Sexual Differentiation, Pt. 1


We began our examination of the biblical material on the sexual life of mankind last time at Genesis 1:26-27 with the summary statement of God’s creation of man as male and female. We suggested that there were three fundamental facts about human life communicated at the outset: 1) man was made in God’s image and likeness; 2) that he was created in a double form; and 3) that these two forms were created to live in an ordered relationship.


We have in Gen. 1:26-27, however, a summary statement only. But because man is the great object and end of God’s creation of the world, because the world that God made is, at last, primarily the environment or the setting for the life of man (for the rest of Holy Scripture, the world’s fortunes are tied to those of man; it will be cursed because of man’s sin and finally destroyed because of God’s judgment of sinful mankind), we must learn more about man’s creation. And so we do. Genesis 2 is a panel, a blow-up of a portion of the sixth day of creation providing greater detail than we were given in the summary of chapter 1. And what is remarkable about this more detailed account is the attention paid to the creation of man as male and female, to the creation of what, in the most profound sense, is the sexual nature of human life.



Text Comment Genesis 2:18-24




v.18

“it is not good” Over against the seven-fold refrain in chapter 1 (“And God saw that it was good”) God’s observation that the male human being alone was “not good” is startling and alerts us to the extraordinary importance of what is about to happen. It also indicates, in a most beautiful way, that not only, as we already were told in 1:27, both male and female are human beings made in God’s image, but that the creation of mankind is not complete until there is a man and woman together, as husband and wife!  This represents a fundamental difference between the biblical worldview and that of modern feminism. The difference goes to the bottom, to the very definition of mankind! Feminism defines the human race as a collection of individuals; the Bible defines the race as a collection of families, of human beings in ordered relationships, as the persons of the Triune God in whose image man is made exist in ordered relationship. It is not surprising that hereafter God’s grace is found to run in family lines, that those he saves God brings into his own family, and he forms his church as a family. God does not pronounce “his very good” upon mankind until there is a man and woman together in marriage, which the chapter will conclude saying creates a family.


“helper” There is nothing whatever demeaning in this description of the woman as man’s “helper,” however much it confirms a certain order in the sexes. The same word is used often of God. “Our help is in the name of the Lord…” “I will lift up my eyes to the hills from whence comes my help.” Same word.  It is a wonderful pointer to the Christian view of life and personhood. Human beings find their purpose not in themselves, in their own fulfillment in isolation, but always in their relatedness to others and in the love and service of others. Of course, as many will point out nowadays, the man is to be the helper of the woman. Fair enough. But honest readers of the Bible should not try to get round the obvious. Man was created first and then woman as his helper. We may wonder precisely what that means, or how much it means, but the Bible does not say the reverse, that is, that man was created as woman’s helper.  Paul, for example, will base his views of man and woman partly on the fact that man was created first, the woman after him and for him. [1 Cor. 11]


“suitable” [וֹךּגנכּ] It is not a single word but a prepositional phrase literally meaning “like opposite him” and it is found only here in the Hebrew Bible. It seems clearly to express the idea of complementarity, not of identity, for there was a much simpler way to express that. The text does not say “like him” but “corresponding to him.” Woman was not created in man’s “likeness” as both man and woman was created in God’s likeness. This means, at the very least, that another male could never meet this need. A fundamental ontological objection to homosexuality! What God intends for the fundamental relationship of human life cannot be obtained in relationships of the same sex. Now feminism is offended by this idea of a profound complementarity, not identity, between the sexes and has argued that it is untrue – no matter that every observer of human life for thousands of years has confirmed that men and women are not mirror images of one another, that they are different and that their differences are correspondences that form a harmony, a lovely harmony of human life. We are forced to acknowledge it biologically — anatomically and reproductively men and women were made for one another – their differences complement one another. But surely we have not been wrong these thousands of years to believe it true as well intellectually, emotionally, physically, temperamentally, and so on.



