6 Social Roles and Galatians 3:28

This chapter will once again discuss the key texts of the New Testament on the roles of men and women, those texts which address the subject explicitly and authoritatively. Chapter Four discussed the key teaching texts in the New Testament on marriage and family. This chapter and the next two will discuss texts that either concern both marriage and community or concern only the roles of men and women in the community.

As has been pointed out already, the New Testament pattern of men’s and women’s roles does not stand by itself, and cannot be understood in isolation. The pattern of men’s and women’s roles must be grasped in order to understand the concrete meaning of the explicit teaching on the subject. Likewise, understanding the teaching is essential for correctly understanding how to approach the pattern. The teaching illumines the foundations of the patterns, or at least allows one to see how the New Testament teachers (in this case primarily Paul) viewed these foundations. Are the patterns of men’s and women’s roles accidental, or are they rooted in God’s purposes for the human race? The teaching also allows one to perceive which parts of the New Testament patterns were explicitly enjoined upon the Christian people. Are these patterns something that rest upon commands of an apostle or the Lord, or are they simply the customs of the early Christians, customs they would have considered alterable in different circumstances? Finally, the teaching helps identify the reasons given for the pattern of men’s and women’s roles seen in the New Testament. Did these patterns develop out of unexamined tradition, as a way of adapting to local customs, in unconscious response to outside influences, or out of commitment to something central in Christian teaching?

The first text to be considered is Galatians 3:28, the passage which contains the now-famous phrase, “neither male nor female.” Nowadays many assume that Galatians 3:28 is the place in which we find the heart of the scriptural teaching about the roles of men and women. Moreover, many interpret Galatians 3:28 to mean that ideally in Christ there are no role differences between men and women, an interpretation which opposes Galatians 3:28 to all the other texts that assert such a difference. According to this line of interpretation, this tension should be resolved by giving a preference to Galatians 3:28. This view sees Galatians 3:28 as “the great breakthrough” and regards the other passages as “conservative” or “traditional” passages that express something of limited value.1 In order to make this point more strongly, it is sometimes even said that Galatians 3:28 is the locus classicus in Paul’s teaching about men’s and women’s roles. The following expresses this view vividly:

The biblical theologian does not build on isolated proof texts but first seeks the locus classicus, the major biblical statement, on a given matter. (The doctrine of creation and fall, for example, is to be found most clearly spelled out in Gn 1–3 and Rom 5:12–21, not in Cor 11:2–16 or Tm 2:13–14.) Passages which deal with an issue systematically are used to help understand incidental references elsewhere. Passages which are theological and doctrinal in content are used to interpret those where the writer is dealing with practical local cultural problems. (Except for Gal 3:28, all of the references to women in the New Testament are contained in passages with practical concerns about personal relationships or behavior in worship services.)2

While Galatians 3:28 does provide a helpful perspective on men’s and women’s roles in the New Testament, it is hardly the locus classicus on men’s and women’s roles. It does not even properly qualify as a key text, since it does not explicitly address the subject of the roles of men and women. Rather, Galatians 3:28 contains an incidental reference to men and women as part of a treatment of a subject other than men’s and women’s roles, and the single phrase is not explained at all. Moreover, to look for the overarching teaching about a matter of personal relationships and social order in a “doctrinal” teaching that only contains an incidental reference to the subject of concern is surely a distortion of principles of interpretation. For a key statement on men’s and women’s roles, one should look at the passages on personal relationships and social order that are directly concerned with the matter. The candidates for being loci classici on the roles of men and women would more likely be Corinthians 11:2–16, Ephesians 5:22–31, Timothy 2:8–15, and Peter 3:1–7. However, Galatians 3:28 must be treated in some detail because of its prominent place in contemporary discussions of the roles of men and women. Moreover, the passage does provide an important background to the other key texts. It relates the basic teaching of Genesis 1–3 and Ephesians 5 to the overall New Testament statement on the roles of men and women. It also gives an opportunity to consider the New Testament (especially Pauline) approach to social roles.

The Thrust of Galatians 3:28

Galatians 3:28 occurs in a section of Galatians in which Paul discusses the purpose of the law in God’s plan. He explains that the law is not against the promises of God (Gal 3:21). His approach is similar to Jesus’ interpretation of the divorce law in the Pentateuch as being given “for your hardness of heart” (Mt 19:8). Paul acknowledges that the Mosaic law was from God and had an important role to play, but he asserts that the law must be seen and interpreted in terms of its place in God’s plan and in terms of God’s reason for giving it. To explain his view of the law more clearly, he says,

Now before faith came, we were confined under the law kept under restraint until faith should be revealed. So that the law was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian; 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 neither male nor 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 3:23–29)

The specific issue provoking Paul’s explanation of the place of the law was circumcision. Representatives of “the circumcision party” (Gal 2:12) had come to the community Paul founded in Galatia and had begun to teach that the Gentile converts should be circumcised. Paul viewed this as an attack on the gospel he preached. “Justification” comes through faith in Christ, not through circumcision or the observance of the Mosaic law.

Beginning with verse 23, Paul compares the law to a “custodian,” a pedagogue or tutor.3 A wealthy father in Greco-Roman society would often entrust his young son to a pedagogue during his time of education. The child would be under the authority of the pedagogue (commonly a slave) who would guard him and keep him out of trouble. When the child reached the age of maturity, he was no longer under the pedagogue, but would simply be under his father’s authority, ready to act as a mature son. As was discussed in Chapter Three, in contemporary Western society, the relationship of father-son is primarily understood in terms of the relationship of a father with a young boy. When the boy grows up, he is still technically the son of his father, but he has in large part left the family and the father-son relationship. By contrast, for the Jew and Greek in the ancient world, the son par excellence was not the young boy, but the mature son, the one who could act on behalf of his father and shoulder his father’s responsibility. Becoming a full son, then, meant entering into a position of maturity. Therefore, Paul is saying that the law had been our pedagogue in our spiritual childhood, but now that faith in Christ Jesus has come, the human race (Christians) has reached maturity in its relationship with God. To return to the provisions of the law for the sake of improving one’s relationship with God (justification) is like returning to immaturity.

A New Testament writer like Paul could use the term “law” in several different ways. At different times, the term could refer simply to the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament; the Mosaic law, the provisions given through Moses on Sinai and embodied primarily in the Pentateuch; or the Mosaic law embodied not only in the Pentateuch but also in the oral tradition; or the teaching that comes from God—a standard to be observed by men. The various meanings of “law” are often important for sorting out questions of interpretation. While Paul can speak of the law being superseded, as in this passage, he can also speak of the law being fulfilled (Gal 5:14) and he can speak of Christian teaching as “the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2). Sorting out the various aspects of Paul’s view of law goes beyond the scope of this book. For the purpose of understanding Galatians 3, however, it helps to keep in mind that the central issue was circumcision and with circumcision the necessity of obeying all the provisions of the Mosaic law (Gal 5:3). The Mosaic law, especially in its ritual requirements, provides the primary issue at this point.

