No longer “male and female”

It would be hard to find a more heartfelt, passionate, gut-wrenching book in holy scripture than Paul’s letter to the Galatians.  The only book that could possibly come close is his letter to the church at Corinth that we know as 2 Corinthians (he almost certainly wrote to this church more than two times).  We should not be surprised, therefore, to find signs of heightened rhetoric in his argument in these books from time to time.

In my opinion, one example of this heightened rhetoric is found in Gal. 3:28.  Although it is a familiar verse to both the average lay reader of scripture and scholar alike, the significance of at least one phrase is often overlooked.

The verse can be divided into two parts.  The first part consists of three parallel statements in which Paul describes the experience of all those “in Christ” as it relates to three types of distinctions that were important in his society: race, economic status, and sex/gender.  What is often overlooked, however, is that the parallelism between these three statements is not consistent.  In the first two statements, Paul juxtaposes two nouns using an explicit neither/nor structure (Greek: οὐκ/οὐδὲ): “neither Jew nor Greek” and “neither slave nor free.”  Strangely, however, the parallelism breaks down a bit in the third statement.  Here, Paul switches to adjectives (“male,” “female”) and connects them with “and” (Gk: καὶ) instead of “nor” so that the statement says, “there is no longer male and female.”  Why would he do this?  If Paul had only wanted to suggest that sex/gender distinctions do not matter in the people of God, he could easily have communicated this using the same structure as in the previous two statements.

Perhaps the answer is to interpret this phrase as an allusion to Gen. 1:27, in which the same phrase is used to describe the creation of humankind as “male and female” (Gk: ἄρσεν καὶ θῆλυ).  If so, Paul is saying much more than that the sex/gender distinction does not matter in the people of God.  Perhaps he is saying that the sex/gender distinction itself will be remade into something different.  In the new creation, biology itself as we know it will be transcended.

Nate Nate (3 Posts)

Nate is a New Testament PhD student at Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY. He is also the executive director of Aligned Grace Resources, a Christian organization he founded with his father to develop church ministries that promote gender wholeness. You can also follow him on his personal blog at nccollins.com.


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