So, what we have so far, in the Bible’s definition of man as male and female is that, sharing the divine image, they are different in a way that complements the other.  Now, obviously, this has become a deeply controversial assertion in our day. The biological, that is, reproductive complementarity can hardly be denied – men impregnate, women become pregnant, bear children, and nurse them – though there are some who hope that somehow, someday even these differences can be overcome. But in most other respects, nowadays to assert substantial and consequential differences between men and women is controversial, perhaps especially in the academy and then in government and the courts (Justice Ginsberg on recent partial birth abortion case). But there is massive inconsistency: the differences are acknowledged even as they are denied. Hollywood, one of the most thoroughly feminist cultures in the world, nevertheless does a great deal with the psychological and emotional differences between men and women. The differences, of course, fuel most romantic stories and are the source of perpetual interest to movie-goers. Hollywood does not make movies in which Demi Moore rescues Arnold Schwarzenegger and carries him off into the sunset.  No one wants to watch such a movie.


At this point in the biblical text, the nature and number of these differences between men and women are not identified. Throughout the Bible they are more often assumed than explicitly described, though not always (Isa. 3:12 – where being ruled by women is regarded as a measure of a people’s misfortune – or 1 Tim. 2 – where Paul argues that it is improper for a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man). But, for all you may have heard, even from some evangelicals, make no mistake about this: The Bible confirms the consequential distinction between men and women in no uncertain terms and roots it in the facts of their respective creations. In 1 Corinthians 11 the Apostle Paul draws attention to the history of the creation of mankind, to the fact that the man was created first and then the woman and that this order reflects not some historical coincidence, not some merely charming feature of the creation story, but rather teaches us that male and female are two distinct orders of being, that they are to relate to one another in keeping with their distinct natures, that their equality in creation and grace does not at all mean that their lives will be the same or that they were not created to play one particular role in the dance of life. Again in 1 Timothy 2 Paul makes the same point. Adam was formed first, then Eve, which means, Paul says, that God has one role for the man and one for the woman, that he made them different, however much they are also the same both as human beings and as the object of his love, and that their differences are directly related to the lives they will lead in the world, the roles they will assume, the contribution they will make to human fulfillment and happiness.


But, as complementary distinction is the theme of Gen. 2:18, and because that complementarity fuels so much of the sexual attraction of men and women – and the perpetual fascination of one with the other (human sexuality in the more ordinary sense of the term) – it is worth pausing here to explain what we mean, all the more when the very idea of this complementary distinction is under direct assault in our culture.  Can we still believe what the Bible seems so clearly to teach about the differences between men and women?



  1. You will have heard of the resignation under pressure of Lawrence Summers, president of Harvard University. Other factors played a part but the straw that broke the camel’s back was his suggestion at a conference that it might be innate differences that account for women lagging behind men in math and sciences. The reaction was predictable, ferocious, and, for the interested observer, entertaining. One woman professor at MIT (Nancy Hopkins) allowed that hearing what Summers had said nearly caused her to be sick! Other outraged women spoke of weeping at hearing his opinion. Delicious confirmations of sexual stereotype if ever they were needed. The fact is, of course, that, the outrage of the academy notwithstanding, as we might expect from observation, and as disinterested observers have long known, men do better at math than women. Boys and girls do equally well in the computational skills acquired in their early education – but boys and men do increasingly better in the higher reaches of mathematics, and studies have confirmed this fact again and again. Men are 13 times more likely than women to reach the highest levels of mathematical aptitude. Men make almost all the significant mathematical discoveries, even though mathematical ability appears early and is almost eerily detached from education or experience. No one familiar with mathematics believes that great achievement in that discipline can be affected by social encouragement, as if women would do better if only they were encouraged to believe that math was as much for them as for men. [Fermat’s Enigma] (Einstein had a wife who had a passion for math and physics and studied those subjects through university.) They are encouraged and they do as well, up to a point, and then they fall behind for reasons that are now at least partially understood, having to do with the different ways in which men and women think. I make the point only to underscore the fact that significant and consequential sex differences are real no matter how controversial that assertion may be at Harvard and elsewhere.



  1. We know very well how much more oriented to children women are, how much more developed and fundamental is the nurturing instinct in women than in men. Consider this from one bemused father.



