Protestant Theologians on the Onan Incident

Listed in Alphabetical Order

AINSWORTH, HENRY (1571-1622); Nonconformist – Commentary on Gen. 38:9 —
SPILLED] Or “corrupted”, which the Greek translateth, “shed” (or spilled). An unkind, and most unnatural fact; to spill the seed, which by God’s blessing should serve for the propagation of mankind; and in this man, for the propagation of the Son of God according to the flesh, in whom all nations of the earth should be blessed, Gen. 22:18. which made the sin most impious, and hastened Onan’s speedy death from the hand of God.

ALFORD, HENRY (1810-1871); Anglican – Commentary on Gen. 38 and 38:7–
XXXVIII. The history of Judah and his daughter-in-law Tamar. The object of this parenthetical chapter seems to be to show how near the offspring of Jacob were to falling into the habits and loathsome sins of the Canaanitish peoples;
7] There is no detailed explanation of the reason of the death of Er, but it would seem by what follows, ver. 10, to have been something connected with the peculiar sins which brought destruction on the Canaanitish races.

ALTING, JACOB (1618-1679); Calvinist – Commentary on Gen. 38:7-10 —
Note Well: What kind of sin Er’s was is uncertain. Some think it was the same as Onan’s, but for a different reason; Er, lest Thamar should conceive and give birth and something of her beauty be lost; Onan, because she would have borne children not for himself but for his brother. The result of this union, the deed of Onan – because he was not seeking children for himself he did not want to procreate any lest he should procreate them for his brother.  Verse 9. Onan’s fate; the indignation of God for this deed and the just punishment of death inflicted, verse 10.

BARTH, CHRISTIAN GOTTLOB (1799-1862); Protestant – Commentary on Gen. 38 —
The narrative here advances from one sin to another. Judah, by his marriage with a Canaanitish woman, has sons of a dissolute character, whom God sees it necessary to remove prematurely from this life. Onan, who has given his name to a far-spread and widely-desolating crime, acted a doubly guilty part, inasmuch as he treated with contempt a holy ordinance and the promise of the kingdom of God. That promise of the seed of the woman, with which, after the death of the elder brother, he was closely concerned, was a matter of indifference to him. For this reason he also was cut off by the Lord.

BENGEL, JOHANN ALBRECHT (1687-1752); Lutheran – Commentary on Rom. 1:24, 26 —
AMONG THEIR OWN SELVES], by fornication, effeminacy [Bengel means “masturbators” here, as may be observed from his comments on 1 Cor. 6:9; C.P.], and other vices. They themselves furnish the materials of their own punishment, and are at the cost of it.
LUSTS OF DISHONOUR] [VILE AFFECTIONS – English version] See Gerber’s book:  “Unknown Sins”, Vol. 1, Chapter 92; “On Secret Vices”. The writings of the heathen are full of such things. [Gerber’s comments on Onan (to which Bengel here refers) are present in this list under “Gerber”;C.P.]

BROOKS, KEITH LEROY (1888-?); Evangelical – Commentary on Gen. 38 —
Contents: Shame of Judah and his sons.
Conclusion: The sins which dishonour God and defile the body are evidences of vile affection and are very displeasing to God, often visited with quick punishment.

BROWN, JOHN (1722-1787); Presbyterian – Commentary on Gen. 38:9 —
His sin was extremely heinous, not only as it proceeded from envy of his brother’s honor, and contempt of the promised seed, but as it was horrid and unnatural in itself. Nor to the last judgment will it appear what guilt of this nature hath been committed among mankind, nor how fearfully God hath punished the same.

BRUNNEMAN, JOHANNES (1608-1672): Lutheran – On Unnamed Vices —
There are some vices which one may not well name before chaste ears, but which still sneak around among the Christian people as we have often perceived from their judicial documents, academic opinions, and common talk, and sufficient reasons. So even the Onanitic sin and malicious spilling of seed occurs more than one probably imagines. It often occurs that unmarried fellows confess that they have known women carnally and yet deny that the woman is pregnant by them. If one asks how they might know that, so much finally comes out that one indeed hears that Onanitic vices have been committed (which is still more wicked than whoredom itself), and I remember that some have confessed in embarassing documents how they have practiced in lying together the evil artificial trick of Onan and have spilled it, from which and other abhorrent sins may God preserve the House of Jacob! Sirach 23. But I do not consider it adviseable in the pulpit to pass over these and other sins with total silence, but it is much rather necessary to present them thus at times, though with modesty and caution, and to warn against them so that those who are aware of such sins in themselves or perhaps in others, as if nothing has led them astray to it, understand what the preacher means and how they should avoid such sin as one of the greatest. On July 30, 1668, a case in point of Sodomy was presented to us to pronounce judgment about it, in which he who had committed Sodomy was twenty-three years old and took a serious oath before God that he did not know that it was a sin to join with a sheep, goat, cow, or other beast, which ignorance, although it is very great, is to some extent alleged and protected in those handed down criminal documents. But from where else did this ignorance of this man come but precisely from this: that he had never heard such horrible sins rebuked from the pulpit?

BUSH, GEORGE (1796-1858); Presbyterian – Commentary on Gen. 38:9-10 —
9, 10. IT CAME TO PASS WHEN HE WENT IN, &c. The motive of Onan’s perverse conduct is clearly intimated in the first clause of the verse …. Such a conduct, moreover, in the present instance was peculiarly aggravated from the fact, that the Messiah was to descend from the stock of Judah, and for aught he knew, from himself, as we know he certainly did from this very Tamar, Mat. 1:3. Was it not then doing despite to the covenant-promise thus to crush in embryo the most sacred hopes of the world?

CALOVIOUS, ABRAHAM (1612-1686); Lutheran – Commentary on Gen. 38: 9-10 —
(That must have been a willful, desperate fellow, for this is always a shameful sin, yet much more atrocious than a case of incest or adultery: we call it a sin of the effeminate, indeed, even a sin of Sodomy. He was completely enflamed with evil envy and jealousy, and that is why he would not permit himself to be forced to bear this simple service. Therefore it was quite right for God to kill him.)

CALVIN, JOHN (1509-1564); Calvinist – Commentary on Gen. 38: 8-10 —
Besides, he [Onan; C.P.] not only defrauded his brother of the right due him, but also preferred his semen to putrify on the ground, rather than to beget a son in his brother’s name.
v. 10: The Jews quite immodestly gabble concerning this thing. It will suffice for me briefly to have touched upon this as much as modesty in speaking permits. The voluntary spilling of semen outside of intercourse between man and woman is a monstrous thing. Deliberately to withdraw from coitus in order that semen may fall on the ground is doubly monstrous. For this is to extinguish the hope of the race and to kill before he is born the hoped-for offspring. This impiety is especially condemned, now by the Spirit through Moses’ mouth, that Onan, as it were, by a violent abortion, no less cruelly than filthily cast upon the ground the offspring of his brother, torn from the maternal womb. Besides, in this way he tried, as far as he was able, to wipe out a part of the human race. If any woman ejects a foetus from her womb by drugs, it is reckoned a crime incapable of expiation and deservedly Onan incurred upon himself the same kind of punishment, infecting the earth by his semen, in order that Tamar might not conceive a future human being as an inhabitant of the earth.

CANDLISH, ROBERT S. (1806-1873); Calvinist – Commentary on Gen. 38 —
The unnatural crime by means of which the wicked and wretched young man sought, and sought successfully, to defraud his deceased brother and defeat his father’s ordinance – or rather the ordinance of his father’s God, – while it stands out conspicuously, in the record of its swift and terrible doom, as a warning against all abuse of appetite, – is, at the same time, a proof of the depth and strength of his repugnance to what was required of him as an act of fraternal duty.

