Talking about Gender Roles and Biblical Interpretation

By Lee Karl Palo and Justin Smith

© 2016 Lee Karl Palo and Justin Smith


Jesus Facebook

The following is a conversation I recently had with Justin Smith via a mutual friend’s Facebook post on the recent transgender controversies. Our friend was asking a question about the possibility of a compromise rather than an either/or solution. The comments have not been edited except to add relevant hyperlinks and a book plug (a couple emoticons didn’t translate over as well). I think it shows a positive way to debate issues such as this.


Justin Smith There is no compromise with sin that’s good for everyone.

Lee Karl Palo Being transgender is not sin. There are no Bible verses that deal with the issue at all. There are verses that deal positively with folks who have had alterations to their body, like the Ethiopian Eunuch.

Justin Smith The verses that deal favorably with the eunuchs recognize that this was imposed upon them and that castration was a brutal act that “cut off” the man from having a heritage, but that if they keep God’s commandments they will receive a promise greater than sons and daughters (Isaiah 56:3-5). Those verses have nothing to do with the modern concept of “gender identity” argued by transgender advocates. A eunuch was a man who’s male organs had been removed, not a man who said he was a woman on the inside or a woman who said she was really a man trapped in a woman’s body. Even in the case of eunuchs though there is a realization that castration was mutilation and not normal or an acceptable act (Deuteronomy 23:1). Of course, there are numerous verses addressing cross-dressing and homosexuality which are repeatedly condemned along with all other sins such as fornication, lying, stealing, drunkenness, etc.

This is not to say that there are not extremely rare and horribly sad birth defects where children are born with both sets of genitals. These situations have been compounded by doctors in the last 70 years who simply chose one sex over another and then pumped a child full of hormones. In those situations there are clear medical and moral standards for kindly handling the situation (even going back before the New Testament). Those cases are truly rare and should be handled with gentleness, patience, and compassion.

What is being discussed in the current debate though is a man with clear genetic and chromosomal masculinity claiming to “really” be a woman or a woman claiming to “really” be a man. If we were really talking about sexual ambiguity due to chromosomal damage or other birth defects the discussion would have a much different tone and we could make an argument based on science. That’s not what this debate is about though. There is no argument based on science because it’s based on subjective feelings. In reality, those who are afflicted with these birth defects are being exploited by those who are not in order to claim that gender and anatomical sex are a distinction without a difference. That’s not only dishonest, it’s cruel.

Again, there is no compromise with sin that is good for everyone. Men who act as women, women who act as men, men who have sex with men and women who have sex with women are committing sin. There needs to be repentance, not accommodation which will further enslave them to their sin.

Lee Karl Palo I think your understanding of the verses related to genital mutilation are accurate. The trick, as always, is to figure out what that means for today’s world. That is not always an easy task. There is a scientific way of looking at it. In psychology there is the DSM-V. It is the gold standard for defining and treating disorders. Gender identity is not a disorder. Some people who are transgender go so far as to have surgery to physically align themselves with their gender identity. I am often afraid in some of the traditionalist rhetoric that there is a tacit view of the transsexual as beyond God’s forgiveness. A friend of mine who is in such a position has been called some pretty horrible names by folks who would self-identify as Christian.


Here is a shameless book plug for the friend I mentioned in the above comment. David Weekley’s book, In from the Wilderness: Sherman: She-r-man. You can get it on here.


Justin Smith I don’t think finding the underlying principles of these passages and others relating to gender is difficult. God ordained men and women to fulfill specific roles. Whether we like that or not is immaterial. It’s what God defined and it’s not based on worth or value, but instead on the divinely designed plan of salvation with the church being the bride and Christ the groom. The distinction between men and women is not only blatantly biological, it’s also blatantly theological. Saying that there is no distinction between men and women or that those distinctions are fluid or open to reinterpretation (a “distinction without a difference”) is tantamount to saying that there is no real difference between Christ and the church. It’s nonsensical.

I don’t put any credence in the DSM-V. It is not scientific. On one day (for the DSM-IV) they voted that homosexuality was a disorder and then two days later they voted that it was normal. That’s not science. It may be scientism, but it’s certainly not operational science. What’s more, physiological disorders do not define what is and is not sin. God does. It is immaterial whether the DSM says something is a disorder or not. If God says it’s sin then it’s sin no matter what the DSM says.

I agree on the rhetoric. It’s out of hand on both sides. However, that doesn’t obviate clear teaching from scripture. Homosexuals, transvestites, and transgenders are never beyond forgiveness. If they are then that negates 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. However, homosexuality, cross-dressing, fornication, and other perversions of gender and human sexuality are sin and should be dealt with as such – openly, directly, honestly, and always with a call to repent and salvation in Christ. Sin should never be dealt with through accommodation of the sin.

Those caught up in LGBTQIAPK…. movement are just as capable of being rescued by the blood of Christ as are those who are drunks, thieves, covetous, disobedient to parents, and all the rest. The people who argue that those caught up in sexual perversions are beyond salvation have no knowledge of the Bible and no desire to submit to it.

