Tag Archives: gender

More Thoughts on the Bible and Gender

31118_000_005_05What are we missing in the Creation story as found in Genesis? What isn’t there that we might not realize isn’t there because we take it for granted that it is? The short answer is a lot. We fight tooth and nail over creation and evolution, for example, yet do we stop to consider whether or not what we’re advocating is supported by the text? We can make the same mistake with regards to gender in Genesis 1 and 2. Granted, the Bible contains many other passages dealing with gender in one form or another, but this is where it starts. There is a lot to go on here in the text, but as I realized the other day we’re actually missing a big piece of the puzzle.

What we like to advocate based on these passages is that God makes us as men or as women. Nothing else. Not transgender, not lesbian, not gay. Man or woman. But here’s the thing. Like I mentioned in a previous post, in Genesis 1:27 we get “male” and “female.” The Hebrew word from which we get “male” translates roughly as “remarkable,” which makes sense when you consider the male sex organs. Without being too graphic, they’re prominent. They stick up. You “remark” on them because you notice them. The Hebrew word for “female” here translates roughly as “pierced,” which when you consider the physical act of sex makes perfect sense.

That’s the only description of male and female that we get in Genesis 1. It’s a physical description, written as if one was standing there observing these two people. That being said, notice what it doesn’t include. It says nothing, for example, about what’s going on inside their heads. I also mentioned in a previous post that sex or gender (however you want to term it) is deeper than mere biology. There’s not a hint of that in these descriptions. What we get is the most basic physical description and little else.

The big piece of the puzzle I referred to earlier is something along the lines of what we’ve been discussing but which you might not even notice unless you were looking for it. Last week an article I stumbled across on Facebook pointed out that definitions of gender change from culture to culture. What constitutes a man in one culture is not necessarily the same as what constitutes a man in another culture. We learn to be men or women, at least initially, based largely on culturally established norms. These norms can and do change over time but we as children exist within them and learn from them even as we may question them. Our parents did the same before us, as did their parents before them and so on.

What I noticed when I looked in Genesis 1 is that there are no parents for Adam and Eve to learn cultural norms from. If you accept the biblical passage (and if you don’t that’s fine), Adam and Eve are the first. There is no established culture for them to learn from. It just doesn’t exist. They are, put simply, making it up as they go along. To be sure, they’re learning directly from God himself, but that doesn’t change the reality that culture as we understand it simply doesn’t exist.

Now why is that a problem? Simple. We like to read our own cultural understandings back into the text as if that is what the text was talking about and it’s not. We can’t read our own cultural concepts of what makes a man a man and a woman a woman back into Genesis 1 because culture as we understand it doesn’t exist. It’s not there.

How then can we justify using Genesis 1 to attack people who don’t fit in to our cultural norms? Maybe it’s time that we stopped twisting the text and instead tried to fit ourselves into its norms. If we don’t, we’re missing out on more than we realize.

 

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Biology and Gender

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately, and I came across one particular article last week that for the life of me I can’t remember where I found it online but which raised the point that contemporary definitions of gender and sex might be a little too rigid. The main argument that I see conservatives making regarding the possibility of people being transgender is that, biologically speaking, you’re either male or female and while you may feel like your gender doesn’t line up with that you can’t change that fundamental reality. As the article pointed out, there are two problems with this position. The first is that the very characteristics we use to determine who is male and who is female, such as the presence or absence of facial hair, show considerable variation even between two individuals who are presumably of the same gender. For example, I rocked a goatee in high school at age 17, and I can still remember talking to one guy I worked with one summer who was shocked that I wasn’t 23 like he was because I had this awesome facial hair and all he’d ever managed to grow was stubble.

The second point raised in the article is that all of these various characteristics, from facial hair to breasts to the presence of one particular type of plumbing, can all now be changed. Hormone therapy and surgery can change everything but your genes. Yes, genetics determines what you start out with, but if every characteristic that indicates gender can be changed, can we really use biology as the ultimate indicator of one’s gender? I don’t think we can, and for me that raises further questions. What then do we use as an indicator of gender? And given that conclusion, is it wrong for someone to say I’m transgender, I’m a woman in a man’s body?

As Christians, even if biology is out as a fixed point in determining gender we would still say that the Bible is pretty specific. You’re either male or female, as God created you, and that’s that. To see if the biblical picture really is that fixed, I had a look at some of the evidence. In Genesis 1 and 2 we get the story of Creation, and what I found here is enough even by itself to make we question our commitment to our position on gender. In Gen. 1:27 we’re told, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” This verse would seem to end the argument, right? 

Take a closer look at the wording of this passage, though. The structure of the sentence connects “male and female” with the “image of God.” In other words, we’re created in the image of God as male and female. Now there is a lot of debate out there as to just what the “image” of God actually entails, but that’s not what I want you to see here. What I want you to see is that if we are created in the image of God, then there should be a connection between our sex/gender (however you want to word it) and God. Depending on how you define “image” you can define that connection in different ways, but notice this. God at this point in the story does not have a physical body. Jesus and the Incarnation is all the way off in the New Testament. Whatever the connection may be, it therefore can’t be solely physical. Whatever makes us male or female can’t be solely our plumbing, so to speak, because at this very point, when we’re told we’re created male or female in God’s image, God doesn’t have plumbing that we know of. What makes us who we are in terms of gender or sex (again using those words interchangeably) must therefore be something deeper than simply our physical bodies. 

I am not for a moment suggesting we throw out every passage of Scripture that speaks to us as male and female. I am suggesting that our understanding of what it is that makes us male or female or transgender or agender or whatever else needs to change. If we can’t use physical characteristics as a fixed determination of gender, and if Scripture isn’t as black and white as it would at first appear, then what we are left with to determine the gender of a particular body is the person living inside that body. If they decide on something we don’t agree with, who are we to argue with that?