Some would argue that the Bible says nothing about the explosion of the transgender phenomenon in the Western world. After all, there is no verse that says, “Thou shalt not transition from a man to a woman.” But neither are there any verses that talk explicitly about gun violence, anorexia, waterboarding, fossil fuels, vaccines, GMOs, HMOs, or Pokemon Go. We should not expect the Bible to speak in 21st century terms to every 21st-century eventuality.
But that hardly means the Bible provides no guidance for Christians trying to make sense of our transgender moment. In fact, when it comes to transgenderism, the Bible actually has a lot to say—not by a prooftext here or there but by a rich and pervasive understanding of gender and sexual identity.
Obviously, transgenderism, as a cultural trend, is massively complex, touching on fields as disparate as genetics, fashion, medicine, law, education, entertainment, athletics, and religious liberty. We need Christians thinking through, and talking to, all of these issues. We also need Christians patiently loving, counseling, and befriending those who feel that their psychological identity as male or female contradicts their “assigned” biological sex. In asking the question, “What does the Bible say about transgenderism?” we are asking a question that can take us in a dozen different directions.
I want to focus on just one of those directions. If we are people of the Book—people who believe, like Jesus, that the Scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35)—then the transgender question, if it is to yield fruitful responses in any of these areas, must start with a biblical understanding of male and female.
And what is that understanding?
In short, the Bible teaches that God made us male or female, and no matter our own feelings or confusion, we should act in accordance with the biological reality of God’s good design. Transgenderism falls short of the glory of God and is not the way to walk in obedience to Christ.
There are three big Scriptural building blocks that lead one inexorably to this conclusion.
1. Gender Binary
The Bible knows no other gender categories besides male and female. While men and women in Scripture may express their masculinity and femininity in a wonderful diversity of ways, Scripture still operates with the binary categories of men and women. You are one or the other. The anomaly of intersex individuals does not undermine the creational design, but rather gives another example of creational “groaning” and the “not the way they are supposed to be” realities of a fallen world. Likewise, the eunuchs in Matthew 19 do not refer to sexless persons, but to men who were born without the ability to procreate or who were castrated, likely for a royal court (for more on the challenge of intersex, and the question of eunuchs, see Denny Burk, What Is the Meaning of Sex?, 169-183).
The biblical understanding of male and female is more than just an assumption writ large on the pages of Scripture. We know from Genesis 1 and 2 that the categories of male and female are a part of God’s design for humanity. Indeed, when God created the first human pair in his image, he created them male and female (Gen. 1:27). He made the woman to be a complement and help to the man (Gen. 2:18-22). Far from being a mere cultural construct, God depicts the existence of a man and a woman as essential to his creational plan. The two are neither identical nor interchangeable. But when the woman, who was taken out of man, joins again with the man in sexual union, the two become one flesh (Gen. 1:23-24). Dividing the human race into two genders, male and female—one or the other, not both, and not one then the other—is not the invention of Victorian prudes or patriarchal oafs. It was God’s idea.
2. Gender Identity
Someone with respect for Scripture may say at this point, “I agree that God makes as either male or female. But you are confusing biological sex with gender. I know transgender Christians who desire to embrace God’s design for men and women, but they also believe that who God created them to be does not correspond with the sex assigned to them at birth.” I don’t doubt that there are persons like this out there (and in our churches). While some people embracing a transgender identity may do so on a lark, many strongly feel that only by living as the opposite sex can they full embrace their true self.
The question is not whether such persons and feelings exist. The question is whether the is of our emotional or mental state equals the ought of God’s design. Most Christians reject this thinking in a host of other areas, from eating disorders to unbiblical divorces. We understand that following Christ means dying to ourselves (Matt. 16:24), being renewed in our minds (Rom. 12:2), and no longer walking as we once did (Eph. 4:17-18). Being “true to ourselves” is always a false choice when it means going against God’s Word.
As much as contemporary academia says otherwise, the Bible believes in the organic unity of biological sex and gender identity. This is why male and female are (uniquely) the type of pair that can reproduce (Gen. 1:28; 2:20). It’s why homosexuality—a man lying with a man as with a woman (Lev. 18:22)—is wrong. It’s why the apostle Paul can speak of homosexual partnerships as deviating from the natural relations or natural function of male-female sexual intercourse (Rom. 1:26-27). In each instance, the argument only works if there is an assumed equivalence between the biology of sexual difference and the corresponding identities of male and female.
3. Gender Confusion
The third building block follows naturally from the other two. If the binary of male and female is God’s idea, and if we are meant to embrace, by divine design, our biological and creational difference as men and women, then it stands to reason that the confusion of these realities would be displeasing to God. And so we see clearly in the Bible that men should not act sexually as women (Lev. 18:22; Rom. 1:18-32; 1 Cor. 6:9-10), that men should not dress like women (Deut. 22:5), and that when men and women embrace obviously other-gendered expressions of identity it is a disgrace (1 Cor. 11:14-15). We do not have an inalienable right to do whatever we want with our physical selves. We belong to God and should glorify him with our bodies (1 Cor. 6:19-20).
I have not begun to answer all the important questions about pastoral care, counsel, and compassion for the hurting and confused. But with the cultural winds gusting as they are, we cannot assume that Christians—even those in good churches—know what to think about gender or why to think it. Hopefully this brief post, and these three building blocks, can help us ensure the right foundation is in place. After all, the goal is not to build a wall to keep people out, but that God might build up his church in truth and grace that we can welcome people in, calling his image bearers to embrace the life that is truly life (1 Tim. 6:19).