Join Scott and Sean as they interview well known theologian Dr. Wayne Grudem about his new book on ethical issues at the beginning of life. It moves fast since we cover a lot of ground, but Dr. Grudem does it with clarity and compassion both.
About our Guest
Dr. Wayne Grudem is Research Professor of Theology and Biblical Studies at Phoenix Seminary. He is the author of numerous books and articles in theology and one of the most respected theologians on the scene today.
Scott Rae: Welcome to the podcast Think Biblically: Conversations on Faith and Culture. I'm your host, Scott Rae, dean of faculty and professor of Christian ethics here at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University.
Sean McDowell: And I'm your co-host, Sean McDowell, professor of apologetics at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University.
Scott Rae: We're here with our special guests today, Dr. Wayne Grudem, a distinguished theologian, now a research professor at Phoenix Seminary, the author of more books than we can count. In fact, it would take, I think, most of our podcast time just to list his publications. But what we want to talk about today is a brand new book that's coming out. He's done a series of these little short volumes entitled, What the Bible Says about, and then a given topic. And so, this one we want to focus on today is What the Bible Says about Birth Control, Infertility, Reproductive Technology, and Adoption.
So, Wayne, we appreciate your willingness to take on a whole host of controversial topics in one very short volume. Dr. Wayne Grudem, welcome. Really happy to have you with us on this.
Wayne Grudem: Thank you, Scott, and good to be with you.
Scott Rae: So, tell us exactly... Just let's start with, I think, probably the most controversial part of this is the area of birth control. What exactly does the Bible teach about birth control?
Wayne Grudem: Well, I think the first thing we have to say, Scott, and I know you would agree with me, is the Bible is unashamedly and unequivocally in favor of children. Children are viewed as a blessing. First chapter of the Bible, God said to Adam and Eve, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it." So the first command that God ever gave to human beings was a mandate to bear children. You get passages like Psalm 127, "Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord. The fruit of the womb, a reward." Or Malachi 2:15, "What was God seeking? Godly offspring." You go over to the New Testament, and the apostle Paul says, as far as younger widows, he said, "I would have younger widows marry, bare children, manage their households and give the adversary no occasion for slander." So in any conversation about birth control, I think we have to start out by saying to ourselves and to others, do we agree in our hearts with the Bible's positive view of children as a blessing from God?
Scott Rae: Okay. So if that's true, then the tenor of scriptures clearly indicates that. If that's true, then what's the rationale for any birth control at all?
Wayne Grudem: Well, there are many good things to do in life and we can't do all of them all of the time. I think it's reasonable and morally permissible for couples to say, "We want to have children, but we're not sure this is the right time," or perhaps, "We are thankful for our children, but we don't think we can responsibly provide for and teach and nurture and care for any more children than what we have." In those cases, birth control is, I think, morally acceptable. I don't see anything in scripture that would prohibit the use of birth control. It's one development that is available through modern medicine. So, in general, the idea of choosing not to have more children or choosing not to have children for a time in marriage is itself morally acceptable. However, there are some morally permissible means of birth control and there are some morally unacceptable means of birth control, those that involve taking the life of an unborn child.
Sean McDowell: Dr. Grudem, in your volume here, you say, "The scriptural emphasis on children as a blessing leads me to think that married couples should in almost all cases plan to have children sometime in their marriages." And then you've got a little footnote that says, "A rare exception would be, say, wife has a medical condition."
Wayne Grudem: Yes.
Sean McDowell: Are you open to the rare exception? I had a friend who said he and his wife decided not to have children and they wanted to foster. It seems to be fitting with the child focus of marriage, but it's not their own biological kids. What are your thoughts on that?
Wayne Grudem: Sean, I'm not sure. I have to be honest with you. It seems to me that the Bible's emphasis on the blessing of children being born to a husband and wife who conceived the child would make me wonder why they don't want to have children of their own. I suppose maybe in your example, I don't know if that's a real example or a hypothetical, but they might say, "Well, we want to devote our care to the foster children. We only have energy and funds and time enough to raise a certain number of children, and we choose to raise these foster children." I wonder especially if the wife in the marriage would feel deeply content that that is God's will for her, not to have children when she's able to do so.
