Gender by design

bride and groomYesterday, I mentioned some of the affirmations about marriage that I presented in a sermon on Sunday. I want to take a few days to unpack some of these ideas.

To begin the list, I decided to start with what Jesus began with when talking about marriage:

““Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’”

(Matthew 19:4)

Affirmation #1: God created mankind as male and female.

God created gender. He created two of them, male and female. That’s the basic building block of marriage: the intentionality of a two-gendered humanity.

We live in an age where that statement comes into question. Many would scoff at the idea of God creating anything. Others take a rather deistic approach, seeing that God created things a certain way, but our world has evolved beyond that. Many in the church today take a dualistic approach to human sexuality, seeing gender more as a barrier to be overcome than a part of divine design.

But if we’re going to speak of marriage as Jesus did, then it’s right for us to begin with this basic statement: God created males and females. Two sexes. On purpose. By design.

We aren’t male and female because evolution so dictated. Our chromosomes don’t differ from one another because of the random happenings of a mindless universe. We were made by God, made to be male, made to be female. That’s stated in the very first chapter of the Bible and reinforced by the Word Made Flesh when he was living among us.

Affirmation #1: God created mankind as male and female.

Photo by Rachel James

32 thoughts on “Gender by design

  1. JTB

    Yay, more gender discussion! ;)

    Tim, I’m curious about how you interpret the biological (created) reality of intersex bodies? And are you assuming that gender always maps the same way onto biological sex?

  2. Tim Archer Post author

    Hi JTB,

    As for your curiosity, I’ll do my best to offer some reflections; far short of thought-out theology:

    • Jesus did mention that some are born “different” when it comes to sexuality. (Matthew 19:12)
    • “Natural” doesn’t always mean good.
    • My view of the sovereignty allows for some things to exist in nature that aren’t necessarily what God wants. I attribute some birth defects, etc., to the effects of a fallen world, not the design of a loving God.

    As for the question about gender always mapping the same way onto biological sex, I’m afraid you’ll have to explain that one to me. I’m not sure exactly what you are asking.

    Grace and peace,

  3. Alabama John

    Not just humans, God saw the need for all creatures to have two sexes. part of His nature laws, must have a top and bottom, back and front, inside and outside, just as George Burns said.

  4. guy


    Perhaps i’m piggy-backing onto what JTB is after:

    It seems to me that the claim “God created gender” is ambiguous or vague. Does that mean that everything we take (whether explicitly or implicitly) to be definitive of a given gender is the product of divine creation? Or only some of it?

    Let me share a classic example (a riddle):

    A young boy and his father were out playing football when they were caught at the bottom of a giant pileup. Both were injured and rushed to the hospital. They were wheeled into separate operating rooms and two doctors prepped up to work on them, one doctor for each patient. The doctor operating on the father got started right away, but the doctor assigned to the young boy stared at him in surprise. “I can´t operate on him!” the doctor exclaimed to the staff. “That child is my son!”

    How can that be?

    Typical reactions to the riddle include a small portion of people are completely stumped, and many more people who get the right answer *but not right away.* The answer, of course, is that the doctor was the boy’s mother. But why, for many people, doesn’t that answer occur immediately or without any extra cognitive “work”? The suggestion is that we have a common and sharply constructed stereotype of female-ness such that it is disassociated with certain professions.

    Did God create the non-doctor-ness in the female gender? Or is that socially constructed? If you take it that this is included in what God created when God created gender, then the statement “God created gender” is quite revealing and definitive (and certainly controversial). If you take it that this particular phenomena is representative of the types of things about “gender” that God did not create but are socially constructed, then the statement “God created gender” doesn’t reveal much until you specify the particular features or types of features to which you mean “gender” to refer.

    Do you just mean anatomy? I suppose some people might fight you on that, but not a lot–or at least not what you might consider your “target audience,” no? Isn’t the controversial stuff, then, the stuff about gender that we tend to think of as not strictly anatomical? –for instance, the notion that inherent in male-ness is the proper responsibility/obligation to be the sole or primary bread-winner? –or for instance, the notion that inherent in female-ness is a lack of prowess at primarily cerebral endeavors like math, logic, or science?


  5. Tim Archer Post author


    I do want to try and keep this post focused on marriage, although I recognize that my comment about how some people view gender did open the door to a discussion of gender roles in the church.

