Be Fruitful and Multiply
What the Bible Says About Having Children
Author: Campbell, Nancy
Genre: Christian Living, Women's Issues
Publisher: The Vision Forum Inc., 2003
Tags: Children, Doctrine, Parenting, family
Have you ever wondered about this book? Nancy Campbell’s book has been reprinted 5 times. It has become a mainstay in the Quiverfull ideology, however, I’m not sure it’s in print currently. It is not for sale even on her own website. I got mine used. The main premise of the book is obvious, that God’s first and primary command is to be fruitful and multiply. This means to her that any and all prevention or modification of conception is anti-biblical. There were so many errors in the book, I could barely make it through.
1. Use of Superlatives. My first observation is her incessant use of superlatives. One gets the sense that there is NO other purpose under heaven for a Christian family than to raise as many children as possible. This is a dangerous way to characterize Scriptural ideas. While it is true that children are a blessing, and being a godly mother is an important and primary role, and one purpose of the Christian family is to have a godly heritage, Campbell extrapolates that truth to mean that there is no other purpose for a Christian family. I can think of several examples in the New Testament of women who were mentioned without any reference to her role as a mother: Priscilla, Mary Magdalene, Martha & Mary of Bethany, Lydia, Joanna, Susanna, Phoebe. To be sure, Jesus rebuked his disciples for shunning the little children, but children are not the focus of the New Testament by far. Here is just a smattering of examples of Nancy Campbell’s statements.
“God says that motherhood is exalted above everything else” (pg. 45).
“God’s number one blessing is multiplication” (pg 59).
“God says children are His best gift” (pg 65).
“It is only our children that are lasting gifts that we will keep forever” (pg. 71).
“Parenting is the highest calling God has given to mankind. Every other career is subservient to this one” (pg. 75).
“It seems that many couples would do any sacrifice for God rather than obey God’s first commandment. [i.e. to be fruitful and multiply]”(pg. 115). (Interestingly, the Mormon church also views the command to be fruitful and multiply as the “first commandment” (source). In reality, the first command to a man and woman was to “leave and cleave”(Genesis 2:23-24).
“Motherhood is an eternal career” (pg. 165).
“I am fulfilling the only career that is eternal” (pg 209).
I don’t know how one can read the New Testament and come away with this kind of understanding of what is truly important in our New Testament age.
2. Temporal blessings should be sought and expected. This was the biggest indicator of her non-dispensational theology (see my point below). God’s promises to the nation of Israel and previous dispensations were definitely blessings of children, land, and health (Gen. 22:16-18; Gen. 28:13-15; Gen. 35:9-12, Ex. 15:26, Lev. 26, Deut. 28). In the New Testament, however, we know that the spiritual will trump the temporal in all things even in family relationships (Luke 12:53; Matthew 12:48-50). She discusses at length the concept of fruitfulness, that it must be that “the natural comes first and then the spiritual” (pg 48). There is a recurring theme in her book that we should have lots of children in order to “build God’s army” (chapter 5). Not only that, she believes that families should not only be blessed by children, but should pursue the maximum number of children possible in order to “fill God’s eternal kingdom” (pg. 40). Multiplication, she says, is the main thrust of Scripture. This is that particular Quiverfull interpretation of Psalm 127:5 (a.k.a. Millitant Fecundity).
In my view, the same argument could be made for any worthy endeavor, but should we do only that, all of the time, to it’s farthest edge? In reality, numbers have nothing to do with God’s plan for the church or any of His other purposes. Only one family on earth had such promises made related to its number, and that was the family of Abraham. In the Age of Grace we find that “strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matt 7:14). Even in the Old Testament we are told not to “dispise the day of small things” (Zech 4:10). What about the story of Gideon’s small army or the widow’s mite or the boy’s meager lunch of fish & loaves? Is it our numbers that matter? Is it our earthly fruitfulness that matters? Small numbers were and are the norm especially as we strive for holiness in a sinful world in the New Testament. It has often been the very small groups of believers who have attempted great things for God and expected great things from God. After all, it is HE who does the work, not us. Nancy Campbell’s understanding of the Word is very narrow in this regard. Here are some of her statements:
“If anything, the Bible teaches that those who are economically poor should desire more children, because with such children come all sorts of blessings including economic blessings” (pg 129).
