Of late, I have been thinking a lot about what constitutes a definition of man and woman. It’s important that I emphasize that in this definition, I am not intending to discuss the roles of man and woman, but man and woman as structural beings.
In my research, a few helpful definitions from biology and natural law help fill out my definition that I conclude with at the end of this post.
First, from Ryan T. Anderson:
Sex, in terms of male or female, is identified by the organization of the organism for sexually reproductive acts. Sex as a status—male or female—is a recognition of the organization of a body that has the ability to engage in sex as an act.
— Ryan T. Anderson, When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment (New York: Encounter, 2018), 79.
Second, from Lawrence S. Mayer and Paul R. McHugh:
The underlying basis of maleness and femaleness is the distinction between the reproductive roles of the sexes; in mammals such as humans, the female gestates offspring and the male impregnates the female. More universally, the male of the species fertilizes the egg cells provided by the female of the species. This conceptual basis for sex roles is binary and stable, and allows us to distinguish males from females on the grounds of their reproductive systems, even when these individuals exhibit behaviors that are not typical of males or females.
— Lawrence S. Mayer and Paul R. McHugh, Sexuality and Gender: Findings from the Biological, Psychological, and Social Science, Special Report, New Atlantis 50 (Fall 2016), 89.
Third, additionally from Lawrence S. Mayer and Paul R. McHugh:
In biology, an organism is male or female if it is structured to perform one of the respective roles in reproduction. This definition does not require any arbitrary measurable or quantifiable physical characteristics or behaviors; it requires understanding the reproductive system and the reproduction process. Different animals have different reproductive systems, but sexual reproduction occurs when the sex cells from the male and female of the species come together to form newly fertilized embryos. It is these reproductive roles that provide the conceptual basis for the differentiation of animals into the biological categories of male and female. There is no other widely accepted biological classification for the sexes.
— Lawrence S. Mayer and Paul R. McHugh, Sexuality and Gender: Findings from the Biological, Psychological, and Social Science, Special Report, New Atlantis 50 (Fall 2016), 90.
The above definitions are, strictly speaking, biological in nature, in that each refers back to the reproductive organization of the sexes as the primary characteristic for distinguishing sex difference. Notice that Mayer and McHugh note that these distinctions are “binary and stable,” which implies that a definition of man and woman apart from biological and reproductive organization is on shaky ground.
I want to argue that the above definitions parallel with the creation account of man and woman revealed in Genesis 1: 26-28:
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Notice that the creation of man and woman in Genesis both is structural and dynamic. As male and female beings made in God’s image, their design is ordered toward a particular purpose—filling the earth, subduing it, exercising dominion. More specifically, that purpose is accomplished by male and female design—that the act of being fruitful and multiplying springs from their respective sex distinction. In this account, general revelation parallels with special revelation.
What is happening? The Bible explains categorically, thematically, and observationally what biology confirms as reality—that maleness and femaleness are biological realities ordered by their reproductive organization.
Notice now the Nashville Statement Article 4 reads:
WE AFFIRM that divinely ordained differences between male and female reflect God’s original creation design and are meant for human good and human flourishing.
WE DENY that such differences are a result of the Fall or are a tragedy to be overcome.
Article 5 reads:
WE AFFIRM that the differences between male and female reproductive structures are integral to God’s design for self-conception as male or female.
WE DENY that physical anomalies or psychological conditions nullify the God-appointed link between biological sex and self-conception as male or female.
“Reproductive structures are integral to God’s design for self-conception as male and female.” This language builds on both theology and biology.
I thus arrive at my working definitions of man and woman:
A biblical view of what defines a man must be defined according to God’s design in creation: A biblical man is an image bearer of God whose biological design is oriented to fulfill a creational mandate of subduing creation by his covenantal marriage union with his sexual counterpart, his wife.
A biblical view of what defines a woman must be defined according to God’s design in creation: A biblical woman is an image bearer of God whose biological design is oriented to fulfill a creational mandate of subduing creation by her covenantal marriage union with her sexual counterpart, her husband.
Two caveats about these definitions. First, this definition still applies to those who are unmarried. Why? Because regardless of whether a man or a woman is married, they still possess a bodily design oriented to reproduction. A man and woman are more than their reproductive anatomy, but never less. Second, this definition still applies to those are who infertile or who may experience a disorder of sex development (DSD). How so? Because, again, every male or female is a participant in the larger order of creation, assigned with the general task of responsible dominion and stewardship by virtue of their existence as male or female. This is true regardless of whether this occurs in the context of marriage, and regardless of whether reproduction is ever fulfilled. Moreover, a deviation from an otherwise enduring norm is a privation of a good; and a privation does not nullify or vitiate the basic norm that, as a general observation of the male and female sexes, the two are ordered toward procreation.