Do souls have a gender?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

Question: I’ve heard people defending being transgender or gay by saying that the human soul has no gender. What are your thoughts?

Answer: Thank you for asking such an important question… although it’s a philosophical one more so than a biblical one. The Bible does not address the gender of a disembodied soul as a topic. But this doesn’t mean we should stop pursuing the answer… although I should first make a disclaimer: this is a secondary issue of the faith. As such, it does not impact the gospel or Christian orthodoxy… which is a good thing… because my views on this are extreme in a few spots. But, I’m just one guy, and I adjust my views when warranted — so things will likely change. But let’s get to the question’s meat — and see where I stand today.

The Bible teaches body/soul dualism (aka body/mind dualism), meaning that our physical and metaphysical components function as a single unit. But it is a worthy project to explore them separately… even using the secular tools of philosophy. However, there are a few bible verses that people use to support the position that the soul is genderless, and I’d like to look at two of them.

Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.
(Matthew 22:29–30, NIV)

What people are usually going for here is that angels have no gender… and we will be like them someday… and that, therefore, our disembodied souls have no gender. This is wrong on so many levels… but here are a few.

First, this passage does not teach that angels have no gender. They may or may not have gender — the Bible is not clear. This passage tells us that they do not marry… which in my opinion weighs on the side of angels having a gender. But even if angels are genderless, the teaching here is limited to their marital status; it doesn’t address their ontology. All this tells us is that after we receive our resurrection bodies, we will be like the angels when it comes to marriage. That is, we humans will not enter into limiting relationships anymore. 

In the eschaton, we will be married to Christ (Revelation 19:7) — and neither marriage symbolism nor human procreation will be required at that point in God’s program. Furthermore, marriage limits intimacy to a couple… which would be a senseless limit in a sinless world. However, this passage does not teach whether we will be gender-identified into the eschaton (despite being collectively “the Bride” [Revelation 21:9]) — either in our body/soul combination… or if the soul were considered separately. In my opinion, the accumulative case weighs toward gender continuance (and I lean towards us having all genders… although I cannot support the claim biblically). But Matthew 22:29-30 does not tell us either way. Here’s another verse:

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:26–29, NIV, emphasis mine)

In a similar fashion, some proponents of asexual soulishness will grab the decontextualized snippet “nor is there male and female” and say that gender is hereby abolished. But this passage does not teach that at all. All the differences mentioned above (like gender specificity) were not abolished; they were made moot in the light of Christ. Jews and Gentiles continued to exist as separate entities. Masters and slaves did likewise — as did males and females. But for Paul to show us how these differences have no effect in the Body of Christ, they had to be real and ongoing conditions… or else, what’s the big deal?

So first, this passage tells us nothing about the gender of the soul. But second, it does not minimize our differences — it maximizes them! The point of this teaching is that our unity in Christ will transcend and eclipse even these huge differences… but I can’t rule out the possibility that some of our differences will persist into the eschaton. Could gender be one of them?

But before we start speculating upon what God hath wrought… let us look at how he hath wrought it.

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27, NIV)

Please note well that in the same verse where God told us that we were made in his image, he qualifies that he did so in two genders. Is this God telling us that he also has a female component? I’ll just leave you with that as a tease. But the close coupling of God’s image and of God’s output is not lost on me. But unlike us, God is a spirit-being — and as such, he has no physical gender. But this did not stop him from using gender-specific language about himself in the Bible.

Now, this is an area where I “leave the ranch” more than most… so be a little extra careful here. But many commentators assume that spirit-beings have no gender categorically… but where does that come from? The Bible doesn’t teach that specifically… and furthermore, it never takes a “pass” on the gender of any being. So, not only is the Bible full of gender, beings of any sort are always designated by gendered personal pronouns or by real names; they are never called “it.” In my opinion, saying that spirit-beings are genderless because they have no physical component is a non-sequitur. It is true that they have no bodies… and it may be true that they have no gender… but if they don’t, the lack of a physical body could be incidental to the lack of gender assignment — and not the reason for it.

