The question of what male and female are has come under serious challenge today. Do we simply “identify as” male or female and are merely “assigned” as such at birth? Or do these two ways of being human have deeper meaning and significance? And most importantly, what does God have to say about the matter?
Actually, God is quite clear. We are told on the very first page of the Jewish and Christian scriptures:
“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…
“So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
“And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it…
Genesis 1:26-28 (ESV)
In Genesis — the book of beginnings — God speaks the world into existence and it is world of distinctions, opposites if you will: light and dark; day and night; the sky and the earth; and water and land.
But God’s creation of mankind is importantly different. He honors humanity by creating each of us in His own image and likeness. And it is not just our generic humanity that is His image and likeness, but it is found in something more specific and special: our maleness or femaleness.
The first time we hear about male and female from God, it is in direct relation to His very image and likeness. A profound mystery.
This story is expanded in Genesis 2, as God forms the man from the dust of the earth and breathes the breath of life into him. He then fashions the woman from the man’s side – from his very flesh and bones.
He separates humans into two sexes, male and female. Each is distinct and valuable, and both reflect the image and likeness of God.
Our word “sex” even comes from a Latin word meaning “to divide or separate,” showing that humanity was separated into two groups, male and female. And we cannot miss the grammatical root or the word “gender.” It is associated with such words as genesis, generation and yes, of course, genitals, words that speak of our ability to create new life. Finally, gender also derives from the Latin genus meaning race, kin, family, kind, order, and species.
So sex and gender both speak to both divine and natural qualities of who we actually are and what we actually do. This is far more than how we “identify” or are “assigned at birth.” This new fashionable understanding is in direct disagreement with what God says about what it means to be male and female.
Jesus affirms this wonderful truth in Matthew 19 and Mark 10. The two aspects of God’s image, male and female, are joined wholly together in marriage — a unique, permanent and covenantal life-creating relationship.
We’ve noted God acts at first by speaking forth creation and then by separating various components into their opposite counterparts. But as God creates humanity — male and female — we notice something else that is different.
In What Image and Likeness?
God consults within Himself and refers to Himself by using plural pronouns, “Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness.”
Throughout Scripture God tells us He is one. But here in Genesis, we also see He exists in a plurality of divine Persons. This is our first hint of the Trinity — the eternal relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The loving, personal, relational God creates humanity — male and female — to be loving, personal and relational, too.
It is out of this creation of male and female that we see God’s design for humanity itself. And that is for each of us, ideally, to issue from marital love and live within a family. A husband and wife come together in marriage, joining to each other in body, soul and spirit. And out of their union comes forth new life, new divine image-bearers.
That’s why Christians have such high regard for men, women and children — all of life. We celebrate and honor the image of God in each person.
Male and female personhood, sexuality, relationships and marriage contain so much that’s good — and all of that goodness points to God and reveals the goodness of His character. Our gender and sexuality were designed to lead us to joy, connection, life, growth, relationships, family, pleasure, children and marriage. God must really enjoy these things to have planned for us to participate in them!
We cannot see them as anything less than He does.
To explore this concept more deeply, we recommend:
- Irreplaceable — A documentary film that explores marriage, motherhood, fatherhood and family.
- The Family Project — This12-session DVD experience is for couples or small groups that explores the theological, philosophical, and cultural underpinnings of the traditional family, and combines that information with inspiring stories and practical tools to help 21st-century families thrive.
- How to Teach Your Children About Marriage: Creative and practical ideas and Raising Children Who Honor Marriage: What you need to know— These free resources will help you pass on the truth about marriage, family, and being male or female to your children and grandchildren.
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