Why I Will Not Watch the Joker or Movies Like It (and Neither Should You)

Should you be tempted, there are several reasons not to see the newly-debuted Joker (or movies like this one). I’m sure that if I were to watch it, I could offer a hundred more. (And while some choose to be the filter for others by watching movies like this one and warning them of the content therein, I would suggest that Spirit in us as Christians is the better “filter,” leading us not to watch this kind of thing to begin with. Cf. Galatians 5:16–26.)

Here are at least three reasons not to watch the Joker:

First, Hollywood has no design for your edification as a Christian. This is said for even “better” movies that seem to have fewer objectionable scenes and themes for your mind’s consideration. To intentionally put one’s mind for 120 minutes towards a movie that entertains and climaxes on one sinful moment after another seems to be anything but obedience to passages such as Romans 12:1–2 and Philippians 4:8.

Second, it offers as entertainment the very violence it says that the film is supposed to condemn. One is supposed to abhor the violence that makes a man into being the villainous Joker. But then the movie is said to revel in his revenge through violence upon those trod him down. I read in the news that the lead actor left an interview because he was asked if the movie actually promoted the very violence that it says to condemn. He apparently didn’t know how to answer the question. Besides this actor’s naively playing such a role and apparently (at least initially) not being able to care less as to what impact his production has upon you as the viewer, the very fact that the question was asked betrays that the answer is, incidentally at best and intentionally at worst, yes. In the end, yes, you as the viewer will be tempted or told to glory in the Joker as he robs the Lord of vengeance and sinfully retaliates against his aggressors.

Third, there are better ways of redeeming the time before the coming of our Lord (cf. Ephesians 5:15–16). Do something intentionally Christian. Or enjoy the natural things of this world with a view to glorifying God in His creation. Read a good book. Spend some time with your family. Or at the least, for the few that are out there, maybe just choose a movie that has some wholesome qualities.

What I’ve said of the Joker above could be said for thousands of movies besides. Please know I write these things as one Christian to another and as a pastor who simply desires that we glory in what is truly worth our affection. Whether we eat or drink or watch a movie, we should do all to the glory of God, but only in a manner that is truly glorifying to Him.

Conquering Jealousy Through Christ: Our Example and Help in the Time of Need

Every Christian can struggle with the sin of jealousy, wanting something that is not ours and being displeased with God for holding it back. God gives us the life that we have, and, being displeased with it, the sinful jealousy in us wishes for another, whether slightly or significantly altered, thinking God wrong to have granted us what we have. Our affection is for something that is not when it should be for God Himself, thanking Him for what we have. If we are His children, we have Him, and whatever we have in this life besides is ultimately an expression of His sovereignty, wisdom, and love for us.

Stephen Charnock, in The Existence and Attributes of God, describes the inner workings of sinful jealousy in this way: “We are unwilling to leave God to be the proprietor and do what he will with his own, and as a Creator to do what he pleases with his creatures. We assume a liberty to direct God what portions, when and how, he should bestow upon his creatures. We would not let him choose his own favorites, and pitch upon his own instruments for his glory; as if God should have asked counsel of us how he should dispose of his benefits. We are unwilling to leave to his wisdom the management of his own judgments to the wicked, and the dispensation of his own love to ourselves” (p. 131). In this jealousy, “Man would make himself the rule of God, and give laws to his Creator” (p. 127). What a sin this jealousy is.

In reading Charnock, my own thoughts went to Christ as our example and help in this matter.

First, when Christ was offered the kingdoms of this world, He quoted Scripture to withstand the temptation of the devil (Matt 4:8–10; Luke 4:5–8). Though He could have had it all in the here and now, He chose the Father’s will and thus has everything for eternity.

Second, when He went through His suffering, though asking for something else if possible (Matt 26:36–46), He nonetheless endured His affliction, thinking it nothing when compared to the joy that was to be His (Heb 12:1–2). Though tempted to avoid the pain, He obeyed and has joy forevermore.

In both of these matters, He was sinfully jealous for nothing and wanted only the Father’s will, choosing neither wrongful gain nor an escape from His suffering. So, even in our jealousy, Christ can sympathize with our weakness and minister grace to us to overcome this sin in our time of need (cf. Heb 4:14–16).

Do you struggle with jealousy today? Learn from the example of Christ. Ask Him to give you the grace of being content with the infinite riches of salvation. And, in not having what you might desire, thank God for teaching you that, when you have nothing else, you do have Him, and He is more than enough.

