And does it matter?
One of the arguments influencing our society, including evangelicals, is built on the premise that people are predisposed to a particular sexual preference. The argument is simple: since some are born with a predisposition to homosexuality, it would be a sin for them to deny the way God made them. This is how verses like Romans 1:26-27, traditionally understood to condemn homosexuality, are reinterpreted to support homosexuality.
For this reason 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. (Ro 1:26–27)
“Natural” is interpreted as predisposition. Paul’s argument is then understood to mean that “dishonorable passions” are those that go against someone’s “natural” or predisposed sexual preference. Thus, for someone predisposed to heterosexuality, homosexuality is unnatural. And by implication, for someone predisposed to homosexuality, heterosexuality is unnatural.
Is this a valid argument? Does a predisposition to homosexuality, assuming it is true, lead me to rethink the traditional Biblical perspective on homosexuality? If it could be somehow proven, does the traditional Biblical view on homosexuality fall apart? If the Biblical argument builds its case on the premise that a person’s predisposition at birth is what Paul means by “natural”, then yes, the traditional view falls apart. Many assume this is a key premise. But it’s bad exegesis and bad theology to do so.
Exegesis means to draw out the meaning from the text. We might have several meanings for an English word. That doesn’t mean the original text (which in this case is Greek) has the same set of meanings. We don’t get to “pick” the meaning based on which of the English options best fits our purposes. This is what is being done with the word “natural” in the verses above. The word translated “natural” comes from the Greek word phusikos, which means “as established by God in nature”. It does not refer to the predisposition in which a person is born, but the predisposition in which mankind was originally created. In other words, it isn’t your predisposition or my predisposition that is in view, but mankind’s predisposition as it was in the beginning which is in view. Thus, the “dishonorable passions” Paul has in view isn’t individually based. They don’t change from individual to individual.
Many assume this doesn’t matter because we are all innocent at birth. Since we’re born innocent, then our predispositions at birth are also innocent. But this is bad theology. We are not born innocent. Adam and Eve were created in innocence but soon fell. As a result, his progeny all inherit a broken condition. When Adam and Eve first took of the forbidden fruit, all of his natural relationships were warped. Adam and eve, once naked and unashamed, now hide in shame. Adam blames Eve and brokenness is introduced into their relationship. As a result of their disobedience God curses the ground (introducing brokenness into the relationship that man originally had with creation), curses child-bearing (introducing brokenness into the relationship that parents would have with their children) and casts them from the garden (introducing brokenness into the relationship that Adam and Eve once enjoyed with God). That broken state has twisted what is “natural” ever since. The result is that we are all born with some degree of brokenness to mankind’s “natural”, or original, condition. Theology identifies this as “original sin.” This being the case, we should expect people to be born with predispositions to things that are not “natural”; with predispositions that are broken and sinful. We all inherit a sinful nature, a sinful predisposition. This means that our predispositions are not inherently right. They cannot be the measure to which we must seek to be true. To be “true to yourself” is to be true to a sinful condition!
The good news is that Jesus came to rescue us, even from our own sinful predispositions. Jesus pays the debt that we inherit from Adam for our original sin AS WELL AS the debt we owe for our own personal sin. In so doing, he gives us new hearts and begins the lifelong work of renewing our thoughts and desires. It is important to remember this is a lifelong work! Thoughts, habits, and desires don’t change overnight. They take time. Israel spent forty years wandering in the wilderness between the time they were set free from slavery and finally entered the Promised Land. And so with us. Jesus sets us free from our bondage to sin (under the sentence of death), and sets us on the way toward the true Promised Land (when God’s Kingdom fills a new heavens and a new earth). Israel’s time in the wilderness was difficult as God taught them to turn away from their old lifestyles and ways of thinking and toward a new lifestyle defined by His commandments and a new way of thinking that recognized God as their God. We should expect our time too to be difficult for there is much in us that needs transformation.