The Tamar Case: A Precedent for Christians?

Are extraordinary methods for achieving pregnancy, e.g., artificial insemination by a third party donor, ethically permissible? Some contend that “how” a woman achieves pregnancy is not a material issue. The Old Testament case of Tamar is even employed as proof. What does the evidence really show?
By Wayne Jackson | Christian Courier

No narration available

A magazine that is directed to Christian women has a column in which “Opinion” responses to timely questions of interest are invited. A recent question posed for consideration was this: “How do you feel about a couple using extraordinary means to become pregnant?” One reader responded as follows:

“There are many examples in the Bible of those who used extraordinary means to become pregnant. One example is Tamar (Genesis 38:11-30). Tamar seduced her father-in-law in order to become pregnant. This seduction resulted in twins, Perez and Zerah. Perez became the ancestor of Jesus Christ! The key isn’t how you become pregnant. The key is seeking God’s will, doing our best, and beyond that — dedicating the outcome to God.”

One has no reason to suspect that this dear lady is anything other than a godly Christian with a sincere desire to serve the Savior. Sadly, however, the view she has set forth is egregiously flawed.

First, it reveals a lack of Bible knowledge with reference to the role that childbearing plays in the overall sacred scheme of human existence. Second, it is logically defective in that it fails to recognize the consequence that results from the premises employed. Finally, it reflects the all-too-common pragmatic ideology, so often entertained today, that the “end” justifies the “means.”

It is alarming to contemplate just how much of the world’s “reasoning” has been absorbed by well-meaning Christian people. But let us consider each of the matters sketched above.

Reproduction Has a Higher Purpose

Our Creator never intended that the human reproductive capacity should be an end within itself. Unlike animals that reproduce indiscriminately with no higher purpose than that of mere biological replication, humans are vastly different. We are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). We have a grander purpose than merely planting a seed, conceiving an offspring, and delivering a new person to the planet.

Christians recognize that “children are a heritage of Jehovah; and the fruit of the womb is his reward” (Psalms 127:3). They are to be nurtured in the chastening and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). Concerning the text in Psalms 127, one writer has noted:

“Bringing up children is the single most important task we have in life — far more important than excelling as a biochemist, a pathologist, or a professor of economics. We need to study our children. We need to know the various stages through which they pass as they grow from babyhood to adulthood. Above all we need to study the Bible so that we will know and apply what God has to say about the matter” (Phillips, 489).

Here is the point that needs to be made. Reproductive powers are not to be employed in an environment void of moral values. When parents bring a newborn into this world they have the moral obligation to see that their child is trained properly in serving God, and is dispatched toward heaven. To fail in this obligation is reprehensible.

This means that people who employ novel methods of producing children, and yet divorce themselves from further responsibility towards them, are derelict of parental duty. And yet this is precisely what is inherent in some of the modern methods that facilitate pregnancy. The process of artificial insemination by a donor (known as AID) involves contributing sperm or eggs to a third party outside the marital union, for the conception of a child to which the donor will sustain no further parental tie.

Think about this. Why is it immoral to produce children to sell commercially on the black market? Why is such against virtually every form of common law? Might not one rationalize that a “purchased” child could find its way into a good home? This is not the way humane people treat vulnerable youngsters.

We are not discussing, of course, legitimate medical techniques that a married couple might utilize to remedy an impediment in their physical relationship that prevents conception.

Irrational Arguments

The lady who expressed her opinion regarding the facilitation of pregnancy by modern methodology declared that there are “many examples in the Bible” of those who used “extraordinary means” to become pregnant. Really? If so, she selected one of the worst.

The dear soul concedes that Tamar “seduced” a man who was not her husband, by which to conceive. Is she contending that a Christian woman might assume the role of a “prostitute” (cf. Genesis 38:15) in order to facilitate a pregnancy? What other conclusion can one draw?

And since when does an example from the patriarchal period provide precedent for what one may practice in the 21st century? Might a Christian engage in a polygamous relationship? What about concubinal unions?

Moreover, the fact that Perez happens to be in the genealogical line that finally produces Jesus Christ means nothing at all. The sins of the fathers do not filter down to each successive generation (Ezekiel 18:20).

David committed adultery with another man’s wife, murdered Uriah, and confiscated his widow. Later they had a son named Solomon, from whom the Christ ultimately was descended. Does this suggest that adultery and murder are somehow sanctified acts that morally are permissible because of a subsequent genealogical connection to the Lord?

Have we lost our ability to think logically, and to follow an argument to its necessary conclusion?

Pragmatism and Situational Ethics

The position argued in the lady’s letter is really a form of pragmatism (cf. A Critical Look at Situation Ethics). First, it is “pragmatic” because alternative methods of conception (e.g., AID) do work in many instances, and what “works” is what matters with many. Conception outside of marriage works too, doesn’t it?

According to our friend, “the key isn’t in how you become pregnant.” But the “how” is precisely the point of contention in Tamar’s case.

Second, the theory advocated smacks of situational ethics because what could not be done under ordinary circumstances (such as selling sex in a clandestine fashion — as in the case of Tamar), somehow becomes permissible if the motive is noble enough; for example, satisfying one’s longing for a child.

It is a tragedy of considerable proportion that some Christian people have so soaked up humanistic ideology by way of “societal osmosis,” that they no longer know how to assess the difference between right and wrong. The absence of spiritual knowledge is the pathway to destruction (Isaiah 5:13; Hosea 4:6).

  • Phillips, John. 1988. Exploring the Psalms. Vol. 2. Loizeaux Brothers: Neptune, NJ.