The Sin of Onan

What was the sin of Onan? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Genesis 38 is a very odd chapter. I read it and I often wonder why Moses included this. Judah is the only son of Jacob besides Joseph that we have a feature section on. I can’t help but think God inspired Moses to write this because Judah is the one through whom Messiah Jesus would come.

There’s too much here to cover in one chapter, so today, I want to look at the sin of Onan. In this chapter, Judah has three sons. The first one is Er and all we know is he was wicked in the Lord’s sight, so the Lord put him to death. We don’t know what he did.

However, we know that his wife, Tamar, was barren at that point so Judah told Onan to lie with her and have children for his brother. However, Onan knew that any children that came would not be his. Therefore, whenever he was with Tamar, he would spill his seed on the ground so that she would not get pregnant.

So what did Onan do that was so wrong? Now let’s point something out at the start. It’s often said that the sin of Onan is either masturbation or birth control. I dispute both of those. At the same time, that doesn’t mean “This text doesn’t condemn masturbation or birth control, therefore both of those are okay.”

An important aspect of good reasoning is to be able to point out that not all arguments for your position are good arguments. I am a strong theist, but I do not think that all arguments for the existing of God are good arguments. I know some people who are Christians and critics of the minimal facts approach to the resurrection, but that surely doesn’t mean that they deny the resurrection.

So let’s look at what’s going on with Onan. Now this is not talking about masturbation because this is done when the two are together and there’s no indication that Tamar is giving him a hand job and if that was what was going on, why would it need to state that the seed was spilled on the ground? The reason it states that is because in sex, well there’s one place the seed is normally meant to go.

So is it about birth control? Again, I’m skeptical of this as the real question to ask is “Why was Onan trying to avoid pregnancy?” It could be hypothetically that trying to avoid pregnancy is wrong, but we should also ask regardless why it is being done. In this case, when we look at why Onan did this, we will see.

Onan was greedy.

Now that sounds confusing. Onan was greedy, therefore he engaged in coitus interruptus?

Yes. If Onan had any kids with Tamar, then Tamar would be the one to get the inheritance from Judah. Onan would miss out. Onan wasn’t only refusing his duty as a brother, he was trying to get all the benefits and look like he was still fulfilling it. In other words, Onan wanted wealth and was willing to cheat his family to get it.

If you want to condemn masturbation or birth control, you need to go somewhere else. This text is not about that.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Book Plunge: Sex. It’s Worth Waiting For

What do I think of Greg Speck’s book published by Moody Publishers? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

If I’m not reading on apologetics, I’m often reading on sex and marriage. One topic that’s interesting in this is encouraging young people to wait for marriage, like my wife and I both did. The importance in this topic is to find the balance.

One clear memory I have is being at a church I attended when they had a Silver Ring Thing, which is like True Love Waits. The pastor speaking was saying if you have sex for marriage, it will be for selfish reasons. Okay. I can agree with that. Then he encouraged thinking about the consequences. What if you get pregnant? Get an STD? What will you have to tell your future spouse one day? What about shame? What about guilt?

And I’m thinking, “Those sound like selfish reasons to me also.”

This guy went on and on. He gave about a sentence about the joy of sex in marriage and kept going on about not having it beforehand. I started zoning out. Pastors. If you are teaching about sex in church and a college-age guy is in the audience and getting bored, you are doing it wrong.

Greg Speck’s book is written to teenagers so it is a bit odd for someone in his late-thirties to be reading it, but I want to see what is said. I liked a lot of what I said. Speck’s style is easy to follow. He writes in a way that teenagers will understand. (Okay. To be fair, I didn’t read the whole section on STDs. That was a bit gross.) He also writes with a pastoral heart.

There are many chapters. Speck wants the readers to first off know, sex is more than just intercourse. It can start off small, and then go on from there. Many times, we want to know how close we can get to the line without crossing. It’s a quite foolish stance, though understandable. It’s like we want to put ourselves in unnecessary risk. I personally recommend couples go no further past step eight in their relationship in The Twelve Steps of Intimacy until they marry.

Speck goes into Biblical reasons also for waiting until marriage, but then he also has testimonials from teenagers who didn’t. I think the last part is particularly worthwhile. Sadly for many young people, a few Bible verses will not be enough. If you’re sitting with your girlfriend on a couch, a random verse from Paul won’t likely stop anything. Now if you have a thoroughly thought out position of sex and know how it fits into a Christian worldview, that’s a different matter, but many young people do not. (And honestly, many adults don’t either.)

From there, Speck goes on to various other situations involving sexuality. These are ones that often aren’t talked about with teenagers, but they need to be. These include incest, rape, and the fear that you could be homosexual. There is also a section on pornography and masturbation and with the former, Speck does admit he had to struggle with that.

This is followed with sections for guys only and girls only. I found these a bit interesting, but I was curious. An unmarried guy wrote for the girls and an unmarried woman for the boys. I suppose that you could always look at different ways this could be done. Perhaps in a future edition there could be testimonials from married couples who waited.

While there is a section on God’s design for marriage, I would have liked to have seen something more at the end. I think too often we can give the negatives, but we definitely need to emphasize those positives. Yes. This is something great worth waiting for. This would be the benefit of testimonials of people who waited until marriage. There’s a saying that the devil will do anything he can to get you to have sex before you’re married, and afterward he will do anything he can to keep you from having sex.

Which brings me to one small criticism. As an Orthodox Preterist, I already think the devil is bound. This does not mean there are not demons running around still, but I think we give the devil far too much power. Speck does point to the devil being a cause of temptation many times. I am of the persuasion that often we don’t need the devil to be tempted, especially when it comes to the opposite sex. As the saying goes, “Lead me not into temptation. I will find it myself.”

Still, I think this would be a very helpful book for youth groups to go through together. Naturally, I think guys and girls would need to go through it separately. Having guys and girls together and talking about an issue like this in close quarters could have the opposite effect desired after all!

In Christ,
Nick Peters