“God would need an army in this hour to fulfill His great purposes” (pg 38).
“When God speaks of blessing, He promises increase of the fruit of the womb, but also of land and the fruit of the ground, of cattle, sheep, and fruitful vineyards. He talks about the increase of wealth, knowledge, and even the increase of the years of our life. God’s blessings are enlargement, fruitfulness and increase” (pg. 33).
[Speaking of the Abrahamic Covenant] “It is interesting to note that before God says He will bless the fruit of our ground, our basket, and store, He says He will bless the fruit of our body” (pg. 133).
“If we only have faith for a small family, we will receive small provision” (pg. 133).
“The church today would be fifty to one-hundred percent stronger if we, the people of God, had not limited the godly seed. There would be more apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, and evangelists” (pg. 202).
“The more children we have, the more impact we have upon the world” (pg. 209).
“The Scripture tells us that God shows respect to us by multiplying us” (pg. 35).
“When God talks about blessing families with fruitfulness, He likens it to things that cannot be numbered” (pg. 42).
3. Countermanding the Sovereignty of God. Somehow in her view the sovereignty of God is not really sovereign. If we can thwart God’s plans so easily, then I don’t know what to think! Again, my response to these statements is that it is God’s work to bring in a harvest of souls. It is His power that will do so, not ours.
“Satan knows that if he can limit the arrows from the Christian parents, he can limit the light that will expose his darkness” (pg. 80).
“Although God is sovereign, we do not allow Him to be sovereign in our lives. Many would find it easier to yield themselves to go to the mission field than to yield their womb to the Lord” (pg 181).
4. I say “Good grief!” to the following statements.
“There would have been a minimum of seven children in Joseph and Mary’s family…God wanted His Son to enjoy the blessing of being part of large family [sic]” (pg. 49).
[Speaking of Matthew 18:5] “This Scripture says that we are to intentionally desire the gift of children, to reach out eagerly to receive them” (pg. 66).
“The church, which is the pillar and ground of truth looked on and thought, ‘What a great idea. I think we will follow the world. We will be able to accomplish a lot more in life without the encumbrance of children” (pg 38).
“God calls life good. He calls it a blessing. And we had better not contradict God” (pg 167).
“We do not see a harvest of souls coming into the kingdom. Oh yes, here and there- but not a great harvest. Once again, I feel that this hinges on our resistance to children from our loins. I believe that when we, as the church of God, repent for stopping the godly seed from coming into the world and begin to embrace life, that once again we will begin to see a harvest of souls being born again into God’s kingdom” (pg. 198).
My answer to that is, God desires singleness in some cases (1 Cor. 7:7-8) because the devotion a woman must make to her husband (shall we say) rivals that which she must give to God. 1 Corinthians 7 describes a few options, not just one, for people to be pleasing to God. The propagation of godly seed is not one of them, because converts can come from anyone. Paul praised people who chose not to multiply but to reserve their whole life in service to God alone, and he himself became a spiritual father to countless converts. Again, the spiritual trumps the carnal. Campbell doesn’t discuss this at all.
[Speaking of removal of spleens, tonsils, adenoids which were “unnecessary” and so having a hysterectomy is the same.] “However, modern research has proved that these organs are important to the body…The Word says that, ‘when one members [sic] suffer, all members suffer with it’ (1 Cor. 12:20-24)….if we cut out or destroy one member of the body, other members of the body will suffer” (pg. 183).
Again she is taking New Testament spirituality and making it conclude in some sort of physical truth rather than interpreting it the other way around as the context demands. Her interpretation is almost opposite of what the passage is saying. Good grief!
5. Begging the question. After each chapter, there is a set of questions that are meant to review the chapter. They really are some pretty leading questions.
“The Scriptures we have read reveal that children are the result of the blessing of God. If this is so, why do you think so many couples do not want to receive God’s blessing?” (pg 61)
“In the light of the full understanding of the world [sic] “build”, and in the context of family which is the theme of Psalm 127, state what you think it means…” (pg. 101).
