Debate: Gender and Genesis

October 12, 2011 § Leave a comment

The article “Grinnell College Dorms: Where Gender Doesn’t Matter” appeared in the Oct. 23rd Des Moines Register about the Iowa college’s gender-neutral dorms and locker rooms. In the online article’s comments section, I suggested gender confusion in response to one poster, and the discussion moved to a defense of universal morality and the historicity of Genesis, which lays the groundwork for distinction between male and female. The article can be found online at by searching the title.



Thank you for this wonderful story of how one college is working to build equity for its gender diverse students. One small misconception about pronouns though: ze is a gender-neutral nominative pronoun (and replaces she or he), and hir is the corresponding objective pronoun (and replaces her or him). Thus you can think of ze/hir as in the form of she/her and he/him. Hope that clears things up!


Mike Johnson

..we live in a cissexist/cisgenderist society… ze is a gender-neutral nominative pronoun (and replaces she or he), and hir is the corresponding objective pronoun (and replaces her or him). Thus you can think of ze/hir as in the form of she/her and he/him. Hope that clears things up!

It doesn’t. What IS clear is that “the Creator made them male and female”, and cultures have survived and thrived on that ever since. What was once clear is confounded by a confused society that would rather live how they feel than who they are.



What is clear to you may not be so clear to me. What is apparent to many of us is that the way and path you preach is bound by centuries of prejudice that has slowly been forced to bend and make way for allowances you once thought horrible.

For example, the complacence of the church in the face of blatant racism throughout the Civil Rights’ era. In fact, we saw the church being used as a base to attack others. “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone,” indeed!

And what about “judge not, lest ye be judged?” Nobody is asking that you convert to our modes of life, only that you respect the preferences and ideas of those different from yours. MLK did not demand that anyone assume that Africans were inherently superior, only that we learn to accept each other without factoring race into the question.

Are you truly so narrowminded as to believe that a person is irrevocably associated with the sex they are born with? That solely based on sexuality, they are inferior, confused, or in need of your help?

They don’t want– or need– your help. But they deserve the same respect for their beliefs as you do for yours.


Mike Johnson

Christopher :

Are you truly so narrowminded as to believe that a person is irrevocably associated with the sex they are born with?

Absolutely. Why should it be otherwise?

On ‘narrowness’, you’ve expressed an equally narrow and exclusive view. In fact, all views are necessarily narrow because they convey only one perspective and they exclude all possibilities other than the view they express. So being ‘narrowminded’ is not necessarily wrong. That’s determined by what the mind does and does not examine or avail itself to. I think that in your case, narrow thinking has led to some self-contradicting arguments:

You appeal to the words of Jesus in John 8 and Matthew 7, yet deny what God established in Gen. 1:27; and 5:2 and what Jesus affirmed in Matthew 19:4-6 about males and females. Also, “Judge not, lest ye be judged” (Matt 7:1) is a reminder that in any judgment we make, we will be held to the same standard. As Jesus affirms in John 7:24, it is possible to “make a right judgment.” We make moral judgments (i.e. Should I do this or shouldn’t they do that?) every day. You are making a moral judgment by maintaining that we should all accept each other, or that everyone deserves respect. Some have used the Bible to justify injustice (i.e. Racism in the Civil Rights era), but they can only do so by taking passages out of context or ignoring it altogether.

You seem to be arguing from moral relativism, which is self-refuting. “What is clear to you may not be so clear to me” is true, but the problem is equating the fact there are different perspectives on truth to the idea that there are different truths that are equally valid, particularly when they oppose each other.

“That solely based on sexuality, they are inferior, confused, or in need of your help?”

Based on their perspective of their sexuality, which is at odds with Biblical standards and what common sense has shown throughout history, anyone desiring to become the opposite sex (or sexless) is not inferior; all humans are created by God and therefore inherently valuable. All creation is subject to the corruptive effects of mankind’s sin (Gen. 3 and Romans 5:12; 8:20-25), so it makes sense that there are physical and psychological anomalies and confusion about a remedy.



Mike Johnson: Let’s take this from the top, because at least you put substance into your answer.

1) “Why should it be otherwise?”

For the same reason that people have been pushing the limits of the status quo since time immemorial. In recent years, racial and sexual equality has been the name of the game. Prior to these large social movements, it had been irrevokably assumed that men were superior to women, that whites were superior to blacks, and so on. But people push– and things change.