For Paul, being “in Christ” provides all that the observance of the Mosaic law provides in regard to a relationship with God and more. Paul’s concern is with justification, the basic relationship with God, when he says in Galatians 3:26–28:

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, slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ.

Faith in Christ puts people into the best possible relationship with God—the relationship of sonship.

The specific point of contention that Paul is dealing with in the letter is baptism and its relationship to circumcision. A person enters into Christ through baptism. A person became an Israelite through circumcision. The “circumcision party” in Galatia wanted the Gentile Christians to complete the process and become full proselytes (as full Israelites as a Gentile could become) by being circumcised. Paul opposes this. He asserts that baptism provides all that circumcision provides as far as relationship with God. In fact, he goes on to say that baptized Gentiles, as long as they are in Christ, are Abraham’s offspring and heirs—that is, they receive all that a circumcised Israelite does in regard to their status with God.

In this context, the phrase “neither male nor female” takes on a special significance, because women could not be circumcised. Circumcision was a sign of being in the covenant of Israel and was only open to the male. Women’s participation in the covenant of Israel came through the men—circumcised male Israelites.4 According to Paul, Christians obtain the status of mature sonship through their baptism and initiation into Christ, and are sons and daughters of God (a good translation of “sons” into modern English) through faith in Christ.* The woman, then, comes into the covenant relation of God’s people through her own faith and baptism, and is fully part of the covenant relationship with God.

Thus, Galatians 3:23–29 centers on being “in Christ” and the status obtained through being in Christ. Paul’s key statement about the matter—comparing the condition under the law and the condition reached through faith in Christ—is contained in the sentence “in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith” or, as it may also be translated, “you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” He then proceeds to speak of how this status is given: Through baptism you are one with Christ, you have entered into a union with Christ, you have entered into Christ. What Christ is (the mature son of God), you have now become in virtue of belonging to his body. You (all Christians, regardless of other considerations) are one person (NEB) in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3:23–29 brings us back to the teaching about the new Adam that was discussed in Chapters One and Four. Indeed, some of the phrases in Galatians probably refer to passages in Genesis concerning the first Adam. The notion of becoming one (one person) in Christ is likely a reference to Genesis 2:24 (“therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh”) and is used in a way similar to the way that verse is used in Ephesians 5:31–32. Moreover, the phrase “male and female” is the exact phrase used by the Septuagint to translate Genesis 1:27 (“male and female he created them”). It is probably a reference to the creation of the original human (Adam).5 The phrase “putting on Christ” then would be equivalent to putting on (or entering into) the new Adam. This interpretation is supported by Colossians 3:9–11 which contains a close parallel to verse 28 and which discusses the restoration of the image of God.

Therefore, Galatians 3:26–29 is a passage whose theme is the making of the new humanity, the new man, in Christ. On the basis of the way God dealt with Abraham (promise and faith, Gal 3:18), faith in Christ brings us back beyond the Mosaic law to Adam, the first human. What matters is a new creation (Gal 6:15), a new beginning of the human race in the new Adam. Faith in Christ, then, makes possible the restoration of the original relationship with God intended in the creation of the human race—the relationship between God and his son Humanity (Human, Adam).

New Testament Parallels

The concern here is specifically with the phrase “neither male nor female” which occurs in the series “neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female.” This series is paralleled in two other passages in Paul’s letters, and both passages can aid us in understanding the meaning of Galatians 3:26–29. The first of these parallel passages is Colossians 3:9–11. After exhorting the Colossians to put away unrighteous practices like fornication and covetousness, Paul says:

Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old man with its practices and have put on the new man, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free man, but Christ is all, and in all. (Col 3:9–11)

Here Paul describes what Jesus accomplishes in Christians as renewal after the image of the creator, restoration of the image of God in man. He explicitly refers to the change as putting off the old person (man, nature) and putting on the new person (man, nature). A Christian is a new person/​man in the one new person/​man who is Christ. The new creation in Christ restores the image of God in man. This restored image enables Christians to act in a new way, a way that reflects the God whose son or daughter they were created to be. All Christians share in this restoration of the image of God; there is no difference between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free. “Barbarian, Scythian” is an unusual formula, adding some Hellenistic concerns to the normal set of terms Paul uses; still, the meaning remains the same. For all Christians—Greek and Jew, Greek and non-Greek, slave and free (or, as in Gal 3:28, male or female)—the image of God and the sonship of God is restored. The human race is returned to the relationship it had with God when it was first created. The point of Colossians 3:11 and of Galatians 3:28 is the same.

The combination of Galatians 3:23–29 and Colossians 3:9–11 forms one of the strongest arguments for the view that woman as well as man is created in the image of God. The teaching of the passage is parallel. As discussed in Chapter One, being in the image of God is an aspect of being a son of God. Galatians 3:26–28 states that both men and women are sons of God (or better: sons and daughters). Colossians 3:9–11 confirms that all Christians are supposed to live in Christian righteousness and are being renewed in knowledge according to the image of their creator. Although “neither male nor female” is not used in Colossians 3:11, the relationship between the two passages as well as the application of Colossians 3:9–11 to men and women alike indicates strongly that both men and women were originally created in the image of God, and are restored in the image of God as they enter into Christ.

The second parallel to Galatians 3:28 occurs in Corinthians 12. The context is a teaching on spiritual gifts. Paul explains that although different Christians are gifted in different ways, they can still function together as one community because the same Spirit bestows these gifts. Just as the human body is united though it has many members, so a Christian community can be united, even though the individual Christians function in different ways. In the course of this comparison, Paul says,

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all made to drink of one Spirit. (Cor 12:12–13)

The same phrasing occurs here as in Colossians 3:11 and Galatians 3:28, in this case again without “male and female.” However, the point is the same: All Christians enjoy the same status by virtue of being joined to Christ. This passage is likewise a passage about being one in Christ, the new Man/​Human. The theme makes the passage even more directly parallel to Ephesians 5:22–33 (and Eph 2:13–16), a key text on the roles of men and women, where the concern is also with belonging to the body of Christ and with being the one new person in Christ. This union with Christ and with other Christians is accomplished through the gift of the Spirit, the one Spirit who dwells in all Christians. Here Paul makes a similar point to that which he made in Galatians 3:23–29:

But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba, Father!” So through God you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then an heir. (Gal 4:4–7)

Through the one Spirit, Christians are united in the one body of Christ so that they can become one new person—the new human race. This is the Spirit that was poured out upon man and woman alike on the day of Pentecost, the Spirit that the prophet Joel foretold would be given to sons and daughters, menservants and maidservants alike. This applies to all Christians, Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female—to all who are baptized. Hence all can become sons and all can become heirs. In this context, one can see that the meaning of “joint-heirs in Christ” in Peter 3:7 (see the discussion in Chapter Four) parallels Galatians 3:28 and Corinthians 12:13. The point of all four passages (Gal 3:28, Cor 12:13, Col 3:11, and Pt 3:7) is the same: The results of the redemption in Christ are conferred upon all Christians, men and women alike, through their faith and baptism.

