Raise your hand if you knew the word “binary” dates from over 500 years ago! According to the Oxford Universal English Dictionary, the term first appeared in 1460. For centuries, the adjective has meant, “of, pertaining to, characterized by, or compounded of, two.” In music, a binary measure is that which has two beats to a bar. In astronomy, a binary system has two suns one of which revolves around the other or both of which revolve around a common center. In chemistry, a binary compound has two elements. In human sexuality, binary reflects the complementary nature of male and female.
As far as I know, nobody is trying to change the use of binary in music, astronomy or chemistry. As for its use in human sexuality, that’s a different story. The radical LGBTQ community is pushing hard to replace binary sexuality with androgyny (“. But binary human sexuality is one manifestation of the complementary nature of creation.
Compared to binary, its opposite—nonbinary—is a relative infant at a mere 70 years old (according to dictionary.com). Its earlier use has to do with mathematics; today we tend to associate it with the current transgender debate. As, for example, a boy of my acquaintance recently told his brother, “I think I’m nonbinary.” This boy is 12 years old. He could be a poster child for the transgender cause.
I thought of this recently when watching a brief video of N.T. Wright, Anglican Bishop of Durham. Wright had been asked, “What do you think are the major challenges to the church and the Christian message in the light of the current [British] legislation on the redefinition of marriage.” In his response, Bishop Wright makes an almost offhand reference to the binary pattern in God’s creative design.
“The binaries in Genesis 1 are so important,” he says, and proceeds to point out that the creation story begins with light and darkness, goes through heaven and earth, and ends with male and female. “It’s all about God making complementary pairs which are meant to work together.”
Multiple aspects of creation are binary
Read the creation account. It begins with a summary binary, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1) and closes with the same, “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them” (Gen 2:1).
This “heavens and earth” pairing shows up multiple times in the creation account:
- Let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth. Gen 1:15
- And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth. Gen 1:17
- Let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens. Gen 1:20
- Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. Gen 2:1
- These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens. Gen 2:4
But the Bible is just warming up on the heaven-and-earth binary. The ESV includes 195 more occurrences after Genesis 2. Here’s a two-percent sample:
- Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak, and let the earth hear the words of my mouth. Deu 32:1
- He is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath. Jos 2:11
- O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. Psa 8:1
- But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. 2 Pet 3:13
But “heaven and earth” is just one of the binaries of Genesis. In fact, the creation account mentions seven pairs, climaxing with humanity. Seven is the number of perfection in Hebrew, thus even more reason to see the implications for human sexuality and marriage. God made:
- 1:1 – Heaven and earth
- 1:4 – Light and dark[i]
- 1:5 – Day and night[ii]
- 1:7 – Waters above and waters beneath[iii]
- 1:10 – Sea and dry land[iv]
- 1:16 – The greater light and lesser light[v]
- 1:27 – Man and woman[vi]
The end notes include just a sample of each of these. As indicated there, most of these binary themes are seen all through the scripture, some of them many times.
Binary by definition means complementary
As for the complementary aspect of this binary design, here’s something to think about. Note that the elements in each pair derive their full meaning only by pairing. What could darkness mean before it was bisected by light? There was no heaven, and no earth, until the separation that distinguished each. “Day” is nonsense without its companion “night.”
All that is especially meaningful when applied to the seventh pairing, man and woman. Wright points out that the sequence is pointing to (heterosexual) marriage as the climax. “It’s all about male and female.” Seven pairs of binary realities ending with male and female. Starting with the heavens and the earth, God was pointing to the complementary nature of male-female pairing.
When you look at humanity through the lens of reality you see how misguided is the concept of a nonbinary human being. The physical reality of general revelation—the created order—reflects the truth of special revelation—the Bible.
- Gary Brumbelow
[i] The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, by R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., Bruce K. Waltke, originally published by Moody Press of Chicago, Illinois. Copyright © 1980.
[i] Light and Dark
- And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. Gen 1:4
- God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. Gen 1:5
- to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. Gen 1:18
- He has inscribed a circle on the face of the waters at the boundary between light and darkness. Job 26:10
- If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,”even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you. Psa 139:11-12
- The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. Isa 9:2
- The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:5
- And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. John 3:19
- I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. John 12:46
- The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Rom 13:12
- for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light Eph 5:8
- But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 1Pe 2:9
- This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 1Jo 1:5
[ii] Day and Night
- While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” Genesis 8:22
- that your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which you have said, ‘My name shall be there’ … 1 Kings 8:29
- Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. Psalm 19:2
- By day the LORD commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life. Psalm 42:8
- Yours is the day, yours also the night; you have established the heavenly lights and the sun. Psalm 74:16
- Thus says the LORD: If I have not established my covenant with day and night and the fixed order of heaven and earth, Jeremiah 33:25
- The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Romans 13:12
- and its gates will never be shut by day– and there will be no night there. Revelation 21:25
[iii] The pairing of “waters above” and “waters beneath” does not appear elsewhere in the scripture. Here are some passages which may be suggestive of what Genesis records.
- Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens! Psalm 148:4
- When he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, Proverbs 8:29
- Who has ascended to heaven and come down? Who has gathered the wind in his fists? Who has wrapped up the waters in a garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and what is his son’s name? Surely you know! Proverbs 30:4
- When he utters his voice there is a tumult of waters in the heavens, and he makes the mist rise from the ends of the earth. He makes lightning for the rain, and he brings forth the wind from his storehouses. Jeremiah 51:16
- He who made the Pleiades and Orion, and turns deep darkness into the morning and darkens the day into night, who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out on the surface of the earth, the LORD is his name; Amos 5:8
[iv] Sea and dry land
- Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the LORD drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. Exodus 14:21
- He turned the sea into dry land; they passed through the river on foot. There did we rejoice in him, Psalm 66:6
- The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land. Psalm 95:5
- And he said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” Jonah 1:9
- He had a little scroll open in his hand. And he set his right foot on the sea, and his left foot on the land, Revelation 10:2
[v] The creation account does not use the terms “sun” and “moon” but rather “the greater light” and “the lesser light.” While these latter ways of speaking of sun and moon are not repeated, the Bible does speak of this celestial binary pair by their more common names, as sampled below.
- At that time Joshua spoke to the LORD in the day when the LORD gave the Amorites over to the sons of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, “Sun, stand still at Gibeon, and moon, in the Valley of Aijalon.” And the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, until the nation took vengeance on their enemies. Is this not written in the Book of Jashar? The sun stopped in the midst of heaven and did not hurry to set for about a whole day. Joshua 10:12-13
- May they fear you while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations! Psalm 72:5
- He made the moon to mark the seasons; the sun knows its time for setting. Psalm 104:19
- The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. Psalm 121:6
- “Who is this who looks down like the dawn, beautiful as the moon, bright as the sun, awesome as an army with banners?” Song of Solomon 6:10
- Then the moon will be confounded and the sun ashamed, for the LORD of hosts reigns on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and his glory will be before his elders. Isaiah 24:23
- The sun shall be no more your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give you light; but the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. Isaiah 60:19
- The sun and moon stood still in their place at the light of your arrows as they sped, at the flash of your glittering spear. Habakkuk 3:11
- But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, Mark 13:24
- And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. Revelation 21:23
[vi] Male and female.
- Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created. Genesis 5:2 ESV)
- And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every sort into the ark to keep them alive with you. They shall be male and female. Genesis 6:19 ESV)
- Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit. Joel 2:29 ESV)
- He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, Matthew 19:4 ESV)
- But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ Mark 10:6 ESV)
- There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28 ESV)