Whenever I see the word “Biblical” in front of a title or a statement I pause as anyone should who cares about what the Bible really does or does not say.
Recently this word caught my eye: a local Evangelical church, a church of great size, advertised a Biblical Masculinity and Femininity Conference. I thought this rather odd since the Bible does not tell men how to behave as men or women how to behave as women. Stereotyping? Why?
Regarding male and female behavior I’ve come to the conclusion that masculinity and femininity are social contrivances or social regulators which help us navigate our relationships. Again, the Bible does not tell men how to behave like a man or a woman how to behave like a woman. The Bible does tell us in very simple general statements how we as men and women are to relate to the opposite sex and to each other. The Bible also provides us with examples of what men find attractive in a woman (e.g., the Shulammite woman of The Song of Solomon & the industrious woman in Proverbs 31) and what women find attractive in men (the Ruth/Boaz story). Masculine or feminine qualities, if there are such things, are worked out between each man and woman in the give and take of relationship. They certainly are not the rubber stamping of contrived gender roles promoted by such “Let’s-Get-This-Nailed-Down” Conferences.
Without a whole lot of fanfare the Bible commands men to love their wives and women to respect their husbands. Beyond this the Bible only gives us some storied examples of men and women in action. Masculinity and femininity if Biblically revealed at all is the plain and simple romantic dance of the male and female psyches within the narrative of relationship. As mentioned above we can see this dance in the lives of the Bible’s men and women. Another example: the love story of Jacob and Rachel.
So, the impetus of this post is to hopefully negate the misinformation doled out by those who feel the need to conform everyone to certain gender defined roles and who also seek to make others abide by the same gender templates, templates created extra-Biblically and more decidedly culturally derived. Hopefully, I can set the record straight. You decide.
First-things: raised in a Baptist/Evangelical church I understand that the word “Biblical” connotes a God-given standard that you are expected to honor, to follow and to conform to. Over the years, though, I have had to disentangle my understanding of what the Bible really says from the “Biblical” fishing nets tossed out by commercializing fishers-of-men who believe they have captured what the Bible says and then can sell it back to you in the market place of ideas as truth.
Let’s look at one of their “marketable Biblical items”. A common passage of Scripture used to define Biblical Womanhood is Proverbs 31.
In this passage the writer Lemuel or Anonymous describes the attributes he likes in a woman. Proverbs 31 is the writer’s description of what he thinks is noble character for a woman. Now, if women want to aspire to these same traits they may find similar recognition. The word “Biblical”, though, as in “Proverbs 31 is an example of Biblical Womanhood” often implies a kind of warrant of a personal guarantee of outcome (if a, then b follows). If you do these same things then you are Biblically feminine. But is that true?
The industrious “woman” in Proverbs 31 works to fulfill the needs of her family as do men. But, as you know, men and women do different things to maintain the household and will often overlap in the household duties required. Does the example of this woman’s qualities and behavior mean Biblical femininity? If you as a woman do not do all the things listed in Proverbs 31 are you less feminine? Or, if a man did the same things is he being feminine? Or worse, are you being less Biblical if you are not matching up to these same traits? I hope you can see where this type of “Biblical womanhood” typecasting leads.
In the Song of Solomon, a lyric poem in dialogue form, King Solomon describes marked physical attributes of the woman he loves. Is what he describing Biblical femininity? Or, is what he describing what he likes about the woman he loves, the Shulammite?
Now most Christian scholars, most trusted Christian scholars, would tell you that the biblical canon is closed – there is no further written revelation from God. Yet, we are told that there is Biblical Masculinity and Biblical Femininity – a continuum of a more codified and concise version of the Bible which informs us as to how a twenty-first century man or woman behaves. To me, though, this extra-biblical and apocryphal “decoded” addition of Scripture’s text sounds a lot more like a Pharisee’s laundry list of dos and don’ts than the Bible’s simple and direct statements: “Husband love your wives. Wives see to it that you respect your husbands.”
The church conference I am referring to was directed at the youth – junior and senior high school kids. I have no doubt that the parents are concerned about what the LGBT community is doing to pervert gender relationship “norms” in the local public schools. To be sure the LGBT community is misguided and has no concern whatsoever about seeking the Kingdom of God. I, like these parents, am concerned about the LGBT lies and the nonsense being promulgated in our schools as normative and, in effect, morally OK. At the same time I do not want the church to overreact to the same degree by narrowly defining gender into masculine and feminine stereotypes, supplying false “Biblical” alternatives to the LGBT community’s errors. The church, like the members of the LGBT community, wants to take control of the “masculine” and “feminine” in order to achieve codification of certain behavior in our society
Homosexuals take what God has pronounced “Good!” – males and females created for intimate relationship with each other – and pervert that relationship into an evil substitute. I do not call it evil. Scripture calls it evil. And, it is no secret that the LGBT community despises the Christian community for wanting to maintain what God created. Homosexuality, the flagstone of the LGBT community, is the ego’s defiance of God. Hence, defiance, anger and “Pride” exist wherever the LGBT community is. For most people, though, gender confusion does not exist apart from the false narratives promoted by the LGBT community. Gender dysphoria, does exist in some individuals and is not homosexuality.
