by Stephen Ferguson and Lillian-Paige Turner | 23 March 2022 |
While much of the world was dealing with Covid mandates and Russian invasions, the Australian Parliament was addressing the thorny question of religious discrimination. It was big news here.
With concerns about increased anti-religious sentiment, Australia’s conservative Coalition-Government (led by the Liberal Party, confusingly named, although it is right-wing) made a new religious freedom bill a core promise during the 2019 Federal election. On 25 November 2021, in the dying days of Australia’s 46th Parliament, the Religious Discrimination (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2021 was finally introduced.
Despite initial fanfare, by 10 February 2022 the Coalition-Government declined to push the bill into Australia’s Senate. Why? Because a Labor-Opposition amendment sought to prevent transgender students from being expelled by religious schools. As explained by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation:
“The government has indefinitely shelved its bid to overhaul religious freedom laws, leaving one of the Coalition’s central 2019 election commitments hanging in uncertainty… The religious discrimination bill itself remains unchanged, but some religious groups have been adamant they do not support the transgender student protections passed alongside it… The Australian Christian Lobby said removing exemptions that allowed schools to discriminate against trans students ‘completely undermined’ the bill.”
If this is about transgender students, what does transgender mean?
To continue reading, you might need to get your head around a few different but related concepts: sex, gender, transgender, intersex and orientation. As explained by Amnesty International:
The word “transgender” – or trans – is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity is different from the sex they were assigned at birth. The word “intersex” relates to physical sexual characteristics, and not to an internal sense of identity. An intersex person may also identify as trans, but they are separate things, because gender and sex are separate. An intersex person may be straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual or asexual, and may identify as female, male, both or neither. Both intersex and trans people have the right to choose their own gender identity, and should never be forced to live with bodies or identities they do not feel comfortable with.
While trans and intersex people differ on matters of sex (physical sexual characteristics), they often share challenges navigating issue of gender identity (including whether and to what degree one identifies as male or female). Meanwhile, sex and gender identity are distinct from orientation (as a trans or intersex person can be gay, lesbian or bisexual).
Research suggests between 0.3-0.6% of the population is transgender and 1-2% are intersex. If you are a little confused, that is ok, but the key point is don’t bother quoting Leviticus 18:22 or Romans 1:26-27 (texts commonly associated with orientation), because this article is about sex and gender identity.
Should Christians care about someone’s right to choose their own gender identity?
Australia’s failed religious freedom bill begs us to ask, assuming religious organizations should have the right to discriminate against trans or intersex people, whether they should want to discriminate? We would especially ask this question of Christians who have spent the last two years arguing, using loud apocalyptic language, “my body, my choice” as the highest spiritual ideal.
We should have this discussion precisely because bodily autonomy is increasingly seen as a matter of religious liberty. Not simply in the world – outside the Church. Bodily autonomy has come to define who, when and how one is allowed to participate in worship – inside the Church. To be blunt, why should the Church fight for your right to fellowship without a vaccine or a mask, when you fight to exclude others for their own choices about bodily autonomy?
Should trans and intersex people care what Christians think?
Conversely, there might be trans and intersex readers who couldn’t care less what most Christians think. However, Christianity remains a dominant ideological and cultural backdrop for much of the world. The bill was no doubt introduced in part because of the Australian Prime Minister’s own strong Christian beliefs. This discussion is therefore important – even for atheists.
Whether it be suicide bombers misapplying Islam, or Saffron terror, or abuse coverups amongst Hasidic Jews, everyone has an interest in ensuring major religions are not hijacked by misinterpretations. In the case of Christianity, those misinterpretations owe more to 19th-century Victorian prejudices than they do to ancient 1st-century Judea.
So what does the Bible say about transgender and intersex people?
The Bible probably doesn’t address transgender and intersex people in the exact same way as we moderns. Just like the issues of slavery or war, we must be cautious in adapting biblical injunctions to contemporary life.
Yet we do find correlation in ancient “eunuchs”. It is a term we use with great reluctance because of its obvious negative connotations. We would avoid using that term altogether, except it is necessary to explore links to ancient words in ancient languages. Importantly, as this article hopefully shows, when used in its ancient biblical sense, the word eunuch is not pejorative, even if it has been turned into a slur by centuries of transphobia.
