When Is a Woman a Woman?

Our definition of womanhood must come from God’s Word.

by Frost Smith on March 27, 2024

In the days of questioning what exactly a woman is, there should be simple answers. Simple genetics, which is pretty clear in 99.9% of cases,1 shows that the coding in every cell of an individual is male (XY) or female (XX). But some reject that, so others have tried to define a woman as someone who can give birth to or nurse a child, for example. As a woman who has experienced infertility, surgery to make it impossible to bear a child, and menopause, I can tell you that this is most definitely not the case.

Insufficient Definitions

When we abandon biblical clarity, we have no foundation and must grasp at other means to try to make sense of even basic realities.

When we abandon biblical clarity, we have no foundation and must grasp at other means to try to make sense of even basic realities. Perhaps well-meaning people who want to have a concrete definition will utilize a woman’s anatomy to define a woman—having a uterus, for example. Women who’ve had a hysterectomy, however, do not have a uterus.

Other attempts have appealed to a woman’s nurturing nature, but that ignores the biblical understanding of the depravity of human nature (Jeremiah 17:9; Lamentations 4:3). It doesn’t take long to look around and see examples of women who have done heinous things, even to her own children.

In a similar way, talking about womanhood as defined by childbearing and the wonderful world of motherhood can be misguided as well. Certainly, motherhood is a noble and beautiful thing, but many women want this and cannot achieve it. Their womanhood is no less because they’ve been unable to become pregnant or adopt, whether because they remained single or the Lord has shut their womb. And defining a mother as someone who has children tugging at her skirt misses the point as well. Many have experienced the heartbreak of miscarriage. They are no less mothers than those whose quiver is full (Psalm 127:3–5).

What Is a Woman?

To answer the question of what a woman is, we must go to the biblical text. In Genesis, the first thing God declares “not good” is the man being alone. Without a partner, he cannot fulfill God’s command to be fruitful, multiply, and exercise stewardship over the earth. To get Adam to see this is not good, he shows him the animals. Each animal has a partner, but Adam does not, and none of the animals are good enough for him. The woman must be human.

When God created Eve, he did not simply create another man for Adam to hang out with; he created Eve as a suitable helper. She was female and suited both physically and spiritually to partner with Adam for life. Additionally, she was an adult, as opposed to a female child, a girl. Eve, like Adam, was created mature, ready to marry and conceive children on the first day of her existence.

What About Infertility?

One of Eve’s major functions was to bear children; in fact, she was named Eve because she would become the mother of the living. Of course, the curse hadn’t been active as long, and she likely had dozens of children with her near-perfect body, though clearly, her body had changed immediately in Genesis 3. But it does not take long in the biblical narrative for infertility to raise its ugly head. Sarai, Abram’s wife, was barren and evidently wanted a child very much, for years. Yet this does not make her less of a wife or even less beautiful and desirable as a spouse, such that Abram fears that other men will kill him to get to her. Her daughter-in-law Rebekah suffered infertility for 20 years, and her daughter-in-law Rachel suffered extreme difficulty in getting pregnant, dying while giving birth to Benjamin.

In the New Testament, Anna was widowed after seven years of marriage with no children. In that time, that would indicate infertility. Yet she lived in the temple as a widow serving there, showing that her infertility did not disqualify her from the highest level of religious service available to a Jewish woman.

One effect of sin is that the physical world, including the female body, does not always function as designed. But while infertility is a result of sin generally, a specific woman is never condemned by Scripture because of her inability to bear children.

The Image of God

When God created man and woman, he created both in his image (Genesis 1:27).

When God created man and woman, he created both in his image (Genesis 1:27). What a beautiful thing! God knits each one of us in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13), and he knows and understands male and female because he created both, and they both bear his image. The Bible doesn’t take great pains to define what is meant by male and female—it doesn’t need to, but God said creation was “very good” once he’d created man and woman (Genesis 1:31). Only when we try to muddy the water by imposing our own definitions because we’ve ignored the clear teaching in Scripture does the “system” break down. Paul gives a warning about such things in 1 Timothy 1, and he also gives hope to those who have fallen for (or been involved in) false teaching.

Developmental biology, sonograms, and the study of genetics have given us the means to see the wonders of how God clearly set up how males and females develop differently in the womb and how their genetic makeup is shockingly clear, though sin and its curse have brought rare hardships, as mentioned above. Let us stand in awe of his wondrous works and let him define what he created (Psalm 139:14).


  1. A recent study showed sex chromosome abnormality to be on the order of less than 0.1%. In which case, there may be multiple sex chromosomes, with the most commonly occurring being XXY (Klinefelter’s Syndrome). These individuals have a developmental, medical condition, and sex assignment may have to be based on factors other than chromosomal (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4981345/). See also https://answersingenesis.org/family/gender/biology-gender/. To use this or any other developmental or medical condition as a basis for arguing against a binary sexual system is disingenuous and inconsiderate.


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