[I]t is not possible to assert with any degree of certainty that Jesus was male as we now define maleness. There is no way of knowing for sure that Jesus did not have one of the intersex conditions which would give him a body which appeared externally to be unremarkably male, but which might nonetheless have had some “hidden” female physical features.
What's going on here? Why would a theologian be so concerned to argue that Christ was not male?
The answer has to do with a debate within the Anglican Church over the consecration of women as bishops. There are evangelicals within the church who have argued against women as bishops, and it is in response to these arguments that Susannah Cornwall has resorted to the idea of Christ being intersex.
Here is how Susannah Cornwall puts the evangelical position:
Many evangelical theological beliefs about human sex and gender are grounded the belief that there is an ontological difference between males and females – a difference in their very being and existence, and the cosmic significance thereof.
For example, argues John Piper, “The Bible reveals the nature of masculinity and femininity by describing diverse responsibilities for man and women while rooting these differing responsibilities in creation, not convention … Differentiated roles were corrupted, not created, by the fall. They were created by God” (Piper 2006: 35).
In similar vein, Andreas J. Köstenberger and David W.Jones say, 'The man and the woman are jointly charged with ruling the earth representatively for God, yet they are not to do so androgynously or as ‘unisex’ creatures, but each as fulfilling their God-ordained, gender-specific roles. Indeed … it is only when men and women embrace their God-ordained roles that they will be truly fulfilled and that God’s creational wisdom will be fully displayed and exalted.” (Köstenberger and Jones 2010: 26)
Even more explicitly, Dennis P. Hollinger asserts, “Being male and female is less a designation of functions, and more a designation of humanity’s twofold ontological way of being” (Hollinger 2009: 74).
As a second step, such anthropologies assume that it is always possible to know who is male and who is female, and that gender should supervene on sex.
This can be seen in documents like the Evangelical Alliance’s 2000 report on transsexuality, which says, “The doctrine of creation with the story of Adam and Eve, and the insistence that ‘male and female he created them’, shows that our sexual identity is part of the ‘givenness’ of how we have been made”.
Those who oppose the ordination of women to the episcopate – as well as those who continue to avow that women should not or cannot be ordained priests at all – maintain that there is something ontologically different about women and men which means that, because of the very nature of their being, women cannot perform some or all of the roles appropriate to men.
You don't have to be an evangelical Christian to hold to such positions - traditionalists of all stripes would believe in something very similar.
And our position is stronger than we sometimes realise, as it is physically embodied in the natures of men and women. When we look around us, we do not see abstracted, genderless creatures, but sexually distinct men and women. And in our daily life we perceive the natures of men and women not only to be complementary, but to align with how we have been created bodily.
The modernist position is an awkward one, as it has to uncouple our being from the way we are embodied. And that is what Susannah Cornwall attempts to do. She writes:
intersex disturbs the discreteness of maleness and femaleness, and might therefore also disturb the gendered roles which are pinned to them.
What she means is that there exist intersex people who can't be easily classified as male or female and that this therefore is proof that maleness and femaleness isn't written into us as we might think it to be. She is trying to tackle head on the strength of the traditionalist position.
But it's not a persuasive argument. Only 0.018% of the population fall into the category of intersex. It is clearly an abnormality rather than a proof that we are not made male and female.
Her argument therefore seems desperate. She resorts to wild speculations about Christ being intersex:
[Christ] might have had ovarian as well as testicular tissue in his body. He might, in common with many people who are unaware of the fact, have had a mixture of XX and XY cells. Indeed, as several scholars have pointed out with their tongues both in and out of their cheeks, if the doctrine of the Virgin Birth is taken as scientific fact, then Jesus certainly had no male human element to introduce a Y chromosome into his DNA, and all his genetic material would have been identical with that of his mother (that is, female). There is simply no way of telling at this juncture whether Jesus was an unremarkably male human being, or someone with an intersex condition who had a male morphology as far as the eye could see but may or may not also have had XX chromosomes or some female internal anatomy. The fact that, as far as we know, Jesus never married, fathered children or engaged in sexual intercourse, of course, makes his “undisputable” maleness even less certain.
I'm glad that I don't have to pin my position to such an unlikely scenario. I don't think it makes even a dint in the more traditional view. We can be encouraged that a modernist theologian has taken her best shot at us without doing any damage at all. If anything, she has only underlined how strong our position is.