Biblical understanding of 2 sexes

In Genesis, we learn that Adam and Eve were created as complements to each other. This (and other passages later in the Bible) is the foundation of so many of our beliefs around gender/sex: there are two sexes, everyone is one of them, simple.

However, medical science and our own eyes tell us things may not be so cut-and-dry. There are at least 30 conditions that cause intersex characteristics (“chromosome patterns, gonads, or genitals that do not fit typical binary notions of male or female bodies”, to paraphrase the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights). While the chromosomal part may have been a mystery in 20 AD, it is reasonable to conclude that several intersex conditions were known and recognized in the time of Christ’s ministry, simply because some are highly visible (e.g., this is likely part of the group which Christ referred to as “born eunuchs”).

How do people of faith who also love exploring God’s world through science square our belief in just two genders while also knowing that up to 1.7% of people may not actually fit fully into the “Adam” or “Eve” bucket?

Also, a disclaimer: I’m Catholic and so some of my theological presumptions that come through the Catholic Church above may not resonate with other Christians! Would still love to learn how others are thinking about this question.

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Could we say there are two genders with some evolutionary abnormalities between them? Do exceptions to a rule break the rule?

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Great question, Vinnie. I am most interested in this question because of the ramifications that a non-binary person would have on issues such as same-sex marriage. Many folks on this forum likely are members of churches which have embraced same-sex marriage, while others are not. If there are people who are “in between,” what does that mean for “rules” about who can marry whom? For instance, does that mean men can marry women and they can also marry people who are “in-between”? So perhaps the rule still exists, despite exceptions… it’s just that those exceptions can lead to a lot of other questions :slight_smile:

Again, I recognize that this question may be irrelevant for many readers who already make no gender-based distinctions for questions such as marriage. In my Catholic tradition (some of you may also be in that community), we also have issues such as the all-male priesthood to consider.

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Hi Jen. I know of no evidence whatsoever of inclusivity here, it’s the love that dare not speak its name one way and another. This thread will not stay public beyond today.

Personally, I would never tell two consenting adults that their marriage is a sin. I think God cares more about how people treat each other than their number of chromosomes in a relationship. Many Christians no longer accept slavery or misogyny, despite the Biblical precedents for that , or even have qualms about divorce and remarriage—despite what Jesus clearly says. but they can’t let go of same sex marriage. I think that’s the position of William Webb in Slaves, Women & Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis. It’s on the shelf (as I think Christy recommended it) but I only perused it. Many also tie it into the created order. Even though Genesis 1-11 is pure mythology with no basis in history, the text is used because theologically speaking, it identifies men and woman and provides the spiritual basis for marriage. I think many are still stuck in a Cartesian, black or white, all or nothing view of morality. There is enough moral craziness in the BIble for me to question those few passages claiming two people in a loving, committed relationship can’t be together because they have the same sex. Leviticus and Paul’s dependence on it like all good Jews of the time aren’t enough to sway me against it. The Bible certainly doesn’t harp on this issue and most of the proof-texts aren’t what people think they are. If someone’s moral argument against something ultimately stems from someone dependent on Levitical law, I’m not buying it or it’s application to the entire non-Jewish world.

I do believe men and women have differences that compliment one another and also that biologically born males should not be allowed to play female sports.
Also that people become one flesh when married.

I think there are clear differences between men and woman (physically there is no question) but lines can be blurred at times. I do not find people who claim to be the opposite gender of their biological sex empowered or liberated, but probably broken and in need of help. Though if gender is just a social construct then I suppose you can do what you want. It’s honestly not something I really understand. I am not convinced it is normal behavior though or that I should celebrate it.

As far as women in the clergy, though Jesus seems to have called 12 male disciples, he clearly had women followers who were extremely influential and who the record seems to identify as apostles as well (Junia).

I also feel homosexuality is an exception to the rule and not something that needs to be celebrated with a month long pride parade. But I suppose if you’ve been maligned and oppressed for so long, it would feel liberating to be able to come out and freely express yourself in society without being viewed with total shame. Do in that sense I can understand it.

Vinnie

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Jen1, your questions are valuable and hard (depending on one’s starting point). I’m a fairly theologically conservative (which seems to be less and less meaningful or differently-meaning all the time) Protestant in the U.S. And I think it’s relevant to say that I’m 55 — was a young adult in the ‘80s, when there was plenty of gender bending experimentation going on, and andrograny in dress/styling was pretty common.

As you mentioned, certainly non-binary sexual variation has existed as long as humans have and would have been noticed, but probably not understood, in the ancient Near East. How people living with those variations were handled is beyond my knowledge. It would be valuable to know.

