The following is the second post in a series of eight posts exploring the beauty of gender from a biblical perspective. Read the first post, Gender Matters: Part 1 — The Beautiful Difference.

This second post about gender begins with a question: How often do you think about your body?

Take a minute with it … If you’re like most, unless you’re ill or something bad happens to it, you rarely think about your body. You dress it and you comb its hair in the morning, you feed it, exercise and rest it, but as you go throughout your day it’s kind of like the air you breathe — easy to take for granted. It’s easy to take for granted in our thoughts about gender, too. But we cannot. Of course, neglect of the body, or even more — outright denial of it altogether — is something one can hear almost daily in our world, but such “hatred of the body,” as one has put it [1], will not do for anyone seeking the Bible’s mind either. So how is the body connected to gender?

The body is essential to gender, but…

A start to an answer is one I made already in Part 1, “The Beautiful Difference.” There I noted that gender is a matter of our relationships … a matter of persons in relationship. This is where the human body in Scripture and the Christian tradition makes its grand entrance to the conversation. That’s because human persons are embodied persons, which means that human relationships always come with bodies, too. We were created by God with them, and we will end up eternally, with bodies (1 Cor. 15:12–23; Rom. 8:11, etc.). In Scripture, the relationship we have with our body is multi-dimensional. As we know from Genesis 2:7, we are more than just a body. God added the “breath of life” (synonymous with “spirit”) to a form of loosely packed soil (body), and the result was a “living soul.” And while we are really incarnated spirits, we need to be careful that we don’t go “full pagan” by reducing our identity to just the spirit, with the body being only a material add-on or shell [2]. To the contrary, Scripture is clear that our body is us and that it is not us at the same time. On the one hand, we present our body to the Lord like an instrument at our disposal (Rom. 12: 2), but on the other hand, to do something against our body is to do something against us [3]. Our identity is inseparable from the body God’s given us.

Beyond indicating that we are an organic union of body and spirit, the human body also shows us God. A big claim, I know, but Christian thinkers for centuries have spoken of the “sacramental” status to the body. From the Latin for “mystery,” they mean that the body is what makes visible something else that is invisible and mysterious. It’s a sign; a sacrament [4]. John Kleinig says that our bodies were created to “bridge two realms: the invisible, eternal realm of God and the visible, temporal realm of his creation [5].” This “bridge” body of ours reveals not only that we are persons, it reveals that we are persons designed for relationships — relationships with one another and relationship with God. How so? By the fact that God made us with different male and female bodies and unites those bodies in marriage as one flesh (Gen. 2:24) [6]. As we saw in the first post, in the image of God we also are “complex” as persons called to interdependent relationship with one another and God. What this means is that the reality of God’s own Being as a differentiated union of persons is inscribed on our bodies and will be so eternally.

Such a message has important implications for our thinking about gender. First, we see the body is highly exalted in Christian theology. It’s never a sub-personal physical add-on to our real self. It is as glorious and significant for our humanity as our spirit. And, second, it means that when we speak of our self-understanding, our identity in the popular sense, even in the primary biblical categories of “in Christ,” “new creation,” or “the image of God,” these can never be discussions without the body, in particular its form as male or female. If we are to get past the old Platonic, Gnostic and Manichean mistakes, the spiritual realities of our person must always have a physical, sexually embodied place in our thinking [7]. This brings gender, which is the social and cultural face of our different sexuality, to the center of what it means to be human [8]. If we will talk biblically about gender, we will talk about the “Beautiful Difference” present in our bodies [9].

Biblical essentialism is about behavior.

Important as the body is to understanding the differences of the sexes, it plays only a secondary role in what the Bible says about being a man and being a woman. The old “nature or nurture” debate is the question here, but we’re talking about how determinative biology is to our differences as men and women. As we’ve seen, “nature” counts for something — the body establishes some hard stops for our differences — stops even those on the cultural edge have trouble getting around, like male bodies in female sports and men giving birth. But the social and cultural expressions that “nurture” our biological differences are strong too. How does the Bible move forward? Interestingly enough, while the Bible starts with biology as the foundation of gender differences, it is behavior toward the other gender that really constitutes the essence of those differences. Sam Andreades makes the key observation that will start us on our journey for subsequent posts: “…the Bible’s gender-specific passages always concern the practices of individuals toward each other.” The biblical picture is not one where “men are…” and “women are…,” as if we can be defined “essentially” just in ourselves, which is a classic Western, scientific approach. Rather, the biblical message of the Beautiful Difference in gender is one of union, mutuality and interdependence around what we do for the other gender: a man is one who does such-and-such for women, and a woman is one who does such-and-such for a man. This, as Andreades concludes, makes manhood a very feminine affair and womanhood a very masculine one.

We’ll conclude with this too, but the way forward is set. After a detour in the next post about our approach to the Bible’s mind, we’ll take up the different behaviors the Bible says define manhood and womanhood.

Part three of the series will be posted next week. 


[1] Nancy Pearcey, Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions About Life and Sexuality (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2019).

[2] Classically expressed in ancient dualisms of Manicheanism, Platonism, and its step-child, Gnosticism. Addressing paganism’s denigration of the body was one of the first tasks for Christian apologists. See Thomas Weinandy, “St Irenaeus and the Imago Dei,” Logos 6/4 (2003): 15–34.

[3] Israel’s legal codex (and ours, too) reckons offenses against your body as offenses against you. For more on the body in theological anthropology, see the recent work by John Kleinig, Wonderfully Made: A Protestant Theology of the Body (Bellingham, WA: Lexham, 2021).

[4] For more on the sacramentality of the body, see Christopher West, Theology of the Body: Rediscovering the Meaning of Life, love, Sex and Gender (North Palm Beach, FL: Wellspring, 2018), 17–21. This book is a helpful commentary on John Paul II’s influential Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body (2006).

[5] Kleinig, Wonderfully Made, 14.

[6] This not a shade on the unmarried, only a claim for how the marriage imagery of the Bible begins here and culminates in the marriage supper of the Lamb of the Eschaton. Odd as it may sound, the Bible’s Story really is that God intends to marry us, whether we are married in this life or not. See Is 62:5; Ezek 16:7–8; Hosea 2:19; Eph 5:22–31; Rev 19:6–10.

[7] Modern Gnosticism reaches its zenith in transgender ideology, but it also shadows any view that would separate biological life from personhood. See further, Sharon James, Gender Ideology (Fearn, Scotland: Christian Focus, 2019), 76–78. 

[8] Augustine, Luther, and Calvin believed that "gender difference is a fundamental aspect of being human” (Christopher Roberts, Creation and Covenant: The Significance of Sexual Difference in and for the Moral Theology of Marriage [New York: T & T Clark, 2007], 8).

[9] One has to wonder if our modern gender conversation has not moved in a Gnostic direction with efforts to “adiaphorize” gender differences, so they “don’t count” for family or church (Judith Gundry-Volf, “Beyond Difference? Paul’s Vision of a New Humanity in Galatians 3:28,” in Gospel and Gender: A Trinitarian Engagement with Being Male and Female in Christ, ed. Douglas A. Campbell [London: T&T Clark, 2003], 8–36. Similar questions arise in efforts to separate the male and female body from the image of God as in Christa McKirland’s “The Image of God and Divine Presence,” in Discovering Biblical Equality (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021), chap. 15.