Thinking Biblically about Transgenderism: A Biblical Response to Current Trends

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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!

Personal identity and identity formation are complicated subjects, of which the debate about Transgenderism is just one part. However, the believer’s starting point must begin with submission to God’s Word. Tim Keller was asked how he would respond to someone who disagreed with him about same-sex marriage and how he might go about attempting to persuade them to think otherwise. He answered, “I would start by asking whether or not we agree that Jesus rose from the dead. Because if we don’t agree on that point, nothing else I have to say is going to matter.”[1] Even though powerful natural law arguments against Transgenderism can be made, in the present cultural climate they seem to fall on deaf ears. Keller seems to be right: unless there is agreement about the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the authority of his Word, then there probably will be little agreement about LGBTQ+ issues, including Transgenderism. This article will seek to present a Biblical response to current trends concerning sex and gender.

The Essential Connection Between Sex and Gender

Feminist philosopher Judith Butler declares, “There is no recourse to a body that has not always already been interpreted by cultural meanings…. ‘The body’ is itself a construction.”[2] By contrast, Baptist theologians John Hammett and Katie McCoy argue that the body is not a social construct or merely a biological category, but rather primarily a theological category that “God designed for his own revelatory and saving purposes.”[3]

As noted in a previous article, Genesis 1 affirms the differentiation between the sexes; Genesis 2 builds upon the previous chapter to establish the gender roles played by each sex. The order of the creation narrative teaches that sex informs gender. Though gender involves individual feelings, cultural norms, and stereotypes, it also fundamentally involves biological sex. The fact that sex and gender can be distinguished does not mean that they can be severed.

Affirmation of Gender Fluidity?

Some transgender proponents argue that Jesus himself taught genderfluidity. His response to the Pharisees’ question about marriage and divorce shocked all who were present, including the disciples (Matt. 19:10). When they exclaimed that maybe it’s better to not get married at all, Jesus responded, “Not everyone can accept this saying, but only those to whom it was given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb, there are eunuchs who were made by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves that way because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who is able to accept it should accept it” (Matt. 19:11-12). According to bioethicist David Albert Jones, Jesus’ affirmation of “eunuchs for the kingdom” leaves room for “transgender identities both binary and nonbinary.”[4]

In response, a straightforward reading of the text does not indicate that Jesus was teaching that eunuchs comprise a third gender. Rather, our Lord is commending those who “have foregone the delights of marriage in order that they may discharge specific tasks for the kingdom of heaven…[T]hrough the centuries many have turned their backs on all that marriage means because only so could they pursue their particular vocation in the service of God.”[5]

At the root of Transgenderism is the rejection of the human body as naturally good, coupled with the desire to sever reality from nature.

The prohibition against gender confusion

In Deut. 22:5, Scripture teaches that gender norms should affirm sexual distinctions: “A woman is not to wear male clothing, and a man is not to put on a woman’s garment, for everyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord your God.” Baptist ethicist Alan Branch seems to have it right when he explains, “The point is that neither sex should make intentional attempts to deceive others concerning their natal sex. Deuteronomy 22:5 affirms that men and women should participate in gender-appropriate behavior and abstain from behavior that intends to deceive others concerning one’s gender.”[6]

Branch goes on to point out that the Bible presents the mutilation and removal of sexual organs in a negative light. Deut. 23:1 prohibits eunuchs and other similar persons from entering the Tabernacle or later, the Temple: “No man whose testicles have been crushed or whose penis has been cut off may enter the Lord’s assembly.” Eunuchs were not uncommon in royal courts of the ancient world. However, the passage goes beyond castration and makes references to one who has had his penis surgically removed. It seems to be a reference to male worshippers of the pagan goddess Ishtar. As an act of devotion, they would cut off their penises in order to emulate the feminine deity.[7]
At the root of Transgenderism is the rejection of the human body as naturally good, coupled with the desire to sever reality from nature. As N. T. Wright explained in a letter to the Times of London, transgender anthropology is a resurgent form of Gnosticism:

  • The confusion about gender identity is a modern and now internet-fueled, form of the ancient philosophy of Gnosticism. The Gnostic, one who ‘knows’, has discovered the secret of ‘who I really am’, behind the deceptive outward appearance (in [Times columnist Hugo] Rifkind’s apt phrase, the ‘ungainly, boring, fleshly one’). This involves denying the goodness, or even the ultimate reality, of the natural world. Nature, however, tends to strike back, with the likely victims in this case being vulnerable and impressionable youngsters who, as confused adults, will pay the price for their elders’ fashionable fantasies.[8]

In the New Testament era, the Apostles responded to a nascent Gnosticism by emphasizing a proper understanding of Jesus Christ, the salvation he provides, and the believers’ standing in him (Jude 3, 2 John, passim). A similar emphasis on the believer’s identity in Christ is needed today.

Editor's Note

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

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[1] “Tim Keller: The Pastor of Record,” Christianity Today, 2023, accessed August 30, 2023, https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2023/tim-keller-issue/tim-keller-church-pastor-media-suffering.html.

[2] Quoted by Nancy R Pearcey, Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2018), 209.

[3] Hammett and McCoy, Humanity, 388-9.

[4]Jones, “Gender Identity in Scripture: Indissoluble Marriage and Exceptional Eunuchs,” 15.

[5] Leon Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1992), 484.

[6] J. Alan Branch, Affirming God’s Image: Addressing the Transgender Question with Science and Scripture (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2019), 29.

[7] Branch, Affirming God’s Image: Addressing the Transgender Question with Science and Scripture, 29. See also Harold Torger Vedeler, “Reconstructing Meaning in Deuteronomy 22:5: Gender, Society, and Transvestitism in Israel and the Ancient Near East,” Journal of Biblical Literature 127, no. 3 (2008): 473-6.

[8] Quoted by Denny Burk, “N. T. Wright offers brief commentary on transgenderism,” updated August 29, 2023, https://www.dennyburk.com/n-t-wright-offers-brief-commentary-on-transgenderism/.


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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.

  • apologetics
  • Challenges to Humanity
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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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