“I recall one Saturday afternoon telling my wife that I would occupy the children in the front yard so she could get some things done in the house. We live on a relatively busy street. Our four children were all under six years old at the time. I became immersed in the task of teaching Nicolas to ride his two-wheeler and was unaware that two-year-old Nate was toddling out into the street. Lois, glancing out the window, saw his intentions and arrived in time to intercept him and to offer me some helpful parenting advice.“


“One another occasion, we took Nate for his one-year-old picture. My wife and I were behind the camera. Nate was positioned on a stool on a countertop. The photographer began thrusting a fuzzy puppet on a stick toward Nate to get him to smile. On one final thrust of the toy, Nate suddenly lunged forward to grab it and fell headlong over the countertop into my wife’s hands. We both had been standing about ten feet from the counter. It occurred to me that Lois initiated her dash to the counter well before there was any indication to me that Nate would respond in this way.” [Gregg Johnson, “The Biological Basis for Gender-Specific Behavior,” Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, 280]



The fact is, of course, we could provide unending examples of this phenomenon. A baby’s cries trigger involuntary responses in the mother such as oxytocin secretion…and pupil dilation. There are no such responses in males. [Ibid, 287] Most husbands and fathers have had more than enough opportunity to see the extent to which women are geared to the nurturing of children.  And, for that matter, the nurturing of their husbands. (Men, if you see some imperfection on your wife’s cheek, are you likely to take a closer look and then dig around to see if you can remove that ingrown hair or pimple? But women do!)



  1. Women are more relational, more conversational than men as everyone knows and as many studies have shown, their summaries breathlessly announcing the obvious as if everyone did not already know this. Check out girls on a playground and compare their behavior with boys. Or, consider this. When Florence and I were dropping off John and Vangie and Courtney as they returned home after the Spring Classics Concert, one of the girls announced that she had to visit the ladies room and all three decided to go together. Men, when was the last time you took company along with you when you went to the men’s room?



  1. Men are, as you would know simply from living in the world, but which now a bevy of studies have confirmed, are more inclined to aggressiveness, to dominance, and to self-confidence than women.


    Another Harvard professor of government, Harvey Mansfield, has recently published a book entitled Manliness in which he once again asserts, in defiance of his academic environment, the obvious. What follows is a pastiche of commentary on Mansfield’s book.


    While polishing his role as the Last Conservative Standing at Harvard, Mansfield has also built a reputation as a political theorist solid enough that even liberal political scientists see him as a model for how to practice a humanistic brand of political science. His books ”Machiavelli’s Virtue,” ”Taming the Prince: The Ambivalence of Modern Executive Power,” and ”America’s Constitutional Soul” are dense, learned, and steeped in classical thought. Here is an account of his new book.


    ”Manliness,” which mates his interest in Great Books and culture-war combat, confronts two trends he has long deplored: academic gender studies, which see ”male” and ”female” as fluid categories constructed by society, and feminism, which says there is almost nothing that men can do that women cannot. Nonsense, Mansfield thinks. For better and worse, men are more willing than women to stick out their necks for causes, ideas, and people. They possess a greater taste for the physical and intellectual combat that has led to mankind’s (yes, mankind’s) greatest achievements. ”I don’t think we need to preserve manliness,” he said in an interview. ”I think there is plenty of evidence that manliness is around us. But women need to come to terms with it – society as a whole does.” The gender-neutral society is by definition a mediocre one, with male greatness viewed as threatening to the social order and men and women crammed into boxes they don’t fit in.


    In describing manliness, Mansfield trusts common stereotypes more than social science – a move sure to endear him to feminists. When it comes to believing in male-female differences, Mansfield makes Lawrence Summers look like a piker: Mansfield cites the relevant psychological studies, but he does so disdainfully. Statistical social science, he believes, is unmanly. It breaks men and women down into measurable attributes while failing to see them whole. Stereotypes, on the other hand, are ”democratic,” possessing a respect for the wisdom of the past. The common understanding is that men are aggressive while women are caring; women are ”faithful or at least unadventurous” in sex relative to men; they are ”soft,” ”sensitive,” and ”indirect”; they cry and complain more. Of these clichés, ”not one has been disproven” by social science, Mansfield writes.


