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A look again at the first Scripture
Genesis 1:26, 27 is as far back as we can go to investigate humanity, maleness, and femaleness in the Bible. Let us focus on 27:
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God created he him;
male and female he created them (ESV).
The Masoretic Hebrew accent, the atnach (also called etnachta or athnach), marks the principle division in a Hebrew verse. In the Scripture above, the semicolon stands where atnach does in Hebrew.
Some have understood Genesis 1:27 to suggest that there is a common humanity created by God, that first we are part of a generic humanity, while maleness and femaleness are independent and secondary distinctions. In other words, we are first and generally human, while gender is only a secondary question.
And yet, while the animal creation previous to this is presented in groups without reference to gender, suddenly and only with vs. 27, humans, from the moment of their introduction, are sexually differentiated. There is no ‘essence of man’ apart from existence as two sexes. From the beginning, humanity exists in community, as one beside the other.
But let’s return to that tiny, interesting atnach. In Hebrew, an atnach divides the two parts of a sentence into their logical parts. The second part of a sentence makes clear the totality of the logic of the thought offered in it as a whole. Weinrich suggests then that we understand this verse as follows:
“In the image of God He created him and by this we mean male and female did God create in His image”(William Weinrich, “It Is Not Given to Women to Teach,” in Women Pastors? The Ordination of Women in Biblical Lutheran Perspective, eds. Matthew C. Harrison, John T. Pless, pp. 475, 476).
Which is to say, that in this text there is no idea of a generic humanity standing apart from the concrete realities of maleness and femaleness. There is no personhood apart from male personhood or female personhood. There is no escape from masculinity or femininity. These are rooted in, incorporate in the order of creation. They are foundational in the design.
Here is the fundamental insight:
God did not create an abstract human nature to which were then contingently added the qualities of maleness and femaleness. Sexual complimentarity is a gift of God’s creative act. Humanity is essentially binary. “Maleness” and “femaleness” are strictly speaking not qualities or attributes at all; they are modes of human being, ways of being human. If we wish to understand humanity, it must be by considering humanity as male and female” (Ibid., p. 471).
It is true that we do not know how far back the Hebrew accents go before the Masoretic form. Yet none deny that Hebrew sentence structure in all the Bible partakes of this two-part approach. Humanity then, from its creation, is binary. “Male and female he created them.” When we return then to the earliest Scriptures that address humanness and gender, we recognize that maleness and femaleness are fundamental and non-interchangeable–an important building block for the present discussion.
BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE: Pastor Larry Kirkpatrick has served churches in Nevada, Utah, California, and presently in the forest fastness of Northern Idaho. Larry and wife Pamela live with their children Seamus (age 7) and Mikayla (age 6).