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A quiver full of arrowsIt seems that whenever atheists have run out of new things to use to discredit the Christian faith, some “Christian” organization or church will come up with a new one for the atheists to use. Those groups will find a concept which is so distasteful to most modern Americans that atheism gains a new tool in attempting to deny God's existence or the validity of Christianity. One of the newest examples of this is the emergence of “Quiverfull” or “QF Christians.” The thrust of Quiverfull is to say that God's way has always been and continues to be a biblical patriarchy where women are to be under the control of their husbands or fathers in all aspects of life. Proponents of this movement refer to God's commands in Genesis 1:28, 8:17, and 9:1 to multiply and fill the earth. They reference Psalm 127:3 – 5 in which children are portrayed as a reward from God, and the more a man has, the greater the blessing. They also refer to situations in Old Testament times when God “closes up the womb” as a punishment for wrongdoing or to promote his agenda (see Genesis 20:18, 29:31, 30:22; 1 Samuel 1:5 – 6; and Isaiah 66:9). In the New Testament, 1 Timothy 2:11 – 15 is cited when Timothy is told that women “will be saved in childbearing.” First Timothy 5:14 is used in which young widows are told to “marry, to have children, to manage their homes … .”

In their book A Full Quiver Rick and Jan Hess wrote:

“Behold, children are a gift of the Lord” (Psalm 127:3). Do we really believe that? If children are a gift from God, let us for the sake of argument ask ourselves what other gift or blessing from God we would reject. Money? Would we reject great wealth if God gave it? Not likely! How about good health? Many would say that a man's health is his most treasured possession. But children? Even children given by God? “That's different!” some will plead. All right, is it different? God states right here in no-nonsense language that children are gifts. Do we believe His Word to be true?

Quiverfull believes that women are to be homemakers under the authority of their husbands (in subjection). Unmarried women are to be under the authority of their fathers. The dictionary says that this is “a movement which promotes procreation and sees children as a blessing from God, eschewing all forms of birth control, including natural family planning and sterilization.” Quiverfull adherents believe in providentialism, which is the belief that God has complete control over all events in this world — that all events both good and bad are according to his will and beyond the control of humans. Their worship style calls for a “Family Integrated Church” in which the entire family is together for all services and programs. They believe that the church must grow by childbirth.

Quiverfull started in the 1930s and has grown since that time. Major books promoting the movement have included: The Way Home: Beyond Feminism Back to Reality by Mary Pride (1985), The Bible and Birth Control by Charles Provan (1989), A Full Quiver: Family Planning and the Lordship of Jesus Christ by Rick and Jan Hess (1990), Be Fruitful and Multiply by Nancy Campbell (2003), Birthing God's Mighty Warriors by Rachel Scott (2004), and Family Unplanning by Craig Houghton (2006). There are also several websites accessible through quiverfull.com.

It should be obvious that this view will be distasteful to the majority of people in our culture. In fact, Margaret Sanger began Planned Parenthood when Quiverfull was a growing movement in the 1930s. That is not a reason to discard the concept because much of Christianity is distasteful to the materialistic and selfish culture in which we live. There is also the issue of how such views affect children educationally. I have had several Christian colleges tell me that their enrollments of women and their graduation rates of women is negatively affected by the Quiverfull view. The bigger question is whether it is what God wills for women as he reveals his purposes in his word. Is God's view of women in the 21st century that they should be “barefoot and pregnant” as atheists are now ascribing to Christianity? In the Restoration Movement and in Dispensationalism there are major apologetic ministries that are endorsing Quiverfull, at least in part. Understanding the problems of Quiverfull has become an important issue. We would like to raise the following points about Quiverfull and its interpretation of Scripture:


One of the challenges that the Does God Exist? ministry has made to those who promote dispensational teachings about the Genesis account is that they are not taking the Bible literally. Taking the Bible literally means looking at who wrote the passage, to whom they wrote it, why they wrote it, and how the people it was written to would have understood it. Taking a particular translation of the Bible, applying a 20th or 21st century interpretation to it, ignoring these things is not taking the Bible literally. We have had numerous articles in this journal showing how this affects everything from the “giants” in Genesis 6 to the time of Genesis 1. It is interesting that many of Quiverfull's authors also promote aliens in Genesis 6 and young earth theology in Genesis 1. This happens because their understanding of the Bible is not based on taking the passages literally.

When God told Adam and Eve to “be fruitful, increase in number and fill the earth” (Genesis 1:28) what was the condition of the earth? Did he say to overfill it? What is the context of the passage? It is to subdue it and rule over it as caretakers. The passage is not calling for us to procreate an infinite number of humans, but to be responsible for managing the earth.

