But really, what about Adam and Eve?

April 29, 2018

It is always a problem for people who are not “something” to write about that “something”. I am not a transgender person and so I write these posts with trepidation. However, I am not writing to explain what it means to be trans. I have no business doing that. But I can enter the conversation as someone with an education in theology and biology. It seems to me that cisgender people need to do some thinking about biology and theology. That’s what I am doing here. Mainly writing for other cisgender folks who may be quick to dismiss or discredit someone who is different by citing theological or biological reasons.


There are, of course, two creation stories. So you may ask what about the story in Genesis 2 of Adam and Eve? Doesn’t talking about Adam and Eve, male and female, tell us there are only two genders?

The answer is essentially the same interpretive process we use when people say “It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” And actually the answer we gave last week, “This text is not about biology” still applies.  And as always, it helps greatly if we read more of the story than just a single verse or two. The first thing to notice is that people are created, and given life by God and cared for by God. This is actually really important because Israel’s creation stories are markedly different the the creation stories of other nations of the time.

God remarks that “It is not good that the human should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.”  Here it is important to understand that the word translated as “helper”, is used in other places in the Bible as “helper” and most of the time refers to God. “Helper” does not mean a lesser, subordinate being. So all the animals are created and the human does not find a “helper as his partner.” And then we have the creation of Eve.

The point to be made here is when the man says “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.”, this is not equivalent to him saying, “Look ! Here is the only other gender, the person I can have sex with.” The man’s statement is an exclamation of, “Here is another human being! Another being like me!” We know that because this story is part of the naming of the animals where a partner is not found.

So verse 24 “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.”,seems a bit out of place then. It doesn’t fit well with verse 25 and what comes after either. So what is going on here in this verse? It may simply be a comment that human relationships change. People leave their family of origin and begin new families. When we are children our parents are our most important relationship, as we grow up that changes. What is interesting is, that in the ancient world, for the most part men didn’t leave their families, the women left theirs. But we are off topic.

All the discussion here about men and women is focused on kinship and relationship. And it uses the most typical intimate relationship to talk about that, the relationship between men and women. But that doesn’t mean or imply that no other relationships or genders exist. These stories aren’t describing the totality of living beings.  You will notice when the man is naming the animals, he doesn’t name anything that lives in water or, evidently the forest. We certainly have names for those creatures. The text doesn’t have to tell us that humans named the octopus in the sea and bear in the  forest. That’s not the point. Likewise, the text does not have to describe every type of relationship and gender for them to exist. The point of the text is that meaningful relationships between humans exist.

Similarly to return to Genesis 1, we are told there is land and water. But the text does not tell us about different environments. Mountains, beaches, forests, and prairie are not mentioned.  We are also told there is a dome in the sky. Once again, scientific accuracy is not the point. What the text is careful to tell is that God created all of it. Clearly because something is not explicitly named in the text, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

An important question to ask is, “Does the Bible say anything at all about gender non conforming people?” And that is the subject of the next post.

 

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Adam and Eve, again

April 13, 2018

It is always a problem for people who are not “something” to write about that “something”. I am not a transgender person and so I write about this with trepidation. However, I am not writing to explain what it means to be trans. I have no business doing that. But I can enter the conversation as someone with an education in theology and biology. It seems to me that cisgender people need to do some thinking about biology and theology. That’s what I am doing here. Mainly writing for other cisgender folks who may be quick to dismiss or discredit someone who is different citing theological or biological reasons.


As I lurk around on the edges of evangelicalism, (Why I do that is a whole new post)  I see an increasing interest in what gets called “transgenderism”.  Focus on the Family, and Christianity Today, to name two places are worried about “transgenderism” and about adherence to the biblical view of manhood and womanhood.

Often people go back to Genesis claiming to find clarity there- God created two sexes, male and female. Therefore being trans, or being gay are not part of God’s plan. ( I know I have oversimplified, but this is the argument in a nutshell)

But really, how many ways can we get the story of Adam and Eve wrong?  Actually that’s not the question. The question is how many ways can we misuse and even abuse the story of Adam and Eve? The answer, is seems, is endlessly.

(As an aside, using the Bible to deny someone their personhood and their lived experience is also a significant problem.)

The short version of the logic is this, “…he [God] created them , male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27) Yes, the Bible says this. The question is why?

It is important to read this partial verse in context. So go ahead and read Genesis one.  At the very least read verse 27 in its entirety.

“So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them.”

The emphasis isn’t on maleness and femaleness as much as it is on being created by God, in God’s image.   Stating “male and female” is to emphasize that everyone is created in God’s image. In other words, not just men.

This is an important point. In the ancient world, kings/pharaohs/rulers were understood to be standing for god. They ruled on god’s behalf, with god’s support. Rulers were image bearers. (read more about that here).

After verse 27, humans are given stewardship over the earth. Humans, not only men.  This is not a text about God creating only two genders. This is a text that takes on the ancient norms of  male domination.

Genesis 1-3 are not about how the world came to be. They are not about the physical, material creation. That is not what the text is concerned about. As modern people, shaped by the times we live in, we may be concerned about how the world was physically created. But the authors and original audience of the text isn’t. Science as we think about it didn’t exist in the ancient world.  Genesis 1-3 are concerned about who God is. And who humanity is. And what our relationship to each other is.

Israel lived as a very odd people in the ancient world.  They were monotheists in a world of polytheists. They had no kings (for a very long time) in a world filled with kings. The Genesis stories urged Israel to understand ( and act accordingly) that all people are all equal before God.

In the ancient world, to generalize, the gods created the world for themselves. They created people as slaves for themselves. The sacrifices in the temples were to feed the gods so the gods didn’t have to be bothered getting their own food.

Genesis presents a very different view of who God is and why God creates. Genesis wasn’t written to argue for a cisgender heterosexual humanity. That is a modern worry layered onto the text. The text is about the relationship between God and all of humanity. A relationship build on valuing all humans.

This use of “male and female” is similar to Paul’s use of “body, mind, and soul” language. Paul isn’t trying to argue that people are made up of distinct parts- a soul, a body, a mind. Paul is saying all of us, every part of us belongs to God. “Male and Female” is language not to divide us into gendered persons. “Male and female” is inclusive language. All of us – not just some of us (meaning male) are created in God’s image. Defining gender expression and identity was not the point of Genesis 1. These verses in Genesis 1 are about the value of every human- and I believe that includes our transgender siblings.


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