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Neither Male Nor Female?

What does it mean when Paul says that 'in Christ, there is neither male nor female'?

"There is neither male nor female for you are all one in Christ" Galatians 3:28
"For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him." Romans 10:12
"a renewal in which there is no [distinction between] Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, [nor between nations whether] barbarian or Scythian, [nor in status whether] slave or free, but Christ is all, and in all [so believers are equal in Christ, without distinction]." Colossians 3:11 Amplified Bible

These passages affirm the truth of justification by faith and not by who you are, your citizenship, ethnicity, or the law. That's where the different biblical interpretations begin.


God values all people, regardless of gender: Jew or Palestinian, citizen or immigrant, male or female, straight or gay. Just as a person may not realize they are naturally left-handed until they are old enough, a person may not realize they are same-sex oriented until they mature. God forms all people, and regardless of how you are made, you have equal status as heirs to God's kingdom.  Let's look at how various theologians interpret these passages.


❓Gender will be irrelevant in the afterlife


❓Gender is irrelevant to salvation but relevant to roles on earth


❓Gender is irrelevant to roles on earth


❓Gender differences disappear in Christian unity


❓Gender becomes irrelevant as female believers mature into males (per Augustine)


❓All humans are a male-female combination, like God (the view of ancient Jewish rabbis and medical missionary Katharine Bushnell).


Neither Male Nor Female means: Gender is Irrelevant in the Afterlife


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Luke 20:35

The traditional church view has been to assert male leadership in liturgical roles and that it is not until the afterlife or Christ's return that gender becomes irrelevant.


This view of 'neither male nor female' infers that the differences between the sexes are abolished later, in the resurrection. The traditional church doctrine was that "The Fall" meant men would rule over women until Christ returned and restored the perfect harmony that existed before the humans revealed their selfish tendancies and disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden.


"In the resurrection, they will not marry... for they will be like the angels" (Luke 20:36). Luke is inferring that in the afterlife, believers will have new bodies. He is not saying that believers must be celibate to be angelic, nor that females must become male to gain salvation. Christ has overturned the worldly ideas of gender hierarchies and replaced them with his example of loving one another.


The historically universal Catholic view of these passages is that after The Fall, sin entered the world, and as a consequence men would rule over women until Christ returns and restores the perfect world of gender equality before The Fall. This view promotes that only men may be priests or have authority in church or society. The historically Catholic view promotes mutuality in marriage. Just as Christ sacrificially serves his bride, a husband takes care of his wife; it's not about a husband dominating a wife. The partnership is by mutual agreement (1 Corinthians 7:1-6). In the 5th century, John Crysostom, archbishop of Constantinople, taught that Ephesians 5:21 means all Christians mutually submit to one another: "Let there be an interchange of slavery and submission... it is better that both masters and slaves be slaves to one another."


Neither Male Nor Female means: Equal Access to Salvation; Different Roles By Gender


The Complementarian doctrine elucidated since the 1980s is that God's original, perfect design was for hierarchal relationships with men leading and women submitting. Since we know all humans share similar intellectual capacities, and the Bible says God shows no favouritism, a Complementarian (patriarchal) commentator will say that while God values men and women equally, God designed men and women for different roles.

Brown v Board of Education
Brown v. Board of Education: Separate is Unequal

Patriarchal, hierarchal structures need to be reconciled with the equality of Galatians 3:28, Romans 10:12, and Colossians 3:11. Often, a Complementarian will explain the apparent conflict by saying that gender differences do not restrict equality to salvation but do not impact other arenas. A Complementarian will say God values all people equally and assigns women to subordinate roles and men to authoritative and leadership roles. They may say both male and female roles are equal and highly valued, yet the male roles are unrestricted and more highly paid while the female responsibilities are secondary, subject to male supervision, and are chronically underpaid.


They set policies according to their interpretation of passages that appear to limit women. A narrow understanding of 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 14 can lead to believing that God assigned leadership and authority only to males and service and subjugation only to females. It means men and women are equal but different. To be honest, the idea of equal but separate sounds a lot like the false argument that was used to support segregated, inferior schools for Blacks. The US Supreme Court ruled that segregation is inherently unequal.


Neither Male Nor Female means: Gender is Irrelevant to Roles and Freedoms on Earth


An egalitarian will say that God values all humans equally and gives humans equal freedoms and responsibilities. God's original design in creation was for men and women to co-reign over the earth. While the old Covenant was to Abraham and sealed by male circumcision, Jesus restored gender equality. Jesus was born of a woman and seals the new covenant by baptism, regardless of gender. Passages that appear to restrict women must be more closely examined to understand how they are consistent with what Paul wrote in Galatians, Romans, and Colossians.


