Watch our Livestream 10am Sundays Give Online

Man and Woman: Working Toward a Definition

• Daniel Baker

Posted in Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

I am a woman trapped in a man’s body.

Carl Trueman opens his recent book with this sentence, and explains that his book is basically an attempt to understand how such a sentence has come to be meaningful in our day. He starts by saying his grandfather who died in 1994 wouldn’t have understood it at all like we do today. 

His sentence brings together two ideas in tight fashion: "I am a woman trapped" refers to the concept of gender, but "a man's body" refers to the concept of biological sex. And then in the sentence is the assumption that a person's perceived gender can be different from his or her biological sex, in this case the gender being female and the biological sex being male. A growing number of people in our culture would affirm such ideas. As Benjamin said in his sermon on transgenderism, many in our day would assume the following:

  • Society determines what gender is, and it’s not connected to biological sex.
  • The social construct of gender is used to oppress individuals.
  • The individual has the right to decide which gender they are based on their desires.

This post is a response to such ideas but in an indirect fashion. I’ll do so by working toward a definition of a man and a woman.

It is God the Inventor of sex and gender who can best define for us what a man and woman are, and he has told us all we need to know in the Bible. In other words, we'll look at the genuine article, so we can detect the counterfeits in our day. If you don’t know what healthy is, you’ll never really know how to detect sickness.

In addressing these topics we are into massively controversial territory. Yet, the issue isn’t going away, and so the church needs to think well about this.

My goal here is to move toward a definition of a man and a woman, not to give the last word on the topic. So, let’s begin.

Some Basics on Sex and Gender

Jordan Steffaniak has written on sex and gender and provides helpful definitions to get us started. “Sex,” he says, means the “biological features of a person such as chromosomes, sex organs, and hormones.”[1] You’re male or female because of these features.[2] This is echoing the Bible, which says, “male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27). In our day, we might need to point out that this implies “male or female he created each of them.”

“Gender” is a little more difficult to define. A man is a male person, yes, but what does it mean to be a man? A woman is a female person, but what does it mean to be a woman?[3]

Steffaniak says “gender” includes the “social features of a person such as norms, positions, performances, phenomenological features, behavioral traits, self-ascriptions, and roles.” His distinction between sex and gender is fairly consistent with common usage now. His point isn’t that gender is “socially” determined and so up for grabs all the time, but that we act a certain way in our social setting because we are a man or a woman. Steffaniak here means things like behaviors, dress, relationships, religious and moral norms, societal expectations and cultural expectations, which at times are divided into “male” and “female.” This isn’t biological sex, which you can determine through a person’s physical features at birth and a blood test. Gender is what you do in a given culture because of that biological sex.

Another way to think of it is that when we talk about biblical manhood and womanhood, we're talking about more than whether someone is male or female. That something "more" we're talking about is the concept of "gender."

Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett from Pride and Prejudice can help us here (yes, I know they were fictional!). Darcy was male and so a man, clearly evident by Jane Austen’s famous opening sentence: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Elizabeth was female and so a woman. Their biological sexes then naturally led to a whole set of gender matters: rules of courtship (he initiates, she waits), their place in society (he’s “in possession of a good fortune,” she isn’t), ways of dressing and dancing, expected behaviors, their occupations, and more. This was modeled after 19th century England, but you get the idea.

The Bible also presents a gendered view of people, seeing us as “male” or “female” (biological sex) and with expectations for each. Men are the ones to go to war (Num 26:2), who must “act like men, be strong” (1 Cor 16:13), are heads of their homes (1 Cor 11:3), and are to be the elders in the church (1 Tim 3:1–7). Women are to cultivate “a gentle and quiet spirit” (1 Peter 3:4) and to submit to their husbands and be faithful workers in their homes (Titus 2:3–5), must dress modestly (1 Tim 2:9), and serve diligently in church (1 Tim 5:10). 

