Paul's Ethic of the Body
What then is Paul's ethic of the body, his picture of the relations between married men and women, and how does it compare to the detailed rules for married life promulgated by the rabbinic Judaism of the second and following centuries? Careful study of 1 Corinthians 7 supports the conclusion drawn by Peter J. Tomson that Paul's ethic (“halakha”) of sexuality and marriage and “Paul's conception of women was not much different from his [Jewish] contemporaries.” Thus the famous pronouncement of verses 3–5: “Let the husband give the wife what is due to her, and let the wife likewise also give her husband his due” is identical to the provision of the Mishna which provides the same penalties to the husband who refuses sex to his wife and to the wife who refuses sex to her husband (Tomson 1990, 107). Rabbinic literature preserves, moreover, strong polemics against men who out of desire for holiness cease sleeping with their wives (D. Boyarin 1991 provides extensive documentation and critique on this issue). There is, however, one element in Paul's thought on sexuality which divides him sharply from the later rabbinic tradition and connects him rather with certain other trends in contemporary Judaism, and that is the question of celibacy, which, I argue, is crucial to solving the problem that I am about in this chapter.
Tomson has provided us with a suggestive analysis of the cultural context of Paul's discourse on celibacy in 1 Cor. 7 (Tomson 1990, 105–08). The apostle prefers celibacy both personally, practically, and religiously, but is quite unwilling to consider the married state forbidden, condemned, or even disparaged by God. Moreover, since as stated, in his ethic of the obligations of married people to each other, he is close if not identical to Jewish traditions of his day, those who are presently married must fulfill those obligations. The essential similarity between much of Paul's ethic here and other strains within first-century Judaism can be evoked (if not demonstrated) by the following quotation from the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs:
|The commandments of the Lord are double,|
|and they are to be fulfilled with regularity.|
|There is a time for having intercourse with one's wife,|
|and a time to abstain for the purpose of prayer.|
Finally, insofar as Paul himself and Jesus, whom he follows here, seem to reflect a particular attested ancient Jewish tradition against divorce, those who are married ought not to divorce and neither can they separate from their partners to whom they are obligated. We can thus explain all of the details of 1 Corinthians 7 on the basis of the assumption that Paul maintains a two-tiered system of thought regarding sexuality: celibacy as the higher state but marriage as a fully honorable condition for the believing Christian. This is by and large identical to actually attested forms of Palestinian Judaism and not very far from Philo either, except that Philo's tone toward sexuality seems much more negative in affect, reflecting, I think, the greater Greek philosophical influences on him. However, it must be admitted that even Paul, whose dualism was so much less extreme, manifests quite a cold and ambivalent feeling about married sex, regarding it primarily as a defense against lust and fornication. As Peter Brown has written:
What was notably lacking, in Paul's letter, was the warm faith shown by contemporary pagans and Jews that the sexual urge, although disorderly, was capable of socialization and of ordered, even warm, expression within marriage. The dangers of porneia, of potential immorality brought about by sexual frustration, were allowed to hold the center of the stage. By this essentially negative, even alarmist, strategy, Paul left a fatal legacy to future ages. An argument against abandoning sexual intercourse within marriage and in favor of allowing the younger generation to continue to have children slid imperceptibly into an attitude that viewed marriage itself as not more than a defense against desire. In the future, a sense of the presence of “Satan,” in the form of a constant and ill-defined risk of lust, lay like a heavy shadow in the corner of every Christian church. (Brown 1988, 55)
Where I disagree with Brown is when he says, “At the time, however, fornication and its avoidance did not preoccupy Paul greatly. He was concerned to emphasize, rather, the continuing validity of all social bonds. The structure of the household as a whole was at stake. This included the institution of domestic slavery. On this, Paul was adamant: slaves, like wives, must remain in their place” (Brown 1988, 55). On my reading, the situation is exactly opposite. Paul called for freedom and the breaking down of all social bonds. Realizing, however, the unrealizability of that goal—for slaves because of the social unrest and suppression of Christianity that would result, for wives because of porneia—Paul settled for something else, something less than his vision called for, and thus the continuation of the domestic slavery of marriage for those not called to the celibate life (cf. Segal 1990, 172–74). Rabbinic Judaism ultimately went in another direction entirely, increasingly rejecting not only the preferability of celibacy but ultimately even its permissibility. With that rejection, the one avenue of escape into autonomy for women was closed but a much richer and warmer appreciation of sexuality developed (Boyarin 1993).
This interpretation of Paul is coherent with the interpretation of his anthropology in general offered in this book. If celibacy corresponds to “the spirit” and marriage to “the flesh,” then the axiological relationship between these two states fits perfectly, for as I have argued throughout, the flesh, while lower than the spirit in Paul's thought, is by no means rejected or despised by him. The analogy with celibacy versus marriage is exact. Marriage is a lower state than celibacy—He who marries a virgin does well and he who does not marry does better (verse 38)—but not by any means forbidden or despised. However, and this is the crux, any possibility of an eradication of male and female and the corresponding social hierarchy is possible only on the level of the spirit, either in ecstasy at baptism or perhaps permanently for the celibate. In other words, I surmise that although Paul does not cite the myth of the primal androgyne, his gender discourse seems just as likely to be an outgrowth of that ideological structure as is that of Philo—no male and female—in the spirit, but in the flesh, yes indeed.
