Prof. Cory Griess, professor of Practical Theology in the Protestant Reformed Theological Seminary and member of First PRC, Grand Rapids, MI

Previous article in this series: November 1, 2022, p. 69.

Sex and gender are one 

The teaching of Scripture is that gender is inextricably  bound to one’s biological sex. The proper relation  between sex and gender is that gender is the proper  social expression of one’s sex. The Scriptures know  of two genders, and both are determined not by one’s  feelings but by one’s sex. That God created gender  to be an expression of one’s sex is implied in what we  saw in the previous article, “male and female created  He them.” Yet, the Scriptures go on to draw out the  reality of gender in three main ways. First, by setting  forth commands for different roles of males and females  that are specific to their sex. Second, by revealing a  general pattern of characteristics given to males and to  females according to those roles. Third, by calling sin  the attempt of a member of one sex to present himself/  herself in behavior or appearance as though he/she were  the opposite sex.

Gender roles in Scripture 

First of all then, there are commanded gender roles in  Scripture that are tied to one’s sex. Traditional gender  roles are not merely a social construct originating in  the minds of dominating men. It is true that there  can be aspects of what are thought of as traditional  gender roles that are socially constructed and are not  necessarily biblical. But the traditional roles themselves  are not purely cultural or subjective. These gender roles  are a God-given calling. And just like the calling to  carry out your work does not change even if you do not  particularly like part of the job, so too the God-given  gender roles do not change depending on how one feels  about all or part of them.

Because of the central place marriage, family, and  church have in life, the differing gender roles are most  frequently discussed in the Bible in the context of these  relationships. With regard to marriage, Ephesians 5 is  the classic passage, teaching that husbands lead and love  their wives, nourishing and cherishing them as Christ  does the church. Wives submit themselves to their husbands,  showing them honor and respect as the church  does to Christ. With regard to the family, the apostle  Paul says Timothy must charge the older women to  teach the younger “to marry, bear children, and guide  the house” (I Tim. 5:14). The apostle explains that the  woman’s role in child-bearing both sanctifies and preserves  her (I Tim. 2:15). In I Thessalonians 2:7 the apostle  assumes the role of a nursing mother is to “cherish”  her children. The Greek word means to promote the  children’s development as only one with a specific tenderness  can.1 At the same time, in I Thessalonians 2:11  the apostle assumes the father leads the children spiritually  with exhortation, comfort, and positive incitement.  The father is the “head” (Eph. 5:23) of his wife not only  but also of the home. In this word we perceive shades  of authority, responsibility, leadership, management,  and pointing the way forward. In the church, men hold  the positions of authority and teach, while the apostle  declares that the woman who attempts this herself is a  usurper (I Tim 2:11-15). The roles are quite clear. One  is head, the other is help.

According to Scripture itself, these roles trace back to  the creation of men and women as differently sexed human  beings. The New Testament constantly refers the  church back to the creation of the first man and woman  (Matt. 19:4; I Tim. 2:13-15; Eph. 5:31). In Genesis  2:28 God gives both Adam and Eve the calling to be  fruitful and multiply, yet they have different roles in fulfilling  this command. God created one to inseminate  and one to gestate (Gen. 4:1). Together they have dominion  over the creation, but even in this shared duty,  each has his/her own role. Before Eve was created, God  gave to Adam alone the command to “dress” (cultivate)  the garden and to “keep it” (protect, Gen. 2:15). God  created Adam first and then gave to Adam the task of  naming the animals and his wife as a sign of his headship  and authority. Out of this comes his role in marriage, family, and church in the rest of Scripture. Eve  is created second, and God explains that she is a help,  meet (fitted) for Adam. She is taken from Adam’s rib,  as Matthew Henry put it once, near his heart for him  to love and cherish, under his head, for him to lead and  for her to support. The Fall is itself a failure of the male  and female to perform their roles. Adam should have  rebuked Satan and protected his home as he was called  to do as head (3:6 indicates he was not far away). Eve  should have deferred to her husband instead of taking  the leadership role from him.

