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On Gender and the Bible: What Does It Mean to Be a Man or Woman? (Part 10)

This is Part 10 in our series exploring what the Bible says about gender. Here are Parts 1234567, 8, and 9

There is likely no more loaded question these days than this: What does it mean to be a man or a woman? As Peter Kreeft aptly noted, masculinity and femininity have been reduced from archetypes to stereotypes.

We no longer know what to expect men and women to be.…The main fault in the old stereotypes was their too-tight connection between sexual being and social doing, their tying of sexual identity to social roles, especially for women: the feeling that it was somehow unfeminine to be a doctor, lawyer, or politician. But the antidote to this illness is not confusing sexual identities but locating them in our being rather than in our doing.[1]

This seems to be stating the obvious, but in our culture, confusion and double standards about being male and female abound.

In this kind of climate, Christians should have a winsome, coherent vision for why God made us sexual beings in the first place, because as T.S. Eliot famously observed,

“Before you know if something is working, you need to know what it’s for.”[2]

This quote has been like a pebble in my shoe as I continue to think about why binary sexes (male and female) were designed by God. For several years I have focused on the roles of men and women (in the home, in the church, in the world at large) while often neglecting to study what nature, Scripture, and even culture can tell me about what we were made for. That is what I’d like to explore here.

Kreeft noted, “Sex is something you are, not something you do.”[3] When I pray, or sing, or cook, or write, I do so as a woman. My femaleness is an even more deeply set part of my essence than my age or my personality. So before I can know if I am “working” the way God intended, I need to know what I’m made for. You do too.

There are three places we can look to help us understand what men and women were made for: nature, Scripture, and culture.

Before I begin, I want to define a couple of terms.
  • Sex or sexuality almost always connotes an activity, but it’s much more than that, not less. In this article, I will use the word sex or sexuality to mean a biologically sexed male or female and intercourse to mean the act of sex.
  • Gender is how we live out our biological sex. It’s how we act in light of being male or female.[4] As Christopher West noted in his excellent book Theology of the Body for Beginners, the root gen means to produce or give birth to. We see this in words like genesis, generous, genetics, genealogy, and genitals. “A person’s gen-der, therefore, is based on the manner in which that person is designed to gen-erate new life.”[5]

What Nature Says Sex is for: Bodies and Behavior

In secular America we have come to believe that our physical bodies are inferior to the conceptions we hold of ourselves. We want to do any “what” without giving heed to the “why” of our design. We strive to make our bodies conform to what we imagine and desire. We, especially many women, can believe that our bodies hinder our flourishing. We can even believe that our bodies lie to us.

A Christian view of nature, however, sees our sexuality (male or female) not as a hindrance to our flourishing but as a clue to God’s design and purpose for us in the world He made.[6]

In his excellent article “Natural Complementarians: Men, Women, and the Way Things Are,” Alastair Roberts noted there are “family resemblances” for each sex. “Recognizing differences in the physical, sexual, and hormonal ordering of male and female bodies helps us to understand broader behavioural and social differences that correlate with these.”[7] Or, to put it more simply, our behavior is affected by our bodies.

A Christian view of nature sees our sexuality not as a hindrance to our flourishing but as a clue to God’s design and purpose for us in the world He made.

While these “family resemblances” can be observed by the average person, research scientists give us even more insight to what is going on here.

Male and female fetuses differ in testosterone concentrations beginning as early as week 8 of gestation. This early hormone difference exerts permanent influences on brain development and behavior. Contemporary research shows that hormones are particularly important for the development of sex-typical childhood behavior, including toy choices, which until recently were thought to result solely from sociocultural influences.[8]

“Both sexes have all the major sex hormones to some degree, but androgens are the ones most identified with males (testosterone being the most famous) and estrogens are the ones most identified with females.”[9] Hormone concentrations contribute to boys and girls differing in substantial ways.[10] Testosterone permanently changes brain tissue[11] and is correlated with higher levels of confidence, status assertion, risk taking (physically and intellectually), and a higher sex drive.[12] Estrogen also affects brain development and is associated with the ability to recognize different emotions and facial expressions as well as increased language capacity.[13] When something goes wrong and this hormone dump is interrupted for boys or girls, sex-specific behaviors are less pronounced, demonstrating again the biology-behavior link.

