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Noah’s ark and a gender question in Genesis

04 July 2014


From the Revd P. R. Kay

Sir, - I read with great interest your back-page interview with the Revd Sharon Ferguson ( 6 June), which gave many insights into her life and the LGBT faith scene. As someone who tries to keep up with his Biblical Hebrew, I found especially thought-provoking her comments on Genesis 1.27: "It says in the Hebrew that God created both male and female - making it clear that every human is male and female. It's just a societal construct that we are either/or."

This "non-binary" reading of Genesis 1.27 was new to me, and, given the obvious implications for the same-sex marriage debate and the sacramental theology of marriage, it had me scurrying to my Hebrew concordance.

Alas, it was not long before I spotted clear weaknesses in Ms Ferguson's exegesis. Zachar and niphvah, the words for male and female used in Genesis 1.27, appear 79 and 22 times respectively in the Old Testament, and in almost every case they describe a distinctive gender identity, including (and perhaps especially) the physical aspects of gender. Zachar, for instance, is used regularly in the context of circumcision, procreation, military action, Levitical sacrifices, and even on one occasion (Jeremiah 30.6) the impossibility of a man's giving birth.

Perhaps the most telling counter-examples to this "non-binary" reading are to be found in the Flood narrative (Genesis 6-9). On four occasions, we are told the animals enter the ark not only two by two but zachar and niphvah - male and female. The implication is not that the animals were male and female within themselves: rather, that there were some biological males, some biological females, and they were expected to get cracking and save their species from extinction.

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