It’s been a while since I’ve blogged on this topic, so let me back up and get a running start to where I want to go in this post.
Over the last few posts, we’ve been discussing the concept of gender identity—one’ internal sense of self—and the possible pieces of ontological evidence for the claim that one’s gender identity is more definitive of personhood than one’s biological sex, when the two are at odds. For instance, if a biological female’s internal sense of self is male, then they should be identified as a man not a woman.
We’ve discussed three pieces of evidence for this claim: (1) one’s self declaration, (2) the brain sex theory, and (3) the sexed-soul theory. I’ve interacted with some of the salient pros and cons of these views in previous posts. In short, I’ve found all of them to be insufficient defenses of the claim that a biological male, for instance, might actually be a woman from a theological anthropological perspective.
The brain-sex theory is so bound up with gender stereotypes that it’s nearly impossible to say that a person has a male body and a “female brain” without empowering the very stereotypes most people in 2019 are striving to move beyond.
The sexed-soul theory assumes much about the human person—that the immaterial “soul” can be conceived as ontologically separate from the body, so much so that (through the fall) the body might be sexed differently from the soul and that the soul would therefore be a more accurate description of personhood than the body. Again, this runs into several anthropological problems, which we discussed. It’s not an impossible view to hold, but it is a theologically difficult one. Not least because sex—male and female—is a bodily category.
In this post, I want to explore a biblical theology of sexed embodiment in order to construct a theological anthropology. Put differently, how important is biological sex for human identity?
Let’s begin with Genesis 1.
Genesis 1:26-27: Image of God
Genesis 1 provides us with what might be the most important statement about human identity: we are created in God’s image:
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Gen. 1:26-27)[i]
Does “male and female” refer to our bodies? Our souls? Both? Our sex or our gender? Or both?
These are important questions and very pertinent for our conversation. But I want to caution us all from squeezing too much out of one passage, or reading pre-conceived notions into the passage that are more of a reflection of our modern biases than the author’s original point. The author does not have a set of transgender related questions in front of him as he pens this passage.
And yet this passage is arguably one of the most significant statements about human nature in all of Scripture, and it’s foundational for later references to the nature of humans and the identity of Christ, who is often called “the image of God”—and in whose image we are being conformed.
While we should caution ourselves from squeezing too much out of this passage, we should also caution ourselves from squeezing too little. No scripturally orientated Christian should neglect this passage as she seeks to think biblically about trans* identities and experiences.
With caution as our guide, I want to make four observations about how this passage (and Genesis 2) speaks about human nature as it pertains to questions related to transgender identities and experiences.
1. The body is essential to our image-bearing status
Not every theologian has agreed with this. Throughout history, many theologians, in fact, said that it’s our rational capacities as humans mark us out as image bearers. But in the last 100 years or so, virtually every Old Testament scholar (and now most theologians) has recognized that an “immaterial” understanding of the image of God goes against the grain of the original context of Genesis 1.[ii]
A basic word study of Hebrew word selem (image) shows that “visibility and bodiliness” is central to the meaning of the phrase “image of God.”[iii] Selem, for instance, almost always refers to cult statues of various gods throughout the Old Testament. The term basically means physical “carved or hewn statue or copy” of a non-physical being—in the case of Genesis 1, of Yahweh.[iv] Theologian Marc Cortez sums it up well when he says that the image of God is “a declaration that God intended to create human persons to be the physical means through which he would manifest his own divine presence in the world.”[v]
Now, of course humans aren’t just material bodies. Genesis 2:27 says that God “breathed the breath of life into his nostrils and the man became a living being.” God’s life-giving spirit is also essential for personhood. But humanity’s physicality is highlighted by the term image.
Moreover, almost every biblical scholar now recognizes that the phrase “image of God” is in some way correlated with the Egyptian and Mesopotamian widespread ideas that their kings were the ones who bore God’s image. In Egypt, for instance, the Pharaoh was thought “to be a physical, local incarnation of deity, analogous to that of a cult statue or image of a god.”[vi] The statement in Genesis 1 takes this idea and democratizes it. Instead of only kings being the physical representation of an invisible God, all humanity—male and female—physically represent God on earth.[vii] Old Testament scholar Gerhard von Rad summarizes the “virtual consensus in Old Testament scholarship”[viii] when he says:
Just as powerful earthly kings, to indicate their claim to dominion, erect an image of themselves in the provinces of their empire where they do not personally appear, so humankind is placed upon earth in God’s image as God’s sovereign emblem.[ix]
In short, the biblical usage of “image” (selem) and the ancient background of this concept show that humanity’s embodied nature, and not just their immaterial spirit, or soul, or rationality, is an essential part of how we bear God’s image.
