In the previous issue of The Catechetical Review, we took a look at the light Scripture sheds on the modern transgender movement, especially the creation narratives and law of Moses. Now we wish to look specifically at relevant texts from the Gospels and New Testament generally.
Jesus’ clearest teachings on sexual matters arise when the Pharisees press him on divorce in Matthew 19:3-6:
"And Pharisees … tested him, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh? So, they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder."
Jesus only recognizes two sexes, male and female, and asserts that these have been created by God himself. Further, Jesus asserts that the physical/sexual union between man and wife in marriage is sacred, being established by God: “What God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” How does he derive this from Genesis 2:24, which describes the union of man and wife using the passive voice: “be united to his wife … the two shall become one flesh”? Jesus authoritatively interprets this as a divine passive, a literary device in biblical and Jewish literature in which the writer does not name God out of religious reverence, but phrases God’s action passively. Thus, the real meaning of Genesis 2:24 is, “a man … is joined by God to his wife … and the two are made one flesh by God.” In relation to modern transgender controversy, therefore, Jesus acknowledges only two sexes, and identifies God—not society, social construct, human psychology, etc.—as the author and establisher of those two sexes, as well as the institution of marriage.
Jewish law, based on the law of Moses (Lev 18:1-23), rejected sexual activity between persons of the same sex, or persons in any relationship outside of the husband-wife relationship, and there is not the slightest hint that Jesus disputed this teaching. On the contrary, Jesus pushes traditional Jewish teaching much farther, radically interiorizing it:
You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. (Mt 5:27-30)
According to Jesus’ teaching, then, the traditional prohibitions of sexual immorality apply also to interior acts of the heart and the imagination. Fantasizing about evil acts is already itself an evil act, and the inescapable standard of holiness (“You must be perfect, even as your heavenly father is perfect” Mt 5:48) requires us, if necessary, to take radical measures to avoid sin—hyperbolically expressed as “plucking out the eye” or “cutting of the hand.”
All of this really leaves no room for the disciple of Christ to imagine that he or she is some other gender than his or her biological sex. The feeling that one is a different gender than one’s biological sex may not be self-chosen, but disciples of Christ have to evaluate the truth of their feelings and sensations against the standard of Divine Revelation and the Church’s teaching. The sensation of erotic attraction towards one’s co-worker may not be self-chosen and may in fact be “natural” in a biological sense. Nonetheless, it does not justify a married person acting on that sensation; rather, Christian discipleship requires the married person to recognize that sense of attraction as a danger that needs to be rejected and suppressed. Likewise, physical attraction toward a legal minor may not be self-chosen and may be biologically “natural”, but Christian discipleship requires us to reject those feelings and sensations, and neither indulge them nor act on them. In the same way, the mere fact that we have feelings or sensations toward dressing, identifying, or behaving in ways associated with the opposite sex, does not justify indulging and acting on those sensations. We have to act in accord with what is true about our bodies and the truth revealed in Scripture.
Jesus taught and ministered mostly among the common people of Judea who lacked the wealth and leisure to indulge in more unusual or exotic forms of sexual behavior. However, St. Paul brought the Gospel to areas of great wealth in the Roman Empire, where exotic forms of extramarital sexual activity were common and popular. The emperor who put Peter and Paul to death—Nero—did, in fact, practice a form of transgenderism. He and his male lover dressed and presented themselves as young women when engaging in sexual activity with each other. Yet it was not Rome but the city of Corinth that was most famed for extravagant sexual behavior. Corinth’s temple of Aphrodite (aka Venus), the goddess of sex, employed as many as a thousand sacred prostitutes. It is not coincidental that Paul’s letters to the Corinthians contain his most explicit teaching on sexuality.