This post is part of an ongoing discussion on the Writers’ Block about the necessity, or lack thereof, of procreation for Christians. To see other articles about this issue, click here to return to our home page.
In any discussion about the theology of procreation, Genesis 1:28 will eventually come up. Like so many phrases from the Bible, this verse has one of those lines that is almost a cliche: “be fruitful and multiply.”
Slam dunk for procreation, right? God says to Adam and Eve to get out there, get it on, and get some children out of it. Toss the birth control, honey, we’re obeying God’s command tonight!
As usual, it is Paul’s contributions to Scripture that challenge us to add depth to our two-dimensional ideas. He argued that celibacy was preferable to being married (1Cor. 7:5-7 NRSV). This is an odd sentiment in Scripture if all of humanity was issued a command to add to the population. Instead, this passage is concerned with the fact that those who are married are worried about “the affairs of the world” and how to please their spouse (1Cor. 7:33-34).
The Corinthian passage seems to be a new manifesto for a new way of life for God’s children. The command in Genesis, and the subsequent blessings of children given to the faithful followers of God in the time of Abraham and the kingdom of Israel, represent a time when God’s people existed as tribal and political units. The new covenant, however, while an extension of the old covenant (another blog post for another time), does represent a different situation. God’s chosen are no longer a single people group (Jews), but open to all the world (Rom. 3:21-30). (For an excellent discussion of this topic, I recommend N.T. Wright’s book, Justification.)
With the opening of God’s kingdom to all, I think there may be a shift in the purpose of marriage. A man and woman coming together is no longer solely concerned with adding to Israel, but is a means by which some Christians can live a holy life. This idea of providing a tool for holiness is exactly the sentiment Paul expresses in 1 Corinthians 7:2, where he tells the congregation to marry if they struggle with lust. Nowhere does Paul mention children, in this letter or anywhere in the New Testament, as being a necessary result of marriage.
Perhaps this indicates that living a life “anxious about the affairs of the Lord” (1Cor. 7:34) is not defined by procreation, but about service that carries us to the hurt, the needy, and the unbelievers.