2. Male and female is correlated with bearing God’s image
We do not just image God as embodied humans, but as sexed humans. Notice that Genesis 1:27 connects “male and female” with the previous references to “the image of God” and “his own image.” That is, our male and female sexed bodies (images) are in some way correlated with our status as image of God bearers. Some intersex persons might be both male and female and therefore bear God’s image just as much as those who are either male or female. After all, the author says “male and female he created them” and not “male or female he created them.”
In any case, the categories of male and female are primarily biological and not primarily social. The Hebrew terms zakar (male) and neqebah (female) are also paired up to describe the animals who were brought on the ark to repopulate the earth after the flood (6:19; 7:9). The Hebrew terms zakar and neqebah do not refer to our social roles or our internal senses of self, which is why they are also used of animals in their reproductive roles. “Male and female” is a description of our different reproductive structures, or what modern scientists refer to as biological sex.[x]
Genesis 1:27 is one of the most powerful, provocative, and, one might say, progressive statements in all of Scripture. Not only are all males (not just kings) said to bear God’s image, but all females as well. The radicality of this truth is intrinsically connected to both our human embodiment and more specifically our sexed embodiment. If sex differentiation is irrelevant here, then the profound elevation of females as distinct from males loses all its power.
3. Male and female is oriented toward procreation
The claim that “male and female” is primarily about biological sex is strengthened by the next command to “be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28). This, of course, raises lots of questions. What about those who don’t get married and have sex and make babies? What about infertile people? What about Jesus, who is the image of God?
We’ll need the rest of Scripture to address these questions. The only thing we need to recognize at this point is that the procreation command follows on the heels of the “male and female” statement, which highlights the fact that male and female are categories of biological sex. The command to reproduce would not make any sense if “male and female” were highlighting social or psychological aspects of being male and female (e.g. gender identity, gender roles, or masculinity and femininity).
4. Eve created from the “side” of Adam
Lastly, when Eve is created, the author uses a word that considers Adam and Eve’s bodies to be sacred.
So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. (Gen. 2:21-22).
The word translated “rib” is the Hebrew word sela. Despite the familiarity of this translation, it’s very unlikely that sela actually refers to a “rib.” In fact, sela is used in more than forty other passages in the Old Testament and it never means “rib.” In almost every other usage, sela refers to the side of a sacred piece of architecture like the tabernacle or the temple.[xi] Adam’s body, therefore, and now Eve’s, is compared to a sacred piece of architecture that radiates God’s presence in the world. Desecrating the body would be akin to desecrating the temple.
Male, Female, and Embodiment in the Rest of Scripture
Now, we need to be very cautious about forming our view of human nature from one passage alone. At the same time, we need to be equally cautious about not taking seriously how important Genesis 1-2 is for a Christian view of human nature. The fact that humans are created as sexed embodied creatures in God’s image is hardly peripheral to a Christian anthropology. Later biblical statements about redemption and sanctification are often rooted in the creation story. “In Jesus we have not just a story about redemption, but ‘a re-narration of the story of creation’.”[xii]
I want to look at later passages and themes that contribute to our understanding of the theological and moral significance of our sexed embodied nature. Or more plainly, what’s the role that our sexed bodies play in determining who we are? A central question lingering behind all of this is: If someone’s internal sense of who they are is at odds with their sexed body, which one is more central for determining personhood?
Now, I don’t think there’s a specific verse that directly answer these questions. But there are many passage and scriptural themes that can help us construct a responsible, thoughtful, biblically informed answer to it.
First, Jesus cites the “male and female” statement from Genesis 1:27 and correlates it with the marriage statement in Genesis 2:24:
Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning “made them male and female” (Gen. 1:27) and said “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24)?
What can we draw from Jesus’ words? At the very least, it appears that Jesus sees God’s original creation of humans as male and female as normative and not just relevant for the beginning of creation. Again, Jesus’ ethic is shaped by creation. God’s creation of humans as male and female has ongoing relevance for Jesus’ mission.
We need to be careful, however, not to read into Jesus’ statement more than he intended to say. He’s assuming a rather simple point—taken for granted in Judaism at his time—that marriage is a union between male and female.
