When seeking to apply the teaching of the Bible to current issues around gender, it is tempting to start with specific passages such as Deuteronomy 22:5 (‘A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor should a man dress up in women’s clothing’) and 1 Corinthians 6:9 (which speaks of various kinds of sexual immorality).
Also recruited into the discussion is Jesus’ teaching about different types of eunuchs (those that were born intersex, those who have been castrated, and those who choose a life of celibacy for the sake of the kingdom; but note that this is in the context of Jesus’ affirmation that we are made ‘male and female’.). In the same vein is the account of Phillip’s encounter with the Gentile eunuch in Acts 8, which is certainly important regarding the inclusion of the marginalised in the fulfilment of the Great Commission (see also Isaiah 56:4-5).
But in this area, as in so many others, we need to take account of the whole sweep of the biblical revelation
- creation: the narrative speaks of two distinct and compatible biological sexes; cross-gender identification cut across God’s creational intent
- the fall: the results of which mean that not all of our biological and psychological experiences are in accordance with God’s will; gender dysphoria, for example, should be regarded not as a moral choice, but rather as a result of living in a fallen world.
- redemption: the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ were bodily events; the abiding value of the human body is thereby affirmed.
- restoration: at the present time, we continue to struggle with our fallen nature, and with unholy desires; but in the new creation, we shall be fully restored, both in body and mind. And our maleness and femaleness will continue to reflect the relationship that Christ, the Bridegroom, has with his Church, the bride (Ephesians 5:21–33).
It is within this larger structure that various key ideas begin to emerge:
1. The body. The body has significance throughout this larger narrative which stretches from creation to restoration. Physical differences between men and women are affirmed. Each body is not merely inhabited by the ‘self’, but is an integral part of that ‘self’. Our bodies are ‘temples of the Holy Spirit’ (1 Corinthians 6:19), and, accordingly, we are to ‘honour God in our bodies’.
2. Sex/Gender. In Scripture, males and females, men and women, are distinguished at the very outset (Genesis 1:27; 2:23). No distinction is recognised between biological sex and psychological gender, even though the expression of latter is clearly culturally shaped.
3. Cultural versus biblical norms. Within our culture, there are not only invalid challenges to what it means to be a man or a woman, but also valid critiques of certain gender stereotypes. ‘Boys don’t cry; girls don’t play football’ is not mandated in Scripture.
4. Individualism and ideology. Post-Enlightenment individualism, along with a desire for authenticity, has strongly influenced the transgender movement. We should be free (it is claimed) to self-identify as we wish, and not even our own bodies can stop us. Thus, ‘chosenness’ is given priority over ‘givenness’.
5. Dualism. The notion that there is a ‘real me’ that may be trapped in the ‘wrong body’ reflects the ancient idea of Gnosticism. This is more akin to Eastern mysticism than to biblical faith. It leads to a devaluing of the human body and so to sexual licence (my body is not important, so I can do what I like with it) or to asceticism (my body is a barrier to my ‘true self’, so I must treat it harshly). Scripture offers its own critique of Gnostic dualism by affirming the nature and value of the human body. As Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 6, the body is the “temple of the Holy Spirit” and so we should “honour God with [our] body”.
Based on Transformed: A brief biblical and pastoral introduction to understanding transgender in a changing culture, by Peter Lynas, and published by the Evangelical Alliance. Available online here.