When I was a teenager, one of the goals I had was to live a life of radical discipleship to Jesus Christ. In part, I planned to live that out through my vocation, as either a pastor or a missionary. Not the highest paying careers, I now realize.
To pursue that vocation, I attended a private, interdenominational Christian college where I earned a BA in Christian Leadership, with a double minor in Bible & Theology and Public Policy.
One of the more intriguing classes I took was on the practice of preaching, and properly interpreting Scripture.
In that class, we learned the difference between exegesis and eisegesis.
Exegesis is “an explanation or critical interpretation of a text.” This is what pastors should aim to do when preparing a sermon or a homily. They read the text, draw out its true and original meaning, and then explain and apply it to the lives of modern people.
But one of the methods of interpretation we were warned against utilizing is called eisegesis, which is “the interpretation of a text (as of the Bible) by reading into it one’s own ideas.” Here, one imposes their own desires and theories on the Bible.
There is perhaps no greater example of eisegesis than when the Reverend Simon Woodman, a pastor at London’s Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church, recently asserted that Jesus Christ “transgenders himself.”
Reverend (I use that term because it’s his official title, not because he is) Woodman made the remarks at London’s St. James’s Church, an Anglican church in Piccadilly during a panel discussion on “Queer Theology.”
During the discussion, Reverend Woodman asserted the following:
“I think Jesus transgenders himself on a number of occasions. I think you know, just a little phrase, that Jesus is lamenting over Jerusalem, longing to gather Jerusalem as a mother hen gathers her chicks.
“And I think if you look at the foot washing from John’s gospel, foot washing elsewhere, in both Old and New Testament, it’s consistently done by women. And yet Jesus takes that on. People often cast that as being the servant’s role. It was the woman’s role. And Jesus does it and becomes the woman at that point.
“And I think, you know, we’ve observed that he’s unmarried, he’s childless, he defies gender and sexual norms of his day. He’s known for associating with those whose own sexual history or gender identity may be ambiguous.
“So I think in Jesus we’ve got a revelation of God as encompassing far more than what historically and, recently at least, Christians have tended to construct God as being. And I think there’s a bit of an antidote to heteronormative idolatry in in the story of Jesus.”
Nearly all of Reverend Woodman’s statement is eisegesis. The reverend reads into Scripture his own ideas and preconceived biases, rather than attempting to understand the original meaning of the text.
Reverend Woodman’s first argument comes from Matthew 23:37, where Jesus says, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (ESV).
If we are to exegete the verse, it’s quite clear that Scripture is not attempting to imply that Jesus is somehow transgender. Rather, in the verse, Jesus describes his love for those in Jerusalem, and is deploying the rhetorical use of simile to do so.
As to the reverend’s second example of Jesus washing his disciple’s feet, let’s concede to the reverend that the washing of feet was normally the woman’s role.
Just because Jesus assumes a traditionally female role does not somehow make Jesus “become the woman” as he asserted. It made him a servant, which is clear from any commonsense reading.
One of the earliest Christian writers who penned a short treatise on the proper interpretation of Scripture was St. Vincent of Lerins, a 5th century Gallic monk, who wrote the Commonitory.
In his treatise, he noted that frequently individuals disagree over the right interpretation of Scripture, because “owing to the depth of Holy Scripture, all do not accept it in one and the same sense.”
One way to properly interpret Scripture is through the rule of antiquity, that is, the idea that Christians should not “depart from those interpretations which it is manifest were notoriously held by our holy ancestors and fathers.”
And on this point, no single Christian reading Scripture, prior to a few years ago, would have come away with the idea that Jesus “transgenders himself.”
Rev. Woodman all but admits that his interpretation of Jesus is completely novel, noting that Christians have never believed this “historically.”
And because no Christian in the first 20 centuries of the Church even suggested that Jesus “transgenders himself” in Scripture, it is a faulty and flawed interpretation.
St. Vincent made the point that when it comes to Scripture, “it seems to be capable of as many interpretations as there are interpreters.”
This is true. But that doesn’t mean it’s always difficult to spot an incorrect interpretation.
The idea that Jesus is “transgender” is one such interpretation.
Photo from YouTube.