Coitus Interruptus, Masturbation, & The Bible

When many Christians, particularly Catholics, talk about the 'Biblical Prohibitions' against masturbation and birth control, they all seem to refer to a single story in the Old Testament.  Interestingly, none of these people seem to know what the verses are referring to.
Genesis 38:7-10  New International Version (NIV)
7 But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death. 8 Then Judah said to Onan, “Sleep with your brother’s wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to raise up offspring for your brother.” 9 But Onan knew that the child would not be his; so whenever he slept with his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from providing offspring for his brother. 10 What he did was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death also. Entry:  (Source:
"The Bible mentions at least one form of contraception specifically and condemns it. Coitus interruptus, was used by Onan to avoid fulfilling his duty according to the ancient Jewish law of fathering children for one’s dead brother. "Judah said to Onan, ‘Go in to your brother’s wife, and perform the duty of a brother-in-law to her, and raise up offspring for your brother.’ But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so when he went in to his brother’s wife he spilled the semen on the ground, lest he should give offspring to his brother. And what he did was displeasing in the sight of the Lord, and he slew him also" (Gen. 38:8–10)."
 First of all, the story does not make it explicitly clear that Coitus interruptus was the particular mechanism involved.  In fact, many Christians (and virtually no Jews) interpret this passage to refer to masturbation.  However, even if this were the case, the story makes it abundantly clear that the punishment inflicted had nothing to do with the mechanism he used, but the essential fact that he did not fulfill his obligation to sire a child for his dead brother.  There is exactly nothing in this passage which makes clear that Yahweh is 'condemning' any kind of birth control.

Furthermore, the story explicitly states that Onan did not want to produce offspring that would belong to another lineage, which was literally the entire point of the tradition.  It has also been suggested that Onan did use coitus interruptus and therefore used his grieving sister-in-law, as well as his father's instruction, to have himself a bout of what he deemed to be consequence-free sex.  Either way, the most common current Christian interpretations rely on information which is simply not present, and it ignores the information which is present and which also places the story in a more accurate context.
"The biblical penalty for not giving your brother’s widow children was public humiliation, not death (Deut. 25:7–10). But Onan received death as punishment for his crime. This means his crime was more than simply not fulfilling the duty of a brother-in-law. He lost his life because he violated natural law, as Jewish and Christian commentators have always understood. For this reason, certain forms of contraception have historically been known as "Onanism," after the man who practiced it, just as homosexuality has historically been known as "Sodomy," after the men of Sodom, who practiced that vice (cf. Gen. 19). "
It is certainly true that the Genesis account of Onan differs from the penalty given in Deuteronomy.  However, this makes perfect sense if the law-givers are using a mythological story to 'back up' their strict rules about keeping the lineage secure.  Think about it this way, "Listen, we do this because Yahweh commands it, and because the man known as Onan was punished with death for not fulfilling his obligation to his brother, as well as to Yahweh.  Onan's death is a reminder for all of us to keep strictly to these rules."  This is very common for this time, as the Moses stories are used to accomplish the same goal.
Also, take a look at the Deuteronomy verses that they mention.
7 And if the man does not wish to take his brother's wife, then his brother's wife shall go up to the gate to the elders and say, ‘My husband's brother refuses to perpetuate his brother's name in Israel; he will not perform the duty of a husband's brother to me.’ 8 Then the elders of his city shall call him and speak to him, and if he persists, saying, ‘I do not wish to take her,’ 9 then his brother's wife shall go up to him in the presence of the elders and pull his sandal off his foot and spit in his face. And she shall answer and say, ‘So shall it be done to the man who does not build up his brother's house.’ 10 And the name of his house[a] shall be called in Israel, ‘The house of him who had his sandal pulled off.’
It is clearly outlined how the early Hebrews had defined this situation, correct?  However, Onan was punished by death.  It isn't clear exactly when the death occurred, but the story seems to indicate that it happened quickly.  If we take on their belief that the Deuteronomic law was basically in effect at the time of the Onan story, then I have 2 points -

  1. Tamar is never given the opportunity to go to the elders and register her complaint.  Therefore, Onan is never given the opportunity to change his mind, per the law.  If Yahweh set these explicit rules, then he Himself is guilty of breaking the contract, not Onan.  If, however, the story is meant to explain the later rules, that would imply that the Deuteronomic law (and associated penalties) were not yet in place.  However, a cultural rule (tradition) was in place wherein Yahweh was invoked as the one who keeps on eye on everyone and makes sure that they fulfill their familial duties.
  2. If, as the site claims, the Onan story is supposed to describe a greater sin, then why is this greater sin not also clearly outlined in the Deuteronomic laws?  Nor is it outlined in the Levitican laws. 
I've heard it argued that Leviticus does contain a prohibition against masturbation.  Let's examine this briefly:
 Leviticus 15:16-18
16 “If a man has an emission of semen, he shall bathe his whole body in water and be unclean until the evening. 17 And every garment and every skin on which the semen comes shall be washed with water and be unclean until the evening. 18 If a man lies with a woman and has an emission of semen, both of them shall bathe themselves in water and be unclean until the evening. 
This is clearly referring to being in an 'unclean' state after any emission of semen (regardless of the circumstances) and how to deal with it.  It is not outlining any kind of 'sin' in the Christian sense, it requires a ritualistic cleansing and those involved, being 'unclean', cannot enter the Temple during this time.  Once the time is over (the evening) as long as they have undergone the cleansing ritual, the persons involved will no longer be considered 'unclean' and can resume life normally.  It can even be seen as reinforcing good cleanliness habits through a minor law.

It seems clear to me that the story of Onan and Tamar was a mythological story which was intended to explain where the Deuteronomic law on that topic was derived from.  

Also notice how the Onan verses are literally the only Bible verses which references to back up their prohibition against birth control.  Every single other 'source' that they refer to are not only extra-biblical, they are all written several hundred years later than Deuteronomy, AND they were all written after the advent of Christianity, which was keen on re-interpreting Old Testament stories to mean something completely different from what the authors had intended.  So to me, it sounds like we're being told this:

"This is the Bible verse we're referring to, this is why it doesn't mean what it says, and here are people who, hundreds of years later, decided to interpret it like this.  That makes it God's Word."


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