Scientists are finding (or, more accurately, rediscovering) that our behavior is not solely socially constructed.

“Biological sexuality is innate, natural, and in fact pervasive to every cell in the body. It is not socially conditioned, or conventional, or environmental; it is hereditary.”[14]

Long before their bodies change at puberty, little girls and little boys display behavioral differences. What is written in every cell of their bodies is displayed in their personalities and interactions with the world.

The effects of the early hormone environment also extend to personality characteristics that show sex differences. Probably the best-established links in this area involve empathy, which is typically higher in females, and physical aggression, which is typically higher in males.[15]

And let’s not forget the rollercoaster of adolescence.

No matter what we wish or think about our biological sex, our bodies change and develop according to a chromosomal reality (XY or XX) powered by hormones. Changes in body shape and voice, pubic and facial hair growth, as well as sex organ development all occur during puberty.[16]

I was listening to a recent episode of the Strong Women podcast titled “Sexual Discipleship” (How’s that for an interesting title?!) and during the discussion, Dr. Juli Slattery, author of Rethinking Sexuality: God’s Design Matters, noted the crucial role that the biological process of puberty plays in our sexuality.

Sexuality is about so much more than what we are doing with our bodies. It’s the aspect of humanity that God has given us that draws us to share ourselves, into intimacy. If you think about a child who reaches puberty at 11, 12, or 13 years old, male or female, something happens where they begin pursuing relationship and thinking about relationship. Boys become obsessed with sexual desires and urges, which has challenges, but we need to see that it’s actually a good thing. As girls become sexually awakened, it’s channeled more into the romance stories and daydreaming about the boy they like.

Imagine if there was no sexual awakening for adolescents and young adults. We would be content with jobs and hobbies and really self-gratification and chasing down what we want without moving toward people. So, our sexual desire and sexuality is about moving us toward intimacy here on earth and it points us toward the intimacy and covenant we are supposed to have with God. Our sexuality is telling the story that you were not made to do life alone. This is true not only in marriage but also in singleness and friendships, which drive us to be vulnerable, wanting to be loved, wanting to be embraced, and all of the expressions of being male and female.[17]

The human drive for intimacy and connection, amplified by adolescent changes, coincides with the naturally observable truth that maleness and femaleness complement and are attracted to each other.

Philosopher Peter Kreeft observes this principle throughout all of creation.

Differences in general, and sexual differences in particular, increase rather than decrease as you move up the cosmic hierarchy. (Yes, there is a cosmic hierarchy, unless you can honestly believe that oysters have as much right to eat you as you have to eat them.)

…There is “love among the particles”: gravitational and electromagnetic attraction. That little electron just “knows” the difference between the proton, which she “loves,” and another electron, which is her rival. If she did not know the difference, she would not behave so knowingly, orbiting around her proton and repelling other electrons, never vice versa.

But, you say, I thought that was because of the balanced resultant of the two merely physical forces of angular momentum, which tends to zoom her straight out of orbit, and bipolar electromagnetic attraction, which tends to zap her down into her proton: too much zoom for a zap and too much zap for a zoom. Quite right. But what right do you have to call physical forces “mere”? And how do you account for the second of those two forces? Why is there attraction between positive and negative charges? It is exactly as mysterious as love. In fact, it is love. The scientist can tell you how it works, but only the lover knows why.[18]

Masculinity and femininity draw us toward one another.

And for those who would argue that masculine traits and feminine traits are not always allotted evenly to each man and woman, I agree. But these exceptions prove the rule. (And later we’ll see Scripture gives restraining and exhorting guidelines for each sex in spite of as well as because of their natural tendencies.)

By adulthood, these biological differences can be especially pronounced in men and women. And there is no escaping the biological reality that men and women have particular roles in intercourse and procreation.

