Jesus IS ‘genderless’. interrogating the relationship between gender and the divine

(Editors note. The following essay is not intended as a debate as to the veracity of Jesus as a real, historical figure. Nor is it an affirmation of the Bible as the so-called ‘word of God.’ It is simply an effort to interrogate the relationship between gender and divinity in a Biblical context. Enjoy.)

When one considers the historical account of Jesus the Nazarene, from the Bible[1], regardless of whether you approach it from the point of view of a protestant or Catholic, and the many variations that comprise the so-called, ‘Christian’ population in the world, two things are absolutely true about the Christ, the Christ was a biological male and spiritually divine. He had two natures, one based on his existence as a man, and the other as a divine being.

Some Christians argue, that Jesus’ divine identity was God himself, others contend that it was a creation of god, but like an angel, divine. Another nexus between the Catholic and protestant faiths is they both recognize that divine beings are neither male or female, biologically or otherwise. They are, for all practical terms, genderless. Why they always seem to take the male identity seems to me to be more male projection of the ancient culture in which Judaism is based (more on this later). But, angels do not procreate and hence have no need for genitalia. If we approach the Bible as a piece of fictional, historical materiality, the only conclusion is that this is a plot-hole in the narrative. In other words, there should have been angels that, like God, frequently demonstrated genderless-ness, and thus, could emphasize their feminine persona openly.

One famous example of this is from Jesus own words as he looks upon a faithless Jerusalem and realizes, or allows himself to become aware of[2], the fact that it will soon be destroyed and its people murdered, taken into exile, as punishment for their complicity in his execution. He says,

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the killer of the prophets and those God sent to her! How often I have wanted to gather your children, as a mother hen does, under her wings, but you did not want it! Look, your house has been desolated-(Matthew 23: 37-38).

It is a powerful sequence by any standard, religious or otherwise, but it also reveals the way in which Jesus, and thus God-himself understand and practice their genderless-ness.[3]

Of course, in 95% of the Bible, God refers to himself in the masculine gender. Again, the question of whether God and Jesus and the angels are genderless spiritually is a mute-point. The question then is whether or not they identified as one gender or another, or were simply satisfied with their non-gendered existence?

The question itself is a bit of an oxymoron. Of course they were satisfied with their spiritual reality. As spiritual beings, they don’t have material bodies, like earth-bound humans. They only take human form when on earth. So, to suggest that they felt compelled towards one gender or another because of some biological need, is preposterous. What’s left then is, did they do it because they were psychologically compelled? Once again, it would demonstrate an uneasy favoritism that is just not supported by the text. The fact that God and the angels refer to themselves in the male-gender can be easily explained away as a product of the culture in which the Bible was composed.

The world in which the Bible was written was patriarchal. Man was the LORD of his home. How could God ever be respected in such a culture if it referred to itself as a woman 95% of the time? Once, again, preposterous.

We must remember that the Bible is the ideological fulcrum for three of the world’s major religions: Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. If we extend a broader net to include the patriarchal themes that exist in the ideologies embedded in the first two, it becomes even more evident why it was necessary to emphasize God’s masculine persona in recording the Biblical narrative. And yet, it is still impressive that there are as many references to GOD, as female-gendered, as there appear to be (again, the Bible’s written record, though unique as to proportion, is still fragmented).

Of course, just like it’s impossible to know if Jesus is a real, historical figure, or some mass delusion, it is impossible to fathom how he would have viewed himself or his genderless-ness with any certainty. Still, the text suggests that, fictional or not, he self-identified as genderless but, so as to accommodate the human culture in which he was raised and lived[4], emphasized his masculine persona more often.

Ironically, this seems to be the same narrative for many who claim to be non-binary. They have had to accommodate those who are unable to recognize an existence which does not depend on an ancient ideological viewpoint of gender difference. And yet, as I have just argued, genderless-ness, of mind and body, is as ancient as gendered, maybe older, the only difference is that in the spiritual world of the Bible, genderless-ness is divine, and thus, perfect.

This essay is dedicated to the memory of Father John Murphy.


[1] This essay begins with the presumption that the so-called “Bible” is an historical text on par with other ancient religious and semi-religious texts such as the Gathas of Zoroaster or, even the often, fantastical journey of Siddhattha (aka, the ‘Buddha’). If these are not true as to their claims as being accurate descriptions of divinity, they most certainly are historical material, and thus, have historical import. The length of time they have been in circulation, saying nothing as to the extent of their distribution, is sufficient for them to be qualified as of significant historical value.

In what way(s) significant. Archaeologists, anthropologists, and historians all agree that the written record for all ancient writings, and by ancient I am referring to the humanistic period preceding the so-called ‘middle ages’, is scant at best. Most of it, recorded on fragile or media highly susceptible to degradation, has been lost to time. What is left can hardly be called contiguous testimonies of their veracity, let alone accuracy as to translation. I recall reading a marvelous, old book about the writings of Chuang-tzu, the author wrote, ‘(I am paraphrasing), ‘there is no way to tell whether or not Chuang-tzu, or even Confucius, were real, or that they even wrote these seminal essays by which they have become reified,’ because the written record for ancient texts, though continuing to grow, is finite and perhaps the scarcest of all things valuable.

Given that the Bible has a fairly substantial, written record dating all the way back before 1 C.E., it is able to demonstrate a continuity as to the contextual fidelity of our modern copies. Few ancient books can claim the same abundance of ancient extants and yet are without argument added to the intellectual canon, (I mentioned a few examples previously), as historically important to answering the question, what was on the ancient mind? In other words, if we are going to evaluate Gilgamesh as historically significant, the Bible deserves to be viewed with the same lens.

[2] This is another tricky spot for the Bible but we will not address it in this writing.

[3] In my experience, most, if not all, Christian religions use this scripture as evidence of the divine’s tenderness and love as well as, its sexless nature. Moreover, the fact that it is attributed to Jesus obviates the question as to whether Jesus is speaking as the Deity or a deity. If you believe the former, then it applies to both as being aspects of the same godhead. If you believe the latter, you also accept that Jesus is the perfect representation of God. In other words, anything Jesus says or believes, God would agree with.

Some may argue that it’s not incongruous for a masculine gendered male to also show motherly affection, ‘just look at the Apostle Paul’s words at 1 Thessalonians 2:7. Does that not prove that the scripture at Matthew could easily have been written by a male-gendered individual?’And I would agree, but this essay is not about Paul, who may have been married for all we know. Paul is not identified as being genderless, but God and Jesus are. Thus, the scripture at 1 Thessalonians is more than likely an example of Paul reflecting his Judaic roots, where we find plenty of instances in which God refers to itself in a female-gendered context. One of my favorites is found at Isaiah 66:1,13

This is what GOD says!…As a mother comforts its child, so l will comfort you, you will be comforted…

Again, the Bible poetically provides us with a rare glimpse into the mind of its central figure as a gender-free individual. A simple Google search around the words “god as mother” will provide numerous other examples of this man-mother motif.

[4] Of course, this is speculative but it’s reasonable. The idea of genderless-ness was not uncommon for the Gods of ancient Rome or Greece but was not something that would have been well understood if expressed and practiced as a human condition. One could argue that ‘children and certain sculpture of the ancient period were often perceived as genderless.’ And again, I would agree that it might have been a practice for children to be viewed as sexually amorphous in some regions discussed in the Ancient Mediterranean, it was not a practice everywhere. The Spartans, for instance, are famed for having a very rigid gendered viewpoint beginning from birth. Boys and girls were gendered early to assume more adult like roles later in life.