“There is no Male and Female”
In short, what Socrates has shown is that gender is not a pertinent criterion for dividing the human race except in the realm of biology, where childbirth and engendering are distinct functions. In social life, where personal aptitudes are all that matters, sex cannot be the determining characteristic. Was Plato therefore an advocate of equal rights for women, a male who acknowledged the aptitudes and talents of females? Shall we allow ourselves to fall under the spell of his thinking? If we do, we incur the penalty of Plato's overestimation of the identity of all human beings, his denial of difference.
Crucial to an understanding of Paul on gender is a proper appreciation of the history of the phrase “There is no male and female” in Galatians 3:28. It has been recognized, at least since the publication of Wayne Meeks's landmark “The Image of the Androgyne,” that Paul is here citing Genesis 1:27: “And God created the earth-creature in His image; in the image of God, He created him; male and female He created them” (Meeks 1973). One of the proofs that the verse is being alluded to in the Pauline formula is linguistic: Paul shifts from nouns—Jew, Greek, slave, freeman—to adjectives, using ἄρσεν (male) and θῆλυ (female) instead of the expected ἀνήρ (man) and γυνή (woman). Second, the use of και (and) in place of the οὐδὲ (or) used in the other phrases gives this away. The “ungrammaticality” marks this as a site of intertextuality, sociolinguistic heterogeneity, dialogue in the Bakhtinian sense of the word.
Meeks and more recently Dennis Ronald Macdonald have demonstrated that in this baptismal formula is encapsulated a very early Christian mythic formation and its liturgical expression in the pre-Pauline church (Macdonald 1987 and 1988). What was the meaning of this “original” baptism? According to Meeks, this was a “performative” ritual utterance in which “a factual claim is being made, about an ‘objective’ change in reality which fundamentally modifies social roles” (Meeks 1973, 182). Whatever the “original meanings,” however, I think that the entire context of the passage in Galatians leads rather to the conclusion that what is being referred to is an ecstatic experience, in which are modified not social roles but ontological categories in the pneumatic moment of initiation. Paul's whole claim at this moment is based on an appeal to the Galatians' memory of their ecstatic experiences at baptism. This interpretation would tend, of course, to make Pauline baptism more similar to the initiatory rites of the Mysteries, in which, as Meeks himself argues, “the exchange of sexual roles, by ritual transvestism for example, was an important symbol for the disruption of ordinary life's categories in the experience of initiation. This disruption, however, did not ordinarily reach beyond the boundaries of the initiatory experience—except, of course, in the case of devotees who went on to become cult functionaries” (170). Following the researches of Dennis Ronald Macdonald we can further assume that the expression “no male and female” originally referred indeed to a complete erasure of sexual difference in some forms of earliest Christianity and is cited by Paul here from such contexts (Macdonald 1987). In such groups, the declaration that there is no male or female may very well have had radical social implications in a total breakdown of hierarchy and either celibacy or libertinism. The key to my interpretation of Paul here is that though he did intend a social meaning and function for baptism, namely, the creation of a new humanity in which indeed all difference would be effaced in the new creation in Christ, he did not—and this is crucial—he did not think that this new creation could be entirely achieved on the social level yet. Some of the program was already possible; some would have to wait. This interpretation will be further developed below. First, I must return for a while to Philo, whose ideas are much more explicit than Paul's, forming, I claim, an important partial analog to them.