Liberty, Limits, and Love: An Example for Us Today in the Prohibitions of Acts 15:20

In Acts 15:1–35, the Jerusalem Council concluded that requiring Gentile believers to be circumcised and obey the Law was wrong (Acts 15:2, 5, 10, 19). Salvation is only “through the grace of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 15:11).1

At the same time, James did ask to “write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood” (Acts 15:20). While sexual immorality is obviously wrong (and worth mentioning because of its frequency among the Gentiles), it seems that the other three matters were somehow related to the law. The reason for their prohibition involved what was “read every Sabbath in the synagogues” from the Law of Moses, something done “from ancient generations” and “in every city” by “those who proclaim him” (Acts 15:21).

Using the Law, then, to figure out why these other three matters were forbidden, Leviticus 17:10–13 clearly forbids both the eating of blood (Lev 17:12, “No person among you shall eat blood”) and the eating of animals that had not been drained of their blood (Lev 17:13, “Any one… who takes in hunting any beast or bird that may be eaten shall pour out its blood”). This last prohibition seems to be the point of reference for “what has been strangled” (Acts 15:20). If an animal died by strangulation, it would not have been drained of its blood. If its meat were eaten, it would have been with the blood still in it. Thus, whether eating blood directly or in the meat of an animal, both were forbidden by the Law.

As to “the things polluted by idols” (Acts 15:20), this is also a matter of food, synonymous with “what has been sacrificed to idols” (Acts 15:29). While Paul would give further instruction on the matter in 1 Corinthians 8–10, James’s present concern (to which Paul gave no objections) was probably along the lines of Romans 14:15: “For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died” (cf. Rom 14:13–23). In other words, if the Gentiles really loved their Jewish Christian brothers, they would not eat things that the Jewish Christians denied and offend their sensitive consciences. The Gentiles would give up their liberty to eat these things so as not to hinder their fellowship (cf. 1 Cor 9:19–23).

In learning from how James led the church then, we see that one’s liberty is not a matter of license to do as one pleases in the presence of all. Rather, Christian love limits certain practices for the sake of fellowship with others. When it comes to something questionable, the church should always be more careful than not. Limiting one’s liberty is not necessarily legalism. If done correctly, it is an act of love.

  1. All quotations are from the ESV. []

The Doctrine of Winter

Where I live, we just had several inches of snow. Not only does the Bible say a few things about snow itself, but it also uses several wintry analogies to teach us truths and lessons to live by today.

Winter’s Origin, Purpose, and Duration

God created winter (Gen 8:22; Ps 74:17) so that we would marvel at His infinite power and might (Job 37:5–6; 38:22–23; cf. 40:1–6) and give Him praise (Ps 148:7–8). Winter will continue at least until the end of the earthly reign of Christ (Zech 14:8–9).

Bible Events That Took Place During Winter

Events both good and bad mention and/or take place during the Bible’s many winters. In the Old Testament, during winter, snow was used for washing (Job 9:30), Benaiah killed a lion all by himself (2 Sam 23:20; 1 Chr 11:22), the evil king Jehoiakim burned Jeremiah’s scroll (Jer 36:20–26), and Jesus claimed to be the Messiah (John 10:23, 31–39).

In the New Testament, during one of his travels, Paul experienced Euraquilo, a violent north-eastern winter wind that became so dangerous that he and his shipmates abandoned their ship (Acts 27:13–14, 42–44) and safely swam to the shore of an island named Malta (Acts 28:1) where they had to wait three wintry months before they could travel again (Acts 28:11). Knowing the dangers of these winter winds, Paul made his travel plans accordingly (1 Cor 16:6; Titus 3:12) and urged others to do the same (2 Tim 4:21).

In the future, God will punish Israel by destroying her winter (and summer) houses in the great day of His wrath (Amos 3:15)—a time during which Jesus tells believers to pray to not have to flee persecution during winter (Matt 24:20; Mark 13:18).

Winter Helps Us Understand

Pristine whiteness and unforgettable coldness are two aspects of winter that the Bible uses as analogies to describe something or teach a lesson.

As to descriptions, Moses’ hand (Exod 4:6), Miriam’s whole person (Num 12:9), and Elisha’s wayward servant Gehazi (2 Kgs 5:27) were leprous and looked white like snow.

The Bible also gives snowy language to teach the lessons we see below. 