    I’ll use our friend JTB as an example. We’ve probably discussed gender roles as much as anyone on this blog, yet I don’t remember her speaking about gender itself in a derogatory way. (though I’m old, and my memory isn’t what it used to be) Our differences on the issue of gender roles stem from other disagreements.

    But I’ve read statements like “Does the Holy Spirit check our DNA before distributing spiritual gifts?” which seem to imply that DNA lies outside of the spiritual realm. People have spoken bluntly about “what dangles between a man’s legs” as if that anatomy came from Darwin and not from God. There have been joking comments about a woman not being able to preach because “she doesn’t have the right plumbing,” which again seems to imply that the physical part of our being didn’t come from God. That’s what’s troubling to me, and what I take exception to.

    I’ve read recently that gender was important before because the world was being populated, but now it doesn’t matter because we’re facing overpopulation. And I object to reducing gender to pure biology, especially if that biology is seen as driven by “Mother Nature” and not God.

    As to the ins and outs of what it means to be male and female, that seems to be a discussion for another day. For now, yes I’m talking about anatomy, and I do think this basic fact excludes homosexual marriage. But I’m also one who believes that the same God who made our insides also made our outsides. We are different, from the start, before the Fall. How that difference is to be lived in the church is a question we have to work through, but to deny that difference is to start off on the wrong foot.

    Grace and peace,

  6. guy


    Interesting–i wasn’t thinking much about church roles or spiritual gifts or that stuff. i was thinking about social roles and marriage. When i was about 18 i was in a Bible class where a man argued that God intends for women (particularly wives) never to work outside the home–that’s a feature inherent to femaleness. Interestingly, the oldest people in the room raised the most objections in the class–they were the women who had lived through WWII (had they not worked, there would’ve been no one to work at all). i’m sure a lot of people think that’s a super-antiquated discussion or that even raising such discussions indicates part of the problem. But surely it’s only different in degree from issues like implicit stereotypes that girls are bad at math.

    About anatomy–i guess it’s not obvious to me when people make the “plumbing” and “dangling” comments that they are assuming that anatomy didn’t come from God. (Maybe they assume that, i don’t know.) Seems to me people could simply mean that it’s drastically *un*-obvious to them what, if any, connection there is between anatomy and the issues being discussed. What does seem like an oversight to me, however, is that such comments seem to deflate “gender” by suggesting either that anatomy has little to no effect on personality, capacity, activity, aptitude, etc. (that can’t be right), or that gender is strictly an anatomical reference (plenty of social science suggests that gender is much thicker than that).

    Also about anatomy–interesting you mention the Fall. i do know of some Orthodox folks who hold that our bodies changed quite radically after the Fall. Yes, there were “male” and “female” before the Fall. But i know of at least one priest who argues (based on certain church fathers) that genitalia probably didn’t exist until after the Fall. If that were true, then “gender” definitely cannot simply mean “plumbing.”


  7. Tim Archer Post author


    Considering the number of women in the Bible who worked outside of the home, that’s a difficult posture to defend! And yes, I’ve heard ridiculous stereotypes regarding women (and men) over the years.

    What does seem like an oversight to me, however, is that such comments seem to deflate “gender” by suggesting either that anatomy has little to no effect on personality, capacity, activity, aptitude, etc. (that can’t be right), or that gender is strictly an anatomical reference (plenty of social science suggests that gender is much thicker than that).

    That probably better expresses what I was trying to say.

    As for anatomical changes coming with the Fall, that’s pure speculation. And since Genesis 1 includes God’s command to “be fruitful,” it’s really hard for me to see how that would have been accomplished without reproductive organs.

  8. guy


    Meh, i think there’s a difference between informed speculation and pure speculation. I fully grant that both are speculation, but i think there’s an important difference. i take the early church fathers to have engaged in much of the former kind and rarely in the latter.

    Reproduction without organs? i already believe that a virgin became pregnant, so i guess the suggestion that pre-lapsarian reproduction worked differently than now doesn’t strike me as some big stretch.


  9. Tim Archer Post author


    Yeah, I guess I’m a little harsh with the “pure speculation.” But if we have nothing more than some theorizing by the ECF, I’m pretty skeptical. If that’s based on some ancient Jewish tradition… okay, I’ll give it some thought.

    As for the other, I’m not real hung up on that. It just seems to fall into the “sexual relations are evil” camp, in my view.

