Male and Female He Created Them?

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.

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  • (reposting from fb)not only should we not use the fundamentalist approach of using the ancient bible to answer all modern questions, but we also should get out of the business of trying to explain miracles. once we being using science in an attempt to prove miracles, we've lost. let miracles be miracles. believe them if you want, don't believe them if you won't. but stop asking whether or not adam had a belly button. the creation stories are simple etiologies that explain naturally occurring phenomena by ingrafting a bit of theological worldview. we cannot and should not use ancient texts to cookie cutter answers to modern problems.

  • good question. I'd love to hear what rhology has to say here. not sure why

  • Rather than say it 'failed' could it not be described as being a consequence of the Fall? in other words, any breakdown from an essential male-female division (everyone is 100% one or the other) is a symptom of the general breakdown in creation, which continues to long for the revealing of the Children of God etc.NB I don't agree with this (see my post on the topic here) I just don't see any way in which to argue (from Scripture) that it's wrong.

  • Sam,I just blogged on transvestisism yesterday too. I was reading a biography of Joan of Arc, and there was a reference to holy transvestisism. Joan dressed as a man, although not actually in disguise, in order to preserve her virginity. She was also extraordinarily athletic, and had amenorrhea, perhaps because she ate very little. But in death, her naked and burned body was displayed so that it could be observed that she was a woman. There was apparently a long tradition, although steeped in mythology and not well attested, of holy transvestites, some who lived out an entire lifetime in a monastary, women dressed as men. Some were thought to be eunuchs, and were accepted in a marginalized way. It seems that gender ambiguity has been around for a while.

  • I think I've seen some Talmudic Commentary, somewhere (but not totally sure where) that describes creation in Gen 1 as the creation of a single dual gendered being that then gets split into the male and female. The commentary on the commentery likened this to Plato's story of creation (in Symposium) where the original humans were these round hermaphroditic creatures tht were divided–and spent the rest of their lives searching for their lost half. Here's a rather cute animation of the speech, attributed to Aristophanes. guess the relevant question here is whether or not this (or a version of this) could apply to Gen 1.

  • Jay

    @Levi -You and me both.James -Have you by any chance read Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex? It's been a couple of years since I read it, and I don't recall that it went terribly deeply into the religious ramifications of the main character's condition, but it was a very interesting take on gender identity.

  • I've never read it, but I always welcome recommendations (even though I have a pretty big stack in the "to read" section).

  • You are a biblical scholar and yet you do not know that humans wrote the bible? Every prophet in the bibles including Jesus says this.

  • Um, what? You are a commenter on my blog and yet you don't know that I know what you claim I don't know…?

  • Sam has a good question – how to 'argue' from Scripture that the exclusivity of the male-female categories is a wrong reading. Surely it is possible to see that it is not 'everyone is 100% one or the other' but that everyone is both – as God is both – God is like the mother eagle, and also like the father – I am not doing proof texting here but suggesting that there is no need for argument since the combination of male and female in all of us is there to be seen and delighted in when the basic human fear of being wrong is resolved in the gift of God in Christ Jesus.

  • Jason

    Presumably Jesus had a Y chromosome, "poofed" in at the moment of conception. Of course, such Y chromosomes carry with them a history of moving segments of dna, some dead genes with particular patterns of mutation, and ancient viral insertions, so it begs the question whether Jesus had these and if so, a false sense of a history that never actually occurred.Then again, wondering about such questions is but one more reason I finally realized the virgin birth story is a myth, indeed heavily borrowed from the surrounding culture; and one that would almost make sense in their own understanding of reproduction and pregnancy, but not so much anymore.