Male identity, in contrast to women’s, and across human societies, is far more consistently invested in demonstrating robust external agency in the world.…Men do not have the same profound physical and emotional bond to their offspring that women have. Women’s own bodies are the site where the chief end of their sexuality can be realized, as a man is united to them, a child can be conceived and gestated within them, and where that child can later [be] nurtured by them. Men’s bodies, by contrast, are directed outside of themselves sexually, towards ends realized elsewhere. As a result, their powerfully outward oriented sexual impulse and natural energies are much more easily waylaid where they are not assisted by healthy social norms.[19]

It’s worth noting that those of us who aren’t having intercourse are fully human, fully sexual. Otherwise, Paul and Jesus would not be fully men. Whenever we imitate Christ by giving up our bodies for others, we express the body’s spousal meaning.[20] The biological reality of intercourse is that this is the way the human race fills the earth (Gen. 1:28).

As we will see in the section on Scripture, this act is about more than continuing the human race, but it’s certainly not less than that.

So, to return to Eliot’s question, what does nature show us biological sex is for? It’s for making babies. It’s for attraction to intimacy and relationships. Just like electrons and protons, there are opposite forces that draw us together, helping us understand and impact the world in ways superior to just going it alone. Many times, it’s in the context of male/female relationships that we better understand what it means to be either a man or a woman.

These observable behavioral and body differences are part of the general revelation described in Romans 1:20.

“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”

So, let’s take a look more closely at what God continues to say in Scripture about what men and women are for.

What Scripture says Sex is for: Signs and Stories

“The body is not only biological…[it] is also theological.”[21] Our bodies are signs that point to God’s story.

Ponder this for a moment: if the union of the sexes is the main sign in this world of our call to union with God, and if there is an enemy who wants to separate us from God, where do you think he’s going to aim his most potent arrows? If we want to know what is most sacred in this world, all we need to do is look for what is most violently profaned.…It is sobering in the utmost to think that all the sexual confusion in our world today might be the unfolding of a diabolic plot to separate us from one another and from God.[22]

We proclaim the gospel story of Christ’s love for the church in our bodies. Paul calls this a profound mystery in Ephesians 5, and in the following chapter he notes that it’s a matter of life and death.[23] We wage war against the rulers, authorities, and powers of this dark world and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms that seek to sabotage the image of God in our bodies, our marriages, our families, and our communities. Knowing that God’s story is chiseled into our male and female bodies, is it any wonder that Paul says we must “gird our loins with the truth” (Eph. 6:14)?

If you are looking for the meaning of life, according to John Paul II, it’s impressed right in your body—in your sexuality. The purpose of life is to love as God loves [Jn 15:12-13] and this is what your body as a man or woman calls you to. Think of it this way: A man’s body doesn’t make sense by itself. Nor does a woman’s body. But seen light of each other, sexual difference reveals the unmistakable plan of God that man and woman are meant to be a gift to one another.[24]

This is good news! Our bodies have dignity. Our bodies have purpose. Our bodies have a story to tell.

It’s a story of the eternal, life-giving love of the triune God. By making us male and female (sex) and commanding the two to become one flesh (intercourse), God created a sign that points to the love relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.[25]

Male and female bodies are complete in all of their systems but one: reproduction. This system fully functions only in union with the opposite sex. Every cell in male and female bodies has 46 chromosomes. Except for one. The sperm cell and the ovum each have only 23.

This biological sign becomes poetic as we ponder the very different roles men and women play in reproduction.

Man’s role is outside his body as he enters the woman. Woman’s role is inside her body as she receives him and conceives new life, carrying it for nine months inside her body. We are meant to complete each other, creating a third person who comes into existence.[26] This is a sign of an ultimate reality, of the story of God’s divine love within the Trinity, of His love for each one of us, and of the eternal life He wants to conceive and birth within us.

The apostle Paul tells us that these biological signs ultimately point to the story of Jesus and the church.

“’For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:32).

In marriage the husband represents Jesus, and the wife represents the church. In life-giving, sacrificial, initiating love, Jesus entered the Most Holy Place as our great high priest, bringing eternal redemption…so that we may serve the living God (Heb 9:12, 14, 15). And the church submits to this life-giving act of eternal love. We are God’s handiwork, chosen by Him and brought near to Him. We are now a holy temple where the Holy Spirit lives (Eph 1:11-14; 2:10). The phrase “profound mystery” can be literally translated mega mystery, and it means large or great in the widest sense. Our marriages are meant to reenact the gospel.

In light of this mega-mystery, our bodies, our marriages, and the intimate act of intercourse are elevated to holy signposts.