Now, of course, women need to be strong and men are to walk in the fruit of the Spirit, which includes “gentleness” (Gal 5:22). The Bible also speaks to more external matters: Women are to wear women’s clothes, and men to wear men’s clothes (Deut 22:5); women are to have hairstyles appropriate for women, and men are to have hair appropriate to their gender (1 Cor 11:4–16). These are all matters of gender, with your gender being inseparably and unchangeably connected to your sex.

Now that we have our bearings a bit, let's turn to our definitions. 

Defining a Man and a Woman

For clarity's sake, I'll give you my definitions and then explain the parts of them: 

A definition of a man: A man is created male by God; is created to work and keep what is entrusted to him; and is created a son, a brother, and potential father.
A definition of a woman: A woman is created female by God; is created to help, nurture, and bring life to those entrusted to her; and is created a daughter, a sister, and potential mother.

Each definition has three parts. The first part of each has to do with biological sex: "A man is created male by God....A female is created female by God." Here we are underscoring God's word that we are “created male and female” by God at creation (Gen 1:27)—something true in the womb (Ps 139:13–14; Jer 1:5; Luke 1:15, 31, 41–44). Each of us is “male” or “female” from conception. As Herman Bavinck says,

“The first human being...was created immediately as a man, neither neuter nor androgynous, but with a specific sex....God is the Creator of the human being, and simultaneously also the Inaugurator of sex and of sexual difference. This difference did not result from sin; it existed from the very beginning, it has its basis in creation.”
Herman Bavinck, The Christian Family[4]

"Sex and sexual difference" are not hard to distinguish. A boy has boy parts and physiology, and a girl has girl parts and physiology. A man is male (at birth), and a woman is female (at birth). Changing various externalities of our body after birth might change how we appear, but it doesn’t change what we are. In other words, creation trumps any alteration. 

Precision gets more difficult when we go beyond biology, but unless we do, we haven’t said very much. Let's turn to the second part of each definition.

Vocation: What are We Created to Do?

In the second part of each definition is an attempt to capture what is given in Genesis 1–3. In particular, it’s what we learn of our “vocations” as men and women, what we’re called to do. “Vocation” comes from the Latin vocare, which means “to call.” A “vocation” is a “calling,” and in this case the calling is by God.

The first calling is to both the man and the woman, and it's spoken immediately after we're told that they are both made "in the image of God" (Gen 1:27). This first calling is sometimes referred to as "the cultural mandate" (or "creation mandate"): 

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.” (Gen 1:28)

The two are blessed and then given a five-fold set of imperatives. They are to build a people and expand the Garden of Eden throughout the world. 

But in Genesis 2–3 we realize that this singular calling means something different for the man and the woman. Here we’re diving down into a comment that Benjamin made in his sermon, “Our gender is our job description.” Our birth sex determines our gender, and our gender contains within it a “job description” or what I’m calling our vocation. 

We’ll start with the man. His special creation is recorded in Genesis 2:7 where God “fashioned” him from dust and then breathed life into him. Then in verse 8 he’s placed in “a garden in Eden,” and in verse 15 we’re told he was placed there “to work it and keep it.” He is entrusted with the garden and commissioned to take that garden and both develop and protect it. The verbs in v. 8 are only combined again in Numbers 3:7–8; 8:26; 18:5–6, passages that speak of the work of the priests. Adam, then, is not only a vice-regent (Gen 1:28), but he is also priest. This is fitting as he is given God's law to teach to others (Gen 2:17). But in terms of his "ground" work, when he’s cursed after the fall in chapter 3, it’s his work in the garden that gets mentioned: 

And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field.” (Gen 3:17-18)

Do you see the tight connection between Adam and his vocation? He’s made from the ground (2:7), called to “work and keep” the ground (2:15), and his curse is uniquely tied to his work in the ground (3:17–18).

We see this same dynamic with the woman. She is made for Adam as “a helper fit for him” (2:18) and made from Adam’s rib (2:21). From the beginning she is called to a person and to help that person achieve the God-given task entrusted to him. Then when she’s cursed, her role as a mother and wife in particular is cursed:

To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.” (Gen 3:16)

In 3:20, Adam adds distinction to Eve by calling her “the mother of all living.” 