    Mansfield believes that the great philosophers understood the manly man, and his own idea of manliness becomes a bit clearer when he lets them do the talking. Plato and Aristotle, for example, described how the quality called ”thumos,” or spiritedness, which men supposedly have in abundance, helped keep cities safe and spurred vigorous debate in the agora. Thomas Hobbes, in ”Leviathan,” puzzled over how to keep manliness in check so that men who come together under government would not hack each other to bits. And Nietzsche famously idolized the ”superman,” whom Mansfield would applaud if Nietzsche had tempered him with a bit of mercy. Thumos plus vaulting ambition has its rewards. It is no accident that corporate boardrooms remain largely male, despite two generations of gender-neutral ideology. ”Men,” Mansfield writes, ”have the highest offices, the leading reputations; they make the discoveries, conceive the theories, win the prizes, start the companies, score the touchdowns.” Nor should it surprise that women are losing the housework battles. ”Manly men,” he writes, ”disdain women’s work.” Mansfield allows that women can sometimes do manly deeds – Thatcher prosecuting the Falklands War, for example, or Grace Kelly picking up a rifle at the climax of ”High Noon.” But Mansfield says it should be obvious they are doing something unusual for their sex. Forcing manly men to wash dishes, or to curb their aggressive ways in politics or business out of deference to ”sensitive” women, does violence to nature and gelds modern society.


    Now Mansfield is not writing as a Christian and we would certainly dispute some aspects of his viewpoint, but his identification of the characteristics of manliness (as opposed to femininity) as self-confidence [assertiveness], independence, and the ability to exercise authority, shouldn’t be controversial to the honest mind.


    Men are the rule-makers of human history. They are everywhere the movers and shakers. It is so in the Bible and so everywhere else one looks in human history.  There are 1,426 names mentioned in the Old Testament. 111 of them are women (9%). The fact is, that is probably a pretty fair ratio for human history in general, perhaps, in fact, more generous to the feminine side. The story of mankind, intellectually, militarily, politically is, by and large, a male story. There have certainly been women teachers of philosophy; it is hard to remember a single one of particular importance to the development of human thought. There have been important female rulers (Elizabeth I, Margaret Thatcher), but they are few and far between. There have certainly been some important female writers (Jane Austen), but they are the distinct exception, not the rule, and, in fact, their popularity has depended largely on female readers.



Now, hear me, everyone. I don’t say any of this to demean women. The Bible never does that. Most of what Holy Scripture says to mankind and to the church it says to men and women without regard to their sex. There are plenty of clever women and dumb men. Indeed there are strong and athletic women who would make all the men in this room look ridiculous in an athletic contest. If we all were to compete in a 100 meter dash against a world-class woman sprinter, we would look like we had a ball and chain attached to our feet. But, the fact is, if that same sprinter had to run against world class male sprinters she would come in last every race. It is that differential, as it exists in so many dimensions of life – I have only scratched the surface of this subject of the differences between men and women – that is so consequential to life and to sexual life. Nor are male traits, or female traits for that matter, good things apart from faith, love, and humility. Man’s sexual nature is fallen. It may have been male firefighters, by and large, that when into the burning Trade Center Towers and the Pentagon, but it was 13 males who blew them up. Indeed, I am willing to say that history seems to suggest that women are more likely to become Christians and to make better Christians than men which is, after all, the greatest thing that can be said about a human being. Remember the Bible’s warning: the first shall be last and the last shall be first!


But, “To the sexual liberal, gender is a cage. Supposedly, behind cruel bars of custom and tradition, men and women for centuries have looked longingly across forbidden spaces at one another and yearned to be free of sexual roles. The men dream of nurturing and consoling; the women want the right to be touch and child-free. Today it is widely believed that the dream of escape can come true at last.” [Gilder, Men and Marriage, 115] But we are discovering that the escape route is littered with the wreck of individual lives and families and that all manner of unanticipated consequences have come in the train of these experiments. And we are learning that the differences between men and women are more rooted in their nature and so more impervious to change than we were led to believe.