Second, many passages in Scripture appear to elevate the importance of the body in a way that resonates with what we said about Genesis 1-2. To be human is to be embodied, and to be embodied is to be sexed. Our bodies are good “very good” (Gen. 1:31) and sacred (Gen. 2:21-23).
Paul seems to agree with this at various points throughout his letters. 1 Corinthians 6:13-20 is particularly clear. Paul here refers to the body (Greek: soma) eight times and correlates it with personhood. It’s likely that some of the Corinthians held to a stark dualism between their spirits and their bodies. That is, they believed that one’s body was not significant for moral behavior. Paul was probably confronting this view when he wrote: “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies” (1 Cor. 6:19-20).
Paul, of course, is argue against sexually immoral practices in 1 Corinthian 6. But the principles fueling his argument are anthropological. It’s because of his view of the sexed body—one that resonates with Genesis 1-2—that argues the way he does against the one who “sins against his own body” (6:18). Paul didn’t think that what we do with our bodies is morally neutral.
In Romans 12:1 Paul commands believers to “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.” Just a few chapters earlier, Paul writes, “offer yourselves to God” (Rom. 6:13, 16). For Paul, “your bodies” and “yourselves” means the same thing.[xiii]
It doesn’t seem that Paul’s logic would support the notion that one’s internal sense of self is more important for identity than their bodies are, or that there’s an essential “I” without a body. A disembodied “you” is not a more real part of “you” than your embodied “you.”
Some Christians haven’t always emphasized this. In pop Christianity, for instance, we often hear people talk about the body as a shell that covers “the real you.” But this attitude does not reflect a Judeo-Christian view of human nature. As virtually all biblical scholars recognize, the Bible considers the body to be a core aspect of who we are (as we already saw in Genesis 1-2). We don’t just have bodies; we are bodies. Yes, we have immaterial aspects of our human nature. But these are viewed as part of our embodied existence, not something separate from it. We are not souls with bodies, but embodied souls.[xiv]
Third, it appears that sex difference is maintained after the resurrection, and Christian ethics should be oriented toward resurrection.[xv] I say “appears” because, while this has been the majority position in Christianity, some significant theologians like Origen and Gregory of Nyssa disagree, and there are a few passages that could be taken to suggest that the resurrection will nullify sex difference (Gal. 3:28 and Matt. 22:30). We’ll deal with these passages in a future post. For now, here are several reasons why it’s much more likely that sex difference will be maintained in the resurrection:
- Not only is sex difference part of God’s pre-fall creation (Gen. 1:27; 2:18-24), it’s a central part of human personhood and integral to how we mirror God’s image (as we saw above). Unless Scripture explicitly says that sex difference will be done away with in the resurrection, there’s no theological reason why it would be and strong theological reasons why it would remain.
- While Jesus’ sex is not explicitly mentioned in the resurrection, he’s still referred to by male pronouns and there’s no evidence that he’s no longer male. Since Jesus was male before his resurrection, and since the sexed body is an essential part of personhood, then we would expect such embodied personhood to remain in the resurrection.
- Jesus’ resurrection is a model for our own resurrection. “When Christ appears,” John says, “we shall be like him” (1 John 3:2). And Paul writes, “he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies” (Rom. 8:11). There’s little evidence in Scripture that our “mortal bodies,” which were created as male and female and declared “very good” by our Creator, will be sexless when they are raised.
- Paul’s most detailed description of our resurrected bodies (1 Cor. 15:35-58) draws extensively on Genesis 1-2, affirming the goodness of our bodies.[xvi] Paul does talk about some differences between our earthly bodies and our future resurrection bodies. The difference, though, is not between sexed earthly bodies and sexless resurrected bodies, but between our corruptible earthly bodies and our incorruptible resurrected bodies (see especially 1 Cor. 15:50, 52-54).[xvii] The fact that our sexed bodies are essential to our embodied existence and our personhood (according to Gen 1-2) suggests that, unless otherwise stated, sex difference will be part of our resurrected state.
Cumulatively, these four points suggest that our sexed embodied existence will carry on into the new creation and be part of our eternal state. This bears ethical significance as we think about male and female embodied sex difference. If we were created male and female, and if this creation was deemed “very good,” and if our future, glorified existence will be in a sexed body, then it would seem reasonably consistent that we should honor and celebrate our embodied sex now.
