26 You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.Galatians 3:26-29
We pause to give brief consideration to Galatians 3:28, if only because this text has become the center of a firestorm in the life of the contemporary Western Church. In the last few decades, Galatians 3:28 has been appealed to in order to legitimize the understanding that traditional, and heretofore thought to be Biblical role distinctions between men and women, both in the home and in the Church, are invalid, improper and sinful.
Galatians 3:28 is appealed to as being the text that informs us that as Christians a new social order has dawned that sloughs off the consequences of the fall, which includes the sinful consequence of male headship in the home and in the Church. Those who make this appeal reason backwards from Galatians 3:28 to suggest that in the creation order, and before the fall, there was no notion of male headship and it is only with the fall and sin coming into the created order that we find male headship. Put concisely, this ‘evangelical’ feminism argues that male headship is a consequence of sin that is reversed in Church and home (and, culture where Christ’s rule sways) with the coming of Christ’s Kingdom. Galatians 3:28 is seen as a hermeneutical North Star for many in the ‘Evangelical’ feminist camp. This text becomes the healing astringent that all other texts that deal with male and female relationships must be read through, since it provides the constant that corrects all the other cultural relative situations with which all other New Testament texts are putatively infected.
We want to note that while this is an interesting and even innovative argument, it hopelessly shipwrecks and splinters upon several significant boulders of reality.
First, there is the boulder that up until recently in Church history, no known major Church theologian read Galatians 3:28 in such a way as to suggest that because of the advent of Christ and the arrival of His Kingdom what arrives is this idea of an egalitarian social order that flattens out all authority (male and female), labor (slave and free) and ethnic (Jew and Gentile) distinctions. Room only allows for a few examples of how the text has been handled prior to our own era.
Difference of race or condition or sex is indeed taken away by the unity of faith, but it remains embedded in our mortal interactions, and in the journey of this life the apostles themselves teach that it is to be respected, and they even proposed living in accord with the racial differences between Jews and Greeks as a wholesome rule.St. Augustine on Galatians 3:28
Regarding our eternal salvation, it is true that one must not distinguish between man and woman, or between king and a shepherd, or between a German and a Frenchman. Regarding policy, however, we have what St. Paul declares here; for our, Lord Jesus Christ did not come to mix up nature, or to abolish what belongs to the preservation of decency and peace among us….Regarding the kingdom of God (which is spiritual) there is no distinction or difference between man and woman, servant and master, poor and rich, great and small. Nevertheless, there does have to be some order among us, and Jesus Christ did not mean to eliminate it, as some flighty and scatterbrained dreamers [believe].John Calvin
[Gal 3:28] does not mean that all are on a level in regard to talents, comforts, or wealth; but it means only that all people are on a level “in regard to religion.” This is the sole point under discussion; and the interpretation should be limited to this. It is not a fact that people are on a level in all things, nor is it a fact that the gospel designs to break down all the distinctions of society.Albert Barnes, 19th century hardcore liberal Presbyterian on Galatians 3
What we see then is that the recent hailing of Galatians 3:28 as the text of social egalitarianism is unique and has no historical legs upon which to stand, except perhaps as coming from the levelers or Anabaptist in Church history.
Now, we must admit that it is possible that 2,000 years of Church history got this text all wrong and further missed the egalitarian New Testament theology that it teaches. Further, we must concede that there may yet be found some Church theologian in history who read Galatians 3:28 the way that it is being read today. Still, one would think that this lack of precedent would cause people to go slow on embracing Galatians 3:28 in a way that no orthodox Church theologian in history, that we know of, has ever embraced it.
Second, there is the boulder of the rest of the New Testament scripture. If it were the case that the Kingdom of Christ eliminates the idea of gender roles, labor roles and ethnic roles, we would expect to find a consistent testimony to that end in the New Testament record, and yet, quite to the contrary, we find the opposite testimony. The New Testament retains distinction between male and female in Godly homes in passages like I Cor. 11:1-16, 14:34, I Tim. 2:11-14, Ephesians 5:22f, and I Pt. 3:1f. The New Testament retains distinctions between Jew and Gentile in passages like Romans 9-11 where the discussion centers on how Israel will be saved vis-à-vis the Gentiles. The New Testament retains distinctions between slave and free in passages like Philemon, Ephesians 6:5-9, Colossians 3:22-4:1, and I Timothy 6:1-2. There is simply no way that a fair minded person can read the New Testament and conclude that it teaches some kind of social egalitarianism that is defined as all men being the same so that equality of outcome is the result. Everywhere on the New Testament pages is the reality of gender, ethnic and labor distinctions and not in the sense that these distinction are automatically evil.
