Friday, January 04, 2008

Galatians 3:28

I'd like to take a few posts and ponder a look at what I see as verses that are misunderstood by not only the laity but also many scholars and clergy. The first one up on the rotation is Galatians 3:28. As a quick reminder here is the verse:
28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (NASB)
In today's culture this verse is used by many people as a proof text for not only the full inclusion of women in all positions within the ecclesiastical offices but also to say that the New Testament church should no longer recognize separate gender identification. They take "neither male nor female" to either dismiss gender roles or gender all together. It is my contention that not only does the verse say no such thing but it has absolutely nothing to do whatsoever with equality or gender. Paul's point in this verse has nothing to do with saying Jews and Greeks, Slaves and Masters, or Men and Women are equal but that they are one in Christ Jesus. There is giant difference between equality and unity. If Paul's point in this verse is to say that all of these distinctions no longer exist or are no longer applicable then he has contradicted himself in every one of his letters. Paul goes to great lengths in Romans 9-11 to describe the differences between Jews and Greeks. Paul in Romans, 1 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, 1 & 2 Timothy, and Titus describes in great detail the difference in roles (not worth) between men and women. Paul also calls out Overseers and deacons from the congregations of his churches to be set apart for leadership. One of the most favored pericopes of Paul's in use today (1 Cor 12:12-31) is his imagery of the many body parts and their unity and usefulness in the body. Paul does not say all body parts are equal in their diversity but they are all equal in their worth to the function of the entire body. His point is that the body strength is its unity, not its diversity. This is vital for our understanding of the proper usage Galatians 3:28 because Paul is clear in saying that not all are called to do whatever they wish to do but only for what the Spirit has called for them. What right does a foot to be a hand? Or a Liver to do the work of the Lung? All are called to specific roles and functions with in the unified body of Christ. If one is called to be a Lung and they do not pull oxygen into the blood stream the whole body suffers from the effects of deprivation. This is serious business.

However even outside of the denial of the motive of equality for Paul's writing this verse in Galatians is the context in which it is written. One of the common critiques of conservatives by liberals is that conservatives "do not understand the context" of a given passage that if we look at the entirety of a passage it will not have the restrictive meaning we give it. Well here is an example of a verse where liberals and moderate evangelicals take a given pericope and extract it from its surrounding context and use it for their own purpose. Paul is speaking in Galatians 3 of the unity of the salvation that is given by Jesus Christ through Grace by Faith. Working backwards verse 27 speaks of our one baptism in Christ (UNITY), verse 26 all are sons of God (we do not have space but one would be smart to look into the usage of Sons of God and what it means) because of faith in Christ (UNITY), verses 25-21 Paul is talking about the Law and Faith (UNITY), verses 20-15 the covenant of Abraham seed (UNITY). Not a word that precedes Galatians 3:28 speaks of diversity in the body or having anything to with the eradication of role but speaking to the foolish Galatians who have denied the unity of their faith. Verse 29 concludes and summarizes what Paul has been speaking of in this chapter. He says:
29And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's descendants, heirs according to promise.
Paul, given the context of Galatians 3, cannot be speaking in Galatians 3:28 about an egalitarian worldview. The text does not bear this out nor can it, no matter the wiggling. We do a disservice to Paul if we take this out-of-context for our own selfish desires.


will said...

Benjamin - I'm slow today. Please do me a favor and define how you are using egalitarian.

I fully recognize what you are saying in the sense that this text clearly is misused to advance an idea that is not actually found in it.

Is it really thought that 'conservatives' alone do this - e.g. take passages out of context?

How could anyone maintain that assertion with anything resembling a straight face?

Seriously - aren't the verses used to justify or excuse certain political agendas advanced by 'progressives' equally tortured and lifted from context - often to the point of acquiring a meaning directly opposite of any possible sense of the text?

Yes, 'conservatives' do this - I grant you - and do it far too often. But this abuse is hardly unique - even in the degree to which it is done. I would be surprised if 'conservatives' did this as often as some others. So how could it come to be exclusively associated with them?

Benjamin P. Glaser said...

Egalitarian- The belief that gender, in and of itself, neither privileges nor curtails a believer’s gifting or calling to any ministry in the church or home.


I do not get where I said that "only" conservatives do this? I said that it is alleged by liberals that conservatives do this when coming to restrictive biblical concepts. In liberal academia this is often one of the derogatory things said of conservative biblical scholars.

