“Evangelical feminists” and egalitarians use Galatians 3:28 as the primary texts in support of their view of equal gender roles, however, it is a passage that is interpreted baldly out of context and exegeted horribly to present their side of the story. Here is the paragraph wherein verse 28 lies:
23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.Galatians 3:23-29
Since a seminarian friend has written a good article explaining the verse’s context, I don’t want to repeat what he’s already said. I will however affirm some important points and add some significant points from my own brief study of Galatians 3:28.
Galatians 3 should be understood as Paul’s response to Galatians 2:11-14. (See G. Walter Hansen’s commentary on Galatians by in The IVP New Testament Commentary Series) In that previous chapter, Apostle Peter is rebuked for dinning with Gentiles in one minute and in another minute he stopped once Jews saw him fellowshipping with the Greeks. The issue there was whether or not it was appropriate for Jews to fellowship with Gentiles, which clearly Peter and the Galatians were confused about. However, the Apostle Paul saw through that specific question to the larger issue at hand, which he contends as the denial of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.This is why Paul says that Peter’s “conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel,” as Peter had treated the Gentiles as unwanted/unworthy for fellowship upon the sight of his own Jewish people even now, after the inauguration of the New Covenant in Christ Jesus. On Peter’s part, it was hypocritical for him to behave in such an un-Christian manner and thus badly misrepresenting the Gospel he was ordained to proclaim. To take Galatians 3:28 out of its original context here is to neuter the power of God for the salvation of all who believe — first for the Jew, then the Gentile — but indeed, all who believe. Paul never intended what he says here to be about “gender roles” or what it means to be a woman of God in ministry; to read an interpretation of gender equality into this text is simply ignorant and bad hermeneutics. I come from a public school and haven’t even taken a course on Hermeneutics yet, and still, this Jew-Gentile-Gospel context could not be any clearer to me.
You are all one
Egalitarians use this verse to support their view of equality between the two genders, imploring that this verse to say that men and women are equal because it says that “all one in Christ Jesus.” For unbelievers who have not been given new eyes to see, and even for self-proclaimed Christians who do not study the text, the context, and the words present, such people will probably come to that incorrect and misinterpreted conclusion. Certainly, for those who have been baptized by the Holy Spirit and regenerated by Christ thus share in Him — His imputed righteousness. ???you are all one??? does not mean ???you are all equal.” Just because all these groups are one does not mean that they are equal in any, or every sense. The equality that is present — that is, the element that both Jews and Gentiles, slaves and the free, males and females — indeed, that all Christians share in common is Christ Jesus himself! From this passage, what they share in common is Christ and only Christ, nothing more and nothing less; from this passage, we are equal in this one respect and in no other.As Andreas K??stenberger writes,
“Of course, some insist Paul???s statements in Galatians 3:28 imply a change in human relationships. But whether a change in human relationship is implied in Galatians 3:28 or not, this does not appear to be the point Paul actually intended to make. The interpreter should take care to distinguish between authorial intention and possible implications. Moreover, it seems questionable to focus on the implications of Paul???s statements to the extent that the point Paul actually intended to make all but retreats into the background.”(???Gender Passages in the NT: Hermeneutical Fallacies Critiqued,??? Westminster Theological Journal 56 (1994), 277. As quoted in Biblical Foundations for Manhood and Woman. Wheaton, IL: 2002, 106. Emphasis mine.)
Subsequently, we should note the universality of this shared element of Jesus Christ that is evident in this passage and not just the oft-pulled verse 28: verse 26 “for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith”, and verse 27 “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ”. That is why Paul exhorts that there is unity between all who are in Christ: despite our differences, and in spite of being so diverse in who we are, we share a unity in Jesus Christ.One female pastor recently preached, saying:
“How we understand the word as its written in its original context, and how it’s written and understood today are equally important. It’s true that there are passages in Scripture that hold to a patriarchal understanding of women – meaning that men have authority over women. But it’s also true that there seem to be an equal number of examples of Scripture that actually speak to an egalitarian view of women in the church as well. That isn’t to say that women are over men, it’s to say that they are created equal.We need to remember that scripture is written in at particular point at a particular time for a particular audience, and in the same way we read Scripture in our particular setting and sometime our lens gets blurry because of how we see Scripture in our own culture.”
Men and women are created equal in value and in worth, according to the image of God of which we all are designed to reflect. However, what we do as male and female are different and complementary, and that is indeed to say that men and women have different primary roles and functions that they are responsible for in the home, in the church, and in the world. I do not know of anywhere in the New Testament that commands us to or implies that we should live under patriarchal relationships; rather, Scripture calls us to consider others better than ourselves and to outdo one another in showing honor. While we must consult passages like Ephesians 5 on this issue of gender roles, we cannot and must not blur our spiritual lenses and put a veil over ourselves with our own ideas, biases of what we would like Galatians 3:28 to mean. To do so is eisegesis, a sin that all Christians must be aware of and repent of when we do it.On this note, Wayne Grudem writes,
“To say that we are ???one??? means that we are united, that there should be no factions or divisions among us, that there should be no sense of pride and superiority or jealousy and inferiority between these groups that viewed themselves as so distinct in the ancient world.”(Biblical Foundations For Manhood and Womanhood. Wheaton, IL: 2002, 42)
There is neither… nor.
I doubt anybody would have the audacity to argue from Galatians 3:28 that there no longer exists Jews or Greeks, males or females. In Biblical Foundations for Manhood and Womanhood, Richard Hove notes on page 122 that the figure of speech utilized here is a “merism”, where pairs of opposites are used as a literary device to express this notion of universality. Thus, these three couplets of “there is neither” cannot mean abolishment of the races, servant relationships, or genders. The Apostle Paul also wrote in his epistle to the Ephesians that husbands and wives should act differently according to their different roles.This negation is in regard to sonship in Christ, for that is the controversy in Galatia which is the concern of this epistle. Paul confronts the Galatians in response to their false belief that only Jews are sons and heirs in Christ. There is no distinction or partiality between anybody — regardless of race, occupation, or gender — in so far as we all are baptized in Christ; all who are in Christ are sons and thus heirs according to His promise!
“Jews should no longer think themselves superior to Greeks, freed men should not think themselves superior to slaves, and men should no longer think themselves superior to women. They are all parts of one body in Christ, and all share in equal value and dignity as members of one body in Christ.” (Grudem, 43)
In context of redemptive history, this verse is significant in its exhortation that not only actual sons of Abraham (Jews) can be sons and heirs of Christ who would obtain His inheritance, but all who are in Christ. In the New Covenant inaugurated by the shedding of Christ’s blood, those who hear the Gospel with faith are thence justified as sons of Abraham (Galatians 3:5-6, 7-9). And so these blessings of Christ are universal for all people who believe in Christ.That is why in Galatians 3:28 there is a unity between the genders that preserves, not abolishes, our unique differences as male and female, and our differing functions and responsibilities as men and women are shown to be supremely and equally valuable for the cause of union in Christ.Also consulted for this post: Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, eds. John Piper and Wayne Grudem (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1991).To be concluded…(I have a few more things to say, so I shall close this series tomorrow with some concluding remarks)