Genesis 1:27 (ESV)
In April 2016, the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that public schools may not discriminate against students on the basis of gender identity. Ruling in favor of a Virginia transgender student identified in court documents only as G.G., two judges on a three-judge panel held that schools may not segregate students into separate restrooms and locker rooms on the basis of biological sex alone. Within their ruling, the judges noted the supposed “limitations of a nonmalleable, binary conception of sex.” They also criticized the alleged limitations of “connot[ing] male and femaleness . . . by reference to the factors . . . termed ‘biological sex,’ namely reproductive organs.” [i] Standing in stark contrast to the judges’ opinion is Genesis 1:28, where gender is defined in a strikingly biological, “binary,” and “nonmalleable” way.
This verse employs Hebrew words for male (zakar) and female (neqeba) with distinctly biological connotations. Zakar likely had an original meaning of being sharp and thus came to reference the male anatomy, and by extension, the male gender.[ii] Neqeba, in contrast, derives from a term referencing a hole or cavity and thus came to signify the female gender.[iii] The anatomical references of the terms are intentional here, for they speak of sexual distinction among humans and set the stage for God’s command in the following verse to “be fruitful and multiply.” Indeed, humans are the only creatures whose binary gender distinction is noted in Genesis 1. This does not deny or obscure gender distinctions among animals but highlights the goodness and God-given character of human gender. In fact, gender helps constitute humans in the image of God in humankind.
For this reason, Scripture elsewhere condemns the blurring of gender distinctions. For example, Deuteronomy 22:5 states that “a woman shall not wear a man’s garment, nor shall a man put on a woman’s cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD your God.” The abiding principle, with different applications in various cultures, is that women should not attempt to look like men and vice versa. Similarly in the New Testament, Paul tells the Corinthians that when praying or prophesying in public worship, men and women should don attire appropriate to their respective genders (1 Corinthians 11:4-10). The norm for God’s people is to celebrate and not obscure God-given gender distinctions.
The biblical teaching is a marked departure from modern notions that gender is merely chosen, felt, or can be “reassigned” surgically. Gender is assigned by God, and it displays His marvelous creativity. Of course, in a fallen world there are tragic instances in which people experience feelings of dissatisfaction regarding their God-given genders. And some are born with both male and female sex organs or with irregular configurations of their sex chromosomes. But far from overturning traditional classifications of gender, these unfortunate conditions underscore the goodness of the God-assigned norm: “Male and female he created them.”
Given the pervasive challenge to this conception of gender, Christians have a responsibility to educate themselves regarding the biblical and medical realities, and take a stand when governments or businesses attempt to dismiss biological gender distinctions as discriminatory or degrading. Human happiness and even survival depend on embracing maleness and femaleness.
[i] G.G. v. Gloucester County School Board, Case No. 15-2056 (4th Cir. 2016).
[ii] The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1906), s.v. “zakar.”
[iii] Ibid., s.v. “nequeba.”