Thinking Biblically about Transgenderism: A Biblical Anthropology

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Editor's Note

This article is part of Dr. Keathley's ongoing series titled "Thinking Biblically About Transgenderism." Stay tuned for upcoming articles!

Sooner or later, everyone asks, “Who am I? And why am I here?” Transgenderism is an extreme manifestation of the modern crisis of identity.[1] It is the tragic but inevitable outcome of attempting to know oneself by exclusively searching the self. So, what is my identity? The Christian answer is that I am who God says that I am. The Bible presents a robust foundation for understanding who we are. The teachings of Scripture concerning human beings, including transgender individuals, can be summed up in seven tenets:

1. We are the special creation of God.

The Genesis account of creation presents humans as the apex or capstone of God’s creative activity (Gen. 1:26-28). This stands in stark contrast to the views presented in the creation accounts of the surrounding cultures and nations. In those narratives, humans appear as mere afterthoughts—insignificant and inconsequential pieces in a grander cosmic puzzle. Even worse, humans were often depicted as nothing more than slaves or beasts of burden, created for the explicit purpose of fulfilling the whims and desires of capricious gods.

By contrast, the biblical record tells of God purposefully and lovingly creating humans, imbuing them with inherent dignity and worth. Like the rest of creation, humans are made from dust (Gen. 2:7). But we “dirtlings” have a unique relationship with God and enjoy his special attention.

2. We are unique reflectors of his image.

The Bible declares that God created us in his image—the Imago Dei (Gen. 1:26-27). What this term exactly means has been the center of intense debate among biblical scholars and theologians. Some understand the Divine Image to be imprinted upon the human constitution, others argue that it is the capacity for the special relationship with God, while still others see the Image of God as the calling to fulfill the role of acting on his behalf as his steward or vice-regent. Regardless of viewpoint, there is universal agreement that all humans manifest the Imago Dei (Gen. 9:6; James 3:9).

3. We are a complex and composite unity.

Scripture presents humans as composite beings, made up of both material and immaterial parts. A human being possesses body, soul, and spirit (1 Thess. 5:23; Heb. 4:12). Like the Divine Image, theologians disagree about how best to understand the nature of these components, but most theologians agree the Bible teaches that human beings are a complex unity.


While Genesis 1 establishes sexuality, Genesis 2 provides the basis for gender.

4. We are persons.

The modern understanding of personhood, especially since the Enlightenment, has largely been framed in psychological terms. This perspective holds that the attributes commonly associated with “personhood”—like self-awareness, rationality, and emotional complexity—are the determining factors of what makes one a “person.” As such, many argue that if a human being doesn’t exhibit all these traits (i.e., an unborn fetus or someone in a vegetative state), they can’t be considered a true person. However, theologian John Zizioulas provides an essential counterpoint to this notion. Zizioulas argues that the concept of personhood is not just a psychological or social construct; rather it is deeply rooted in theology. He contends, “[A]lthough the person and ‘personal identity’ are widely discussed nowadays as a supreme ideal, nobody seems to recognize that historically as well as existentially the concept of the person is indissolubly bound up with theology.”[2]

The biblical understanding of personhood sees each individual as having an inherent worth not contingent upon their abilities or social utility (Gal. 3:28). This understanding shifts the paradigm from a purely functional understanding of personhood to one that is fundamentally relational and spiritual. A person is a rational substance with certain rights by virtue of having them bestowed by God.

5. We are sexual beings.

The first two chapters of Genesis teach that the creation of humans asexual beings plays an integral part in the broader biblical themes of purpose, relationship, and divine design. “God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Gen. 1:17). This declaration affirms that both male and female are created in the image of God, that they are distinct, and that both sexes have inherent worth and dignity. Human sexuality is not an incidental or arbitrary feature. Rather, it is part of God’s intentional design, a means through which humans can both experience and express love, commitment, and co-creation with God.

John Hammett and Katie McCoy argue that, while Genesis 1 establishes sexuality, Genesis 2 provides the basis for gender. They explain,

  • If Genesis 1 reveals that sex is binary, Genesis 2 reveals that gender is also binary. The second creation account refers to humanity as either ish ([the Hebrew word for] man) or ishah ([the Hebrew word for] woman). This distinction reflects how the male and the female relate to one another as a man and a woman, respectively. In other words, ish and ishah describe their gender identity.[3]

The original couple’s sexual distinctions led to gender distinctions. These distinctions are portrayed not as a basis for division or hierarchy, but as a divine arrangement intended for companionship, mutual support, and procreation.

