Christian Churches of God

The Sin of Onan (No. 162)

(Edition 1.0 19960506-19960506)

For centuries the Christian churches of various persuasions have identified the sin of Onan with masturbation and identified this act as the reason for the fact that the Lord slew Onan. This has become part of secular myth and entered the language in specific terminology. This paper points out the error in this belief and exposes a related sin committed by many of the churches themselves.


Christian Churches of God




(Copyright ã 1996, 1998, 1999 Wade Cox)

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The Sin of Onan

For centuries the Christian churches of various persuasions have identified the sin of Onan with masturbation and identified this act as the reason for the fact that the Lord slew Onan. This has become part of secular myth and entered the language in specific terminology.

The Universal Oxford Dictionary defines Onanism simply as deriving from the proper name Onan and being self abuse or masturbation.

However, the identification of Onan with this sin is incorrect and trivialises the entire issue of the sin of Onan and the reason for which the Lord slew him. It also shows a complete inability on the part of modern Christianity to understand the issues involved in this most important aspect of the family and inheritance laws which are integral to the biblical system and which are necessary aspects of the Jubilee and tithe systems.

Genesis 38:1-30 1 And it came to pass at that time, that Judah went down from his brethren, and turned in to a certain Adullamite, whose name was Hirah. 2 And Judah saw there a daughter of a certain Canaanite, whose name was Shuah; and he took her, and went in unto her. 3 And she conceived, and bare a son; and he called his name Er. 4 And she conceived again, and bare a son; and she called his name Onan. 5 And she yet again conceived, and bare a son; and called his name Shelah: and he was at Chezib, when she bare him. 6 And Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, whose name was Tamar. 7 And Er, Judah's firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD slew him. 8 And Judah said unto Onan, Go in unto thy brother's wife, and marry her, and raise up seed to thy brother. 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. 10 And the thing which he did displeased the LORD: wherefore he slew him also. 11 Then said Judah to Tamar his daughter in law, Remain a widow at thy father's house, till Shelah my son be grown: for he said, Lest peradventure he die also, as his brethren did. And Tamar went and dwelt in her father's house. 12 And in process of time the daughter of Shuah Judah's wife died; and Judah was comforted, and went up unto his sheepshearers to Timnath, he and his friend Hirah the Adullamite. 13 And it was told Tamar, saying, Behold thy father in law goeth up to Timnath to shear his sheep. 14 And she put her widow's garments off from her, and covered her with a vail, and wrapped herself, and sat in an open place, which is by the way to Timnath; for she saw that Shelah was grown, and she was not given unto him to wife. 15 When Judah saw her, he thought her to be an harlot; because she had covered her face. 16 And he turned unto her by the way, and said, Go to, I pray thee, let me come in unto thee; (for he knew not that she was his daughter in law.) And she said, What wilt thou give me, that thou mayest come in unto me? 17 And he said, I will send thee a kid from the flock. And she said, Wilt thou give me a pledge, till thou send it? 18 And he said, What pledge shall I give thee? And she said, Thy signet, and thy bracelets, and thy staff that is in thine hand. And he gave it her, and came in unto her, and she conceived by him. 19 And she arose, and went away, and laid by her vail from her, and put on the garments of her widowhood. 20 And Judah sent the kid by the hand of his friend the Adullamite, to receive his pledge from the woman's hand: but he found her not. 21 Then he asked the men of that place, saying, Where is the harlot, that was openly by the way side? And they said, There was no harlot in this place. 22 And he returned to Judah, and said, I cannot find her; and also the men of the place said, that there was no harlot in this place. 23 And Judah said, Let her take it to her, lest we be shamed: behold, I sent this kid, and thou hast not found her. 24 And it came to pass about three months after, that it was told Judah, saying, Tamar thy daughter in law hath played the harlot; and also, behold, she is with child by whoredom. And Judah said, Bring her forth, and let her be burnt. 25 When she was brought forth, she sent to her father in law, saying, By the man, whose these are, am I with child: and she said, Discern, I pray thee, whose are these, the signet, and bracelets, and staff. 26 And Judah acknowledged them, and said, She hath been more righteous than I; because that I gave her not to Shelah my son. And he knew her again no more. 27 And it came to pass in the time of her travail, that, behold, twins were in her womb. 28 And it came to pass, when she travailed, that the one put out his hand: and the midwife took and bound upon his hand a scarlet thread, saying, This came out first. 29 And it came to pass, as he drew back his hand, that, behold, his brother came out: and she said, How hast thou broken forth? this breach be upon thee: therefore his name was called Pharez. 30 And afterward came out his brother, that had the scarlet thread upon his hand: and his name was called Zarah. (KJV)

We see here that the story relates to the laws of the brotherís duty. This was an ancient law that preceded the giving of the law at Sinai. It was an aspect of the law which we can see was understood as ongoing and dictated by the land inheritance systems. Sinai was thus a reiteration of the law in its complete form. This law is seen in Deuteronomy 25:5-9. The law is important in this lineage and relates directly to the lineage of Messiah.

Judah took to wife, or as a concubine, Bathshua the daughter of Shuah, a Canaanite. From this union Judah produced three sons. Er, Onan and Shelah.