Be faithful. Dependable people and cold air from snow on a hot day have something in common—they are welcome blessings to those who receive them. As dependable people bless their superiors by faithfully completing their assigned tasks, so also does a wintry wind refresh a tired worker (Prov 25:13). Snow is mentioned by Jeremiah along these lines as well but in a negative context. Quoting the Lord, he points out that Israel was more sure to abandon her God than snow was to abandon the mountains of Lebanon (Jer 18:13–14).

Give honor to whom it is due. Honoring fools and experiencing snow in the summer have something in common—they are both activities that should not happen. In other words, just as we would not expect snow in the summer, so also should honor not be given to the fool who has done nothing to deserve as such (Prov 26:1).

Encourage believers who suffer for reasons other than sin. Unlike the friends of Job, we should be careful not to give cold and icy criticism to friends in their time of need, especially when they have done no wrong. Rather, we should give them words of warmth and kindness (Job 6:14–16).

The fire of Hades will indeed be felt by those who go there. As easily as heat consumes the snow, so also does Hades consume unbelievers (Job 24:19).

God’s abundant words give us joy and peace. God’s words to His people are plenteous as the snow, frost, and ice—like Israel in this Psalm, so also we will never exhaust what He has to say to us (Ps 147:16–19). Furthermore, just as God intended rain and snow fall from heaven for the purpose of causing vegetation to grow, so also does God give His word to believers intending for us to have joy and peace (Isa 55:10–12). 

As God is pure, so also are believers. Daniel had a vision of God the Father, “the Ancient of Days,” as pictured with snow-white clothing, likely referring to God’s absolute moral purity and wisdom (Dan 7:9). The apostle John likewise saw Jesus Christ with snow-white head of hair, perhaps figurative of His moral purity and wisdom as well (Rev 1:14). The angel who rolled away the stone in from of our Lord’s tomb also had clothing that was white like snow (Matt 28:3). Just as elect angels, God the Father, and Jesus Christ are sinless, so also does God see believers as sinless and morally pure, that is, white like snow (Ps 51:7; Isa 1:18; Lam 4:7).

God has always been King.

This entry is part 1 of 20 in the series Virtue and Vice: Lessons from the Kings

On Wednesday nights, I will be leading my church through a series entitled “Virtue and Vice: Lessons from the Kings.” In this study, we will examine the kings of Israel, one by one. For this post, we will begin to lay the foundation for this study by examining God as King. After that, we will see His expectations for Israel’s kings in Deut 17:14–20.  Thereafter, our study will begin with Saul and end with Israel’s anticipation of the greatest King of all, our Lord Jesus Christ.

In response to Israel’s asking Samuel for a king, God told Samuel that Israel had rejected Him as King (1 Sam 8:7; cf. Judg 8:22–23; 1 Sam 10:19; 12:12). Israel had no formal, human king up to this point in her history. God had been her King.

Consider a few points as to the nature of His rule as King…1

  • God had always ruled as King over all beings, places, and things (1 Chron 29:12; Ps 103:19). His kingship is eternal (Ps 29:10; 145:13; Jer 10:10), and His creation carries on mostly by providence (Ps 148:8) but by occasional miracles as well (Dan 6:27; cf. Ps 135:6–9).
  • God may be internally accepted and verbally acknowledged as King (cf. Ps 44:4; 74:12; 84:2–3), but the existence of His kingship and kingdom does not depend upon the assent of men (cf. Ps 75:4–7). It is not that His kingdom lives in them but that they live within His kingdom (and hopefully happily so).
  • The kingdom of Israel and the church of Christ fall within this overarching universal kingdom of God.
  • Like His Father (1 Tim 1:17), the Son is over eternity (Isa 9:6) and is the great Administrator of this kingdom (Col 1:17; Heb 1:2), upholding all things by the power of His word (Heb 1:3; cf. Col 1:17). He shares the Father’s throne even now (Rev 3:21).

A Point of Application

Just as God identified Himself as Israel’s King then, so also King Jesus shares the throne with the Father even now. Let us take hope in what we see of Him with the eyes of our hearts and not repeat Israel’s mistake of putting our ultimate trust in someone we can presently see. No other king or ruler will do, and we will see our Lord soon!

  1. For this section, see Alva J. McClain, The Greatness of the Kingdom (Winona Lake, IN; BMH Books, 1974), 22–36. []

Seven Simple Lessons from Numbers 13–14

Numbers 13–14 records Israel’s failure to initially take the promised land. Concerning this story and others from Israel’s history, “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction” (1 Cor 10:11; cf. 10:5, 10). While the list below is not exhaustive and does not delve into the larger story of redemption, it is nonetheless a handful of points that can be instructive and helpful for us today.

