Some of the biggest arguments and misunderstandings about crossdressing stem from different views of the Bible and how to interpret some specific Bible passages that may or may not bear on the issue. In my opinion, much of the problem is that the people making arguments, (either for or against crossdressing with different Bible passages), usually have no clear method for how to interpret the Bible. I firmly believe that there is a correct method for interpreting the Bible, but at the very least each person should have a consistent method for how to interpret it. Sadly, most people don’t think about this. If you are going to use the Bible at all in your views of crossdressing, please first try to think about what you think the Bible is, and how to properly interpret it.
Since I plan on writing about Deuteronomy 22:5 and other significant Bible passages, I thought it best to first explain how “I” interpret the Bible. You may disagree with me, but I think my method is the correct way to interpret the Bible and it is shared by many other Christians and churches and traditions throughout church history. I do not have the time to give you every detail and rule of interpretation that I adhere to, nor is it necessary for the purpose of this blog. But I will lay out a general framework and some basic guidelines for how to interpret Scripture. If you have any more detailed questions you of course may ask me. I’m going to try to be thorough and when I am purposely skipping over something in my explanation of my method, I’ll try to point it out.
1. View of the Bible
I believe that the Bible is a collection of writings that are 100% inspired by God. They were written by humans, but the Holy Spirit worked in the people who were writing so that the words they wrote were exactly what God wanted them to write. Therefore, since God is the author of Scripture, all Scripture has to make sense together. It will not contradict itself. Also, since God is the author, Scripture is 100% true. It is without error and won’t lead us astray.
I also believe that the writings of the Bible are 100% written by humans. The Bible is the word of God and words of men at the same time. God in his sovereignty allowed the writers to use their own writing styles, vocabulary, education, experiences, and personality. They had freedom in writing, but under God’s sovereignty and the working of the Holy Spirit, the outcome of what they wrote was still exactly what God wanted them to write. (2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Peter 1:21, 1 Thessalonians 2:13, Hebrews 1:1)
I believe that the original writings (which we no longer have) were the texts that were inspired, but that God also preserved the Scriptures through the process of copying them over history, so that we can still today call the Bible, “the Word of God.” I believe that the Bible is necessary for us in order to understand who God is and how to be rescued from our sins. Studying this world also teaches us true things, and also reveals God to us, but that is not enough. We also need Scripture.
The Bible is the rule for my faith and life. It is my highest authority besides God himself. The purpose of the Bible is to reveal God to us. It teaches us about God, ourselves, and the relationship between God and ourselves. It does not tell us everything we want to know, and there are many subjects it does not teach about at all.
The Bible is perspicuous, meaning that it is clear enough for anyone to read and understand. This means that we can read it without being an expert and still come to know about God through it and the way of salvation through Jesus Christ. However, this does not mean that everything in the Bible is easy to understand. Many things are hard and complicated to understand. Even the apostle Peter admitted this. (2 Peter 3:16). Therefore we need guidelines and rules to help us properly interpret the Bible.
I accept all of these things ultimately on faith. I could write pages of arguments for why we should believe the Bible is true. But ultimately it still comes down to faith. If you want to know good reasons for believing the Bible is inspired by God, there are good books out there on that subject. If you don’t accept these things by faith, then in my opinion, you can pretty much just ignore whatever the Bible says about crossdressing or related themes and do what you want. Not until you believe these things about the Bible do you really need to examine and understand passages about crossdressing or transgender issues.
2. Difficulties in interpretation
We all come to Scripture with our own biases from our past experiences, education, background, etc. We also come with our own biases about what we really hope Scripture is saying or not saying.
We are also limited in our understanding of the Bible because of the distance of the writings. They were written about 2000 years ago or more. They were written in other cultures, and in other places than where we live. They were written in other languages – Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic.
Because of this we need to try very hard to do exegesis (to lead out the meaning of the text) rather than eisegesis (to lead meaning into the text). We must figure out the intended meaning of each passage, rather than leading into it the meanings we want to find there. And doing exegesis rather than eisegesis is difficult work. But we can get some help with the guidelines below.
3. Interpretive Guidelines
A. God’s guidance
If we approach the Bible with the standpoint of faith, then we can also trust that God will help us to understand Scripture through the guidance of the Holy Spirit and his people. We should always pray and ask God to help us understand his word. We should assume that even though people without faith can still sometimes interpret Scripture correctly, they will be at a severe disadvantage. Scripture was written by people of faith for people of faith.