I wish only to say that for all you might hear to the contrary, these sex distinctions are so obvious and have been affirmed not only in the universal observation of the human race but in countless studies and research projects examining the behaviors of men and women in various cultures around the world, that to deny them or to minimize the importance for human life requires an ideological fixation impervious to the facts. You perhaps have heard that matriarchies have existed in human history. Don’t believe it. Male dominance and rule is everywhere to be found in history and the present, there has never been and there is not now a society in which authority was or is chiefly to be found with women in male-female relations. Even Margaret Mead agreed with this conclusion! “The degree to which women take power seems to depend on the extent to which men are absent.” One scholar compared some 500 cultures and found that, in all of them, fighting and leadership were associated with the men. [George Gilder, Men and Marriage, 21] 


Alternative explanations for this universal phenomenon have been offered by feminist academics but there are two fatal problems with all of them. The first is that if the dominance of men is a result of socialization or some other factor, why do human cultures uniformly socialize their people in the same way. The second is that the features of masculinity universally noted are precisely those features that explain the dominance of men in human culture.  Ingenious explanations are no match for the overwhelming weight of the evidence.


Enough of polemics. I want to assert the differences at this point – at Gen. 2:18 – precisely because they are so consequential for the rest of what we have to consider in a class on sex.  There is a great deal more to say, of course, especially regarding the affirmation of women, their gifts and graces, and their place in the kingdom of God, as well as to the detriment of men whose assertiveness and dominance also explains why the prisons of the world are filled almost entirely with males. That, however, is too large a subject to consider in this class. For now, it is the divinely created differences that create the sexual story of mankind, and that is our subject in this class.


It is simply a fact that boys and girls, men and women are different and it is the differences that perpetually fascinate, that inflame interest and desire, and produce romance, as well as shape all other dimensions of the relations between the sexes in public and private life. One of the unhappy facts about co-ed education is that most of the boys and a good number of the girls are thinking about the opposite sex most of the time. As one scholar put it, “If you do not believe this, you are a dreamer. The only thing about a classroom more important to adolescent boys than whether girls are present is whether or not it is on fire.” [117]


I must bring this to a conclusion, even though we are only in the middle of our reflection on Gen. 2:18 and the ensuing consequence of this declaration by the Lord about the woman as a helper corresponding to the man. I want to say now, in anticipation, that here, in the divinely ordered differentiation, comes so much that we take for granted in the sexual life. Here we find the origin of the fact that there is a lover and beloved, the man as suitor, the woman as the object to be won – dimensions of the sexual life that are as fixed in our feminist day as ever before. The man is still the pursuer; he still buys the ring; he still “wins” her hand.


I find it a happy thought that Bible-believing Christians are again the ones appointed in our sad and disintegrating culture to be the defenders of all that makes life rich and fun and romantic. All that makes men and women love one another and long for one another is in this adjective “corresponding” or “suitable.” All that makes the man the lover and the woman the beloved, from which differences come all the romances and all the love stories in the world. Feminism cannot write love stories for it has men and women competing with one another as identical or virtually identical beings. Sexual love cannot be what it has been, at its best, from the beginning of time – an instrument of the wholeness of human life and the fulfillment of the promise of human nature as male and female together – because it has been ripped out of its context in the created distinctiveness of man and woman. The one sex cannot make up what the other lacks and hungers for, for he or she must offer only more of the same.


Christianity makes men and women fully human beings but differentiates them from one another in all the ways that make for interest, enchantment, electricity, desire, and true fulfillment for both man and woman. There is that in a man — a great deal — that only a woman can satisfy; and there is, in the same way, a large part of a woman that only a man can satisfy. So God made it to be. Feminism wants us to be interchangeable, for us, in fact, all to be men, and to satisfy one another not as men and women but as human beings without respect to gender. I remember Peter Jones’s comment that, after eighteen years in France, he found upon moving to America to teach at Westminster Seminary in California that American women struck him as so much more masculine. God, however, made men and women to be different and those differences to be profoundly important to human fulfillment, to happiness, and to the making up of loneliness. He made us to be very different; in our equality to be so different, that all the novelists and all the poets of the world would not be able to plumb the depth of that difference.


Or, as H.L. Mencken put the matter of the difference between man and woman more tartly: “The elementary notion of standardization seems never to have occurred to the celestial Edison.” We always used to think this was wonderful, that these differences were the spice of life and to be celebrated with gratitude to God our maker. Only feminism could find a way to turn this charming variety into something ugly, cruel, oppressive, and demeaning. The Bible teaches us to say, “Vive la difference!” We’ll go on with this subject next time.