Luther, Calvin, Augustine…Onan

David Burchard Christian Ethics Leave a Comment

Martin Luther: Onan must have been a malicious and
incorrigible scoundrel. This is a most disgraceful sin. It is far
more atrocious than incest or adultery. We call it unchastity, yes,
a Sodomitic sin. For Onan goes into 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

John Calvin: And, so to speak, through Abraham even Levi,
who received tithes, paid tithes, for he was yet in the loins of his
father when Melchizedek met him. The voluntary spilling of
semen outside of intercourse between man and woman is a
monstrous thing. Deliberately to withdraw from coitus in order
that semen may fall on the ground is doubly monstrous. For this
is to extinguish the hope of the race and to kill before he is born
the hoped-for offspring. This impiety is especially condemned,
now by the Spirit through Moses’ mouth, that Onan, as it were,
by a violent abortion, no less cruelly than filthy cast upon the
ground the offspring of his brother, torn from the maternal
womb. Besides, in this way he tried, as far as he was able, to
wipe out a part of the human race. If any woman, ejects a foetus
from her womb by drugs, it is reckoned a crime incapable of
expiation and deservedly. Onan incurred upon himself the same
kind of punishment, infecting the earth by his semen, in order
that Tamar might not conceive a future human being as a
inhabitant of the earth. John Calvin, Commentary on Genesis

Augustine: And why has Paul said: “If he cannot control
himself, let him marry”? Surely, to prevent incontinence from
constraining him to adultery. If, then, he practices continence,
neither let him marry nor beget children. However, if he does not
control himself, let him enter into lawful wedlock, so that he may
not beget children in disgrace or avoid having offspring by a
more degraded form of intercourse. There are some lawfully
wedded couples who resort to this last, for intercourse, even with
one’s lawfully wedded spouse, can take place in an unlawful and
shameful manner whenever the conception of offspring is
avoided. Onan, the son of Juda, did this very thing, and the Lord
slew him on that account. Therefore, the procreation of the
children is itself the primary, natural, legitimate purpose of
marriage. Whence it follows that those who marry because of
their inability to remain continent ought not to so temper their
vice that they preclude the good of marriage, which is the
procreation of children. Quoted by Junius Franciscus (1545-
1602); editor of the Belgic Confession; opponent of Arminius.

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