Red_Cleric said...

Progressives do the same sort of tricks. The most interesting is pulling Leviticus 18:22 re: homosexual intercourse and ignoring the context of verses 8-17 which include sleeping with your sister-in-law, mom, step mom and daughter... Most liberals take 18:22 and link it stuff chapters away like wearing blended cloth...


BTW it doesn't get any clearer than Leviticus that homoerotic sex had nothing to do with subjugating conquered armies etc...

will said...

You didn't say this.

"One of the common critiques of conservatives by liberals is that conservatives "do not understand the context" of a given passage that if we look at the entirety of a passage it will not have the restrictive meaning we give it."

You said it was a common critique - I was responding to the critique. It is not a common critique of the people often leveling the critique though these are usually guilty of the same charge. The rant was not to you. Sorry if this was confusing.

will said...

It seemed surprising to me that anyone in liberal academia could be hypocritical enough to level it.

Benjamin P. Glaser said...


Gotcha. Understand what you mean now.


Lev 18:22 is an excellent example of the opposite of what libs and mods do to Gal 3:28 being done to a text that they do not like.

Machaira said...

Great article.

I've been attacked verbally by quite a few liberal Christian women over Galatians 3:28.

Unfortunately, the heart of the problem for some of them were "bad experiences" with overly sealous male headship. For women like these, this verse is utilized as an escape hatch.

Machaira said...

Hmmm . . . that's zealous, not sealous. Sorry.

Benjamin P. Glaser said...


Unfortunately that is a very true statement. I know a decent number of women who are engaged in seminary education (and who are in Pastoral positions) and are there as a result of some type of male spousal misconduct. They become Pastors subconsciously (sometimes not so subconsciously) as a way to regain power.

You should take a look at the conversation I am having with a woman named "Sue" over on the Bayly's blog directed towards this same issue. Not surprisingly she has brought up allegations of spousal misconduct as a defense against male headship.

tempe said...

I've always found it interesting that Galatians 3:28 still gets used even after it's one of the specific verses (used fallaciously) that is targeted by D.A. Carson in his Exegetical Fallacies

Benjamin P. Glaser said...


D.A. Carson's work is on my Wish List at Amazon. One of these days I'll get it!!!

Timothy said...

I think the women in the pastorate under the conditions of spousal abuse are pointing the failings of men, literally, as an excuse to punt the Biblical mandates. If we could all live up to the biblical mandates, then there would be no need for Christ. Women serving in those positions are an affront to the gospel, because once they start punting certain aspects of what Paul has written, it's only a matter of time before a major doctrine falls. IN other words, they truly doubt the authority of Scripture, thereby opening themselves up to every wind of doctrine.

Benjamin P. Glaser said...

Well said Timothy. I do not think supporters of egalitarian doctrine understand how that not only starts a steep slope but at its most basic runs into a problem with Christology.

Dad said...

So you throw out the baby with the bath water? I would be careful about heading down a path that eliminates who and where God elect and call. I have had at least as many men pastors with men hating bias as woman. The real problem as I see it is that the bad ministers are not weeded out by the very people who should be doing that. The Presbyteries have let this happen as Kay from Steppenwolf said many years ago now "there's a monster on the loose and he has our heads into a noose and we sit there watching". The reunion was bad and it has been down hill every since. However even the uneducated, bribed and bad ministers in Luther's day nor the Roman/Jewish contingent of the Apostles day couldn't kill the true church neither will the present biases that we suffer under now will. God will protect the remnant. We will all have to answer to the same God and I do trust he knows how to read his own scripture and will abide by it.

Anonymous said...

Yes, clearly the Galatians passage in question is not speaking of roles in the church, but rather our status before God in Christ.

The question then becomes, for those Reformed who are not egalitarian OR complementarian how a woman could serve as pastor and not violate Paul's admonitions.

Is there a way to for a woman to pastor a church as a Teaching Elder and still fulfill her God-given role as wife and mom?

I think there is.

But, Gal.3:28 is not the basis of the argument, it's just one brick in the edifice of the argument.

Anonymous said...

Maybe we should flip my last proposal and ask:

Is there a way that a husband and father can be both Teaching Elder and also fulfill his roles in the family?

Many a failed pastor might answer in the negative on that one!