I garner a lot of criticism. One particularly vociferous 2020 tirade against my book, enGendered, coming from the perspective of an LGBT+ advocate, had many complaints: I am stuck in the 1950s, I hide behind a façade of pseudo-scientific jargon, I misquote the Bible. My favorite line of this review is this one: “It was almost like every verse in the Bible, according to the author, points to some kind of polemic about the “necessity” of gender distinctions.”
Do I think that every verse in the Bible is about gender? No. But I have to say, in a book that pretty much begins with the creation of gender (Genesis 1), with God saying in the first chapter, “Let Us make in Our image…male and female,” followed immediately by a romantic comedy of Sandra Bullock proportions (Genesis 2), and that ends with a wedding (Revelation 21), and fills in the 66 volumes in between with writings to those males and females about how to be His image together, yeah, gender is going to come up. And it does a lot.
For one thing, we under-appreciate how, in redemptive history, men and women specifically as men and women in relationship to each other play a big role in God’s unfolding plan. We noted, a few weeks back, how the woman heroically giving birth and the man courageously coming forth to slay evil constituted Revelation’s paradigm of history. But that hardly scratches the surface. As Ben Meyers points out, when our creeds confess that Christ was born “of the virgin Mary and made man,” they are highlighting the long Biblical history of how redemption happens through God producing in a woman’s womb through intergendered love, sometimes reversing barrenness, to give birth to the son (think, besides Mary, Eve, all three matriarchs, Manoah’s wife, Naomi, Hannah, Isaiah’s prophecy, etc.). We can also note how the son that is born delivers by righteous ruling. Again and again, women and men in relationship make the good stuff happen.
But it is not only the physical acts of covenant lovemaking leading to intergendered procreation that are in view. The New Testament sets gender distinction as the centerpiece of marriage instruction. It argues for those inner realities of intimacy to which our bodies point. And because the Bible makes such a big deal about gender in relationships, we would be foolish to treat it as an accessory. To try to find our identity apart from being a woman or being a man makes us less of who we are, not more.
But more than this. When we use the Bible only like a dictionary, we miss most of its message. Focusing on explicit passages of gendered instruction (e.g., 1Co 6:12-20, 1Co 11:2-16, 1Co 14:32-38, Eph 5:22-33, Col 1:15, Col 3:18-19 and 1Ti 2:8-15), while helpful, may give one the idea that the authors are not dealing with gender elsewhere. Rather, the writers use gendered principles in stories about people doing well (or ill), use gendered imagery for our relationship with God, and use gendered metaphors for God’s relationship with Themself. When we pay attention to these themes, we can see how important that first statement, “Let Us make in Our image…male and female” truly is.
Because gender makes up so much of the Holy Writ, you better believe that discarding it or minimizing it leads to a destruction of close relationships. When you lose gender in relationship, you lose relationship.
Do you know who you are apart from being a man or woman?