Jesus translating sex and transgendering
Since the Federal Government is at work to make America great again for transphobic citizens this week, it seemed good to review how some Bible readers are likely to respond.
The majority of Bible readers self-identifying as Southern Baptists have for nearly two years been as clear as they can be publicly on their stance against how “some public school systems are allowing access to bathrooms and locker rooms according to a child’s self-perception of gender and not according to their biological sex.” And so in their own self-perception they have read Jesus reading Genesis as employing a strict and precise binary of “male / female” so that they may, then, as a society of Bible readers, resolve to “affirm God’s original design to create two distinct and complementary sexes, male and female (Gen. 1:27; Matt. 19:4; Mk. 10:6).”
To be absolutely clear, Southern Baptists once upon a time also regarded a strict and precise binary of “master / slave,” invoking the Bible to point to God’s design to create two distinct and complementary classes of human economics; and they’ve now re-read Genesis and Matthew more carefully, in order to re-verse themselves and to apologize:
- for, “Our relationship to African-Americans… hindered from the beginning by the role that slavery played in the formation of the Southern Baptist Convention [by white male masters of slaves]”
- and for “our Southern Baptist forbears [having] defended the right to own slaves, and either [having] participated in, [having] supported, or [having] acquiesced in the particularly inhumane nature of American slavery”
- and for their having “failed, in many cases, to support, and [for having] in some cases opposed, legitimate initiatives to secure the civil rights of African-Americans”
- and for their “Racism [that] has led to discrimination, oppression, injustice, and violence, both in the Civil War and throughout the history of our nation”
- and for “Many of our [white] congregations [who] have intentionally and/or unintentionally excluded African-Americans from worship, membership, and leadership.”
The majority of Southern Baptists have made these declarations, assuming the binary.
Not all white-privileged, white cis-gender male Southern Baptists have always read the Bible in such a strict and precise binary sort of way. Some have read Genesis, for example, the way Jesus might have read it, with regard to human sexuality and human economic classes. And so I want to go to one of these, one Clarence Jordan. He earned a Ph.D. in Koine Greek just to translate the gospels of Jesus into Southern American English.
Here’s Dr. Jordan’s translation from Matthew 19:
And here’s another cis-gender white male Greek scholar translating the same passage similarly. This is from Dr. Richmond Lattimore, who grew up speaking Chinese in China coincidentally and who, while translating the Gospels, became Roman Catholic; here’s from his Matthew 19:
Now, if we go back to the original, to Matthew’s gospel, we read him going back to the original, Moses’s first of five books of the Bible. And Matthew is recording the speech of Jesus, including the quotation of the Hebrew Bible, in Greek. In all likelihood, Jesus was speaking neither Koine Greek nor the old Hebrew of the Scriptures. Nonetheless, he speaks not only of “male/female” but also of this other group of individuals, who, like him, are not ever in a complementary male-over-female marriage. Likely he called them by this phrase:
An important way to read this Greek word for the Semitic phrase of Jesus is with the help of Esther, the Septuagint translation, as follows:
τῷ εὐνούχῳ τοῦ βασιλέως τῷ φύλακι τῶν γυναικῶν
A function of the castrated boys was to be the cis-gender male King’s protectors of his harem of girls and women.
Jesus’s discussion of marriage from the beginning between those grown up being boys and those grown up being girls is followed by a discussion of a different sort of sexual human. And that further discussion describes the choices made about their biological sex parts from the beginning, and imposed by others, and elected by themselves. There is not just the birth sex male, in marriage, over the birth sex female. There is also gender determined, by the birth process, or by others, or by the individual.
The sex “normal” is categorically challenged by Jesus here. Dr. Jordan and Dr. Lattimore are looking not at a purely Semitic phrase סָרִיס. Rather they both consider the translational Greek phrase εὐνοῦχοι. They read this, in this context, not as some sort of “guard” of the “bed” of the King, where he has his orgiastic hetero-sexual sex with virgins and other kept females. Rather, they read what others transliterate as “eunuch” to be those rendered to be without sexual capacity or those who are made sex-less men. This certainly is one way to emphasize the whole discussion of Jesus in Matthew in Greek translation. Since it is Greek, we may find ourselves tending toward the binarying, given how much about sex – in the binary mode – male Greek ancients such as Aristotle were prone to write. But then we would be forgetting how other Greeks, such as Sappho and Aspasia, talked about and wrote about and represented gendering in vastly more dimensioned ways.
Now without a whole lot of trouble some can read the discussion of Jesus here as applying to getting beyond this problem of narrow and precise binarying. And without too much inference there can be applications made to transgender human beings as well as to cis gender ones.
And so I just want to offer this now as a tweetable response to what the President is now doing to so many by fiat. Here is a reasonable translation of Matthew 19, if you can accept it:
Some aren’t biologically “boys” at birth; some are re-sexed by others; some transgender for heaven’s sake. Accept it if you can.Matthew19:12