Our God is a God of the impossible.
Though Israel’s enemies were numerous, physically imposing, and dwelt in fortified cities in the midst of a difficult terrain (Num 13:28–29, 31–33), God could have easily removed their protection (Num 14:9) and eventually did so when Joshua led Israel to conquer Canaan. 

We follow God by faith so that He can do the impossible through us.
This generation of Israelites despised God and refused to believe in Him (Num 14:11). They were exhorted to overcome the enemy, and if they had believed, God would have delighted to grant them victory (Num 13:30; 14:6–8). Caleb and Joshua would see this lesson come true in time. 

If the leadership languishes, the congregation will crumble.
The twelve spies were chiefs of Israel’s tribes (Num 13:1–14). In bringing back a bad report, ten of the spies incited chaos and a rejection of Moses and Aaron (Num 14:1–4; cf. 13:25–33). Israel even wanted to stone Caleb and Joshua who opposed this bad report (Num 14:10). If only these ten had believed with Caleb and Joshua and led their fellow Israelites to do the same.

God holds leaders to a higher standard.
As to those ten who disbelieved and gave a bad report, God killed them immediately (Num 14:36–38), a different punishment than simply letting a generation die away over the next forty years (Num 14:26–35). 

The prayer of a righteous man avails much.
God was initially ready to strike the whole nation down with the pestilence, disinherit them, and make a new nation from Moses (Num 14:11–12). As Moses did before (cf. Exod 32:7–14), he interceded for Israel, and God pardoned Israel from such a fate (Num 14:13–20). 

Watch your mouth—you might just get what you wish for.
Fearing their foes, Israel wished that they might have died instead in the wilderness (Num 14:2). God granted them this wish as a punishment for their unbelief (Num 14:28). 

Unbelief can delay the blessing of God and bring disaster at worst.
Israel would receive the Promised Land sooner or later because God always makes good on His promises. For this generation of Israelites, they did not believe and follow God, so He changed His plans for them, giving them forty years and death in the wilderness instead of receiving the land (Num 14:25, 32–35). Yet worse, they then chose to go contrary to this new plan and tried to take the land without His help, resulting in defeat, death, and disaster (Num 14:39–45).

A Tale of Two Boasts (Galatians 6:12–14)

It was the best of boasts, it was the worst of boasts. By one, all go to direct to heaven, and by the other, all go direct the other way.

For the first boast, false teachers were out for “a good showing” of gaining converts to their gospel-denying truth (Gal 6:12). They preached doing the Mosaic Law as gospel and required circumcision of their adherents so that they might “boast in your flesh” (Gal 6:13). That is, a boast in the flesh of the Galatians would come about were the Galatians to abandon the righteousness of Christ that comes by faith for a righteousness of self that comes by the Law, something that escapes every sinner under the sun (Gal 6:13).

These false teachers in this example show us something true of all of us—we love to boast in ourselves. We all seek the glory of men, whether by abusing others towards that end or by some other means. However we think we might gain status in the eyes of ourselves or others, it is not the call of wisdom but the hiss of Satan that says “you will be like God,” and heeding this hiss will bring us to share his end (cf. Rev 20:10, 14–15).

For the second and better of two boasts, Paul had nothing to say in magnifying himself, even though he had been the one to make disciples of these Galatians (cf. Acts 13–14). As time would go on, he would equate his earthly accomplishments with dung (Phil 3:1–8) and brand himself the chief of sinners (1 Tim 1:15). Rather than in himself, his boast was by far the best: “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal 6:14).

Whoever we may be, whatever skills we may possess, whatever accomplishments we may have achieved—nothing compares to what the Lord Jesus Christ did for us on the old, rugged cross. If we have anything good to show the Father or anyone else who has eyes to see, it is found in His only begotten Son, who He sent to die for us, so that we might not perish, but have everlasting life. Only in Christ can we boast of anything, for by faith He is everything to us.

It was said of some, “They loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God” (John 12:43). May it be said of us, “They loved the glory that comes from God and therefore found all their glory in Christ.” And if we do so, all the glory will be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord (Jude 25).

How Christians and Churches Prioritize Going About the Doing of Good

Galatians 6:10 gives a concise statement that prioritizes our personal giving as believers and guides the church’s stewardship of its resources. This verse states, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal 6:10 ESV).