Who are we to take the image of God chiseled into our bodies and use it casually or for selfish pleasure? How tragic when husbands domineer and withhold love or when wives demean and belittle. Complementary similarities and differences are hardwired into our souls and given shape in our bodies. Our sex is not a choice we make or a hindrance to our real identity; it’s a gift from God, pointing to eternal truths.

Our marriages are meant to reenact the gospel.

So, what about single adults? They, too, display the spousal image of God in their bodies.[27] Many don’t think of singleness as a gift or as good, but that’s exactly what the apostle Paul tells us it is.

“I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that. Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am” (1 Cor 7:7-8).

So, marriage is a gift that some receive, while singleness is a gift that others receive. Singleness and marriage are “assignments from Jesus” and “callings from God” (1 Cor 7:17). All disciples of Jesus, male or female, single or married, are His bride. Single adults display this eternal reality in tangible ways here on earth, showing undivided concern and devotion for the Lord. We who are married must demonstrate this devotion to an earthly spouse as well as our Lord, taking care not to expect from our earthly spouses the love and ultimate satisfaction that only Jesus can give.

In addition to this overarching story of Scripture, the biblical authors hold up archetypes of the sexes.

These archetypes are used to exhort men and women to particular sex-based behaviors and roles. Although some may object to this idea, Mark Jones contends that insisting we don’t need to act like a man or a woman because we already are one “is sort of like a Christian saying, ‘I don’t need to act like a Christian because I am one.’”[28]

Adam and Eve are the archetypal male and female. All men embody a kind of Adam identity while all women embody a kind of Eve identity. Mark Jones, Alastair Roberts, and others have noted that we can gain clues about what it means to be a man or a woman based on the Genesis 2 account of Adam and Eve.

Man and woman are differently constituted, and God seems to go out of his way in the Genesis narrative to make that abundantly clear. Subduing the earth and exercising dominion falls to the man primarily, whereas the woman is tasked with fruitfulness and multiplication; she gives man something to fight for and protect. Here we are not speaking about specific individuals, but the two halves of humanity. Men are generally responsible for ordering the world [and] taming the creation.…Women are created to care for the communion of humanity. They bear and raise children (1 Tim 2:15). They develop the glory of the new humanity.[29]

Peter, apostle to the Jews, points to Abraham and Sarah as an archetype to explain what it means to be a husband or a wife.[30] Wives are to submit to their husbands as Sarah did, doing right and not giving way to fear. Husbands are to act with understanding and honor toward their wives, treating them with respect.

Because egalitarian notions of humanity permeate the church these days, it’s worth noting that the apostle Paul points to male and female archetypes as reasons for hierarchy in marriage and the church. But, some object, he also writes that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female” in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:28).

So, are males and females equal or is there still a distinction between them? The answer is yes.

In the Galatians passage, Paul calls each person who is clothed with Christ in baptism “sons.” Our sex does not determine if we are sons of God any more than our ethnicity (Jew or Greek) or our worldly status (slave or free) do. Whoever becomes clothed with Christ keeps their embodied identities as male or female even as each is equally granted the status of an heir of God.

Peter Kreeft notes that both chauvinists and egalitarians look at biblical archetypes of men and women and come to different conclusions by the same faulty reasoning. Both philosophies see sameness or superiority as the only options. The chauvinist argues that the sexes are different in nature, therefore they are different in value, with men being superior to women. The egalitarian argues that the sexes are not different in value, therefore they are not different in nature, with men and women being the same.[31]

It is easy to see how foolish both arguments are. Of course not all differences are differences in value. Are dogs better than cats, or cats than dogs? Or are they different only by convention, not by nature? Chauvinist and egalitarian should both read the poets, songwriters, and mythmakers to find a third philosophy of sexuality that is both more sane and infinitely more interesting. It denies neither the obvious rational truth that the sexes are equal in value (as the chauvinist does) nor the equally obvious instinctive truth that they are innately different (as the egalitarian does). It revels in both, and in their difference: vive la difference!