But lest we forget, before that it was religious equality. You enjoy your interpretation of the Bible today because some brave fellows stood up in the face of religious persecution and demanded their interpretations be heeded. And they were.

2) “On ‘narrowness’…some self contradicting arguments.”

This is where I have to cry foul, based on the separate goals of people involved. Those who support the LGBTQ community do not desire for the entire world to become gay, lesbian, or what have you. What we do espouse is that the rights of people in said community be respected the same as anyone else’s. That’s not exclusive: that’s inclusive. We won’t make you believe what we’re doing is right, but we’re not going to sit back and let those opposed legislate– the operative word here, given the record of forcing your views down our throats with the law– us into the ground.

3) “You appeal to the words … or ignoring it altogether.”

Now, I’m no Bible scholar, but much ado has been made about Matt 7:1, and your response from John 7:24 does not quite cover it. A teaching of the Bible is to beware assuming that you have the place, right, and sight to judge correctly. Why do you think our judicial system has so many checks and appeal routes? Because if there’s one thing that we know, it’s that humans of all stripes are prone to making mistakes, and that we should not at any point have someone’s fate entirely decided by one other person.

I can ground my stance on any number of grounds. The codes of morals and ethics that we like to attribute to our modern and Western world preach understanding and equality, and are not necessarily linked to any religion or creed by their nature. Similarly, I could say that on a practical level that excluding entire populations from attaining their desired status tends to result in structural instability or declining productivity.

If you are going to maintain that the Bible unequivocally legitimizes anti-LGBTQ sentiment, then by all means, let’s see you comb the Bible and find no contradictions at all.

4) “You seem to be arguing from moral relativism … when they oppose each other.”

For the purposes of this argument, between me and you– of course we will be arguing, and while I think I’m right, I respect that you think you’re right as well. But this article contends with policy, something that affects the many. And in this case, the only way to recognize that these conflicting stances may have equal validity to different people is to provide options for both.

Grinnell has done precisely that by making gender neutral housing optional and available. And in the broader world, the LGBTQ desire to make same-sex marriage legal has no ramifications on whether or not you can be married to a woman, nor does it hinder my goal of the same.

Based on their … a remedy.

The trouble with grounding your argument in “common” sense is precisely that your “common” is not my “common.” Your “common” might not even be your grandfather’s “common.” Things change, and so does society. Common sense also once held that conquering nations had to be superior to the conquered– else why would the triumphant have won?

What makes sense is that people are different and unique. They cannot be classified by definitions that we once accepted as permanent and associative. It used to be that if I were to say my parents hailed from Korea that I would be a small shop owner or railroad worker. But that identity has changed in recent years, and so too will this one.

Anomalies? Go up to one and tell them they’re in need of your help to their face. I wager few will really take you up on that one, though.


Mike Johnson

Christopher, thanks for your lengthy reply.

1.) Because something is the ‘status quo’ doesn’t means it should be changed or eliminated. Many things are the way they are because that’s the way it works. That societies “irrevokably assumed that men were superior to women, that whites were superior to blacks” I believe is an overstatement, because it isn’t true that everyone thought that way. The Bible doesn’t teach that women or blacks are inferior creatures, so the people who concluded that on religious grounds, including religious leaders, were obviously wrong, just as those who excuse immoral activity on the same grounds today.

2) What we do espouse is that the rights of people in said community be respected the same as anyone else’s. That’s not exclusive: that’s inclusive.

Actually, it’s only inclusive of its own philosophy but exclusive of anyone or anything that isn’t in line with that philosophy (“those opposed”). I don’t know what the motives have to do with the fact that all views are narrow and exclusive, but to your point I would say that the “LGBTQ community do not desire for the entire world to become gay” because it’s a philosophy that is fixed solely on the desires of self. It may espouse concern that all views are respected, but only to the end that they get the freedom (under the banner of “rights”) they want to do what they want. Clearly views in opposition are not respected. On the other hand, why wouldn’t the principle of loving one’s neighbor not compel people to desire that others not enter sinful, self-destructive lifestyles?

3) “A teaching of the Bible is to beware assuming that you have the place, right, and sight to judge correctly.”

Anyone can look at the speed limit and see that drivers exceeding it are breaking the law. I didn’t write moral law; it’s written in all of our hearts (Rom. 2:15) by our Creator. This is by no means an argument from one individual.

…codes of morals and ethics… are not necessarily linked to any religion or creed…

is true, because we are ALL morally obligated to follow moral law.