This specific marriage (and not only to Canaanites (including Heth); but to the Hittites) was forbidden under the Covenant and the law, by reason of idolatry only (cf. Gen. 24:3; 26:35; 27:46; 28:1; Ex. 34:16; Deut. 7:3).

Er married a woman (perhaps Hebrew) named Tamar. The name comes from an unused root meaning to be erect and means a palm tree (SHD 8558 and 8559).

Er was wicked and the Lord killed him. Judah then ordered Onan the next and only available brother to produce offspring to his brother (Shelah had not as yet come of age). This was in accordance with the custom that the child so produced would succeed to the inheritance of the brother.

This ancient law was enshrined also at Sinai.

Deuteronomy 25:5-9 5 If brethren dwell together, and one of them die, and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not marry without unto a stranger: her husband's brother shall go in unto her, and take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of an husband's brother unto her. 6 And it shall be, that the firstborn which she beareth shall succeed in the name of his brother which is dead, that his name be not put out of Israel. 7 And if the man like not to take his brother's wife, then let his brother's wife go up to the gate unto the elders, and say, My husband's brother refuseth to raise up unto his brother a name in Israel, he will not perform the duty of my husband's brother. 8 Then the elders of his city shall call him, and speak unto him: and if he stand to it, and say, I like not to take her; 9 Then shall his brother's wife come unto him in the presence of the elders, and loose his shoe from off his foot, and spit in his face, and shall answer and say, So shall it be done unto that man that will not build up his brother's house. (KJV)

This law was to be prominent in the affairs of the nation and to also occur in the lineage of Messiahís family on two other occasions, namely with Ruth and Boaz (Ruth 4:10 ff.) and also Zerubbabel (1Chron. 3:19 cf. Mat. 1:12). This matter is examined in the papers Genealogy of the Messiah (No. 119) and also The Sign of Jonah and the History of the Reconstruction of the Temple (No. 13).

Onan was aware that the offspring would not be his and the opportunity to take the inheritance by default which was a double portion would be lost. Thus he withdrew so that Tamar would not conceive. Judah did not intervene and, because of this attitude, God killed Onan.

The sin of Onan thus has nothing whatsoever to do with masturbation other than the dubious link of wasting sperm. Onanís sin was covetousness and theft. He disobeyed his father and the laws of God. He thus broke the first, fifth, seventh and tenth commandments. Breach of one commandment breaches the law entire.

It was to be in Judahís line through Tamar that Messiah would come. Thus Tamar was central to this matter. She was also without support in the family and so placed herself in a position where Judah could fulfil the vow he had made to her and which vow he failed to honour.

Tamar placed Judah in a position where he committed incest with her through his own weakness. He was thus forced to honour his duty to her under the law. From this union came the twins, Pharez and Zarah. Both Pharez (meaning breach) and Zarah (meaning a rising of light, Offspring or Dawn) together with their mother Tamar are mentioned in the genealogy of Messiah in Matthew 1:3.

Messiah also acknowledged the correctness of this law.

Matthew 22:24-33 24 Saying, Master, Moses said, If a man die, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother. 25 Now there were with us seven brethren: and the first, when he had married a wife, deceased, and, having no issue, left his wife unto his brother: 26 Likewise the second also, and the third, unto the seventh. 27 And last of all the woman died also. 28 Therefore in the resurrection whose wife shall she be of the seven? for they all had her. 29 Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven. 31 But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, 32 I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. 33 And when the multitude heard this, they were astonished at his doctrine. (KJV)

Note that Christ did not deny the law but changed the emphasis explaining the nature of the resurrection. Indeed, how could he when it was so central to the lineage of the kingship and indeed his earthly parents Joseph and Mary (Lk. 3:23-38).

The fixation of modern Christianity with masturbation is because they (perhaps) do not understand the laws involved and prefer to ignore, or trivialise, the issues. This appears to be done so that people are deceived regarding the real prohibitions. Masturbation is irregular in that the individual is open to sin at the higher levels that Christ laid on the elect in thought (e.g. Mat. 5:28). There is, however, no legislation concerning the matter. Onan sinned because he would not honour the laws governing the welfare of his brotherís family under the land ownership laws as laid down by the Bible. To acknowledge this fact would require the churches to explain the Jubilee system and the land ownership laws of the Bible and the laws of inheritance. It would prevent them from attaining land by biblically unlawful wills made out by people in ignorance, in the hope of buying their way into salvation. It is absolutely forbidden for a church or priest system to take lands by estate other than among the Levites that live in towns, where houses can be passed on in perpetuity (Lev. 25:32-33). The lands outside of the towns should belong in the Jubilee tribal system (Lev. 25:34). The lands belonging to the Temple and the Levites (and hence the church system) are set in biblical law and in each of the nations should be set and limited. In this way freedom of the nations is ensured.

For the churches to acknowledge this sin would be to condemn themselves for the avarice and greed that they have displayed over the centuries, since the Council of Constantinople (c. 381 CE). They can receive money only from estates but not at the expense of the land and inheritance system of the family.

The inheritance of the Church is the tithe system (including the firstfruits) and the priestly housing (and on a local basis, i.e, within your gates, Deut. 12:12-19; 14:27-29; see the paper Tithing (No. 161)). The sin of Onan is the very sin that Christianity has committed for centuries. Onanism is, in reality, clerical theft, or condoned family theft (in this instance condoned by Judah as priest of his family), of the inheritance of the brethren.