From an Old Testament perspective, the Hebrew term for eunuch is saris. Strong’s Concordance at  suggests the word is of foreign origins, and probably linked to a type of sex-surgery. Yet, the OT does suggest a broader meaning too, noting Potiphar is described as Pharoah’s saris in Gen. 37:36, even though he had a famous wife.
In the New Testament, the Greek term is eunouchos. Strong’s Concordance at  describes such as person as “a eunuch, castrated person, or one who voluntarily abstains from marriage”. Jesus most famously deals with eunuchs in Matthew 19:12, where, much like the Old Testament, He adopts a wide meaning encompassing at least three sub-groups:
“For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.”
Without needing to go into detail about gonads, sex reassignment surgery or hormone therapy, and noting the Bible doesn’t limit eunuchs to biology anyway, it seems obvious Jesus would have trans and intersex people in mind today. Who else could they be?
But didn’t God create two separate, inviolable genders in Eden?
One can almost hear the keyboard warriors typing, “But God created two genders in the Garden of Eden.” In most instances Eden illustrates what God originally intended for humanity, not what God expects as a mandatory mode of modern living. Unless like Adam and Eve you are a nudist, vegan, houseless, hunter-gatherer!
A true irony, then, is some type of trans or intersex state may have been God’s primordial state for humanity. Genesis 1:27 says God created Adam (lit. haʾadam, article-noun, masculine) as both male and female.
Genesis 2:22 in turn says God created woman from a part of man. However, the word “part of” (lit. tsela), often translated as “rib” in English, can also mean “side” in Hebrew. That is, God did not originally create a male and then create female from a tiny rib, but rather God created a single primordial-being encompassing both genders, whom God then split in half.
But doesn’t God condemn crossdressing?
One can also almost hear someone else typing up Deuteronomy 22:5:
“A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the Lord your God detests anyone who does this.”
Sure. This simply affirms a transwoman should dress as a woman because, to state the obvious – she is a woman!
In any event, quoting passages from the ceremonial and sundry aspects of the Old Testament is problematic, as these commands were often temporary measures for ancient Israel. If you cite Deut. 22:5, please keep reading and quote verses 11 and 12:
“Do not wear clothes of wool and linen woven together.12 Make tassels on the four corners of the cloak you wear.”
Look at your own wardrobe before judging others.
What did Jesus think about eunuchs?
Most importantly, and if nothing else take this from this article, Jesus never uses the term eunuch as an insult. Far from seeing them as great sinners who need to repent, Jesus suggests eunuchs are living in a superior state of being. So much so Jesus said:
“The one who can accept this [living as a eunuch] should accept it.”
It is also arguable a type of trans or intersex status awaits all of us in the afterlife. For Jesus says in Matthew 22:30:
“At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven”.
Celibacy, surgical intervention and other “non-normative” states have a long-established place in both Christian and Jewish history. Yet many modern Christians find it hard to accept Jesus’ positive teachings supporting eunuchs. Why is that?
Is exclusion of trans and intersex people preventing Jesus’ Second Coming?
Not only did Jesus say nothing bad about eunuchs (to use the biblical term), it seems He expected them to be made welcome as a precondition of His Coming. This is the nub of the prophecy in Isaiah 56:4-7. The Bible makes a Messianic promise that not merely Gentiles, but also eunuchs, will be welcome in God’s Temple, a place historically prohibited to both groups (Deut. 23:1-6):
“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant—to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters.
Jesus cites this passage for His reason to clear the literal Temple (Mt. 21:13), triggering His own crucifixion – the fulcrum of cosmic history. In fulfilling this prophecy, the Apostles reached out not only to non-Jews, but also to eunuchs (Acts 8:26-40).
Most Christians including most Adventists, believe that these events at Pentecost involving the former rain are a sort of prototype for the latter rain of the true end-times. But here is the rub: where then is our deliberate mission to today’s biblical eunuchs, which is to say our trans and intersex friends? Why have we not invited them into the True Temple, which is the Church led by Christ (John 2:13-22)?
How I learnt to hate God (& myself) – Lilly’s story
I knew I was different for as long as I can remember. The best way I can describe is that my life was a performance for everybody but me. I tried to act like other people wanted me to act, and tried to like the things I was meant to. But it always felt wrong, a lie. I struggled to form relationships with other people because all I gave them were lies. As a child, I didn’t have the words to understand it… or communicate it.