In examining this verse, let’s first build some context. In Galatians 6:6, Paul commands believers to “share all good things with the one who teaches,” by which he means a church remunerating its pastor for his labor in study and teaching (cf. Rom 15:27; 1 Cor 9:11). This command is but one expression of how a believer can sow to the Spirit and thereby reap eternal life (Gal 6:7–8). To clarify, sowing to the Spirit does not earn someone eternal life, but the absence of sowing to the Spirit indicates the absence of the Spirit Himself in the individual and thus the absence of eternal life. Whether it be the remuneration of one’s pastor or any other Spirit-led activity, the believer should not grow weary in such well-doing but persevere, knowing his reward in heaven will one day come (Gal 6:9).

Getting back to where we started, Paul concludes with an admonition to “do good to everyone” and prioritizes one’s good-doing as “especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal 6:10). In context, the remuneration of pastors is the nearest example of doing good among the household of faith, but Paul’s principle of sowing and reaping has broader applications than this one act of goodness. Doing good could include any Spirit-led act of goodness that one carries out towards another, believer or not.

What is unpopular to many today is that individual Christians and churches should prioritize their good deeds “to those who are of the household of faith” over “everyone” in general, that is, society at large which includes unbelievers, those outside of the church (Gal 6:10). But this prioritization is just what “especially” in Gal 6:10 means.

I sympathize on the surface with those who practice other than I do as an individual and how I lead my church. I live in a city that is riddled with poverty, crime, drugs, and domestic abuse. Our country has issues involving racism, sex trafficking, and political corruption. The list could go on. Who doesn’t feel the pull to pour out one’s individual and church’s resources into these problems and thus show our love to our neighbor?

What I am not saying is that an individual or church cannot in some way do good to those who are unbelievers, whether in an informal or formal manner. What I am saying is that the NT both here and elsewhere presents the church as having its own needs to address, which takes first consideration when making a choice to meet the needs of either believers or unbelievers. Here are some examples along these lines:

  • When meeting the financial needs of others, the early church had many who sold houses and land so that “there was not a needy person among them” (Acts 4:34), “them” being “the full number of those who believed” (Acts 4:32) and not society at large.
  • When famine struck “over all the world” (Acts 11:27), “relief” from the believers in Antioch was sent “to the brothers living in Judea” and not the entire region (Acts 11:29).
  • While James commands us to keep our religion from being worthless and meeting the needs of orphans and widows (James 1:26–27), the application seems to be among believers as Paul elsewhere clearly prioritizes widows who are believers (1 Tim 5:5–6) who cannot eventually provide for themselves (1 Tim 5:14). And even then, if the individuals of the church can tend to these needs (especially family; 1 Tim 5:16a), these individuals should take on such a ministry so that the church’s resources can be unburdened and reserved for other ministry (1 Tim 5:16b). Likewise, in Acts 6:1–6, while the church struggled to feed its widows, the widows in consideration were only those among the flock.
  • In relieving poverty in Jerusalem, Paul coordinated giving from the churches of Macedonia and Achaia to go to “the poor among the saints” and not the surrounding society in which they lived (Rom 15:26–27; cf. 2 Cor 8–9).
  • When speaking of providing for others the basic needs of life such as clothing or food, both James and John command help and use the language not of society in general but “brother,” “brothers,” and “sister” (James 2:15–16; 1 John 3:16–18).

Again, none of this is to say that there are not exceptions in which a church may make disciples by providing for the needs of unbelievers along the way. I think of how my own church taught Mexican immigrants to read in the 1920’s, used the Bible to do so, and how this ministry eventually led to the planting of a Mexican church. But when it comes to doing good to everyone, as we can see from the examples above, Galatians 6:10 puts the burden on the individual Christian to help meet the tangible needs of his unbelieving neighbors and not the church as a church. Moreover, when faced with the dilemma of providing for the needs of greater society or those within his church, the Christian should follow the examples above and give first priority to the household of faith, beginning with his local church. And if a Christian is truly one who desires to show the love of Christ to all, he will heed the command to “do good to everyone” and attempt to show this love to his unbelieving neighbor as well.

What God Thinks about Transgenderism

This post originally appeared on Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary’s blog and has been reposted here with permission.