Lee Karl Palo God has never ordained men and women to fulfill specific roles. That is a misunderstanding of scripture that is occasionally perpetuated by scripture itself (i.e. there is no universal agreement in the Bible itself on that matter). According to some jerks like Mark Driscoll, my vocation as a stay-at-home dad makes me an effeminate man. Is that then a mild form of transgender?

Justin Smith I don’t agree with Mark Driscoll on much. His view of scripture is lacking. As for roles of men and women, do you disagree that a man is to take on the roll of leader within the home? As a picture of Christ and church, don’t the man and the woman fulfill roles that would be inappropriate for the other?

Lee Karl Palo I tend to prefer the authentic Paul of Galatians 3:28 to disputed letters of Paul like Ephesians or the very widely disputed Pastoral Epistles. I think traditions like the ones you refer to about headship are later pseudo-Pauline developments. Luke 10:38-42 presents a pretty strong case that Jesus thinks women can be Rabbis.

Justin Smith Ah, well there we are not going to be able to come to an agreement then. I reject higher criticism and what has arisen from it.

Lee Karl Palo That’s a pretty extreme reaction to reject all of it. That runs the risk of making the Bible say whatever you want it to say.

Justin Smith Ah, I think there’s a misunderstanding. My fault. Let me clarify…

I reject higher criticism as a discipline as it exists today in the primary halls of academia, I do not reject all techniques used by higher critics (nor the older version of higher criticism that was one of the chief works of early Protestantism). This may be where the misunderstanding exists. I was using the term in a more colloquial modern manner rather than as a purely technical term.

I subscribe to an interpretation of the Bible based on a grammatical historical interpretation of authorial intent. This is similar to the first (primary) goal of the historical critical method. However, what was originally higher criticism in the 18th century has been overtaken by lower (textual) criticism. It has also subjected the text of the Bible to external sources as being considered “superior” or “equal” historically or archaeologically.

The result of the overemphasis of textual criticism has fundamentally changed higher criticism in the modern era away from an historical grammatical interpretation and instead toward a “reconstructed” text in interpretation giving equal weight to the Bible and non-Biblical historical texts. This has inappropriately placed the Bible on equal footing with texts having far less historical attestation.

It has also resulted in a continuing effort to deny the historical validity of the historical text of the Bible as accepted by the church through history. It is this resulting “scholarship” that I reject and what I was referencing in my statement about “higher criticism”.

So, to be more clear, I reject the use of lower criticism as used by historical (higher) critics to “demythologize” the Bible in the manner of Rudolph Bultmann and his followers. In the same manner, I also reject a reconstructive textual (lower) criticism that denies the validity of the 66 books of the New Testament as divinely inspired scripture.

I apologize for the misunderstanding. It was not intentional. I should have said, “I reject modern so-called higher criticism that rejects the 66 books of the Bible as canonical.”

Lee Karl Palo I’m not fond of Bultmann myself. I like N. T. Wright, Dr. Amy-Jill Levine and Bart D. Ehrman, among others. I do accept the canon, but it is comprised of a variety of different voices who didn’t always agree with each other. So to resolve some of the issues (assuming anything can ever be truly resolved) higher criticism can be helpful. There is plenty of evidence that not all of the letters in the Bible that claim to be written by Paul were actually written by Paul. So in that case I place more emphasis on the undisputed letters of Paul to resolve discrepancies in theology and practice. I wouldn’t say the disputed letters are uninspired, but they are not on a par with the undisputed letters. As most Biblical interpretation classes will say, use the example of Jesus to interpret parts of the Bible that are difficult to discern. Practically speaking everyone has a “canon within the canon,” so we never treat all of the books of the Bible as equally authoritative. Most traditionalist folks don’t go around looking to enact Leviticus’ prescribed punishment for male homosexual intercourse, but instead use Paul’s phrase from Romans 1:27 that they have already received the punishment in their own bodies. That is a good example of how one part of the Bible is subordinated to another. And sure books like 1 Enoch and Jubilees can help us understand Jude, but I don’t know of anyone who puts 1 Enoch or Jubilees on a par with Jude in terms of authority. 1QpHab helps us to see that early Christians’ interpretation of the OT was not without precedent. 4QMMT shows us that there was a variety of views on how the Torah was to be observed so that it is not appropriate to say Jesus broke the Sabbath, but rather that he had a different view on how the Sabbath was to be observed. Dead Sea Scrolls works, like the two just cited above, help us to understand the Bible better, but they aren’t themselves scripture, or carry that kind of authority.

Justin Smith I understand what you’re saying Lee. Still, I hold to inerrancy in the 66 books. That includes the internal claims of authorship for the Pauline letters. Probably the simplest way to state it is that I am in agreement with the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. I do agree that there is some historically useful information in other works considered apocryphal.