Third, there is the boulder of the whole context of Galatians 3. From what we have seen, as we have together worked through Galatians 3, the labor of the Apostle in this book is in no way connected to the issue of gender, labor or ethnic roles. Rather, the issue in Galatians is how it is that Gentiles do not need to become Jews in order to become Christians. The issue is the freedom that the Gentiles have in Christ quite apart from the desire of the Judaizers to foist upon the Galatians covenantal boundary markers that are obsolete because of the finished work of Christ. Galatians speaks up the completely gracious character of God’s salvation. To suddenly come upon Galatians 3:28 and insist that it is the interpretive key that unlocks the revolutionary egalitarian nature of the Kingdom of God is egregious to the whole text of Galatians. Interpretively, such an action is really quite criminal.
Context is central in this matter. If I walk into a closed room and see a 55 year-old man hugging and kissing an 18 year-old, I need context in order to understand what is happening. It may be the case that this is a pervert that is forcing himself upon some young lady, in which case I have need to come to her rescue. Or, it may be the case that he is her grandfather and he is trying to console her over some kind of loss, in which case I should shut the door and mind my own business. Context means everything.
What egalitarians do with Galatians 3:28, in order to support the idea that with the advent of the Gospel role distinctions are eliminated, is to remove all differences in mankind. After all, their motive is utopia. Context means everything and the context of Galatians 3:28 has nothing to do with the elimination of gender, labor or ethnic distinctions that continue to exist in the Kingdom.
The context of Galatians 3:28 makes abundantly clear the sense in which men and women are equal in Christ: they are equally justified by faith (v. 24), equally free from the bondage of legalism (v. 25), equally children of God (v. 26), equally clothed with Christ (v. 27), equally possessed by Christ (v. 29), and equally heirs of the promises to Abraham (v. 29).John Piper
I would only add that the same is true of masters and slaves and Jews and Gentiles.
Galatians 3:28 does nothing to overturn the historical and Biblical categories that maintain social differences between different people. Now, to be sure Galatians 3:28 does eliminate things like hatred of the brethren that are different from us, precisely because we are all in Christ and are all children of God. The historical hatred of Jew for Gentile, the historical maltreatment of master over slave, the historical abuse of men upon women was never God’s design, but with the advent of Christ and with the bringing in of all these differences relationships into the Church, the former animosity between these groups is vanquished. BUT, saying that former animosity is vanquished and saying that all are now equal in role is to say very different things.
Here in Galatians 3:26 f, St. Paul DOES affirm the distinctions of class, race, and gender. Paul is saying that despite these very real distinctions that exist, that when it come to justification, the ground at the cross is even. The very real distinctions that exist don’t prohibit one from being justified in Christ.
Indeed, I would insist that unless these distinctions are assumed as true, this verse makes no sense. Further, I would insist that the distinctions are so limited only to the question of justification, that the Church, composed of all these justified people as it is, still expects men to use the “Men’s Restroom,” and women to use the “Women’s Restroom,” while at Church. Something that would be altogether unnatural if it really were the case that Christians supported the idea of “no male or female categories or roles exist after conversion.” The fact that we still label our restrooms suggest that we don’t really believe men and women are identically the same. Also, if no category of male or female, because of the putative egalitarianism that Christ brings, there would be no reason whatsoever to object to sodomite marriage. And, if the implications of this passage were to be fairly traced out consistently according to the egalitarian hermeneutic there would be no reason to object to pedophilia since the egalitarian hermeneutic implication of this passage is that in Christ Jesus there is neither child or adult.
So, I believe that Galatians 3:26 f can and should be used to refute egalitarianism in the Church and in Christian culture.