Former Olympian and gold medalist Bruce Jenner transitioned to Caitlyn Jenner. A once-decorated army soldier who leaked classified data, Bradley Manning transitioned to Chelsea Manning, who is again in the news for recently being hired by Harvard as a visiting fellow. Despite what seems to have previously been men among men, each of these men now claim to be women. What are we to think of those who “transition” from one gender to the other and thereby become “transgender”?

Bringing it closer to home, I was asked by a junior higher in my church about how to think of her classmate who had allegedly chosen to switch genders. I found out along the way that her older brother has to suffer having a girl change in his locker room’s bathroom stall to prepare for gym class since she claims to be a boy. He doesn’t see her change, but she is apparently free to access the locker room, come to the stall, and leave while everyone else changes in the same locker room, making for an uncomfortable situation.

Have you ever had to personally face these questions? What do you think of the Jenners and Mannings of the world? Who is changing in your child’s locker room? And how do we define transgenderism anyway? Is it something natural, morally acceptable, and maybe even fluid?

As uncomfortable as the topic may be, we face it more and more every day in our society and are pressed for biblical answers. But before getting too mired in modern notions of transgenderism, let’s ground ourselves first in Scripture.

God Created Man as Male and Female

In the beginning, God created Adam and Eve in such a way that sexual orientation, birth gender, gender identity, and sexual behavior were altogether male or female (Gen 1:26–28; 2:18, 23–24). To claim that God intended a masculine and feminine mix of the above characteristics is out of accord with what God Himself states in in His Word.1 And if we are forced to use the modern vernacular of having a “gender identity” that corresponds to our anatomical “physical sex,” a male gender corresponds with the male sex, the female with the female, and never the twain should switch or mix in any way.

Unfortunately, however, Adam and Eve sinned, bringing death and suffering into our world, physical defects included. God stated to Moses, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?” (Ex 4:11). These defects may extend to other parts of the human anatomy as well. As Jesus told His disciples, “For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth” (Matt 19:12).

But defects in general and especially those that pertain to anatomy that is distinctly male or female were not to be sought or encouraged. In the case that a male’s distinct anatomy was marred by defect or mutilation, he was forbidden to offer sacrifices or participate in Israel’s formal worship of God (Lev 21:20; Deut 23:1). The idea was to not imitate pagan worship that involved the mutilation of one’s genitalia in order to change one’s gender.2 Cross-dressing was explicitly forbidden as well (Deut 22:5). Thus, the presence of a defect, by birth or mutilation, is not seen positively in Scripture. Moreover, defect or not, presenting one’s self as the opposite of one’s sex was explicitly forbidden.

In principle, anything that strays from God created order for man as male or female is not what God intends it to be, and anything that man intentionally does to present himself or herself as the opposite sex of what God has anatomically ordained is sin.

Can Someone Suffer a Truly Transgender Situation?

Having this biblical understanding in hand, let’s consider the possibility of an anatomical defect that makes it genuinely difficult to identify the sex and gender of an individual. The Mayo Clinic describes ambiguous genitalia, the situation in which true transgenderism occurs: “Ambiguous genitalia is a rare condition in which an infant’s external genitals don’t appear to be clearly either male or female. In a baby with ambiguous genitalia, the genitals may not be well-formed or the baby may have characteristics of both sexes. The external sex organs may not match the internal sex organs or genetic sex.”3

Given this difficult situation, is it morally permissible for a true transgender (or intersex) individual to choose his or her gender? Dr. Elizabeth Mitchell notes, “True hermaphrodites are often raised as males (about 75%), but 80% of them are XX, genetically female.”4 If “the true prevalence of intersex is seen to be about 0.018%,”5 then perhaps 18 people out of every 100,000 will be born with intersex conditions, and 14 or 15 of them will be raised as males.6

A pressing moral question, then, seems to be this—is it proper for a true intersex individual to choose a sexual orientation contrary to what his or her family has raised the individual to be? Can an intersex individual “trans” from one gender to the other and glorify God?

Such an individual would have to be convinced that to do so would be correct and honoring to God and just so in face of undoing what his or her social norms have come to be.7 Or perhaps this individual should see his or her suffering this situation as something described by Jesus and glorify God through celibacy (Matt 19:12; cf. 1 Cor 7:6–7, 32).

