Questions I have about Galatians 3:28

When it comes to issues of gender roles and the church there are a few texts that you simply cannot avoid. Complementarians throw out 1 Tim 2:12 and sooner or later back comes Galatians 3:28. ‘Proof text’ shouts one side, ‘control text’ shouts the other.

So what is Galatians 3:28 about?

“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.” (Gal 3:28)

If that’s all you read then you have to hand it to the egalitarians. The case seems pretty clear on the plain and simple reading of what it says. There is no male and female so ‘of course’ that abolishes any distinctions or inequalities that may exist between the two genders. So Krish Kandiah for example says pretty much that,

“That is my belief too in light of what I read in scripture, in Christ the divisive hierarchies of our societies between slaves and free people, between men and women, are nullified, we are one. (Galatians 3:28ff).”

Not so fast comes the response, read around that verse and you see what Paul is saying.

“So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 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. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” (Gal 3:24-29)

Paul is talking about salvation, the Greek doesn’t need to become a Jew to find salvation but comes to Christ, the slave doesn’t need to go through their masters but can come to Christ and women don’t need to go through men but instead just one man – Jesus Christ – just like everyone else in order to find salvation. As heirs, non-Jews can inherit the promises of God, slaves can inherit the promises of God and women can inherit the promises of God. The way to God through Christ is open to all – when it comes to salvation, all are equally lost and all can be equally saved.

So, the argument goes it’s not talking about roles or order in the home, church or society and nor should we try to make it do so, Paul deals with those in other places. But if all are equally saved, if we are one in Christ, if this is the new creation Paul is talking about why are not all equally free to serve however they see fit?

But this approach to the passage leaves me asking a lot more questions.

Why stop at the differences Paul mentioned? Surely, today Paul would also have added, ‘there is no straight or gay’ or in child-centred Sweden, ‘there is no parent or child’. If Paul is abolishing all societal differences and barriers why stop at the ones Paul specifically mentions, if the principle is to abolish all perceived distinctions and injustices?

Why couldn’t, for example, those who argue for a more liberal approach to human sexuality use ‘there is no male or female’ to say, ‘well then, why does it matter who I am in a relationship with?’

If you respond from creation principles, surely then you have to wonder why that works there but not when Paul uses it 1 Tim 2:13? Or if you point to Paul’s prohibitions in say, 1 Cor 6:9, why does the context of Corinth not explain that away where it does when it’s argued that Paul’s prohibition on women teaching in Ephesus was strictly related to Ephesus and not a universal principle?

I remain unconvinced that Galatians 3:28 is a control text that redefines how I read all the other mentions about gender as if Paul had somehow forgotten this verse when he wrote Titus 1:5-6. I’m not yet persuaded that the Galatians would have read these verses and thought Paul meant what egalitarians say he meant. That’s a crucial first base in getting our understanding of the text right.

Even so, the challenge remains though for those who hold this view to be as inclusive and affirming of the role and contribution of women as Paul and Jesus was. My guess is that, those who see this differently, would say that’s impossible in that framework. And so the wheel turns again…

6 thoughts on “Questions I have about Galatians 3:28”

  1. Sam Langton says:

    “Surely, today Paul would also have added, ‘there is no straight or gay’”

    neither does Paul mention tax collectors or adulterers as they are types of sinful acts contrary to the teaching of Jesus. As would child centred society be as Jesus asked us to love all not place one portion of society above the other.

    Jury is still out on this one Phil 🙂

    1. Ian says:

      I agree with Phil here. It’s not an exhaustive list, and it’s not a list to make a point about gender at all. Paul’s making a point about salvation. It has strong echos with Acts 2 (Joel 2) about the promise of God’s presence freely available for all mankind, irrespective of their human ‘category’.
      With regards to human sexuality, and the social labelling of ‘straight or gay’, I do agree this verse applies. Tim Keller puts the point brilliantly: “Being gay won’t send you to hell any more than being straight gets you into heaven. Self-righteousness is what sends you to hell.” With regards to our relationship and access to God, there is no ‘straight or gay’ or ‘man or woman’ or ‘slave or free’. There is only ‘in Christ’ or ‘in Adam’. There is only self-righteousness, or a righteousness from God in Christ Jesus. Access to the Father is free and for all — in Christ.
      But this verse does not dismantle the diversity of order that God has invested in human relationships (and in society) as a reflection of his glory. That is just bad exegesis.

    2. Phil Whittall says:

      I’m not quite sure I follow you Sam. The point made by those advocating an egalitarian view from this passage is that it breaks down areas of injustice in society – which is precisely the point made by those advocating for greater sexual equality. So if you say this verse has this principle why does it not apply in other cases?

      Also you’ll find that Jesus didn’t talk about homosexulaity but he did tell children to honour their parents (Mt 19:19). Perhaps another comment will help me get what you’re saying

  2. Nat says:

    I too can’t embrace this verse as supporting an egalitarian view – although I understand the egalitarians point, sympathise and think we all need to take the significance of it on board. However, in recent years I’ve been pondering if this verse has more implications for unity than equality – ie: we are ONE in Christ, the barriers are broken down.

    1. Phil Whittall says:

      Hi Nat, thanks for leaving a comment. I’d be interested to hear more of your thoughts on what it means to be ‘one in Christ’, a worthwhile line of inquiry I think.

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