Lee Karl Palo Even there however it is usually stated: inerrant “in the original autographs.” That would seem to be an exhortation to textual criticism. There is, for example, evidence that indicates 1 Corinthians statement that “women should remain silent” was a later insertion into the text and does not go back to Paul himself (i.e. not in the autograph).

Justin Smith There is a small amount of room there for textual criticism as I indicated earlier. However, it is exceedingly small and in very limited passages. The statement regarding “original autographs” allows for the potential need for this limited textual criticism, but more importantly emphasizes the precedence of the original languages over any translation (Vulgate, KVJ, etc.). This is discussed in the accompanying exposition to the statement where it says, “Transmission and Translation

Since God has nowhere promised an inerrant transmission of Scripture, it is necessary to affirm that only the autographic text of the original documents was inspired and to maintain the need of textual criticism as a means of detecting any slips that may have crept into the text in the course of its transmission. The verdict of this science, however, is that the Hebrew and Greek text appear to be amazingly well preserved, so that we are amply justified in affirming, with the Westminster Confession, a singular providence of God in this matter and in declaring that the authority of Scripture is in no way jeopardized by the fact that the copies we possess are not entirely error-free.

Similarly, no translation is or can be perfect, and all translations are an additional step away from the autographa. Yet the verdict of linguistic science is that English-speaking Christians, at least, are exceedingly well served in these days with a host of excellent translations and have no cause for hesitating to conclude that the true Word of God is within their reach. Indeed, in view of the frequent repetition in Scripture of the main matters with which it deals and also of the Holy Spirit’s constant witness to and through the Word, no serious translation of Holy Scripture will so destroy its meaning as to render it unable to make its reader “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15).”

Lee Karl Palo I’ve often found the use of 2 Timothy 3:16 as self-referential to be rather cheesy. Emphasizing 3:15 is kinda cool though, and at least emphasizes the point that scripture directs us to salvation in Christ, and not to a zillion different agendas (i.e. the Bible as a science text, the Bible as history, the Bible as literature, etc.). I have found that people who believe in inerrancy, and know what that means in terms of the Chicago statement, are generally pretty decent at Biblical interpretation. The problem is with many of the masses, where inerrancy functionally means the inerrancy of their interpretations. There have been times where talking to such folks is like talking to a brick wall (no negotiation or acknowledgement that one’s interpretations may not be accurate). I like to emphasize humility when approaching scripture. It is a large responsibility and should not be taken lightly.

Justin Smith On humility in interpretation we can definitely agree! I also completely agree that the primary focus as stated in 2 Tim. 3:15 should never be lost as it so often is these days.

Lee Karl Palo But in the end, I think you are right that our respective views on scripture would likely prevent us from a consensus on how to interpret some of the relevant passages. Still, the different voices are present in scripture, and I do find it perplexing at times when inerrantists choose to prioritize some verses over others. Like to me, Galatians 3:28 is the statement of a universal principle. 1 Timothy 2:12 is phrased “I do not allow a woman to teach,” implying some other early Christian leaders did allow women to teach. There is no hint that the author is giving more than his opinion as there is no phrasing that he has a “word of the LORD” on the subject, and he doesn’t say “no one should allow a woman to teach.” Romans 16:7 speaks of Junia (not Junias, a supposedly male name which is nowhere attested in any ancient sources), a woman Apostle. Jesus’ affirmation that Mary of Bethany can become a Rabbi, in the Luke passage already referred to, also lends credence to women in what were traditionally male leadership roles. But many inerrantists will take particulars and give them more authority in their interpretation than universal principles, like Galatians 3:28.

Lee Karl Palo That there is an equality of men and women, slave and free, Jew and Gentile, in Christ, is the goal to which the church should strive. Other texts on gender relations can be useful from time to time, but they aren’t necessarily the ideal of equality. I suppose that sums up my perspective and rationale for gender equality. I don’t do it lightly or recklessly, but put a lot of thought into it. It isn’t a capitulation to current popular cultural trends, but an honest searching of the scriptures.

Justin Smith Again, I think we’re going to disagree on these conclusions due to our differing views on scripture. For instance, within the context I see the Galatians passage as a universal statement of salvation, not of authority within the Church and therefore I need to look elsewhere for clarification on the roles of women in the church.

I do not believe the text supports your interpretation that Junia was a female apostle. It simply states that she and Andronicus were imprisoned for their faith, well known to the apostles (the dative case of “en” is important here), and Christians before Paul’s conversion. I do know tradition and history come into play here, but don’t find that conclusive either. I believe CARM’s discussion of the issue ( is correct on the question of Julia.

Regardless, I think we have probably come to an impasse on the initial discussion due to the issues stated. As always Lee, I appreciate your forthright discussion and willingness to honestly discuss issues.

Lee Karl Palo I appreciate the respectful tone of the conversation, and the honesty in discussing the issues. Thanks!


For more on my own view on the Junia debate, you can go here.

Many thanks to Justin Smith for agreeing to let me post our conversation here.

He blogs at

© 2016 Lee Karl Palo and Justin Smith

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