CLARKE, ADAM (1762?-1832); Methodist/Arminian – Commentary on Gen. 38: 9-10 —
(9) The sin of self pollution, which is generally considered to be that of Onan, is one of the most destructive evils ever practised by fallen man. In many respects it is far worse than common whoredom, and has in its train more awful consequences; though practised by such as would shudder at the thought of criminal connection with a prostitute…. Worse woes than my pen can relate, I have witnessed in this engrossing, unnatural and most destructive of crimes…God, and God alone, can save thee from an evil which has in its issue the destruction of thy body, and the final perdition of thy soul! Whether this may have been the sin of Onan, or not, is a matter at present of small amount; it may be thy sin: therefore take heed, lest God slay thee for it.

DANNHAUER, CONRAD (1603-1666); Lutheran – On Silent Unchastity, Effeminacy, Incest, Sodomy, and Foreign Marriage —
In general the silent unchastity is called “enallage geneseos”, a change of the nature of the genital members and errors of the disorderly, irregular use of the same; and it includes the following vices: effeminacy, incest, sodomy, and foreign marriage. May the chaste Spirit grant us power and grace to treat this matter modestly and fittingly but to the extent necessary. Amen. Amen.
So now the first silent unchastity is [in Latin; C.P.] “mollities” and [in German; C.P.] “effeminacy” and “softness”, the impurity par excellence, the abuse of the body in itself, as the Apostle called it, which is otherwise also called the Onanistic sin. It is nothing other than an actual unchastity which the person arouses and commits with his member alone, without joining with another person.
I say “arouses” because what the nature and its drive does without the person’s consent and whorish imaginings does not belong in this category, as also that does not belong here which happens unknowingly in sleep.
Unless the person habitually occupied himself with such unchaste thoughts and fantasies or also went to sleep with them or even full of them or did not well guard himself in bed against the enticements of the devil and the drive of original sin, which does not rest even in sleep; in which case such a person is one of those obscene dreamers, about whom St. Jude speaks, who soil the flesh, are companions of the Sodomites, and go after strange flesh. (1 Cor. 6:9; Eph. 5:3; Rom. 1:24… Jude 7,8.)
Although these vices were in previous times not viewed or considered as great and horrible but were even allowed not only by the heathen philosophers (see Jerome on Eph. 5:3), especially by the doghead Diogenes the Cynic [“cynic” is Greek for “canine”; J.D.], who allowed all carnal arousal and semen flow; not only by the old wild brawlers called the Gnostics [on this see Ephiphanius haeres. 26.]; but also by the teachers in the Papacy (see Navarr. manual. c. 16. p.m. 232. Tolet. 1. 5. instruct. sacred. c. 131.) Therefore also the same unchastity was much practiced in the cloisters and convents: some father confessors should confess what some brothers and sisters told them privately: indeed if one would, as Bernard [of Clairvaux; J.D.] speaks, according to the prophecy of Ezekiel, “bore through the walls and barriers of the cloisters and cells and take a look”, what evil desire, wildness, and atrocity would one see? Although, I say, this sin is considered insignificant, indeed, a speck of dust, in the eyes of the world and of the whole of Babylon, it is still in the holy and chaste eyes of God an exceedingly abhorrent and shameful atrocity, more offensive than common whoredom and adultery; because it is more monstrous and runs contrary to nature and God’s order. This sin is really an advance murder of that which could have been born of it. Indeed, such filthy persons thereby offer a Molech-sacrifice to the god of the whorish spirit, as the heathen in previous times sacrificed their seed to the idol Molech. May God, by His good Spirit, guard young hearts that they may be on guard against these snares of the devil so that they are not ensnared…. and later fall totally into open shame and vice.

DEFOE, DANIEL (c.1657-1731); Nonconformist – On Matrimonial Chastity —
[Defoe quotes Jeremy Taylor on Onan.]

DODD, WILLIAM (1729-1777); Anglican – Commentary on Gen. 38: 6-7 —
It is not said, who or of what family Tamar was, though it is most probable she was a Canaanitess: nor does it appear what was the crime of Er, enormous enough, no doubt, to draw down so exemplary a punishment from God. It is plain, from this transaction, that the practice, which Moses afterward enacted into law (Deut. 25:5) was of ancient standing; the same custom prevailed amongst the Egyptians. The crime of Onan shows a peculiarly malignant disposition (verse 9), and it is probable, that bad as it was in itself, yet his sin was aggravated with a worse circumstance, viz. his having an eye to the suppressing of the Messiah’s birth, since he should not have the honor to be numbered among his ancestors, which might provoke God to cut him off. See Universal History.  Acts of self pollution were always held particularly criminal, even by heathen moralists. The Hebrew doctors looked upon them as a degree of murder.

DORT, SYNOD OF (The Dutch Annotations upon the whole Bible…ordered and appointed by the Synod of Dort, 1618, and published by authority, 1637); Calvinist – Commentary on Gen. 38:9 —
9. YET ONAN KNOWING [See the notes on the precedent verse] THAT THIS SEED [i.e. Son; See above chap. 4. on ver. 25.] SHOULD NOT BE FOR HIM, IT HAPPENED WHEN HE WENT IN TO HIS BROTHER’S WIFE, THAT HE SPILLED IT AGAINST THE GROUND, [or, defiled it, etc. The Hebrew word signifying both the one and the other: this was even as much, as if he had (in a manner) pulled forth the fruit out of the mother’s womb, and destroyed it.] NOT TO GIVE SEED TO HIS BROTHER.

EDERSHEIM, ALFRED (1825-1889); Presbyterian – Commentary on Genesis 38 —
How readily constant contact with the Canaanites would have involved even the best of them in horrible vices appears from the history of Judah, when after the selling of Joseph, he had left his father’s house, and, joining himself to the people of the country, both he and his rapidly became conformed to the abominations around.

ELTON, EDWARD (1637) – Commentary on Col. 3:5 —
Now the second sin here named is uncleanness. This sin also is an outward breach of the Seventh Commandment. And by it we are to understand every actual defilement of body against nature. As that of incest with such as are within degrees forbidden and laid forth in Lev. 18: 6-18. And of other defilements which are more against nature: as that which is committed with another kind (as with brute beasts), expressly forbidden in Lev. 18:23; or that which is committed with that sex which is not for that natural use spoken of in Rom. 1: 26-27 and which was the sin of sodomy; or that which is most unnatural and was in part the sin of Onan (Gen. 38:9). Now these defilements of the body are most foul and grievous sins in that they are not only against the law of God and against the very light of nature – they are commonly punishments of some other horrible sins and ever follow a very profane and dead heart. (Rom. 1:24).

EXELL, JOSEPH S. (1849-c.1909); Reformed – Commentary on Gen 38: 8-10 —
Vers. 8-10. Onan – The sin of Onan:
III. It was a dishonour done to his own body. [Here Exell quotes the entire comments of Leale and Hughes; C.P.]

FRITZ, JOHN H.C. (1874-1953); Lutheran – On Marriage —
Relation of Parents and Children – two things a pastor should impress upon married people: 1. that God would bless their marriage with children; 2. that God holds parents responsible for the Christian training of their children. A husband and a wife should according to God’s will become the father and the mother of children. One of God’s purposes of marriage is the propagation of the human race. God says: “Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth,” Gen. 1:28; Ps. 127 and 128; Fourth Commandment. A Hebrew married woman considered it an affliction to be childless, 1 Sam. 1:1-20. The Jews had large families; so did our German forefathers. The one-, two-, or three- children family system is contrary to the Scriptures; for man has no right arbitrarily or definitely to limit the number of his offspring (birth control), especially not if done with artificial or unnatural means. Gen. 1:28; Ps. 127: 3-6; Ps. 128: 3-4; Gen. 38: 9-10. Such restrictions as uncontrollable circumstances, natural barrenness, or the ill health or wife or husband put upon the number of offspring are the exception to the rule. Child-bearing is both a natural and a healthful process, while any interference with natural functions is injurious.

