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Exploring "Male-Female" in the Bible and Society

Exploring "Male-Female" in the Bible and Society

By Alice C. Linsley
June 3, 2017

It is extremely difficult to have a reasonable and intelligent conversation these days about gender. The distinction between male and female is no longer clear and we must talk over the loud and intrusive noise of transgenderism. Nevertheless, in the context of Biblical Anthropology, scientific observations touching on maleness and femaleness can and should be made. These observations focus on two related topics: the male-female relationship and the greater reality to which it points, and the binary logic of the male-female set as it is presented in Scripture.

Clearly, this discussion is not for readers whose ground for determining morality and relevance is social norms and personal experience. This is an in-house conversation among people who adhere to the Messianic Faith and regard the Old and New Testaments as a primary authority.

Neither is this discussion one that Feminists will appreciate. Their assertions and rhetoric represent a gender narrative that is so skewed as to be unrealistic and useless. Feminists cite patriarchy as a cause of oppression of women, and fail to recognize the ways in the patriarchal structure benefits and protects women. Consider how Boaz, a ruler of Bethlehem, offered protection to Ruth. Consider these highly regarded women: the prophetess Huldah, to whom the King sent his advisors for wisdom; the warrior prophet Deborah; the wise woman of Abel Beth Maacah, and the aged widow Ana, who rejoiced to see Messiah's appearing in the Temple. Additionally, about 70% of the named women in the Bible are the wives and daughters of high-ranking priests, and as such they exercised considerable influence in their circles. Then there is Mary, the Mother of Christ our God. Could any greater honor be bestowed upon the female sex?

The Supplementarity of Male-Female

Cultural anthropologists have long observed that traditional cultures have distinct roles for males and females. Their roles are mutually supportive. The men hunt and the women cook what the men bring back from the hunt. The women tend the village and the men leave the village for trade. Both men and women go outside the village for rites of initiation, especially those that involve blood. Some activities are performed by both male and female villagers. These include carrying water, harvesting the crops, caring for the elderly, and teaching the children.

The mutuality of male and female is often termed "complementarity" by Christian thinkers. Complementarianism is the view that men and women have different but complementary roles and responsibilities in marriage, family life, and church leadership. It is a modern idea, based on the desire to pose male and females are equal, though different. It is not the Biblical view of male and female, however. Complementarity falls short of the greater reality to which the man and his wife point, naturally and sacramentally. Complementarity speaks of things that belong together and moves back and forth between the paired entities. The emphasis is on mutuality.

For Anglicans, the complementarity of the sexes is used by both those who support the catholic position on the all-male priesthood and those who support the ordination of women as priests. That indicates that this notion is not helpful. One must question where complementarity sets forth any objective truth.

A better term for the Biblical understanding of male-female is "supplementarity" because this implies that the sum of the complementary entities is greater than either entity and greater than the relationship of the entities. Supplementarity breaks out of the binary enclosure. It admits the Divine Presence.

The sacramentality of marriage takes its pattern from the emptying of the Godhead (kenosis) and the receptivity of the Church. The greater stoops to elevate the weaker, the lesser. This "divine condescension" is expressed in terms of the Sun-Moon binary sets in the Bible. In Genesis 1:16 we read, "God made two great lights--the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night."

The Sun and the Moon are not equals in the Biblical worldview. The Sun was the emblem of the Creator. The Sun sheds light as insemination and the pale Moon merely reflects the light. Likewise, the Church is the refulgence of the divine light of Christ.

Supplementarity of male and female is an essential mark of sacred Tradition and is expressed in the binary logic of Scripture. It is affirmed also by empirical observation of the natural world. There is male and female. There is life and death. There is night and day. There is good and evil. Even the shades of gray have a binary feature: there is dawn and dusk.

Biblical theology hinges on a binary view of reality. The binary view is expressed in the assertion that God is greater than Man. The difference between the binary logic of the Bible and dualism is significant. In dualism the entities in the set are regarded as equal. Think Ying-Yang. In contrast, the Biblical writers observed (empirically) that the sun is greater than the moon, males are larger and stronger than females, and humans are more intelligent and skilled than other creatures. In other words, there is a hierarchy in the order of creation and it has a binary aspect.