God has put in the heart of both fathers and mothers, but especially in the heart of mothers, of women, a desire, a deep longing to have children. That is reflected in various passages of scripture. Hannah, longing for a child, Sarah, Zachariah and Elizabeth in the New Testament and others, Rachel. And it seems to me... Well, now, I may be speaking too much from my own personal experience, Sean, but Margaret and I were married five years before our first child was born. I did not have the faintest idea how deeply Margaret longed to have children until I saw how happy she was when our first child was born. It was just a depth of joy that was... I mean, I was happy, I was the dad, but her joy was much deeper than that.
So, I don't know, Sean. If a couple came to me for counsel in that situation, I would like to ask a number of questions to help them think through whether this is really what they should be doing or not because the number of years in which they are able to bear children is limited in every marriage. Will they regret that decision when they come to the end of that period and it's no longer possible? I don't know. Scott, do you have something to say about that?
Scott Rae: You're right. I think about there's a deep longing. I think that's part of our procreative constitution that's built into us. I do think you have lots of years to foster, but you do have a limited window in which you could procreate your own children. But I've had friends who've had it. They've had a child or two of their own, and then they choose to adopt additional children rather than have natural children on their own. The Bible is really clear that it accepts singleness for Kingdom reasons. I wonder if it's also possible to accept childlessness voluntarily for Kingdom reasons, for some of the same reasons.
Wayne Grudem: That's a very helpful argument, Scott. I feel the force of that.
Scott Rae: Wayne, let me go back to it. You had said that there's some types of birth control are morally acceptable and others that are not. The ones that are not are the ones that take the life of an unborn child. Can you spell out a little more specifically which types of birth control you consider to be morally problematic?
Wayne Grudem: Well, certainly abortion is wrong. If people consider that birth control, I suppose it is in one sense, but it's taking the life of an unborn child. There are certain medicines or medical substances that are abortifacients. They cause an abortion. The morning after pill, RU-486 and ellaOne, which after a child is conceived with the man's sperm uniting with the woman's egg or ovum, and a new living being has come into existence with its own DNA, its own genetic code, then to take the life of that unborn child, even though it's in very early stage of development is taking the life of what we should consider a new human person. As David said to God, "You knit me together in my mother's womb," he thinks of himself as a person while he was yet unborn. So, that would be wrong. As I understand it, the IUD, the intrauterine device also, Scott, should be considered a device that causes abortion. That would be morally wrong for the same reason. It would be putting to death a very young unborn child.
But there are other methods of birth control that do not take the life of an unborn child, the use of a condom, a diaphragm, a sponge, a spermicide, and most birth control pills, although that's a technical discussion we could get into. What has been recommended for years in the Roman Catholic, among our Roman Catholic friends is a rhythm method or a natural family planning, where the couple of refrains from intercourse during the time of a month when a woman is fertile, when they can conceive a child. I think also acceptable if a couple has reached a decision not to have any more children, a vasectomy for the man or a tubal ligation, or having tubes tied for a woman, I think would be morally acceptable as well. I think that about covers the broad categories.
Scott Rae: Yeah, the really controversial one is the run of the mill birth control pill.
Wayne Grudem: Yes.
Scott Rae: In your view, does that cause abortions? Or where does that fit along the continuum of morally acceptable or not?
Wayne Grudem: Scott, you've reached the limits of my knowledge. I have to default to you if you have more information on this than I do. As far as I could read and understand the medical material, I think that most birth control pills are safe to use and do not cause abortions, but I'm open to being corrected on that.
Scott Rae: Yeah, I've heard mixed reviews on that from-
Wayne Grudem: Do you have a conclusion?
Scott Rae: My conclusion that I'm holding tentatively is that the pill does have a backup mechanism that makes the uterus inhospitable for implantation. How often that's invoked, I don't think we'll ever be able to know the answer to that. Whether that's the intention of the pill or a side effect of the contraceptive component of the pill, I think is still, I think, what's a little tricky to sort out.