Fourth, whenever Scripture mentions crossing gender boundaries, it speaks negatively. Now, these passages are shrouded in interpretive questions, especially as they relate to the whether they can be taken as absolute and normative for Christian ethics. And yet, the point still stands: whenever some kind of cross-sex identity is mentioned, it’s always prohibited. For instance:
- Deuteronomy 22:5 prohibits cross-dressing: “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.” A few interpretive difficulties surround this command. The most important one is whether this command applies to Christians, or whether it’s only part of the old covenant law that’s no longer applicable to Christians. For reasons stated in the endnote, I see more evidence in favor of this command carrying lasting relevance for followers of Jesus.[xviii]
- 1 Corinthians 6:9 uses the term malakoi (“soft, effeminate”) to refer to the passive partner in male same-sex sexual activity. Most scholars recognize that the term primarily highlights men who act like (or were considered to act like) women. Behaving “like a woman” in sexual activity (as it was considered) was one aspect of crossing gender boundaries, but malakoi covers a broad range of what were considered feminine activities. The malakoi were, as I’ve argued elsewhere, “men who fundamentally confused gender distinctions.”[xix]
- Paul’s discussion about the order of public worship in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is predicated on the assumption that the church consists of men and women, whose sex and gender distinctions reflect God’s created order.[xx] However, we should not read modern cultural stereotypes or expected gender roles about male and female into this chapter (e.g. women are more emotional than men; boys wear blue, girls wear pink). While 1 Corinthians 11 assumes that men and women are different and that such differences should be expressed and celebrated, Paul gives few specific guidelines on how they should express their difference other than certain culturally appropriate types of clothing.
- Romans 1:26-27 speaks negatively about same-sex sexual relationships, and Paul’s logic is rooted in God’s creational intention for males and females. That is, sexual differentiation in Genesis 1:27 (and Genesis 1 as a whole) shapes Paul’s logic for the same-sex prohibition. (The same is less explicit but still apparent in Lev. 18:22). That is, a significant reason why same-sex sexual relations are wrong is because they confuse sex distinctions.[xxi]
I hesitate even mentioning the above passages, since they are sometimes thoughtlessly quoted, with no attention to their context or the various interpretive difficulties that surround them. I can’t overemphasize enough that we shouldn’t assume that each one of these passages speak directly or definitively to modern questions about transgender identities.
And yet, these passages do say something and whatever interpretive hurdles exist, they all, on some level and to varying degrees, to reflect the notion (already seen elsewhere) that male and female sex distinctions are a creational good that should be honored.
Lastly, the incarnation of Christ seems to affirm the goodness of our sexed embodiment. Jesus is “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15; cf. 2 Cor. 4:4), “the exact representation” of God’s nature (Heb 1:3), in whom “the entire fullness of Gods’ nature dwells bodily” (Col 2:9; cf. 1:19). While we bear God’s image, we are being “transformed into his [Christ’s] image” (2 Cor. 3:18) who is the image of God. “To be an image bearer, Jesus must be an embodied being.”[xxii] And if we want to find out what it means to be human, what it means to bear God’s image, then we must look at Jesus as the ultimate expression of this.
The embodiment of Jesus as the image of God is essential for understanding what it means to be human.
Two things follow from this. First, Christ came to us not just as an embodied human, but as a sexed (male) human. This is important since Christ’s maleness is an essential part of his embodied existence and therefore his identity as “the image of God.” This is yet another reason for affirming our sexed embodiment as part of our identity as image of God bearers.
But, we need to make sure we don’t overinterpret Christ’s maleness. After all, while Jesus is biological male, he pushed back against the typical Jewish and Roman (and American!) stereotypes of masculinity. Sure, Jesus turned over tables in the temple—a rather masculine thing to do. But Jesus also wept over Jerusalem and longed to “gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings” (Luke 13:34). Jesus might have been considered masculine when he chewed out the religious leaders in Matthew 23. (Or, is that a feminine trait?) But he also let others slap him in the face, smack him on the head, and rarely stood up for his personal rights. Jesus comes to us as one who “challenges cultural notions of masculinity. He washes feet, touches sick people, shows compassion to sinful women, loves children, and more.”[xxiii]
Jesus’ sexed embodiment challenges the suggestion that biology is unnecessary for identity. And yet Jesus’ countercultural ways of being male confronts both ancient and modern understandings of masculinity.
I want to revisit our two (related) questions raised half-way through this post:
- What’s the role that our sexed bodies play in determining who we are?
- If someone’s internal sense of who they are is at odds with their sexed body, which one is more central for determining personhood?
My tentative suggestion in light of the observations I’ve made along the way are as follows.
