All Are Transgender In Christ

All Are Transgender In Christ May 3, 2018

J. K. Gayle wrote something in a blog post last year that I’ve been meaning to follow up on and blog about since then. Here’s an excerpt from the post, which is engaging some statements that emerged from the Southern Baptist Convention, as well as Jesus’ statement about eunuchs:

Jesus’s discussion of marriage from the beginning between those grown up being boys and those grown up being girls is followed by a discussion of a different sort of sexual human. And that further discussion describes the choices made about their biological sex parts from the beginning, and imposed by others, and elected by themselves. There is not just the birth sex male, in marriage, over the birth sex female. There is also gender determined, by the birth process, or by others, or by the individual.

The sex “normal” is categorically challenged by Jesus here…Now without a whole lot of trouble some can read the discussion of Jesus here as applying to getting beyond this problem of narrow and precise binarying. And without too much inference there can be applications made to transgender human beings as well as to cis gender ones…Here is a reasonable translation of Matthew 19, if you can accept it:

Some aren’t biologically “boys” at birth; some are re-sexed by others; some transgender for heaven’s sake. Accept it if you can. Matthew 19:12

My mind immediately turned to Paul’s statements about there being neither male nor female in Christ (Galatians 3:28). There too, we have an early Christian source challenging gender binaries in a provocative way. And yet many who claim to embrace the radical message of Jesus and of Paul are nonetheless defenders of rigid gender binaries and the associated traditional roles that have tended to go along with them. The irony, of course, is that conservative religious people tend to think that they are the ones who are going against the flow and being countercultural radicals in resisting the social norms of their own time, rarely realizing that what they are defending is not the Gospel, but ancient cultural norms which are sometimes embedded in the scriptures, but at least in places are challenged and subverted by them.

Digging deeper still, those who view Jesus as having been virginally conceived ought to be open to his having been not merely transgender (i.e. having a non-binary gender identity) but intersex (i.e. not falling biologically into male or female binary categories). See my earlier posts on whether Jesus was intersex and on Jesus’ gender identity for more on those topics – especially if the connection between biological sex and virginal conception is not immediately obvious to you.

Of related interest, see Progressive Redneck Preacher’s blog post from last year about “God Beyond Gender,” highlighting (among other things) that Jesus is sometimes said to be the incarnation of God’s Wisdom, which is personified as a woman in the Jewish tradition. Also relevant is Tom Sapsford’s article on a soldier in the ancient Roman army whose characterization connects quite naturally to modern discussions of transgender individuals serving in the military.

 

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  • Phil Ledgerwood

    I always love interesting and challenging readings of biblical texts.

    I think the current level of knowledge and debate about gender is pretty much off the Bible’s radar, and this has ramifications for how all sides approach the issue. While I have invested no small amount of time pointing out how the “transgender people are in open rebellion against God” camp misuses or misunderstands the passages they summon to support their position, I also have to say I’m intrigued but unconvinced by this passage by Gayle.

    In the case of Jesus and the passage on marriage, he makes a very conservative argument against divorce, and when his disciples react like men from an 80s sitcom, he points out that the teaching can only be received and followed by those for whom it is intended, and he uses the examples of eunuchs to point out that some have been born that way, some have been forced into it by the political powers that be, while others have heard the strict teaching and taken it on voluntarily for the sake of the kingdom of God. Jesus is not intending to teach that people should become eunuchs to express their sexual identity; he’s using them as examples of people who have voluntarily taken on a very strict sexual ethic that not everyone can.

    As for Paul’s famous passage in Galatians 3, this is about how Christ has removed the division of Torah between people, and now there exists one people of God that are no longer subject to the Torah’s distinctions. Paul still has plenty of suggestions for how men and women and slaves and masters should behave differently given their places in society.

    Now, that doesn’t stop us as contemporary readers from repurposing passages to describe our own situations, nor does it stop us from seeing a New Testament ethic of charity and unity and surprising lack of Torah that would inform how we reason about contemporary ethical issues around gender, but I also don’t think we should give the impression that these passages as Jesus or Paul may have meant them cover these issues, even by way of implication. I’m quite content to reason about these issues without specific Scriptures that speak directly to them.

  • John MacDonald

    I’m reminded of Mark 12: 25:

    “When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage. Instead, they will be like the angels in heaven.”

    This seems to suggest the risen dead at the general resurrection at the end of days will be beyond such sex/gender issues.