When we locate our sexuality in the fabric of our being rather than our roles, Kreeft notes that “we can soften up social roles without softening up sexual identities.” Because sexuality is part of our inner essence, we bring our masculinity and femininity to the roles we hold in the world, church, and the home. “There are women who are cooks and seamstresses, help rebuild cities, judge Israel, deal in real estate, run businesses, even kill God’s enemies, and men who are shepherds, farmers, metal-workers, musicians cook, warrior and fighters, gentle and sensitive men, men who weep and embrace.”[32]

Our sex is not a choice we make or a hindrance to our real identity; it’s a gift from God, pointing to eternal truths.

I couldn’t close this section on Scripture and sex without also noting that God affirmed our sexuality for eternity with the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Our Lord took on all the biological markers of a male: including higher levels of testosterone, a Y chromosome, greater muscle mass than women, facial hair, a deeper voice than most women, and, forgive my bluntness, a penis. His mother Mary also experienced pregnancy and childbirth as all biological women: including increased estrogen and progesterone, stretched ligaments and tendons, weight gain, fluid retention, enlarged breasts, a thickening cervix, and excruciating contractions at Jesus’s birth.

Jesus remained biologically male after the resurrection. Thus, God affirmed binary sexuality for eternity. “Even when this old earth is no more, the new heavens and earth have dawned, and ‘people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven’ (Matt. 22:30). There will still be male and female. The risen Jesus is proof.”[33] At the resurrection, I’ll be female and my husband, David, will be male. Our sexuality is eternal. Our marital status is not. When the Word became flesh (John 1:14), He embraced human nature. “Through the incarnation, God the Son embraced male and female sexuality to the core.”[34]

So, to return to Eliot’s question, what does Scripture show us biological sex is for? Signs and story-telling.

The story of Scripture is that God loves us, wants to “marry” us, and wants us to “conceive” eternal life within us.[35] Scripture tells this love story from beginning to end: Genesis begins with the marriage of the first man and woman and ends in Revelation with the marriage of Christ and the church. Marriage is designed by God to teach us about the eternal bliss of being one with God. It’s a foreshadowing of heaven. Once we’re married to Christ, we will no longer need the sign of marriage which was pointing us heavenward.[36]

These biological inclinations and Scriptural truths about men and women are uniquely expressed in the various cultures throughout the world.

What Sex Is for in Culture: Preserving and Protecting

In her excellent article “Sex or Gender?,” Sara Butler notes, “Because gender is fundamentally a way in which we make sense of ourselves as embodied creatures, no investigation of gender can allow itself to be carried too far off from the body…[it’s] both inescapable and beautifully flexible.”[37] Gender is the cultural expression of our bodily reality as biological males and females.

The distinct roles for men and women, known as gender norms, are the agreed-upon standards by which people live. While the particularities of gender norms like clothing or speech may differ from culture to culture, two cross-cultural norms between men and women emerge: protecting and preserving families. Men are particularly suited to protection, while women are particularly suited to the preservation of the families.

Families are the building blocks of culture. When the family collapses, civilization eventually follows. Nicknamed “The Enforcer” by her five children, Barbara Bush said as much at her commencement address to Wellesley students on June 1, 1990. “Your success as a family, our success as a society, depends not on what happens in the White House, but on what happens in your house.”[38]

So what has happened in our “houses” across history?

A Yale study summarizing gender differences in division of labor, political, and warrior roles across the centuries found that there were some near-universal patterns for men and women:

  • Men almost always hunt and trap animals, fish, clear land and prepare soil for planting, butcher animals, make nets and rope, and collect honey.
  • Women almost always care for infants. They also usually gather wild plants, cook, prepare dairy products, fetch firewood or other fuel, launder clothes, spin yarn, and care for children.

Just a cursory glance at the biological differences between males and females can help explain this phenomenon. Heavy work like hunting, trapping, and clearing land is incompatible with caring for infants, not to mention the loss of reproductive potential for a society if females were killed in battle. Even with the archeological confirmation of the legendary Amazonian and Greek female warriors, women are estimated to amount to less than 1% of all warriors in human history. This gender difference, is more “of a cross-cultural universal than almost any other gender difference” in societies.[39]

Charles Murray notes that evidence gathered since the turn of the 21st century upholds these distinctions. Countries which have made the greatest strides in gender equity report wider sex differences in men and women. Not less.