Wayne Grudem: Well, that pushes me to say... Well, I'm not sure Scott. I would want to think about it some more. I hope I'm not being too ambivalent here, but we have two things. I think you and I would agree, there are two things we want to avoid. We want to avoid disobeying anything that the Bible tells us about God's moral commands. We should never disobey scripture. But we also don't want to go beyond scripture and require more than the scripture asks of us.
Scott Rae: Yes, that's right.
Wayne Grudem: I think if it's a rare or very rare phenomenon and not the primary purpose of the birth control pill, I think could see the acceptability of it.
Scott Rae: Yeah, that may put it in a different category. I think some have raised a parallel to a woman who's breastfeeding, because a woman who's breastfeeding gives off some of the same hormones that the birth control pill does, but we would not say that. We would not discourage a woman from breastfeeding because of that. We would say that that's an unintended but anticipated side effect and otherwise moral thing. It may be that the pill fits with that parallel as well.
Wayne Grudem: Scott, every time I talked to you, I gain in my knowledge.
Scott Rae: You're very kind.
Wayne Grudem: Well, I'm truthful too.
Sean McDowell: Well, that's how I feel as this goes. I'm learning stuff here all the time, which is great. Let me ask you this one, Dr. Grudem. In terms of infertility treatments, what kind of biblical parameters should we bring to that question and dynamic?
Wayne Grudem: Well, we started out talking about birth control and we started out with a basic principle that children are a gift from God and the Bible is pro-child. So I think that the Bible views infertility as a source of deep sorrow for men and women, especially for women. I mentioned Sarah, and Rachel, Samson's mother, Zechariah and Elizabeth. The Bible use with approval overcoming infertility. So, one of the blessings of the Lord in Psalm 113 is, "He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children. Praise the Lord." So, I think infertility is something we should seek to overcome in general, if we can, without doing anything morally unacceptable. I think infertility is another physical disability or ailment that comes from the fall. It comes as a result of sinning the world. I don't think infertility was how God made the creation at the beginning. So, we should understand the goodness of seeking to overcome infertility.
Now, I think also we should say that where modern medicine is able to treat illnesses or diseases or physical disabilities and cure them, we should be thankful for that. Jesus, while he was on earth, he laid his hands on every one of the people who came with various diseases. "He laid his hands on every one of them and healed them," Luke 4:40, all those who were sick, any who were sick with various diseases. I don't think it's stretching the bounds of the narrative to expect that Jesus, in those cases, would heal the infertility of many women, or men as well, who had previously been unable to conceive and bear children. So, I think it's morally right to support and welcome advances in medicine that can bring health to people with various diseases and disabilities, including infertility. So, that's one principle.
The second principle we already talked about, the Bible requires us to treat the unborn child as a human person from the moment of conception. So any treatment for infertility that regularly causes the death of other unborn children would be unacceptable for Christians to participate in. Then, Sean, I would add one other principle and there's room for difference on this, but what I say in this booklet on what does the Bible say about birth control and reproductive technology, the principle, I think, from scripture is God intends that a child should be conceived by and born to a man and a woman who are married to each other. We see that in a number of ways.
One is the command, "You shall not commit adultery." Well, committing adultery would lead to a child in many cases, being born to a man and a woman who are not married to each other, and God doesn't want that to happen. There's some legislation in the Old Testament law, Exodus 22:16, "If a man seduces a virgin who is not betrothed and lies with her, he shall give the bride-price for her and make her his wife." So if a man and woman have sex together and it's found out, they are required to marry. That's the general principle. The rare exception is if the woman's father says, "I'll have nothing to do with this man. I won't have him for my son-in-law," then they don't have to get married.
But in general, the principle is if their child is going to come into the relationship, the man and the woman should be married. Of course, all the Bible verses that speak against sexual immorality, like in the King James Version, it was called fornication, two unmarried people having sex together. Prohibiting that means that sexual intercourse in God's intention should occur only within the context of marriage, and that would guarantee the children would be conceived only within the context of marriage, a man and woman who are married to each other. That's some guidelines on what we should think about with regard to overcoming infertility.
