Are HIV/AIDS and other Sexually Transmitted Diseases Punishment for Sin?

We are faced with a plague that may kill more people than any other plague in history. HIV, the AIDS virus, is spreading like wildfire around the world. Some say this pandemic is a punishment for sin. Others object and say that no stigma should be attached to venereal diseases. What does the Bible say?

The Scriptures mention at least five different reasons for the existence of diseases: (1) the fall of man, (2) Satan, (3) punishment for disobeying God’s commands, (4) a personal punishment from God, and (5) the natural consequences of sin.

Since the fall, all men are subject to sickness and death.

When Jesus’ disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” He replied, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him” (John 9:1-3). Most diseases and sicknesses are simply the result of random circumstances. The existence of diseases is a general punishment of all mankind because of sin in the world, but in most cases a sickness is not an individual punishment of the person who is sick. Jesus “took our infirmities and bore our sicknesses” (Matthew 8:17).

Satan is sometimes the source of sickness.

Satan “struck Job with painful boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head” (Job 2:7). Jesus said of the woman who was bent over and could not straighten herself, that satan had bound her for eighteen years (Luke 13:11-16). Paul describes his thorn in the flesh as ‘a messenger of satan’ (2 Corinthians 12:7). These afflictions did not result from the sin of the person in question but from satan’s activity. God allowed Job to be tested by sickness so the genuineness of his righteousness could be demonstrated. He did not remove Paul’s thorn in the flesh so the power of His grace would be revealed.

Disease can be a punishment for disobeying God’s commands.

After God freed Israel from Egyptian bondage He told the people: “If you diligently heed the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in His sight, give ear to His commandments and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have brought on the Egyptians” (Exodus 15:26).

Shortly before the children of Israel entered the promised land, they were warned that obedience to God would result in blessings, and that disobedience would result in curses, one of which was: “The Lord will strike you with the boils of Egypt, with tumors, with the scab, and with the itch, from which you cannot be healed” (Deuteronomy 28:27). “If you do not carefully observe all the words of this law that are written in this book, that you may fear this glorious and awesome name, THE LORD YOUR GOD, then the Lord will bring upon you and your descendants extraordinary plagues - great and prolonged plagues - and serious and prolonged sicknesses. Moreover He will bring back on you all the diseases of Egypt, of which you were afraid, and they shall cling to you. Also every sickness and every plague, which is not written in this Book of the Law, will the Lord bring upon you until you are destroyed” (Deuteronomy 28:58-61).

God warned Israel: “But if you do not obey Me, and do not observe all these commandments, and if you despise My statutes, or if your soul abhors My judgments, so that you do not perform all My commandments, but break My covenant, I also will do this to you: I will even appoint terror over you, wasting disease and fever which shall consume the eyes and cause sorrow of heart” (Leviticus 26:14-16).

Sickness was in some cases a direct punishment from God.

Jehoram, an evil king of Judah, was told by Elijah: “Behold, the Lord will strike your people with a serious affliction - your children, your wives, and all your possessions; and you will become very sick with a disease of your intestines, until your intestines come out by reason of the sickness, day by day” (2 Chronicles 21:14,15). Herod Agrippa allowed people to shout: “The voice of a god and not of a man!” In Acts 12:23 we read about his punishment: “Then immediately an angel of the Lord struck him, because he did not give glory to God. And he was eaten by worms and died.”

Sickness can also be a natural result of sin.

Referring to the consequences of immorality, Paul wrote: “For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due” (Romans 1:26,27).

What then about HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases? Are they a punishment for sin?

First, let us examine the problem more closely.

What is a sexually transmitted disease?

It is an infection that, because of its characteristics, is transmitted from person to person almost exclusively through sexual intercourse. Transmission usually requires either that the pathogens remain at body temperature (otherwise they die) or direct blood to blood contact. Such diseases can sometimes be transmitted through an injection with a dirty needle or be passed from mother to child in the womb or at birth.