The coming of Christ and faith in him produced a new relationship with God, the one intended by God in his original creation of the human race. In consequence, provisions of the Mosaic law no longer applied, in particular those provisions which pertained to the status of human beings and their relationship with God.

The pairs Jew-Greek, slave-free, male-female are especially significant in light of this change—God’s restoration of his original plan for creation in his son Jesus Christ. Paul singles them out to explain the significance of the change made by the coming of Jesus Christ. The three pairs are associated in other texts of the period. An important text is Corinthians 7:12–24, where Paul discusses the conditions under which a believing woman can separate from her husband and urges that she remain married if at all possible.* He continues with a discussion of others who might want to leave “the state in which they were called” (v. 24), Jew and Gentile, slave and free. Since these two categories are out of context in this section of Corinthians, a section on sex and marriage, the fact that Paul mentions them along with man and woman suggests that the three pairs are strongly linked in Paul’s mind.

Women in Mosaic Law

Perhaps Paul linked these three pairs because they were associated in Jewish tradition. Another place where they are linked is the contemporary Jewish morning prayer, a prayer which goes back to the first century and perhaps to Paul’s time:

Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe,

who hast not made me a Gentile [heathen].

Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe,

who hast not made me a slave.

Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe,

who hast not made me a woman.6

The contemporary tendency is to interpret this prayer as an instance of misogyny. However, such an interpretation misses the point of the prayer. The meaning of the prayer as it was understood in the first century, especially insofar as it bears upon spiritual status according to the law of Moses (the context provided by Gal 3:23–29), will give us a clearer understanding of “neither male nor female” as intended by Paul.

A comment in the Tosefta from a rabbi who lived in the second century AD sheds light on the above prayer:

Rabbi Jehuda said, One must speak three praises every day:

Blessed be God that he has not made me a Gentile!

Blessed be God that he has not made me a woman!

Blessed be God that he has not made me a boor!

Blessed be God that he had not made me a Gentile: “because all Gentiles are nothing before him” (Jer 40:17).

Blessed be God that he has not made me a woman: because woman is not obligated to fulfill the commandments.

Blessed be God that he has not made me a boor: because a boor is not ashamed to sin.*

The prayer in this comment is a variant of the contemporary morning prayer. Instead of the “slave” it mentions “the boor,” one of the am ha-aretz, or someone who did not follow the Rabbinic or Pharisaic rules for following the law. This comment provides an early understanding of the prayer, especially its mention of woman. The comment indicates that the blessing was not concerned so much with a dislike or disrespect for women, but with the fact that women were not required to keep the commandments. The issue for all three pairs, in fact, was a question of religious status in the law of Moses. As Strack and Billerbeck put it, “This thought (Gal 3:28) simply could not be realized in the synagogue, because it was precisely those natural differences which significantly determined the relationship of the individual to the law: the born Jew had a different relationship to the law than the proselyte, the man a different relationship than the woman, the free man a different relationship than the slave.”7 The law, especially as interpreted by the rabbis, made distinctions in all three categories. Only the free male Israelite was a “first-class citizen,” a fully responsible member of the worshiping community.8

The categories of Jew-Gentile and slave-free have a similar meaning in view of the provisions of the law. The Gentiles were outside the provisions of the law and had no status as part of God’s people. In the words of Rabbi Jehuda, they were “as nothing before him.” However, in Galatians 3:28 the category “Gentiles” does not concern all Gentiles, most of whom did not believe in the one true God and did not observe the basic commandments. Rather it refers to converted Gentiles. When Gentiles converted to Judaism, they became proselytes, either full proselytes (righteous proselytes) or partial proselytes (“sojourner-proselytes,” the “God-fearers” that we read about in the New Testament). Even the full proselytes, although they had become Israelites, did not have the status of a born Israelite. The issue in Galatians 3:28, however, more concerned the God-fearers, the proselytes who were not circumcised and did not obligate themselves to fulfill all the normal commandments.9 In the eyes of most Jews, Paul’s Gentile converts would have been God-fearers and hence not fully part of the people of Israel and not fully under the covenant. Yet Paul was saying that Gentile converts to Christianity were not only fully God’s people and part of the New Covenant, but in some way they were better off than the full Israelites who did not have faith in Christ, because Christians were part of the new Adam, the new creation. The main point of Galatians 3:28, and probably of all the passages that begin “neither Jew nor Greek,” is that distinctions made between Jews and Gentiles by the law no longer hold once the Gentiles become Christians. Hence Paul insisted that those distinctions cannot be upheld among Christians, nor should the Gentile Christians be instructed to be circumcised so that they can become full proselytes and therefore fully part of the people of God and fully righteous.

The law made a similar distinction between slaves and freemen, a distinction which the gospel similarly erased. Slaves were not obligated to fulfill all provisions of the law; they might not have been allowed to by the limitations imposed by their service. In the time of Paul, Jews were not allowed to keep slaves who did not become proselytes, but even the full-blooded Israelite slaves were not obligated to keep all the law. They were not fully responsible Israelites. Their slavery brought them into a religious category of lesser participation in God’s people.

Women had a status similar to proselytes and slaves in the Judaism of Paul’s day. The rabbis taught that the woman was obligated to observe most of the prohibitions in the law, and she had the same rights as the man in all criminal cases. On the other hand, she was not obligated to keep all the “religious” commandments, that is, the ones that had to do with the worship of God. The main principle used by the rabbis was that the woman was not obligated to keep those commandments that had to be performed at a specific time. In effect, this ruling meant that she was not obligated to keep the commandments concerning public ritual. The free adult man, however, was obligated to keep all the commandments. The woman was not forbidden to keep them, but she did not have the full obligation laid upon her.* Rabbi Jehuda’s comment was, “Blessed be God that he has not made me a woman because woman is not obligated to fulfill the commandments.” The prayer of the man was a prayer of thanksgiving for being entitled and enjoined to shoulder the full set of responsibilities before the Lord. (One can readily see that men might have needed some encouragement to do this with a willing spirit, cf. Mt 23:4.) In Jewish law, the woman was not a fully responsible member of God’s people.

Moreover, at the time of Jesus, women did not have the same access to the presence of God that men did. Not only were they unable to perform priestly or Levitical functions in the ritual and were kept from the holiest parts of the temple, but they were also forbidden access to the Court of the Israelites. They were only allowed as far as the Court of Women. They were therefore unable to see the sacrificial worship and could take part in the major events of worship only distantly. They were closer to God’s throne than the Gentiles, but they were further away than the male Israelites. It would not be inaccurate to describe them as of lesser holiness than the men.