GERBER, CHRISTIAN (1660-1731); Lutheran – On Secret Unchastity
Sec. 3. But among the types of secret unchastity one must properly include the impurity with which mean spirits dirty their bodies and wound their consciences even when they are alone and do not even carnally join with someone else. St Paul calls such people effeminate (1 Cor. 6:9), who may lay hands on themselves and commit with their genitals such abhorrent things that one does not want to think about it, much less speak about it. And to the best of my memory, I have heard such stories about it that not only males do such things and maliciously, indeed, abhorrently “spill the seed”, as Scripture speaks [Gen. 38: 8-10; C.p.]; but that even the feminine gender lets itself be led astray by the impure, infernal spirit to think of means whereby they can satisfy their impure desires and themselves still the raging passion. Forgive me, my reader, for writing this. I do so most unwillingly. But I am forced by the great need and the danger of so many souls. Oh! it is with this horrible thing that the heathen have made themselves impure and perhaps do so still. I have read of certain philosophers that they have studiously withheld themselves from the use of women but on the contrary have committed with their hands impurity such as not even any beast does. Jac. a Reis in Campo Jucunda. Qu. p.m. 569. qu.46. n. 15. writes about Diogenes the Cynic in this way; – whence it must be gathered that Diogenes’ depravity and illegitimacy reached such an extent that he frequently used his hand as a substitute for the feminine hymen for the sake of satiety: – wherefore even the guilty Galenus, who had been most continent, then no longer wanted to serve this continence and became more of an infamous masturbator. But perhaps Galenus was just such a fellow as Diogenes and thought that one was already chaste and decent if one only did not join with a woman even though otherwise an improper thing is done with the private member.
Sec. 4. These heathen atrocities are truthfully not rare among us now. One would not believe what some youths and even men do under cover and what kinds of shameful acts they pursue. It was about two or three years ago that the conscience of an unmarried man awoke and forced him to confess to two close friends that he had committed unchastity and impurity against himself, about which his soul was enduring an indescribable anxiety. Indeed, this man confessed that he had learned this wickedness at a famous school in a major city, which he had attended in his youth, where most of the pupils practiced this same devilish impurity with themselves. Oh, it may be complained to God that Satan has made also such nurseries so horribly impure! Oh, that we had enough water and that our eyes were wells of tears in order sufficiently to lament such inhuman unchastity and atrocity. Those are the sins with which the heathen have made themselves impure: “For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was met.” Rom. 1:26-27. Because of these sins, God destroyed the inhabitants of Sodom with fire from heaven, and they are still burning to this hour in hellfire. Because of these sins, God also destroyed the Canaanites and put the children of Israel into the land in their place. So if one will only pay attention to it, the well known saying always applies: “The vices of the seed goes out of a man in his sleep, he should wash his whole flesh with water and be unclean until the evening. So if the holy God is displeased by the spilling of the seed which occurs outside of the legitimate cohabitation with the wife, as Osiander glosses this passage: how much more before His holy eyes will it be an atrocity when such is done maliciously and intentionally. In summary: the atrocity is so great that it cannot be expressed.
Sec. 5. But therefore, O youths and men, for the sake of the unique Son of Mary and His five holy wounds, let yourselves be implored to guard yourselves against making your bodies impure, as dear to you as your salvation is. Oh, but consider that nothing impure shall enter the kingdom of God. Then where would you want to remain? Although you are alone and no one sees or knows anything of your shameful acts, God still sees, Whose eyes are brighter than the sun. The angels see it and depart from such impure spirits as you are. The devil sees it, and at the end of your life he will cite you, so to speak, before God and accuse you because of your shaming of your own bodies. Your conscience sees it and will in its time miserably torture you for it. Or have you then completely forgotten that in Baptism you renounced the devil and all his impure works and have put on Christ? Do you not know that your body is to be the temple of the Holy Spirit? Oh, how many devils may be around you when you secretly commit such impurity? Once I saw certain citizens together in one place drinking. They told one another such things with laughing mouths, what they sometimes undertook with their wives and how they had also done otherwise, so that I now cannot otherwise judge than that the devil himself at that time sat in their hearts and on their tongues. O you impure heathen, why do you let yourselves be called Christians? With what kind of conscience can you go to the holy Supper? And do you not shy away from receiving the most holy body and blood of Christ with your impure lips? Oh, woe to you to all eternity! Preachers do not like to talk about it from the pulpit and therefore seldom do so. But to that extent these abhorrent sins take the upper hand so that preachers truly need to rebuke the same more often with great earnestness and movingly to warn against them.

Now, what these old theologians have done stands free also for me and other faithful preachers to do, especially since many are not so pure from Sodomitic atrocities. When in the year 1687 I came to speak with the deacon there in Toeplitz in Bohemia, I met with the same rebuke: did we not instruct our people all too little so that the common man often did not know what was sin?

Now since the adversaries rebuke us for such things, then I ask whether it is not necessary to warn the people against Onanitic and other mute sins, especially since the Holy Spirit Himself does not pass over such sins in silence but has them shown in the case of the godless Onan, Gen. 38:9. What else certain Christian wives have complained to me about, how their husbands were accustomed to act with them, I should not report here because of modesty.

GERHARD, JOHANN (1582-1637); Lutheran – Commentary on Gen. 38: 7-10 —
Most Hebrew and Christian Interpreters conclude that the sin of Er was of the same type as the sin of Onan, which they call effeminacy. Augustine in book 22, Against Faust Chap. 84. concluded that this Er had sinned in this offense severely, because that sin impedes conception and destroys the foetus in its own seed.

God detests and punishes shameful acts. Shortness-of-life for the wicked is the punishment of sins. The sin of effeminacy and voluntary pouring out of seed is contrary to nature: this in itself is compared by the Hebrews to homicide. Thomas argues that this is more serious than homicide.

[Augustine (354-430) had this to say about Onan’s sin: “And why has Paul said: ‘If he cannot control himself, let him marry’? Surely, to prevent incontinence from constraining him to adultery. If then, he practices continence, neither let him marry nor beget children. However, if he does not control himself, let him enter into lawful wedlock, so that he may not beget children in disgrace or avoid having offspring by a more degraded form of intercourse. There are some lawfully wedded couples who resort to this last, for intercourse, even with one’s lawfully wedded spouse, can take place in an unlawful and shameful manner, whenever the conception of offspring is avoided. Onan, the son of Juda, did this very thing, and the Lord slew him on that account. Therefore, the procreation of children is itself the primary, natural, legitimate purpose of marriage. Whence it follows that those who marry because of their inability to remain continent ought not to so temper their vice that they preclude the good marriage, which is the procreation of children.”; C.P.]

GILL, JOHN (1697-1771); Nonconformist – Commentary on Gen. 38: 9-10
AND ONAN KNEW THAT THE SEED SHOULD NOT BE HIS; – should not be called a son of his, but a son of his brother Er; this is to be understood only of the first-born; all the rest of the children born afterwards were reckoned the children of the real parent of them; this shews this was custom in use in those times, and well known; and was not a peculiar case; AND IT CAME TO PASS, WHEN HE WENT IN UNTO HIS BROTHER’S WIFE; to cohabit with her, as man and wife, he having married her according to his father’s direction: THAT HE SPILLED IT ON THE GROUND, LEST HE SHOULD GIVE HIS SEED TO HIS BROTHER; lest his brother’s wife he had married should conceive by him, and bear a son that should be called his brother’s and inherit his estate; and this is the sin which from him is called Onania, a sin condemned by the light of nature, as well as by the word of God, and very prejudicial to mankind, as well as displeasing to God, as follows: AND THE THING WHICH HE DID DISPLEASED THE LORD:- Being done out of envy to his brother, and through want of affection to the memory of his name; and it may be out of covetousness, to get his estate into his own hands, and especially as it frustrated the end of such an usage of marrying a brother’s wife; which appears to be according to the will of God, since it afterwards became a known law of his; and it was the more displeasing, as it was not only a check upon the multiplication of Abraham’s seed, as promised, but since the Messiah was to come from Judah. This was doing all to hinder it that lay in his power: wherefore HE SLEW HIM ALSO; in like manner as he had slain his brother.