How prevalent are these diseases?

In a document published by the World Health Organization we read: “Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are very common. The most widely known are gonorrhea, syphilis and AIDS (HIV infection), but there are more than 20 others. According to current WHO estimates, there are more than 333 million new cases of STDs every year throughout the world. About one million new infections occur every day.”

The UNAIDS 2004 Report states: “In 2003, almost five million people became newly infected with HIV, the greatest number in any one year since the beginning of the epidemic. At the global level, the number of people living with HIV continues to grow - from 35 million in 2001 to 38 million in 2003. In the same year, almost three million were killed by AIDS; over 20 million have died since the first cases of AIDS were identified in 1981.”

Several sexually transmitted diseases are incurable, including HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B and genital herpes. Others, although curable, cause lasting damage. Several of these diseases show no symptoms for a long time after infection.

Thirteen million children have been orphaned by AIDS. I recently heard of a grandmother who has lost both of her children and their spouses to AIDS. She is raising her four grandchildren, all of whom have AIDS. She is not HIV positive herself, but she is elderly, and she hopes that she can live long enough to care for her grandchildren until they die.

Let us now return to our original question: Are HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases punishment for sin?

First we must understand that these diseases would disappear if people obeyed God. According to the word of God, both men and women are to remain virgin until marriage, and a married couple are to remain faithful to each another. We read in Hebrews 13:4, “Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge.”

A boy and a girl who keep themselves pure until marriage and remain faithful after marriage, are a separate island. They never come in contact with the cesspool of venereal diseases that are passed around from person to person by immoral people.

According to the law of the Old Testament, Israel would be kept pure because those who committed fornication or adultery were stoned to death. The word ‘fornication’ refers to all kinds of sexual intercourse outside of marriage, and adultery is fornication that violates a marriage.

Forgiveness is possible under the New Testament on the basis of remorse and repentance. If you have committed fornication or adultery, you can repent and be forgiven. Your soul can be purified by the blood of Christ. You can determine that from now on you will keep yourself pure.

Even though you are forgiven, you have placed yourself in great danger with regard to sexually transmitted diseases. You should see a doctor and have tests made to be sure that you have not contracted an infection that you might pass on to your marriage partner, or your children.

This also means that you must be extremely careful whom you marry. Try to find someone who has the same high moral standards based on faith in God that you have. It can still happen that one is deceived or betrayed, but we must do the best we can and be very careful whom we marry.

Now that we understand that STDs would not exist if people obeyed God, we can continue with the question: Are HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections punishment for sin?

These diseases are not always a punishment for personal sins. There is a distinction between the innocent and the guilty. Some are victims and others are perpetrators.

Innocent babies can get a venereal disease from the mother. People can contract STDs because of unhygienic medical or dental practices, or from a contaminated blood transfusion. A moral spouse can be given an STD by an immoral husband or wife. Such people are innocent victims and certainly should not be stigmatized.

Those who have contracted an STD through their own immorality, however, are - to use Paul’s words - “receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due” (Romans 1:27). The disease is then a direct consequence of their own sin and, as such, is also a punishment for their sin. And when an immoral person has given an STD to his spouse or children, he must bear the added burden of knowing that because of his sin an innocent person has been given a terrible disease.

God loves us. The commandments and moral principles in the Scriptures are for our own welfare and for the welfare of all mankind.

Because we live in a sinful world, we all must suffer many ailments and diseases that are simply a part of this vale of tears. We also suffer because of the sins of others.

Even so, we can be protected from many terrible diseases if we obey God and keep ourselves and our marriage pure.

Whatever our situation, whether in sickness or in health, if we are faithful to God we can look forward to a heavenly home where there will be no sickness or death. “And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away’ ” (Revelation 21:3,4).

Roy Davison

The Scripture quotations in this article are from The New King James Version. ©1979,1980,1982, Thomas Nelson Inc., Publishers unless indicated otherwise. Permission for reference use has been granted.

Published in The Old Paths Archive