Male and Female: the ONLY options or the MAJORITY story? Dialogue with Preston Sprinkle (pt. 2)

Thanks again, Preston, for another thoughtful post exploring the possibility of interpreting Adam and Eve not as a pattern into which all other humans must squeeze themselves, but as the beginning of the story of God’s redemption¸ a story that will bring many more kinds of humans into the conversation—different races, languages, tribes, nations, and, yes, even differently sexed and gendered human beings.

We know that Genesis is a theological text, not a science book (and if any of you are not convinced, please watch this short video with some of the most respected Biblical scholars from around the globe talking about science and Genesis). This is why we must be cautious about looking to Genesis to answer some of our questions about science, not only the question of whether there are humans who bridge the categories of male and female (similar to how dusk and dawn bridge the categories of night and day) but to answer other scientific questions. We have some history with this (e.g., how long ago was the earth created, was it 6 days or ages?) where we have tried to read too much into (or out of) the creation narratives.

As a theological text, the narrative shows who is the true Creator, where and how humans are to be situated in relation to God, to the creation—since they come from dust (a good translation of adam would be “earthling” since the adam is made from the adamah – the dust/dirt/earth), and to one another (partnering in filling, ruling, can caring for the earth). But humans are also made in God’s image and thus bear responsibilities—to God, to the earth, to one another, and to themselves. Of course when sin enters the story, we see the disruption of these four relationships.

I think you would add that the “right relation” between male and female is also indicated above. I do not have a problem with drawing a connection between the sexed difference of Adam and Eve and the way in which their procreational complementarity does point to heterosexual marriage. (How else are they to fulfill the blessing or command to “fill the earth”? I think this is why we see this pattern also in how Jesus uses Adam and Eve in Mt. 19, and other NT passages.) I think this is still a fair reading of the text because it fits the experience of the majority of the human race (while 10-11% of adolescents in the USA question their sexual identity only 3-5% identify as non-heterosexual as adults). But just because this is the majority pattern, does not mean that it must be an exclusive pattern. Certainly for intersex people, we are stuck asking what kind of “opposite sex” would complement their unique bodies.

My colleague Wesley Wildman at Boston University (who heads the PhD program in religion and science) provides helpful language to address this complex situation. He speaks of humans, not through the language of dimorphism (as if bodies come in only two forms) but with the language “non-strict dimorphism.” This phrase acknowledges both the majority pattern without excluding, denigrating, or marginalizing the minority. Most humans seem to fall into basic male or female categories (despite enormous variations in body type, personality, chromosome patterns, etc.), but not all humans fall into these two categories. This is the point we are trying to address and bring into conversation with the Bible and Christian understandings of the significance of sex and gender differences.

Genesis describes in broad brush strokes some majority categories of creation. It is not an exhaustive list. Would we have liked God to say more about sex and gender diversity? You bet! But I would like the Bible to address many other questions I have too.

You write:

“While Scripture itself will later testify to the existence of other creational hybrids such as dusk and dawn and marshes and amphibians, the Bible itself never explores human categories of sexual ‘in-between-ness.’ That is, sexual hybrids (intersex people) were known to the ancient writers, yet they were never taken up in the Scriptural narrative in a way that challenges the male/female binary.”

Actually, I think the parallel you draw is a good one. If we use dawn and amphibians as examples, we see that they are never brought up in the Scriptures with explicit language that challenges the original categories of creation. They simply occur in descriptions of the world. Similarly, the appearance of eunuchs, in Isaiah 56, Matthew 19:12, and Acts 8, name a category of people whose bodies did not fit the male/female pattern.

You seem to think that if it is really important, the bible would address it (more) directly. But I don’t think this is a realistic way to read the Bible, nor is it an assumption on which to base the marginalization and abuse of a significant number of human persons. This was one of Dr. Ciampa’s points in his comments on your blog:

“Since the evidence is capable of being interpreted in either way, … I think an ethics of biblical interpretation should remind me that interpreting the text in a way that preserves a neat theological binary that I prefer (but that may not be one required by God/Scripture) is of secondary importance to interpreting the text in a way that respects the reality and dignity of people who may be positively or adversely impacted by the interpretive decisions of others (and their insistence on the illegitimacy of [an] alternative interpretation[s]). We have a lot to learn, I think, by learning to read through the eyes (or with the help) of those most effected by the interpretive decisions being contested.” (emphasis added by Megan)

There are many important issues which the Bible does not answer for us. Nevertheless, I still believe that the Bible gives us more than enough to put us on the path to right relationships with God, with others, with ourselves, and with creation—and that we have the opportunity at this point in history of improving one of those relationships; namely, the relationship between intersex and non-intersex in the human family and in the family of God.