Homosexuality: Inborn Sin or Genetic Code?
Q: Holy Scripture strongly condemns homosexuality. Meanwhile, some scientific evidence seems to show that many homosexuals have a genetic predisposition to this state of being. How do you square science with the Bible?
A: I won’t try in this brief area to “square” all of science with the Bible. For one thing, whole libraries are filled with the efforts of others to do so. Additionally, there are many issues, including belief in a six day creation or the existence of a Creator, that can never be squared, since each is believed but not subject to empirical proof or rejection.
However, the area of homosexuality allows us to make at least a partial comparison. And we’ll first focus on the clear word of Holy Scripture. Obviously, both the Old and the New Testaments harshly condemn all manner of thoughts, words, and deeds. Among these, sexual sins tend to stand out most prominently to both believers and unbelievers — and same-sex relationships draw still more attention.
Sexual sin, Scripture tells us, shares one common feature with almost any other sinful activity. It begins with desires within before the expressions without. We learn that the cravings and intentions themselves constitute sins — whether one acts upon them or not. For example, “[Jesus said,] ‘I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.’ (Matthew 5:28)” As far as homosexuality is concerned, the Bible never says anything positive.
Outside of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, we read very little about it in the Old Testament. Only in Sodom — from which we get the word sodomy — do we see it detailed, and not at all favorably. The citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah were not believers. If or when homosexuality occurred among the heirs of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, we have no Biblical record. Therefore, it either wasn’t common among the Hebrews or else it was normally dealt with outside Scripture’s record.
In the New Testament, condemnations of sexual sins are strongest in Paul’s letters. This includes extended and specific denouncements of homosexuality in Romans 1. Some homosexual apologists use this fact to accuse the apostle of being one of the earliest advocates of “gay bashing.” Instead, Paul voices the strongest opposition to homosexuality (and other sexual sins) because his letters went to parts of the Gentile world where the existing cultures most strongly tolerated or encouraged these vices. Indeed, much of the Greco-Roman world espoused homo- or bisexuality, especially among the men.
Nowhere does God’s Word say that some people don’t have an inborn inclination for same-sex relationships. In fact, the Bible says that there is an inborn predisposition for all sin. For example, Psalm 58:3 says, “The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies.” Yet it is not only the overtly wicked who carry sinfulness from the womb. King David lamented about himself in Psalm 51:5, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” This sinful desire Saint Augustine called concupiscence; we normally use the term original sin. It is passing to each generation the sinful stain of Adam.
Some people exhibit violent tendencies at a very early age. If they beat, maim, or kill someone else, should we& — even more, should God — excuse them because of a predisposition for violence? Others show inclinations toward enriching themselves at the expense of others even as young children. Yet they are held accountable if they embezzle, burgle, commit armed robbery, or such. Society judges these people criminals needing arrest and punishment while the Lord judges them sinners needing repentance and forgiveness.
You could draw parallels with any such vice, sin, or crime. Yet no other actions inflame us as does sexual (mis-) behavior. A society that seems increasingly tolerant dismays those opposed to any deviance from God’s Law. Meanwhile, those who say, “You can’t legislate morality,” are frustrated by what they deem archaic, superstitious laws. Even Christians — including different parts of Lutheranism — find themselves divided.
You need to be convinced by God’s Word in matters of right and wrong. From the Church’s earliest days, Christians have often lived in societies that allowed what the Bible condemned. The believers we remember best — those commended for their faithfulness — are those who did not conform themselves to the world, but were transformed by the Word (see Romans 12:2). This happens as God in Christ forgives makes us more like our Savior through the work of the Holy Spirit. The same forgiveness was won at Calvary for all who transgress God’s commandments, and can transform all of us conceived and born sinners.
Notice that I didn’t touch on the “science” itself. This was intentionally done for two reasons. First, and more importantly, God’s holy Word is not normed or defined by science, philosophy, or any other human invention. To allow this to happen is to misuse God’s gift of reason. As Paul wrote, “The wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, ‘He catches the wise in their craftiness,’ and again, ‘The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.’ (1 Corinthians 3:19-20” The intellect should serve and be subject to Scripture and the Christian Faith; this is called the “ministerial” use of reason. If we allow human thought to control our understanding of the Faith — the “magisterial” use of reason — we pretend to be wiser than God and thus make total fools of ourselves.
Secondly, some debate continues years after the initial “science” was completed. Both the methodology and the results were questioned by many, not all of whom were Christians who believed the Scriptures concerning homosexuality. And even if science proved that at least some homosexual proclivities came as a genetic inheritance, it doesn’t negate the possibility that such an in-born was directly related to inherited the inherited brokenness of original sin.
And now back to Scripture for a bit more. I’ve stated the Church’s case that homosexuality is a sin — even if one is “predisposed” toward its practice. Furthermore, the Lord tells us that such immorality is not only a sin, it’s also punishment for sinfulness. Concerning this, Paul wrote of those who “knew God” but “did not honor him ... or give thanks to him” until finally “their foolish hearts were darkened. (Romans 1:21)”
In response to their self-imposed wickedness, the Lord caused them to become even more wicked! Because they willed their bodies to sin, “God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie.... (Romans 1:24-25)”
Because they chose to wallow in their sins, “God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. (vv. 26-27)” Therefore, we see that homosexuality is not only sinful is also be part of God’s punishment of sin.
Yet homosexuality, fornication, and other forms of sexual deviance aren’t the only sins He uses to crush unrepentant sinners: “God [also] gave them up to ... all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice ... envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. (vv. 28-31)” Such people, although they realize that “those who practice such things deserve to die ... not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (v. 32)”
However, God still desires repentance, not death and damnation. In Ezekiel 18:23, He posed the question, “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?” Lest we doubt the answer to His rhetorical question, God later stated flatly, “As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. (33:11)”
After reading Romans 1, we might wonder if the world holds any “righteous” people whom the Lord might allow to “live by faith. (v. 17; cf. Habakkuk 2:4)” We soon discover that we receive righteousness as God’s gift through Baptism into Christ Jesus. This frees us to follow His will (see 6:1-11). Verses 15-22 provide details about our new lives in Christ, as our slavery to sin is broken and replaced with a life dedicated to the things of God. For even though each of us truly earns “the wages of sin” that only result in death” we also have “the free gift of God ... eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (v. 23)”
Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.
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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.
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Modified and expanded version of newspaper column #4:2