Thursday, April 30, 2009

Galatians 3:26-29 and New Creation Theology

26for in Christ Jesus(A) you are all sons of God, through faith. 27For as many of you as(B) were baptized(C) into Christ have(D) put on Christ. 28(E) There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave[a] nor free,(F) there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29And(G) if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring,(H) heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:26-29, ESV).

I realize that I haven’t suggested very many books on the blog; but I wanna suggest to you, the reader, that you read the book “Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy” by General Editors Ronald W. Pierce and Rebecca Merrill Groothuis, as well as the Contributing Editor Gordon D. Fee. I’ve only read five chapters of the book, but I’ve enjoyed all five of them immensely.

One chapter, however, caught me in particular: chapter ten, called “Male and Female in the New Creation: Galatians 3:26-29,” was written by Contributing Editor Gordon D. Fee. In all the books, chapters, and articles I’ve read on Galatians 3:28, I’ve never read a chapter so spell-binding, so captivating on a text that has been so widely discussed among egalitarians and complementarians. I had such a worship experience reading this chapter that I thought I would share some of its goodness with you.

Gordon Fee gets right to the point with Galatians 3:28:

“But a key exegetical question, seldom noted, does beg to be answered: Why does Paul add the second and third pair at all in an argument that otherwise has to do only with Jew and Gentile? And especially, why the addition of the third pair—with its formulation ‘male and female,’ not ‘man and woman’ (which could mean ‘husband and wife’)—since in similar moments elsewhere (1 Cor. 12:13[cf. 7:17-24]; Col. 3:10) this pairing is not included? The pursuit of this basic exegetical question should give us some insight into the nature and scope of the ‘newness’ Paul sees as available in the new creation” (173).

In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, Paul has spent all his time tackling the subject of circumcision. Let’s look throughout Paul’s letter to find the main idea.

Circumcision is evident in chapter 2:

3But even Titus, who was with me,(E) was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. (Galatians 2:3, ESV)

Circumcision is such the talk of the church at Galatia that Titus, although a Greek, was being forced to be circumcised.

In verse 11-14, Paul opposes Peter before the Jews and Gentiles at Antioch:

11But(U) when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him(V) to his face, because he stood condemned. 12For before certain men came from James,(W) he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing(X) the circumcision party. 13And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14But when I saw that their(Y) conduct was not in step with(Z) the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas(AA) before them all, "If you, though a Jew,(AB) live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?"

Notice that the Jews are referred to as “the circumcision party” (v.12).

In Galatians 5, Paul tells the Galatians that the “yoke of slavery” or “yoke of bondage” is circumcision:

1For(A) freedom Christ has(B) set us free;(C) stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to(D) a yoke of(E) slavery.
2Look: I, Paul, say to you that(F) if you accept circumcision,(G) Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that(H) he is obligated to keep the whole law.

In verse 6, Paul tells the believers what counts as valuable before God:

6For in Christ Jesus(M) neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but(N) only faith working through love.

In Christ, in the eyes of the Lord, circumcision nor uncircumcision matter at all. Neither of those conditions have anything to do with a person’s walk with Christ, what giftedness they have, or where God will place them in the body of Christ. The only thing that God looks at with regards to the Jew and Gentile is whether or not they have faith in the work of Christ, whether or not they believe Christ died for their sins and rose from the dead.

So all throughout Galatians, we see that Paul’s use of neither “Jew nor Greek” in Galatians 3:28 is a common theme. But Paul ends on a fascinating note in Galatians 6:15-16 regarding Jews and Gentiles that will aid us in discovering Paul’s reason for mentioning “slave” and “free,” “male” and “female”:

15For(AB) neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but(AC) a new creation. 16And as for all who walk by this rule,(AD) peace and mercy be upon them, and upon(AE) the Israel of God. (Galatians 6:15-16, ESV)

Paul says that circumcision and uncircumcision do not matter in God’s scheme of things; what matters to God is that a person is a “new creation.” These words echo Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 5:

16From now on, therefore,(X) we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17Therefore, if anyone is(Y) in Christ, he is(Z) a new creation.[b](AA) The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18All this is from God,(AB) who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us(AC) the ministry of reconciliation;

Notice that Paul said of the “new creation” concept that “this is from God” (v.18). So “new creation” theology is something modern-day believers should take seriously. We should seek to understand what new creation theology was all about.

Go back to Galatians 6:15-16 above. Notice that Paul calls “new creation” a “rule.” The Greek word for “rule” used here is “kanoni,” coming from the Greek word “kanon.” The word “kanon” is the parent term to our English word “canon.”

Merriam-Webster online defines the word “canon” as:

“an accepted principle or rule; a criterion or standard of judgment.”

Therefore, when Paul calls “new creation” a rule, he means that this concept is to be used to evaluate everyone in the body of Christ, regardless of societal distinctions.

If Paul spent most of his time discussing “neither Jew nor Greek,” what do we do with the rest of the distinctions (slave vs. free, male vs. female) in Galatians 3:28? That is a subject I’ll discuss in my next post.