Male and female

There is a patriarchal bias in Scripture and there is always a challenge as we read any portion of Scripture to grasp how we should respond. We can capture the Bible to our bias and use it to confirm our position, status and bias, or we can also seek to read it ‘against’ us as well as for us. That of course is very difficult to do with real integrity. The ultimate lens through which we have too view the various texts if Jesus, who is both the word of God and the revelation of the invisible God.

However much of a patriarchal bias appears at times in the Scriptures the first creation narrative does not seem to carry that bias.

So God created humanity in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’ (Gen. 1: 27, 28).

There is a temple theology undergirding the creation story. The whole of creation is a temple with the fitting final element placed at the heart of this ‘good’ temple – the image of the deity. Now we have a ‘very good’ situation. There is no carved image for this cosmic temple, but an image ‘made’ by God. That image cannot be expressed by a gender, but by humanity as a whole, or perhaps we could say humanity as intended.

We might wish to say that the image of God is equally revealed in the female as in the male but I suspect that is travelling in a too-Western and individualistic direction. I don’t think the gender distinction is really what is in mind here. Humanity is created and the language is probably a type of speech known as a ‘merism’. We use such phrases when we say ‘I searched high and low for…’ We do not mean we only looked in high places and only looked under other objects. We searched high, low and everything in between. Genesis begins with a merism by stating that God created the heavens and the earth – the whole of creation. Here then I also consider we have this type of speech: the focus is not on male or female as distinct but on humanity as a collective whole.

Humanity relating together is where the image of God is to be seen, and where those relationships are dysfunctional that image is tarnished and at the extreme simply is obliterated. Hence how we see others is so key.

Paul in his ‘freedom in Christ mantra’ refers to this Genesis text. He says

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3: 28, emphasis added).

The language is both a direct quote from Genesis and also incredibly strong. He writes twice ‘neither… nor’ but when he comes to this gender element he changes the language to ‘nor… and’. The gender difference has no weight at all in Christ, being human is the point. With Jew and Gentile there is a difference regarding election – not to salvation but to purpose. Slave and free is as a result of economic and social inequalities. Humanity, regardless of gender is something we all have in common – hence all war is ultimately civil war. This shared humanity is something so close to all of us where we can respond.

In the three distinctions I suggest we could think creatively about the election being with a purpose of holding space for a just society. Israel was to be an elect people for the world, both as a sign to the world, not being as one of the nations, and as a gift for the world. Slave and free, where position and status determine identity cannot be present in a true expression of the kingdom of God. All of this is founded on the creation reality that there is NOT male and female in the sense of identity, role and status. One humanity in Christ as image of God.

Definitions are difficult, and stereotypical generalisations are often not helpful but restrictive. Maybe there are feminine characteristics that are more intrinsic to females, and masculine ones that are more intrinsic to males. Maybe. However, it is whenever truly human characteristics are manifested that the image of God becomes visible, and the outworking into creation can take place.

For sure that can never take place in the context of a patriarchy that limits ‘male and female’; it cannot take place where ‘male and female’ are demarcated so that the image of the divine cannot be seen. There is something so fundamental at stake.

Maybe we need to draw up what are feminine and what are masculine characteristics. Probably very helpful so that we can gain clear sight. However, theologically it is essential to discover what is truly human and what is not.

We know that when God is present something happens to our relationships, and if it does not we have to question what ‘god’ was present. The radical nature of the Genesis verses are that when humanity relates rightly God is present! The image of God is there, God is seen, his goodness is distributed. Moses looked to the desert and saw the glory of God. He looked to the dry dust. Dust animated by the breath of God is where glory is seen.

Leonardo da Vinci has a quote attributed to him:

An arch consists of two weaknesses which, leaning one against the other, make a strength.

Now that is a challenge. Lean in not with our strength but with our weakness. In Spain vs. Cataluña there is no leaning in but coming in opposition to each other, even to the extent that the phone is not being picked up until the other party backs down. The result is a lock up. The result is division, fighting and violence. What is clearly visible there on a macro scale so often though comes through at a micro-, at a personal interrelationship level.

Leaning in… leaning in in weakness. Leaning in in such a way that there is no male and female. That is a different version of ‘ruling’!

10 thoughts on “Male and female

    1. Hi Ro
      I like to wake up to a coffee, so your comment is a high compliment. Though a couple of fresh angles in the post so it was worth getting out of bed to write!

  1. Lovely blog Martin. Can’t say I am hopeful about it all though. I do not believe we can address our current multiple crises unless patriarchy falls. I suspect it will fall ultimately but fear how many will be harmed and how much of the earth is ultimately damaged in the process.

    Research has shown that hunter/gatherer groups tend to be the most egalitarian. Patriarchy evolved out of larger scale societies and is heavily related to hierarchy and elites. It is a way of managing people to achieve large scale outcomes. The first of these societies focused on large scale irrigation works and despite thousands of years continue to harm local ecologies to this day.

