Read This Week’s Passage: Genesis 1:26–28

Defining Terms

Some cultures view women as fragile and in need of constant shielding from the elements, while others see them as the burden bearers who must shoulder every weight, physical and otherwise. Men may be viewed as worthy of all deference simply because they are male, or in other contexts, as incidental participants in the reproduction process. If you are from a culture that views the gender roles one way, it is not uncommon to view an alternative as morally repugnant.

In light of these variances in definitions of gender, the idea of gender has been called a social construct, thus implying that a society is therefore at liberty to redefine gender roles. And why not? If enough individuals in a society resolve that women are not equivalent to children and have the capacity to make political determinations, why would they not then be granted the role of voting members of society?

But where does the Bible come in? Or is it silent on the topic of gender?

First, some definitions will help facilitate this conversation. At a biological level, most people are born either male or female—we may refer to this as someone’s biological sex. The binary designation of biological sex coheres with the creation account in Genesis 1:27. However, since sin has marred creation, there can be aberrations to God’s original design and some people (an estimated 1 to 2 percent in the US) may be born intersex on an anatomical or genetic level. Intersexuality is a complex topic, but regardless, it presupposes a male and female sex. So, for the purposes of this Bible study guide, we will stick with the binary biological sexes.

Then comes the concept of gender, which is related to biological sex. A part of the challenge when speaking of gender is the conflation of gender roles (with its attendant gender attributes) and gender identity. Gender roles refer to the way a society defines the behaviors associated with each biological sex. So, a man as the protector would be a gender role, or a woman as nurturer, likewise. What is referred to as gender identity has to do with the way an individual views themselves as aligning with society’s definition of their gender role. For instance, someone who is biologically female may determine that she resonates more with the protector role than the nurturer role and may thus identify as male by gender though female biologically.

Clearly, we could not possibly address gender roles and gender identity in this one lesson. There are just too many issues to consider! Since we have defined gender identity, though, as how someone relates to the definitions of gender that a society has adopted, we will leave off a discussion of gender identity in this study. Rather, we shall focus our attention on the gender roles and attributes that accompany the binary biological sex designations created by God. Even then, we do not set out to present a comprehensive definition of gender roles in Scripture, but to lay a foundation for further reflection and study.

In the Bible, God presents the archetypes of male and female first to reveal His own character as well as to provide principles to guide the citizens of His kingdom. Not in a dictatorial, micromanaging manner, but in broad strokes, we may find in Scripture the principles of gender for the two biological sexes created by God.