If you are going to maintain that the Bible unequivocally legitimizes anti-LGBTQ sentiment, then by all means, let’s see you comb the Bible and find no contradictions at all.

Some “anti-LGBTQ sentiment” is sinful, so that would not be scripturally condoned. Specifically, the Bible does condemn homosexual behavior (Lev. 18, 20, Rom. 1:24-27) and doesn’t leave us the option of same–sex marriage (Gen. 2:24). I do hold that the Bible is without contradiction. It’s internally consistent and also comports with reality. If that were not true, there would be no reason to appeal to it, and it would not hold any authority as God’s word.

4) the only way to recognize that these conflicting stances may have equal validity to different people is to provide options for both

You’re saying that a thing can be made right or justified as right by making an allowance for it to exist? That is backwards reasoning.

You base your point on the notion that morality is subjective, yet you state it as though it is universal and objective. Do you not presuppose that the following statements you’ve made apply universally?

“The trouble…is…”
“Things change”
“Common sense …had to be superior”
“What makes sense is…”
“people are different and unique”
“They cannot be classified“
“It used to be that …”
“that identity has changed…and so too will this one“

Moving beyond “common sense”, if you really believed moral truth (what is truly right or wrong/good or evil) is rooted in ever-changing opinion from person to person and from time to time, you wouldn’t assume that your argument should apply to anyone other than yourself. In that case, you wouldn’t argue anything at all. Nobody actually lives this way.


Benjamin (Grinnell Student)

Mike Johnson

Unfortunately, the Bible is not part of our legal system. Laws and ethics are separate things. Ethically, the bible and many other systems utilize the golden rule, which is also the basis for ethics at Grinnell College. The golden rule, in and of itself, is the ultimate guide behind modern movements for equality.


Mike Johnson

Benjamin Cantor-Jones : Re:…

On nearly every continent, and for all of recorded history, thriving cultures have recognized, revered, and integrated more than two genders.

We could substitute ‘more than two genders’ with virtually any other human activity (war, violence, sexual promiscuity, cow tipping…) and probably come up with a very similar map. That humans have made an activity part (typically a very small part) of their culture and thrived in spite of it is not to say that the activity is morally right or beneficial. We see forms of gender confusion in the Deut. 22:5, so it’s obviously not new. We certainly couldn’t show that a culture thrives BECAUSE of it. Paul speaks of a man appearing as a woman and vise-versa as something that nature itself should teach us isn’t the way it’s supposed to be (1 Cor. 11:14). The human race has survived by the principle that we act and live according to the physical sex we are given (Gen. 1:28; 2:24).

Unfortunately, the Bible is not part of our legal system. Laws and ethics are separate things.

We have laws because we have ‘ethics’, or a system of moral principals. We have moral principals because there is an ultimate law giver. There are differences though, you are correct. For instance, the Ten Commandments (basic moral principals and representative of God’s moral character) tell us “You shall not…”, whereas as civil law really doesn’t tell us to do or not to do anything. It mainly instructs of consequences, stating that breaking a certain law is punishable by X. But we most definitely would not have law without its foundational moral obligations. The ‘ethics’ of the golden rule, that you say stand by themselves as our ‘ultimate guide’, is a standard given by God. The Golden Rule derives from Matthew 7:12, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” It “sums up the Law” in the same way that “love your neighbor as yourself” is said to sum up the Law in Galatians 5:14; It’s a summary of the latter half of the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20, Deut. 5). We don’t actually need to read the Bible to be moral or practice the Golden Rule, because a general awareness of God and moral law is innate (Rom.1-2), because we are made in the image of a moral, Law-giving God who loves. We would have no reason to establish law if we weren’t already morally obligated to protect and enforce certain principals, including our ideas of freedom and equality.


Benjamin (Grinnell student)

Mike Johnson : The golden rule shows up in plenty of cultures that were not influenced by the bible. In fact, it practically follows to logic. Humans are an inherently social species with a capacity for memory and long-term planning. Following the golden rule (and punishing those who don’t) is beneficial for human groups and as a species.


Mike Johnson

Benjamin Cantor-Jones , The golden rule and other such moral obligations show up in cultures not influenced by the Bible because, as I mentioned, you don’t need to be a Bible student to have an awareness of moral law. Everyone has it. You suppose that morality derived from human social aspects and ability to remember and plan, which you say is inherent. I would ask why you wouldn’t assume that the moral obligation to “do unto others” is not also inherent. Why would it need to flow from some other cause? Isn’t that multiplying assumptions?

