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Does the Bible Provide Guidance Regarding Genetic Engineering?

Introduction to Genetic Engineering and Biblical Principles


Genetic engineering, the manipulation of an organism's genetic material to alter its characteristics, raises significant ethical and moral questions. While the Bible does not explicitly mention genetic engineering, its principles and teachings offer substantial guidance on this complex issue. By examining relevant Scriptures, we can discern a biblical perspective on genetic engineering.


The Sanctity of Human Life


The Bible emphasizes the sanctity and intrinsic value of human life. Genesis 1:27 states, "And God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." This foundational truth asserts that humans are created in the image of God, imbuing every individual with inherent dignity and worth. The image of God, or Imago Dei, is a critical concept that influences how we view and treat human life.


The sanctity of human life is further reinforced in Psalm 139:13-14: "For you formed my inward parts; you wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful are your works, and my soul knows it very well." These verses underscore the belief that human life is intricately designed by God, affirming the value and purpose of every individual from conception.


The Limits of Human Authority

While humans are granted dominion over creation, this authority is not absolute and must be exercised responsibly and ethically. Genesis 1:28 records God's command to humanity: "And God blessed them; and God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.'" This dominion involves stewardship and care for God's creation, including ethical considerations in how we interact with it.


Humans are stewards, not owners, of creation. Psalm 24:1 declares, "The earth is Jehovah’s, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it." This principle of stewardship implies that our actions, including genetic engineering, should align with God's will and purpose for creation.


Ethical Considerations in Genetic Engineering


Ethical considerations in genetic engineering can be informed by biblical principles such as the sanctity of life, the limits of human authority, and the command to love our neighbors as ourselves. These principles guide us in evaluating the potential benefits and risks associated with genetic engineering.

  1. Sanctity of Life: Any genetic engineering practice must respect the sanctity of human life. Procedures that jeopardize human life or treat it as merely a means to an end are inconsistent with biblical teachings. For example, cloning and the creation of designer babies for non-therapeutic reasons raise significant ethical concerns. Jeremiah 1:5 states, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations." This verse highlights God's intimate involvement in human life from conception, underscoring the sacredness of each individual.

  2. Healing and Restoration: Genetic engineering aimed at healing and restoring health can be seen as an extension of the biblical mandate to care for the sick and suffering. Jesus' ministry included healing the sick, as recorded in Matthew 9:35: "Jesus was going through all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness." Genetic interventions that align with this ministry of healing and do not compromise ethical principles may be considered permissible.

  3. Playing God: One of the significant ethical concerns with genetic engineering is the notion of "playing God" by altering the fundamental aspects of life. This concern is addressed in Job 38:4, where God challenges Job, saying, "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding." This rhetorical question emphasizes human limitations and the need for humility in the face of God's sovereign creation. Genetic engineering must be approached with humility, recognizing the boundaries set by God's creative authority.

  4. Justice and Equity: The Bible calls for justice and equity in all human endeavors. Micah 6:8 instructs, "He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does Jehovah require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" Genetic engineering practices should promote justice and not exacerbate social inequalities or exploit vulnerable populations. Access to genetic therapies should be equitable, ensuring that advancements benefit all of humanity, not just the privileged few.


Genetic Engineering and the Creation Mandate


The creation mandate given in Genesis 1:28 involves cultivating and caring for the earth, which can include scientific advancements and medical innovations. However, this mandate must be exercised within the ethical boundaries set by Scripture. Proverbs 3:5-6 advises, "Trust in Jehovah with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight." This wisdom calls for reliance on God's guidance rather than solely on human understanding and technological prowess.


Genetic Engineering and Human Enhancement


Human enhancement through genetic engineering, such as improving physical or cognitive abilities beyond the natural human limits, poses ethical and theological challenges. Philippians 2:3-4 cautions, "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others." Enhancements driven by selfish ambition or vanity contradict the biblical call to humility and selflessness.


Moreover, 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 reminds believers, "Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body." This passage emphasizes the responsibility to honor God with our bodies, suggesting that any form of genetic enhancement should be evaluated based on whether it glorifies God and aligns with His purposes for humanity.


Genetic Engineering and Creation Care


Stewardship of creation includes responsible use of genetic engineering in agriculture and environmental management. Genesis 2:15 states, "Then Jehovah God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it." This mandate to care for creation can encompass genetic advancements that improve crop yields, resist pests, and promote environmental sustainability, provided they do not harm the ecosystem or violate ethical principles.


Genetic Engineering and Human Identity


The Bible affirms the unique identity and value of each individual. Isaiah 43:1 declares, "But now, thus says Jehovah, your Creator, O Jacob, and he who formed you, O Israel, 'Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine!'" This affirmation of individual worth and identity must be considered in genetic engineering practices, ensuring that such interventions do not compromise the uniqueness and dignity of each person.


Genetic Engineering and the Future of Humanity


As genetic engineering continues to advance, it is essential to consider the long-term implications for humanity. Proverbs 19:21 states, "Many plans are in a man’s heart, but the counsel of Jehovah will stand." This verse reminds us that while human plans and technologies may proliferate, God's purposes ultimately prevail. Genetic engineering should be pursued with a view to aligning with God's overarching plan for creation and humanity.


Conclusion of Points


The Bible, while not explicitly addressing genetic engineering, provides principles that guide ethical decision-making in this field. These principles include the sanctity of human life, the limits of human authority, ethical considerations in healing and restoration, humility in the face of God's sovereignty, justice and equity, and responsible stewardship of creation. By adhering to these biblical principles, Christians can navigate the ethical complexities of genetic engineering, ensuring that their actions align with God's will and purpose for humanity.


About the Author

EDWARD D. ANDREWS (AS in Criminal Justice, BS in Religion, MA in Biblical Studies, and MDiv in Theology) is CEO and President of Christian Publishing House. He has authored over 220+ books. In addition, Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).


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