First, our sexed bodies play an essential, though not exhaustive, role in determining who we are. Male and female sexed bodies do not linger on the fringes of a Christian theological anthropology. While there’s more to human nature than our bodies—hence the reason I said they don’t play an exhaustive role—there is not less. Whatever immaterial aspects of human nature we want to highlight (soul, spirit, mind, etc.) these are viewed as part of our embodied existence, not a more central aspect of it.
Second, if someone’s internal sense of who they are as male, female, both, or neither is at odds with their biological sex, which one is more central for determining personhood? The question about human identity from a Christian perspective is not so much who we think we are, or our internal senses of who we are, but who God says we are. And given everything we’ve said about the body in this post, we have to at least be open to the possibility that our bodies might be a better reflection of how God identifies us, even if our minds disagree.
Again, I would really love to hear where I’m off, what points need to be revisited or clarified or corrected, and what pushbacks you might have to anything I’ve said in this post.
[i] All translations are from the NIV unless otherwise stated.
[ii] See the review of interpretations in Middleton, The Liberating Image, 17-34.
[iii] Middleton, 25.
[iv] Demut overlaps with the meaning of selem, but typically highlights the appearance or form of something that resembles something else. The terms are probably meant to be used interchangeably, since they are used again in tandem but in reverse order in Genesis 5:3, where it’s demut and selem instead of selem and demut in Genesis 1:26.
[v] Cortez, Resourcing, 109.
[vi] Middleton, 110.
[vii] In no way would this exclude intersex persons. One could argue that it all the more elevates them, since some intersex persons are quite literally created “male and female.”
[viii] Middleton, 26
[ix] Genesis, 60, cited in Middleton, 26.
[x] But in what way is male and female correlated with God’s image? Does “male and female” define God’s image? That is, that God’s image is displayed through our sex differences, so that God isn’t “imaged” completely in a fraternity or sorority but in a co-ed dorm? Or, does the phrase only mean that God’s image is found in both males and females, but that these differences aren’t essential for mirroring God’s presence in the world? Sort of like how males and females might both play in a softball game, but there’s nothing intrinsic to one’s maleness or femaleness that shapes our idea of softball.
[xi] See John H. Walton: The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2015), 77-81.
[xii] Resourcing, 104, quoting Catherine Pickstock, “The One Story: A Critique of David Kelsey’s Theological Robotics,” Modern Theology 27 (2011): 26-40. On the relationship between creation and ethics, see Oliver O’Donnovan, Resurrection and Moral Order: An Outline for Evangelical Ethics (2nd ed.; Leicester: Apollos, 1994), 31-52.
[xiii] See for instance James D. G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 55-61.
[xiv] For a brief theological overview of this point, see Cortez, Theological Anthropology, 70.
[xv] See Beth Felker Jones, “Embodied from Creation Through Redemption: Placing Gender and Sexuality in Theological Context,” in Beauty, Order, and Mystery: A Christian Vision of Human Sexuality (ed. Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson; Grand Rapids: IVP, 2017), 21-30.
[xvi] For example, the reference to “heavenly bodies” and “earthly bodies” (1 Cor. 15:40) alludes to Gen. 1:14-18; 1 Cor. 15:45 quotes from Gen. 2:7; the reference to sun, moon, and stars (1 Cor. 15:41) draws on Gen. 1:16; the seed-bearing plants after their kind (1 Cor. 15:36-38) draws upon Gen. 1:11-12; the reference to birds, animals, and fish (1 Cor. 15:36-38) finds resonance in Gen. 1:20-22. See N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 341.
[xvii] For a thorough study of 1 Cor. 15:35-49, see ibid., 340-361.