HALL, JOSEPH (1574-1656); Anglican – Commentary on Gen. 38 —
His brother Onan sees the judgment, and yet follows his sins. Every little thing discourages us from good; nothing can alter the heart that is set upon evil. Er was not worthy of any love; but though he were a miscreant, yet he was a brother. Seed should have been raised to him; Onan justly loses his life with his seed, which he would rather spill, than lend to a wicked brother. …What difference God puts betwixt sins of wilfulness and infirmity! The son’s pollution is punished with present death; the father’s incest is pardoned, and in a sort prospereth.

HENRY, MATTHEW (1662-1714); Nonconformist – Commentary on Gen. 38: 1-11 —
Onan, though he consented to marry the widow, yet to the great abuse of his own body, of the wife that he married, and of the memory of his brother that was gone, he refused to raise up seed unto his brother, as he was in duty bound. This was so much worse because the Messiah was to descend from Judah, and had he not been guilty of this wickedness, he might have had the honour of being one of his ancestors. Note, Those sins that dishonour the body and defile it are very displeasing to God and evidences of vile affections.

HUGHES, GEORGE (1603-1667); Nonconformist – Commentary on Gen. 38: 8-10 —
The fact itself, AND IT WAS, HE WENT IN UNTO HIS BROTHER’S WIFE, THAT HE SPILLED IT ON THE EARTH… Herin note many evils: 1. Un-cleanness. 2. Self-pollution. 3. Destruction of future seed, which God ordered to be produced.

Lessons: – Vain parents take little knowledge of God’s judgments in the death of one child when they have others. 2. Special law for the marriage of the deceased brother’s wife by the brother was given of God for special ends. 3. Seed was much desirable and is so in the Church of God; for which such laws were made (ver.8). 4. Wicked creatures are selfish in duty, therefore unwilling to seek any good but their own. 5. Self-pollution, destruction of the seed of man, envy to brethren, are Onan’s horrid crimes (ver.9). 6. Onans may be in the visible Church. 7. Such uncleanness is very grievous in God’s sight. 8. Exemplary death may be expected from God by such transgressors (ver. 10).

JACOBUS, MELANCTHON W. (1816-1876); Presbyterian – Commentary on Gen. 38: 6-7 —
6-7. This wife of Er was probably a Canaanite also, and he was smitten to death by God for his wickedness. Whereupon his brother Onan was commanded by his father to act the part of husband to the widow according to the custom of Levirate marraige, afterwards legalized by Moses. In order that the family might not die out and the covenant line perish, this was an important provision. (Ruth 4:10) Onan, however, proved false, and his crime of violating God’s ordinance by a shameful abomination was also punished with death. Thus the covenant household seems degraded and disgraced.
But the salvation lies not the them but with God.

JENKYN, WILLIAM (1612-1685); Nonconformist – Commentary on Jude 7 -“fornication;”….To mention therefore only the principal sorts of carnal uncleanness, and such as we find (though with sacred modesty) set down in Scripture. This sin, if practised with a man’s own body, according to the opinion of some, is called “malakia”, and “akatharsia”, effeminateness and uncleanness, for which God slew Onan, Gen. 38:9; 1 Cor. 6:9; Col. 3:5;

Nor is it impossible but that uncleanness may be between married couples, when the use of the marriage bed is in a season prohibited, or in a measure not moderated, or in a manner not ordained, or to an end not warranted.

JUNIUS, FRANCISCUS (1545-1602); Calvinist editor of the Belgic Confession; theological opponent of Jacob Arminius. – Commentary on Gen. 38:9 —
[9] The most ugly impudence, which is not even easily named among the heathen, but was once practiced by the Gnostics according to the testimony of Epiphanius.

[Two passages of Epiphanius of Salamis (c. 315-402) on the Gnostic heretics are as follow: “But though they copulate they forbid procreation. Their eager pursuit of seduction is for enjoyment, not procreation, since the devil mocks people like these, and makes fun of the creature fashioned by God.” “…the Gnostics’ wickedness. Whether they perform their filthy act with men or women, they still forbid insemination, thus doing away with the procreation God has given his creatures – as the apostle says, ‘receiving in themselves the recompense of their error which was meet’, and so on. (Rom. 1:27)” For a passage by Epiphanius which mentions the Gnostics and Onan together, see our listing of Richard Stock; C.P.]

KEIL, JOHANN KARL FRIEDRICH (1807-1888); Lutheran
DELITSZCH, FRANZ (1813-1890); Lutheran – Commentary on Gen. 38: 8-10 —
Judah then wished Onan, as the brother-in-law, to marry the childless widow of his deceased brother, and raise up seed, i.e. a family, for him. But as he knew that the first-born son would not be the founder of his own family, but would perpetuate the family of the deceased and receive his inheritance, he prevented conception when consummating the marriage by spilling the semen. …”DESTROYED TO THE GROUND (i.e. let it fall upon the ground), SO AS NOT TO GIVE SEED TO HIS BROTHER”…. This act not only betrayed a want of affection to his brother, combined with a despicable covetousness for his possession and inheritance, but was also a sin against the divine institution of marriage and its object, and was therefore punished by Jehovah with sudden death.

KIDDER, RICHARD (?-1703); Anglican – Commentary on Gen. 38 —
Should not be called his or should not be called by his name as the Chaldee render it well. Thus envy carries him to another great sin.

KRETZMANN, PAUL E. (1883-1965); Lutheran – Commentary on Gen. 38:9 —
V.9 AND ONAN KNEW THAT THE SEED SHOULD NOT BE HIS, that a possible first-born son would not perpetuate his name and family, but that of his brother Er; AND IT CAME TO PASS, WHEN HE WENT IN UNTO HIS BROTHER’S WIFE, THAT HE SPILLED IT ON THE GROUND, LEST THAT HE SHOULD GIVE SEED TO HIS BROTHER. Rather than yield to the custom and be obedient to his father, Onan committed this crime against the divine institution of marriage and its purpose according to the will of God. Such works of the flesh, all too prevalent in our day, when children are no longer desired, are an abomination before the Lord. Where the fear of God still rules, such vices will not be tolerated.