  • “And the man said:
    This one, at last, is bone of my bone
    and flesh of my flesh;
    this one will be called “woman,” [ishah]
    for she was taken from man [ish].
    This is why a man leaves his father and mother and bonds with his wife, and they become one flesh.” (Gen. 2:23-24 CSB)

Here, as in other places in Genesis, the play on words in the Hebrew text is intentional. The text speaks first of how the woman is similar to the man, yet different from him. Then it declares how they are to relate to one another and how, together, they are to relate to all others. They are to unite in a complementary, indissoluble bond, that is different from the way they relate to other creatures (2:21) and to other humans (2:25).  From the biblical perspective, human sexuality includes physical attraction and pleasure, but it goes far beyond to provide the basis through which a husband and wife engage in a relationship that reflects the relational nature of God himself.

The modern understanding of personhood, especially since the Enlightenment, has largely been framed in psychological terms.

6. We are tortured wonders.

In his helpful book on spiritual formation, Rodney Clapp presents human beings as “tortured wonders”—magnificent creatures in which something has gone terribly wrong.[4] The expression is an allusion to the poem “Affliction,” a poignant prayer by the English clergyman, George Herbert (1593-1633). In the last year of his brief but pain-racked life, he wrote:

  • Broken in pieces all asunder,
    Lord, hunt me not,
    A thing forgot,
    Once a poore creature, now a wonder,
    A wonder tortur’d in the space
    Betwixt this world and that of grace.

We are fallen creatures (Gen. 3). Without the doctrines of the Fall and Original Sin, the human condition will not make sense. Our lives are blighted with disease, disorder, and mortality. Disordered loves and delusions about identity afflict not only transgendered individuals, but all humanity. We are brilliant sinners, with twisted affections and faces turned away from God. Things are not the way they’re supposed to be.

7. We are the objects of God’s redeeming love.

The grand story of the Bible is the narrative of God intervening to save us from sin, both its power and its consequences. “But God proves his own love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Relationships fractured by the Fall have been redeemed and now can be restored: relationships between God and humanity, human relationships with each other, and most importantly as it concerns transgenderism, the way one relates to himself or herself.


To sum up: historically there has been broad agreement across denominational lines about the nature of human beings. Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox have agreed that humans are persons specially created, as either male or female, by God in his image. We are tragically broken due to our collective rebellion against God yet redeemed by his Son and sought out by his Spirit. This has been the general consensus of the Church for 2000 years.[5]

God loves transgendered individuals, and Christ died for them. They were created by him and for him. By his grace he calls them to himself, by his Word he reveals to transgendered persons their true identity, and by his Spirit he provides his transforming power.


Editor's Note

This article is part of a larger project conducted by Reasons to Believe.

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[1] Gender dysphoria should be distinguished from Transgenderism. Gender dysphoria is a recognized  mental health diagnosis while Transgenderism is a social movement dedicated to normalizing gender nonconformity. The Vatican argues that this is a necessary distinction: “If we wish to take an approach to the question of gender theory that is based on the path of dialogue, it is vital to bear in mind the distinction between the ideology of gender on the one hand, and the whole field of research on gender that the human sciences have undertaken, on the other. While the ideologies of gender claim to respond, as Pope Francis has indicated, ‘to what are at times understandable aspirations’, they also seek ‘to assert themselves as absolute and unquestionable, even dictating how children should be raised’, and thus preclude dialogue.” Congregation for Catholic Education, “Male and Female He Created Them; Towards a Path of Dialogue on the Question Theory in Education,” (2019): 6. https://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/ccatheduc/documents/rc_con_ccatheduc_doc_20190202_maschio-e-femmina_en.pdf..

[2] John Zizioulas, Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church (Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1985), 27.

[3] John Hammett and Katie McCoy, Humanity (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2023), 390-1.

[4] Rodney Clapp, Tortured Wonders: Christian Spirituality for People, not Angels (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 23.

[5] Todd A. Wilson, Mere sexuality: Rediscovering the Christian Vision of Sexuality (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017), 34.



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MA Ethics, Theology, and Culture

The Master of Arts Ethics, Theology, and Culture is a Seminary program providing specialized academic training that prepares men and women to impact the culture for Christ through prophetic moral witness, training in cultural engagement, and service in a variety of settings.

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Ken Keathley

Director of the L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture

Ken Keathley is Senior Professor of Theology, occupying the Jesse Hendley Chair of Theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina where he has been teaching since 2006. He also directs the L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture, a center that seeks to engage culture, defend the Christian faith, and explore its implications for all areas of life. Of his writing projects most notably he is the author of Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach (2010), co-author of 40 Questions About Creation and Evolution (2014), co-editor of Old Earth or Evolutionary Creation? Discussing Origins with Reasons to Believe and BioLogos (2017), and editor of The Historical Adam and Eve: An Evangelical Conversation (forthcoming). Ken and his wife Penny have been married since 1980, live in Wake Forest, NC and are members of North Wake Church in Wake Forest, North Carolina. They have a son and daughter, both married, and four grandchildren.

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