The Mosaic law and the teaching of the rabbis portray the Israelite nation as a people with, in religious terms, first-class and second-class members. The free adult male Israelites were the first-class members. Women, proselytes, slaves, and others participated less fully and were religiously dependent on the free male Israelites. The free adult males were obligated to worship the Lord and represent the people before the Lord. In today’s society, where religious devotion is a matter of personal preference and in which women are often more devout than men, it can be difficult to understand the practices of a people where the worship of God was a social obligation, enjoined by law, and carried out primarily by the most responsible members of the community. In this sense, the free circumcised male was the only full Israelite. It is against this background that we have to understand “neither male nor female.” Paul is saying that the distinctions which the law made no longer apply among Christians because the law no longer holds in the same way. Those provisions of the law were for the age of spiritual immaturity, for the time under the pedagogue. Through faith in Christ, Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female are all one people in Christ, all fully part of the worship of God, all alike in their relationship with him.

Galatians 3:28 and Social Differences

The question remains as to how the message of Galatians 3:28 relates to differences of social role within the Christian community. Does Galatians 3:28 abolish all differences and push the Christian people inexorably toward eliminating any role differences between men and women? Does it only affect men’s and women’s relationship to God, not their relationship to one another and their daily lives? Or does it indicate a change in their relationship with one another, but not one that abolishes all role differences? Each of these three approaches will be considered.

The first approach is the view that Galatians 3:28 abolishes all differences among the Christian people. As mentioned earlier, many contemporary interpreters approach Galatians 3:28 as the great breakthrough that should abolish all role differences between men and women. According to this view, Galatians 3:28 is incompatible with all other New Testament passages which enjoin role differences between men and women.10 This contradiction is explained in various ways. One explanation states that Paul contradicted himself, probably because his rabbinic training did not allow him to draw the full implications of his new insight in Christ. Another explanation suggests that Paul enjoined different roles for men and women as a temporary measure to deal with a cultural situation, a measure that has no lasting Christian significance. The question of whether Paul enjoined role differences from exclusively cultural considerations will be treated later. The more fundamental issue is whether Paul’s two sets of statements are simply incompatible with one another.

This incompatibility has been commonly asserted only in recent years. It was extremely rare before the nineteenth century, and until about twenty years ago, was still a view held only by a small minority. The view that Paul’s teaching is contradictory has been pressed into service by many who wish to argue for a change in the traditional Christian views of the roles of men and women in the church. However, unless we assume that Paul is normally incoherent, it would make more sense to begin with the view that Paul had some way of putting together passages like Galatians 3:28 and Corinthians 11:2–16, which were probably written within a year or two of one another.11 Likewise he undoubtedly had a way of putting together the comment “there cannot be slave, freeman” in Colossians 3:11 with his teaching on the proper relationship between masters and slaves in Colossians 3:22–4:1. An intelligent man like Paul would notice a contradiction or significant incompatibility in so short an interval as eleven verses in the same letter. Paul’s teaching is not always easy to understand, but a simple contradiction in his thinking here is very unlikely.

The real answer to the view which asserts a significant incompatibility between Galatians 3:28 and other Pauline passages on men and women lies in the interpretation given above of the real thrust of Galatians 3:28. The passage is not directed against those differences of social role for men and women which other scripture passages indicate are based upon the way God created the human race. It is not, in other words, directed against what some commentators would call “the order of creation.”12 Rather, Galatians 3:28 erases distinctions in religious status related to the keeping of the law, distinctions introduced after the creation during the period of immaturity or hardness of heart. Nor does Galatians 3:28 deal with categories that concern “any privileged class over against an unprivileged class,” especially not if “privileged” here means social privilege.13 Galatians 3:28 does not deal with questions of rich and poor, of upper class and lower class. Other scripture passages address these issues, but Galatians 3:28 concerns religiously privileged/​obligated groups. Therefore, we are not confronting a scripture verse which concerns the equality of all people in Christ, except in the sense that all people in Christ are free from the differentiations of status introduced into the worship of God by the Mosaic law, especially as interpreted by the teachers of the law in Paul’s time. Galatians 3:28 asserts that the status of being sons of God, being fully part of the new creation, is available to all who are in Christ. No difference is introduced by being Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female. There is no need to even raise the question of a serious incompatibility in Paul’s thought when there is an acceptable, coherent, likely interpretation of the passage which frees us from the necessity of having to posit such a contradiction. Reading Galatians 3:28 the way Paul intended it to be understood will not lead one to find any contradiction with the rest of his writings. The evidence does not support the view that Galatians 3:28 abolishes all role differences among the Christian people.

The second approach to the question of the relationship of Galatians 3:28 to social differences is more traditional. According to this view, Galatians 3:28 applies only to people’s relationship with God (their standing coram Deo), and does not affect daily life or their relationship with other Christians.14 What applies in the “religious” sphere does not apply in the social sphere. In some ways this view is correct. It is similar to the interpretation of Galatians 3:28 advanced here. It rightly puts the emphasis on the relationship with God restored in Christ and correctly sees the novelty of Galatians 3:28 as primarily lying in the creation of spiritual partnership between man and woman, Jew and Greek, slave and free.

However, the view that Galatians 3:28 only applied to people’s standing before God neglects the communal or social consequences of religious distinctions. In Paul’s time, religious differences were the basis of social structure. The differences in status in the Mosaic law were expressed in differences in behavior and social practice. Likewise the absence of these religious differences in status in the Christian community found behavioral expressions. Women had as full a responsibility for the worship of God as men and likewise became the worship partners of their husbands in family prayer. Moreover, women were baptized like men, becoming direct members of the covenant people, and they were acknowledged to have equally received the Spirit and his charismata. The teaching of Galatians 3:28 had even more evident effects on the relationships between Jewish Christians who desired to keep the law and Gentile Christians who were uncircumcised. Difficulties arose in many practices of daily life. For example, could Jewish and Gentile Christians eat together at community meals during the eucharistic celebrations? Such difficulties had to be resolved according to the principle of oneness in Christ.

One can also take a somewhat wider perspective on the change that the coming of Christ brought into the spiritual-social situation of the people of God, a perspective that is not explicitly referred to in Galatians 3:28 but that follows from the teaching of Galatians 3:28. The Jewish people in the time of Jesus and Paul were structured along the lines of kinship and racial purity. Someone became an Israelite primarily by birth. One was born into God’s people. Proselytes were received into the people, but even the full proselyte could not achieve the status of the full Israelite. The Jewish people kept genealogies of their ancestors so that they could show their racial purity, and they observed strict marriage rules to maintain purity of blood. Those whose ancestry was not purely Jewish were disadvantaged civilly and religiously. Moreover, kinship was a basis for religious differentiation. Not only did a Jew inherit his religious status from the kinship line he was born into (priest, Levite, full Israelite, etc.), but a common belief also existed that an individual inherited the merits of his ancestors. The family (clan) was very important in the social and religious structure of the Jewish people.

