Rachel Held Evans is once again arguing against “The False Gospel of Gender Binaries.” Regrettably, she does little more than provide us with a reminder of a textbook example of eisegesis (reading “into” the biblical text one's own ideology) rather than exegesis (reading “out of” Scripture with attentiveness to historical and literary context, even if it conflicts with one's own personal views). To suggest that Jesus cared little for gender binaries is to distort badly the portrait of Jesus that we find in the Gospels, or for that matter any credible reconstruction of the “historical Jesus” in his first-century Palestinian Jewish context.
Some background: Rachel Held Evans has made a career out of undermining fidelity to the teachings of Scripture by ridiculing simplistic or non-existent notions of biblical interpretation (hermeneutics), while practicing a flawed hermeneutic of her own that often seems to be little more than an extension of her own ideology. After starting in the evangelical tradition, she abandoned that tradition to embrace a non-orthodox sexual ethic and is now a member of the Episcopal Church.
She believes that all who do not agree with her promotion of homosexuality and transgenderism—an overwhelming “cloud of witnesses” from the beginnings of God's people to the present day—have been proclaiming a “false gospel.” That depends on whether the Gospel is determined by her or by Christ.
In Mark 10 (par. Matt 19) Jesus predicated a duality of number for sexual unions (what we call monogamy; a strict monogamy I might add) on the deliberate divine design of the duality of complementary sexes. Binary sexuality for Jesus, the singular fact that God created us (as part of an intentional Divine Design) as “male and female,” was the foundation for rejecting both polygamy and a revolving door of divorce-and-remarriage for any cause.
We know that this was the function of Jesus' citation of Gen 1:27 (“male and female he made them”) because the Essenes used precisely the same text a century before Jesus to outlaw polygamy among its adherents. In so doing, they specified the duality of sexes as a basis for arriving at a duality of number, calling that one-third of Gen 1:27 “the foundation of creation.” Jesus concurred but went further than the Essenes in applying the same text not just to concurrent polygamy but serial polygamy.
Ms. Evans states in a note at the bottom of her article: “Jesus is responding to a question about divorce, not about gender binaries.” This misses the critical point that he is developing a teaching on divorce-and-remarriage based on divinely ordained gender binaries. Jesus didn't say anything directly about polygamy either, yet NT scholars on all sides have recognized that if Jesus regarded remarriage after divorce as adultery (a form of serial polygamy), on the grounds that it violated the duality of “male and female,” he certainly regarded unions of three or more persons as adultery (concurrent polygamy or polygamy proper). After all, it is easier to prohibit polygamy than remarriage after divorce. Prohibiting the latter presumes a prohibition of the former.
Even William Loader, a NT scholar who has published eight volumes on sexuality in early Judaism and Christianity and is a strong supporter of “gay marriage,” argues that for Jesus “one flesh” referred to “a singleness of being” and “reflects the idea that the male and female originally belonged together … and that sexual intercourse in some way rejoins the male and female to one” (Sexuality and the Jesus Tradition [Eerdmans, 2005], 243). I made the same point over a decade prior, noting that Genesis 2:18-24 depicted the union of man and woman in marriage as effectively a reunion, where that which was taken from the undifferentiated “adam” or human is rejoined to reestablish an integrated sexual whole.
The rare phenomenon known as the “intersex” (not unknown in Jesus' day, by the way) no more justifies an elimination of a male-female basis for remarriage than does the phenomenon of conjoined twins justify a rejection of monogamy.
The references to eunuchs in Isa 56:3-5 and Acts 8:27-39 refer to persons who were physically castrated against their will, not to persons who willingly removed their marks of masculinity, much less actively engaged in sexual relations forbidden by Scripture. Jesus’ saying about eunuchs in Matt 19:12 presupposes that eunuchs are not having sexual intercourse at all, let alone having forbidden sexual intercourse.
There is absolutely no connection between Jesus' outreach to sexual sinners and some putative license to sin sexually. It's the exact opposite: Jesus reached out to sexual sinners because they, like the exploitative tax collectors, were most in need of being called to repentance, so that they might yet inherit the very Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed. Jesus both intensified God's ethical demand and reached out in love to the biggest violators of that demand.
Robert A. J. Gagnon, Ph.D., is associate professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and author of The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics.
We launched the First Things 2023 Year-End Campaign to keep articles like the one you just read free of charge to everyone.
Measured in dollars and cents, this doesn't make sense. But consider who is able to read First Things: pastors and priests, college students and professors, young professionals and families. Last year, we had more than three million unique readers on firstthings.com.
Informing and inspiring these people is why First Things doesn't only think in terms of dollars and cents. And it's why we urgently need your year-end support.
Will you give today?