1. It is sinful.
A. It is wilfully setting aside God’s will and command, Gen. 1:28; 1 Tim. 5:14; 2:15; Gen. 38:9-10.
B. It is despising His promises and is depriving oneself of a blessing, Ps. 127 and 128. See texts under C.
C. It is usurping for oneself an exclusive privilege of God, that of giving or withholding children, Ps. 127:3, Gen. 29:31-30:6; 30:22; 33:5; 16:2; 20:18; Lev. 20:20-21; Job 42:12-13; Luke 1:58; 1 Sam:10-11.
D. Birth Control by means of anticonceptuals, coitus interruptus, etc. is ruthlessly interfering with God’s method of creating a living being. Hufeland, one of the most noted physicians of Germany, 1762-1836, says: “The first question undoubtedly is When does life begin? There can be no doubt that the act of copulation is to be regarded as the beginning of the existence of the future being and that the very first, even though invisible, germ of this being has the same claim upon the care and protection of the physician as the later, fully developed man…A human being is being murdered in its incipiency. I am not going to answer sophistic, even Jesuitic, cavils. I appeal to sane reason and to the pure, unspoiled moral feeling of every man…The product presupposes producing, and if it is wrong to kill the product, then it goes without saying that it is wrong to render futile the act whereby it is being produced, for thereby one actually kills that which is in process of being produced (das Werdende) in its first beginning.” Quoted in De Valenti, Die Ehe, biblisch und aerztich beleuchtet, page 65f. This is undoubtedly the Scriptural view. Cf. Ps. 139:13-16; Job 10:8-11, especially v. 10 (the act of copulation described).
E. Marriage degenerates from a holy estate to mere gratification of carnal lust, Heb. 13:4; 1 Thess. 4:4.
2. It undermines the State. It is race suicide. Even the two-children system will rapidly lead to extermination of a people, for 10 per cent. of all marriages are naturally childless, and unmarried people do not contribute to the growth of a nation, while the two-children system replaces only the parents, no replacements for unmarried people and childless couples, hence a decrease in population, and the nation will die out. At least four children to a family prevent this dying out, five children to bring about an increase in population.
3. It undermines the home. Parents become selfish, incompatible. Children idolized, pampered, egotistic, self-important, undesirable citizens in many instances. A Supreme Court Justice is quoted as saying: “It is my conclusion that childless homes are responsible for the almost complete absence of real home-life. I cannot help but reach the conclusion that, if our women had children, there would be more happiness and fewer divorces. Presence of children attracts the husband to his home and keeps the mothers from the gossiping neighbors and bridge parties. Absence of children promotes discord. Their presence makes for harmony.”

LANGE, JOHANN PETER (1802-1884); Reformed – Commentary on Gen. 38:8-10 —
Onan’s sin, a deadly wickedness, an example to be held in abhorrence, as condemnatory, not only of secret sins of self-pollution, but also of all similar offences in sexual relations, and even in marriage itself. Unchasitity in general is a homicidal waste of the generative powers, a demonic bestiality, an outrage to ancestors, to posterity, and to one’s own life. It is a crime against the image of God, and a degradation below the animal. Onan’s offence, moreover, as committed in marriage, was a most unnatural wickedness, and a grievous wrong. The sin named after him is destructive as a pestilence that walketh in darkness, destroying directly the body and soul of the young. But common fornication is likewise an unnatural violation of the person, a murder of two souls and a desecration of the body as the temple of God. There are those in our Christian communities who are exceedingly gross in this respect; a proof of the most defective development of what may be called, the consciousness of personality and of personal dignity.
[Here Lange quotes Schroder, who is in our listing, followed by the next quotation; C.P.]
Schwenke – The sin of Onan, unnatrual, destructive of God’s holy ordinance, is even yet so displeasing to the Lord that it gives birth to bodily and spiritual death.

LEALE, THOMAS H. (c.1877); Evangelical – Commentary on Gen. 38: 8-10 —
THE SIN OF ONAN – Verses 8-10
I. It was prompted by a low motive. It was as selfish as it was vile. Onan’s design was to preserve the whole inheritance for his own house.
II. It was a act of wilful disobedience to God’s ordinance. “Ill deservings of others can be no excuse for our injuustice, for our uncharitableness. That which Tamar required, Moses afterward, as from God, commanded – succession of brothers into the barren bed. Some laws God spake to His Church long ere He wrote them; while the author is certainly known, the voice and the finger of God are worthy of equal respect.” – (Bp. Hall.)
III. It was a dishonour done to his own body. [This comment is followed by a quotation from Lange, who appears in our list; C.P.]
IV. It was aggravated by his position in the covenant family. The Messiah was to descend from the stock of Judah, and for aught he knew from himself. This very Tamar is counted in the genealogy of Christ. (Matt. 1:3) Herein he did despite to the covenant promise. He rejected an honourable destiny.

LEUPOLD, HERBERT CARL (1892-1972); Lutheran – Commentary on Gen. 38: 8-10 —
The custom of levirate marriage seems to have prevailed quite universally at the time, as it is known to have been customary among many nations ancient and modern. Judah does not appear as an innovator in this instance. Levirate marriage implied that if a man had died without leaving a son, the next brother of the deceased, if unmarried, would take the widow to wife with the understanding that the first son born would carry on the line of the deceased, but all other children would be accounted his own. The Mosaic code refers to the custom Deut. 25:5 ff. and made what had previously been a custom among such as the Israelites a divine ordinance. See a further reference in Matt. 22:24. The root yabam means “brother-in-law.” The Piel of the derivative verb could then be translated “marry her as brother-in-law”, the ultimate purpose of course being “to raise up offspring” (Hebrew: “seed”) to the brother. Onan knew of this provision and intentionally prevented its realization. Selfishness may have prompted him; he did not care to preserve his brother’s family. Greed may have been a concurrent motive; he desired to prevent the division of the patrimony into smaller units. But in addition to these two faults there was palpably involved the sin of a complete perversion of the purpose of marriage, that divine institution. What he did is described as “taking preventative measures.” The original says: “he destroyed (i.e. the semen) to the ground.” From him the extreme sexual perversion called onanism has its name. The case is revolting enough. But plain speech in this case serves as a healthy warning.

LUTHER, MARTIN (1483-1546); Lutheran – Commentary on Gen. 38:8-10 —
…the exceedingly foul deed of Onan, the basest of wretches, follows.
Onan must have been a malicious and incorrigible scoundrel. This is a most disgraceful sin. It is far more atrocious than incest and adultery. We call it unchastity, yes, a Sodomitic sin. For Onan goes in to her; that is, he lies with her and copulates, and when it comes to the point of insemination, spills the semen, lest the woman conceive. Surely at such a time the order of nature established by God in procreation should be followed. Accordingly, it was a most disgraceful crime to produce semen and excite the woman, and to frustrate her at that very moment. He was inflamed with the basest spite and hatred. Therefore he did not allow himself to be compelled to bear that intolerable slavery. Consequently, he deserved to be killed by God. He committed an evil deed. Therefore God punished him. …That worthless fellow refused to exercise [love; C.P.]. He preferred polluting himself with a most disgraceful sin to raising up offspring for his brother.

Therefore Onan, unwilling to perform this obligation, spilled his seed. That was a sin far greater than adultery or incest, and it provoked God to such fierce wrath that He destroyed him immediately.

MAIER, WALTER ARTHUR (1893-1950); Lutheran – The Blight of Birth Control; Its Anti-Scriptural Bias
To pass over other objections to birth control, – objections so weighty that these sections of the Federal Penal Code make it a criminal offense, punishable by five years in jail or a fine of $5,000 or both, to send through the mails or through other common carriers “any article, drug or medicine, or any obscene, lewd or lascivious publication intended for preventing conception,” – we come to the basic objection, which, if all other argumentation were swept aside, would be a complete denunciation. We refer to the evident indictment of birth control contained in the statements of Scripture.
The majority report of the Committee on Birth Control appointed by the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America states that the Church and the Bible are “silent upon the subject.” This is a bold statement. When the first human parent pair was created, the divine command enjoined: “Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth.” (Gen. 1:28). After the Deluge, when the world was to take its second start, the blessing for Noah and his sons again required them to “be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth” (Gen. 9:1) In Ps. 127:3 we read: “Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord, And the fruit of the womb is His reward.” The picture of the ideal home is described in Ps. 128:3 “Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine by the sides of thine house, Thy children like olive plants round about thy table.”
In Proverbs 31:28 children are mentioned as part of the virtuous woman’s household. If it is objected that these are Old Testament passages, attention is called to these utterances of the New Testament: 1 Tim. 5:10, where it is stated that those aged widows who “brought up children” received support from the church; 1 Tim. 5:14, where the apostle directs the younger women (the widows) “to marry, bear children”; 1 Cor. 7:14, which illustrates God’s gracious interest in His children’s children; and particularly Mark 10:14, where the Savior of the race utters His memorable “Suffer the little children to come unto Me.” In spite of extended argument not a single passage can be adduced from Scripture which even in any remote way condones birth control; and no one acquainted with the Bible should hesitate to admit that it is a definite departure from the requirements of Scripture. See Gen 38:9, 10.

