Alice C. Linsley
To understand the biblical worldview we must grasp the supplementary nature of the binary opposites. This involves understanding of what is meant by binary opposites and supplementary.
Supplementary is about meaning. It is not an egalitarian principle. That is to say that meaning is derived from the relationship of the binary opposites. I experience hateful acts as evil because I have experience of loving acts and know them to be good. The reverse is also true. The male-female relationship has meaning because of the supplementary nature of male-female.
Supplementary doesn’t mean equal, since one of the opposites is perceived as greater in some way. This is how the biblical worldview avoids dualism.
Supplementary is what makes a relationship meaningful. In fact, meaning is derived from the supplementary nature of two things.
Consider Law and Grace. St. Paul presents these as binary oppositions, and their meaning is found in the supplementary relationship of the oppositions. One is greater, stronger, brighter, etc. than the other in its attributes. Grace is superior to the Law, but makes no sense without the Law. For as St. Paul says, the Law was our "school teacher" until grace should be revealed in the Incarnate Son.
The Sun is brighter than the Moon and the Moon's light is a reflection of the Sun's light. The western Afro-Asiatics thought the Chaldeans and Babylonians were confused because they venerated the Moon. Since the Moon merely reflects the Sun's light, it is a lesser entity. Why would anyone want to venerate a lesser entity? Abraham's father was accused of being an idol worshiper (Joshua 24:2) because he lived in the region of Ur and Haran where people worshipped the moon god.
Binary distinctions are not figments of the ancient imagination. They are observed in the order of creation. Men are physically larger and stronger than women.
Among Abraham's people it was taboo to allow distinct entities to become confused. This is why both men and women were circumcised, a custom that continues in many parts of Africa. Male circumcision is seen as an enhancement of maleness and the complement to the circumcised male could only be a circumcised female. Circumcision in its original context derives meaning only when considered in this supplementary way.
Many examples of supplementary binary distinctions are found in Scripture. Consider the distinction between heat and cool. Abraham was visited “in the heat of the day” by God in 3 Persons (Gen. 18:1). Compare this to the binary opposite of “in the cool of the day”, the time of God’s visitation to Adam and Eve in Paradise (Gen. 3:8). Why are the two accounts posed as hot and cool encounters with God? Because in the first God has come to punish the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, and in the second God has come to enjoy fellowship with the Man and the Woman.
Bible verses which forbid sowing two types of seed in the same field, weaving two types of fabric in the same garment, and boiling a baby goat in its mother's milk - are about NOT blurring the distinctions God has created in nature. The last is especially troublesome because the offspring meets death in the life-giving mother's milk.
The prohibition against mixing types, be they fibers, seeds or blood, is like the prohibition against confusing the holy with the unholy, or blurring the distinction between life and death, such as happens when a baby goat is boiled in its mother's milk (forbidden 3 places in Scripture). That is why each seed is to go to its own kind. As plants are born from the earth, so the seeds of plants return to the earth. As the man is born from the woman, so the seed/semen of man is to return to woman. The spilling of seed called 'onanism' was regarded as an evil deed, a violation of the order of creation and therefore an affront to the Creator. So obviously was homosex.
Bloods were never permitted to mix or even to be present in the same space. For example, men were not permitted in the birthing hut. Women (and many men also) were not permitted where animals were sacrificed. This is why women were never priests and why in church tradition they waited 40 days to return to church, following the ancient custom requiring purification after shedding blood.
Ancient peoples recognized a fixed order in creation. The male is larger and generally stronger than the female. The male is equipped for war and hunting while the female is equipped for cultivation and childbirth. This leads us to the distinction between the blood shed by men and the blood shed by women. Male "blood work" was expressed in hunting, war, execution of lawbreakers, and in animal sacrifice by the rulers, priests or prophets.
The blood work of women is supplementary to the blood work of men. Women sacrifice blood in first marital intercourse. They bleed in their monthly cycle and in childbirth. The blood shed of women represents life and is distinct yet supplementary to the blood shed by men in hunting, war and animal sacrifice.
I’ve found that speaking about the binary distinctions draws fire. Suggesting that they are important invites ridicule. Yet this is how the ancient Afro-Asiatics made sense of the world and their thinking informs us today through the Bible, Law and Ethics. Abraham's ancestors were not spinning an illusion that we moderns in our superior knowledge may set aside, they were describing a cross-shaped reality.
Related reading: Levi-Strauss and Jacques Derrida on Binary Oppositions; The Origins of Circumcision; Circumcision and Binary Distinctions; Genesis and Genetics; Biblical Anthropologists Discuss Darwin; More Questions About Sex