  10. guy


    i sympathize–that was the reaction i had too when i first heard the argument being made–that underlying some of the persuasiveness of the speculation for some was a shared intuition that sex is inherently dirty or bad or something. i’ve never heard any Orthodox person claim as much. So perhaps i’m reading into it.

    As far as the clear teaching goes, *both* married life and celibate life are considered holy and honorable–there are special Orthodox services (more than just weddings) meant to demonstrate the holiness of each path.

    But i’d like to throw something in, if you don’t mind. Seems to me a lot of objections to various issues about marriage, gender, etc. do have an underlying assumption that human beings have certain natural entitlements/rights. That’s arguably been our political and cultural heritage since the late 17th century or so (particularly in America, John Locke seems to be the prominent philosopher; and he takes human rights–including property rights–to exist naturally). This is a view i find less and less persuasive–that there exist any such things as natural rights. That notion seems to depend on a conception of morality that is fundamentally legal or juridical, and i just don’t think it is for lots of reasons.

    Anyway, the point is this: Does anyone have a moral *right* to marriage? Am i entitled to a marriage? Am i entitled to any particular opportunities or professions? If someone were selected by God to have job X or opportunity X or social role X, and if X afforded that someone certain privileges or rewards or whatever, i might be tempted to claim that it is *unfair* if i am not also allowed that same opportunity, job, or social role. But the only way, i think, to make any sense of that feeling of “it’s not fair!” is if i think there exists juridical egalitarianism and thus certain entitlements.

    On the other hand, if there exists no such rights or entitlements (such that even my next breath is in no sense owed to me), then i don’t see how i have any room to complain or feel slighted that someone else gets an opportunity or role that i don’t.

    Anyway, that seemed particularly relevant to me; perhaps it’s not related to what you’re after though.


  11. Tim Archer Post author

    Don’t you think, Guy, that that feeling is strongest in countries like the United States where we’re told from childhood: “You can be anything you want to be.”

    Throughout most of history and for many people in the world, that statement has never applied. We pride ourselves on the belief that anyone can do anything. Not everyone sees the world that way.

  12. guy


    Fantastic stuff! Made me think of how disability or birth defects (even ones that affect gender) actually suggest that if rights are anything, they’re not natural. There’s nothing about nature that suggests to me i am born with a right to a different genetic make-up than i have, let alone a job, opportunity, or social role.

    You also made me think of the parable of the talents. The stewards were not all awarded equal amounts. Nor did any of them complain that his amount differed from the other two. Further, at the end, when the master reclaims the talent from the bad steward, the master gives it to the steward who already had the most talents (as opposed to the next steward, as though the next steward ought to have been brought closer to the amount of the highest). Interesting–uneven distribution was simply taken for granted. i never put that together before.

    So if it is the case that i can “be anything i want to be,” that a result of artificial rights–rights that are mere political constructs. –not a matter of the world as designed by God. i guess that means (if you have marriage on the brain) those in favor of marriage equality are likely arguing for more political constructs, not that marriage is a natural right (well, perhaps some are arguing that it’s a natural right–i don’t know). However, those who oppose legal marriage equality, i suppose, are likely basing their position on claims about nature; but if that’s so, then it is not obvious that legal constructs must or ought to track nature or natural law.

    Okay–sorry. Kinda took over your blog today. i’ll shut up now.


  13. Wendy Cayless

    Tim, sexuality is biological and gender is a social construct. One can be biologically male and identify as female or vice versa or there are all those who do not fit a binary model of either sexuality or gender.

  14. Tim Archer Post author

    Hi Wendy,

    I’m going to assume, since English doesn’t differentiate well between second person singular and second person singular, when you say “your paradigm” that you mean that plurally, as in “the paradigm held by most people throughout history, held by most of the Western world, and used by Jesus when discussing marriage.” The assumption is that you aren’t laying this on me personally, but on the grand collective of people who have subscribed to two gender theory. Or am I assuming wrong?

    Anyway, may I suggest you read the previous comments, see the discussion there, then see if I’ve approached an answer to your question.

    Grace and peace,

  15. Gary

    Tim, I agree with your affirmation but not with the unspoken conclusion that God only has created heterosexual men and heterosexual women. If God has created heterosexuals he has also created homosexuals. All fall under God’s having created us in such a way that it is not good for us to be alone. All of us come within God’s gracious will that we be able to have a suitable and appropriate (read sexually compatible) life companion.