When the Bible says there is 'neither male nor female' for those 'in Christ', it means our human distinctions lose significance. We are not the same; Gender differences remain. Our gender is unimportant, irrelevant, or secondary to our place in the body of Christ. Gender is subordinate to our faith. Gender does not determine our roles or functions. No gender is favoured with more authority or responsibility. Our roles are determined by the gifts God gives to individuals. We each have unique gifts, and equal freedoms and responsibilities. We are not defined by our sex, and gender differences do not define roles or functions.


While we have our identity primarily in Christ, our gender and individual differences remain. Identifying as a Christian does not preclude also identifying as a woman, man, LGBTQ+ person, a wife, a widow, a red-head, or a left-handed person. You continue to have unique characteristics even as you have an identity in Christ.


Women and men both have value in all areas. The Bible does not endorse that roles or activities be determined by gender. Our calling at home, church, and society, is determined by the gifting of the Holy Spirit and not by gender. In contrast to their first-century contemporaries, early Christians attempted to surmount social divisions.


Nellie McClung, a Christian advocate for women's rights, author and member of the Alberta parliament, was one of the 'Famous Five' who petitioned the Supreme Court to have women declared as persons eligible for office in the Senate. Turned down by Canada in 1927, the British Privy Council declared women as persons in 1928. In her 1937 book "More Leaves from Lantern Lane" McClung McClung states that love fulfills the law and that we have artificially restricted our love. She referred to Galatians 3:28 in her comments on the ordination of Miss Lydia Gruchy in 1936:

"The United Church of Canada took ten years to make up its mind whether or not it could allow a woman to be ordained in its ministry. Every two years the matter came before the General Council; every two years there were speeches made, and committees appointed to look into the matter, and "ascertain the mind of the presbyteries", but finally in September of last year, the last hurdle was taken, and the matter was decided in the affirmative "by an overwhelming vote". Only one application for ordination has been before the Council meetings all these ten years, and the applicant has not said a word. She has gone on teaching and preaching. She has driven her Ford in the summer over the uncertain roads, and her little horse-drawn cutter in the winter; she has lived with the people she served, sharing their joys and sorrows. Once in a while she has been invited to speak in the city churches, and has done so with a dignity and charm which has made her friends and advocates. Miss Lydia E. Gruchy of Kelvington, Saskatchewan, has a perfect record of eleven years' country service. In July 1936 she was called to be the assistant pastor of Saint Andrew's United Church in Moose Jaw, and her ordination followed. So the United Church of Canada has at last endorsed what Saint Paul said more than eighteen hundred years ago, that there is no "male or female bound or free," but all are one in the service of God." - Nellie McClung

Neither Male Nor Female means Unity

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Being male nor female means being a union of male-female

Another egalitarian view is that 'In Christ, there is neither male nor female' means that our differences are eliminated in the unity of one body in Christ: the two parts become one. Paul brings unequal pairs to unity using examples such as male/female, Jew/Gentile, and slave/citizen.


The Bible gives many examples of unity: the vine and the branches, the head and the body, and marriage which makes two become one. These pictures demonstrate unity, mutual dependence, and mutual service.

"Religious, social, and sexual pairs of opposites are not replaced by equality, but rather by a newly created unity." J. Louis Martyn, The Anchor Bible.



Neither Male Nor Female means: Females mature into Males


Ancient philosophers believed that only a male brain could comprehend abstract thought.

Females were undeveloped males, and a few females might mature to become males once they received new life from Jesus.


When Perpetua, a 2nd-century martyr, described her vision, she said,

 "And I was stripped naked, and I became a man."


verse
"I as a woman was stipped naked and I became a man
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Perpetua's vision

Augustine thought Perpetua literally transformed into a man, and her nudity proved her physical sex change. Perpetua matured into a male after seeing a divine vision. Domination was widely honoured in the Greco-Roman culture, while passivity and effeminate traits were condemned as weak. Much of Augustine's theology is based on pagan Greek philosophers such as Aristotle, who said "The relation of male to female is by nature a relation of superior to inferior, and ruler to ruled."


Now that we know females are not undeveloped males, we can see her vision referring to a metaphorical transformation. Margaret Cotter-Lynch indicates that the original language of Perpetua's vision can be translated more accurately as,

"And I as a woman, was made a thing which is male." 

In other words, she remained a woman (the subject of the sentence) and at the same time was male. She was male-female at once.