“Write down those whom you have deprived by refusing to have children” (pg. 203).
6. Non-Dispensational. The root error is that Nancy Campbell is not dispensational in her Bible interpretation. That is, she does not see a fundamental distinction in God’s commands to Adam and Eve, or Israel, or Abraham and us in the Church Age. Therefore, the command to be fruitful and multiply is seen as a command to all believers in all ages. You have seen how many Scriptures are twisted and taken out of context by not having a dispensational understanding of Scripture. Now, I must clarify that not all non-dispensational theologies will necessarily come to the same conclusions as Nancy Campbell. What I’m saying is that her drawing a line from mandates given to Israel directly to the family unit or the church today is an insurmountable theological difference I have with her.
7. Use of the “Law of First Mention”. On page 22 Campbell states, “The law of the first mention is important in understanding the Word of God. When God says something the first time, He lays a foundation for that truth. He will build upon it through the rest of His Word, but He will never deviate from the first principle.” This method of Bible Interpretation is flawed in that almost all Bible scholars believe in the progress of revelation, that Scripture was not given all at once, but was revealed over time until its completion. Though the first mention of a truth (as in Old Testament prophetic passages, for example) may be significant, it by far does not give anything foundational simply by virtue of being mentioned first. The logic employed by Campbell would negate any changes in God’s mandates.
In his paper, “An Evaluation of the Law of First Mentions”, Dr. Myron Houghton summarized his critique of this method this way:
“If the truth has been progressively revealed, then making the first mention of that truth crucial to its meaning simply cannot be true; in fact the opposite concept would seem better supported: the latter mentions of a truth, particularly if found in the NT epistles, would present a clearer, more focused, and detailed explanation of a truth found elsewhere in the Bible.”1
(A side note: The Law of First Mention is a tool used by non-cessationist theologians, those who believe tongues speaking and prophecy and miracles are still prevalent today. They say that since God instituted these spiritual gifts, there is basically no end to those gifts because of the Law of First Mention. As a cessationist, it’s clear to me why this type of Bible interpretation would confuse passages like 1 Corinthians 13.)
8. Use of Paraphrases. Rarely does Nancy Campbell use a good Bible translation. Too often she uses paraphrases such as The Message, The Living Bible, Amplified Bible, and the Jerusalem Bible. From these sources (and also some good translations), she likes to cherry pick definitions of words to fit her meaning. For instance, she defines “banah”, the word for “build up”, but chooses only one of the three meanings of the word to further define and make her point (pg 92).
9. Pre-existence of the soul. Now, I’m not completely up to speed on this concept, but I did have several red flags when Campbell refers to life before conception. I know that some groups believe that God created all the souls that would ever be created at the beginning of time, and when conception happens, the soul is implanted in that person. That view results in a lot of the Quiverfull mentality that we need to have as many children as possible so that those souls go into Christian children, not into unbelievers’ bodies. The more common view, and my view, is that the soul is within “the loins” of the parents and is passed to the child at conception. It was hard for me to decipher exactly what Nancy Campbell believed about this, so take these following statements as you will.
“Conception is a visitation from God” (pg. 67).
“Yes, when you conceive a baby or will conceive a baby in the future, God Almighty visits you! He is the one who gives conception!” (pg. 68).
“Are we willing to readily and whole-heartedly receive any child that God would give to us, and as many as He has planned to give to us?” (pg. 66).
“God gives life, the devil snuffs it out!” (pg. 162).
“When we refuse to have more children, we deprive many people. We deprive God. This is the most serious. We deprive Him of the purposes and plans that He has for the children that He destined to be born” (pg. 201).
“I would hate to stand before God on Judgment Day and have to answer why I rejected the children He had ordained for our family” (pg. 214).
