April 4, 2022 Rosaria Butterfield
Transgenderism is such a new concept that the 1973 Oxford English Dictionary that sits open on my desk has no entry. According to etymonline.com, the word came into existence in 1974 as an adjective referring to “persons whose sense of personal identity does not correspond with their anatomical sex.” This word combines two older words. The first is “trans,” which is derived from part of a Latin verb that means to bring across or over, to transfer, to cause to cross, to extend across, or to convert. The second is “gender,” which derives from the French word for genre and the Latin word for genus, meaning kind, sort, or class. “Transgendered” became “transgender” after 2015 to indicate the new idea: that transgenderism is ontological, or something that is true of a person’s very essence. Today, the psychological condition where a person feels like their personal identity does not match their anatomical sex is called gender dysphoria. And there is a strong push in our culture to agree with the transgendered movement that when one’s gender, defined as their feelings of being male or female, conflicts with the biological markers of maleness or femaleness, the feelings are determinative.
Throughout most of human history, however, gender meant being male or female. There was no distinction made between one’s biological sex and one’s gender. It wasn’t until 1963 that gender began to refer to social attributes that differed from biological sex. This new definition was used by Second Wave Feminists, such as Kate Millet and Simone de Beauvoir, to miscategorize gender as the cultural manifestation of biology. Second-wave feminists argued that patriarchal society contrived gender roles merely to degrade women, thereby rejecting the biblical understanding that God created man and woman from a godly pattern for a creational purpose. Transgenderism emerged from this feminist political rejection of the creation ordinance that says God made human beings male and female, so their biological sex and not their internal feelings determines their maleness or femaleness. Transgenderism, instead, argues that our internal sense of self is what makes us men or women.
Ultimately, that feeling of disconnect between one’s body and one’s sense of gender are a consequence of the fall and its effect on our hearts, minds, and bodies. In some cases, the feeling is driven chiefly by a biological problem related to genetics or hormones. From a biblical perspective, someone with a severe hormonal imbalance or chromosomal abnormality has a physical health problem, not an identity problem. Godly help for the gender dysphoric person includes biblical counseling and potentially medical treatments that restore normative hormonal balance. Godly support for the gender dysphoric individual understands medical problems as part of the fall of man. Such trials can be serious, difficult, and lifelong.
Not all who claim to be transgendered, however, are suffering from a biological defect, and even some who are cannot reduce their feelings to a biological cause. Personal sin is still a reality. How does that come into play? Transgenderism, from the perspective of Scripture, is related to the sin of envy. Specifically, transgenderism is, at root, sinful envy of the sexual anatomy of another. Proverbs 27:3–4 paints an ugly picture of envy: “A stone is heavy, and the sand weighty; but a fool’s wrath is heavier than them both. Wrath is cruel, and anger is outrageous; but who is able to stand before envy?” (KJV). Envy, biblically speaking, is an obsession, a driving passion that insatiably drives a person to desire another’s gifts, possessions, achievement—or sexual anatomy. About these verses, Matthew Henry says: “Those who have no command of their passions sink under the load.”1 Proverbs 14:30 says it bluntly: “Envy makes the bones rot.” In other words, if we do not deal with the sin of envy in its infantile stage, it will devour us. Envy will eat us from the inside out.
A “transgender identity” makes a mockery of both the Word of God and Jesus Christ our Savior. In the book of Romans, Paul situates the sin of envy as one consequence of exchanging God for idolatry. After having been given up to a “debased mind” (Rom. 1:28), Paul lists the consequences: “They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness” (Rom. 1:29). To be full of envy is to be blinded by the desire to have what belongs to someone else. Because our hearts are deceitful, some persons who claim a transgendered identity may not recognize their envy and will need help in seeing the envious root of their feelings that their gender and biological sex are different.
If transgenderism is related to the sin of envy, then genuine repentance can produce the virtue of contentment. Jeremiah Burroughs’ The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment helps us understand how contentment is the opposite of envy. Burroughs defines “contentment” as “the inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, freely submitting to and taking pleasure in God’s disposal in every condition.” Burroughs explains that this takes “heart work within the soul,” “a quieting of the heart,” submission, which is “sending the soul under God” and “a gracious frame.”2 Contentment means saying and believing that God is good, just, and wise in all things. Burroughs teaches Christians to be content with and simultaneously sensible about affliction. He says that “grace teaches” that “contentment [is] the mingling of joy and sorrow.”3 A Christian must learn how to be content with God even while being unsatisfied in the world (either because of what the world has denied us or what original sin has bequeathed us). Because even Christians can act like “practical atheists,” it is vital for Christians to reject anything that gives a mere outward peace that does not achieve actual peace with God. How does this apply to transgenderism? We are not to pray for things unlawful. It is unlawful to reject any use of God’s moral law, and the first summary of the law of God is found in the creation ordinance in Genesis 1:27–28. As Joel Beeke reminds us, “The law is God’s revealed will for the life of angels in heaven and humans on earth.”4 To ask God to give us something that the law forbids is a sin. If we get what we asked for, we can be sure that we are now eating out of Satan’s hand, not God’s. A person who thinks he is transgendered must learn the same lesson as the rest of us: to be content in God and unsatisfied in the world.
Even when hormonal or chromosomal imbalance causes gender confusion, hope is found in the gospel. We live in a fallen world, and our bodies groan under sin. Ultimately, we all wait to experience the delight of renewed bodies in the new heavens and new earth. Real hope is only in the gospel. “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim. 6:6). The modern invention of transgenderism reframes sinful deeds and desires of the flesh in worldly or therapeutic terms. This betrays the power of God’s election, Christ’s redemption, and the Spirit’s comfort. It rewrites the gospel, entangles the church in foolish debates, and confuses our young people. This is the situation in which we find the evangelical church today. We must learn to be content in God and unsatisfied in the world as we define our identity in light of Scripture alone. “Taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” (Ps. 34:8).
Rosaria Butterfield, Five Lies of our Anti-Christian Age, Wheaton, IL, Crossway, 2023. Publication date: August 22, 2023. Portions of this essay are taken from Five Lies of our Anti-Christian Age and used with permission from Crossway.
- Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997: 604.↩
- Jeremiah Burroughs, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment (1648). Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1964, reprint 2013: 40.↩
- Burroughs, 41.↩
- The Reformation Heritage King James Version Study Bible. (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage, 2014: 263. Note on “The Uses of the Moral Law.”↩