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Gospel of Thomas: women who beome male become a living spirit

The non-canonical Gospel of Thomas is an ancient that shows that first-century thinkers believed men might enter God's kingdom, and women who believed in Christ matured into men. The ancients believed women had weak logic and conceptual thinking abilities and that as they matured in Christ, they could "Act like men" (1 Corinthians 16:13).








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Being male nor female means your gender is irrelevant

Another view is that women not only give up their gender, but men also give up their gender. An expert on the Gospel of Thomas understands the passage this way:


"If each gender is mutually relinquished in this way, no gender would remain. The very idea of gender is seen as meaningless." William G. Duffy, author of The Hidden Gospel of Thomas.





Neither Male Nor Female means: Humans are Male-Female

Some view 'neither male nor female' as meaning that God gave all humans elements of both male and female. While the traditional Christian view is that God made males and God made females, Genesis 1:27 can also be understood to say that God made humans, and each was a male-female.

The original word 'adam' means 'human'. The individual man was not given the proper name 'Adam' until Genesis 4. God is a three-in-one being who is neither male nor female but has characteristics of both. Humans, likewise, are in God's image, neither male nor female but having characteristics of both.


Ancient Jews recognized eight genders in the Talmud, and they taught that the first human was both male and female. Later, God separated the original human into two distinct people: Adam and Eve. The ancient rabbis referred to androgynos as a continuing gender category in the Mishnah and Talmud. The Rabbis also recognized a category of people whose sexual characteristics are lacking or undetermined, and a category of people whose sexual characteristics changes with puberty.

"Rabbi Yirmeya ben Elazar: In the hour when the Holy One created the first human, He created him as an androgynos (one having both male and female sexual characteristics), as it is said, “male and female He created them.”
lizard
The Caucasian Rock Lizard reproduces asexually https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Caucasian_Rock_Lizard_(34598190795).jpg

In 1923, Katharine Bushnell quoted from a Talmudic Miscellany that the first human was a bi-sexual organism. She published the idea that this original human was a type of hermaphrodite who could reproduce asexually. She suggests that God created a hermaphrodite human and then formed separate genders at a later stage of human development.

For example, in the Caucasian Rock Lizard an egg develops into an embryo without male fertilization. Could it be that God blessed the asexual humans and told them to be fruitful, multiply, and rule the earth? (Genesis 1:28).


Later, after seeing the coupling of the animal kingdom, the human wanted the intimacy of a suitable partner so God split the human, taking part of the human's side to form the woman, leaving a man delighted to have a counterpart like himself (Genesis 2:21-22). The dividing of the male and female into two counterparts is why a husband and wife desire to be united as one flesh (Genesis 2:24).


Conclusion

It is good to celebrate the unanimity of the belief that we are all valuable in God's eyes and all justified by faith, regardless of ethnicity or gender. After that, I hope we can remain open-minded in seeing how various Christian and Jewish groups understand the implications of there being neither male nor female:

  • The traditional view that women were less capable due to the Fall and would remain subordinate until Christ returns or until the afterlife, when gender becomes irrelevant.

  • The Complementarian view is that women and men are equally valued and have equal access to salvation and that God limits and restricts women to subordinate roles.

  • An Egalitarian may say our gender differences have no impact on either our salvation or our activities; all have a responsibility to use our gifts as God individually calls us.

  • Egalitarian Christians see that while gender differences remain, they are subordinate to our identity in Christ.

  • Ancient philosophers thought that women were not capable of abstract thought, yet in Christ, women might mature into men

  • Ancient Jews identified God as neither male nor female, the first human as neither male nor female, and the continuing existence of several genders. Chrisitan missionary and interpreter Katharine Bushnell understood Genesis to say that humans may be neither male nor female.


Next time you read "in Christ, there is no more male nor female", I hope you will have a fuller understanding of the way Paul's readers may have viewed gender and creation. I believe it is wonderful to imagine each human in God's full image, regardless of your gender. Once you see each human as bearing the full male-female image of God, the gender of our earthly bodies becomes irrelevant to God's calling on our lives.


 

Elaine Ricker Kelly Author is empowering women with historical fiction about women in the Bible and early church and Christian blogs about women in leadership, church history and doctrine. Her books include:

  • Forgotten Followers from Broken to Bold, Book 1

  • The Sword A Fun Way to Engage in Healthy Debate on What the Bible Says About a Woman's Role

  • Because She Was Called: from Broken to Bold, Book 2, A Novel of the Early Church, imagines Mary Magdalene's trip to testify before the emperor










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