Why Do I Disagree with the Early Churches on Procreation?

Anyone familiar with the early Christian writings knows that from a very early date the churches began to oppose sex, even in marriage, for any other purpose than having children.

I think they were influenced by Greek philosophy, not apostolic teaching. Why?

I’m not sure what to say about this except that it seems that from Justin on—there’s not much to work with before him (c. A.D. 150)—there is an aversion to sex, even in marriage.

To me there’s nothing scriptural about that, and there’s some direct disagreement from Paul and the writer of Hebrews, assuming Paul didn’t write Hebrews. 1 Cor. 7 says once that a person struggling with passion should marry, and it says once that a woman shouldn’t deny her husband and vice versa. Hebrews 13 says the marriage bed is undefiled.

How much more clear can that be? And there’s just nothing to the contrary.

I know the early Christians got more and more against sex in marriage for pleasure. I think they got that from Greek philosophy, not from the Scriptures.

About Paul Pavao

I am married, the father of six, and currently the grandfather of two. I run a business, live in a Christian community, teach, and I am learning to disciple others better than I have ever been able to before. I believe God has gifted me to restore proper foundations to the Christian faith. In order to ensure that I do not become a heretic, I read the early church fathers from the second and third centuries. They were around when all the churches founded by the apostles were in unity. I also try to stay honest and open. I argue and discuss these foundational doctrines with others to make sure my teaching really lines up with Scripture. I am encouraged by the fact that the several missionaries and pastors that I know well and admire as holy men love the things I teach. I hope you will be encouraged too. I am indeed tearing up old foundations created by tradition in order to re-establish the foundations found in Scripture and lived on by the churches during their 300 years of unity.
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5 Responses to Why Do I Disagree with the Early Churches on Procreation?

  1. Dave says:

    There was a definite focus on virginity in the NT era. Both Jesus and Paul express this, but that it is only for a chosen few (not all priests etc). I believe this is what Justin was getting at. Augustine vilified sex. Their was a definite progression towards that thought though, even with Tertullian and Clement of Alexandria looking down upon those not called into a life of celibacy.
    Remember the 144,000 in Revelation. It says they had not defiled themselves with a woman.

    • shammahbn says:

      Thanks. I am wide open to the idea that some have a gift of celibacy and can use that to further their service for God.

  2. thisrestlesspilgrim says:

    Could you please expand upon this some more? Perhaps with some more specific examples. The Early Church held that sex was something sacred and covenantal with procreation being one of the two main purposes of sex, the other being the spousal bonding.

    Or is your issue not so much about sex, but rather celibacy?

    Two of my favourite ECF quotations on love and marriage:

    "An intelligent, discreet, and pious young woman is worth more than all the money in the world. Tell her that you love her more than your own life, because this present life is nothing, and that your only hope is that the two of you pass through this life in such a way that, in the world to come, you will be united in perfect love" – St. John Chrysostom

    "How beautiful, then, the marriage of two Christians, two who are one in hope, one in desire, one in the way of life they follow, one in the religion they practice.

    They are as brother and sister, both servants of the same Master. Nothing divides them, either in flesh or in Spirit. They are in very truth, two in one flesh; and where there is but one flesh there is also but one spirit.

    They pray together, they worship together, they fast together; instructing one another, encouraging one another, strengthening one another.

    Side by side they face difficulties and persecution, share their consolations. They have no secrets from one another, they never shun each other's company; they never bring sorrow to each other's hearts… Psalms and hymns they sing to one another.

    Hearing and seeing this, Christ rejoices. To such as these He gives His peace. Where there are two together, there also He is present, and where He is, there evil is not." – Tertullian

    • shammahbn says:

      I'm not referring to celibacy. The quotes you give talk about wonderful love with a wife, but not of marital intimacy.

      I'm referring to statements like what Justin said, "If we marry, it is only that we may bring up children." The problem is, because I didn't expect anyone to question it, as history books affirm what I said as well, I didn't look up any passages for this. For example, I know that I've read in a 2nd century or early 3rd century writing–Clement of Alexandria seems a likely candidate–that having sex with your wife while she was pregnant or nursing was wrong because she was not fertile at that time. Such a rule calls for two years, or perhaps more, of abstinence, which is just not realistic, scriptural, or necessary for a married couple.

    • shammahbn says:

      Celibacy of clergy, by the way, is a completely different issue, that has to do not with abstinence or self-control, but with what Scripture says about elders/bishops as well as what is indicated by the tradition of the church.

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