Scott Rae: So, you have a qualified acceptance of in vitro fertilization-
Wayne Grudem: Yes, I do.
Scott Rae: ... in the book, that you support?
Wayne Grudem: Yes.
Scott Rae: What about any problem morally or theologically with children being conceived outside the womb?
Wayne Grudem: Well, there are different situations that could occur. The one that seems to be most clearly morally correct is artificial insemination by husband, where for some reason, for some physical or medical reason, the husband and wife are unable to have ordinary sexual intercourse. If the husband's sperm can be collected outside his body and then injected into the wife's womb or uterus using needleless syringe, the child is conceived by and born to a man or a woman who are married to each other and no other human person is involved in it and no embryos destroyed and the infertility is overcome. So I think I would say that, in my mind, is clearly morally acceptable, artificial insemination by husband.
What about in vitro fertilization? Yeah, where I'm in vitro means in glass or in the laboratory, where a woman's egg in a husband's sperm are joined in the laboratory and then implanted inside the woman. I have to say, Scott, I don't know where you stand on this, Scott and Sean. Evangelical Christians differ on the moral acceptability of this. My own position, I don't think there's a moral objection to this. It is not something that would have been possible medically in the ancient world and is possible today, but I think there's no objection to the idea and principle. However, the problem is sometimes more than one or two eggs are fertilized and multiple embryos result. And then, what to do with them? The woman can't bear 15 or 20 children all at once. So the embryos are discarded or frozen, and then that's the wrongful taking of human life.
So, what I recommended in my book is that the kind of in vitro fertilization that is morally acceptable is one in which only one or two embryos or eggs are fertilized and one or two embryos result in they're both brought to full term, brought to birth. So I think that's morally acceptable. That doesn't mean that couples have an obligation to try it. Some may think it's too expensive. Others, some of my colleagues in the evangelical academic world think it fails too often and it results in the death of a fertilized egg, a death of a very young human being. And so, they would say it's morally wrong, but I think that the intention of it is to bring about the wonderful, morally good birth of one or more children. I think I would find it morally acceptable. If a couple came to me and asked for advice, I would say, "If you think it in your heart that God wants you to do this and you have the ability to afford it, then I would say go ahead."
Sean McDowell: Tell me why that would be your suggestion as opposed to adoption, especially since the Bible speaks so positively about adoption and uses it as a metaphor for our relationship with the Lord.
Wayne Grudem: Yeah, very good question, Sean. I would say why not both end? Why not both the in vitro fertilization to have a child naturally and adoption, if the couple feels led by God to adopt? That would be no different from the advice I would give to just other couples who have no problem with infertility at all.
Scott Rae: Wayne, why do you think the Bible views adoption so positively?
Wayne Grudem: Well, God cares for children, and that's a broader theme. God cares for the defenseless, those who are unable to care for themselves. Widows and orphans are especially in that category in the ancient world and to some degree today as well. And then there's a parallel with us as sinners being saved by Christ and adopted into God's family as his sons and daughters. That's a wonderful privilege we have, a spiritual adoption. A physical adoption is a parallel to that and is a demonstration of God's love for those who need care and protection.
Sean McDowell: Dr. Grudem, I'm curious if you could spell out some of your thoughts on surrogacy. Is it something Christians can support, should be concerned about qualified support? What are some biblical principles that apply to the question of surrogacy?
Wayne Grudem: Well, Sean, I'm very reluctant to endorse the use of surrogacy. Surrogacy would be a woman agreeing to carry in her womb until the point of birth a child that has been conceived by the sperm of a man she's not married to, and oftentimes the egg of a woman other than this woman who's carrying the baby. There's one parallel, some close, not an exact parallel, but a similar situation with Abraham and Sarah and Hagar in the Old Testament, where in Genesis 16, Abraham conceived a child with his wife, Sarah's handmaiden or female servant, whose name was Hagar. There was all sorts of conflict and stress and tension in the marriage as a result.
