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 If Paul’s point in this verse is to say that all of these distinctions no longer exist or are no longer applicable then he has contradicted himself in every one of his letters.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.