Natural Relations

by Matthew W. Bassford

Though the battle is over these days (at least as far as wider American society is concerned), the past couple of decades saw a great deal of strife over the practice of homosexuality. In their ultimately successful assault on Biblical morality, gay-rights proponents adopted three main strategies: rejecting the authority of the Bible altogether, redefining Biblical ethics to make same-sex relations acceptable, and critiquing the Biblical arguments against the same.

In the third category, critics liked to attack Paul’s claim in Romans 1:26-27 that homosexual intimacy was unnatural. They pointed out, correctly, that various animals, from our supposed cousins the bonobos on down, engage in male/male or female/female sex. Still other animals are hermaphroditic or able to change their sex. Because these things exist in nature, they reveal that same-sex sexual behavior is natural and that Paul is just a big dumb ignoramus.

As satisfying as such a conclusion is to opponents of traditional morality, it fails to reckon with Paul’s argument or what he means by “natural”. Romans 1:26-27 is far from a proof text. Instead, it is part of his famous description of the degradation of the Gentiles that takes up the back half of Romans 1.

According to Paul, this decline began with the failure of the Gentiles to honor God. As per Romans 1:19-20, this failure is their fault, not God’s. In the physical creation, He gave them all the evidence they needed to see His power and divine nature. They saw and recognized the truth, but they put it out of their minds because they didn’t want to thank and glorify Him. They chose the gods they had made over the God who made them.

Similar logic is at work in Romans 1:26-27. The women who burn for women and the men who burn for men aren’t operating in the absence of evidence of divine intent. Instead, just like the idolaters of the preceding verses should be reasoning from the evidence of the creation but have refused to do so, those engaged in unnatural relations should be reasoning from the evidence of natural relations but also have refused.

We are the handiwork of a wise, intentional God who expects us to honor His intent for us. That intent isn’t evident in bonobos or oysters or any other members of the animal kingdom. We don’t live like animals live or eat as they eat; why should we take our guidance in sexual matters from them either?

Rather, we learn what is natural for us by reasoning from the evidence of our own bodies. The body of the man is clearly made to complement the body of the woman, and vice versa. That is the sexual union for which we have been created. It is equally clear that women aren’t meant to go with women or men with men. It is not our natural purpose, and it is not what God wants us to do. If He had wanted us to behave differently, He would have created us differently.

It is possible to endorse same-sex relations, and it is possible to submit to the will of God as revealed in His creation and His word. It is not possible to do both. The world around us has made its choice, sure enough, but before we decide to walk the same path, we ought to remember what God has said about where it leads.

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