the thing which he did displeased the LORD; therefore He killed him also.
Onan must have been a malicious and incorrigible scoundrel. This is a most disgraceful sin. It is far more atrocious than incest and adultery. We call it unchastity, yes, a Sodomitic sin. For Onan goes in to her; that is, he lies with her and copulates, and when it comes to the point of insemination, spills the semen, lest the woman conceive. Surely at such a time the order of nature established by God in procreation should be followed. Accordingly, it was a most disgraceful crime to produce semen and excite the woman, and to frustrate her at that very moment. He was inflamed with the basest spite and hatred. Therefore he did not allow himself to be compelled to bear that intolerable slavery. Consequently, he deserved to be killed by God. He committed an evil deed. Therefore God punished him. [Luther's Works, vol. 7 : Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 38-44 (Ge 38:9-10)]
A friend has pointed out that many people argue that just because the church fathers, Luther, and others claim that intentionally non-procreative sex is a Sodomitic sin, does that mean it really is. Are they not also prone to error? We are certainly free as Confessional Lutherans to disagree with the non-confessional writings of Luther.
This is one of the major arguments people make against the position of this blog. My response to this argument is that if you disagree with Luther you aren't just disagreeing with him and a few church fathers and other wackos. You're disagreeing with the consensus of orthodox theologians throughout all ages, both liberal and conservative. There are few issues of exegesis on which there is the same unanimity with which the sin of Onan is interpreted. There was absolutely NO disagreement in ANY church that Genesis 38:10 condemned contraception until the middle of the Twentieth Century.
All the new interpretations I have encountered are not based on some new exegetical finding or correction, but rather on a desire to legitimize non-procreative sex in these latter days which celebrate individuality, self-fulfillment, and free-love. The new interpretations I've run into usually even contradict each other. More importantly, the new interpretations are inconsistent with the rest of Holy Scripture. Charles Provan (THE BIBLE AND BIRTH CONTROL) does a thorough job of debunking the most common of these modern interpretations using Scripture alone. I have also had some VERY productive arguments with others based only upon Genesis 38:10.
Ultimately, we must hold this as one of the clearest verses in which Scripture condemns non-procreative sex.
I'm not saying that one must always agree with an historical interpretation of Scripture. Indeed, we must be willing to throw out Luther and the Confessions themselves if and where we can prove them wrong on any point. But if one is going to disagree an historical interpretation of Scripture which is as solid in it's unanimity as that for Genesis 38:10, the burden of proof certainly is on that person to show why the historical interpretation is wrong. In all my years of studying this issue, I've never heard a single argument against the historical interpretation of Genesis 38:10 that is even slightly credible. Have you?
When you read modern discussions of the issue of contraception, I rarely see ANY reference to Scripture, nor any debunking of the historical position of the church. It is just assumed that we are "free" to plan our families because Scripture is silent on the issue. But the church has never before seen Scripture as silent on this issue. If they are going to disagree with doctrine that has been so consistently taught for 2000 years, they can't just say "Scripture is silent." They must prove the historical Scriptural position of the church to be in error! Until they do so, the church must hold to the teachings of our fathers.
The church throughout all ages has universally condemned the sin of Onan as the sin of family planning: St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan (c. 339-397), Hexameron, 5.18.58; Athenagoras of Athens, Letter to Marcus Aurelius in 177, Legatio pro Christianis ("Supplication for the Christians"), page 35; St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (354-430), De Nuptius et Concupiscus ("On Marriage and Concupiscence"), 1.17; Barnabas (c. 70-138), Epistle, Volume II, page 19; St. Basil the Great, First Canonical Letter, Canon 2 (A.D. 374); Caesarius, Bishop of Arles (470-543), Sermons, 1.12; Clement of Alexandria, "The Father of Theologians" (c. 150-220), Christ the Educator, Volume II, page 10. Also see Octavius, c.30, nn. 2-3; Ephraem the Syrian, De Timore Dei, page 10; St. Jerome, Letter to Eustochium, 22.13 (A.D. 396); St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on Romans 24 (A.D. 391); Letter of Barnabas 19 (A.D. 74); Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies (A.D. 228); Lactantius, Divine Institutes 6:20 (A.D. 307); Minucius Felix, Octavius, 30 (A.D. 226); Origen of Alexandria (185-254), Against Heresies, page 9; Tertullian, Apology, 9:8 (A.D. 197), and The Soul, 25,27 (A.D. 210).
And, until a half-century ago, all Lutheran theologians agreed that Scripture condemns contraception.
Let these modern antinomians contend with these historical, biblical interpretations of Genesis 38:10. Show us where they are wrong! Otherwise, hold your tongues about the "freedom of the Christian." Scripture condemns family planning.