Genesis 1–3 underscores the way the man’s calling has to do with a what, while the woman’s calling has to do with a who. Of course, “what is entrusted” to a man always includes people, and the people entrusted to the woman always require practical tasks she’ll need to attend to. But there’s still a sense that the man is called to work in a way that is parallel to how the woman is called to people. 

We can see this difference with a man and a woman who might each be employed as accountants. Both are doing the job and satisfying what is expected of them. Yet, the two will have a slightly different relationship with the work itself. Sometimes the reason for working in the first place is different. But with the work itself, the man often has an attachment to it like Adam's attachment to the ground he was called to “work and keep” (Gen 2:15). But the woman will be connected to her work likely for the people she is able to serve by doing that work. Her family is provided for and lives are helped by the service she provides. And though she enjoys the work and does it well, the people impacted are more central to her God-given calling. 

This is why I think we can say that a man has been “created to work and keep what is entrusted to him, and a woman has been “created to help, nurture, and bring life to those entrusted to her.” 

So, that’s biological sex and vocation. Now let’s think about our “ontology” as a man and woman.

Ontology: What are We?

The third part of our definitions has to do with our ontology, which means we're talking about what we are and not simply what we do. We have said that a man is created a son, a brother, and a potential father; and each woman is a daughter, a sister, and a potential mother.

In saying this I am indebted to Patrick Schreiner. He recently wrote an article attempting to articulate what is ontologically true of man and woman and said the following: 

The fundamental meaning of masculinity is sonship, brotherly love, and potentiality toward paternity.
The fundamental meaning of femininity is daughterhood, sisterly love, and potentiality toward maternity.
Patrick Schreiner, “Man and Woman: Toward an Ontology”[5]

I have adopted his triads but with simpler language. Let's look at these terms. 


The most obvious of the three is that a man is a son and a woman is a daughter. There is no way for this to be otherwise. But being a son or daughter is broader than our biological sex at birth (or conception).

Before we are biological offspring, we are “God’s offspring” (Acts 17:29). God says “every family in heaven and on earth is named” from God (Eph 3:15), and Adam is called a “son of God” by virtue of his creation and not just salvation (Luke 3:38). As sons and daughters of God, this means we are created with an automatic, covenant relationship with God. We are either his faithful or unfaithful sons and daughters, and this is true from our very beginnings. 

Then, when we come to faith, God our Creator also becomes “our Father in heaven” (Matt 6:9) in an even greater sense. We enjoy life as those given “the Spirit of adoption as sons, by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Rom 8:15). 

But then we have physical (or adoptive) parents as well, parents we are to “honor” (Exod 20:12; Eph 6:2–3). This honor for parents extends even to spiritual parents:

Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, 2 older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity. (1 Tim 5:1-2)

That’s why we read passages like this in our Bibles: “Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother, who has been a mother to me as well” (Rom 16:13). He is “honoring” his spiritual “mother” by doing this.

But a son and a daughter are also different, and so they tend to “honor” their parents differently. Part of a son’s honor is taking his parents’ teaching (Prov 1:8) but then “leaving” them to form his own household (Gen 2:24). The daughter will often honor her parents in more relational ways, by spending time with them and meeting more emotional needs. Both are called to provide for them (1 Tim 5:4, 8), but they tend to do this differently. A son will often provide more practically and a daughter often more relationally. And a grown son will seek to protect his parents, while a grown daughter will seek to “help, nurture, and bring life” to her parents. These aren’t rigid laws without any exceptions, but they hold true so commonly that it’s helpful to see such distinctions.


With the idea of brother/sister, we’re thinking of ourselves in relation to those who are our physical or spiritual peers. It’s bigger than biological connections. This idea isn’t unfamiliar. Soldiers in an army are commonly said to be a “brotherhood,” and women in a sorority are often said to be part of a “sisterhood.”

This type of relationship in the Bible comes out with David and Jonathan, Paul and Barnabas, or even The Twelve Disciples. There is a kind of sisterhood likewise with those gathered for prayer in Philippi (Acts 16:13) or those who appealed on behalf of Dorcas (Acts 9:36–41). 