Applying God’s Word to Modern Transgenderism

Having considered Scripture, it becomes fairly easy to navigate our way through the issues that present themselves today, though society is increasingly hostile to our biblical conclusions. If transgender is defined as it is commonly used today, to “those whose psychological self (‘gender identity’) differs from the social expectations for the physical sex they were born with,”8 then this kind of transgenderism is sin. It claims that an individual who is anatomically male could be psychologically female, and vice versa, something forbidden in Scripture. God’s Word does not allow us to make false distinctions between sexual orientation, birth gender (based on anatomy), gender identity, one’s sex role in society, or sexual behavior.9 God intends these characteristics to be altogether male or female in keeping with how He created them to be.

And, if transgender is so elusive as to be “an umbrella term for transsexuals, cross-dressers (transvestites), transgenderists, gender queers, and people who identify as neither female nor male and/or as neither a man or as a woman,”10 then we stray from God’s created and intended order all the more. The fact that we even have to address these kinds of matters today shows that God has given our society over to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done (Rom 1:30).

Conclusion

For the vast majority of humanity that is clearly male and female, we should live as God created us to be and not attempt to transition from one physical sex to the other or land somewhere in between. Transgenderism as it is commonly defined today is sin.

While we may not know why exactly God allows some individuals to be in a genuinely transgender or intersex state, God’s truth is sufficient to guide these individuals, and may such a one glorify God through this suffering and live with the hope that He will one day glorify the bodies the redeemed, anatomical defects included (Isa 35:5–6; Phil 3:20–21; 1 John 3:2).

  1. Cf. Norman L. Geisler, Christian Ethics: Options and Issues (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1989), 191. []
  2. Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy (NAC 4; Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1994), 307. []
  3. Mayo Clinic, “Ambiguous genitalia.” Online: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/ambiguous-genitalia/basics/definition/con-20026345. Accessed 14 Aug 2017. []
  4. Elizabeth Mitchell, “Feedback: Hermaphroditism.” Answers in Genesis; 4 Dec 2009. Online: https://answersingenesis.org/human-body/feedback-hermaphroditism/. Accessed 14 Aug 2017. []
  5. This statistic comes from Leonard Sax, “How common is intersex? A Response to Anne Fausto-Sterling,” Journal of Sex Research 39 (2002): 174–78. Online: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00224490209552139#. Accessed 14 Aug 2017. Sax understands intersex to refer to “those conditions in which chromosomal sex is inconsistent with phenotypic sex, or in which the phenotype is not classifiable as either male or female.” []
  6. Mitchell, “Feedback: Hermaphroditism.” []
  7. Ibid. []
  8. I originally found this definition from “Definition of Terms” by the Gender Equity Resource Center of Berkeley University of California. Online: http://geneq.berkeley.edu/lgbt_resources_definiton_of_terms. Accessed 25 Apr 2015. Though this webpage is no longer available today, a quick internet search of this definition shows that it is commonly used by many institutions. []
  9. John S. Feinberg and Paul D. Feinberg, Ethics for a Brave New World (2nd ed.; Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 310. []
  10. Ibid. []

Lessons from the Eagle and the Little Old Lady Who Flew from Nest to Nest

Aquila’s name is Latin for “eagle,” a bird that migrates from one place to another as demanded by its circumstances. His wife was Prisca, meaning “ancient” in the sense of old age (short for Priscilla, “little old lady”). Naming a baby as such could have hopes for a long life. These two ideas seem to characterize this couple as we find them in the New Testament. We see them moving from nest to nest, and there is longevity in their service for the Lord. We will briefly study their lives in the NT and see seven lessons from their example for us today.

Nest 1 – Corinth: The Tentmaker’s Trade and the Apostle Who Stayed (Acts 18:1–17) 

Aquila and Priscilla (A&P hereafter) moved from Rome to Corinth thanks to the Roman Claudius’ edict in AD 49 (Acts 18:2). During their stay of 2–3 years (AD 49–52), Paul “found” Aquila in Corinth (Acts 18:2), and the couple helped Paul as tentmakers (Acts 18:2–3) for “a year and six months” (18:11; AD 50–52) and then “many days longer” (18:18).

Though we know some details about their lives at this time, it is not clear how they became believers. Maybe Roman visitors at Pentecost may have spread the gospel (cf. Acts 2:10). However their conversion came about, their help to Paul allowed him to teach and preach in the synagogue and the city (Acts 18:5), winning many converts to Christ (Acts 18:8).