We also must remember to go to Scripture in humility and reverence. We must respect it as it is God’s Word. Further, we need to be willing to put in the time to study it. We can’t rely on the Holy Spirit to give us a miracle of understanding. The Holy Spirit also works through our diligent study of the Bible to help us understand.
B. Historical background of the Bible
We must look at biblical passages in their historical and cultural context. This is always tricky to do since we don’t have encyclopedias from back then to look these things up. But we must do the best that we can, and sometime we must make educated guesses.
The main important guideline to remember is that ALL of the Bible is God’s word and applies to our lives. But not every verse applies to us in exactly the same way. We must discern the principle that a passage teaches us, but then figure out what the relevant cultural application is to our own time. Every passage of scripture teaches us a principle that God wants us to learn, but sometimes the cultural application will be different and sometimes it will be the same.
For example, when it says to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength,” (Deuteronomy 6:5) we can understand that pretty easily without having to figure out much historical or cultural stuff. The principle and application are the same both for us and the Israelites who first heard it.
But there are other passages more tricky like the verse – “Greet one another with a holy kiss” (1 Corinthians 16:30). With passages like these we first need to figure out the intended principle. Why did Paul say this? Well, the Corinthian church was going through many divisions and bad feelings towards each other. In that culture, a kiss was a way to show friendship and reconciliation. So Paul concludes his letter with telling them to greet one another with a holy kiss. It’s a sign of forgiveness and reconciliation in the midst of their church divisions. The principle would still apply to us today, but the cultural application would be different. In our culture, a kiss does not mean that, and you probably would get slapped for trying to kiss someone in church. In our culture, maybe the better application of this verse is to greet each other with a holy handshake for reconciliation and friendship. Every scripture is applicable to our lives, but in different ways.
C. Grammar of the Bible
The Bible was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. It was inspired in these original languages. To really understand what passages mean we must go back to the original languages.
No translation anywhere of anything is ever perfect. There is always some interpretation involved in the translation. So when we read out of, say the New International Version, there has already been much interpretation put into the English text that we read. To really understand the original meanings of the text, we must try as hard as we can to read the Bible in its original languages. We have to understand what words originally meant, not just what they mean now in our usage. We need to understand the idioms of that time as well.
Certainly we can still read the Bible fairly accurately without knowing the original languages. We can read the Bible in English and it is still the Word of God for us and we can still get much out of it since the translations are quite good. We should just know that when we are doing so we are somewhat handicapped. Thankfully though, it is not too serious of a handicap, since in our time good commentaries and lexicons are so readily available to help us.
We also need to pay attention to the issue of Textual criticism, of examining all the oldest manuscripts that we have, to put together the best and most accurate writings of the Bible in the original languages, but that is a huge different topic that I won’t get into.
D. The Bible as literature
We must remember that the Bible was written as literature just like all of our writing today. The authors were gifted. They wrote in different ways and styles and genres.
When reading a passage of Scripture we must always look to see what kind of literary genre it was written in. Just as today we read a newspaper differently than we read a novel than we read a dictionary than we read a poem. Also in the Bible, we need to read Letters different from prophecy which are different than the poetic psalms. There are many different literary genres in Scripture. We need to interpret those genres as they were intended to be interpreted rather than treating all the Bible as the same type of literature.
There are different rules for interpreting prophecy than from interpreting law. I could fill up another 10 pages talking about the different rules and guidelines for each of these types of biblical genres. I won’t do so now. I may bring up some of these guidelines later on whenI look at specific passages in later postings.
Furthermore, we also need to pay attention to the literary devices authors use. Again we can’t read every passage the same. Writers were gifted and used literary techniques like hyperboles, repetition, chiasm, parallelism, alliteration, euphemism, irony, metaphors, personification, and many more. We must pay attention to these to interpret passages as they were intended to be interpreted.
Last, we must appreciate the beautiful form of the finished books of the Bible. We must recognize the intention of an author through a whole book. We must appreciate not just what they said, but why they said it.
Notes on reading biblical Letters:
I’d like to make a few notes about how to interpret the genre of “letter” correctly within the Bible. To interpret consistently a person should also be aware of the hermeneutical principles that he or she holds to when it comes to interpreting letters. These are mine below, and I think they are agreed upon by most Christians and biblical scholars, and I think they are the most helpful and most true to how God wants us to interpret and apply biblical letters. Some of these principles apply to all the different genres of writing that we come across in Scripture, but some are specific to letters. If you disagree with my hermeneutical principles then we probably won’t agree on the meaning of the text for today.