However, the coming of Christ replaced the principle of natural birth with the principle of spiritual birth. Ancestry and racial purity played no role in either spiritual or social status among Christians. Undoubtedly, blood relatives tended to care for each other among the Christians as among the Jews, but the ancestral tribe, clan, and extended family network did not play a prominent part in the social structure of early Christian community. The first Christians entered into relationships of brotherhood with people from far different racial backgrounds. Many early Christians had to sever ties with their own families in order to follow Christ. One of the major differences between Christianity and Judaism, then, lies in the change in the role of the ancestral family.15

There is another difficulty with the view that Galatians 3:28 only applies to one’s standing with God. This view ignores that aspect of New Testament teaching which links love of God to love of neighbor and which tests love of God by love of neighbor. Paul stresses this connection when he summarizes the fulfillment of the law in terms of love of neighbor (Rom 13:8–10; Gal 5:14) and when he tests people’s spirituality by their success in loving one another (Cor 3:1–3; Gal 5:16–26). Colossians 3:11 provides a helpful restatement of Galatians 3:28 at this point. While discussing how Christians should put away unloving behavior and put on loving behavior, Paul says, “Here there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free man, but Christ is all and in all.” Paul insists that there are no differences among Christians at the exact point in the passage where he urges brotherly love. In short, Galatians 3:28 has an important social consequence: Natural relationships (Jew and Greek, slave and free, man and woman) are transformed through the presence of genuine brotherly love.

Slavery provides a good example of how Paul envisions the basic Christian truth of oneness in Christ transforming a relationship. Corinthians 7:12–24 is a particularly relevant passage because it lays down a basic principle concerning social roles and conditions and deals with the same three categories as Galatians 3:28. After urging Christian wives to remain with their pagan husbands if at all possible, Paul enunciates the basic principle and then applies it to the other categories:

Only, let every one lead the life which the Lord has assigned to him, and in which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches. Was any one at the time of his call circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of his circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God. Every one should remain in the state in which he was called. Were you a slave when called? Never mind. But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity. For he who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a slave of Christ. You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. So, brethren, in whatever state each was called there let him remain with God. (Cor 7:17–24)

Paul does not say that all the states he mentions are equally good (slave or free, Jew or Gentile). In fact, he seems to advise slaves to gain their freedom if possible. However, his basic advice goes against changing the state Christians find themselves in at the point of conversion. Christians can live out their call and follow God’s commandments in whatever state they find themselves. Social roles—conditions and categories such as male and female, slave and free, Jew and Gentile are not incompatible with living the basic Christian truths (and thereby with Gal 3:28). Paul goes even further. In Corinthians 7 he sees as mistaken any understanding of the Christian message that sees a change in social condition as essential. Christian freedom (being freedmen of Christ) puts one in a position to live as a son of God regardless of these conditions.16

A second passage concerning slavery, the third section of the household code in Ephesians, teaches slaves how to approach their state in life. This passage does not deal directly with slaves whose masters are non-Christians (as does Pt 2:18–25) but with those whose masters are Christians. These slaves receive the following instructions:

Slaves, be obedient to those who are your earthly masters, with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as to Christ; not in the way of eye-service, as men-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that whatever good any one does, he will receive the same again from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free. Masters, do the same to them, and forbear threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him. (Eph 6:5–9)

A similar passage in Timothy provides a helpful development of some of these ideas:

Let all who are under the yoke of slavery regard their masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be defamed. Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful on the ground that they are brethren; rather they must serve all the better since those who benefit by their service are believers and beloved. (Tm 6:1–2)

The same idea is possibly behind Paul’s advice to Philemon to receive back his runaway slave now converted to Christianity “no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother” (Phlm 1:16).17

These passages illustrate the transformation of a basic social relationship which is a consequence of the new life in Christ. The new life in Christ has as a consequence a relationship of brotherly love between master and slave. Each should do good to the other. The essential Christian transformation consists in master and slave relating together as brothers who love one another.

Brotherly love (philadelphia) and service love (agapē) should not necessarily be seen as great Christian innovations. Some have claimed that agapē is a distinctively Christian teaching, that the New Testament teaching about agapē in relationships is a revolutionary new Christian element. Others have recently objected to this view, correctly pointing out that agapē is a term the Septuagint uses for love when it translates a significant Hebrew word.18 There are important new elements in the New Testament teaching about love (agapē), especially its interpretation of love as service and its seeing the perfect model of love in the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. However, the New Testament teaching on both service love (agapē) and brotherly love (philadelphia) does not differ radically from the Old Testament teaching on these subjects. The New Testament does not teach a different religion than that found in the Old Testament, but rather fulfills and completes the Old Testament religion.

The New Testament teaching on community life can well be seen as a return to the ideal of brotherly love taught by the code in Deuteronomy. The Christian teaching on love among the brethren is a restoration of the relationship that was supposed to be present all along among God’s people and which was distorted by both lukewarmness and Pharisaic teaching. The New Testament teaching is “not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but the one we have had from the beginning, that we love one another” (Jn 1:5). “Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment which you had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new commandment, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is shining” (Jn 2:7–8). The old commandment becomes a new one, not because it is different in content, but because it has become real in him, the new Adam, who calls Jews and Gentiles alike into his body and who makes them one in him, a people who truly love one another (Jn 13:34–35).

Therefore, the correct approach to interpreting Galatians 3:28 is the third approach—the view that Galatians 3:28 changes Christian relationships, but does not abolish all role differences.19 Galatians 3:28 points toward a spiritual partnership in mutual love. It does not point to a leveling of all differences of social condition and social role. This interpretation leaves open the question whether any social role differences should exist among Christians. That question must be answered in other New Testament passages. The third interpretation simply holds that Galatians 3:28 presents no obstacles to the view that there should be some social role differences among Christians.

The true Christian freedom, then, is the freedom to be sons and daughters of God, to live the life of the Spirit in mutual love and service regardless of earthly circumstances. It is a freedom which is the same for all Christians—Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female. Galatians 3:28 and related passages teach that men and women are one in Christ, joint-heirs to the grace of eternal life, both fully part of the body of Christ, both sons and daughters of God, both with full access to the Father and fully responsible before him. Both are therefore called to build up one another and the body of Christ in love and to worship the Father in Spirit and in truth.


The core of the question that Galatians 3:28 poses for modern people can now be considered. For sociological reasons that will be considered more fully in Chapters Eighteen and Nineteen, many contemporary Christians would like to hold on to the New Testament teaching about a spiritual partnership in mutual love in Christian relationships while eliminating all role differences and personal subordination. Some argue on the basis of Galatians 3:28 as follows: If we have eliminated the difference between Jew and Gentile and between slave and free in the Christian community, should we not also eliminate the difference between man and woman? If our elimination of Jew-Gentile and free-slave differences was based on the truth expressed in Galatians 3:28, should we not also eliminate man-woman differences because of the same truth?

This argument should be examined from two perspectives. The first way is to discuss the larger issue of how Christians today should approach questions of social structure; this is more than an exegetical question, and therefore cannot be treated in this chapter. It will be treated in Chapter Twenty-One. The second perspective involves simply asking what Paul is teaching in Galatians 3:28. When he says “neither male nor female” does he intend the eventual dissolution of role differences? Would he at least greet such a dissolution with approval if he found a social situation in which it were possible? The answer to both questions is probably “no,” according to Paul’s teachings on the roles of men and women which we have considered so far (especially those in Chapter Four), and the teaching contained in the passages which will be considered in the next chapters. The issue, then, remains the one asked earlier in this chapter. Is Paul’s teaching in Galatians 3:28 consistent with his other teaching on men-women relationships? Or does Galatians 3:28 introduce a new principle at odds with the other teaching, a principle which sooner or later must have significant effects? The exegesis of this passage given in the last section shows that it is consistent with other Pauline teaching. The question needs, however, to be raised again but on a different level. Does the abolition of slavery and other social changes provide precedent for an approach to the roles of men and women? Would Paul himself welcome the abolition of role differences between men and women based on his statement in Galatians 3:28?

