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Lesson Five: One in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28)

Women Serving God: Wednesday Evening Study Series
John Mark Hicks, Mark Manassee and Kimberly Reed
February 18, 2004

One in Christ Jesus: Galatians 3:28

Text: Galatians 3:26-29

For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 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. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

I. Different Readings of Galatians 3:28.

A. Some Exegetical Points.

1. The categories reflect divisive elements of Graeco-Roman society: slave/free, Jew/Gentile and male/female.

2. The terms “male and female” are not the usual terms for “man and woman” in the Greek New Testament (e.g., those used in 1 Timothy 2 or 1 Corinthians 11). Rather, these are the terms used by the Greek translation of Genesis: arsen and thelu. By this Paul reminds us of God’s creative act in Genesis 1:27.

3. The text also reflects the same categories that are part of the announcement of the new age in Joel 2:28-32 (quoted in Acts 2:17-21): male/female (sons and daughters), slave/free (servants and maidservants), and Jew/Gentile (“all flesh”).

B. Egalitarian Reading.

1. Galatians 3:28 is a baptismal text that emphasizes one’s new identity found “in Christ.” When one is clothed with Christ in baptism one takes on a new identity. This new identity is what unites believers together.

2. This new identity and unity replaces the social barriers that have been used to separate and divide people. The church must exemplify this new identity/unity even if it was only recognized in society incrementally.

3. One’s salvation and identity “in Christ” always has social implications for how one lives their life. As a result, Paul can confront Cephas about not having table fellowship with gentile Christians who do not keep the law (2:11-16). Paul was not willing to tolerate the “separate but equal” policy toward gentile Christians espoused by some Jewish Christians.

4. This text also contributes to a theology of new creation in Christ (6:15). Galatians 3:28 include the pairs slave/free and male/female even though the primary emphasis in Galatians is on the relationship between Gentile Christians and the law. This implies that Paul is using a baptismal formula that was used in the wider Christian movement.

C. Complementarian Reading:

1. Galatians 3:28 states a soteriological (salvation) principle, that is, salvation is not determined by these kinds of distinctions. Rather, inheritance of the kingdom comes to all believers without distinction unlike inheritance laws in Israel or among the Gentiles. It is a question of inheritance, not ministry.

2. The argument of the epistle at this juncture is centered on the question "Who is a child of Abraham?," or "Who is a true heir?" Male/female, free/slave, and Jew/Gentile distinctions were inheritance factors in Israel: females, slaves and Gentiles could not inherit, but now they can. The point of the analogy is not broad, but specific. It is an abuse of the specific function of this text to overgeneralize the analogy.

3. Nevertheless, the principle of “oneness” and unity in Christ that transcends gender, social status and ethnicity is valid. We must work out its implications in the life of the church, but we must do so in the total context of the biblical story rather than the narrow concerns of Galatians 3.

II. Interpretative Analogies.

A. Redemptive Trajectories in Scripture? Webb’s Argument

1. While slavery in the Hebrew Scriptures was a significant improvement over slavery in the surrounding Ancient Near Eastern culture, the treatment of slavery in the Christian Scriptures is a significant step forward from the Hebrew Scriptures. It is a redemptive movement. But it is recognized that even the Christian Scriptures did not fully apply redemptive principles to slavery since it did not eliminate it.

2. Perhaps the treatment of women is analogous. While women in the Hebrew Scriptures were treated in ways superior to the surrounding culture of the Ancient Near East, women in the Christian Scriptures are treated significantly better. It is a redemptive movement. Perhaps the position of women in the New Testament is not intended as the final state of redemptive movement, but is the stage most appropriate for the setting in which the early church found itself.

3. Consequently, just as the creative intent of God and the redemptive principles embedded in the Christian faith demand the ultimately abolition of slavery (even though the New Testament did not implement this), so those same principles demand the full egalitarian status of women with men (even though the New Testament did not implement this).

B. Complementarian Response to the Slave Analogy.

1. It may be assumed that instructions to slaves were accommodative to a situation in which Paul hoped the gospel would change over time (but it is by no means certain that Paul would have freed all slaves--he does not command Christian masters to do so).

2. The appeals of Paul and Peter to slaves to obey their masters is rooted in the principle of righteous suffering in a fallen world for the sake of the kingdom of God (Col. 3:22-25; 1 Pet. 2:18-25).

3. In relation to gender, however, Paul appeals to God's act of creation, and Peter appeals to the laudable model of the matriarch Sarah (1 Pet. 3:5-6). Paul does not appear to fallenness. Rather, he seeks to restore the created order. Gender roles are rooted in the creative act of God and the narrative of God's people who reflected God's intent in creation ("as the law says," "Sarah," etc.).

4. Slavery and racial prejudice are contrary to God’s creative intent. The question is whether a complementarian or egalitarian understanding of gender is God’s original creative intent. Consequently, the analogy drives us back to the more fundamental question: what did God intend in creating humanity as male and female?

C. “Separate but Equal”: Jim Crow Analogy.

1. 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution (ending slavery, requiring equal treatment under law, and guaranteeing the right to vote to African-Americans)

2. Reconstruction-era Civil Rights Act of 1875

3. Supreme Court rulings in 1883 and 1896: Jim Crow legalized

4. Jim Crow in law and in custom

5. Supreme Court ruling in 1954: Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka: "In the field of public education the doctrine of 'separate but equal' has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal."

Question for Reflection:

1. Whose reading of Galatians 3:28 do you find most convincing?

2. Do you believe the slave analogy is legitimate or problematic?

3. How did Jim Crow segregation harm both African-Americans and whites?

Resources for Further Study:

Egalitarian: Jan Faver Hailey, “’Neither Male nor Female’ (Gal. 3:28),” in Essays on Women in Earliest Christianity, volume 1, ed. Carroll D. Osburn (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1993), pp. 131-166; Stanley Grenz and Denise Muri Kjesbo, Women in the Church: A Biblical Theology of Women in Ministry (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995), pp. 99-107; William J. Webb, Slaves, Women & Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), pp. 83-91, and Klyne R. Snodgrass, “Galatians 3:28—Conundrum or Solution?,” in Women, Authority & the Bible, pp. 161-180.

Complementarian: Eric Petermann, “Galatians 3:28 and Evangelical Egalitarianism;”; Peter R. Schem, “Galatians 3:28: Prooftext or Context?,” pp. 23-30; S. Lewis Johnson, “Role Distinctions in the Church: Galatians 3:28,” pp. 161-175; Daniel Wallace, “Biblical Gynecology: Part 2- Galatians 3:28;” and Joel Stephen Williams, “A Study of Galatians 3:28.” On the parallel between slavery and gender discussions, see the argument by Piper and Grudem.

Race/Gender Analogy: For Webb’s argument on the slavery analogy, see “Redemptive Hermeneutic and Women Elders.” Floyd Rose, “Behold, I Show You A Parable.” For details on the Jim Crow laws, see Jerrold M. Packard, American Nightmare: The History of Jim Crow (New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2002). Online materials about Jim Crow history are available as well.


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