I suppose I ought to tackle this question, since I get people arriving at my blog daily after doing a search for the keywords “hermaphrodite sex”. Is Genesis 1:27c wrong or merely misleading? It makes it sound like God not only initially created but ordained that human existence should be typified by two sorts of human being, “male” and “female”.
If that was the divine plan, would it be fair to say that it failed?
Human beings do not consistently fall into two distinct categories of gender with no blurriness or apparent exceptions. I’m not thinking in particular of a female athlete who has been accused of being a man (although I was surprised to learn how common such accusations apparently are in athletics, and even more struck to find that the same topic was being blogged about by AKMA as I was writing this). There was, however, a TV show recently about someone who was born with a not that uncommon condition, namely having two X and one Y chromosome. Is such a person male or female? Is the question even meaningful? Would most Christians such a person free (having apparently been created both male and female) to persue a relationship with someone of either gender? Or is such a person (perhaps living up to the ideal of Paul) “neither male nor female”? Or are such questions unanswerable?
If we want to make this discussion even more interesting, I’ve had people claim in comments on this blog that Jesus must have had two X chromosomes and thus have been genetically female, since he had no human father. I’ve also had someone recently emphasize that Jesus did experience sexual attraction. This combination leads to some very interesting and/or bizarre questions, but ones that perhaps could lead to fruitful conversations about sexuality and gender from a Christian perspective. Would the combination of these two beliefs lead to the view that Jesus, although he presumably had male sex organs, was technically a Lesbian if he was attracted to women? Or does it mean that Jesus would have had to be attracted to men in order to be considered a heterosexual?
Personally, I think these odd questions one ends up asking (and even odder answers that might be offered) if one persues this line of inquiry just illustrates that we should not try to answer modern questions using ancient texts, nor read ancient texts in light of our contemporary understanding of things. None of the Biblical authors knew about chromosomes. To try to use the Bible either to answer, or as an excuse to avoid asking questions about gender that move beyond surface appearances to genetics, seems inappropriate.
What do you think? My own inclination is to take a playful, Rabbinic-style approach, and note that we have in Genesis 1:27 an intriguing combination of singular and plural pronouns and verbs. “Let us make humankind”, “he created him (or it, i.e. humankind?)”, “he created them“. And so the text might seem at first glance to offer a binary understanding of gender, but it does so while also offering a perplexingly pluriform understanding of humanity and even of divinity, thus suggesting that, while having convenient labels may be necessary for practical purposes, matters are much more complex when one looks beneath the surface.