Although the precedent of the abolition of slavery is the chief concern here, Paul’s attitude toward Jew-Gentile differences is also relevant. Some hold that Paul’s teaching on the abolition of the law in Christ led him to do away completely with the distinction between Jews and Gentiles in the Christian community.20 In some obvious ways, this is true. In Paul’s teaching, being a Jew and following the Mosaic law did not make one more fully a part of God’s people, nor did it lead to justification. Moreover, he insists that Jews and Gentiles live together in spiritual communion in daily life (Rom 14:1–15; Gal 2:11–14). Yet in the light of modern biblical scholarship it seems clearer that the early Jewish Christians continued to follow the Mosaic law because they were Jews (Acts 21:17–26).21 Moreover, it seems likely that Paul did not discourage this. In fact, Paul probably upheld the principle that if someone was circumcised, he should obey the Pentateuchal law (Gal 5:3; Cor 7:18).* Paul did not abolish all differences between Jews and Gentiles; he upheld some differences based on his understanding of circumcision, of the place of Israel, and of how the Pentateuchal laws should be interpreted (which was not always according to the interpretation of the Mishnaic rabbis).

A further question arises. Would Paul have been in favor of continuing the difference between Jews and Gentiles, that is, would he have been in favor of continuing Jewish Christianity? The answer is not clear, but a plausible case can be made on the basis of Acts 21 (see v. 21) for the view that Paul would have favored the survival of Jewish Christianity. At least it can be said that Paul would probably have taught that those who were definitely Jews should be faithful (as he understood it) to the Pentateuchal laws. For Paul, Galatians 3:28 would not have meant immediate abolition of all differences between Jews and Gentiles; possibly it would not have meant long-range abolition of Jewish Christianity. Galatians 3:28 would primarily mean that, in Christ, there is a spiritual partnership in brotherly love between circumcised Jews and uncircumcised Gentiles.

The exegetical question about slavery is even clearer. Paul did not draw the conclusion from Galatians 3:28 that slavery should be abolished.22 Few if any scholars today would hold that Paul intended Galatians 3:28 as an abolitionist text or that Paul was an abolitionist. The comparison with slavery, then, is an even weaker argument than the comparison with Jew-Gentile differences for the view that Galatians 3:28 as intended by Paul leads to an abolition of men-women differences.

However, most Christians today would hold that the kind of Christian truth expressed in Galatians 3:28 is an argument for the abolition of slavery. Some hold that a relationship of spiritual partnership and brotherhood is simply incompatible with one person owning another. Such a view conflicts with Paul’s opinion. However, another view deserves careful scrutiny. This is the view that a relationship of Christian brotherhood (as taught in Gal 3:28 and elsewhere) would lead Christians to want to avoid the relationship of slavery among themselves and to work for its abolition in society whenever social conditions permitted. This position is a strong one, and it raises another analogy. If abolition of slavery is the ideal, might Paul have similarly greeted the abolition of role differences between men and women as an ideal way to respond to his statement in Galatians 3:28?

However, the initial plausibility of this view cannot be sustained. First, the comparison among the Jew-Greek, slave-free, and male-female relationships does not apply in all respects. In Galatians 3:28 Paul compares these relationships according to one common quality: All three involve status distinctions in one’s relationship with God according to the Mosaic law. In other respects, the three relationships are very different, and Paul’s approach to them differs. Specifically, there is an important difference between the way Paul approaches the man-woman relationship and the slave-freeman relationship.* For Paul, the man-woman relationship and the subordination it involves is based on the order of creation; it therefore expresses God’s purpose in creating the human race. It also expresses God’s purpose for life after the redemption in Jesus which is a restoration of the human race according to God’s original intention. Paul makes his views clear when he bases his teaching on men and women on the Genesis account of God’s purpose in creating man. However, Paul views slavery in a different way. He instructs slaves to be obedient to their masters, but he never bases his teaching by appealing to the divine institution of slavery.23 Rather, slaves should obey their masters, not because the institution of slavery is part of God’s purpose, but because slaves are now above the human institution of slavery; they are freed men in Jesus and slaves of Jesus (Cor 7:22; cf. Pt 2:16). Slaves should be submissive because of who they are in Christ, not because of anything about the master-slave relationship that is of God or is inherently Christian. Peter teaches something similar. It grounds teaching about how slaves are to relate to oppressive non-Christian masters in Jesus’ conduct when he was put to death unjustly (Pt 2:18–25). Moreover, Paul probably recommends that slaves obtain their freedom if possible (Cor 7:21).* In short, there is nothing of Christian significance in being a slave.

Finally, the questionable view that Galatians 3:28 advocates the abolition of slavery does not logically lead to the view that it advocates the abolition of men’s and women’s role differences. If one insists on the comparison, the logical inference is that it argues for abolishing all male-female differences and with them all sexual relations. Paul says in Galatians 3:28 that in Christ “there is no Jew nor Greek, there is no slave nor free, there is no ‘male and female.’” This retranslation of the passage brings out the lack of parallelism among the three pairs in the original Greek. In addition, “male and female” are not the normal words for “man and woman.” Rather, the phrase seems to be a direct quote from the Septuagint translation of Genesis 1:27 recalling the original unity of Man/​Mankind/​Humanity and that the initial unity is being restored in Christ. Moreover, “male” and “female” refer to human beings precisely in their sexual differentiation, not to their social roles as the equivalent words “man” and “woman” more readily would in Greek and Hebrew. Thus, if the consequence of Galatians 3:28 is the abolition of slavery as an institution, and the abolition of slavery as an institution is the model for how to follow Galatians 3:28, then the abolition of male-female (sexual) differences is the likely conclusion to the comparison.24

There are, in fact, two ways to approach the abolition of male-female differences so that it parallels the abolition of slavery. The most straightforward approach is the one we have already mentioned: Male-female differences should be abolished totally. However, it is impossible to approach the two identically, since slavery is a human institution and male-female differences are biological features of the human race. Here Paul’s basic teaching in the household codes is applicable. As long as a certain relationship exists, it needs an order. New Testament teaching provides no argument for preserving the institution of slavery. However, it does teach a certain way of behaving in the master-slave relationship, given that this relationship exists. The New Testament likewise teaches a way of behaving in the man-woman relationship, given that there are men and women. Again, slavery cannot serve as a model for men’s and women’s roles if simple abolition is the point, since the parallel to the abolition of slavery would be abolition of males and females as different types of people, and such abolition is impossible—currently.