Controversies aside, when God created us as living souls, he chose for us things that would make us unique as persons… but he also chose for us a gender. So, the question stands: are you only physically your gender? And if so, do your physical characteristics cause your brain to think that you are a particular gender? … and if so, is that where your gender-identity comes from? I wouldn’t travel too far down that road… and here’s why.

Materialists — people like Richard Dawkins (who often know a lot about brains) — do not believe that a mind (a soul) exists at all. That is, they do not believe that a metaphysical entity exists “above” the physical systems… (sort of) controlling those systems “below.” We Christians disagree. We are mind-body dualists. We believe in both the physical brain and the metaphysical personality that is distinct from it… although these are functionally inseparable here on this earth. But a mind-body expert like J.P. Moreland can easily tease-out their distinctions — and I recommend his work on this.

Our feeling about how life works is that we are epigenetic persons who transcend our brains and our bodies… but while being critically bonded to them. This is the common-sense take on how the body/soul thing works. People universally understand themselves living as autonomous and self-aware human beings… and it’s a hard sell to say that’s all just an illusion. So, what does a materialist do with that juggernaut of self-awareness? They insist that the phenomenon is a mere artifact of the physical brain… and that there is no controlling factor outside of our own physicality.

In Dawkins’ view, we are machines for propagating DNA, so our biological systems are playing tricks on us to get us to copulate. Since (they assert) that there is no mind (or soul), then gender can only be a physical attribute. Now, those who are not materialists — but who believe that the soul is genderless — are in the same gender-camp as the materialists. Both groups believe that sexual identity is only physically derived… but here’s the problem for the Christian: If gender is only physical, then sex-change surgery would be the moral equivalent of a nose job.

You may laugh at that assertion, but we’ve “advanced” the to the point where we no longer put up with physical characteristics that we don’t like… and you are probably starting to see what’s at stake over the soul’s gender. If it is not such that gender is first assigned to the soul — and then the physiology is given that is appropriate to that person — then gender is just another physical characteristic… which in today’s world, has been rendered more of an inconvenience than a necessity.

If the above paragraph describes our situation accurately, then the following three statements are morally equivalent: I don’t like my earlobes whole, so I will have them pierced to accommodate earrings. I don’t like the shape of my nose, so I will have it surgically altered to change the look of my face. I don’t like my gender, so I will have it altered surgically to change my sexuality. None of these statements purport to correct a defect; they are merely statements of desire.

In my opinion, souls (and spirit-beings — including God) are omnigendered — not non-gendered. But during our current age — the age of redemption — God needed everyone to play their roles… I mean… if we didn’t procreate, there would be no Messiah! So, someone had to be the boy… and someone had to be the girl! But someday (soon?), redemption will be complete. All shadows will be gone and all symbolism will be fulfilled. What happens with these old hulks then? Here are some concluding thoughts.

Most Christians are looking forward to a “better” day after Christ returns… and although the details vary with the expositor, the idea of a resurrection-body looms large. But what will it look like… because I’m sort of hoping for one styled after my 25-year-old body more than the one I’ve got now… and I know that marriage is off the table… but will I still be a guy … because, if my soul is ontologically limited to a gender… then that would be a limit on me forever… or will we be androgynous instead… which (frankly!) evokes some bad images. So, let me share a more hopeful idea that is purely speculative.

It is my current opinion that spirit-beings and souls are not genderless; they are omnigendered — but of the pure type that only God could create and enjoy. It’s just that in a sinful world, we could not manage the potential for sin in all that. So, God locked-in only one gender for each of us (which is consistent with his locking-in just one life for each of us) so that we might do his kingdom work while he addresses sin. But those limits are only for this age… and eye hath not seen what’s coming.

Again… that’s all purely speculative … but it’s crazy fun to think about!

Thank you for your query, and God bless you on your journey.

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