MATHER, COTTON (1663-1728); Calvinist – The Pure Nazarite —
It is time for me to tell you, that the Crime against which I warn you, is that Self-Pollution, which from the Name of the only Person that stands for ever stigmatiz’d for it in our Holy Bible, bears the Name of ONANISM.

MAYER, JOHN (1583-1664); Anglican – Commentary on Gen. 38: 8-10
For the sin of Onan, it was most detestable. 1. Because it was unnatural to spill the seed given him for generation. 2. Because he did great wrong thus unto Tamar, hindering her, that she could not be the mother of children. 3. He did, as much as in him, mar the seminary of the generation of man, that he should have no further increased. 4. He was envious in the highest degree against his dead brother, rather than he would raise up seed unto him, he preferred to go himself seedless. Lastly it was also aggravated, in that Er being made an example for his wickedness before him, he would not yet take warning thereby, wherefore he was most justly by some remarkable judgement soon taken away also.

MERCIER, JEAN (c. 1500-1562); Huguenot, teacher of Ursinus – Commentary on Gen. 38 —
But since Onan realized that the seed would not be his own, or the descendants which he would beget from her, it came to pass, that is to say when he went in to his brother’s wife to pollute (so to speak) himself or the seed poured out onto the ground, which means not to provide seed, that is, in order not raise up progeny for his brother. In what manner that came to pass it seems difficult to comprehend and to express because it is obscene, but it is easily imagined: for in that union when it came to the point of the ejaculation of the seed, that seed was not ejaculated into its proper place, that is, the wife’s womb, but it poured forth onto the earth, the result being that both she herself and the deceased brother were defrauded of progeny. The sin was utterly contrary to nature and all respectibility, and it was foreign to the goal of marriage; therefore, it was justly punished by God: whence the Jews say that the man who pours our seed rashly is equal to the one who is guilty of homicide.

MURPHY, JAMES G. (1808-1896); Reformed – Commentary on Gen. 38:7,8 —
WAS EVIL IN THE EYES OF THE LORD. The God of covenant is obliged to cut off Er for his wickedness in the prime of life. We are not made acquainted with his crime; but it could scarcely be more vile and unnatural than that for which his brother Onan is also visited with death. AND BE A HUSBAND TO HER. The original word means to act as a husband to the widow of a deceased brother who has left no issue. Onan seems to have been prompted to commit his crime by the low motive of turning the whole inheritance to his own house.

MUSCULUS, WOLFGANG (1497-1563); Lutheran – Commentary on Gen. 38. 38:9-10 —
It says three things: the deed of Onan, the reason for the deed, and the divine punishment. The deed was like this: “AND IT HAPPENED THAT WHEN HE WENT INTO HIS BROTHER’S WIFE, HE SPOILED IT ON THE GROUND”; his seed, that is from which Thamar was supposed to conceive, he poured not into her womb but with outstanding malice onto the ground. The reason for the deed is stated in what is said, “ONAN, KNOWING THAT IT WOULD NOT BE HIS OWN OFFSPRING”. Therefore, he disdained to help his brother, and for that reason he denied him his own seed. In this we see the nature of unbelieving man. What was about to come to his brother, he did not refuse so as to help himself, but instead he preferred to uselessly waste it, rather than give it to his brother. “Neither for my brother”, he says “nor for buzzard”. [unsure “milu”? = Miluus, kite?; P.L.] But anyway he was able to help also himself if first he helped his brother. For the first born has certain claims regarding a brother which others do not. The divine punishment is thus reported: “AND WHAT HE DID WAS DISPLEASING IN THE EYES OF THE LORD, AND SO HE KILLED HIM”. So the deed of Onan was cause for death. For he was sinning first against God himself, whose primary commandment he violated.
Also he sinned against human nature, spilling seed from which she could have conceived and borne children. Third, against Israel and the people of God from which he detracted; and whose reproduction promised by God he ought to have multiplied. Fourth, against his father whose will and right he had defiled. For he had been going into his own brother’s wife and relieving his lust: but real offspring he held back from raising up for his brother, which is the one thing his father was asking. Fifth, he sinned against his brother also, whose name and posterity in Israel, although he was able, he refused to save. Therefore, it is not beyond reason that what he did was so thoroughly condemned, even to the point that it was displeasing in the eyes of God so that he killed him.
Let all those be absolutely terrified by this example who thus relieve their lust, so that by no means, neither for themselves nor for others, especially not for anyone other than themselves, do they desire to bring forth offspring. Those who practice forbidden lust are most like the evildoer Onan. For they want nothing less than children. This type of person couples in various and unspeakable ways so as not to get the woman pregnant: and if she should get pregnant, somehow the foetus in her either in the womb or at birth is killed. Woe, woe on these lewd women – woe, I say, on the prostitutes of the Sodomites, among whom no one is expected to be procreated, and what they do most wickedly is displeasing in the eyes of the Lord.

OLDENBURGER, TEUNIS (1934); Calvinist – Birth Control for Saints and Sinners
There is no other exegesis of Scripture possible but to place contraception in the same category with prostitution, free love, homosexuality, coitus interuptus, coitus reservatus, coitus Sasonus, and all other forms of unnatural coition that are indulged in simply for the purpose of play, against which both the laws of the land and those of the Church have with varying severity been enforced, beginning with Onan in Chapter 38 of Genesis and extending to our own day among all civilized countries.
Birth Control is cursed of God as a sex crime, and, in the one case of which we have record, in Gen. 38 was punished with death.

OLEARIUS, JOHANNES (1611-1684); Lutheran – Commentary on Ge. 38:9 —
9. BUT SINCE ONAN KNEW THAT THE SEED WOULD NOT BE HIS OWN IF HE LAY WITH HIS BROTHER’S WIFE, HE LET IT FALL TO THE GROUND AND PERISH SO THAT HE WOULD NOT GIVE SEED TO HIS BROTHER…. This cursed, abhorrent sin, which was an atrocity against nature and against the Lord (as against the Most High, Is. 6, Who cannot tolerate even unintentional impurity, Lev. 15:16), happened secretly and was punished publicly. What Cain did to his brother, Gen. 4, that this murderous abuser of nature did, as much as he could, and it was no better. Therefore it displeased the Lord…just as David’s adultery and murder, 2 Sam. 11:27. This wickedness deserves the wages of sin, Rom. 6, and early death… The atrocity of Molech, Lev. 20:2, is to be considered in this context. This matter, together with all silent sins, is not improperly compared to that situation.

OSIANDER, LUKAS, THE ELDER (1534-1604); Lutheran – Commentary on Gen. 38:10 —
WHAT HE DID] Which was an abhorrent thing and worse than adultery. For such an evil deed strives against nature, and those who do it will not possess the Kingdom of God. 1 Cor. 6:9-10. And the holier marriage is, the less will those remain unpunished who live in it in a wicked and unfitting way so that, in addition to it, they practice their private acts of villainy.

PARAEUS, DAVID (1548-1586); Calvinist – Commentary on Gen. 38 —
Detestable was the deed of Onan, who in sexual intercourse preferred to waste his seed rather than procreate children, lest he raise up offspring for his brother. For he knew that by custom the firstborn would not be his but his dead brother’s. This was not only wicked jealousy for his brother but also savage cruelty, which God considered on the same level as parricide. For what is it to waste the seed other than to kill the foetus and the human being that is to be born from it? Because of this he was justly killed by God, by a sudden blow, it seems, or by a fatal disease.
On the other hand we learn how much God hates every abuse of genital seed, illicit emission and wasting it: and we learn that we are to live chaste and holy lives before God in marriage just as much as in the celibate life. For God sees and punishes every impurity, even those which are committed in secret.

