Did Jesus experience same-sex attraction? Did he go through gender dysphoria, and desire to wear the clothing of the opposite sex? Did Jesus ever feel a sexual pull to a woman?
These tough questions—asked by many godly, faithful believers today—would have shocked previous generations of Christians. In an era when almost nothing about humanity is nailed down and clearly defined, however, the fallenness of Jesus Christ is once again a live issue. In some unforeseen ways, the evangelical conversation is following the more mainstream theological conversation over Christology some decades back (with T. F. Torrance arguing for a “peccable” Christ). In some circles, the humanity of Christ seems to have overtaken the divinity of Christ as the central fact of his being. This has numerous ramifications for Christology—and for the knowledge and worship of Christ by his blood-bought people—in an age when people see fallenness, temptation, and all manner of non-divine desire as core components of the human person.
We who are in Christ and especially in ministry need to give sound doctrinal answers to the questions of our age (and every age). To do so, we need to go back to biblical Christology. Actually, we first need to go back to biblical anthropology (here’s my forthcoming book on this important but often-neglected theological subject). Adam, the first man, was not created with a sinful or fallen human nature. Adam was temptable, we learn in Genesis 3, but he had no inherent propensity to sin as the first image-bearer (Gen. 1:26-27). This matters greatly, for it shows us that the first human is in no way a sinner, and thus that sin is in no way a part of divinely-designed humanity. Sin is not constituent to theistically-intended human flourishing; sin is instead what Satan presents as freedom and happiness and very wisdom itself. But all this is a lie.
Moving swiftly ahead to the New Testament, this grounding helps us understand the significance of Paul’s pairing of Adam and Jesus in 1 Corinthians 15. The connection of the first Adam and the second Adam (Christ) reveals who Christ really is. Jesus is the true human. We might have thought that the Adam of creation was, but he is not, just as Eden is not true paradise (though well-intentioned Christians sometimes use this language). Christ is the true human, and the new heavens and new earth are our true home. Adam was not sinful, and Eden was not tainted, but both were possibly susceptible to fallenness. The new Eden, however, is like the second Adam, and is comprehensively and surpassingly holy. This realm is perfect, without flaw, or even the possibility of a flaw (see Rev. 21:21-27).
Just like the first Adam, Jesus the greater Adam has no sin nature. Christ shows us what our humanity is supposed to be: we were not made for depravity, but for doxology. In our truest state, we worship the Father. We love to do his will (John 4:34). Living in the overflow of the glorious endowment of the Spirit’s power, we consistently obey God. All this describes the life and work of Jesus Christ. Jesus never sinned, the Bible makes very clear. This means that Jesus had no internal pull to sin as post-Adamic humanity does. The terrible alchemy of James 1:13-15 plays out in us as we tempt ourselves to sin, but it did not play out in Jesus. Jesus had 0.0% desire for ungodly things. None. He did not have very little fallen internal desire; he did not have 0.000000000001% pull to that which is fallen. With regard to Jesus and sin, it is zeroes all the way down.
Some may wonder at this point about Jesus being tempted like us in all ways (Heb. 4:15). This temptation, as Denny Burk has shown (see here for the argument and here as a backup), must be exegetically connected to Hebrews 2:17-18, and thus should be understood in terms of the surpassing “temptation” of the cross. This makes better sense of the author’s words here, because as we have just noted, internal temptation—that inner compulsion to lust, hate, be jealous, steal, and so on—is sinful. The very experience of an internal pull to something God despises is evil, and should occasion repentance on our part. But Jesus had no such pull. Jesus never experienced same-sex attraction. Jesus never yearned to “bend his gender” and wear the clothes of the opposite sex. Jesus never undressed a woman in his mind. Jesus was like us, but he was without sin (Hebrews 4:15). We could sum up the teaching of this verse, and the Christology of the New Testament, like this: Jesus is totally like us as a fully human person, but Jesus is totally unlike us as the fully divine Son of God in human form.
Here is one of many areas in which we see that our doctrine must be fine-tuned and precisely calibrated. If it is not, much will go wrong. If we overemphasize Jesus being like us, we will lose sight of the fundamental truth of his identity, his divinity. (Before his incarnation, Jesus exists eternally as the Son of God, after all, just as he does after it.) If we overemphasize Jesus being unlike us, we worship a docetic Christ, one who only seems human but is not. Many evangelicals may hail from a theological context that is more influenced by a Christology from below than a Christology from above; they may not have heard about this major theological debate, in truth, but at the ground level, when they think about Jesus, they may well have been trained to think firstly about how similar he is to them. In truth, we must take great pains to get the trajectory and chronology of the life of Christ right: eternally existent, he is God the Son in human form. He is the God-man. He is the greater David, the greater Adam, the true Israel, the true Son, the promised Messiah, Immanuel.
