The Miracle and Meaning of DNA, Part 2 April 01 2017

(Part of BCF’S blog series: “Society, Selflessness, and the Scriptures")

In the last blog we began looking at the implications of DNA testing for us in society, as believers.  We provided some background on DNA and introduced three aspects of DNA for which to explore biblical truths: health, ancestry, and stewardship.  We covered health last time, will address the first part of ancestry in this blog, and the remainder next time.

Ancestry Overview

Ancestral records have been kept from time immemorial, as is clearly evident in the Scriptures. Numbers 1:18 tells us that the Israelites “registered by ancestry in their families, by their fathers’ households, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, head by head….”  

The people of Israel kept meticulous records, and it was a major problem if a family lost track, as some of them did, when they migrated back to Jerusalem from Babylon.  Ezra 2:62 describes the situation: “These searched among their ancestral registration, but they could not be located; therefore they were considered unclean and excluded from the priesthood.”  Ancestry was also clearly important to establish Jesus as the Messiah, as we see from the genealogies in Matthew 1 and Luke 3.  

We aren't as meticulous today about ancestral records as they were in biblical times, but there has been a renewed interest in reconstructing family trees. Opportunities abound to do that, not just through DNA testing but through a host of businesses that can help us search through ancestral records.  

One such service extrapolates the likelihood (not certainty) of your having certain personal traits based on a statistical analysis of DNA test results.  Traits include such things as sleep characteristics, likelihood of caffeine consumption, and sensitivity to sweet and bitter tastes.  You can use this to compare yourself against someone else who has had their DNA sample taken.  In certain ways it is a DNA-based version of personality testing that identifies likes, dislikes, personal preferences, etc.  The implication is that certain traits may be more common among people of the same ethnicity or heritage.  We’ll have more about this in the next blog.

Ancestral Prejudices

DNA analysis and tracing our ancestry can be fascinating, amusing, and sometimes surprising. It can reconnect families, and even highlight interesting pieces of history. However, there are a couple of things to be aware of from a biblical standpoint.  First, if it turns out that you have a family lineage of historical “significance,” there could be a temptation toward pride.

Often, there is the thinking that, because you have someone in your ancestry that achieved great things, that the same “greatness” transfers to you. The phrase “it's in our blood” is often used. Conversely, if someone in your family had committed a shameful act, there can be a fear that those same mistakes will be repeated.

Yet we know from Ezekiel 18, that no one is compelled to repeat their family history – either of sin or of righteousness. Each person has their own unique choice to follow the Lord, or not.  
(We will address so-called “inherited character traits” more thoroughly in the next blog post.)

Pride can also come from the status that lineage may provide. In many cultures, being from a certain bloodline can give you higher stature in society. Or perhaps it gives you “bragging rights” in conversations with others. People might find you more interesting or think more highly of you if you play the “ancestry card.” The gospels provide numerous examples of how the Pharisees had learned to do this quite well.

Yet we know that the Lord shows no partiality (Deuteronomy 10:17-19, Romans 2:11, Ephesians 6:9). He regards the lowly (Psalm 138:6). If there was anything that distinguishes us by status or reputation, He has broken down those human institutions. Written to Gentiles, Ephesians 2:14-16 explains how believing Jews and Gentiles were made one in Christ “...He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity.”

In New Testament days, some of the Jews had a pride problem because they thought of themselves as superior to the Gentiles, and this thinking even came into the early church.  Even the Apostle Peter had difficulties with this, so much so that the Lord had to give him a vision that showed him how the Jewish believers needed to welcome the Gentiles into the church.  

Acts 11:2-3 explains what happened after he had seen the vision: “And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those who were circumcised took issue with him, saying, ‘You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.’”  It was at that point that Peter explained to his Jewish friends about the vision of the sheet filled with animals coming down from heaven, accompanied by a voice that said “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.”  

There was a beautiful reaction to this from the Jewish believers, as we see from Acts 11:18: “When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God saying ‘Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.’”

We have our perfect example in Jesus, who treated the lowly and overlooked with equal care and respect. In John 4, He conversed with the Samaritan woman, who would have been regarded as an inferior race and gender at the time. Jesus gave generously of Himself to the sinners and unclean, lepers, tax-collectors, and many others who were looked-down upon.

As a result, God warns us against regarding status. In Romans 12:16, Paul writes, “Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.”

Galatians 3:28 sums it up: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  

You can also read more on this same theme in Deuteronomy 1:17 and Romans 14:10-12.

This is awesome hope for believers in every culture, regardless of ancestry or prevailing social status.  While cultures may have long-established prejudices, God says that we are all part of the same spiritual family.  
No ancestry, nationality, race, gender, or age stands in the way of our having fellowship with the Lord and with one another, and the church should be the ultimate example of this principle in action.

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Steve Smith