Genesis 1 is about spectrum, not binary

Genesis 1 is about spectrum, not binary
Photo by Simon Berger / Unsplash

The first chapter of Genesis affirms the broad spectrum of the human experience, including gay, intersex, trans, gender-expansive, straight, and cis people. We need to read Genesis 1 as a celebration and affirmation of the beautiful variety we find in human life and life in general, not as a restriction or limitation of what is possible in God's good creation.

My name is Anthony; I'm a pastor of an LGBTQ-affirming Christian church in Washington, DC. I have done graduate work in theology, philosophy, and the original languages of the Bible. Let's dive in.

The first chapter of Genesis is a brilliantly structured, ornately detailed, and well-put-together poem about God organizing creation out of God's good intention—not as an accident as other ancient religions believed. Genesis 1 is about pushing back the powers of chaos, the formless void of verse 2, and creating all that we see now.

Something you must understand about biblical Hebrew is that it is a very terse, compact language. Something that takes 10-20 words to say in English could be said in 5 words in Hebrew. There are about 7,000 words in Biblical Hebrew. Koine Greek, used to write the Christian Scriptures, has tens of thousands more.

So one of the ways that Hebrew authors would convey succinctly meaning is a rhetorical device called merism. Merism uses several parts of a whole to represent the entire thing. We use merism today. I lost my keys, so I searched high and low. Does that mean I didn't search somewhere in the middle? No, of course not. It means I searched everywhere.

If I think the song I wrote will appeal to young and old, does that mean it won't appeal to Gen Xers or geriatric millennials? No, when I say young and old, I mean everyone in between too.

So, Genesis 1 is filled with this sort of thing. God separates the sky above and the waters below. Does that mean there's no stratosphere, thermosphere, or exosphere? No, there's sky, there's land, and there's everything in between.

God separates night from day. Does that mean there's no dusk or dawn? No, light, day, and everything in between.

God creates and separates land animals and water creatures. Does that mean amphibians are a deviation from God's plan? No, Genesis 1 affirms God's creative work, organization, and the broad spectrum of creation, from A to Z, Aardvarks to Zebras, and everything in between.

So, when we get to Day 6, God creating humanity, we would be profoundly misreading the text by suddenly thinking or expecting that the poetic tool of merism has ceased being used in the text. We'd actually be shoehorning in recent, conservative ideas about gender binaries into Genesis 1 rather than listening to what the text is really saying, which is what folks who believe in the authority and inspiration of Scripture ought to be doing. Verse 27 says God creates humanity in God's own image; in the divine image God created them, male and female God created them. Plural pronouns in the Hebrew. This passage does not suddenly become about affirming binary, either-or ideas about gender when the rest of the chapter isn't about binary, either-or ideas about anything!

Moreover, note what else is not in this passage that often gets read into it. There's no mention of marriage; there's no mention of a man and a woman pairing off. And, just like the rest of Genesis 1 assumes there to be not just two, but myriads, teems of animals, birds, sea creatures, stars, etc.; we should also consider that God is not speaking to just two lone individuals; but rather the whole of humanity that God just created. So don't get the image that Genesis 1:28 - the command to be "fertile, multiply, fill the earth and master it" - is God talking to just two people. That would be taking the story of Genesis 2 — a completely separate creation account, with a different order of events that all happens on one day, not 7 — and reading it back into Genesis 1.

Instead, Genesis 1 is not a story about limits, and thou shalt not commands. It is a story that affirms the full spectrum of nature and the human experience. Every LGBTQ person should be able to find themselves in that story, and no straight or cis person should ever feel the need to deny someone else's identity based on Genesis 1 unless they're willing to write off most of creation in the process.

Anthony Parrott

Anthony Parrott

Lead Pastor of The Table Church, D.C.. Master of Divinity. Husband and father. Enneagram 3. INTJ. He/Him.
Washington, D.C.