We have a much better understanding of these things today (causes, results, etc.) but at least in the tradition I’m part of, continue to fail to find a place in our theology for this knowledge, or continue to tighten our theology to shut more people out.
There has been a fairly recent movement of Christians, who are gay or same-sex-attracted, who have chosen to be open with their congregations and communities about what temptations they face — as brothers and sisters in Christ should be able to do in order to give and receive spiritual support, while committing themselves to live celibately. In reaction to this, we now hear that the temptation itself is equivalent to sin. And we hear that we should mince words in regard to empathy/compassion/sympathy for people struggling to live their Christian lives as they believe they should. So, even a faithful middle way, that allows for truthfulness and support within the Body of Christ and strict adherance to Protestant doctrines is seen as degenrate.

Additionally, there is more and more pressure, among Protestants here at least, to unbiblically prefer and elevate the Cult of Marriage and the Family over full-bodied faithful service of single people in the church. So, even if same-sex-attracted, theologically conservative, single Christians seek to live faithful lives to their Lord, their fellow pew members refuse to treat them as equals in the church. It’s insane.

And once we step out of the sharply binary box, there are simply no categories today to deal with them. As a not very girly girl (tall, deeper voice, fairly confident presentation) I have enjoyed some benefits of “gender vaguarities.” Generally, i have not had to deal with nearly as much demeaning sexism that my smaller, prettier, more feminine sisters have. Yet recently, in church settings, I find myself overlooked, when a man greets my husband. Or ignored in communciation relevant to both my husband and me. This is new to me. Really new.

So, now as we see the blossoming of the hyper-complimentarians in our churches, women are being shown their places more clearly, at least by some fellow pew-sitters. My bitterest gut feeling is that we MUST have a clear presentation of gender (independent of the biological vaguarities), so that we know better who is in charge, who needs to submit and to whom.

In this current church culture, even the gender-non-binary faithful celibate has no clear place in the church. As if WE hold the keys to the kingdom. THIS situation is perverse.

Understand that as conservative as my position is, and i acknowledge that it is, it’s quite radical in the spheres I belong to, which keep pulling the corset strings tighter and tighter.

I think I really came nowhere near answering your question, but just added to it. At this time, all I see are problems with good answers being shot down constantly.

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Sounds like my mother.

I haven’t noticed much of any of other things described in that paragraph.

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I’ve always found Terry’s argument of penguins convincing. Same for turtles and frogs. In the same “week” of creation God also made birds of the air and fish if the sea and land animals who walked around in earth.

But penguins are not birds of the air. They can’t fly. They swim a lot and waddle around on land. Are turtles land animals and if so why do some spend a lot of their life in water. Frogs , many species anyways, spends their time originally in water and can’t live on land, and then they grow to where they can live on land but still spend most time in water. None of those creatures fit the description of the says and yet they exist. So if Gods word is adjustable there then it should be adjustable elsewhere. Plus, as mentioned, we know they exist. We know intersex people exist and people with unique chromosomes. So why can’t these other things exist. With that said, some people may also be delusional. But who cares really. It’s not actually harming anyone.

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You old liberal evangelical you.

Hi Jen and welcome to Biologos.

Considering the frequency of birth defects the most likely explanation for “born eunuchs” would be Cryptorchidism - Wikipedia. The question is to what extend you accept your biology and its limitation and what you do about the limitations you face. In a time without medical interventions available to us now it was clear that you had to accept the cards you where dealt. Nowadays there are many ways to treat the above successfully, thus restoring your fertility, but that is not the same as to change your gender to the opposite following one’s desires.

If you consider that Genesis was written to create a common worldview in the tribe that adhered to it it is clear that it aimed to give a logically coherent explanation to everyone in the tribe, the illiterates and the intellectuals alike. Considering that they were unlikely to have a concept of evolution but hat a concept of primary causality they compiled a model of creation that made sense to everyone - which it still does today (apart for the people that deny that struggle with the concept of a creator). As such you can look at it as a “poetic” description of Genesis. It is philosophically quite accurate to what we now know better to have happened. In the context of considering that procreation is the only way of survival it is clear why the blessing of marriage was about this core functionality. Marriage for romantic reasons of joint sexual bliss instead of joint creation of life is a modern understanding of pair bonding. The expectation to live for the pleasure of one another instead of the survival of the jointly created life has been the downfall of modern marriage. Children have more become a burden to the parents than a blessing and are prevented from coming into existence, so is no wonder that even people who can not naturally procreate feel that have a “right” to demand to be part of that institution.

Timothy,
Thanks for your reply. Keep your eyes open.

At 55 I have a lot of experience in a variety of settings (church, professional, home, academic) with a wide variety of people. I’ve simply lived longer.
I’ve also had that experience in a different skin that is treated differently in some settings, OR has come to be treated differently in some settings, particularly church. Even in the last 5 years.

When we left our last church, all our communication was coauthored by my husband and me and signed by both of us. Communication from the pastors was addressed to my husband exclusively. I have had conversations for years with our pastors.
Suddenly, when it’s really important, I was very deliberately excluded from the “men’s talk.” The assistant pastor’s wife wrote to me specifically, and said she would reply to me, when I had responded to her. That hasn’t happened. So I was not really included in any meaningful exchange regarding our leaving. This is absurd, and also new.