With the advent of Christ and the presence of His Kingdom what the leaven of the Gospel works through home, church and culture is not the elimination and flattening out of the richness of the varied social tapestry that constitutes life, but rather the putting right of the social tapestry that was rent by the fall. With the extension of the Kingdom of Christ what we should expect to find is neither a gender blender society, nor a society where labor and capital distinctions are gathered up into some kind of socialistic nirvana, nor a society where ethnic distinctions are effaced. With the extension of the Kingdom of Christ, we should anticipate the restoration of true masculinity and femininity on display in marriages, where incredibly intelligent wives eagerly submit to incredibly humble husbands, who are in a haste to love their wives sacrificially. With the extension of the Kingdom of Christ we should anticipate a renewed harmony of interests between master and slave, where each realizes that their own interests are best served by looking out for the interest of the other. With the extension of the Kingdom of Christ we should anticipate the different nations (ethnos) being brought into the Kingdom, so that on that last day they will enter into the new Jerusalem nation by nation, so that what is heard is the beautiful harmony of multi part choir, where every still distinct tribe, tongue and nation render praise unto the King of Kings. The extension of the Kingdom of Christ does not result in a situation where all the ‘colors bleed into one.’ That is a socialistic humanistic vision. The extension of the Kingdom of Christ results in the old Puritan notion of the ‘harmony of interests.’
Returning to our boulders, we must mention one last boulder that the ship of hermeneutical feminism crashes against as it seeks to twist Galatians 3:28 to its end. The last boulder is that the reading that ‘Evangelical’ feminism is trying to use for Galatians 3:28 proves too much. If it really is the case that social order distinctions are eliminated in Christ, including that of maleness and femaleness, then the Church has little room left to oppose homosexuality in the Church. If Galatians 3:28 teaches that there is no longer male or female in Christ, and if that means that traditional distinctions between men and women no longer exist because of Christ’s Kingdom, then how can we maintain that sexual distinctions are an exception? More then that, if the presence of Christ’s Kingdom provides the kind of egalitarianism that these hermeneutical wizards insist upon, then where is the room for parental authority over children? If children are equal to parents because they are all in Christ, then on what basis can parents require obedience? If that reductio sounds stupid, it is supposed to. The only reason that otherwise normal people no longer find the reasoning of ‘Evangelical’ feminists to be equally stupid when it comes to their egalitarian appeals is because we have slowly been conditioned to accept it. In this culture and in the Western Church I may have to live with it, but I don’t accept it.
There remain functional differences between gender, labor and ethnic categories. We all are ontologically human, but functionally speaking, there remains God honoring differences. We all have the same value before God, all being made in God’s image, but just as in a choir, both the mezzo Soprano and the Alto are ontologically human, they remain functionally separated. Both of their functions are needed for a good choir and are to be esteemed in their place. A good choir doesn’t get better by making every one sing the same bland part. The same kind of thing is true when it comes to the insipid blandness that is being reached for in terms of male and female, slave and free, Jew and Gentile by the egalitarians among us.
Now, returning to Galatians 3:28 we may ask ourselves why the Apostle chooses the three couplets of male – female, slave and free, Jew and Gentile? Of course, we can’t say authoritatively because the text doesn’t authoritatively say, but we perhaps can make a pretty good guess. The answer may be very much in keeping with the context that is going on here.
In Galatians 3:29, the Church is reminded that they are ‘heirs according to the promise.’ Now, in order to be an heir their must be an inheritance and quite obviously that inheritance is all the blessings that we have in Christ Jesus. In choosing the couplets that he chooses, the Holy Spirit may be intimating the superior character of the new and better covenant as opposed to the old and worse covenant. Under the Old Testament law, Greeks, slaves, and females could not inherit land and property directly. These were restricted in the life of the old covenant. However, in the New and better covenant, the anti-type inheritance has come to which the inheritance of land and property in the Old Testament was only a type, and it comes in such a way that people from every tribe, tongue, nation, class, gender, and economic strata can directly inherit. No boundaries are erected to the inheritance of salvation. All may inherit. All may become sons of God.
And, the effect of the fullness of that inheritance coming to more and more people including the renewal that is part of it is not an ugly egalitarianism where all distinction and diversity is crushed. That can only be some kind of unitarian vision where the singleness and unitary character of God produces a bland and unitary character of culture. No, the Trinitarian Christian vision is that the effect of the inheritance coming to more and more people makes for a renewal, where people in their different God-honoring roles and places work increasingly together to advance the Glory of God by honoring God in the places and roles to which they have been placed and called.
-By Bret McAtee
Oh, I'm a good old Rebel, now that's just what I am; For this "Fair Land of Freedom" I do not give a damn! I'm glad I fit against it, I only wish we'd won, And I don't want no pardon for anything I done.