What is Against Nature?
Rembrandt van Rijn (and Workshop?) (Dutch, 1606 - 1669 ), The Apostle Paul, c. 1657, oil on canvas, Widener Collection
Where Science Meets Religion by Trent Dee Stephens, PhD, for the Come Follow Me lesson August 7–13: Romans 1–6.
The book of Romans is the first of Paul’s several epistles to early Christians throughout the known world. He stated in verse 1, “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God…” He wrote this letter, around 55-57 AD, “To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 1:7)
Paul stated early in his letter, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness…” (verse 18) He continued “Wherefore God also gave them [unrighteousness men] up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves…For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.” (verses 24 and 26-27)
What Paul apparently originally wrote in Greek, which was translated in the King James Bible to, “natural use,” was φυσικὴν (physikēn) χρῆσιν (chrēsin): “physical (instinctive) sexual relations (employment).”1 The problem with discussing physical, instinctive, natural sexual relations in humans is that neither Paul nor anyone else before the early 1920s knew the full story of what is “natural” when it comes to human sexuality. In the early 1920s Theophilus Painter, at the University of Texas, determined that the Y chromosome determines sex in humans.2 Females normally have 46 chromosomes of which two are known as XX—the sex chromosomes. Males normally have 46 chromosomes, one of which is X and another is referred to as Y. So a normal female is 46 XX and a normal male is 46 XY. But what is normal is not always what is natural—because sex determination, like most human traits, is never 100% normal—and abnormal is part of the natural process of development.
The frequency of what is known as the Swyer syndrome (XY female syndrome), in which the chromosome compliment is male, but the phenotype (what a person looks like) is female, is approximately 1:30,000 female births (as a high-end estimate because the definition of Swyer syndrome is somewhat restrictive).3 That number appears to be extremely rare, and most people, I’m certain, including Paul, are completely unaware that they have ever met someone with Swyer syndrome. However, for those of us who study birth defects, this is not an extremely rare condition. Extremely rare conditions, fall into the range of 1 in 300,000 births. Furthermore, with a world population of over 8 billion (as of 15 November 2022), roughly half of whom are female, there are around 133,333 women worldwide with the 46 XY syndrome—many of whom don’t even know it themselves—according to the World Health Organization (WHO), as many as 3.5 billion people, nearly half the world's population, lack access to necessary health services, let alone genetic counseling.
The frequency of what is known as the 46 XX male syndrome, in which the chromosome compliment is female, but the phenotype is male, is approximately 1 in 25,000 male births.4 Therefore, there are roughly 160,000 men worldwide with the 46 XX syndrome. That means that there are around 293,333 total people worldwide whose apparent sex is not their “actual,” chromosomal sex.
It turns out that not the entire Y chromosome is involved in sex determination, but rather, one gene, called the sex-determining region of the Y chromosome (SRY) gene at the tip of the short arm of the Y chromosome. In the case of XY females, the gene is gone, or more often, mutated to a non-functional version. In the case of XX males, the SRY gene has been translocated to one of the X chromosomes.5
That’s only the beginning; Anne Fausto-Sterling has suggested that the prevalence of intersex (people who are not clearly one sex or the other) might be as high as 1.7%.6 Her estimate has been challenged numerous times in the literature over the past twenty plus years. For example, Leonard Sax has pointed out that her estimate includes defects such as Klinefelter syndrome (XXY), Turner syndrome (XO), and late-onset adrenal hyperplasia. Sax has proposed an intersex frequency of more like 0.018%.7 I tend to agree more with Fausto-Sterling’s estimate because males with Klinefelter syndrome are infertile—often without knowing why (without genetic counseling and a karyotype—analyzing the chromosome compliment). Turner females are also infertile and, for the same reasons, often do not know why. Late-onset adrenal hyperplasia may have increased rates of bi-/homosexuality.8
If one then uses the 1.7% for the incidence of intersex cases, then there are around 136,000,000 people in the world today with mainly chromosomal intersex defects—and a large portion of them have no idea what is “wrong” with them. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. All of the intersex defects listed above can be identified with a karyotype or other medical analysis. Our brains, however, are way too complex for any current medical test to determine our sexual orientation, but progress is being made. In 2005, Brian Mustanski and others cited several studies in which some 2-6% of males reported predominantly homosexual attractions. They stated that, “Multiple lines of evidence suggest that biological factors play a role in explaining individual differences in male sexual orientation…” For example, one nucleus in the human anterior hypothalamus (a tiny part of the brain that plays a significant role in regulating hormones) is significantly smaller in females than in males, and it also is reportedly smaller in homosexual males than in other males. Mustanski and his group conducted a full genome scan of 456 individuals from 146 families with two or more gay brothers and found three chromosome regions that might show a genetic connection to male homosexuality.9 Alan Sanders and others published a more recent study on the same or a similar test group, examining the premise that, “Male sexual orientation is influenced by environmental and complex genetic factors. Childhood gender nonconformity (CGN) is one of the strongest correlates of homosexuality with substantial familiality.” They also conducted a genome-wide linkage scan and found four strong linkage peaks at four chromosome locations associated with CGN.10
A 2022 US telephone Gallop survey has found that 7.1% of people surveyed self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or something other than heterosexual. That percentage is double what it was in 2012, when the first such Gallup poll was taken.11 In my opinion, the difference does not necessarily reflect an actual change in sexual orientation, but rather an under-reporting in 2012 and perhaps an over-reporting in 2022—as the LGBT movement is currently very “popular.” The current Gallop poll result suggests that perhaps as many as 568,000,000 people worldwide self-identify as having a sexual orientation other than heterosexual. If we add to that number the number of people identified as intersex (most of whom have a sexual orientation consistent with their phenotype: 136,000,000) that gives a total of 704,000,000 people worldwide, nearly 9% of the population, who are not “normal” when it comes to Paul’s statement about “natural sexual relations.”
