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’!

Certainly not all Greek

No need to read the verses above! Just a lot of the word ‘anthropos’ that appears there including the part that affirms that Jesus’ identity post resurrection is as ‘the man Christ Jesus’… and yet that is what I wish to challenge.

The resurrection is a very key event which has enormous ramifications for creation. The resurrection is not a Greek alive-after-death scenario affirming that there is life after death, rather it is the resurrection of a physical body that affirms God’s ongoing commitment to his work of creation and secures a physical future.

Jesus died, Jesus rose again. The body that went in the grave is the one that came out and there was a transformation of that body. He enters the grave male and comes out…

A little speculative theology about to be embarked on here.

I have considered the question about resurrection and gender in my little head before and had previously reasoned that if sexual identity is an element of my identity then resurrection would include that element. Recently though I have re-considered. So a little journey to get to where I am speculatively settling.

A few basics first, and in this terminology is not always easy. I consider that God is neither male nor female, but both masculine and feminine. Humanity (and I appreciate there are biological exceptions to this) are either male or female but both are masculine and feminine. In other words I am using male / female biologically and masculine / feminine to relate to characteristics, and in that open up the whole scenario to the critique of cultural and gender stereotypes.

Jesus was male and Jewish. Jewish as they were the redeeming nation that had lost the plot. Born of a woman and born under the law he came at a time when the ‘sins of the Jews’ had reached fullness:

Therefore this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible for it all (Lk. 11:50,51 – ‘sins of the Jews’ is a cheeky, but I think appropriate, adaptation of the term ‘sins of the Amorites’ from Gen. 15).

The nation called to be the means of redemption are condemned under the power of sin and therefore needed a representative redeemer. He is the Jewish Messiah. He dies as a Jew – we will come back to his resurrection in due course on this. He is not only Jewish but male, not because of some inherent superiority in the male gender – far from it. Male, as male had partnered with the powers, as expressed in patriarchal rule. Such dominance is antithetical to the kingdom of God. Jesus, as male, broke, through his relationships, behaviour, words and action this male dominance. A simple example of his cultural opposition to patriarchy is in Luke 11: 27,28:

As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.”
He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”

Her world view spilled right out in the presence of such a truly human presence. A woman’s status was like climbing a set of steps to the pinnacle. A woman needed to be married (step 1), to have children (step 2), to have a male child (third step) and the ultimate was to be a woman who not only gave birth to a male child but to a rabbi of the stature of Jesus. In one short sentence he corrected this totally. A woman’s status was not tied to her marital nor maternal relationships. Males are not superior, females are not subservient.

He is male, not to demonstrate superiority, but to deal with patriarchy. Unless sin at the sharp end is dealt with there can be no redemption. If he dies as Jew he dies for the world; if he dies as male he dies for humanity. Now to the resurrection.

He rises as new humanity, a humanity that is neither Jew nor Greek. Hence I do not see Jesus today as Jewish. He dies as Jew, he rises trans-national. And then… yes I think I have also moved ground on the maleness of the resurrected Jesus. He dies male, but ‘in Christ there is neither male and female’. This verse uses the term ‘and‘ when referring to male and female, unlike the ‘nor’ when referring to Jew / Greek and slave / free. The ‘and’ pushes us back to Genesis when God created male and female. New humanity is not male and female.

There is in heaven a human mediator:

For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people (1 Tim. 2: 5,6).

I chose this translation with all its clumsy male language deliberately. ‘Mankind’ would be much better translated as’ humanity’, and the term the ‘man Christ Jesus’ is the generic ‘anthropos’ (humanity) not the specific ‘aner’ (male). Jesus was male, he (?) is now still fully human, but this verse leaves open the gender issue in the sense of ‘male’ or ‘female’.

The Godhead was not and is not male nor female. The Godhead was not Jewish. Jesus in the incarnation was both Jewish and male, but now?

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