    I struggle with reading the Bible. It was written by people within a patriarchal construct to uphold that construct. There are occasional figures, Jesus included, who appear to challenge those constructs, often seemingly unsuccessfully. I think all major religions are patriarchal and hierarchical no matter how they describe themselves. The Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam are particularly so. The MIddle East where they all arose also birthed city states and empires.

    What to do? Is there hope? I am not hopeful at this point. My apologies. Why would most males walk away from the entitlements and privileges afforded by patriarchy? Many women who align themselves with those structures also benefit. So why change? What would provoke such a change? Obviously faith would not do it. We have seen that play out in Christianity for 2000 years. The faith was hijacked and reshaped by hierarchy and patriarchy early on. While individuals may be persuaded to change their ways I think systemic change will be much more difficult.

    At root the problem is one human being (or corporate/community entity) claiming privileges and rights over another, for any reason. And the answer is humility and sharing. So what will change us? Right now as the climate crisis accelerates and threatens structures and systems of privilege, we see a regression to hierarchy, authority, patriarchy and the extreme form of them all, a kind of new fascism. People seek stability even if they are victimized by it. But the climate crisis is just beginning and will only worsen, in every way. That alone is a large enough situation to destroy patriarchy, hierarchy, elitism, authoritarianism and fascism. Those structures cannot stand against the forces of the planet. However, the downside of that is how many people pay the price of death to get whoever is left to a point of survival. Sorry for the downer. But again, I see no hope of humans, particularly privileged humans (I am privileged economically and racially) changing their ways. We have had years of knowledge and warnings and nothing has changed, if anything, people have simply made it all worse. Even our children are now marching and yelling at us. So what do all the privileged and entitled males intend to do to fix this situation?

    PS: love your use of the arch metaphor. I am exploring quanset/nissen huts as my next home. Its shape of an arch is the strongest when it comes to extreme weather. And we should all be planning on extreme weather at this point.

    1. Touched and challenged by your tender words Ann. I have no response, except to arch in, in weakness. Huge days. Jesus help us

  2. Hi Martin, I am grateful that I was led to your site this morning.
    I am grateful because GOD is always there to remind us Who He is, no matter what is going on around us.
    The challenge for all of us is to be bold and look at Him and our biases just shatter. Living in South Africa for most of my 60 years, is a testament that only in GOD is there hope and strength.
    Thanks for your reflections and contributions.
    GOD Bless

  3. “There is a patriarchal bias in scripture”

    I’m not an expert on history or other faith documents but I’m unaware of any doctrine or any culture that hasn’t shown a similar male-led dynamic in its structure.

    Which suggests to me that if the “bias” word should be used, it should maybe be applied to current egalitarian thought which appears to be anomalous rather than normative?

    don’t @ me, just a perspective

    blessings all

    Nigel

    1. Research shows that modern hunter gatherer societies tend to be egalitarian between the sexes and within the group overall (no classes based on wealth for example). This is seen as actually beneficial for the group as it increases group survival. It is posited that inequality arose with agriculture and increases with large scale societies that require labour for large scale construction – irrigation being first and foremost on this. Agriculture requires irrigation and all of that requires subjugated labour. And that tends to enable elites and hierarchies and the further subjection of women to men. So the aberration for modern humans in their existence of 200,000 to 300,000 years is the last 7000 to 10,000 years of emerging agriculture, city states, large scale works and imperial entities. What we live is not normal for humans. Nor is it particularly healthy or ethical for us or the planet. Sometimes a longer term perspective is useful especially as we make essential changes.

    2. Thanks Ann, my point is that when humans organise, we do so patriarchally. Without exception it seems. So to call that universal organisation “bias” seems a bit odd

      It may be that patriarchal organisation is sub optimal for us humans, but I would say that the burden of proof has to lie with those making that claim. It should not be assumed wisdom.

      Have a great Friday

    3. Oh, so I guess all those hunter/gatherer societies over all those many thousand of years just had not achieved optimum organization. Thanks for point that out.

  4. In Genesis 3, the צֵלָע/tsela the ‘rib’ (צֵלָע/tsela) from which the woman is created rather refers to one side of the human torso, half a ribcage, as it were. In 1 Kings 6:34, צֵלָע refers to one leaf of a double-leaf gate. So here, too, less gender bias in scripture than our traditional readings impose upon the text.

    At the same time there seems to be a biblical reason as to why Amos and the pre-exile prophetic tradition engages the (young, male) warrior god Jahwe as it challenges the rural-‘Canaanite’ (Baal and) Ashera fertility cult (in the Egyptian diaspora/Elephantine even ‘Jahwe and his Ashera’!) which was common to Israel at that time. (Best read to date: Andrew Shanks, The Other Calling, 154ff.)

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