A mother reading to her childIn the New Testament when Paul instructs younger widows to marry and to have children in 1 Timothy 5:14, notice who is being spoken to and what the situation was. Verses 11 – 13 tell us that these younger women had “sensual desires,” wanted to marry, and that they needed a commitment or a ministry that they could give themselves to. Being a wife and mother could answer all of their needs. In verse 9 these younger widows were told not to be welfare recipients but to be independent, and the permission to marry and have children was one option as to how to fulfill all of these needs. The earlier passage in which women are told to take on a supportive role in worship has a method of doing that, to be “kept safe” by (not to be saved by) the importance of their “faith, love, and holiness.” This passage is not addressing having babies, but how women could influence the worship and conduct of the church.


In Proverbs 31:10 – 31 we have a beautiful picture of the ideal woman of God. Nowhere in the passage is there a suggestion that the number of children she has produced is important. What is portrayed as important is her character, her spirituality, her business sense and management skills, her willingness to work, her charity, and her care for those who are a part of her household. The women who are portrayed as heroines in the Old Testament are not women who produced astronomical numbers of children, but women like Deborah who was a judge in Judges 4:4 – 5:7 and Esther in Esther 4:13 – 16 who was “called for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14).


The women we see in the New Testament who are held up as exceptional are not baby machines. Mary and Martha are shown as having a close friendship with Jesus, and the story in Luke 10 of Mary choosing the “better part” certainly had nothing to do with children. Mary of Magdala in Galilee is similarly shown as having a significant spiritual role in the life of Jesus. In 1 Corinthians 7:38 – 40 widows are told they will be better off if they can remain single and in Galatians 3:26 – 29 the early church is to not worry about the ethnic or sexual mores of the time. Paul wrote that “there is neither male nor female” as well as neither Gentile nor Jew. Children and childbearing are not the emphases of the teachings of Jesus or the apostles.


A woman at workIn Acts 16:13 – 15 we read of a great Christian woman named Lydia. She not only was an early convert, but opened her home to the work of the church and was instrumental in Paul's work. She is identified as a seller of purple, not a bearer of children. Throughout Paul's writings, we see women who were vital to his work — Euodia and Syntyche in Philippians 4:2 – 3; Priscilla in Acts 18:18, 26; the daughters of Philip the evangelist in Acts 21:8 – 9. There is a list of women in Romans 16 who served with Paul — Phoebe (said to be a servant of the church), Mary (verse 6), the mother of Rufus (verse 13) and Julia (verse 15). The praise given to these women is for their spirituality and dedication to the work, not to their capacity to have children.


Having a child is an incredible blessing. There is no role a woman can have that has more potential for good than being a mother. In no way should anyone feel that this discussion is in any way being negative about having children. The question is whether this is the only role a woman can have? Not all women are cut out to be mothers emotionally or mentally. Some women cannot have children for medical reasons, although they can still be mothers.

Whatever gift we have is ours to manage wisely and in a way that does the most good. In 1 Corinthians 14 Paul addresses this issue. In verses 28 – 33 Paul talks about a speaker who has a gift to speak in a language in which he has not been trained. He tells us that if there is no one to translate, the speaker should keep quiet. He also says that if someone has a special revelation, others should stop speaking. He concludes by saying “God is not a God of disorder but of peace” (verse 33). He further says that the purpose of all of this is “that everyone may be instructed and encouraged.” Gifts are to be managed. Jesus has unlimited power, but when he came to his hometown where there was a desire to reject him he withheld that power, knowing how to manage it.


In Luke 14:28 – 33 Jesus teaches the lesson of wisely managing what we have been given. He uses the example of building a tower and not being able to finish it, or going into war and not being in a position to win. I have heard older women say that the smallest pain that they were enduring in having a baby was the pain of birth. Having taught in an inner-city high school for 41 years, I had a great deal of contact with teenage girls who had babies, but were totally unequipped to raise a child.

A smiling woman Quiverfull maintains that “couples just need to trust God to provide them with the perfect number of children for their situation.” There are many situations in life where God provides the tools and resources for man to use. We may have the capacity to hunt or fish, but killing all the animals or catching all the fish is not a responsible use of what God has given us. We may have the capacity to make money, but not managing our time well to make that money can be catastrophic to our families and our marriages. We may have the ability to grow great crops or produce a product, but not over-producing is a part of managing the talent and blessing that we have been given. Women may have a great blessing in having children, but not being able to provide economically, emotionally, or spiritually is not a wise use of that blessing. It makes no sense for a young lady blessed with a great talent, to ignore that blessing from God so that she can produce many children that she may not be emotionally able to handle. This is a major misuse of one blessing of God and an overuse of the other.

— John N. Clayton

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