March 9, 2015

Heart and Soul: Theology

This article is the first of three to be published in the Adventist Review during the month of March 2015 on the subject of human sexuality. The articles are adapted, in consultation with the author, from presentations made in March 2014 at a conference in Cape Town, South Africa, entitled “Scripture, Sexuality, and Society.”—Editors.

On the TV sitcom Good Luck Charlie, there’s confusion about a name: Charlie knows her friend Taylor’s mom as Susan. But Charlie’s dad is certain he was introduced to her as Cheryl. Both of them were right. Taylor has two moms.1

Elsewhere, the Colorado Civil Rights Division has ruled that a transgender 6-year-old may use the girls’ bathroom. Its statement reads in part: “Given the evolving research into the development of transgender persons, compartmentalizing a child as a boy or girl solely based on their visible anatomy is a simplistic approach to a difficult and complex issue.”2

In Texas, after winning the primary in her El Paso district, Mary Gonzalez, who had previously “come out” as bisexual, modified her self-identity with the new descriptor of pansexual—someone who does not believe in the gender binary at all, and is sexually attracted to all gender identities: gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersexed, and everyone “along the gender spectrum.”3

And in Canada, tall blond 23-year-old Jenna Talackova became the first transgender beauty contestant in the Miss Universe Canada Pageant, March 4, 2012. Earlier she had been disqualified from competition because she had had a sex change. But under legal pressure organizers had to let Jenna compete: her passport, birth certificate, and driver’s license all identified her as a woman.4

Sexuality’s Status

These are just snapshots along the way of a journey that has gone off course. The state of sexuality in the postmodern era reveals a world in confusion. What it means to be a man or a woman, or even whether “male” and “female” are innate to human nature at all, are questions that are up in the air. Some have made gender a social justice issue, calling it a weapon of a male-dominated society at war against individual freedom.

One author put it this way: “Each person should be . . . equally free to choose to live comfortably in their own skins without social requirements to be feminine or masculine.”5 The sexuality identification battle is now a mainstream affair. Nothing says that more than the categories available in the world’s third-largest nation, Facebook.

In early 2014 Facebook announced that it would be amending the drop-down “custom” field to include more options in the category of sexual identity. No longer would users be limited to “male,” “female,” or “other.” Facebook added 53 variations in the gender category. Most of the choices are redundancies. As an example, transgender is broken up as: transgender male, transgender female, transgender woman, MTF (male to female), FTM (female to male), etc.6 The multiple redundancies make their own point: in the brave new world of sexual freedom, people can choose their own gender, or even make one up.

This is sexuality identification today, and it has caused no small confusion in the church as well. We face an emergency. Many of our people, young and old, are struggling with these issues in their own lives, and yearning for help.

Human Sexuality 101

Ancient rabbis taught that to understand a thing you must start at the beginning, which brings us to Genesis 2, where “the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man” (verses 21, 22).

As Adam awakes from surgery, still drowsy, he does not yet fully realize what has happened to him. Everything is new. Everything is a discovery. He touches his side and feels that something is different. Something has been taken away. Perhaps God told him in advance what to expect. Perhaps he went to sleep imagining it. We do not know. But even with that, it is not real for him until it is done and he actually touches his side. He is changed.

As male and female we are not identical but complementary.

Adam lifts his eyes and beholds the woman, the first human female, and he is thunderstruck. There she is, in all the glory of perfect womanhood, astonishingly beautiful! From the crown of her head to the soles of her feet, there is not one blemish in her. He sees that she is like him in a way no other creature is, but he also sees that she is different. And the difference is as crucial to his self-understanding as the likeness.

As Adam meets her for the first time, he is aware of himself in a new way. That “something” that was lacking, which he’d become aware of but could not put his finger on, is lacking no more. Even if God had told him in advance and he’d gone to sleep dreaming about it, it was not fully real for him until now, as he actually touches the woman. He is no longer alone, precisely the word the Bible uses to describe the man’s “pre-woman” state: “It is not good for the man to be alone” (verse 18).

We should take note that when God made this pronouncement, He Himself was with the man. How can anyone be alone when God is with Him? So we understand that when God said “alone,” He was not making a social statement. He was making an ontological statement. God was talking about human nature as He designed it to be: relational, not individual. Humanity was incomplete in man without woman.