10. Sacredness of pre-life. The case of Onan in Genesis 38 is used to prove her point. However, the reason Onan was sinning was because he violated the law of Leverite marriage. The seed was linked to promised generations of Israel not our generations. God did reference “seed” as part of a blessing, but it was the seed of Israel not our seed that is promised blessing. Just because God blessed Abraham’s seed, doesn’t mean that our promises and callings are the same. Campbell continually confuses the promises of Abraham and claims it as our own. Also, she mixes that truth that unborn life after conception is precious, with the concept that pre-conceived elements of life are sacred. If it is true that the “elements of life” are sacred, then where does that stop? Every part of a mother’s and father’s reproductive organs is a kind of “life source”. Life has to start somewhere, and even Nancy Campbell agrees that point is at conception not before. To me, what a person does with an egg and semen before conception is on par with what you might do with any other portion of the body. It is not on par with a newly conceived body. Consider her statements:
“The life which begins at conception, finds its origin and source in the seed of the man (semen), a seed which God declares to be sacred” (pg 142).
“Onan understood that the seed of man was of tremendous value, being inextricably linked with promised generations” (pg. 142).
“Of course the sperm is not soulish, will not live for all eternity, and is not equivalent in value to a human being, but it is clearly a life-source that God links to our progeny and declares to be precious” (pg 144).
“His act was the spilling of seed which was given to him by God for a specific purpose (the conception of life) (pg. 145).
11. Misinformation about contraception. I’m not a doctor, so please take the information I’m about to give as simply my understanding of contraception (See my disclaimer). Nancy Campbell believes, as do most Quiverfull advocates and others, that all contraceptive pills run the risk of being an abortaficient because of its thinning of the lining in the uterus. I believe this information is untrue. I had a thorough talk with my doctors about contraception when I was first married, and she told me that there are some pills that in effect abort the fertilized egg (like IUDs or the Plan B pill) and some that do not. I had no reason to distrust my doctors then and I still don’t now. Answers in Genesis published the article “Plan B: Over-the-counter Abortions?” giving tremendous detail about the mechanism of this type of pill, and I recommend that for reading. Interestingly, AiG refrains from addressing other types of contraceptive pills directly. Admittedly, I may be reading between the lines, but to not mention other pills that may in effect do the same thing as IUD and Plan B is very telling.
The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology did a particular study in 1999 to evaluate the claim that the pill’s effect on the endometrium would prevent a fertilized egg to implant, effectively causing an abortion. Their conclusion was this:
For combined oral contraceptives and progestin-only methods, the main mechanisms are ovulation inhibition and changes in the cervical mucus that inhibit sperm penetration. The hormonal methods, particularly the low-dose progestin-only products and emergency contraceptive pills, have effects on the endometrium that, theoretically, could affect implantation. However, no scientific evidence indicates that prevention of implantation actually results from the use of these methods. Once pregnancy begins, none of these methods has an abortifacient action (source).
In other words, there is no evidence to support the notion that a fertilized egg would not be implanted even though the lining is thinned by the pill. “Could affect” is not the same as “sometimes will prevent” or “will prevent if all else fails.” This is the same thing that happens to the endometrium during breast feeding. Breast feeding is recommended as a “natural birth control” method, but its effect on the endometrium is the same as the pill. Also, many pregnancies happen even though a woman is taking the pill, and many pregnancies happen in spite of “inhospitable” uterus lining, much more hostile than what the pill produces. AiG’s concern about the Plan B pill is valid because it is not taken until 3 days after intercourse which would terminate an egg that would almost certainly have been fertilized. But the “third mechanism abortion” reasoning doesn’t hold water for me. Further, any woman who is on any sort of hormonal treatment for any condition should not feel unnecessary guilt for believing they have hurt their unborn children any more than a nursing mother feels for her natural contraception.
So I didn’t like the book. I don’t doubt Nancy Campbell’s enthusiasm or her sincerity. Her method of Bible study and interpretation of Scripture has many flaws. I wouldn’t put much stock into a book like this except that it is such an influential book to many in conservative circles.
1. “An Evaluation of the Law of First Mentions”, by Dr. Myron Houghton, Ph.D, Th.D, chair of Theology Department at Faith Baptist Theological Seminary. (I can obtain a copy of this short paper for those who would like it. Just contact me.)