Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Understanding the Nature of 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, 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).

A day or so ago I discussed the first pair of distinctions present in Galatians 3:28—“neither Jew nor Greek.” I also discussed the idea of “new creation” as a canon, a rule by which to live the Christian life. If Galatians 6:16 is correct, then complementarians have a lot of work to do.

In today’s post, I’m gonna take a look at why Paul mentions the other two groups of distinctions—“slave and free,” and “male and female.”

Fee gives us his answer convincingly:

“Appealing to the believers’ common baptism (reflecting the new creation theology of Romans 6:1-11), in which they have “clothed themselves with Christ,” Abraham’s true “seed” (Gal. 3:15-18), Paul points out the logical result: since all are now ‘children of God through faith’ and all who have been baptized are thus clothed with Christ, there is therefore ‘neither Jew nor Greek...’(Gal. 3:28)…” (Discovering Biblical Equality, 176).

It is Galatians 3:28, however, that is used to simply affirm that women are just as saved as men are. But Fee states that there’s more to it than meets the eye:

“But in fact Paul says more than this, and it is the ‘more than’ that should catch our attention…for what is at stake is NOT SIMPLY THE SOTERIOLOGICAL QUESTION OF HOW PEOPLE ARE SAVED…those involved in the struggle in Galatia are already ‘SAVED’…WHAT IS AT STAKE IS ECCLESIOLOGY: WHO CONSTITUTE THE PEOPLE OF GOD…and on what grounds are they constituted?” (176)

Once the believers at Galatia became children of God, their questions no longer consisted of “what is salvation,” or “how to be saved,” or even “Can I be saved?”. The questions now consisted of, “How do we live together as children of God despite our differences?”

Go back to Paul’s words regarding his confrontation with Peter in Galatians 2. What was Peter’s issue? Did it have anything to do with teaching that the Gentiles weren’t saved? Or that they needed to be circumcised? No—instead, Peter’s problem was that “he was eating with the Gentiles” (Gal. 2:12) before certain men returned to Antioch; then, his fear drove him to retreat from them, “fearing the circumcision party.” The issue here had nothing to do with salvation—but instead, the outworkings of salvation. Peter realized that God brought salvation to the Gentiles—for he proclaimed this idea in Acts 15 before the Jerusalem Council:

7And after there had been much(T) debate, Peter stood up and said to them, "Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you,(U) that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear(V) the word of(W) the gospel and believe. 8And God,(X) who knows the heart,(Y) bore witness to them,(Z) by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, 9and(AA) he made no distinction between us and them,(AB) having cleansed their hearts(AC) by faith. 10Now, therefore, why(AD) are you putting God to the test(AE) by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples(AF) that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11But we(AG) believe that we will be(AH) saved through(AI) the grace of the Lord Jesus,(AJ) just as they will." (Acts 15:7-11, ESV)

So the problem with the Gentiles was not that they were unsaved and Peter felt sinful for eating with heathens; the problem was that the Gentiles, although saved, were considered to be SOCIALLY SEPARATE from the Jews, the circumcision party, and Peter wanted to avoid any social stigmas that came from eating with the Gentiles. Peter wanted to “disown” his Gentile brothers in practice, while “embracing” them in theory!

So, if the issue had nothing to do with soteriology, then what was Paul confronting Peter about? I’ll tell you—he was confronting Peter about ecclesiology—how to embrace fellow believers who were Gentiles. And eating with Gentiles was a sign of acceptance into the body of Christ. So Paul’s confrontation of Peter demonstrates that he was concerned with not just soteriology, but also ECCLESIOLOGY—showing God’s people how “one body in Christ” was to be displayed in the church’s everyday life.

“This is precisely why here alone in Galatians Paul adds the otherwise extraneous ‘neither slave nor free, neither male nor female.’ These pairs are NOT inherent in an argument about ‘justification by faith,’ but they are crucial to PAUL’S UNDERSTANDING OF THE PEOPLE OF GOD AS BEING NEWLY CONSTITUTED BY CHRIST AND THE SPIRIT. For these three pairs represent the primary ways people were DIVIDED/SEPARATED FROM EACH OTHER IN THE STRUCTURES OF THE PRESENT AGE THAT WAS NOW PASSING AWAY(1 Cor. 7:31; cf. 1 Cor. 2:6): ON THE BASIS OF RACE, SOCIAL STANDING, AND GENDER. But ‘in Christ Jesus’…these categories have lost their STRUCTURAL SIGNIFICANCE AND RELEVANCE…these very things…HAVE BEEN RELATIVIZED IN THE BODY OF CHRIST…” (176, 177).

How were fellow believers, Jews and Gentiles, to look as one body in Christ? The answer is simple—they were to come together and unify in activities such as eating at the table. How were slaves and freedmen to look in the body of Christ? As though they were brothers. How were men and women to look in the body of Christ? As though they were brothers and sisters. The world order was not to creep into the order of the church (which, hinting at the coming “new creation,” would become the New World Order—the prevailing rule of the “new earth” of Revelation 21).

In my next post, I will unpack New Creation Theology and examine the other two “egalitarian” passages Paul wrote (1 Cor. 12 and Colossians 3) to show Paul’s deep understanding of the implications of this New Creation Rule.

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