There are other problems with the notion of a natural origin of morality (evolution). One is that the very first moral thought or action would require a pre-existing moral standard by which to measure it. In order to even recognize an act as ‘beneficial’, you would first need to recognize ‘good’ or ‘right’ in order to see the benefit, which is a moral judgment. Another problem is that we can just as readily argue that selfish behavior ( keeping food and shelter for yourself) is beneficial for survival. Besides, this isn’t how we live. I don’t think any ‘good samaritan’ considers how his moral actions make him a more suitable mate. He acts out of inherent, God-given moral obligation.


Benjamin (Grinnell student)

Mike Johnson: I think we’re not going to get anywhere with this, as whatever I consider “instinct”, you consider “moral law.”


Mike Johnson

Benjamin, defining terms is important, but I think by definition we are talking about pretty much the same thing, although few use the terms interchangeably because there are differences mainly in implications. Would you grant that “moral instinct” is an acceptable term for human perception of what we understand as right and wrong/good and evil? Whatever we call our faculties for such judgment, my argument is simply that it can’t logically originate from humans, but rather ‘moral instinct’ is innate, which comports with both our experience and what the Bible teaches.


Simon (Grinnell student)

Mike Johnson: You’ve used the first creation account in Genesis to substantiate your claim, but the second account in Genesis 2(:7, specifically) makes no explicit mention of male and female at the time that Adam (then unnamed) is created. In fact, it just uses the word ‘adam,’ as in “human being.” Translators and redactors have chosen to gloss this as “man” in subsequent editions and revisions, but the earliest texts make no reference to gender or sex at the act of creation in this second account. You’re welcome to take whichever interpretation you want as authoritative, I don’t happen to think that one is more correct than the other, I just thought I’d point out that the literal text of the Bible doesn’t lay this out so plainly as you suggest. The Bible is a living document, an amalgamation of possibly hundreds of texts that has undergone hundreds of redactions and translations by human beings over milennia, and I would hesitate to use it as definitively as you do.


Mike Johnson

Simon, If Genesis 2 is an expanded and detailed account of the sixth day of creation described in Genesis 1, which is there is no compelling reason to doubt that it is, why would the Adam of Genesis 2 be a different gender than the Adam of Genesis 1?


Simon (Grinnell student)

Mike, I’d like to stress the “if” of your assumption that Genesis 2 is an expansion of the 6th day in the original account. In Gen 1 the waters are established in day 1, and vegetation in day 2. In Genesis 2, the account begins with the creation of man “when no plant of the field was yet in the earth…for the LORD God had not caused it to rain upon the earth…” (2:5). I find compelling evidence to suggest the presence of two separate sources detailing the same basic story. Other scholars, such as the compilers of the edition of the Bible that I read, would posit that as many as 4 generic types of sources, each of them broken further down into individual manuscripts, comprise what we know today as the canon.

Then again, I’m coming from a very different perspective than you are. I’m approaching this from an almost literary-historical perspective in the vein of my decidedly non-confessional education, as I’m sure you’re approaching the text from within whichever perspective you espouse as a part of your faith and education therein. I think mostly my point is that I personally find it hard to understand a literal interpretation of the Bible as the word of God when the two of us aren’t even reading it in its original language or context. Again I don’t want to preclude the possibility altogether or antagonize you in any way, I’d just like to hear your thoughts on the matter because frankly we aren’t ever taught the other side of most of these debates and I’m not entirely satisfied with that fact.




Tanya (Abilene Christian University student)


Simon touches on this a bit in his last post, but I feel that there is indeed compelling reason to doubt that Genesis 2 is not simply a detailed account of Genesis 1. In fact, many biblical scholars will agree that they are two completely separate accounts of creation with two different authors. Essentially, different stories are being told with different reasons behind telling each story. In fact, as far as I can tell, there is not an Adam in the Genesis 1 account to compare to the Adam of Genesis 2. And is the story not a more beautiful piece of literature when one sees the characters Adam and Eve as archetypal figures, especially in light of what is to come later in the biblical narrative? I respect your beliefs and know that I can’t argue you into another one, so this isn’t the goal I have in mind, but if you are willing to, try approaching the Bible from a different perspective; I don’t believe you have to drop your faith to be able to do so.