Even the punishment God gives after the Fall teaches  us the roles of Adam and Eve. God walks into the  garden calling for Adam, not Eve, for he is ultimately  responsible. Furthermore, the curse for sin actually  highlights the roles of male and female. Adam’s calling  continues as the breadwinner, only now he must fulfill  that role “in the sweat of his face” (Gen. 3:19). Eve’s  calling continues as a help to her husband and a keeper  of the home, only now she will do that with a rebel’s  temptation, and with an accompanying pain and sorrow  (Gen. 3:16). The roles do not melt away after the  Fall; rather, God firms them by His words.

Of course, God does not give every man or woman  marriage and/or children. The gender roles are more  expansive than these states of life. Men are providers,  protectors, and guiders of life in every way and at every  opportunity. Women are helpers here, there, and everywhere.  The roles are tied to maleness and femaleness.

Gender characteristics in Scripture 

Second, the Scriptures indicate the distinction between  male and female gender by delineating general  characteristics of men and women that accord with  the roles. Here, let us start with the male and female  bodies. Though the bodies are not gender, the bodies  indicate how each sex is to express itself (which is  gender). Furthermore, the physical differences between  men and women fit their God-given roles.

Let me put it this way: If you were going to create  a being whose gender role is to be the provider, protector,  leader of wife and family and church, what kind  of body would you give that being? And if you were  going to create a complementary being to that first one,  whose role it is to be a helper, generally by bearing children  and guiding the house, what kind of body would  you give that being? Would you not give the first being  a body that is generally larger, stronger, and more  muscular? Maybe you would create a chemical called  testosterone and give the male 1,000% more of it than  the female, so that he generally is larger, more driven,  and dominant.

Would you not give the second being a body that can  gestate children within herself? Would you perhaps give  her a smaller frame and a voice with a higher pitch than  the male so that she is not as intimidating to the children?  Maybe you would give her a greater amount of  a chemical called estrogen, so that among other things  she develops a way to supply nutrition to the young she  bears. And maybe you would make this nutrition that  comes out of her almost miraculous: a perfect combination  of nutrients for young, with the ability to mix in antibodies  as needed when environmental circumstances  threaten. Perhaps you would make it so that oxytocin  is released in the little one when he sucks those nutrients  from his mother, binding him to his mother so that he is  psychologically open to being nurtured by her.

What an affront to the being to whom God gave the  superpowers of a uterus and two life-supporting breasts  to claim that a man can accomplish what she can! Perhaps  the result of giving her this kind of body means  that she is more vulnerable than the man in some ways.  No matter, you have given the other being the calling  and ability to protect and provide for her.

In addition to the bodily characteristics that are different  between males and females, there are other characteristic  differences. These too, match the scriptural  gender roles. I Thessalonians 2:7 indicates that there is a  natural gentleness, a nurturing characteristic in a woman  that is especially drawn out of her by motherhood.  There is also an intense sacrificing, a giving of whole  self in that nurture (v. 8). In contrast and complement,  the apostle says men possess a natural drive to lead by  exhorting, comforting, and charging (I Thess. 2:11).  Men also possess a deep desire to see justice prevail  (v. 10). Women tend to be more emotional with more  changeable moods, as even their monthly cycle tends to  ensure. Men tend to be more emotionally stable, but  less attuned to emotional needs.

Of course, there are exceptions and different people  manifest different characteristics on a spectrum. Nevertheless,  these things are generally true. Sometimes  nurture and circumstances hide gendered characteristics  until God’s providence brings them out in the right situation.  There are also people who work to hide certain  characteristics in order to reject “the mold.” Nonetheless,  differing physical and psychological characteristics  between males and females point to a God-created gender  that is bound to one’s sex and roles given to each.

