On two separate occasions when speaking on the issue of gender and Christianity I have had Christians ask me: “What if a person is born with a male body, but their brain is female? In that case isn’t it their body that is the problem and so shouldn’t we help them by fixing their bodies?” To them this seems quite logical. After all, the curse of sin has resulted in other physical defects that we seek to remedy through medical intervention. So why not bring a person’s body into alignment with their brain? As one young woman suggested to me, “Why should the body be made more important than the brain? Why does being born with male genitalia mean that the brain should be masculine? Perhaps the body is wrong, so why not fix that?”
Trying to argue this point from a scientific standpoint I have learned is a fools errand. If you want gender and gender identity to be biologically determined by the brain, you will find a scientific voice saying it is. If you don’t want it to be you will find a scientific voice saying it isn’t. As Thomas Kuhn said, in science “all observation-statements are theory-laden”1.
So I don’t really want to get into the science discussion. What I am more interested in looking at is how we have arrived at the point where Christians wonder about the possibility of being born with the “wrong body”. Doing so says more about our beliefs in human nature than it does our understanding of science (or lack thereof). That is because suggesting the possibility that you could be born with the wrong body reveals that you have already accepted the false assumption that “you” and “your body” can be separated. Wherever this assumption comes from it surely isn’t the Bible.
The Bible considers our bodies to be sacred and we cannot separate ourselves from them. We can think about them in isolation, but we can never isolate ourselves from them. True, we are more than just our bodies, but we are certainly not less than them. This fact is born out in large part through the New Testament’s emphasis on ‘body language’ when discussing salvation. Here are just a few noteworthy examples beginning with Jesus himself:
Matthew 6:29-30 – “If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell”.
Notice how Jesus equates the spiritual peril of sin as being a bodily peril. Separation from God in hell is a physical reality.
Matthew 6:22-23 – “The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”
Notice how Jesus’ equates light and darkness in “the body” with light and darkness “in you.”
Matthew 26:26-28 – “While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body.’ 27 And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.’”
The incarnation of Jesus is perhaps God’s greatest testimony to the significance of our bodies. When the Son of God became flesh he took on human nature itself, which means that he took on a bodily life. He didn’t just appear as a body. Like us Jesus became an embodied being and he will be forever. His death on the cross was a real sacrifice because in giving up his body he was in fact giving up his own life. As he said in John 10:17 – “For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again.” Likewise his resurrection from the dead was a bodily resurrection because that is by definition the kind of resurrection we also need.
A brief survey of subsequent New Testament teaching makes it clear how central the body is in God’s salvation economy.
- “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body…but present yourselves to God.”(Romans 6:1-13)
- “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. (Rom. 8:11)
- “…but we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as children, the redemption of our body.” (Rom. 8:23)
- Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship.” (Rom. 12:2)
- “…the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body.” (1 Cor. 6:13)
- “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?” (1 Cor. 6:19)
- “For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God with your bodies.” (1 Cor. 6:20)
- “I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.” (Phil. 1:19)
- “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” (Phil. 3:20-21)
- “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy” (1 Thess. 4:3-4)
I think that as Christians it’s time we reacquire our understanding of salvation in Christ as a bodily salvation. Yes there is a spiritual reality in salvation that precedes our final bodily redemption. Yes, we still dwell in a sinful body in this world that is, as Paul says, “groaning” as it awaits its final liberation in eternity. But make no mistake that the eternal body that God will give us will be the resurrection and glorification of the body he has given us in this life. Scientific speculations aside, this ought to settle the discussion for us as to whether or not we could ever be born with the wrong bodies.
- Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Karl Popper, [accessed online, June 29, 2018, at https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/popper/ ]