I closed off my last post with the observation that it’s not enough simply to critique the flaws in Walker’s methodology, and the conclusions he draws as a result, without offering a substantial response of my own. I don’t have comments on “trans ideology” or “transgenderism.” From talking to other other trans people I’m not even sure such things exist. What I do have is my own journey to accepting myself as a trans woman and my own exploration of Scripture and what terms like gender and sex mean in light of the biblical record. Now before you assume that as one who identifies as trans my bias is such that I’ll simply see in Scripture what I want to in order to justify who I am, let me say that I completed my Master’s degree through Liberty University and the hermeneutical tools I gained there are the ones I have used here. I have done my best to let Scripture speak for itself and I have then drawn my own conclusions in light of what I found.
The defining moment for me in my coming out journey was realizing that our gender really is a separate concept from our biological sex. I had come across an article (which for the life of me I can’t remember where I found it online), the gist of which was that when you call someone “Sir” or “Ma’am” while out in pubic you are not doing so based on their genetics. You may not even know what their genetic make-up. You are, rather, going off “secondary sex characteristics,” things like the presence or absence of facial hair or breasts, body shape, and hair length. These characteristics get their start in our genes, sure, but thanks to today’s science each of them can now be altered to a degree depending on how much you want to spend and what exactly you want to change. If our standard, so to speak, for determining gender is so maleable, is it really objective and should we continue to use it a means of defining one’s gender? The answer is no. And if that standard no longer holds, what then do we look to as a means of determining gender? The only answer left, really, is the individual inside the body in question. My challenge as a minister and student of theology was to see if this reality squared with the reality presented in Scripture.
There are any number of passages concerning gender in the Bible but the logical place to start is with the first one. As Walker does in God and the Transgender Debate, I went to Genesis. There are details in Genesis 1 that shed light on what it means to be a gendered being in light of Scripture, details that Walker overlooks. The key passage for our purposes is Genesis 1:27, which in the English Standard Version (ESV) reads, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Before digging into this verse it’s worth noting a couple of things. First, this is the first instance of “male” and “female” in Scripture. That makes this passage important. Second, look at the sentence structure here. We are created male and female “in the image of God.” The sentence connects the two ideas. (Yes this is an English translation of a Hebrew text, meaning one could argue that the connection isn’t necessarily there in the original, but this connection does carry over into other translations. The New American Standard Bible and the New International Version, for example, have almost the same wording as the ESV.) The theological question now becomes what does that connection show us about gender in this passage and what does that have to do with the question of gender and biological sex.
When we think of an image of something we may think of a photo or a snapshot of it but that’s not the sense here in the biblical text. According to The New Strong’s Expanded Dictionary of the Words in the Hebrew Bible, the Hebrew word from which we get “image” means “image in the sense of essential nature,” referring more specifically in this case to “human nature in its internal and external characteristics rather than an exact duplicate.” For our purposes here it’s worth noting that this text specifically ties together image and gender: “Being created in God’s image meant being created male and female, in a loving unity of more than one person.” As the observations imply, being made in the image of God does not refer to a physical likeness. It goes deeper than that and refers more specifically to the elements of humanity that we may not be able to physically see. The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament summarises this when it concludes that “God’s image obviously does not consist in man’s body which was formed from earthly matter.” One side of the connection under examination in Genesis 1 is thus decidedly not physical in nature.
But what of the other side of the connection? “Male” and “female” have, at least for us, very physical connotations at times. Is that the case here in Genesis 1? According to Strong’s Dictionary, the Hebrew word for “male” in Genesis 1:27 belongs to a family of words which collectively refer to remembering or being remembered. The male is “the most noteworthy sex.” The Theological Wordbook takes this a step further by observing that this word is “used for the male sex when sexual distinctions are in view.” The male is worth remembering, in a sexual sense, because he “stands out.” The Hebrew for “female,” in contrast, comes from a root word which means “to puncture” or “to pierce.” Such a description makes sense, again, when viewed in terms of sexual distinctions. When viewing a naked man and naked woman side by side, which is the case here in Genesis, the man stands out while the woman is pierced. What we have here then, absent varying cultural interpretations, is what an observer would see were they standing right in front of Adam and Eve. What we have on this side of the connection is, at first glance, thus entirely physical in nature.
