Genesis 38: 6 – 10, Onan

Vitruvian Man, 1492, Leonardo DaVinci’s sketch of a naked man.And so we come to the infamous Onan, from whom some have derived the word “Onanism,” mistakenly to mean masturbation. But, as any simple reading of Genesis 38 will tell you, Onan did “spill his seed,” and God did kill him, but whatever else the man was doing, he has not performing an act of solo sex.

Genesis 38:6-10 (New Living Translation) In the course of time, Judah arranged for his firstborn son, Er, to marry a young woman named Tamar. 7 But Er was a wicked man in the LORD’s sight, so the LORD took his life. 8 Then Judah said to Er’s brother Onan, “Go and marry Tamar, as our law requires of the brother of a man who has died. You must produce an heir for your brother.” 9 But Onan was not willing to have a child who would not be his own heir. So whenever he had intercourse with his brother’s wife, he spilled the semen on the ground. This prevented her from having a child who would belong to his brother. 10 But the LORD considered it evil for Onan to deny a child to his dead brother. So the LORD took Onan’s life too.

Pure and simple,
what angered God
was Onan’s
- no more,
and no less.

The Law of God at that time dictated that if a man died without having offspring to carry on the family line, his brother or closest relative was to impregnate his widow and the resulting son would carry on the family name. God had killed Er, Onan’s older brother. When Judah asked Onan to have sex with his childless widow to raise up an heir Onan took one look at his sister-in-law and like what he saw. He was willing to get naked with her, enjoy her body, and have sexual intercourse with her. But, just as he was about to ejaculate, he performed the act of “coitus interruptus.” He pulled out, and let his semen spill on ground. There might have been a few seconds of solo stroking at the end, but this is not what angered God. Pure and simple, what angered God was Onan’s disobedience - no more, and no less.

Spill His Seed

Unfortunately some Christians focus on the phrase “spilled his seed” and use the story of Onan as justification to forbid masturbation, and contraception, stating that any act that culminates in ejaculation but does not also permit the possibility of conception is sinful. This is the Roman Catholic view. And early Jewish rabbis also used this verse to prohibit solo sex.

This was taken to an unholy extreme in 1712 when an anonymous pamphlet was published in London with the unwieldy title, Onania, or, The Heinous Sin of Self Pollution, and all its Frightful Consequences, in both SEXES Considered, with Spiritual and Physical Advice to those who have already injured themselves by this abominable practice. And seasonable Admonition to the Youth of the nation of Both SEXES. Thus began several centuries of cultural, medical and religious war against solo sexual pleasures.

Poor old Onan! Not only did he get killed for his disobedience, but also in recent history his name became associated with medical and religious nonsense that brought great and unnecessary misery upon so many. That was one ill gotten orgasm that sure had some long term consequences! But thank God some of us are coming to our senses and entering into our God given liberty to enjoy the personal and private sensual pleasures that the Word of God does not condemn.



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