But I tried.
“When I grow up I want to be a girl”, I said.
“You’re disrespecting Jesus”. Their tone made it clear that I had said something wrong.
I didn’t understand this, I didn’t understand what Jesus had to do with anything of this. “Why?”
“Because He made you a boy.”
These weren’t the strongest words in the world. In fact, I suspect I am the only person in the car to remember that conversation. But as a sensitive kid, already used to being who other people wanted me to be, I learnt an important lesson that day; Jesus didn’t love me, not the real me. He wanted me to go on performing, lying, hiding. I didn’t know the word for resentment back then, but I knew what it felt like.
Needless to say that this is not the only time I learned that lesson. I learnt that with every sermon about the perversion of ‘the transgenders’. I learnt that lesson every time the feminine boy got bullied. I learnt it every time a guy wearing a dress was called a pervert or freak. I was lucky though, I wasn’t beaten into being ‘a man’, kicked to the streets or disowned. But I knew that it happened to trans kids for as long as I knew the word transgender and to gay kids long before that.
Maybe none of this matters to you; maybe none of it should matter to me anymore either. I am now an atheist, after all. But it does matter to me. There are many other trans kids out there, learning to find the words to express themselves. Many of them believe in, and love, God just like I did. Maybe all they need is to know that God loves them too. The real them.
After all, when Jesus came and saw how some Jewish people had used the scriptures He was angered. The scriptures had been twisted and dogmatically applied to enforce their will on the people. I am not suggesting this to say you should ignore the scripture. On the contrary, I may be an atheist, but I appreciate the importance the Bible plays in many people’s lives. I am simply asking you to read it again and make sure you are not twisting it for your own ends before another generation learns the lesson I learnt.
- Although as others have written about before, these texts are probably not about a person’s sexual orientation anyway. Rather, these texts are most likely about heterosexual men engaged in forms of rape, paedophilia and sodomy with non-consenting heterosexual men, with women and with children. In any event, these texts certainly have nothing to do with the question of sex characteristics or gender identity. ↑
- To be clear the issue of accepting gay, lesbian and bisexual people is an important matter. Many of the arguments raised in this piece might also apply to gay, lesbian and bisexual people. Nonetheless, that isn’t the primary focus of this particular article, which is more specifically about sex and gender identity as experienced by trans and intersex people. ↑
- For example, Strong’s Concordance at  refers to 1 Kings 6:34, where a variation of tsela is mentioned as encompassing two separate but complementary doors built into Solomon’s Temple. Or in 1 Kings 6:15, where another variation of tsela is mentioned as something encompassing a sort of architectural rib, but in this case the planks or boards that kept the entire Temple structure from collapsing. In other words, male-Adam’s “rib” which God made into female-Eve was not some small feature but a major pre-existing part. Nor was female-Eve created anew as much as simply extracted from this pre-existing primordial-being, whom God had originally created as both male and female. ↑
- Yes, I know someone is going to quote 1 Tim. 2:13 – “For Adam was formed first, then Eve”. However, I would suggest that in light of Gen. 1:27 and Gen. 2:22, this means Adam was first only in a functional sense. As the “remainder”. In the same way I think almost all Christians agree Jesus is only functionally God’s “son”, not His literal one. And the Father is the “first” or “higher” divine person in the sense He is the remainder or “source” within the Godhead (to quote how the SDA Fundamental Beliefs describe Him). ↑
- Probably the most famous example being “Church Father” Origen (c.184-253), who allegedly castrated himself (although historians continue to debate whether this actually occurred). ↑
- Probably the most famous examples being Daniel and his three friends, who were likely castrated by the Babylonians, based on the warning set out in Isaiah 39:7. ↑
Stephen Ferguson is a lawyer from Perth, Western Australia, with expertise in planning, environment, immigration and administrative-government law. He is married to Amy and has two children, William and Eloise. Stephen is a member of the Livingston Adventist Church.
Lillian-Paige Turner is from Perth, Australia. She is currently completing a Bachelor of Psychology and Counselling at Edith Cowan University, as well as working part-time as a mental health support worker. Additionally, Lilly volunteers for Living Proud in her spare time.