Mike Johnson

Simon and Tanya, I appreciate your comments, this is healthy discussion. 🙂 I do see the dilemma that 2:5 poses and I admit at first look it appears to contradict the order of Creation (plants before man) in chapter 1. Sometimes I wish I could conjure up the original manuscript and an ancient scribe to read it for me :). But from what we have available, here’s what I’ve found. Genesis 1 describes God creating vegetation (1:11-13)…

Then God said, “Let the earth produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants, and fruit trees on the earth bearing fruit with seed in it, according to their kinds.” And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation: seed-bearing plants according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it, according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. Evening came, and then morning: the third day.

And Genesis 2:5, in a couple translations…

Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the LORD God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground… (NIV)

No shrub of the field had yet grown on the land, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the LORD God had not made it rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground. (HCSB)

When God created in chapter 1, He created fully-grown animals, plants and people. Stars were already born and casting light, and the moon was already reflecting light. The creatures He made would “swarm”, “fly”, “crawl” (rather than appearing as eggs or infants), etc., the day they were made. Adam was created as an adult, not an embryo. God’s pattern was to create the fully-formed thing with the ability to reproduce after its kind. When 1:11,12 says “Let the earth produce” and “the earth brought forth” vegetation, whether the tree shot out of the ground immediately or merely appeared in the ground as fully grown, we know it was a mature tree the same day it as created, because these plants are described as “seed-bearing plants, and fruit trees on the earth bearing fruit with seed in it.” At creation, they were grown trees ready to produce seeds.

In chapter 2, Adam, on day 6, his first day on earth, would be surrounded by trees and plants, and there was certainly enough water in the ground to sustain them if it hadn’t rained yet by day 6 (we don’t know when the first rains came; we only know they hadn’t yet). Here’s the main point: No NEW plants would have “sprung up” or “sprouted” because those seed bearing plants wouldn’t have had the opportunity to drop seeds and for those seeds to take root and start to appear yet. They hadn’t reproduced. There is also in chapter 2 the context of Adam as a farmer/gardener, so the emphasis seems to be on cultivation. “There was no man to work the ground” (2:5) on day 3. “Then the LORD God formed the man…” at 2:7, which is the focal point of the narrative of chapter 2.

I agree that teaching on Scripture is often very one-sided and it is important to consider different perspectives. There is definitely value in searching lexicons, learning Hebrew and Greek and studying earlier manuscripts, but at the outset, I wouldn’t prescribe anything other than simply reading. Reading as you would any other piece of literature. I have actually tried reading Genesis and other texts as if they were allegorical. The problem I run into is that Genesis simply doesn’t read like allegory. It reads like history. The Epic of Gilgamesh is obviously not history. Literary style, even in other languages and cultures is very telling. When you read a fiction novel, you don’t need to be told it’s fiction. When you read poetry, you know not to take the imagery as literal, but to look for its meaning. Apply the same when reading books, personal letters, instruction manuals, news reports, blogs… The Bible contains history, poetry, prophecy, parables, Epistolary writings, and these are evident when we simply read it, rather than read INTO it.

That’s not to say there aren’t problems in understanding, but I think the idea of an allegorical Genesis is unreasonable given the greater context of Scripture. Christianity is meaningless if Adam was not a historical figure, because then there is no sin and therefore no need of Christ’s salvation. If we assume millions of years instead of literal 24-hour days in Genesis 1, we end up with millions of years of death before Adam, death that is said to be from Adam’s sin (Romans 5:12-21). The cause is moved after the effect. Paul obviously had the understanding of a real Adam when he talked about Adam’s real sin as the catalyst of our very real sin problem. As a former Pharisee in the first century, Paul would have had knowledge of and access to a far bigger library of Jewish history than we do, and he speaks of Adam as if he really existed. Jesus Himself spoke of Adam and Eve as historical figures at Creation, not the result of billions of years of evolution… “Haven’t you read,” He replied, “that He who created them in the beginning made them male and female…” (Matt. 19:4). Archetypal figures may make for “a more beautiful piece of literature” to some, but it would be a theological disaster for all. In terms of the Genesis account, there simply isn’t a compelling reason to assume allegory anyway, and I think a straightforward reading suggests the opposite.


Simon (Grinnell student)

Thanks Mike, I appreciate that you took the time to reply.


Mike Johnson

Thank you, Simon, I’ve enjoyed the discussion!


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