Nest 2 – Ephesus: Edifying in Ephesus and Apollos the Apologist (Acts 18:18–26)

Claudius died in AD 54, but A&P did not return home to Rome right away. A&P stayed with Paul in his travels to Ephesus in AD 52 (Acts 18:18–19). Paul wrote 1 Corinthians in AD 55 and sent a hearty greeting to the Corinthians from A&P “with the church that is in their house” (1 Cor 16:19). This means would have been serving in Ephesus for a minimum of 3 years. By the time Paul wrote Romans in AD 57, they were back in Rome, which means they maximum they stayed in Ephesus was roughly 5 years (AD 52–55 or 57; cf. Rom 16:3–5).

The couple would have been well-versed in theology after having worked with Paul for 1.5 years. They stayed in Ephesus after Paul left (Acts 18:18–19) and taught the mighty preacher Apollos “the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:26). Apollos knew of John’s baptism, but he did not know of Christian baptism (Acts 18:25; cf. 19:1–6). Due to the recent nature of the events, It seems he may not have known the full details of the life, death, or resurrection of Jesus Christ, or that the Spirit had been given at Pentecost (cf. Acts 19:1–6). Whatever the hang-up, as a result of A&P’s teaching, Apollos’ ministry as an apologist for the gospel was all the more effective in Achaia (Acts 18:27–28).

Nest 3 – Rome: An Open Home to the Church in Rome (Romans 16:3–5a)

At some point, A&P moved from Ephesus back to Rome. If they moved from Ephesus to Rome sometime between AD 55 and 57 (cf. Rom 16:3–5; 1 Cor 16:19) and returned to Ephesus by AD 65/66 (cf. 2 Tim 4:19), they could have been back in Rome for 1 to 10 years (AD 55/57–65/66). While in Rome, A&P used their home to host one of the three to five churches in Rome (Rom 16:5; cf. 16:10, 11, 14, 15). Paul’s summary of their ministry is that they were “fellow workers” (Rom 16:3) who risked their lives for Paul (Rom 16:4; cf. Acts 19:23–41?). Paul gave thanks to them from himself and from “all the churches of the Gentiles” (Rom 16:5). 

Nest 4 – Ephesus: Serving Again with Ephesian Friends (2 Tim 4:19)

Whenever they returned to Ephesus, A&P moved from Rome to Ephesus at least by AD 65/66 (2 Tim 4:19). Perhaps they went to Rome to be with the loved ones they so abruptly left at the edict of Claudius but then came back to where they could be better used in Ephesus. Whatever the case, Paul first met A&P around AD 50. Here they are still serving 15years later.

Seven Lessons to Learn from the Lives of Aquila and Priscilla

First, sometimes God moves people from one church to another in order to bless multiple congregations.  Move 1: God used Claudius to move A&P to help Paul as tentmakers in Corinth (Acts 18:2–3). Move 2: Paul took A&P to Ephesus (Acts 18:18–19). Move 3: A&P went back to Rome (Rom 16:3–5). Move 4: A&P returned to Ephesus (2 Tim 4:19).

Second, ask godly couples to be involved in ministry. Paul “found . . . Aquila” and “came to them” (Acts 18:2). Corinth, Ephesus, and Rome all knew the blessing of having this faithful couple come to their churches and using a home to help the churches.

Third, find a church with a good pastor. A&P had the apostle Paul for a pastor in Corinth and then in Ephesus. From this point on, we see them faithfully serving and discipling others. An effective shepherd leaves others serving faithfully after the time they have spent with him.

Fourth, serve your church with your whole heart, mind, and soul. Everywhere we see A&P, they are involved in a local church, even when forcibly moved away from Rome to Corinth. They made it a priority to be involved in the ministry of their local churches. A&P personally discipled others, used their business for the sake of missions, and opened their homes to the churches. These activities were not necessarily public ministries that were as noticeable as those of Paul or Apollos. They had servants’ hearts to give their time, energy, and resources to serve the needs of the churches. Their ministries allowed Paul and Apollos to win and strengthen many for the Lord.

Fifth, remember the good times. Paul mentioned the risk A&P took in his greetings to Rome (Rom 16:4). He remembered the highlights of their service together, not the pain of breaking apart.

Sixth, keep in touch. Paul sent greetings from A&P to Corinth (1 Cor 16:19). He sent greetings to them in Rome (Rom 16:3–5). He did the same when they returned to Ephesus (2 Tim 4:19).

Seventh, keep on keeping on. The NT has A&P serving for at least 15 years. They likely served much longer than that.

Aquila and Priscilla were a blessing to multiple congregations during the early days of the church. May we and couples especially follow their example and serve our own churches just the same today.