1. I believe that the Bible is fully inspired by God and so fully his word and without error. And yet at the very same time it is fully the words of the human authors. Therefore, in Paul’s letters, such as 1 Corinthians, we will see Paul’s own personality come out. It is his words, his personality, his church he is writing to, his vocabulary, his emotions coming out, etc. At the very same time, this is a letter that is inspired by God and applicable to the lives of all believers of all times and places. The epistles in the Bible are intended for our instruction and edification. Biblical letters can be fully written by humans and fully God’s Word at the same time, because God in his providence can make sure that what is written is what he wants written, and also we trust that God inspired Paul what to write through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and this inspiration happened even if Paul was not fully aware of it.
2. Before exegeting a biblical letter verse by verse, the whole book should be read in one sitting to be able to grasp the overall flow and literary meaning of the entire letter.
3. The reader should pay attention to the structure of the letter and the literary devices the authors use. Just like in our letters today, in the ancient world letters generally had a common structure, such as a greeting, thanksgiving, body of the letter, closing section, etc. Paul also utilized common “literary devices” or “formulas” in his letters as transitions or for other uses such as the “appeal formula” or “disclosure formula.” We could look at pages of material here just on the forms and functions and literary devices in biblical and ancient letters. But I am going to refrain from putting down more here because I don’t think they will have much bearing on differing interpretations of this particular passage.
4. The modern reader should think not only in terms of individual verses, but also should study the logical development of the arguments the author is making, from paragraph to paragraph.
5. The letters should be read in light of their historical context. To figure out this historical context, we look at the rest of Scripture, we look at historical sources (writings and archaeology), and we “read between the lines.” For example, in the book of 1 Corinthians, we pay attention to the specific words and phrases Paul uses, we look at the issues he was addressing, and in this way we can deduce what was going on in the Corinthian church. When Paul spends so much of the book talking about the need for unity in the church and the problems of division, we can easily deduce that the historical context was that there were many divisions in this church. This is an obvious example, and sometimes it can get more tricky. However, biblical scholars have spent a great amount of time and research on these things for us so that we can be fairly confident of the specific historical context regarding most passages. In the end, it is true that they are “guessing” but the guesses are based on careful research and reasoned arguments. It is NOT a subjective free-for-all.
6. The biblical epistles have an “occasional nature.” That means that in a specific time and place a specific author wrote these letters to specific churches who were dealing with specific issues. This means that some of the commands and instructions a biblical letter makes, we will NOT apply in a concrete literal exact way as the author wrote. For example, in Romans 16:3 Paul tells the Roman church to greet Priscilla and Aquila. We should not believe that God is telling us, through the book of Romans, that we need to greet Priscilla and Aquila today.
7. However, even though the letters have an occasional nature, still every single word is inspired by God, and everything in the book applies to us in some fashion today. In other words, God wants to speak to us today through everything in the book of 1 Corinthians, whether for conviction, instruction, edification, inspiration, etc. The proper way to think about this is that although we don’t literally obey every command or passage in the letters, we still obey and apply all of the principles that these passages and commands teach. This is not to say that there aren’t certain passages we are to literally obey.
8. In order to apply these biblical letters to our lives we need to first read and study the passage by learning its context and history. Second, we must use this knowledge to determine the abiding universal principle(s) that the passage teaches us today. Third, we wrestle with how to apply that principle to our lives in our own specific cultural context, our specific time and place and community. Here are some clear examples that will help demonstrate the point.
In 1 Corinthians 2:9 Paul says – However, as it is written:
“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived
what God has prepared for those who love him.”
Briefly, the context behind this verse is that Paul was saying that Christians, including the Corinthians Christians, whom God chooses, tend to be foolish and inglorious according to the world’s standards. This would have been particularly fitting for the Corinthian Christians who were slaves. But then Paul is talking about the glory that God will give believers in Heaven. The principle this teaches would be that even though we might not live in glory right now, or appear wise to the world, that God will give glory and wonderful things to believers in Heaven that we cannot even imagine right now. When applying this to our culture, our specific cultural context doesn’t matter quite so much. No matter what we are going through, no matter how foolish we might appear to unbelievers, God has great things in store for us in Heaven and we can have hope. This hope is for any believer of any culture, man or woman, slave or free, adult or child, American or Chinese. It is as literally true for us as it was for the Corinthians. The specific life application for us is the same as it was for the Corinthians.