If you think gender norms are just socially constructed this seems counterintuitive. Even confusing. But once we begin to acknowledge that biological differences and biblical archetypes between the sexes exist, we begin to see the answer. When granted greater freedoms, “Both sexes become freer to do what comes naturally.”[40]

In a recent RENEW.org article on gender, Dr. Richard Oster noted ancient civilizations, whether pagan or Christian, recognized the significance of protecting and preserving families. “They valued organization and rule in the home, because they understood that without properly functioning homes and marriages, civilization would not continue. There would be chaos.”[41]

It’s in the context of protecting and preserving families that men and women build healthy civilizations. The biological realities of men, like increased testosterone and greater muscle mass, make them especially dangerous when not attached to women in families.

Tying men to women and children harnesses men’s energies to the construction and protection of society, where otherwise they might run amok. Where men are not tied to women in such a manner, men often try to prove their masculinity in destructive and socially damaging ways. The violence of dysfunctional masculinity is much more of an immediate threat to culture than dysfunctional forms of femininity: women’s violence is more likely to be directed against their own bodies. Women and the children that they bear exert a centripetal social force upon men, drawing them toward the service and protection of society.[42]

Gail Collins, the first female Editorial Page editor at the New York Times, noted in an NPR interview on her book American Women that the most important role women have played in the history of our nation is “to make men behave one way or another.”[43]

Skeptical? Collins gives an example from our nation’s history. When the first colony was established in Jamestown, 200 men were sent over to do the work. Instead, what ensued was what Collins called “a rowdy fraternity party in the wilderness.” One visitor even found the men bowling in the streets! Investors in the colony, less concerned about gender norms and more concerned about saving their venture, decided to offer women of marriageable age free passage and appealing hope chests in order to entice these “fraternity boys” into becoming diligent, hardworking, productive men. It worked.

Behold the socializing power of wives and mothers.

First Things journalist Glenn Stanton notes:

Women create, shape, and maintain human culture. Manners exist because women exist. Worthy men adjust their behavior when a woman enters the room. They become better creatures. Civilization arises and endures because women have expectations of themselves and of those around them.

This is not just a conservative or traditionalist idea.…Anthropologists have long recognized that the most fundamental social problem every community must solve is the unattached male.…Men settle down when they get married; if they fail to marry, they fail to settle down.”[44]

We need each other!

Families exist because two sexes exist. Families have eternal significance because they point to the eternal reality of Christ and the church. Families create societies where we can live in harmony and thrive. Feminist cries like A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle give voice to injustices that women have suffered under dysfunctional masculinity, but it’s not true fundamentally. When we recognize biological realities and embrace God’s image in us, we bring out the best in each other. “Culture is the expression of nature (and, for Christians, also of Scripture) in a particular time and place. It includes customs and traditions that testify to the natural tendencies of our nature.”[45]

In America, it might be easy to think that this argument unfairly marginalizes single adults. That might be true if you think of family as simply the nuclear family of father, mother, and children, but this model is a relatively recent cultural invention. David Brooks, in his article ­­­­­­­­The Nuclear Family Was a Mistake, argues that extended family groups have been the (very healthy) norm for countless civilizations, including ours. Summarizing the changes in family structure over the past century, Brooks notes:

We’ve made life freer for individuals and more unstable for families. We’ve made life better for adults but worse for children. We’ve moved from big, interconnected, and extended families, which helped protect the most vulnerable people in society from the shocks of life, to smaller, detached nuclear families (a married couple and their children), which give the most privileged people in society room to maximize their talents and expand their options. The shift from bigger and interconnected extended families to smaller and detached nuclear families ultimately led to a familial system that liberates the rich and ravages the working-class and the poor.[46]

Wealthy nuclear families can outsource and pay for services that protect and preserve them, whereas everyone else cannot. In particular, Brooks argues that extended families traditionally provided a socializing force as well as the resilience to weather unexpected burdens. If the nuclear family faced the death of a parent or a ruptured relationship between a parent and child, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents were there to fill the breach. This extended network also socialized its members, teaching them what is right and wrong and how to behave toward others.

When we are reconciled to God through Jesus, we become part of one big, extended, beautiful family.