The second way to parallel male-female relationships with the abolition of slavery would be to argue that celibacy is a way of returning to the original state of the human race before male and female. According to this approach, Galatians 3:28 points to the value of celibacy as the highest form of the Christian life. The parallel to the abolition of slavery would be the abolition of marriage, sexual relationships, and as much other relating based on the male-female difference as is possible in this present age. This view seems to have been held by some early Fathers and this approach was followed in the early ascetic movement, which eliminated both slavery and marriage in an attempt to restore Christian community.* Such an argument could appeal both to the fact that sexual relationship is not mentioned before the Fall in Genesis and to the texts in the New Testament that teach that there will be neither marriage nor giving in marriage in the resurrection (Lk 20:34–36). The actual social-role consequences of celibacy will be considered in Chapter Twenty-Three. Since this approach does not figure very prominently in the current discussion of the roles of men and women, it is enough here to indicate that as long as men and women marry and live together in social groupings, Galatians 3:28 does not point toward an abolition of role differences.

The Value of Role Differences  ▷  The New Testament View

The last two sections of this chapter have dealt with a family of current opinions which hold that Galatians 3:28 should lead ideally to the abolition of role differences for men and women. Most such arguments proceed on the presumption that role differences are clearly either harmful or archaic. These opinions have been dealt with on their own terms, and consequently it may seem that role differences were of questionable value and in need of justification. However, this is not the perspective of the New Testament. The New Testament sorts out which types of relationships should exist and how they should be approached, but New Testament teaching shows no traces of an overall hostility toward stable committed relationships and social roles in structuring these relationships. The discussion in Chapter Four on Ephesians 5 and the household codes and the discussion in Chapter Five of subordination in the Christian community illustrate this point. The New Testament contains substantial teaching on relationships and order and roles in those relationships. It approaches social roles with a positive spirit.

The question in the last two sections is whether a “contradiction” or “tension” exists between the statement “there is no male and female” and the idea that there should be some kind of subordination of woman to man. As should be clear by now, Paul sees no contradiction or tension. As one example, Corinthians 11:2–16 and Galatians 3:28 are not at odds with one another as Paul intends them to be understood. However, the contemporary mind can only put them together with difficulty. This difficulty becomes evident in the following passage:

The equal dignity and rights of all human beings as persons is of the essence of the Christian message. In the writings of Paul himself there are anticipations of a development toward realization of the full implications of this equality. We have seen that after the harshly androcentric text in Corinthians he attempts to compensate somewhat:

Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God. (Cor 11:11–12)

Moreover, the dichotomy of fixed classes as dominant-subservient is transcended:

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 neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal 3:27–28)

As one theologian has pointed out:

This does not mean that the kingdom of heaven has to do with non-sexed beings. Paul is enumerating the relationships of domination: these are radically denounced by the Gospel, in the sense that man no more has the right to impose his will to power upon woman than does a class or a race upon another class or another race.

It is not surprising that Paul did not see the full implications of this transcendence. There is an unresolved tension between the personalist Christian message and the restrictions and compromises imposed by the historical situation. It would be naive to think that Paul foresaw social evolution. For him, transcendence would come soon enough—in the next life. The inconsistency and ambivalence of his words concerning women could only be recognized at a later time, as a result of historical processes. Those who have benefitted from the insights of a later age have the task of distinguishing elements which are sociological in origin from the life-fostering, personalist elements which pertain essentially to the Christian message.25

Madeleine Boucher provides an excellent comment on this kind of difficulty:

Then, the ideas of equality before God and inferiority in the social order are in harmony in the NT. To be precise, the tension did not exist in first-century thought, and it is not present in the texts themselves. The tension arises from modern man’s inability to hold these two ideas together.26

A major difference in outlook exists between Paul’s contemporaries and modern Christians. For the Jews and the Christians of the first century, the central point of interest was what we would call the spiritual or religious question. Their great concern was with their status before God, and for men and women to have the same status before God was indeed a point of great significance. In fact, social life of this time was structured precisely according to differences of status and relationship with God. For modern people, including many modern Christians, the central point of issue is what is often termed “the social issue,” that is, the issue of how contemporary society as a whole is going to be structured. The religious question is often of little interest except insofar as it affects an approach to the social question. Moreover, it is increasingly a postulate of many social movements in the modern world that true equality of worth can only be accomplished through instituting an identity of roles. This view is put clearly enough in the following quote:

A new look at male-female roles, division of labor, and spheres of activity distresses many. They prefer to think in terms of “complementarity”—the old “separate but equal” idea. Many Christians thus speak of a wife’s being equal to her husband in personhood, but subordinate in function. However, this is just playing word games and is a contradiction in terms. Equality and subordination are contradictions. But evidently some writers and speakers are motivated by good intentions, hoping to soften a bit of the harshness and injustice of traditional teachings on wifely subjection. Therefore, “equality” is elevated to the spiritual realm, and on the practical functional level of running the home, subordination becomes the rule “for the sake of order.” But regardless of terminology used, this pattern cannot indicate an egalitarian marriage. True egalitarianism must be characterized by what sociologists call “role-interchangeability.” Both spouses can fulfill the roles of breadwinner, housekeeper, encourager, career-achiever, child-trainer, and so on. Specialization according to sex disappears.27

The origin of the modern approach to social change, equality, and social roles will be considered more fully in Chapters Eighteen and Nineteen. Here we need only observe the difference in mentality between Paul and the early Christians, and many contemporary interpreters of Galatians 3:28. The difficulty which many contemporary writers experience so acutely, and which causes them to understand Galatians 3:28 as a great breakthrough leading to an abolition of role differences between men and women, is not a difficulty with which Paul would have quickly sympathized. It is not a difficulty deriving in any way from scripture or Christian tradition. It is rather a difficulty that comes from the modern world.

The exegetical question is clear. Galatians 3:28 and the New Testament writings in general in no way point toward an elimination of role differences or a sameness in social function as the proper consequence of the Christian message. In fact, as the discussion of Ephesians 5 indicates, the New Testament points in the opposite direction—toward the idea that oneness in Christ calls for subordination to bring about real and practical unity. Paul contradicts neither himself nor Jesus. Rather, he upholds a distinctly different view of social and communal life than that advocated by the dominant social movements of our time. Paul’s view allows him to see men and women as equals in dignity, as spiritual partners committed to loving one another and caring for one another’s welfare as their own, as equally part of the body of Christ and its mission and at the same time as entrusted by God with different roles to play in the Christian family and Christian people.

144*The masculine plural is used in Greek when the reference is all males and when it is both males and females. Hence, huioi could be translated “sons” or “sons and daughters,” and the translation must be determined from the context. The metaphor (the primary metaphor is to the first-born son) would point to “sons,” but “neither male nor female” would point to “sons and daughters.” The Greek allows Paul to attribute a traditionally masculine status to a group (the Christians) and thereby to women as well, without calling attention to the gender differences.