  16. Tim Archer Post author


    I don’t doubt that God created homosexuals. I do doubt that that was God’s original design. At the risk of sounding crass, I’ll note that people are born blind, yet God’s original design wasn’t that. His original design was that we have two functioning eyes. After the Fall, God’s original design was corrupted. One day it will not be so.

    Genesis affirms that God created humans as male and female. More than a thousand years later, Jesus reaffirmed that fact. That was the perfect time for Jesus to clarify God’s intention, to rectify the “two gender theory,” but he didn’t do so. Did same sex attraction not exist then? Was it outside their realm of perception, like atomic theory or space exploration? Fact is, homosexuality was known and practiced in other cultures, yet Jesus had no problem in saying, “at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female.'”

    Chronological snobbery must never trump theology. I’m unwilling to believe that the Word made flesh was so ignorant of human nature that he was blind to the questions being discussed today. We can say what we want about societal evolution, but there is no indication that Christ envisioned anything other than heterosexual marriage.

  17. Tim Archer Post author

    Hi Wendy,

    The big difference that I see is that nowhere did Jesus speak of slavery as being God’s intention, yet he did just that about marriage in Matthew 19. He spoke of a two-gender humanity as being something intentionally shaped by the Creator in the beginning, and he spoke of that as the basic building block of a marriage.

  18. Wendy Cayless

    Jesus is speaking about the permanence of marriage surely, that the covenant is God ordained… not about whether it should be limited to heterosexuals?

    You are still confusing gender and sexuality btw. Sexual orientation and gender are two different things.

  19. Tim Archer Post author

    Yes, Wendy, you’ve quite condescendingly said as much several times. I don’t buy it.

    And Jesus was talking about marriage… period.

  20. Gary

    Tim, I recommend the Wikipedia article on Gender and especially the section on Distinction between Sex and Gender. Sex and gender were practically identical terms when I was in school but that is no longer the case. The meaning of gender has changed in recent decades. Basically sex refers to genitalia and gender refers to the sex that one cognitively identifies with (sometimes called “brain sex”). Many individuals are transgendered and feel strongly from childhood that they belong to the sex that is different from their
    reproductive anatomy. Logically their situation is no different from that of intersexed persons except that the ambiguity derives from their brain rather than their genitalia. Even conservatives have recognized that some intersexed persons have chosen a sexual identity and lived out their lives in accordance with the choice they have made. By the way it is estimated that up to 1.7% of the population is intersexed so a church of 100 members is likely to have one or two intersexed members. There is no reason to treat transgendered persons any differently. The brain is a physical organ just as much as genitalia so in the end it really doesn’t matter where the origin of the ambiguity is. The church should support transgendered persons in the choice they make of how to live out their lives just as we would with intersexed persons. We certainly should not add to their pain and difficulty by judging them or condemning their life choices.

  21. Gary

    Tim, everything Jesus says about marriage in Matthew 19 is in answer to a question about heterosexual divorce. That context does not support any conclusion about same-sex marriage one way or the other.

  22. Tim Archer Post author


    Thanks for trying to help explain that. I do recognize the psychological variations in gender identity and recognize that for many the meaning of gender has changed. That’s far from universal. I travel widely and am asked to mark my gender on a regular basis; I’ve never been offered more than two choices. It’s fair to say that some make a difference between gender and sex; many don’t. I don’t see the Bible making such a differentiation.

    I don’t feel a need to judge people with gender confusion; to be honest, they have my sympathy. You refer to their pain, and I believe that such lives must be painful. As for my thoughts on their situation, I’ll repeat what I stated earlier:

    • Jesus did mention that some are born “different” when it comes to sexuality. (Matthew 19:12)
    • “Natural” doesn’t always mean good.
    • My view of the sovereignty allows for some things to exist in nature that aren’t necessarily what God wants. I attribute some birth defects, etc., to the effects of a fallen world, not the design of a loving God.

    What I said before about chronological snobbery refers to the point of view that seems to feel that Jesus and other teachers in the Bible were completely ignorant about the complexities of human sexuality. It doesn’t take much reading to see that such isn’t true. The Greeks and Romans explored human sexuality, as did other cultures. Jesus knew people much better than we do. Yet we somehow feel that we are better equipped to speak to sexual issues than the Bible is.