Further, as Christians we read that we are “predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Rom 8:29), and we’re called to philadelphia, a word that means “brotherly love”: “Love one another with brotherly affection” (Rom 12:10); “Let brotherly love continue” (Heb 13:1). Throughout the New Testament, Christians address one another as “brothers” and “sisters” (Acts 6:3; Rom 16:1, 14; James 2:15; 1 Tim 5:1–2).

The truth is, amazingly, once God becomes our Father, then Christ becomes our “brother” and all Christians become our brothers and sisters. It is a glorious fulfillment of Psalm 68:6, “God settles the solitary in a home.”

The brother/sister idea refers to how we relate to our peers. We challenge them (Prov 27:17) and exhort them (2 Sam 10:12) but also love them (Rom 12:10).

But there’s also a distinct way we love others as a brother versus as a sister. In some ways it connects with being fathers and mothers. As a brother I can at times treat another in a father-like manner but without the authoritative element. You can see this dynamic between David and his brothers (though many younger brothers might not appreciate the example!):

Now Eliab his eldest brother heard when he spoke to the men. And Eliab’s anger was kindled against David, and he said, “Why have you come down? And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your presumption and the evil of your heart, for you have come down to see the battle.” 29 And David said, “What have I done now? Was it not but a word?” (1 Sam 17:28-29)

David’s brothers feel great freedom in rebuking—though wrongly—their brother and calling him out. David feels great freedom in questioning the justice of their charge. Eliab’s words have a father-like quality, but he lacks the authority a father would have. That’s why David responds so freely. The scene illustrates the kind of giving each other a hard time that is part of brotherly relationships. 

But also, we can look at Genesis 34 and the way Jacob’s daughter Dinah is mistreated and how her brothers avenge the sin against her. There is a father-like protectiveness here and a manly reflex to defend the family’s honor. 

A sisterly dynamic can at times have a mother-like quality, as when Miriam the older sister watches out for her baby brother Moses as he ends up in the home of Pharaoh’s daughter (Exod 2:4–7). And then there’s Mary and Martha. Martha is seen critiquing Mary’s choice to sit at Jesus’ feet and leave her with all the work (Luke 10:38–41). But then Martha and Mary both appeal to Jesus for the sake of their brother Lazarus (John 11).

When the women gather at the tomb of Jesus, there is a very sisterly togetherness, with their bodies and souls linked in their suffering and grief (Matt 27:55–56). These same women in a few weeks will be joined in prayer and waiting for the giving of the Spirit (Acts 1:12). 

In these examples, you can see the different tendencies of the men (brothers) and women (sisters). To act in a brotherly way is to act in a father-like and strong, masculine manner for the sake of someone who is a physical or spiritual peer. And to act in a sisterly way is to help, nurture, and give life to someone who is a physical or spiritual peer.


The most complicated element in our triad is being a “potential father” or “potential mother.” At one level it’s simple, since I may or may not become a biological father if a man or biological mother if a woman. But like with being a child and sibling, there is a broader way we need to understand being a parent. 

The straight-forward understanding of being a father/mother is when God gives us biological offspring. At that point, we are immediately thrust into the whole array of duties and privileges that go along with being a parent. As a father I need to love my children, discipline them, and shape them according to God’s word (Col 3:21; Eph 6:4). As a mother I need to love, nurture and teach the little ones I’m given to help them flourish as adults (Prov 1:8; Titus 2:4). If I become an adoptive parent, these responsibilities and privileges are mine as well.

But there’s also a broader idea here. In a sense, all Christians are called to become spiritual fathers and mothers. It’s really a goal for all of us in our spiritual growth. We are to become spiritual fathers (or a “sage,” as some have called it) and mothers to others, able to give wisdom and at times even authoritative instruction as we work for their spiritual development.

Being a father to others will imply more direction and perhaps rebuke (Eph 6:4), where being a mother implies more nurture and encouragement (Isa 66:13). But of course, even Paul referred to his role as apostle as being a “nursing mother taking care of her own children” with the Thessalonians (1 Thess 2:7). He was primarily a spiritual father to them, but gentleness and nurturing will always have some place in a position of leadership.