But let’s look at a more difficult example. We read in 1 Corinthians 16:30 that Paul instructs the church to – “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” With a little bit of thought, we should be able to agree what principle this verse is getting at. Keep in mind that the biblical authors do not always tell us what the principle is. They give us the application in the cultural context of the people they were writing to. From that specific application of a holy kiss, we work back to the universal principle that is being taught, and then we apply the principle to our cultural context instead of the context of the letter’s recipient. In other words we move backwards to the more general, so that we can then move forwards to the more specific.
The context was that the church of Corinth was full of divisions and infighting. We know from historical sources that the act of kissing in that culture was a physical expression of greeting. More specifically, this particular form of greeting carried the connotations of forgiveness and reconciliation. We may safely conclude, therefore, that Paul is addressing the problem of division through this particular command, and reminding the Corinthians of the importance of unity; as such the command clearly fits with the theme of the letter. He wants them to physically display to one another their reconciliation and forgiveness, so that they can live in unity with one another. This interpretation is further reinforced by the fact that Paul also commands these kisses in letters to other churches which were suffering from division problems.
With this in mind, the abiding universal principle that God is teaching us here is that we should show forgiveness and reconciliation toward each other, and further, that we should express these notions through an outward physical act. However, the modern application of this principle will be different in each culture. In Corinth, this meaning was shown through a kiss on the cheek (because that’s what made sense in that culture). In some cultures it might be shown through foot washing. In others it might be a hug. In American culture, perhaps it is as simple as giving someone a handshake or a warm and sincere greeting. Indeed, many Churches in the United States integrate a time for greeting one another (with a handshake or a verbal blessing) into the worship service itself, for this exact reason. It is our culture’s equivalent of a “holy kiss.” Therefore, although Christians today do not believe we are supposed to literally obey this biblical command, we do believe we are supposed to obey the command in accordance with the author’s real intention that lies behind it. We have taken a specific command, we have moved backwards to the general principle, and only then did we move forward to apply the principle in specific ways that make sense in own context.
This example hopefully has shown that everything we read in these letters applies to us today. We just have to figure out together how they apply. So as we look at 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, we will attempt to figure out the historical context, then move backwards to figure out the abiding universal principle that the passage teaches, and then finally move forward to apply that principle to our specific culture today (in my case, the mainstream culture of the United States).
E. God as the main author of Scripture
Since God is the main author of Scripture, Scripture all works and fits together. Because of this one of most important interpretive tools is to interpret Scripture with Scripture. We can compare and contrast and this helps us to figure out what passages really mean.
We also see that God worked in Scripture through “progressive revelation.” Over time God revealed more and more to his people. The Israelites did not have the understanding of God as Trinity that we do today. But God progressively reveals more and more about himself and his plan of salvation throughout Scripture. We interpret the New Testament in light of the Old Testament and the Old Testament in light of the new. I also believe that the whole Bible is ultimately about Jesus, which he himself said on a few occasions. When we read the Old Testament, we should look for Jesus there.
Because God is the author of Scripture, and God is almighty and knows the future, sometimes scripture passages have multiple meanings and multiple fulfillments. For example in the prophets we see some prophecies which were fulfilled immediately during the time they were spoken, and then fulfilled later on when Jesus came as well (Isaiah 7:1-25, virgin will be with child).
F. Don’t interpret alone
We should all have the humility to realize we can’t interpret the Bible correctly on our own. We need the people of God, the community of faith to dialogue with and work together with in order to understand Scripture correctly. We can’t be a church unto ourselves.
When we interpret Scripture we shouldn’t be a lone ranger, but should be in a church body to study with, preferably with a whole collection of churches. If you come up with some new view in Scripture and you are the only one who believes it, chances are you are wrong. We need to be held accountable to our view of Scripture by other Christians.
Further on individual passages of Scripture that we are trying to figure out we should look at how they have been interpreted throughout church history. Some of the smartest leaders in the church are no longer living, people that had a better grasp of the original languages than we do today, and people that had a better grasp of the biblical culture than we do today. People that studied like crazy. We can read their writings from the last 2000 years of church history and learn from their wisdom, and humbly realize they have something to teach us. If we come up with a new teaching that is different from what The Church has always said for the last 2000 years it should give us great pause to proceed with caution. There is great wealth in church tradition. In light of this, creeds and confessions written throughout church history are a great tool to keep us guided to proper biblical interpretation.
Conclusion: I could say a lot more, but this is really long already. I hope this helps some of you grow deeper in the knowledge of God’s Word. I will use this post as the starting point for all other posts I do that touch on Scripture, so if you don’t understand something in it, please feel free to ask many any questions you want.