148*Corinthians 7:12–24 contains a number of difficulties for interpretation. For our purposes it is enough to note the use of the three categories. Moreover, the concern here seems to be questions about status with God in relationship to the law. There is nothing stated about difficulties in relationships or social disadvantages. Paul does not discuss the divorce question as if the issue were the husband and wife not getting along well, nor the slavery question as if his concern were with slaves being mistreated or restricted socially. The concern in the marriage section is whether the union and the offspring of the union will be holy. This concern would well have been raised by Jewish questions of mixed marriage, legal purity, and belonging to the “holy seed” of Israel, as some commentators like Strack and Billerbeck have suggested. Even if they were raised by those holding a negative view on marriage, as other commentators have suggested, the point would hold true. Holiness of the marriage and of offspring is the issue. The concern in the slavery section seems to be with religious status and whether slavery is an impediment to being free in Christ. Paul’s reply asserts that our status in Christ could equally well be described as being a freedman of Christ or a slave of Christ, so that the status of slave is not an intrinsic impediment, although (depending on the interpretation) there is a preference for not being a slave. Finally, the question of circumcision and uncircumcision is clearly one of status according to the law. The implication that Jews might be wanting to leave their circumcised state could simply be a rhetorical point or it could mean that ideas of Christian freedom or Paul’s views of the relative value of circumcision had led some Jews to want to change status. In short, the concern in Corinthians 7:12–24 seems to a be similar to that in Gal 3:23–29, that is, with questions of status with God.

149*The blessings in the Jewish prayer book show a different focus than Rabbi Jehuda’s three praises. Both are concerned with religious status according to the law, but Rabbi Jehuda’s concerns are more Rabbinic/​Pharisaic. Some view the current modification as due to Rabbi Akiba, who came from a family of the am ha-aretz (literally “countrymen,” but used by the Pharisees to refer to Jews unlearned in the torah, i.e., in the law as interpreted by the Pharisees). Since a “countryman” can gain knowledge through the study of the torah, he is not in a different position by status but only by ignorance. If Corinthians 7:12–24 and Gal 3:28 are truly parallels to the contemporary Jewish morning prayer, then we may have evidence that the contemporary prayer is earlier than both Akiba and Jehuda, and Akiba would have been merely returning to an earlier form or an alternate form of a prayer current in Judaism in the time of Jesus and Paul. Since the second century seems to have been a period of particular hostility between rabbis and the am ha-aretz (see Oppenheimer, The Am Ha-Aretz [Leiden: Brill, 1977]), the version of the Tosefta is likely either a second-century preference or even possibly a second-century version, despite the tradition about Akiba’s role in the history of the prayer.

This consideration allows us to ask the question about why only Jew-Greek and slave-free appear in Corinthians 12:13 and Colossians 3:11. There are some different possibilities. (1) The simplest view holds that the problems in the Galatian church were different than those in the Corinthian church. The latter church needed to know more about order, especially men-women order, not about freedom, whereas it was precisely the possibility of returning to a Judaic approach to status that was the issue in Galatians. Stendahl, for instance, would give this reason (The Bible and the Role of Women, 35). (2) Two formulas were actually current, the formula in the Jewish prayer and a Christian formula, possibly a baptismal formula. The Christian formula would only have contained the two pairs Jew-Greek, slave-free, because these would have been the normal places where the application of Christian teaching would cause a major change. The three-category formula would only have been used when the issue was status in reference to the teaching of the law and was employed as a conscious counter to the Jewish prayer. This would be borne out by the fact that in both Corinthians 7 and Gal 3:23, Jew-Gentile (circumcised-uncircumcised) and slave-free are in closer relationship to one another. (3) “Neither male nor female” is not actually part of the series in the same sense as the first two pairs (see the comments on pp. 162162). It does not refer to men and women differences at all as something overcome in Christ, but rather refers simply or primarily to the original creation in Adam.

The second reason is the one most in harmony with the exegesis of Gal 3:28 given in this chapter. The first reason is supportive to the second and not necessarily contradictory. The third has some plausibility and ought to be more seriously considered by those who see Gal 3:28 as the great breakthrough.

151*There is always a question of whether these legal interpretations go back to the time of Paul. (See discussion in Chapter Ten, footnote on pp. 254255.) Legal (halachic) interpretations would, on the whole, be more conservative than customs, especially when they were interpretations of the application of Old Testament legislation.

160*Some of the difficulties in this position can be handled more easily if we remember that there was not a comprehensive approach to the interpretation of the law that was normative for all Jews before 70 AD. The early Christians, like the Qumran sectaries, had their own interpretation of what it was to follow the law that was based on Jesus’ teaching and often differed from Pharisaic or rabbinic tradition. This area is, to be sure, one of the more debated areas in modern scripture scholarship, but the diversity in first-century Judaism is being increasingly established.

161*The passages from Paul which ground men-women teaching in Genesis are: Gal 3:28; Eph 5:22–33; Tm 2:8–15; Cor 11:2–16 and possibly Cor 14:33–36. The New Testament passages that give teaching on slavery are: Pt 2:18–15; Eph 6:5–9; Col 3:22–4:1; Tm 6:1–2; Ti 2:9–10; Cor 7:21–24. (See also Phlm 1:15–16.)

162*This passage has given rise to lively debate among Christian exegetes for centuries. Among the many who have read “remain a slave” in v. 21 are John Chrysostom, Theodoret of Cyrus, Ambrosiaster (among the Fathers), and Crouch, Stendahl, Conzelmann, and Kugelman (JBC), as well as the New American Bible and La Bible de Jérusalem. Among those reading “take your freedom” have been Luther, Calvin, Erasmus, J. B. Lightfoot, Moffatt, W. D. Davies, C. H. Dodd, G. B. Caird, as well as the RSV and the English Jerusalem Bible. Both viewpoints on the passage have their strong points, and leave significant questions unresolved. The view that Paul recommends that slaves take their freedom seems to be slightly more likely. However, the position here taken does not depend on this passage alone, but on a broader perspective of Paul’s life and teaching.

163*Among the many Fathers who write on this theme are Origen, commentary on Corinthians, fragment in JTS 10, no. 37 (October 1908): 41–42; Gregory of Nyssa (Sources Chrétiennes 119:502); Basilius of Ancyra (PG 30:676); Jerome (PL 26:531ff.); and Gregory of Nazianzus (PG 35:805). It is much easier to argue for the subordination of woman to man before the Fall than it is to argue for a sexual relationship between man and woman before the Fall. All the arguments against the existence of subordination in Genesis 2 are even more convincing for making the case that sexual relationship was absent in Genesis 2. This did not fail to impress some of the Fathers, who did not draw from that fact the view that marriage was evil, but the view that marriage and sex could ideally be transcended in Christ. Their case is much stronger than the attempt of some recent exegetes like Tavard and Jewett to exalt the sexual relationship and eliminate role differences as something that came after the Fall and that can be transcended in Christ. No one can arrive at the combination of exalting the sexual relationship and eliminating role differences on the basis of scripture. The whole position can only be explained as an attempt to find a basis in scripture for some favorite opinions of our contemporary society.