Now that the American and international college students are away for the summer, we are seeing the base congregation of the church we’ve been attending more clearly. Lots of large families with parents from 30-40, who seem to be squarely in the Young Calvinist and CBMW thinking. A man sitting behind me last week at church walked all the way to the opposite end of the pew to greet my husband and introduce himself. He never looked at me or even said, “Hi.” This is simply not normal or acceptable in any setting. But it is reflective of the mindset that has been engrained into many younger adult Christians.

And finally, I was 35 when I had our first child and had left a good profession. Until then, I had no interest in the things that most of the women my age, who were mothers by then, were talking about, when we got together with friends from church. After I had our first child, I craved intelligent adult conversation, when it was available. Child-rearing discussions were not of interest to me. I found myself at the table with the men, who were talking about ideas (theology, culture, social issues). It took a while to recognize that was not quite where I was “supposed to be” both because of my gender and my views.

The current situation feels ever more restrictive for thoughtful, mature women.

I encourage you to start talking about these things with your mom. Ask her to think about her experiences in the church and what doesn’t sit right with her. Expect this to be a long-term discussion that will take years. If you have other female relatives and friends who are older, and whom you trust to have these discussions with, ask them.

Keep your eyes peeled.

Kendel

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I support full inclusion of LGBTQ+ persons in society, including in the church. I support the ordination of women, people of color etc. I realize that I’m in the minority here. I would guess that most folks here go to churches with white male pastors.

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Welcome, @Jen1!

I like Vinnie’s initial response to you…

… though perhaps this needs all the caution and nuance of what it means to consider something “the norm” especially when that begins to be coupled with the inevitable power dynamics in our societies which are rarely kind to any who are then outside that established “norm”.

Can “normal” be recognized as always needing to include numerical minorities or “edges” without punishing people for not being within numerical mainstreams?

Along with Vinnie’s challenge that (as I’ll read it) suggests that exceptions need not be seen as threatening, consider the Apostle Paul himself as an example of somebody who also did not fit within the ostensible ‘norm’ from Jesus own lips when he concludes that “…for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”

Anybody who dares turn this into a prescriptive norm for which outsiders who don’t follow it must be ostracized, have just kicked the Apostle Paul (not to mention Jesus) outside of their “Club Norm”. If that doesn’t kill the believer’s impulse to prohibit any/all deviation from the “norms”, then I don’t know what else could. Recognizing a “norm” without turning it into something prescriptive or into something used to exclude those who don’t fit it - is a much needed consideration for religious adherents generally I should think. But then on the other side, those who do find themselves dwelling on the numerical margins of whatever culture they are in, also don’t help things much by trying to deny that any “norms” do (or should) exist. Jesus didn’t seem to have any problem recognizing a marriage norm that he himself was outside of, at least in the physical biological sense. (Paul, in contrast, might be a more interesting case study in that regard.)

What is it about two distinct sexes that is so crucial to Christian belief. Why should this bother us any more than the scientific finding that different species evolved from a common ancestor, or that color is a continuous spectrum? The challenge to excessive literalism and rigidity of thought would seem to be a good thing to me.

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It’s been a long time since anyone has applied that label to me :joy:

Yes, the sanctity of marriage is not going to come crashing down because a small percentage of the population is homosexual. The problem with many Christian authors, and I see this all the time, is everything is either 100% one way or 100% the other. The Bible is either 100% error free or it’s useless. Either the gospels are perfectly reliable or they are not reliable at all. Moral statements must be absolute imperatives! That is not how the world works.

Not to mention Paul had no problems modifying and softening Jesus’ statement on divorce in ways he thought was sensible (notice how he carefully distinguishes his thoughts from the Lord).If Paul can do that to Jesus, I definitely feel comfortable doing it to a tent-maker born in Tarsus from 2,000 years ago.

Vinnie

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There is a saying: “Sorry if gay marriage threatens the sanctity of your 4th marriage”

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The real disputes relating to this issue have very little to do with Christianity or religion and much more to do with the fixtures of our culture and society like the separation of the sexes in public restrooms and the separate sports for women to encourage their participation. Do we rebuild everything to take rare exceptions into account and how do we do it? Do we discard the whole idea of separate restrooms and sports? Do we need to force everyone into compliance with the ideas of some people on this matter or can this be left up the different organizations to make their own decisions and rules?

You may also find this thread interesting:

Outstanding. The thing about gender fluidity is that even if the miscues in the expression of our sexual hardware only occurs about 1.5 % of the time, who is to say there can’t likewise be the occasional miscue in our gender software. I’m in favor of believing people in what they say about their own experience. That is basically the same reason I take God belief seriously even though that doesn’t conform to my subjective reality.

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Are we talking about “biological sex” here or “gender”? The terms do not mean the same thing.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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