We gain ancestors that we can look to for inspiration and courage: men and women who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, whose weakness was turned to strength as they faced jeers, flogging, prison, and stoning (Heb 11:33-37). We gain brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, grandparents, aunts and uncles who can provide a place for the single adult and nuclear family alike to be preserved and protected. The early church shared everything they had with one another so that there were no needy persons among them. They were characterized by grace and unity, the hallmarks of a healthy family (Acts 2:32-35). We can live that way too. As a matter of fact, I have.

My husband and I have experienced the power of God’s extended family in our church’s small groups in various states throughout many stages of life. A female friend who never married invested in my daughter’s life during the critical teen years. She was able to speak to her in ways that I couldn’t, from a perspective I didn’t have, and with spiritual giftings different from mine. She did the same for my daughter-in-law. In our 30’s we helped one another through the death of a beloved mother and friend—taking care of her children, feeding the family, driving her to doctor’s appointments, and some of us sitting with her as she died. We’ve weathered postpartum depression, porn addiction, learning disabilities, job loss, teen rebellion, marital conflict, and more. We eat in other’s homes, watch each other’s kids (and correct them when needed!), fix each other’s broken appliances, and pray for each other. Those with special training in medicine, or physical therapy, or finance, or home improvement, or education, or gardening, or counseling provide this professional-level help graciously and freely again and again. And those of us with broken nuclear families have learned to be the wives and husbands, mothers and fathers, God wants us to be.

Behold the power of God’s extended family.

Rosaria Butterfield calls this way of life in God’s big, extended family “radically ordinary hospitality.”

Radically ordinary hospitality is done for the good of everyone—the host included.…[It] lives out your transparent, authentic faith before the watching world, knowing that too many people are dying of crushing loneliness, both within the church and without, and taking comfort in being both earthly and spiritual good to others.…[It] focuses on bearing the image of God. It seeks to simultaneously build up the family of God as it adds and includes those who do not yet know Christ.[47]

So, to return to Eliot’s question, what does culture show us biological sex is for? Protecting and preserving families. In a culture that ignores and defies the biological realities of men and women, is ignorant of the sacred gospel story written on our bodies, and is facing the catastrophic fallout from the disintegration of the family, we have good news. There is meaning and purpose when you embrace your God-given calling as a man or a woman.

There is meaning and purpose when you embrace your God-given calling as a man or a woman.

What does it mean to be a man or a woman? It means that we recognize that our biology affects our behavior. It means that our bodies are signs, pointing to God’s love story of the gospel. It means that men and women can build a culture in the church that protects and preserves families, recognizing the extended family of God of which we are a part whether single or married.

May God give us the grace to live as the men and women He made us to be.


[1] Scotty Smith, from a talk delivered by Peter Kreeft at Hamilton Hall, Columbia University, October 21, 1996, Is There Sex in Heaven? https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/scotty-smith/article-is-there-sex-in-heaven/.

[2] T.S. Eliot, The Aims of Education. 

[3] Scotty Smith, from a talk delivered by Peter Kreeft at Hamilton Hall, Columbia University, October 21, 1996, Is There Sex in Heaven? https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/scotty-smith/article-is-there-sex-in-heaven/.

[4] Todd Wilson, Mere Sexuality, 61.

[5] Christopher West, Theology of the Body for Beginners: Rediscovering the Meaning of Life, Love, Sex, and Gender, 40.

[6] Joe Rigney, What Makes a Man – or a Woman? Lost Voices on a Vital Question. https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/what-makes-a-man-or-a-woman

[7] Alastair Roberts, Natural Complementarians: Men, Women and the Way Things Are. https://calvinistinternational.com/2016/09/13/natural-complementarians-men-women/

[8] Melissa Hines, “Sex-related variation in human behavior and the brain,” August 18, 2010, https://www.cell.com/trends/cognitive-sciences/fulltext/S1364-6613(10)00172-5

[9] Charles Murray, Human Diversity: The Biology of Gender, Race, and Class, 98-100

[10] Hines, “Sex-related variation in human behavior and the brain.” 

[11] Murray, Human Diversity, 100.

[12] Alastair Roberts, Natural Complementarians: Men, Women and the Way Things Are. https://calvinistinternational.com/2016/09/13/natural-complementarians-men-women/

[13] “The Influence of Estrogen on Female Mood Changes,” Jan. 22, 2012, https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-01/sicp-tio010912.php.