PATRICK, SIMON (1626-1707); Anglican – Commentary on Gen. 38:10 —
Ver. 10 THE THING WHICH HE DID DISPLEASED THE LORD:] This made his sin the more heinous, that he acted against the Divine promise made to Abram, concerning the multiplying of his seed: especially against the belief of the promise of the Messiah; that seed for which all good men longed.

POOLE, MATTHEW (1624-1679); Nonconformist – Commentary on Gen. 38:9 —
9. AND ONAN KNEW THAT THE SEED SHOULD NOT BE HIS; AND IT CAME TO PASS, WHEN HE WENT IN UNTO HIS BROTHER’S WIFE, THAT HE SPILLED IT ON THE GROUND, LEST THAT HE SHOULD GIVE SEED TO HIS BROTHER. Two things are here noted: 1. The sin itself, which is here particularly described by the Holy Ghost, that men might be instructed concerning the nature and the great evil of this sin of self-pollution, which is such that it brought upon the actor of it the extraordinary vengeance of God, and which is condemned not only by Scripture but even by the light of nature and the judgment of heathens who have expressly censured it as a great sin, and as a kind of murder. Of which see my Latin Synopsis. Whereby we may sufficiently understand how wicked and abominable a practice this is amongst Christians, and in the light of the gospel which lays greater and stricter obligations upon us to purity and severely forbids all pollution both of flesh and spirit. 2. the cause of this wickedness, which seems to have been either hatred of his brother or envy at his brother’s name and honour, springing from the pride of his own heart.

RAMSAY, FRANKLIN P. (1836-?); Calvinist – Paraphrase of Gen. 38 —
9. But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his own; and so whenever he was with his brother’s wife, he would pollute the ground rather than give offspring to his brother.
What he did was bad in the eyes of Jehovah, and he took away his life also.

RICHTER, J. HEINRICH (1799-1847); Lutheran
In v. 9, shameful atrocities are designated that one does not want to mention! – Whoever practices this or something similar, things which from Onan have the name Onany [Onanism], cannot inherit the kingdom of God. 1. Cor. 6:9 and 10:8. Onan’s behavior was punished by God with death because it happened contrary to the purpose of marriage and out of devilish jealousy and was also murder. Such silent sins always draw down the wrath of God. But even such atrocious sinners, of whom the world is now full, can still receive grace in the blood of Christ, if they come to Him in repentance; according to Tit. 3:3; Eph. 2:3.

RIVET, ANDRE (1573-1651); Calvinist – Commentary on Gen. 38:9 —
Now this is what Onan did and what happened to him in consequence. The cause which moved him to defraud his brother’s wife and intentionally to deceive his parents was spite and envy. He could not openly reject his father’s command, because he was even held to this by the common law. He considered the future offspring which Thamar would conceive not his own but his brother’s, if he legitimately followed the custom with her. He abused the law of marriage in which he consented, and then exercised his lust, and under this pretext impurely contaminated himself, POURING THE SEED ON THE GROUND, neither did he provide posterity for his brother. We are limited from saying more about this by reason of modesty, but to pay it any attention at all: any abuse of the seed, especially voluntarily pouring it outside of marriage, is a most serious sin: and it is necessary to guard against the suggestions of an impure spirit, with which Satan lies in ambush for many in the age of adolescence and first puberty, whom he incites shamefully and effeminately to pollute and contaminate their own bodies…, corrupting themselves and inflicting a serious wound on their own consciences: which sin is most frequent among those to whom honorable marriage and the undefiled bed seem vile, among whom it is often found.
“He Who Himself Is Adulterer, Harlot, and Pimp”
Hence this is what the famous Jesuit, Scaliger, in his epistles often calls Onanism, from which he has frequently heard that this is what the apostle calls “malakian” [effeminacy; C.P.], 1 Cor. 6:9. Yet this was not properly the sin of Onan except in so far as he poured the seed on the ground. Therefore those who, by the same forbidden lust or violent abortions of offspring, destroy it before it is born, are like wicked Onan and involve themselves in the same type of crime and sin.
…For although every sin is evil and displeases God, they are still not all expressly said to be the same, so that some are more to be detested. That is even shown by the most immediate punishment, that God did not permit him to live any longer who deprived a generation of life and killed off the fetus in its own seed.

SCHMIDT, SEBASTIAN (1617-1696); Calvinist – Commentary on Gen. 38 —
Onan’s act is most disgraceful and contrary to the order of nature. …he seems to have done it not only out of jealousy toward his dead brother, but also and probably chiefly from greed, lest part of the inheritance be transferred.
Paul said earlier that to be evil in one’s eyes is to displease mightily so that one just can’t accept it. From this and from his speedy punishment (that is, death) the severity of the Onanitic sin is clear.

SCHRODER, FRIEDRICH W. J. (1817-1876); Reformed – Commentary on Gen. 38 —
– The seed has the promise of salvation – the promise on which the fathers grew. The levirate law was but a peculiar aspect, as it were, of that universal care for offspring which formed the Old Testament response to God’s covenant faithfulness. Onan’s sin a murder. It is as if the curse of Canaan descended upon these sons from a Canaanitish woman.

SCOTT, THOMAS (1747-1821); Anglican – Commentary on Gen. 38:9-10 —
V 9, 10. Onan’s habitual conduct, (For this is meant,) was not only unnatural and detestable in itself, but full of envy and malice, and not without something of the nature of murder in it; for the same principle would have induced him to murder a child born to him but accounted his brother’s, if he could have done it with impunity. It implied also a contempt of the promise of a numerous posterity, made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and of that Seed especially in whom all nations “should be blessed”.

The Scriptures sparingly hint at those vile practices, which, being done in secret, are a shame to be spoken of: this suffices to show, that the Lord notices and abhors them, and will bring to light all the lasciviousness, of which it is to be feared multitudes are guilty in heart and life, who stand fair in the world’s esteem. Then the secret history of every individual, who hath not truly repented, and washed away his sins in the blood of Christ, will be written with an impartial pen, and published to the world of men and angels: every mouth will be stopped; and God’s righteousness, in the condemnation of sinners, manifested to the whole universe.

SKINNER, JOHN (1851-1925) – Commentary on Gen. 38 —
Onan, on the other hand, is slain because of the revolting manner in which he persistently evaded the sacred duty of raising up seed to his brother. It is not correct to say (with Gu.) that his only offence was his selfish disregard of his deceased brother’s interests.

STOCK, RICHARD (?-1626); Puritan – On Malachi 2:15 —
And so specially for the Church and increase of God’s Kingdom: for though he can make children of stones, yet hath he ordained this means: therefore little reason and less religion hath the Church of Rome to prefer virginity before holy marriage; for besides that may be said to them, “It were better they would approve virginity by their deeds, than praise it by their words”. And as Jerome [said]: “Why does the tongue sound out chastity, and the whole body show forth uncleanness?” Or, as Epiphanius [said] of the Origenists: “You refuse marriage, but not lust.” It is not holiness but hypocrisy that is in honour amongst you. Besides this, virginity is never save only in some respect better than marriage, but marriage is oftentimes absolutely better than virginity, and by no reason more than this: because this may increase the Church, and bring forth sons and daughters to God, not that.

