Making the Case, Part 6
At the end of the previous blog, I introduced the subject of exegesis vs. eisegesis and how to understand them in the context of interacting with people who attack the concept of transsexualism from a Traditional Christian worldview. To review, exegesis is reading the text as it’s meant to be read. The term means “to draw out of” and in this context means that in order to draw out of a passage a legitimate interpretation you have to consider several contextual factors including when and where it was written, to whom, the surrounding writing which gives it immediate context and the situation being addressed. By contrast, eisegesis means “to pour into” and refers to the faulty idea of reading into a verse or passage that which you want or expect it to say.
Let me again note that this part of this series assumes for the sake of discussion the premise that we’re speaking of the Christian God and Christian Bible and therefore we’ll dispense with the debate over whether or not said God/Bible are real and authentic, which is beyond the scope of my comments. This post is specifically about how to interact with people for whom that belief is central to their worldview. You will NEVER change their mind about trans people by attacking their entire faith system.
Let me use the passage which is most often used to attack trans people to illustrate this discussion.
“A woman shall not wear man’s clothing, nor shall a man put on a woman’s clothing; for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God.” ~ Dueteronomy 22:5
Before we even get into the trans question, it’s helpful to note that this is the major passage upon which certain Charismatic denominations base their teaching women should not (among many other things) wear pants. Now obviously, a considerable majority of Christians, even of the Traditionalist mindset, don’t share that theology. There are, in fact, a multitude of doctrinal differences among Christian denominations, and particularly between Charismatics and Evangelicals. These differences serve to illustrate the first foundational principle of this discussion. Which is that we cannot say “Well the Bible says…” as if it’s a trump card in any discussion because all Bible believers do not agree on what the Bible says, and that even on the most theologically significant doctrines of the faith. It defies reason that it’s possible to have a variety of doctrines about the doctrine of salvation, yet there are other less important matters – how you dress, how you have sex, etc – about which we can be absolutely certain.
As that applies here, the argument is obvious: Evangelicals do not believe that this verse teaches that women may not wear pants, some Charismatics do. Clearly, both cannot be right. Just as clearly, someone has not practiced proper exegesis here. This may seem off topic to you but stay with me. Because of this debate, which extends back even beyond the advent of Charismatic churches in the late 19th century, the subject has been long examined among Bible scholars. Therefore we, as trans people, have the benefit of having had this particular passage thoroughly examined for the proper interpretation.
I won’t exhaust you with a detailed description of what proper exegesis entails, but in very brief form the scholar will first examine the passage in the language it was originally written in, as not everything easily translates and particularly with thousands of years in between writing and translation. Then one must consider the time and place of writing, the intended audience and the author. While many scholars, of course, no longer find it credible that the Books of Moses were actually written during the time period that he is alleged to have loved, but hundreds of years later, the Traditionalist Christian who’s an anti-trans critic will inevitably still hold the view that they were written by the named author, and the following quotes are from scholars who’s writing are old enough that they would share that view and therefore be credible in the eyes of your opponent. Indeed, each of these is greatly respected among Traditionalist scholars. The other major exegetical consideration is the context of the immediately surrounding Scripture.
The following comments are just part of a much longer discussion of the question concerning women wearing pants (thus your critic cannot accuse you of selecting commentary that’s slanted pro-trans since trans people are not in view in these quotes) but I’m trying to give you the “bottom shelf” material. These excerpts are from an essay by Jason Young and it appears here if you’d like to read and/or save the whole thing.
“The phrase “that which pertaineth,” or simply the word pertaineth in the King James Version of the Bible, is translated from the Hebrew word keliy, which means “article, vessel, implement, or utensil.”1 Translators commonly render keliy as weapon, armor or instrument in the Old Testament. The word man, in both the first and last part of Deut 22:5, is the Hebrew word geber meaning “man, strong man, or warrior (emphasizing strength or ability to fight).”2 It is important to note that this is not the only word for man in Hebrew. Verse 13 of this very same chapter uses the Hebrew word ‘iysh, which is also translated man and means just that – “man, male (in contrast to woman, female).”3 It is apparent that Moses, when writing Deut 22:5, was quite intentionally not talking about a man in general, but a very specific kind of man – namely, a warrior or soldier. Considering this, perhaps a better translation of this verse would be as follows:
“The woman shall not put on [the weapons/armor of a warrior], neither shall a [warrior] put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God.””
John Gil was an 18th century Bible scholar that is highly respected among Traditionalist Christians, he writes:
“…and the word [keliy] also signifies armour, as Onkelos renders it; and so here forbids women putting on a military habit and going with men to war, as was usual with the eastern women;”
. . .
Rabbi Jon-Jay Tilsen of The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism writes in an excerpt from an article entitled “Cross Dressing and Deuteronomy 22:5,”
“In another attempt to identify the quintessential ‘men’s items,’ Rabbi Eliezer ben Jacob, quoted in the Talmud (edited about 800 C.E.), says, ‘What is the proof that a woman may not go forth with weapons to war?’ He then cites our verse [Deuteronomy 22:5], which he reads this way: ‘A warrior’s gear may not be put on a woman’
Considering the sheer specificity of Deut 22:5 and the precise nature of those things that are forbidden, Deut 22:5 is most likely ceremonial law rather than moral law, which would mean that it would have little, if any, implications for Christians today.
I won’t belabor the point further, but to summarize – the ONE verse that, in the “plain english” reading MIGHT serve as a credible basis for anti-trans theology does not, in fact, mean in the original language what the surface reading implies. So as a direct attack on trans people it fails, but it also serves to undermine everything else they might fall back to because the misinterpretation of this verse by literally millions of Charismatic Christians serves to prove that the inferences they might wish to draw from Genesis 1, or Psalm 139, Matthew 19 are not and cannot be definitive. They are simply examples of eisegesis – people who believe, out of their own traditions and biases, that being trans is sinful, and then read that implication into an unrelated passage. Don’t concede the argument “well the Bible says…” because citing the Bible is worse than useless if it is not properly interpreted.
I think this is enough on the religion angle, we’ll look at another aspect of the discussion next time.
Photo by: Pauline Balda