Paul proposed that the unnatural sexual orientation in Rome at his time was the result of idolatry (Romans 1:23-24). Certainly it appears from history that idolatry can encourage homosexual practices but sex determination by chromosomes (including sex chromosome translocations and mutations), as well as mutations affecting sexual orientation, have been with us as long as we’ve been humans. Defects in chromosome structure and function—usually resulting in infertility—and mutations that affect sexual orientation should not be considered any differently than other mutations such as albinism or Type I diabetes, or chromosomal errors, such as Down syndrome. All of these defects are part of nature—and errors in sex determination and sexual orientation are no more the fault of the individual experiencing them than is diabetes or Down syndrome.
What displeases God, according to numerous scriptures, is the sexual behavior of people—whether heterosexual or homosexual. I see nothing in the scriptures indicating that homosexual sin is any worse than heterosexual sin. “…for the Lord cannot look upon [any] sin with the least degree of allowance.” (Alma 45:16) Paul clearly spoke against heterosexual sin. In the same letter to the Corinthians, he stated, “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10) According to the New International Version of the Bible, the phrase translated in the King James Bible as “…effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind…” in verse 9, μαλακοὶ (malakoi) ἀρσενοκοῖται (arsenokoitai), refers to male homosexuality.12 When it comes to exclusion from the kingdom of God, according to these verses, are people who fornicate, commit adultery, covet, or revile any better or worse than homosexuals? Indeed, fornication, not homosexuality, is re-emphasized in verse 18 of chapter 6: “Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body.”
In his letter to the Galatians (5:19-21), Paul stated, “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revillings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” Current media sources portray numerous cases of hatred, wrath, strife, and revillings directed, by apparently “straight” people, against the LGBT community. Are these sins any lesser sins than the homosexuality against which they are directed?
Jesus taught, “…That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.” (Mark 7:20-23) He also taught, “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgement ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5)
Trent Dee Stephens, PhD
1. biblehub.com/romans/1-26.htm; retrieved 23 July 2023
2. Glass, Bentley, Theophilus Shickel Painter 1889—1969: A Biographical Memoir, National Academy of Sciences, Washington DC., 1990; nasonline.org/publications/biographical-memoirs/memoir-pdfs/painter-theophilus-shickel.pdf; retrieved 23 July 2023
3. Meyer, KF, et al., The XY female and SWYER syndrome, Urol Case Rep, 26:100939, 2019
4. sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/xx-male; retrieved 23 July 2023
5. Hake, Laura, and Clare O'Connor, Genetic Mechanisms of Sex Determination, Nature Education, 1:25, 2008
6. Fausto-Sterling, Anne, et al., How Sexually Dimorphic Are We? Review and Synthesis, American Journal of Human Biolog, 12: 151-166, 2000
7. Sax, Leonard, How common is intersex? a response to Anne Fausto-Sterling, J Sex Res, 39:174-178, 2002
8. Daae E, et al, Sexual Orientation in Individuals With Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia: A Systematic Review, Front Behav Neurosci, 14:38, 2020.
9. Mustanski, Brian S., et al., A genomewide scan of male sexual orientation, Hum Genet, 116: 272–278, 2005
10. Sanders, Alan R., et al, Genome-Wide Linkage and Association Study of Childhood Gender Nonconformity in Males, Arch Sex Behav, 50(8):3377-3383, 2021
11. Jones, Jeffrey, LGBT Identification in U.S. Ticks Up to 7.1%, Gallop, 2022, gallup.com/poll/389792/lgbt-identification-ticks-up.aspx, retrieved 24 July 2023
12. thenivbible.com/malakoi; retrieved 24 July 2023