Neither Male Nor Female

Galatians 3:28 is certainly the most important biblical text in feminist and anti-feminist interpretation in the last century.  This text promises that “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”  The last pair in this list, male and female, has proven the most controversial.  While most comemntators accept relatively straightforwardly that social divisions between ethnicities and economic/legal categories have no place, the division between the sexes has proven more difficult to reconcile.  I offer a brief sketch of recent positions that have been taken on this text.

Traditional feminist scholarship has argued that just as the text is about “equality” between Jews and Greeks, slaves and free, it is also about “equality” between men and women.  The phrase “in Christ” has been understood by some to mean that in the church there should be no division between the sexes.  This egalitarian reading is not restricted to the ecclesial sphere, but takes social significance as well.

This view has been challenged by more conservative, evangelical-identified scholars, who argue that “there is no male and female” only with respect to salvation.  That is, there is “equality” in this limited respect, but the teachings of hierarchy in the ecclesial, social and domestic spheres is still in force.  Taking on the same assumptions as the feminist reading that this text is about “equality,” but differing with respect to what “equality” means, this reading also assumes that the text is about how the different sexes should be treated.

Another strain of thought has argued that Gal 3:28 is not about “equality” at all, but about challenging the difference between the sexes.  In this view, when “there is no male and female” there is a return to the “primal androgyne” before the division of the sexes.  Before Adam’s “rib” or “side” was separated from him, the protological human being was both male and female.  While some have suggested that this view then implies an equality between the sexes, others note that the term “androgyne” is a bit of a misnomer.  In one of the classical texts on this topic, Jesus says to Mary “I will make her male” so that she may be saved (Gos. Thom. 114).  Ancient Christians read Gal 3:28 as the erasure of sexual difference and the elimination of sexuality and desire.  But the model for the “androgyne” is always already male, and the human being that is neither male nor female is really  just not female.

A final way of reading Gal 3:28 has picked up on these critiques, noting that this text is not about establishing “equality” between the sexes, but eliminating sexual dimorphism.  If there is “no male and female,” what are the numerous other possibilities that may be created?  The Christian must be in some way a mixture.  Only non-binary male and female genders are possible.  One cannot be either male or female, but neither male nor female, which troubles not only biological difference, but the very constructs of binary sexuality.

While the egalitarian and hierarchical readings of this text proceed on the assumption that sexual differences between male and females are stable, and that the text is about certain kinds of “equality,” other readings have challenged this basic understanding.  Rather than being about “equality,” the text is about troubling sexual difference, either in the sense of a primordial androgyne or a queered feminimascuperson.

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