    I think Webb’s work on Slaves, Women & Homosexuals offers some insights here. The Bible continually took a stance toward slavery and toward women that could be considered more “progressive” than the prevailing cultures its day. On homosexuality, the Bible is consistently more conservative. That’s very telling. Ancient culture was less restrictive than the Bible is regarding homosexuality, while the Bible offers more protections for women and slaves than did the cultures of its context.

  23. Tim Archer Post author

    Tim, everything Jesus says about marriage in Matthew 19 is in answer to a question about heterosexual divorce. That context does not support any conclusion about same-sex marriage one way or the other.

    It doesn’t say anything about unicorns, either. Should we expect Jesus to talk about things that don’t exist?

    Jesus talks about what marriage is. He doesn’t go through a list of all the things that it is not.

  24. Gary

    Tim, I agree with most of what you just said and for most of my life I would have agreed with everything you said. The problem is what we who are gay Christians are supposed to do because we too are made in such a way that it is not good for us to be alone. We too long to share our lives completely with a person who is suitable or appropriate for us. Many of us who are a little older have tried heterosexual marriage. I did so after seeing a CoC professional counselor (in the 1970’s) who was fine with me marrying a woman. I ended up hurting her and a lot of folks I love and I live with that guilt every day. I wish our ministers and leaders would shout it from the house tops that mixed gay-straight marriages are cruel sooner or later for all concerned. That should be plain to all no matter what their stance on gay marriage.

    The other alternative for conservative Christians is celibacy. Interestingly, Paul never recommends celibacy to homosexuals. Yet that is the standard recommendation now in conservative Christianity. Reading between the lines, I strongly suspect that Paul thought that any man was capable of having heterosexual intercourse in marriage. If not he would have recommended celibacy but he never does that. I have a high view of Scripture but Paul was a man of the first century. He was not omniscient. I don’t believe Paul understood the concept of immutable homosexual orientations that are firmly in place by puberty any more than he understood the disease of alcoholism when he seems to condemn drunkards in 1 Corinthians 6. Today we automatically filter Paul’s condemnation of drunkards through our understanding of the disease of alcoholism. I doubt any of us really believe that alcoholics will be lost on that account. In the same way we should filter Paul’s seeming condemnation of gays through our knowledge today of sexual orientation. It is important to remember that even the word homosexual was not coined until the 19th century.

    In addition, both Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 6 have more than one reasonable interpretation on the issue of homosexuality. The more I study the Bible on this subject the more convinced I am that nothing in Scripture forbids gay marriage. I realize of course that many devout Christians strongly disagree. I believe the solution is to leave homosexuality as a matter between the individual Christian and God. That is where Foy Wallace advocated leaving divorce and remarriage and Churches of Christ would have avoided much heartache over many years if we had followed that counsel.

  25. Gary

    Tim, does Matthew 19 forbid polygamy? According to your reasoning it does. Yet we know that polygamy was allowed to the Jews under the Law of Moses and the Law of Moses was clearly still in effect when Jesus spoke the words recorded in Matthew 19. We also know from Josephus that polygamy was still being practiced by a minority of Jews in the first century. (Interestingly, it was being practiced mainly by the most conservative Jews- those least affected by Hellenistic culture. Monogamy comes down to us from Greek and Roman culture- not from Hebrew culture.)
    If Matthew 19 forbids homosexual marriage it also forbids polygamy but we know that it doesn’t. That which proves too much proves nothing. I think trying to settle the gay marriage issue from Jesus’ words in Matthew 19 answering a question about heterosexual divorce fall into this category.

  26. Tim Archer Post author

    I think that polygamy is outside of God’s plan, just as the divorce allowed by the Law of Moses is outside of God’s plan. Jesus talks about what God intended from the beginning. We hit a stumbling block in your chain of logic because I do think that Matthew 19 forbids polygamy.

    I think we can learn some things from Matthew 19 that help us understand the gay marriage issue. I agree that we won’t “settle the issue” based on a single passage.

  27. Tim Archer Post author


    I believe that the alcoholic that refuses to try and overcome his addiction is living outside of God’s will. In the same way, I believe that those with same sex attraction who choose to act on those desires are living outside of God’s will.

    In the end, every teaching comes down to a person and God. That doesn’t leave the church without a voice, however. We can hold up a standard of purity when it comes to divorce while still reaching out in love to those who have been divorced. We can hold up a standard of purity regarding sexual orientation while still reaching out in love to those who wrestle with same sex attraction.


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