Posted by: frroberts | February 8, 2015

Does the New Testament condemn birth control?

According to George Sim Johnson at the Catholic Thing, the answer is likely yes.

About contraception, a Catholic couple can easily succumb to what might be called the bourgeois temptation: Christianity is fine so long as it makes no demands. But what if the Church’s teachings about contraception are true? What if they are part of revelation and the Bible?

St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians uses a certain Greek word: pharmakeia. It is usually translated as “sorcery” and appears in a catalogue of sins that Paul condemns as “works of the flesh”: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger. (5:19-21). The list is long and invites devout skimming. Yet each word was put there by the Holy Spirit for a reason and is meant to be unpacked.

Sorcery was a problem around the 54 A. D., when St. Paul wrote his letter. In his invaluable book, Sex and the Marriage Covenant, John F. Kippley points out that pharmakeia may also refer to artificial birth control:

“Pharmakeia” in general was the mixing of various potions for secret purposes, and it is known that potions were mixed in the first century A.D. to prevent or stop a pregnancy. The typical translation as “sorcery” may not reveal all of the specific practices condemned by the New Testament. In all three of the passages in which it appears, it is in a context condemning sexual immorality; two of the three passages also condemn murder (Gal 5:19-26; Rev 9:21, 21:8). Thus it is very possible that there are three New Testament passages condemning the use of the products of “pharmakeia” for birth control purposes.

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