[xviii] Some people dispute the NIV’s translation of keli geber as “men’s clothing,” since geber often means warrior and, they say, keli never means clothing. Some therefore say that the command prohibits woman from dressing up in a warrior’s armor and therefore might not have much to do with cross-dressing per se (see Linda Herzer, The Bible and the Transgender Experience: How Scripture Supports Gender Variance [Cleveland: The Pilgrim Press, 2016],34-37). This interpretation is problematic for several reasons. First, while the adjective gibbor most often means “warrior, Deut. 22:5 uses the noun geber, which often overlaps with the normal word for man, ish (see e.g. Exod. 10:7, 11; 12:37). Second, the word keli doesn’t typically refer to clothing, but it does refer more generally to various things associated with men, including certain ornaments, weapons, hunting equipment, gear, and also clothing (1 Sam. 21:6; 1 Kings 10:21; Gen. 24:53; Numb. 19:18). The translation “the things of men” is probably a better and more inclusive translation of the phrase by itself. However, the parallel statement, “nor a man wear women’s clothing” (shimlat) specifies an article of clothing, which suggests that the former reference to keli geber probably does have clothing in mind. In any case, the point made here goes much deeper than mere clothing, to the fundamental difference between men and women. Clothing is the external expression of those differences. In most cultures of every era, clothing carries powerful signs of class, style, modesty, status, and—especially—of sex difference. According to two experts on the history of cross-dressing: “Dress traditionally has been a ubiquitous symbol of sexual differences, emphasizing social conceptions of masculinity and femininity. Cross dressing, therefore, represents a symbolic incursion into territory that crosses gender boundaries” (Vern L. Bullough and Bonnie Bullough, Cross Dressing, Sex, and Gender [Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993], viii, cited in Nili Sacher Fox, “Gender Transformation and Transgression: Contextualizing the Prohibition of Cross-Dressing in Deuteronomy 22:5,” in Mishneh Todah: Studies in Deuteronomy and Its Cultural Environment in Honor of Jeffrey H. Tigay [ed. by Nili Sacher Fox, David A. Glatt-Gilad, and Michael J. Williams; Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2009], 51). In short, “the prohibition of the wearing of clothes of members of the opposite sex was…to safeguard the division between male and female” and was rooted in God’s concern for diversity and order as reflected in the creation account of Genesis 1-2 (P. J. Harland, “Menswear and Womenswear: A Study of Deuteronomy 22:5,” ExpTimes 110 : 76).
Determining whether this command still applies today is particularly difficult, however. There’s little in the surrounding context that helps us determine its lasting relevance. The verses before (vv. 1-4) talk about straying oxen and the verses after (vv. 6-8) talk about taking care of birds in their nests. The next set of verses (vv. 9-11) talk about mixing seeds, animals, and fabrics, which could be correlated with the concerns about mixing gender in v. 5. The near context doesn’t give us much help in determining modern applications of this verse.
Some people say that the prohibition is probably limited to cultic activity (Herzer, Transgender Experience,37). But there’s nothing in the near context of Deuteronomy that seems particularly concerned with cultic practices, and the generic terms geber (“man”) and ishah (“woman”) would be an odd choice if cultic practices were meant. It seems rather hasty, therefore, to punt to some cultic context of the command, since this isn’t stated and can’t just be assumed.
In terms of New Testament usage, while the prohibition isn’t explicitly cited, we do see similar concerns about clothing and male/female difference in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. We also see Paul prohibiting same-sex sexual relations in light of his concerns about gender confusion (in particular, Rom. 1:26-27 and 1 Cor. 6:9, as stated above). This suggests that while we shouldn’t just thoughtlessly cite Deuteronomy 22:5 as if it self-evidently applies to the church, we can say that the driving principle of the command very much resonates with how the rest of Scripture celebrates maintaining differences between the sexes.
[xix] Preston Sprinkle, People to Be Loved: Why Homosexuality Is Not Just an Issue (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015), 106.
[xx] On the creational background of 1 Cor. 11, see Judith M. Gundry-Volf, “Gender and Creation in 1 Corinthians 11,2-16: A Study of Paul’s Theological Method,” in Evangelium—Schriftauslegung—Kirche: Festschrift für Peter Stuhlmacher zum 65. Geburstag (ed. O. Hofius et al.; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 1997), 151-171.
[xxi] Classicist Kyle Harper makes the same point and shows that Paul was truly unique among other Greco-Roman writers by making same-sex sexual behavior about male-female differences rather than power differentials, age-differences, or exploitation: “The very language of ‘males’ and ‘females’ stood apart from the prevailing idiom of ‘men’ and ‘boys’, ‘women’ and ‘slaves’. By reducing the sex act down to the most basic constituents of male and female, Paul was able to redescribe the sexual culture surrounding him in transformative terms” (Kyle Harper, From Shame to Sin: The Christian Transformation of Sexual Morality in Late Antiquity [Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013], 95, cf. 96-99.
[xxii] Cortez, Resourcing, 197.
[xxiii] Cortez, Resourcing, 203; cf. also McLaughlin, “Feminist Christologies,” in Rosemary Radford Ruetherd ed., To Change the World: Christology and Cultural Criticism (New York: Crossroad, 1981); Baudzej, “Re-Telling; Green, “More Musings on Maleness,” 21.