Why are Christians always fighting about gender? If you didn’t read the Bible for yourself, you might think it’s a big long book about that single subject. Men vs. women. Male behavior vs. female behavior.
Over and over, and over. Rinse and repeat.
I set out to to learn about God and gender. I read hundreds of scholarly papers and books. When I realized what Christianity did, I had to laugh.
In the Bible, God is both genders. The teachings are offered to help you become both genders too. Let’s talk about that.
So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
In this three-line poem, we learn the gender of God. If male and female are ‘in his own image’, then the ‘image’ is . . . male and female.
“The poetical structure of Gen. 1:27 clearly suggests that God himself too was both male and female,” as Johannes C. de Moor observes.
Throughout the Bible, God appears in both male and female images. From Psalm 22:10 to James 1:18, God “begat” humans. This is the language of birthing.
In Isaiah 42:14, God is the speaker: “Like a woman in labor I groan; I pant and gasp.” In 46:3, God is a mother ‘carrying’ the family of Jacob, which is to say, Israel.
Jesus imagines himself as a mother hen in Matthew 23:37. We could talk at length about the details, but that God is male and female is the point here, and it is made often in scholarly literature. “The one God manifests attributes of both genders, for he both fathers and mothers his children,” as John D. Garr says in God and Women.
To be godly, to be godlike or Christlike, we would then we prompted to be both genders as well—to have within us the full circle of qualities.
And that is what we see, for example, in Paul. He is “all things to all people” (1 Cor. 9:22), and offers himself in male and female images. He is a woman in labor (Gal. 4:19), a nurse weaning a child (1 Thess. 2:7), a weaning mother (1 Cor. 3:2). He is a father (1 Cor 4:15; 1 Thess. 2:11).
He is both parents (2 Cor. 12:14), presiding over the marriage of their beautiful daughter, the Bride of Christ.
This is a female image, and Paul prompts us to be the girl. Note 2 Corinthians 11:2. “I promised you in marriage to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ,” Paul says, to Jewish men who may not be used to hearing themselves spoken to like that.
Paul’s message is clear: Spiritually, if you’re the ‘Bride’ . . . you’re a girl.
That sexual language is used to describe spiritual interactions is the truth Christianity has warred against.
But the ‘one flesh’ marriage language of Genesis 2:24, as Paul notes in Ephesians 5:31, concerns “a profound mystery — but I am talking about Christ and the church.”
The marriage that is so often spoken of is between Jesus and humans, which is to say, between heaven and earth.
“On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you,” as Jesus says in John 14:20.
In you . . . you in me. The language is sexual. But what biological bodies could create that combination? Male or female?
You’d have to be both.
Jesus often models female behavior for the male disciples. He cooks for them in John 21:12–13. In the Bible, as often in life, cooking too is a female activity (cf. Lev 26:26; 1 Sam 8:13, etc.).
He washes feet (John 13:1–17), which was understood as the activity of a wife (cf. 1 Samuel 25:41). Quite unexpectedly, in view of later church traditions, Jesus disallows leadership hierarchies, as in Matthew 23:8–12, and indicates that those who try to ‘exalt’ themselves will be disciplined.
Exalting oneself tends to be, as we know, a male activity.
A central teacher of a spiritual community is not allowed (cf. Col. 3:16; Rom 15:14). Christian gathers are to be, in some respects, leaderless.
The servant-leader who is a guide is seen as a eunuch (Matthew 19:12), along the lines of a servant taking care of a house while a master is away.
Note, with J. David Hester in “Eunuchs and the Postgender Jesus: Matthew 19.12 and Transgressive Sexualities,” that eunuchs were “widely perceived as neither chaste nor celibate, but highly sexual and sexed beings.”
This “spiritual bisexuality” is not a prompt to modify our physical bodies, although that is not disallowed. In New Testament teachings, the physical body is to be respected and maintained, but has a low theological status. It will be, in the Resurrection, changed out for another body made of spirit.
This rebirth into a spirit body is the subject of the “born again” language of John 3:1–21. A drama of conversion is not the point here. A new body is being described, as in 3:8: “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
The spiritual teachings we follow today, if we follow the New Testament, help us convert into those spiritual forms. The key to it all is to stop thinking of yourself a physical being with physical limits.
In Romans 12:2, Paul says: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
The ultimate pattern of this world is death, but gender and reproduction are part of that old system that is to be replaced by the new body.
We find this message in many corridors of the New Testament. In Matthew 6:28. Jesus points to flowers, and says: “See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.”
The flower is a model of human existence. Flowers are bisexed. They reproduce by wind, “bursting and scattering seeds in the most unlikely and hidden places,” as Walter Wink notes.
In the epistle of 1 John, which is the only epistle written to Gentile people and not consciously an effort to speak to Jewish readers about Old Testament concerns, we see that gender has disappeared.
Pius-Ramón Traján follows the references:
Expressions such as ‘my children’ (1 John 2:1, 12, 18; 3:7, 18, 4:4), “brothers,” “you fathers” (1 John 2:13–14), “you young men” (1 John 2:12, 13, 14), and “beloved” refer, with no gender distinction, to all members of the church, since the inclusive masculine refers to the distinguishing condition of all Christians with no exception. Everyone “is forgiven”; everyone “has known him that is from the beginning” (1 John 2:13; 14; 3:11); everyone has “overcome the wicked one” (1 John 2:13,14; 5:4,5); everyone has knowledge and hope (1 John 2:13,14,18; 3:16,19,24; 4:2,6; 5:2,20; 2 John 1); and everyone “has passed from death unto life” (1 John 3:14). For everyone, with no gender distinction, the final hour has come, and everyone has received the saint’s anointing (1 John 2:27).
We could go through reference after reference in Paul’s epistles, usually understood as sources for sexist and gendered thinking. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The Christian tradition simply couldn’t read the Bible, because they were bringing the wrong assumptions to the text. They saw it as a rule-book enforcing male vs. female behaviors.
They saw non-sexuality as a priestly prerogative, or something.
In the Bible, there is a lot of sexual language, but it refers to spiritual realities. Jesus is the bridegroom. The church is the bride. Spiritual leaders on this earth now are not alpha males. They are shepherds. Shepherds are usually slaves in ancient Rome. In the Bible, they are often female (Gen 29:9; Exo 2:16–21; Song 1:5–8).
What is the message on gender in the Jesus teachings?
To have all the wonderful qualities of God, and to love as God does.