[The writing of Epiphanius (c. 315-402) on the Origenists, which Stock quotes, is about the deed of Onan, and is as follows: “There are some whom they call ‘Origenians’.
Which sect of humans is not spread everwhere, nevertheless this heresy comes in the next place after the above. But for what reason they are called ‘Origenians’ is not clear: Whether this was from Origen, as was said by Adamantius (who is known as Syntactes) or from some other? Because, as I said, I am completely ignorant, I have accepted nothing beyond the name itself. Their heresy truly conforms to the teaching of Epiphanes, about whom I have previously made sermons, against the sects of the Gnostics. They have cut out various books of the Old and New Testament. They repudiate marriage, but they do not refrain from obscene lusts, even to the point that they contaminate their bodies, minds and souls with every kind of filth. For certain of them profess the monastic life in appearance, and likewise their women prefer the same rule of life. All these have corrupted bodies, to the extent that when they satisfy their lust, they commit that crime, as I would more honorably call it, which Judah’s son, Onan, is said to have committed. For when he used to have sex with Thamar, and satisfy his desire, he would do nothing for the propagation of children in the way it has been established for humans by God; instead he acted in such a way doing that shameful act that he brought injury on himself: So, the Origenians are wont to follow that old practice in regard to the things that are to be done for detestable lust. For they carry on not chastity, but the simulation of chastity to which they give the name falsely. Which action brings it about that, what ever woman is ravished, she does not get pregnant, or does not carry the foetus, so that nobody knows. Among them, by this their own rule of what they call chastity, they desire to maintain their prestige and reputation. And this worthless work of theirs is also a crime. But others carry on that wicked and shameful thing in other ways than with women: And they abuse themselves with their own hands for foul purposes. No less do they imitate the son of Judah, whom I mentioned; for by their nefarious sins and the distillation of their abominable fluid they pollute the earth. For they destroy their ejaculate on the ground lest it should be used for any procreation of a foetus.”; C.P.]

TAYLOR, JEREMY (1613-1667); Anglican/Arminian – Rules for married persons, or matrimonial Chastity.
2. In their permissions and license, they must be sure to observe the order of nature, and the ends of God. “He is an ill husband, that uses his wife as a man treats a harlot, “having no other end but pleasure. Concerning which our best rule is, that although in this, as in eating and drinking, there is an appetite to be satisfied, which cannot be done without pleasing that desire; yet since that desire and satisfaction was intended by nature for other ends, they should never be separate from those ends, but always be joined with all or one of these ends, “with a desire of children, or to avoid fornication, or to lighten and ease the cares and sadnesses of household affairs, or to endear each other,” but never with a purpose, either in act or desire, to separate the sensuality from these ends which hallow it. Onan did separate his act from its proper end, and so ordered his embraces that his wife should not conceive, and God punished him.

THOMAS, W.H. GRIFFITH (1861-1924); Anglican Calvinist – Commentary on Gen. 38 —
We are not surprised that from this wicked association wicked sons should have sprung. The first born was so wicked that he came under the Divine displeasure, “and the Lord slew him”. The second son was as bad if not worse, and was guilty of that sin to which his name has ever since been given, and of which it will suffice to say that it is perhaps the very deadliest of all sins as affecting definitely body, mind and soul, and as having slain its thousands in all ages of the world’s history.

TRAPP, JOHN (1601-1669); Puritan – Commentary on Gen. 38:9 –
God, for the respect he bears to his own institution of marriage, is pleased to bear with, cover, and not impute many frailties, follies, vanities, wickednesses that are found betwixt man and wife. Howbeit, there is required of such a holy care and conscience, to preserve between themselves, by a conjugal chastity, the marriage-bed undefiled; taking heed of an intemperate or intempestive use of it: which by divines, both ancient and modern, is deemed no better than plain adultery before God. He who lies with his wife, as if with a strange woman, is an adulterer, saith that heathen [Seneca; C.P.]. Onan’s sin here was self-pollution, aggravated much by his envy that moved him to it, expressed in these words, “LEST HE SHOULD GIVE SEED TO HIS DECEASED BROTHER.” And the more sinful was this sin of his in spilling his seed; because it should have served for the propagation of the Messiah; therefore the Lord slew him: as also, because he was not warned by his brother’s punishment.

TUCH, JOHANN CHRISTIAN FRIEDRICH (1806-1867); Reformed – Commentary on Gen. 38 —
Out of misfavor against his brother, Onan knows how to keep the marriage unfruitful with the help of the vice named after him, and for that reason Jehova lets him die.

Onan indeed undertakes the levirate marriage, but the main purpose of it …(Ruth, op. cit.,) he knows how to evade through the acknowledged vice indicated in v.9… and this sin brought God’s punishment with it.

USHER, JAMES (1581-1656); Anglican/Calvinist Westminster Divine
On the Seventh Commandment –
How doth a man exercise uncleanness in act? Either by himself or with others. How by himself? By the horrible sin of Onan (Gen. 38.:9), Lustful dreams and Nocturnal pollutions (Deut. 23:10) arising from excessive eating and unclean cogitations or other sinful means (Jude 8, 2 Pe. 2:10, Gal. 5:19, col. 3:5).

VENT. C. F. (1876) – The Crime of Onan —
But there is a practice so universal that it may well be termed a national vice, so common that it is unblushingly acknowledged by its perpetrators, for the commission of which the husband is even eulogized by his wife, and applauded by her friends, a vice which is in the scourge and the desolation of marriage; it is the crime of Onan. “He spilled his seed upon the ground, lest children should be born. And therefore the Lord slew him, because he did a detestable thing”.
Who can doubt that Almighty God, in this terrible punishment, wished to impart to man a positive moral instruction which should endure to the end of time, for the crime of Onan will have imitators while the world endures – as what crimes will not? But that these should be found among men of respectability would surpass belief, if the thing were not notoriously true. At any rate, the conjugal onanists in this age and country are more numerous than the exceptions. Ministers of the Gospel, prominent Church members, the very elite of society, well-nigh monopolize the art, for it is far less common to find repugnance to offspring in the lower classes than in “upper-tendom”.

WESLEY, JOHN, (1703-1791); Methodist/Arminian – Commentary on Gen. 38:7 —
The next brother Onan was, according to the ancient usage, married to the widow, to preserve the name of his deceased brother Er that died childless. This custom of marrying the brother’s widow was afterward made one of the laws of Moses, Deut. 25:5. Onan, though he consented to marry the widow, yet to the great abuse of his own body, of the wife he had married and the memory of his brother that was gone, he refused to raise up seed unto his brother. Those sins that dishonour the body are very displeasing to God, and the evidence of vile affections. Observe, the thing which he did displeased the Lord – And it is to be feared, thousands, especially of single persons, by this very thing, still displease the Lord, and destroy their own souls.

WESTMINSTER ANNOTATIONS (1657); Calvinist – Commentary on Gen. 38:9 (by John Ley of Westminster Assembly) —
The lewdness of this fact was composed of lust, of envy, and murder; the first appears, in that he went rashly upon it, it seems he stayed not till night, for the time of privacy for such a purpose, else the bed would have been named as well as the ground; the second is plain by the text, he envied at the honor of his dead brother, and therefore would not be father of any child, that should be reputed his, and not his own; the third, in that there is a seminal vital virtue, which perishes if the seed be spilled; and by doing this to hinder the begetting of a living child, is the first degree of murder that can be committed, and the next unto it is the marring of conception, when it is made, and causing of abortion: now such acts are noted in the scripture as horrible crimes, because, otherwise many might commit them, and not know the evil of them: it is conceived, that his brother Er before, was his brother in evil thus far, that both of them satisfied their sensuality against the order of nature, and therefore the Lord cut them off both alike with sudden vengeance; which may be for terror to those Popish Onanites who condemn marriage, and live in sodomitical impurity, and to those, who, in marriage, care not for the increase of children (which is the principle use of the conjugal estate) but for the satisfying of their concupiscence.

WORDSWORTH, CHRISTOPHER (1807-1887); Anglican – Commentary on Gen. 38:7 —
“The Hebrews and the Christians agree that Er committed the same kind of effeminate sin and retraction as Onan, which is contrary to the nature of procreation and marriage, for it destroys the fetus…and it is called destestable” (A. Lapide).