[14] Scotty Smith, Is There Sex in Heaven: A talk delivered by Peter Kreeft at Hamilton Hall, Columbia University, October 21, 1996 and sponsored by the Augustine Club, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/scotty-smith/article-is-there-sex-in-heaven/

[15] Hines, “Sex-related variation in human behavior and the brain.” 

[16] “The Growing Child: Teenager (13 to 18 Years),” Stanford Children’s Health, https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=the-growing-child-adolescent-13-to-18-years-90-P02175

[17] Dr. Juli Slattery, Strong Women Podcast: Sexual Discipleship, September 9, 2020.

[18] Scotty Smith, from a talk delivered by Peter Kreeft at Hamilton Hall, Columbia University, October 21, 1996, Is There Sex in Heaven? https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/scotty-smith/article-is-there-sex-in-heaven/

[19] Roberts, “Natural Complementarians: Men, Women, and the Way Things Are.”

[20] West, Theology of the Body, 56.

[21] West, Theology of the Body, 14.

[22] West, Theology of the Body, 30

[23] Christopher West, Strong Women Podcast, Colson Center. February 2, 2021.

[24] West, Theology of the Body, 55.

[25] West, Theology of the Body, 13, 22.

[26] West, Theology of the Body, 55.

[27] West, Strong Women Podcast, Colson Center, February 2, 2021.

[28] Mark Jones, “Review of Aimee Byrd’s, Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood” https://calvinistinternational.com/2020/05/11/review-of-aimee-byrds-recovering-from-biblical-manhood-and-womanhood/

[29] Jones, “Review of Aimee Byrd’s, Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood,” https://calvinistinternational.com/2020/05/11/review-of-aimee-byrds-recovering-from-biblical-manhood-and-womanhood/

[30] Steven Wedgeworth, Man and Woman: A Biblical Systematic Anthropology. https://calvinistinternational.com/2020/05/17/man-and-woman-biblical-systematic-anthropology/amp/

[31] Scotty Smith, Is There Sex in Heaven: A talk delivered by Peter Kreeft at Hamilton Hall, Columbia University, October 21, 1996 and sponsored by the Augustine Club, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/scotty-smith/article-is-there-sex-in-heaven/

[32] Claire Smith, Humanity as Male and Female, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/essay/humanity-male-female/

[33] Wilson, 47-48.

[34] Todd Wilson, Mere Sexuality: Rediscovering the Christian Vision of Sexuality, 46.

[35] West, Theology of the Body, 26.

[36] West, Theology of the Body, 95.

[37] Sara Butler, Sex or Gender?, June 2005. https://www.firstthings.com/article/2005/06/sex-or-gender.

[38] Casey Quackenbush, On Family, Giving, and Life in Politics: Here are Some of Barbara Bush’s Most Memorable Quotes, April 18, 2018, https://time.com/5244413/barbara-bush-most-memorable-quotes/

[39] Carol R. Ember, Milagro Escobar, Noah Rossen, and Abbe McCarter, “Gender” in C. R. Ember, ed. Explaining Human Culture. Nov. 18, 2019, https://hraf.yale.edu/ehc/summaries/gender

[40] Murray, Human Diversity: The Biology of Gender, Race, and Class, 36, 42.

[41] Renee Sproles and Rick Oster, On Gender and the Bible: What about Husbands and Wives?, https://renew.org/on-gender-and-the-bible-what-about-husbands-and-wives-part-6/

[42] Alastair Roberts, Natural Complementarians: Men, Women, and the Way Things Are https://calvinistinternational.com/2016/09/13/natural-complementarians-men-women/

[43] Juan Williams, “America’s Women,” NPR, Oct. 9, 2003, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1459945

[44] Glenn T. Stanton, Why Men and Women are not Equal, August 26, 2016. https://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2016/08/why-man-and-woman-are-not-equal

[45] Joe Rigney, What Makes a Man—or a Woman?, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/what-makes-a-man-or-a-woman

[46] David Brooks, The Nuclear Family Was a Mistake, March 2020. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/03/the-nuclear-family-was-a-mistake/605536/

[47] Tilly Dillehay, Rosaria Butterfield Calls You to (Radically Ordinary) Hospitality, June 11, 2018. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/rosaria-butterfield-radically-ordinary-hospitality/

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