Presenting oneself as the opposite gender is sin 

Third, the Scripture explicitly teaches that to attempt  to present oneself as a member of the opposite sex in  behavior or appearance is sin. This prohibition began in the Old Testament already. Deuteronomy 22:5 states,  “The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto  a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment:  for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy  God.” There is no nuance of meaning here. A man  may not wear women’s clothing, nor vice versa. That  is, one’s gender (social expression of his/her sex), here  manifest in dress, is tied to one’s sex.

This passage is instructive because it indicates that  there were people in Israel who were tempted to present  themselves as another sex and gender. Perhaps this was  due in large part to the cultural influence of the pagans  who had any and all sexual  perversions as part of  the worship of their gods  (some say the worship of  various idol gods included  transgenderism, even to the  point of castration). Nonetheless,  there were some for  whom becoming transgender  was a temptation. The  Scriptures resolutely forbid  these individuals to act on  this temptation.

Someone might argue that this is an Old Testament  law. The Old Testament also gives obsolete laws, such  as the law that you may not build a new house without  a railing along the roof (Deut. 22:8). True, but….

We distinguish three types of laws in the Old Testament.  First is the moral law (Ten Commandments) that  is eternal for all times, all places, and all peoples. Second  are civil laws. There are principles found in these laws  that can help us make applications of the moral law to  life today. However, these laws are applications of the  moral law specifically to Old Testament Israel’s life as a  nation. These laws are not strictly applicable to the New  Testament church because the church is no longer a state.  Third, there are ceremonial laws. These laws are specific  to the church living in the age of types and shadows. Jesus  Christ (the reality to which these ceremonies pointed)  fulfilled these laws, and they fall away as laws for the  practice of the New Testament church.

How does one know which Old Testament laws are  which? Most of the time the answer is straightforward.  For example, the law regarding the railing around the  roofline of the house is a civil law, applying the sixth  commandment (“Thou shalt not kill”) to Israel’s life as  a nation. All ten of the Ten Commandments are expounded  in the New Testament as the enduring law of  God. In addition, the New Testament makes some specific,  authoritative applications of the Ten Commandments  to New Testament life. Sometimes the New Testament  applications of the moral law are the same as  the applications of the moral law in the Old Testament.  That is a clue that these laws are moral and enduring.  For example, the New Testament explicitly forbids homosexuality  and homosexual desire in Romans 1:24-32.  This lets us know for certain that Leviticus 20:13 (“If a  man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman,  both of them have committed an abomination”) is an  enduring truth, part of the seventh commandment of  the moral law.

What about the Old Testament law regarding transgenderism?  We could almost  assume that this too  is part of the moral law  even before we examine  the New Testament to see  if this prohibition is repeated.  Nonetheless, the New  Testament does indeed repeat  the prohibition found  in Deuteronomy 22:8.  First, the apostle Paul says  in I Corinthians 11:14-15  “Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man  have long hair, it is a shame unto him? But if a woman  have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given  her for a covering.” Whatever else this passage might  mean, it certainly communicates that there is a natural  difference between men and women and that men are  not to present themselves as women, neither are women  permitted to present themselves as men.

In addition, the apostle speaks explicitly of men who  present themselves as females in I Corinthians 6:9 and 10,  “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the  kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators,  nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers  of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous,  nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit  the kingdom of God.” The Greek word for “effeminate”  in this verse refers to men who present themselves  as females, sometimes to the point of castration. The  one who does this unrepentantly shall not “inherit the  kingdom of God.”

By speaking of specific roles for males and females,  by describing God-given characteristics for males and  females that match these roles, and by forbidding any  expression of oneself as a member of the opposite gender,  the Bible ties gender and sex together. In God’s  good design they are both objective and fixed. This is  what the Bible means when it says, “Male and female  created he them.”


1 Interestingly, the same word is used of the role of the husband in  Ephesians 5:29, not with respect to his children, but with respect  to his wife. The role that a mother has with respect to her children  is similar to the role the man has with respect to his wife!