God ordered His creative activity to illustrate this truth. He might have chosen another method to create us—some even we could think of. God might have made the man and woman simultaneously, formed them side by side in the dust, and breathed them into existence together. The man would never have known a moment of incompleteness. He would never have experienced the alien feeling of being unmatched in the world.

But God wanted to show the deeper meaning of our nature in the likeness of His own, a nature of fellowship. The Creator was not finished with His work until He had made the counterpart, woman, as the helper suited to man. Only then, as male and female, was the human being whole.

Therefore, as God designed us, “there is no such thing as a self-sufficient male life or female life.”7To be male and female, then, is the fundamental form of our humanity. This is the original relationship that defines us—original and originating.8

Thus the defining moment in our creation was not the moment Adam was first brought into existence by the power of divine breath—it was the moment the man first met the woman. It was not until that moment that creation’s crowning act was complete and God turned His “not good” into “very good.”

“Male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27).

This principle goes back to Creation, before there were any cultures or nations, even before Facebook. It can be described as corresponding difference—and both elements are important to our nature, the correspondence and the difference. We correspond as male and female in that we share a common humanity, unlike any other of God’s creatures. We differ as male and female in that we are not identical but complementary. Our differences fit together. They match and complete us. Adam recognized it right away, the moment he laid eyes on Eve. She was the same as him, yet different. And oh, thank God for the difference!

Celebrating the Difference

In the difference lies the power to produce life; in the difference there is the distinct
ive bonding of “two becoming one” that is reserved for marriage. And in the difference, mysteriously, there is a unique likeness to God. Our task as male and female is not one of definition but of obedience to what God created us to be.9God wants men to be men and women to be women. This honors Him as Creator and makes us secure and whole as His children. Thank God for the difference.

There is an interesting interpretation of the Hebrew words used in Genesis 1:27 and in Genesis 2:22 to identify the man and woman. They illuminate the principle of corresponding difference, with a nod to human anatomy and psychology. According to one scholar, the words “male” and “female” in the Hebrew [male and female created He them], appear to translate “the sharp one” (male) and “the perforated one” (female). Hence, literally, “the sharp one and the perforated one He created them.”

In Genesis 2:22 one interpretation is that “the Lord God made a delicate one from the rib He had taken from the strong one.”10

What a beautiful symbiosis God created in making us male and female! Such that the male and female of biblical anthropology also implies the male or female of human nature—one and the other, but also, one or the other.

As Paul Jewett so ably puts it: “One is always and primarily a man or a woman. If one is a spouse, then either a husband or a wife; if a parent, then either a father or a mother; if a child, then either a son or a daughter.”11

This is what we find when we look where we should, when we look to the beginning to explain the nature of the thing; when we learn about human nature itself as God designed it. It is an ontological principle: maleness is incomplete without femaleness—the state of being that corresponds to it but is also different, so that the two complement each other.

If this is God’s design, then masculinity and femininity are innate. One theologian notes: when we come to self-awareness, we know ourselves in distinction from others as an “I”; at the same time, this “I” is always aware of itself as either “he” or “she.”12 This principle is essential to our self-understanding as sexual beings. It is a principle that is broader than just the sex act. It has to do with everything related to our humanity, whether physically, mentally, psychologically, or spiritually.


One of the blessings of my work as a university professor is the opportunity to spend time with students both in the classroom and one-on-one. Once students come to trust you and know that it is safe, they begin to share their lives with you; they want guidance. Young men come who feel insecure in their sexual identity. Often they are confused, afraid, and hating themselves. Their sense of personal distress needs more than high-flown moralizing or criticism. The reason they are distressed in the first place is that they feel that something is wrong. We have a responsibility. We must help them. God, help us to help them.

  2. “Transgender 6-Year-Old Wins Civil Rights Case to Use Girls’ Bathroom at Colorado School,” Fox News, June 24, 2013.
  5. Sherwood%20Real%20Utopia%20Proposal%20--%20Beyond%20Gender.pdf.
  7. Paul K. Jewett, Man as Male and Female (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975), p. 81.
  8. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, trans. G. W. Bromiley, R. H. Fuller, Harold Knight, and J.K.S. Reid (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1960), vol. 3, part 2, p. 353.
  9. Jewett, pp. 40, 41.
  10. D. S. Bailey, Sexual Relation in Christian Thought (New York: Harper & Row, 1959), pp. 280, 281.
  11. Paul K. Jewett, Who We Are: Our Dignity as Human (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), p. 135.
  12. Ibid.