“The man is the head of the woman”
The crucial text for strengthening this interpretation, or at least for rendering it plausible, is arguably 1 Corinthians 11:1–16—“in the same letter he raged on and on about hairstyles in the assembly.”  In this passage, on my reading, Paul makes practically explicit the ratio between the politics of the spirit and the politics of the body. The crucial verses are 3, 7–9, and 11–12:
I would have you know, however, that every man's head is Christ, but a woman's head is the man, and Christ's head is God. (11:3)
For a man must not veil his head, since he is the image and reflection of God but a woman is the reflection of man. For man did not originate from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman's sake, but woman for man's. (11:7–9)
Of course, in the Lord there is neither woman without man nor man without woman. For just as woman originated from man, so, too, man exists through woman. But everything comes from God. (11:11–12)
These verses have been much discussed from many points of view. It is far beyond the scope of the present chapter to analyze either the theological or hermeneutic issues involved in the text, but however we interpret them, it is clear that Paul explicitly thematizes two (partially opposed) forms of conceptualizing gender, one in which there is an explicit hierarchy and one in which there is none. Paul himself marks this difference (the gap between the hierarchy of verses 7–9 and the “there is neither woman without man nor man without woman” of verse 11) as the situation of “in the Lord” (ἐν κυρίῳ). I do not think it is going too far—nor is it unprecedented in Pauline interpretation—to connect this “in the Lord” with the “in Christ” of Galatians 3:28 and read both passages as a representation of an androgyny that exists on the level of the spirit, however much hierarchy subsists and needs to subsist in the flesh, in the life of society even in Christian communities. These two levels might well correspond, indeed, to the two myths of the origins of the sexes as found in Genesis 1 and 2. The no-male-or-female, which is “in the Lord,” or “in Christ,” would represent the androgyne of chapter 1, understood, as in Philo, as neither male nor female, while the “since he is the image and reflection of God, but a woman is the reflection of man. For man did not originate from woman, but woman from man,” which Paul cites here, would be a reference to the story as found in chapter 2! “In the Lord” might even be seen then as an allusion to “in the image of God,” and the latter human of chapter 2 would be “in the flesh” in contrast. This perhaps speculative interpretation is dramatically strengthened if Josef Kürzinger's suggestion is accepted that verse 11 means, “In the Lord woman is not different from man nor man from woman” (Kürzinger 1978). Ultimately, as Karen King suggests, the two myths of gender “are quite compatible in that both imagine the ideal to be a unitary self, whether male or androgynous, whose nature is grounded in an ontology of transcendence and an epistemology of origins.” 
These verses demonstrate that Paul had not changed his mind or backslid from Galatians; they also explain, given the context of the Corinthian correspondence, why he chose to omit “There is no male and female” in the Corinthian version of the baptism. I suggest, therefore, that for Paul just as much as for the Corinthians, a state of androgyny, a cancellation of gender and sexuality, would have been the ideal. The difference between them lies in the application of the principle. The Corinthians believe that they have already achieved a state of perfection that permits the acting out of the cancellation of gender difference, whereas Paul is skeptical of their achievements (cf. 4:8). This does not, however, imply that for Paul the ideal of androgyny has no social consequences.
There are in fact three (not mutually exclusive) options for a social enactment of the myth of the primal androgyne. Some gnostics (and perhaps the Corinthians) seem to have held that once having attained the spirit, humans transcended gender entirely and forever whether in celibacy or libertinage. Philo, on the other hand, restricts such transcending redemption from gender to celibates, and then only to special ritualized moments of ecstasy. Paul's strictures against women with short hair and the speaking out of women prophets (14:37–38)—if the latter is genuinely Pauline—seem to suggest a third option: For all (not only celibates) there is no male and female, but only momentarily in the ritualized ecstasy of baptism. It is only then, in this life, that people attain the status of life in the spirit, in Christ or in the Lord, in which there is no male and female. Another way of saying this is that Paul holds that ontologically—according to the spirit—there is a permanent change in the status of gender at baptism, but insofar as people are still living in their unredeemed bodies, gender transcendence is not yet fully realized on the social level—according to the flesh. Perhaps, we might say, that final realization awaits the Parousia. I am thus inclined to agree with Tertullian's view that the notion of Paul giving celibate women the power to teach, preach, and baptize that is functional, social equivalence to men seems hard to credit. On the other hand, it may not be gainsaid that he had women associates in his ministry, nor that he implied that virgins could achieve spiritual states unavailable to the married (7:32–35). All three of these possibilities are equally dependent, however, on a notion that gender difference exists only at one ontological level, the outer or physical, the corporeal, but that at the level of true existence, the spiritual, there is no gender, that is, they depend on dualism. Much of the immediate post-Pauline tradition seems to have adopted a version of the first option—namely, that celibate women could attain a permanent state of the erasure of gender, a development that has had profound effects on the later discourse of gender in European culture.