Such an observation may appear to be a damning problem for trans identities but it’s actually not. So much of who we are in a gendered sense comes from the culture around us. It is from our parents and from society as a whole that we learn what is and is not OK for us as men and women. If you’ll notice in Genesis 1, all of that baggage doesn’t exist yet. Adam and Eve have no parents to learn gender roles from and no society to tell them who to be. What the Hebrew record provides is exactly what we would expect it to provide in light of this.
Now that our observations have yielded a connection between something physical and something not physical, what are we left to conclude? Are gender and biological sex one and the same in view of Genesis 1? “Male” and “female” have their basis in the image of God which, as we’ve observed, is not a physical concept. They may be represented physically in our biological sex but they are not dependent on it. There is simply too much going on in this text to conclude that Christianity does not separate gender and sex. As such, there is room in a Christian worldview for trans identities.
Having said that, I realise this will not be a popular conclusion with evangelicals and therefore a word about methodology is in order. I have done my best to not twist the meaning of the passages under examination just as I have done my best not to see evidence in these passages that isn’t there. Rather, my methodology has been similar to that used by Prof. John S. Feinberg in his No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God. In defending his analysis of various theories of creation, he says, “The tension [here] arises when we try to match the teachings of Scripture with science. Since evangelical theology must give greatest weight to Scripture, if science contradicts what Scripture clearly teaches, the conclusions of science must be rejected. Of course, the way I have stated this requires us to be sure about what Scripture really teaches, and we must also make a judgement about what the scientific data really require.” What I have done here, I hope, is to show that when one compares the reality that underscores trans identities with the foundation of biblical views on gender there is no contradiction between the two. The tension can be resolved without rejecting either side.
The real danger here is that evangelicals reject one side to save the other for in doing so they reveal a hole in their worldview. The reality that underscores trans identities, that biology is not a definite indicator of gender and therefore gender and sex are not one in the same, is an objective, observable fact. Take away the moral implications that evangelicals like to attach to it and it still exists. Changing one’s secondary sex characteristics can and does occur. If the only response evangelicals have to this reality is that it shouldn’t occur then that’s a problem. Christianity at its heart is a worldview, an overarching story within which the world is supposed to fit and make sense. By saying this shouldn’t happen you indicate that your worldview is not strong enough to support it and if you’re not careful that can bring down the entire worldview. What I have tried to do here, ultimately, is to show that a Christian worldview is strong enough to support this reality and as such does have room for trans people. Assuming otherwise also leads to problems in methodology. As in Walker’s book, you’re forced to pick and choose evidence from Scripture to support a conclusion you’ve already arrived at. In doing so, you ultimately compromise a worldview in order to defend it and if as Christians we are to give Scripture the respect it deserves that is not an acceptable result.
One final word is necessary here. This post has been a response to the conclusion drawn by Andrew T. Walker in his God and the Transgender Debate but the Scriptural evidence discussed here also serves as a criticism of the Nashville Statement. If you’re not familiar with this document, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood released it last year to show their position on what they view as God’s design for human sexuality. In Article VII of the Statement they say, “We deny that adopting a homosexual or transgender self-conception is consistent with God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption.” I am not familiar with their methodology, simply because I haven’t seen a discussion of it yet, so I am uncertain as to whether they followed Walker’s flawed approach or not. I also have to say that the “homosexual” portion of their statement is beyond the scope of this post not because I believe they are correct in that regard (I don’t) but rather because if I tackled that issue as well this post would go on forever. It is a discussion for another time. That being said, regardless of their methodology their conclusion regarding trans people is too narrow for what Scripture actually shows regarding gender and sex. They may not have willingly excluded evidence that does not support their position but they have drawn a conclusion that does just that. They distort their worldview in order to defend it and thus compromise just as effectively as Walker has.
There is room for trans identities within a biblical worldview if you’re willing to ask the questions of Scripture and allow that worldview to evolve based on the answers you find. As students of theology and of Scripture we can do no less.
 James Strong, The New Strong’s Expanded Dictionary of the Words in the Hebrew Bible with their Renderings in the King James Version and with Additional Definitions Adapted from W.E. Vine and Cross-references to Other Word Study Resources, in James Strong, The New Strong’s Expanded Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, Red Letter Edition (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2010), 6754.
 R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago, IL: Moody Bible Institute, 1988), 1923.
 Strong, 2145.
 Harris et al., 551.
 Strong, 5347.
 Harris et al., 1409.
 John S. Feinberg, No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2001), 580.