The Binary Logic of the Bible

Bishop Paul Hewett (Diocese of the Holy Cross) has observed, "Supplementarity gets at the reality of God´s plan for the sexes, whereas complementarity seems to gloss over or bypass important things, viz, the profound depth of the sacramentality of what is masculine and feminine. So it seems to me that complementarity has to be a subset or secondary aspect of supplementarity."

This brings us to the logic of sets. St. Augustine wrote: "Numbers are the universal language offered by the Deity to humans as confirmation of the truth."

A binary set refers to a universally observed pattern in nature where two entities are naturally linked, yet distinct in nature. One of the entities in the set is recognized as greater in some observable way to its complement. The binary logic of the Bible confronts the erroneous idea that paired entities are co-equal. We may speak of God and Man, but the most arrogant must accept that God, by definition, is superior to humans. We may speak of humans as animals, but the evidence of science indicates that we are a unique creation. The best science is undermined by the attitude expressed in Richard Dawkins's famous tweet: "With respect to those meanings of 'human' that are relevant to the morality of abortion, any fetus is less human than an adult pig."

Binary sets attest to the fact that there are fixed patterns in Nature. The east-west axis of the solar arc is an example. The reality of humans as male and female. Christians believe that the fixed patterns in nature stand as a witness to the Creator's existence. According to the Apostle Paul, they also testify to the Creator's divine nature and eternal power. We read in Romans 1:19, 20: "For what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood from His workmanship, so that men are without excuse."

Binary Sets in the Bible

Awareness of the binary pattern of the Bible helps us recognize paired narratives such as the hot and cool encounters with God. Abraham was visited "in the heat of the day" by the Three-Person God (Gen. 18:1). The binary opposite is the time of God's visitation to Adam and Eve "in the cool of the day" (Gen. 3:8). In the first encounter, the Creator comes to enjoy fellowship with the humans. In the second encounter, God comes to judge a population that has accepted homosex as normal, an act of rebellion against the divinely fixed boundaries.

Consider also these narrative pairs: the trees of male and female prophets (Gen. 12 and Judges 4). The pillar-like oak where Abraham visited the Moreh was associated with masculine virtues. The tamar (date nut palm) under which Deborah sat was associated with feminine virtues because the open nut looks like the vagina.

The Oak of the Moreh was between Bethel and Ai, on an east-west axis, as with the solar arc. Deborah's Palm was between Ramah and Bethel, on a north-south axis. The east-west axis is the superior because it represents the Sun's path. For the ancient Hebrew, the Sun was the emblem or symbol of the Creator. Jews still observe the blessing of the Sun (Birka Hachama) every 28 years.

Other paired sets of narratives include the abuse of sons and daughters by drunken fathers (Gen. 9 and Gen. 19), and the passing over of death associated with the blood of the lamb (Ex. 12) and the scarlet cord hung from the window of Rahab's house so that she and her family would be saved from destruction. St. Ambrose wrote that Rahab "uplifted a sign of her faith and the banner of the Lord's Passion; so that the likeness of the mystic blood, which should redeem the world, might be in memory. So, outside, the name of Joshua was a sign of victory to those who fought; and inside, the likeness of the Lord's passion was a sign of salvation to those in danger." (On the Christian Faith, Book V, no. 127)

The command against onanism upholds the distinction between humans and plants. The seed that should fall to the earth is the seed of plants, which spring forth from the earth. The seed of a man should fall on his own type, the womb, from which man comes forth. In A.D. 191, Clement of Alexandria wrote, "Because of its divine institution for the propagation of man, the seed is not to be vainly ejaculated, nor is it to be damaged, nor is it to be wasted" (The Instructor of Children 2:10:91:2)

Understanding the binary worldview of the Bible helps us to see the logic of the Law. We must pay attention to the binary distinction presented in the repeated command not of boil a baby goat in its mother's milk (Ex. 23:19; Deut. 14:21). Boiling a baby goat in its mother's milk blurs the distinction between life and death. The baby is to be sustained by the mother's milk.

Christians oppose abortion because it is the divine order for birth to follow conception and maturation to follow birth. A society that accepts the killing of the unborn is a society in rebellion against God.

Alice C. Linsley has been pioneering the scientific field of Biblical Anthropology for 30 years. Her research on the primitive understanding of blood is reflected in this article. She lives in North Carolina where she continues to teach Philosophy.

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