Abraham eventually drove Hagar away from the marriage, but you can see how that would happen because she's thinking, "I'm bearing the child of this other man that I'm not married to," and there would be a deeply emotional attachment that would be a temptation for both Abraham and Hagar, where their affections would be directed outside their marriage to the other person, outside the marriage of Abraham and Sarah. So, there would be, no doubt, tension and stress in the marriage. I think in the case of surrogacy today, the same kinds of tension and stress would occur, where the mother who is bearing the child but is not the biological mother of the child that is conceived would feel a deep attraction to the man whose sperm she is caring. The man would feel a kind of attraction to someone who's carrying his child. It leads to all sorts of difficulties within marriage and it leads to emotional and oftentimes relational conflicts that are damaging to the permanency of marriage between one man, one woman. So, I'm reluctant to affirm it.
Scott Rae: Wayne, one final question for you. Increasingly today, couples are able to adopt embryos that had been left over from successful IVF treatments. Is this a moral option for a couple of trying to be faithful with-
Wayne Grudem: I think it's a wonderful option, Scott. We just talked a few minutes ago about the biblical evaluation of adoption of physical children, children who are one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10 years and older. Well, why not adopt a child who is not yet born? I don't know if you saw, or I think you did see, you mentioned to me that here, there was an embryo frozen October 14th, 1992, and now 28 years later, 27 years later, she was adopted as a frozen embryo by her genetic parents. Just now, within the past week, Molly Everett Gibson was born as a baby after 27 years, conceived after 27 years, born after 28 years as an embryo. She's a perfectly healthy and normal baby. This is absolutely remarkable. It's giving a chance to have a normal life to an embryo that was a child waiting to be born for 28 years. I think it's amazing.
Scott Rae: And probably slated for destruction eventually.
Wayne Grudem: Yes, exactly. I know it seems a little strange. It's a strange idea when you first hear about it, but it's a... God's miraculous creation of human life is so resilient that it can persist after being frozen for 28 years or 27 years. It's absolutely remarkable.
Scott Rae: Beat the previous record by more than a factor of two.
Wayne Grudem: Isn't there a student at Biola who was born in this way?
Scott Rae: There is. The very first embryo adoption procedure was performed here in Southern California. Hannah Strege was the first frozen embryo who was thawed and successfully birthed by her mother. She's currently a Biola student. Hannah and her family were on our podcast not that long ago. Really, it's a wonderful story of redemption.
Wayne Grudem: It really is.
Scott Rae: I think just a beautiful account of what God can do out of an IVF procedure that could have gone off the rails and those embryos could all have been destroyed.
Wayne Grudem: Scott, as you say this, it makes me think sometimes people wonder what about the resurrection of people who have died in horrible accidents and their bodies have been charred beyond recognition, or have been cremated perhaps, or death at explosive devices and explosion? How can God bring life back to these bodies who have been so destroyed? Well, He's a powerful God. He can create a new life as He will.
Scott Rae: Hear, hear. That's, I think, a very encouraging note to end this stimulating discussion on. Wayne, thank you so much for coming on with us. I know we've tried to cover a lot of ground here in just a few minutes. But the book, one of the things you do so well in all of your writings is that you are so clear and so thorough and so biblically grounded, and that's what this book, I think, does so well, What the Bible Says about Birth Control, Infertility, Reproductive Technology, and Adoption in 77 pages. That's quite an accomplishment, but it's not treated superficially. It's done with quite a bit of depth and is really well done, well-grounded biblically, as you would expect from someone who has been writing theologically and biblically for as long as you have. So, Wayne, thanks so much for coming on with us and for this terrific little book, What the Bible Says about Birth Control, Infertility, Reproductive Technology, and Adoption.
Wayne Grudem: Thank you, Scott. So good to be with you and Sean.
Scott Rae: This has been an episode of the podcast Think Biblically: Conversations on Faith and Culture. To learn more about us and today's guest, Dr. Wayne Grudem, and to find more episodes, go to biola.edu/thinkbiblically. That's biol