This breadth is true for women as well. Though their dominant role might be as helper or nurturer, at times a woman will bring needed instruction and even correction (Prov 1:8–9). Priscilla brought important instruction about Jesus to the well-intentioned but slightly off Apollos:

[Apollos] had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. (Acts 18:25-26)

We noted above Rufus’ mother and Paul’s “sonship” directed toward her. But of course, she had a spiritual motherhood directed toward Paul, which he acknowledges: 

Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother, who has been a mother to me as well. (Rom 16:13)

We can imagine that Rufus’ mother encouraged and helped and nurtured Paul in tangible and rich ways. She brought life to Paul in his ministry and travels. 

Certainly with this part of who we are, we can easily misapply it. We can give authoritative counsel when it’s not wanted or assume a place in someone’s life that isn’t there. The point is, a man has a father within him and a woman a mother within her, and both are to walk in that aspect of how God has made them as God allows. 


What does it mean to be a man or woman? I have attempted to define a man and woman according to biological sex, vocation as given in the Garden of Eden, and then ontology as son/daughter, brother/sister, potential father/potential mother. No single definition can capture all that is wrapped up in being a man or woman, since it touches on all that it means to be a person. And humanity is an inexhaustible topic. But hopefully my definition has moved toward a definition. If I haven't, please let me know! 

In closing, it is unfortunate but true that words like “sex” and “gender” are massively controversial in our day. Workplaces, universities, and holiday meals with family can be minefields when it comes to words (pronouns!) we use and understandings we hold. Yet, it’s good to remember that believing and communicating truth is an act of love—not just courage, but love (Eph 4:15; 1 Cor 13:6). Knowing when (or if) and how to communicate that truth requires grace and wisdom. But believing and communicating truth does not conflict with true, biblical, Jesus-like love.

Further, sex and gender are part of the creation that God declared was “very good” (Gen 1:31). Not just tolerable but “very good.” God’s ways aren’t just right, they’re also beautiful and good. They lead us and all people to flourishing and not just faithfulness.

We don’t know how chaotic or backwards our society will become. Let’s keep our convictions rooted in the Scriptures and our hearts primed with God’s love to make a real impact on the world around us. Here are some resources that Benjamin and I found helpful when studying this topic, if you’d like to equip yourself further to have heads for truth with hearts of compassion:

May God the Father of all people and especially of those in Christ help us to glorify his created order with our genders.


[1] Jordan L. Steffaniak, “Saving Masculinity and Feminity from the Morgue: A Defense of Gender Essentialism,” Southeastern Theological Review 12.1 (Spring 2021), 16.

[2] The category of “intersex” is real but very rare. In these cases, most often there is a dominant and clear biological sex. In extremely rare cases, it can take more time and effort to determine the person’s biological sex. In my post here, the goal is not to catalog the ways that sex and gender can go astray in a fallen world. In a fallen world, there are any number of ways that a body might be misformed from the womb. Yet, this should not hinder us from establishing a basic understanding of what a normal body is.

[3] The idea that “meaning” is what the word “gender” is getting at is taken from Josh Blount’s 2023 dissertation from Westminster Theological Seminary, “This Mystery is Profound”: The Eschatological Marriage in Revelation, Isaiah, and Ephesians 5, with Implications for the Church’s Witness and Human Gender Identity,” 221.

[4] Herman Bavinck, The Christian Family (Christian’s Library, 2012), 2, 5.

[5] Patrick Schreiner, “Man and Woman: Toward an Ontology,” Eikon 2, no. 2 (Fall 2020): 68–86.

Cornerstone Fellowship Church logo

We are a church built on the Bible, guided and empowered by the Spirit, striving to make disciples, and pursuing holiness in the context of robust biblical relationships.

Email Updates & Newsletter

Times & Location

10am on Sundays

401 Upchurch St, Apex, NC 27502

© 2024 Cornerstone Fellowship Church of Apex