As Steve Wellum has made clear (would that every believer read his excellent book), we start with Christ’s divinity and then move to understand his humanity. There is no tension between the two natures of Christ the person, for the natures communicate to one another, though always in the direction we have just described. God cannot sin. God never has sinned, and never will sin (Hab. 1:13; Titus 1:2). It is true that in Gethsemane Jesus boggles at the reality of his coming penal substitutionary atonement; he is about to drink the cup of the Father’s wrath on behalf of sinners and thus die, an experience that has never previously happened (Matthew 26:36-46). Yet his agonized request regarding the passing of the cup does not in any way indicate a moral deviation from the Father’s will; instead, it represents Christ rightly comprehending the personal cost of atonement, a cost that will involve him “becoming sin” for us (2 Cor. 5:21). This whole episode stretches the limits of our understanding, but we can only conclude from a faithful whole-Bible doctrine of Christ that Jesus’ challenge in Gethsemane is not immoral in any respect, but is rather personal. He is not rebelling, in other words, but is reeling back from the horrors of sin-bearing. He who knew no sin had to become sin to fulfill the Father’s plan of salvation and honor the “eternal covenant” of redemption (Eph. 1:9-10; Hebrews 13:20). This is unique; this is extraordinary; this is terrible, but the very heart of salvation. Truly it is a mystery, a one-of-a-kind event in all cosmic history, a wonder beyond finite reckoning.
All the foregoing pushes us to conclude that Jesus was impeccable, unable to sin. Some today would still question this formulation, however, and would say that while Jesus never succumbed to the actual expression of sin, he still experienced fleshly desire that he ultimately overcame and resisted. In other words, Jesus did feel a flash of same-sex attraction, though he did not act on it; Jesus did feel like a woman trapped in a man’s body, though only briefly and without commitment to this feeling; Jesus did lust after a woman, though he quickly bounced the thought from his mind. With all due respect to fellow gospel-loving evangelicals who make some form of these arguments, though, I do not believe these are sound biblical conclusions. Such a position, however carefully formed and compassionately articulated, fails to do justice to the Godness of Jesus. Further, this is a position that has no demonstrable backing in Scripture—that is, there is no biblical example of Jesus being internally tempted to something wicked. In addition, this view does not sufficiently reckon with the identification of internal desire for wrong ends as inherently ungodly as seen in James 1:13-15 (to say nothing of Matthew 5:21-30 and other texts like Colossians 3:1-11).
The overarching point to remember in this discussion is that Jesus is human as we are, but is the true human that we are not. We who bear the image of God are being remade in the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29). Those who are fully human and know God’s redemption are being made truly human. We will one day live without sin, and know no internal desire for it. Yet mark this: even in the new Jerusalem we will not be Christ. He is always the exemplar, always the Son of God, always the divine lion and lamb, and we are not, and will not be.
Jesus is the true human. He shows us that it is not natural to sin. It is not natural to want to sin. What is truly natural, truly right, and truly human is conforming to God’s perfections. This Jesus did as the God-man; as Bruce Ware has percipiently identified, this he did in the unbroken, unceasing power of God’s Spirit dwelling in him at all times (Isa. 61:1-2). The same Spirit now dwells in us, having made us a little temple, a living site of new covenant worship, by the power of the cross and resurrection of Christ (1 Cor. 3:16). It is not the sinful children of Satan who are the true humanity. Christ is the true human, and it is the seed of the woman, the line of Christ, that is being remade by God who even now images the radiance of the over-spilling splendor of the Son. We who are in Christ are not many bodies, broken up by background and ethnicity and language. We may feel that way now, but in truth we are one body, one new man, formed by the all-conquering death of Christ, living once more by the power of the grave-destroying resurrection of Christ (Eph. 2:11-22).
In conclusion: did Jesus experience same-sex attraction? No, he did not. Did Jesus experience gender dysphoria? No, he did not. Did Jesus lust after women? No, he did not.
But does Jesus desire to redeem people just like us who experience these and 10,000 other sinful temptations? Yes, he does, and yes, he will.
To learn more about this constellation of (admittedly tricky) theological matters, pre-order Reenchanting Humanity: A Theology of Mankind. It releases very soon from Christian Focus.