The searching for where you fit in as male or female comes and goes naturally during youth. Confusion usually comes from culture or misguided parents. Beyond this Scripture has nothing to say about maleness or femaleness even though people create sermons and seminars about it. Scripture records history as it happened.
During the child’s gender adapting process we as parents need to know what the LGBT community is saying about gender’s relationships – relationships to themselves and to others – and then be able to discount any of LGBT’s false notions along with false “Biblical” ones. A child will eventually define him or herself by their sexed body and will respond according to what those around them are telling them about their gender.
The parents who are very concerned about the LGBT community’s activism should be careful to not define masculine and feminine as having “Biblical” attributes. Masculine and feminine are culturally defined ‘romantic notions’ of male and female attributes. The Bible has only a few things to say specifically about a man’s or woman’s ‘behavior’ and, starting in Genesis, it is in the context of relationships.
“In the beginning…” God saw that it was not good for man to be alone so God created woman and human relationship began. It was obvious from the start that male and female bodies looked different – diverse. Within that relationship God let men and women work out their masculine and feminine qualities. God did not prescribe what masculinity and femininity meant before or after the fall. God only mentioned pragmatic matters: what men and women will do as a result of their Garden disobedience and what relationships they should absolutely have no part in.
As a result of Adam and Eve’s fall God said that men would work hard to make a living from the earth and that women will labor hard to give birth to a child. And later, in the Old Testament book of Leviticus, God provided some practical laws or boundaries regarding men and women and their physical relationships. These Levitical issues in particular dealt with the exchange of bodily fluids (do not commit incest or homosexuality or bestiality, avoid sex during a woman’s menstrual flow, etc.). In the New Testament the Apostle Paul, in a strongly worded letter to the members of the church in Corinth, told them to “Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body…your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit…” What defiles (and confuses) your personhood and the context for working out “masculinity” or “femininity” are the sinful relationships which the Holy Spirit will have no part in..
Now can one boy be more masculine than another? No. (Now, you may think that a boy who hangs around with his mother is more feminine than a boy who hangs around with his father. In reality, each boy is sharing things they enjoy in common with the respective parent. Should it be demanded of the boy to act more like his father? Your anxiety might demand it but Scripture doesn’t. The answer, I believe, is “No.”) I have little doubt that shaming a child into submitting to a certain gender stereotype can be part of the personality pathology of homosexuality.
A boy is more masculine than a girl, of course. Just as in the Garden of Eden before Eve came along, masculine and feminine were meaningless terms (The conference gods may strike me down, now.) They were meaningless until Eve stood in contrast to Adam as a separate gender. Masculinity and femininity basically are the features in the opposite sex that we are attracted to. This sounds rather unspiritual, too down to earth, but is what God had intended – a simple elemental attraction.
Parents certainly are desirous to shoehorn their kids into society’s norms and into their own ideation of gender. They do so because they do not want their child to be an outcast of society. They want their child to be accepted. In doing so they may restrict a child to a certain prescribed behavior and manner of presentation. This need to conform their child to a certain delineation of a gender role may lead to post traumatic stress disorder in the child. (See this recent article: Gender nonconformity linked to child abuse: Uncomfortable adults often compel strict role presentation)
I realize that backing off on gender stereotyping may sound more like fuzzy math, more like the probability nature of quantum physics and not at all like rock-solid classical Newtonian physics that people more readily grasp but the facts proves otherwise. An example would be my parents.
My parents had been married for 64 years (My father died recently). To my knowledge there has never been any talk between my mother and father about who was the masculine and who was the feminine counterpart. They simply followed Christ and let gender find its way within in the context of their relationship to each other and to Christ. They attended no seminars about “Biblical Masculinity or Biblical Femininity.”
Healthy males and females are drawn to the other gender. You are attracted to gender-derived differences, to those features that are reciprocal (the roller-skates-and-key principle, if you will).
Now regarding binary gender, the analogy may apply: men are from Mars and women are from Venus. As two distinct sexes we relate to each other differently, the differences being derived from basic biology (physical sexed body and hormones) and cultural adaptations. Beyond this, there are no such things as the True Masculine or the True Feminine.
In fact, when we elevate certain aspects or attributes of men or women that we perceive to be quality masculine or feminine specimens to the position of the “True Masculine” or the True Feminine” we make idols of man-made aspirations (and, perhaps, of Freudian psychology). The church mentioned above, as shown by the conference ad, wanted to package masculinity and femininity and resell certain accepted features of it as “Biblical”. They would even super-size the issue with book sales, heated sermons and biopic posts giving us what they see as the jot and tittle of masculine and feminine as viewed through their myopic lens of socially normative “Biblical truth.”
