Gender in Genesis

[Edit: The original post used the term “hermaphrodite” in two places, which I have since learned is considered a slur. My apologies.] Via Pharyngula comes word of a couple articles by Ken Ham on the subject of the sanctity of binary gender. The first complains about schools that are trying to teach kids not to let gender stereotypes limit their thinking and their understanding of one another.

Really, what this handout is encouraging teachers to do is to destroy any distinction between male and female. This is a natural outcome of a culture that has rejected the Bible as its foundation for thinking in every area…

This type of thinking has serious consequences. If man is the ultimate authority, then why not just discard gender?

There’s lots of ways we could determine the right answers to questions about gender. We could turn to ethics, and see which attitudes and behaviors do the most good and least harm, for instance. Or we could look at gender scientifically, and see what biology is actually telling us about sexuality and human development. That should be right up Ham’s alley, since he considers God to be the author of biology. Learning from biology ought to be just another way of studying what God has revealed through his creation (to put it in creationist terms).

But no, Ham isn’t interested in answers based on what’s good or on what’s true. He wants answers based on Authority! If the answer to “Why?” ain’t, “Because I said so!”, it ain’t the answer he’s looking for. The phrase he’s looking for is, “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it.” But can he really say that?

Let’s look at his Bible-based argument, starting in the book of Genesis. And just for fun, let’s assume for now that Genesis is the inspired, infallible divine revelation of an omnipotent Creator who created this world and everyone who lives here. Can Ham legitimately make the arguments he’s trying to make? Here’s the crux of it:

Now gender distinction for humans is so important that in the very first chapter of the Bible, which is foundational to the whole Bible, God emphasizes this gender distinction:

So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. (Genesis 1:27)

Notice that Ham is not using a literal translation here. The word “God” in that sentence is “elohim,” the Hebrew word for “gods,” plural. According to an extrabiblical tradition, this word “gods” should be interpreted as a name for the One True God. But changing the text from “gods created man” to “God created man” is a huge change in meaning. It’s the difference between a polytheistic creation story and a monotheistic creation story. What authority does man have to change the meaning of the words in the Scriptures? If man is the ultimate authority regarding what the words of Scripture mean, to the point that it turns Genesis 1 into a completely different story, then we can hardly complain if man is also the ultimate authority for lesser things as well.

But ok. “Gods” is a stupid name for a monotheistic deity. You might as well name him “Mr. Dick Smoker” as an argument for his presumed heterosexuality (in the absence of any female deities!). But let’s go with that. Let’s assume that there’s only one God and that this singular, male deity created us all, male and female, in his own image. Notice in this case the translation is accurate: that’s “image,” singular. Both male AND female are in the same singular image of the same singular male god.

Hermaphrodites Intersex people rejoice. It does not say he created each of us to be male OR female. It says we’re created male AND female. Developmentally-speaking, that’s not a bad guess, at least in the early stages. But that’s rather different from what Ham wants it to say. Ham wants gender to be a binary choice between two mutually exclusive alternatives, and he’s pushing the idea that anyone who thinks outside of those two narrow boxes is part of some kind evil, nefarious plot to DESTROY GENDER. (Cue ominous music.)

Secularists are desperately trying to teach our children that gender is an arbitrary choice rather than a part of who they are designed to be. Yet according to our Creator, each person is designed to be either male or female. And that same Creator stipulated that marriage is a union of a man and a woman. By erasing in children’s minds their identity as male and female, then when they grow up, the ideas of gay marriage and homosexual behavior and any other aberration will seem to be valid and acceptable choices on their menu for life.

But notice, Ham is as wrong about what’s actually written in the Bible as he is about the actual goals of secularists. The verses he quotes say absolutely nothing about God designing people to be EITHER male OR female. It says he created them in his own image, male AND female. Now, that’s not to say that Genesis is only talking about God creating hermaphrodites intersex people. The surrounding text is clear that Adam was a male character and Eve a female character. But the point is, the idea that gender is a pair of binary, mutually-exclusive alternatives, is not what’s written down in the text. It’s assumed, but an assumption on man’s part does not constitute divine revelation on God’s part. Ham is taking a biblical reference to the existence of gender, and using it to propagate his own specific, narrow assumptions about the nature of gender. And the point he’s trying to make is contained entirely in his own assumptions, not in the words of the texts he cites to prove them.

This is a standard theological practice, by the way. If there’s something you care about, that you want to force other people to believe and practice, then find a passage that makes some kind of reference to some part of your ideas, quote that passage, and then declare that it teaches everything you want, even though none of those things is actually written in the text. Often you don’t even need to be that explicit. Just read a verse, and then state some kind of opinion, and people will assume that your opinion is the true meaning of the verse you just quoted. Poof! your opinion is instantly elevated to the status of infallible authority.

But back to the text at hand, notice a word that’s not present in any of the verses Ham quotes: the word “only.” It does not say that God created only males and females. It just says he created males and females. Ask a creationist why Genesis doesn’t mention God creating the dinosaurs, and the creationist will explain why lack of explicit mention is not proof that God didn’t do something. It’s perfectly consistent with creationist literary principles to allow that God is also the creator of gays, lesbians, gender-fluids, trans, and everybody else. The passages quoted by Ham put absolutely no limits on the hows and whys of gender expression, and in fact they don’t mention sexual orientation at all, pro or con. All those ideas are being added by Ham himself, on his own authority.

Ham makes a big deal out of “authority,” and declares that man doesn’t have the authority to overrule God’s design for gender and human sexuality. Yet the passages he quotes do not say the things that he attributes to them. He’s claiming divine authority for things that are really only his own personal opinion. He is overruling the Scriptures in order to inject his own agenda and biases into “God’s Word.” And he has no divine authority for doing so, i.e. he’s not a prophet or apostle or anyone else divinely called to write his own Scriptures. It’s all on his own personal authority.

If we assume that God is the creator, and that biology reveals his divine design and intention to us—as AiG likes to tell us it does—then the biology of gender and sexual expression is even more divinely authoritative than Ham’s own biased and bigoted interpretation of ancient bigoted Scriptures. After all, the Scriptures were penned by men, but biology (in creationist theology) comes directly from the hand of God. The Bible is, at best, second-hand revelation, but biology comes straight from the source. And biology tells us that gender is anything but a pure, crisp, binary pair of mutually-exclusive alternatives.

You want authority? That’s authority. I’m not saying that I believe any of these things about Genesis (or any other ancient creation myth). I’m saying that even if you do believe in Genesis, it’s not saying what Ham wants it to say. You want to give God credit for revealing his design through his creation? Knock yourself out. But if you do, you should give up the notion that you have any right to superimpose your own assumptions and biases in order to replace God’s authority with your own. That would be a violation of your own religion.


  1. HappiestSadist, Repellent Little Martyr says

    Well said!

    One quibble, though: “hermaphrodite” is considered a slur, “intersex people” is preferred.

    • HappiestSadist, Repellent Little Martyr says

      Because it’s an inaccurate and outdated term also used to fetishize intersex people, and I don’t know, respectively. But when the intersex community has made it abundantly clear that it’s hurtful and unacceptable, I take their word.

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