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What makes human beings men and women?

Hand holding a paper sheet with transgender symbol and equal sign inside.
Hand holding a paper sheet with transgender symbol and equal sign inside. | Getty

What makes human beings men and women? A couple of decades ago, the answer to this question was rather obvious, but not so in our present culture. What was once an obvious biological reality has now been hijacked and corrupted by moral relativism and the sexual revolution.

Transgender activists have succeeded in sowing mass confusion on the issue of sex and gender, and this confusion has ignited a new front in the culture wars that few people outside of evangelical Christian thinkers anticipated. In order to make sense of it all, we need to understand transgender ideology and what the Bible says about gender.

What is transgenderism?

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Transgenderism maintains that gender is distinct from, and at times in conflict with, biological sex. According to transgender activists, gender is a social construct and gender identity is a subjective state of self-understanding. The “real self” is not biologically based, but psychologically based.

By this thinking, the “real self” is defined by one’s gender identify: a person is the gender they experience themselves to be. Unlike a traditional view that attaches gender to biological sex, transgenderism detaches gender from sex, and it does so in several ways.

Transgenderism claims that a person’s biological sex does not determine their identity. Rather, a person can identify as either pole on the gender binary (man or woman); they can identify as “fluid,” meaning they are somewhere in between the two poles of the gender binary; or they can even deny the gender binary completely and identify as something outside of it (i.e. non-binary).

The basic goal of transgender activists, therefore, is gender deconstruction. Since they believe that traditional understandings of gender — wherein gender is biologically based — is a cultural construct, it can be replaced with a new gender paradigm.

Transgender ideology suffers from many philosophical problems (too many, in fact, to cover at length in this article). For example, transgenderism claims that gender is a cultural construct, but maintains that gender identity is innate; that is, natural or naturally belonging to a person. This is clearly inconsistent.

As Ryan T. Anderson points out in his book When Harry Became Sally, if gender is a social construct, then gender identity is too. Also, transgenderism’s mind-body dualism — where “real self” is psychologically based, not biologically based — can apply to other concepts besides gender identity. To be logically consistent, transgender activists must accept and affirm trans-species, trans-racial, trans-ability, and trans-age communities.

Aside from its incoherence, transgender ideology has enormous political, economic, cultural, and medical ramifications. Gender identity, not biological sex, is now used in many hospitals to determine the proper medical treatment for patients, including minors. Transgender activists are undermining protections for women and children in sports, education, public accommodations, military, and prisons. Transgender ideology also threatens religious liberty and freedom of conscience for Christian schools, businesses, and individuals.

So, what should Christians think about transgenderism?

God created gender distinctions

The Bible records the original created order as male and female (Gen. 1:27; 5:2). This gender binary is linked to God’s mandate for human beings to populate the earth (Gen. 1:28). It is also an operative principle in the account of Noah’s flood when animals are put onto the ark as gender pairs of male and female, as well as when God reaffirms His mandate to repopulate the earth (Gen. 6-9). Gender distinction is at the core of who we are.

Gender distinctions are enforced elsewhere in the Old Testament. The Mosaic Law prohibited Israelites from assuming the gender of the opposite sex. Men were not to appear or behave like women, and vice versa (Deut. 22:5). The sin described here was not the mere act of wearing the clothing of the opposite sex, but appearing as the opposite sex. It was a sign of moral rebellion against the created order of male-female and was a “detestable” sin in the same category as other sexual sins (Lev. 18:22; 20:3).

In the New Testament, Jesus affirms the sex and gender distinctions established at creation (Matt. 19:4), and the Apostle Paul reaffirms the moral principles behind the Mosaic Law — that men and women should express themselves in ways that align with their sex (1 Cor. 11:7-15). Paul’s writings also reveal that gender expression is closely aligned with other gender roles, which are different for men and women in various settings. Men and women not only have gender distinctions in creation (Gen. 2:8), but also in the home (1 Cor. 11:3; Eph. 5:23-25; 1 Tim. 5:8, 14; Tit. 2:4-5; Col. 3:21) and in the church (1 Tim. 2:11-14; 3:8-13).

Scripture also indicates that although marriage and procreation do not continue in heaven, our gendered bodies do (1 Col. 15:21; 1 Tim. 2:5; Rev. 1:13), which implies that intentional deformation of our genders is a serious offense to God’s design for humanity, both now and in eternity. Transgender ideology is a rebellion against God’s moral order, and the effects of that rebellion heap devastation on societies, families, and individuals.

Gender confusion and the Gospel

Christians must remember that sin affects every aspect of humanity (Gen. 3; Rom. 8:20). The effects of sin on humanity have produced all kinds of problems, and some of these problems manifest in psychological or sexual confusion. Christians should acknowledge the need for medical procedures to correct for genetic or biological aberrations. Many of these aberrations — Turner’s syndrome, Kleinfelter’s syndrome, 5 Alpha Reductase Syndrome, etc. — represent an extremely small percentage of the population, but they do exist in a broken, sinful world. We can recognize the need to treat these conditions while also remaining faithful to biblical principles.

In addition, gender dysphoria — the experience of discomfort between one’s biological sex and the experience of gender — is a real condition that affects real people, but Christians should distinguish between gender dysphoria as an experience and the deliberate choice to act on that experience. As ethicist Andrew Walker explains in his book God and the Transgender Moment: What Does the Bible Actually Say About Gender Identity?:     

“[I]ndividuals who experience gender dysphoria are not sinning when such experiences occur. To feel that your body is one sex and your self is a different gender is not sinful. The Bible nowhere categorizes unwanted psychological distress as sinful in itself … But deciding to let that feeling rule — to feed that feeling so that it becomes the way you see yourself and the way you identify yourself and the way you act — is sinful, because it is deciding that your feelings will have authority over you, and will define what is right and what is wrong.”

The Bible informs us that the human heart is bent toward evil (Gen. 6:5) and is incredibly deceitful (Jer. 17:9). By basing one’s gender identity on inward, subjective feelings or desires rather than biological reality, a transgendered person is relying on something that the Bible says is corrupted and unreliable for discerning moral truth.

As Christians, we are called to love all people, including those experiencing gender dysphoria. They need the Gospel too. Loving these people involves speaking the truth in love (Eph. 4:15) while also sympathizing with their pain and suffering. Displaying sympathy in no way means we water down the truth, but it does mean we exercise patience and grace, remembering that we also were dead in sin but have been made alive and whole by the Gospel of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 6:11).

Originally published at the Standing for Freedom Center. 

Dr. Tim Yonts is an adjunct professor of philosophy at Liberty University where he teaches courses in ethics, theology, apologetics, and worldview. He holds a Master of Divinity from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. in Theological Studies: Christian Ethics from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. His specialties include metaethics, political theology, economics, natural law, worldview, and cultural engagement. His interests include social justice, critical race theory, natural rights theory, and the intersection of Christianity with emerging technologies, particularly the role that blockchain, cryptocurrency, and decentralization can play in the preservation of political, religious, and economic freedom.

While earning his M.Div and Ph.D., he also served as a Chaplain Assistant for the U.S. Army National Guard. He is currently a writer and contributor for various outlets, including the Center for Apologetics & Cultural Engagement and the Standing for Freedom Center.

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