Concerning this topic, the book Exclusion and Embrace by Miroslav Volf was of special interest to me, especially the chapter titled Gender Identity. The primary focus of the chapter as I read it was to rightly describe the basis of gender identity and to show how the ideas about masculinity and femininity, described in “essence” forms, are often used to exclude rather than to embrace the other.
In this chapter Miroslav Volf says regarding his argument about gender identity: “I have claimed that (1) the content of gender identity is rooted in the sexed body and negotiated in the social exchange between men and women within a given cultural context, and that (2) the portrayals of God in no way provide models of what it means to be male or female. I suggested, instead, that the relations between the Trinitarian persons serve as a model for how the content of “masculinity” and “femininity” ought to be negotiated in the social process.” (emphasis mine)
He further states neutrally:
“The content of gender identity is left unspecified; anything seems to go.”
“Biblical “woman” and “manhood” – if there are such things at all, given the diversity of male and female characters and roles that we encounter in the Bible – are not divinely sanctioned models but culturally situated examples.” (emphasis mine)
“If neither models of God nor the explicit statements of the Bible about femininity and masculinity are normative for the content of gender identities, what is? Does anything really go? My proposal is that we locate the normativity in the formal features of identity and the character of relations of divine person. Instead of setting up ideals of femininity and masculinity, we should root each in the sexed body and let the social construction of gender play itself out guided by the vision of the identity of and relations between divine persons. What is normative is not some ‘essence” of femininity and masculinity, but the procedures, modeled on the life of the triune God, through which women and men in specific cultural settings should negotiate.” (emphasis mine)
Further thoughts from the chapter:
- Father figure imagery has become sacrosanct in Christian circles.
- Psychology attempts to use the father figure imagery to decipher…
- Freud: we create god as a need for a father figure or oedipal complex
- Man’s projection of a father figure into the heavens due to an oedipal complex
If you as a man or you as a woman want to be all that you can be (to borrow an advertising phrase from the Army) then be in relationship with Christ. Period. Don’t fashion your life around the drivel described as “Biblical” masculinity and femininity. Put on Christ and walk in the Spirit instead. (I realize that many people want self-help books and conferences to tell them what to think. Forget these things. Put on Christ and get walking in the spirit.)
Now, you can always parse or stretch Scripture to make it mean what you want to say regarding masculine and feminine attributes. Instead, it would be better to not focus on these things, on whether you or someone else is more or less masculine or feminine. The Evil One will always stir up comparisons. Just look at the media and you can, hopefully, see that the Evil One’s world view is one of comparing yourself to celebs, to physical attributes, to images of macho men and sexy babes, to myriads of false idols. Walk in the Spirit and you will not fill up the flesh with its pretense of the masculine or feminine.
And by far, the best antidote to the confused and de-humanizing misogyny and misandria issues that the LGBT community brings with it is the solid mutually beneficial relationship of a man and a woman. The spectrums, the God designed “diversity,” of masculine and feminine can be fully explored within a committed marriage relationship. In such a relationship there should be no threat to your perceived masculinity or femininity. These ‘things’ just are. And as such, the two will become one with no thought or time given to someone’s canonized version of “Biblical Masculinity or Femininity.”
Male and female as new creators in his Kingdom: from N.T. Wright’s commentary on the book of Romans, Paul For Everyone, Chapter 4:18-25 Abraham’s Faith – and Ours:
“This is how it (faith) works. Humans ignored God, the creator (1:20, 25); Abraham believed in God as creator and life-giver (4:17). Humans knew about God’s power, and trusted him to use it (4:21). Human beings did not give God the glory he was due (1:21); Abraham gave God the glory (4:20). Human beings dishonored their own bodies by worshiping beings that were not divine (1:24); Abraham, through worshipping the God who gives new life, found that his own body regained its power even though he was long past the age of fathering children.
The result in each case is telling. Humans dishonor their bodies by females and males turning away from one another into same-sex relationships (1:26-27); Abraham and Sarah, through their trust in God’s promises, are given power to conceive a child (4:19). Deep within the heart of God’s covenant promise lies the fulfillment of the basic command which goes with the creation of male and female in God’s image: be fruitful and multiply. As Romans 4 comes towards its end, we realize that what Paul is saying, on a large-scale, is that the ancient Jewish dream has been fulfilled. God called Abraham to undo the sin of the human race, and this is how it happened. God is the God of new hope, of new fruitfulness, because he is the God of new starts, of fresh creation.” (emphasis mine)
Now for some context: Do you think that those Kingdom Venturers imprisoned for Christ around the world are concerned about “Biblical Masculinity or Biblical Femininity?”