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How Fruitful Is Too Fruitful?

A few days ago I posted a link to the story about the Duggar Family who is celebrating the arrival of their fifteenth child. Though it did not generate much buzz here, in other places across the Net the story became a hot topic as people debated the appropriateness of having fifteen children. The most common argument against having such a quantity of children is that parents could not possibly properly care for such a number. Of course there is any number of other arguments.

When I showed the story to my wife her first reaction was “that’s just wrong!” She couldn’t believe that having fifteen children could ever be right and good. Now as someone who was raised in our society that is no great surprise. As we talked, though, we had a more difficult time accepting that it is necessarily wrong to have that many children. Here is my logic.

  1. Be fruitful and multiply - God created us and as one of our primary roles told us to “be fruitful and multiply.” He gave no conditions. He did not say “multiply up to and including eight children at which point you must stop.” At the same time He did not say “be fruitful and multiply until you have exceeded five children.” So there seem to be no hard and fast rules about how many children are appropriate in God’s eyes. Presumably, then, we are able to decide ourselves how many we would like to have. We can assume we should have at least one, but beyond that the Bible is silent. We hear hints that God approves of large families. For example, Psalm 127 says “Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one’s youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them.” However, it is probably safe to assume that within the bounds of Christian freedom we are allowed to decide how many children we would like to have.
  2. Do not deny each other - God tells us not to withhold from having sex with our spouse. Paul says that we are able to do so for a short time if it becomes necessary, but as a rule, abstinence within marriage is wrong. Therefore, it is God’s plan that there is always the possibility that a woman may become pregnant as long as she is physically able to bear children.
  3. No God-given birth control - God has not given humans the innate ability to enjoy sexual relations while absolutely avoiding pregnancy. In other words, when a man and woman have sex there is always the possibility of a pregnancy unless they use some “artificial” method of birth control or one of them is infertile or beyond childbearing years.
  4. No command to use birth control - Nowhere in the Bible does God command that a couple must use birth control at any stage in their marriage. Though I do not believe using birth control is wrong, I do not find that the Bible ever commands it.
  5. God opens the womb - God is absolutely sovereign. He has foreordained every pregnancy that has ever happened and that will ever happen. Whether a woman has one children or fifteen, God has decreed the beginning and end of each pregnancy.
  6. God will provide - God tells us time and again throughout Scripture that He will provide for us. When we faithfully follow Him, He promises that He will provide for all our needs. We are to have confidence that no matter how impossible our needs may seem, He will provide.

Based on this logic, I do find that Christians can rationally say that having fifteen children is wrong. For us to say that it is inherently wrong to have a certain number of children we would also have to say that God commands us to use birth control at some point in our marriages. I simply do not find that is the case.

Now this is an argument that presents some difficulties. For example, what are we to do about women who have just given birth? We know that there may be serious health problems if a woman becomes pregnant immediately after having another child, especially if this happens repeatedly. It would seem to be a safe assumption that using birth control for the first months or years after a pregnancy is a wise decision. But is it wrong not to?

I would be interested in hearing some other people’s thoughts on this matter.