  • The problem for me concerning Jesus’ humanity, and Mary’s supposed virginity, is, of course, where did Jesus get his Y chromosome? Without the SRY gene carried on the Y chromosome and the other 22 chromosomes supplied by a human father how can one say Jesus was human? A miraculous conception, with “seed” provided by a god is not something terribly novel in ancient times, but reflects a profound misunderstanding of how procreation works. The microscope had not yet been invented so the standard mystery of conception was viewed in patriarchal terms: the man supplied the seed or life, while the woman supplied it’s nourishment. His was the seed hers was the soil. Augustine’s notion of original sin, coupled with a general mistrust of the “carnal nature” of sex, led to the belief that Adam’s sin, was passed on through the male’s seed (the woman only supplying the incubator). Therefore, in order to avoid that original sin, Jesus had to have been conceived by a woman who had “known” no man.

    Adding further to the problem, is that, in the OT, the messiah is never referred to as being born of a “virgin.” The virginity of Mary coming from a misunderstanding of the Hebrew drawn form the Greek Septuagint. While, one could propose, and many do, that God created the other 23 chromosomes, I fail to see how Jesus could be considered “human.” He would be “superhuman” or a god-man hybrid. Certainly not a man like any other.

    As to Jesus’ sexuality, was he a “man’s man,” a paragon of virile male masculinity, or was he intersex? Although intirely in the realm of conjecture, it would certainly explain his seeming disinterest in pursuits more characteristic of a Jewish man of 30 years. Of course, as an apocalyptic preacher who had spent the proceeding decade presumably being the man of the house after Joseph died, and now with a burning message, he probably did not have time for romantic pursuits.

    For reasons mentioned above, the incarnation has always been linked to the virginity of Mary, but is it necessary? Could we have God enter into the human realm via the messiness of human sexual intercourse? And, if we affirm God is neither male nor female, could Jesus have possibly been someone not entirely binary? Why would it matter?

  • Gary

    “to his having been not merely transgender (i.e. having a non-binary gender identity) but intersex…”
    Not likely, assuming the historical Jesus data available. I assume being circumcised at 8 indicated highly likely having normal equipment. And being able to enter the Temple indicated he was not deformed or considered Infirm in any way. Also, hanging with rough, tough, illiterate fishermen, plus other 10 or so guys on a regular basis, without negative oral stories about him would seem to indicate non intersex.
    However, the later Gnostic influence might have generated much of the ascetic (sex bad), and maybe even the virgin birth narrative.

    • Gary

      I think I meant 8 days, but whatever. Even if texts are not used, any Jewish kid is a candidate.

  • NickRepublic

    If you can’t help deluding yourself, the least you can do is stop deluding others and dragging them into the pit with you. This is about as far from Christian orthodoxy as you can get. Next you’ll be “interpreting” a verse that defends the worship of molech.

    • I am not sure whom this comment was addressed to, but I was unaware that Christian orthodoxy rejected the longstanding Jewish view of Genesis, in which God creates an original human being that incorporates both male and female, and then splits that being to create separate man and woman. True, Christian orthodoxy does not explicitly address that interpretation of Genesis, which seems to be in the background of Paul’s language. But you seem to think that it does, and so perhaps would care to say more?

      • NickRepublic

        Nice box attempt. “Male and female He created them.”

        • That’s the account in Genesis 1, which never specifies how many humans God made. I was referring to the account in Genesis 2, in which an original one is turned into a pair, male and female.

  • Deb Saxon

    I loved this post. The gender-bending imagery of Jesus in ancient texts and art is something that needs closer examination. A great article by Wayne Meeks years ago has really made me think about the need to consider this in more depth.

  • Thanks for quoting from and linking to my post. And thank you very much also for the links to your other posts. Your point in this post about what one has to do mentally when seeing “Jesus as having been virginally conceived” is thought provoking indeed.

    I’m sorry to have been so late in finding your post, but we readers of your blog also can be grateful here how you’ve taken us into what Paul wrote, in Greek, to those readers in Galatia. I see your reader, NickRepublic comes back with “Nice box attempt. ‘Male and female He created them.'” You make a strong response. And so I hope you won’t mind my adding something:

    When we speakers speak in our various tongues, we tend to make, from time to time, frozen phrases.

    Like “pen and paper.” Now this might imply, if God were to say it, that that’s all there is. I mean, as the one is complemented by the other. But this very blog you’ve written and the keyboard NickRepublic has typed out his thoughts with completely shatter this whole notion to bits. In “bits and bytes.” So it goes when Aristotle writes “ἄρσεν καὶ θῆλυ” or when Moses does. I’m not trying at all to be overly clever here. It’s just what we human beings do with our categorization. We may try to contain gender in a box, or just two. And then real life biology happens. And so do the gospels of Jesus. Here are some other examples of what happens when we use frozen phrases to try to keep these things in binaries:

    https://bltnotjustasandwich.com/2013/10/22/%E1%BC%84%CF%81%CF%83%CE%B5%CE%BD-%CE%BA%CE%B1%E1%BD%B6-%CE%B8%E1%BF%86%CE%BB%CF%85-in-aristotle-moses-and-paul/