Intersex and the Kingdom of God

Note: This article is part of a series on terminology related to homosexuality.

The term “intersex” describes a small percentage of people who are affected by a congenital disorder of sexual development. These congenital disorders give rise to ambiguous sexual traits, causing real difficulty in determining whether an intersex person is male or female, and therefore in deciding what name to give them, what appearance they should adopt, and whether surgery to reconstruct their genitalia is warranted—and, if so, which genitalia to “give” them. There are some cases where, as an intersex child has grown up, he or she has regretted or disagreed with the decisions made in infancy by parents and doctors. These cases are cause for caution and thoughtfulness about how to proceed when a child is born in this condition.[1]

Intersex and Gender Ideology

The intersex phenomenon plays an important role in today’s discussions about sex. Viewed through the lens of gender ideology, people with an intersex condition are understood as a “sexual minority” whose non-conformity puts them at a disadvantage relative to others in society. Their distress is often categorized alongside the various kinds of gender dysphoria that are frequently reported by trans people. In this way, intersex conditions are used to discredit the male-female binary as a foundation for sexual behavior.

This way of thinking about intersex conditions is false in at least two important ways. First, intersex conditions are not evidence that the gender binary is merely a social construct, for the simple reason that they are disorders. People with intersex conditions do not have fully functioning reproductive systems. The terrible trouble that comes with these disorders powerfully confirms the biological normalcy of the male-female binary.

Second, intersex conditions are not evidence that gender dysphoria should be prioritized over biological structures as a criteria for how to treat people. People with intersex conditions certainly do experience grave distress about their sex. Their conditions require parents and doctors to make difficult decisions about how to treat them, and what name and identity to give them. These decisions may be incorrect, and therefore the source of profound distress years later. Such distress is not the same, though, as gender dysphoria reported by unambiguous biological males or females who wish to change their gender. In fact, the two are almost opposites: an intersex condition is a physical problem that causes psychological distress; gender dysphoria is a psychological distress being used to justify destructive hormonal and surgical interventions.

This does not mean that our biology is meaningless, though; it is just that sometimes our biology’s meaning is tragically obscured.

Eunuchs From Birth

It is important to see the deeper problem with gender ideology that leads to such serious confusions. Gender ideology denies the goodness of the male-female binary and praises all deviations from that binary. This way of thinking implies that intersex conditions are not a terrible affliction to be borne, but actually a blessing to be desired. They are so much to be desired, in fact, that people with healthy and normal sex characteristics may wish to undergo hormonal and surgical interventions that will cause some of the same problems experienced by people with intersex conditions.

Jesus provides a kinder and more truthful way to think about intersex conditions in his teaching on eunuchs in Matthew 19:10-12:

The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”

This exchange comes immediately after Jesus lays out his demanding requirements about marriage and divorce. The disciples blurt out that, if marriage is so demanding, no one should ever get married. Jesus partly agrees with them, though he cautions that only three kinds of people can safely forego marriage—those “to whom it is given.” Most people, in other words, do not have a special gift from God that enables them to lead a chaste life without the sexual gratification afforded in marriage. Jesus uses the word “eunuch” to describe three kinds of people who do have this gift.

In the second of his three categories, Jesus uses the term “eunuch” in its ordinary sense, to refer to a man who has been castrated. It was common in the ancient world for slaves or prisoners to be “made eunuchs by men.” Slaves with powerful positions in a royal court would often be castrated so that they could not threaten the royal women or setup a rival dynasty. For instance, Daniel was supervised by Nebuchadnezzar’s chief eunuch, Ashpenaz (Daniel 1:3); the “Ethiopian eunuch” whom Philip met in the desert was a “court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians” (Acts 8:27).

The other two other kinds of eunuchs mentioned by Jesus are both somewhat metaphorical. It is clear enough that “eunuchs from birth” are people suffering some of the disorders that we have been discussing. The real question has to do with the third category: “those who have made themselves eunuchs.” Some understand this as a reference to those who voluntarily mutilate their own sexual organs. It was famously alleged, though unlikely, that the church father Origen took this view and put it into practice. The more modern version of this view is the conclusion that Jesus affirms transgender ideas and practices, including sex reassignment surgeries. The idea is that Jesus views trans people as morally equivalent to those suffering from intersex conditions. But this is an unwarranted and fantastic stretch of Jesus’s statement, especially since he had just rested his teaching on marriage on the foundational significance of the male-female binary (Matthew 19:4-5).

A far better interpretation is that these “eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” are Christians who have pursued singleness for service to the kingdom. These are the final category of people “to whom it is given” to forego marriage: those gifted with the sexual self-control necessary to pursue a life of kingdom-focused singleness, thus “making themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven.” Paul gives very similar teaching on singleness for the sake of kingdom service in 1 Corinthians 7.

Grace for Life in the Kingdom

Jesus views sex in a completely different way than the sexual revolution. The sexual revolution claims that human life is at its highest when our sexual desires are fulfilled without restriction. This way of thinking favors those who are sexually strong and powerful: beautiful women in their early twenties, rich men in their mid-life, and all the healthy and fashionable people in between. As for the very young, the elderly, the sick, the poor, the disabled, or the ordinary men and women more beleaguered than excited by their daily life—these have no place in the sexual revolution except as onlookers or victims.

According to Jesus, the kingdom of God works in exactly the opposite way. It finds its highest expression not in the unrestrained fulfillment of sexual desire, but in the full submission of every desire to the service of God our creator and redeemer. For this reason, the weak and disabled are not left out of the kingdom. Whether they are unfit for marriage by a tragedy of birth or circumstance (whether that affliction is a health problem, an injury, or unwanted singleness), they are held up as patterns for the strongest Christians—the single missionaries like Paul—to follow. Single people may think that they cannot contribute anything of lasting value to society or to the Church, but Jesus holds them up as a pattern for elite spiritual warriors.

Thus is the Scripture fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet:

Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD say,

“The LORD will surely separate me from his people”;

and let not the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.”

For thus says the LORD: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off. (Isaiah 56:3-5)

Calvin Goligher is the pastor of First OPC in Sunnyvale, California. He and his wife Joanne have five young children.

Related Links

Podcast: "Sex and the Single Evangelical"

“Stop Telling People to ‘Just Get Married’” by Justin Poythress

"Courageous Christian Sexuality" by William Boekestein

Strange New World: How Thinkers and Activists Redefined Identity and Sparked the Sexual Revolution by Carl Trueman 

 Fine China Is For Single Women Too by Lydia Brownback


[1] For more detail, see the discussion at

P/C Levi Meir Clancy