Galations 3:28, Egalitarianism and Ben Irwin

Posted: August 9, 2012 in Complementarianism, Culture

I thought, on my night off I would write a quick response to a blog entry made in response to the article that I did in regards to complementarianism (this has ended up turning out to be a lot longer than anticipated). Unfortunately, I was fairly restricted in word count in my single article due to having to respond to two posts, while trying to cover as many of the bases as possible, but thankfully this venue allows for much more to be written. I thought I would grab the final little comment on Ben’s response for the sake of time.

This will be the first of a number of blog posts covering the examples that were brought up in a discussion with Ben Irwin in regards to complementarianism and egalitarianism. His last line was:

“In the end, I think the values of mutuality and equality make better sense of the New Testament, especially its radical claim “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.””

Recently online, I have seen many egalitarians (not just Ben, hence starting on this text first) quoting some variation of Galatians 3:28 as a proof text to the idea that God does not have specific roles in mind for men and women. Frankly, I have been disappointed by this, because I think that the text couldn’t be any clearer as to what it is saying – it has nothing whatsoever to do with supporting the issue of female eldership and teaching in the church. It just isn’t in view. At all.

Lets look at the text, in context:
Gal 3:15-29

15  Brethren, I speak in terms of human relations: even though it is only a man’s covenant, yet when it has been ratified, no one sets it aside or adds conditions to it. 16 Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “ And to your seed,” that is, Christ. 17 What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise. 18 For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise.

19  Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made. 20 Now a mediator is not for one party only; whereas God is only one. 21 Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be! For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousnesswould indeed have been based on law. 22 But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

23 But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. 24 Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. 26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 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. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.
Now, the obvious first question to ask whenever doing exegesis of a text is – what is the context?

From the above we can see that Paul is addressing the Galatians in regards to the promises given to Abraham, the intent of the giving of the Law to lead us to Christ and that the means by which we should receive those promises is by faith in Him.

Now, straight away we can see something interesting that is lacking from the text. There isn’t very much about roles of men and women in church in the above text is there? Nothing mentioned about submission, about who can teach, what the qualifications of eldership are, is there? In fact, there isn’t a single point in the whole chapter that makes reference to those issues.

To attempt to make a case for this verse actually speaking to those particular issues is, in consideration of the context then, is simply to engage in eisegesis.

What does the verse mean then?

Taking into consideration the context’s main themes, the unity refers to their common inclusion into the benefits of the inheritance and the promises that were mentioned by faith in Christ- no one is to be restricted from that ! Neither being Jew nor Greek  slave nor free man, male nor female could make any restriction or commendation in regards to inheriting the promises that are in Christ, because they are attainable through faith in Christ, not race or social status or gender. They are united in their common salvation, the sole condition being accepting the gospel, repenting of sin and having faith in Christ! The context is salvation – not the removal of differing roles of men and women in church!

Further, if the case is really being made that unity is all that there is here, and there is a lack of any distinction as a result, that would put the person in question at odds with the apostle Paul’s teaching in Romans 12:4-5:

“For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”

Here the apostle clearly states that there is unity in the body, and yet he still notes that people have differing roles and functions and giftings, so clearly, even if Galatians 3:28 was making the case that being ‘all in one in Christ’ made for no more distinctions to be made in regards to people at all, it would still be possible to make the case that there are still distinctions there, because the unity that Paul talks about is a complex unity – a unity where distinctions and individuality exists, yet they all share in the one universal body of Christ. This is of course what Paul talked about in 1 Corinthians 12, where in v13 he sets up with an almost parallel statement to Gal 3:28, and then goes on to state that even though you are all united, there are still differences and distinctions in regards to roles and functions when talking about the parts of the body :

1 cor 12:12-30

12 For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. 13For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

14For the body is not one member, but many. 15If the foot says, “Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. 16And if the ear says, “Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. 17If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. 19If they were all one member, where would the body be? 20But now there are many members, but one body. 21And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; 23and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, 24whereas our more presentable members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, 25so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.

27Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it. 28And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues. 29All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? 30All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they?
Even looking at it from even a very obvious and basic level, its clear that just because a person is in Christ, they do not suddenly become genderless!

If a case were to be made, a person would need to demonstrate clearly that the extent of the unity went as far as to blur the lines in regards to the particular roles of men and women in ministry in Gal 3:28- except there is no exegetical imperative to do so from the supporting and surrounding context, and I think I have shown sufficiently that the unity mentioned by Paul in Gal 3:28 is not some kind of a melting pot where all distinctives are lost, as Paul, consistent with himself, mentions other areas where unity in Christ and His body is mentioned, but distinctions are present.

Egalitarians will have to make a case for their theology from another text im afraid.

The second part of my response here : Ephesians 5:21-23, Egalitarianism and Ben Irwin and the third part here: 1 Peter 3, Egalitarianism and Ben Irwin

  1. […] Aaron is continuing the conversation with a series of posts on his blog, starting here. Share this:MoreLike this:LikeOne blogger likes this. Tags:, complementarianism, […]

  2. Sam Hailes says:

    Yes, very good!

    This is one of the most commonly mis-interpreted verse in the Bible. Sometimes when I’m talking to people about God’s continuing purposes for Israel and the Jewish people (Rom11) they quote this verse as if to say God doesn’t see people as having a nationality or race (Jew or Greek)!

    But as you say – it’s only talking about a route to salvation and the inclusiveness and openness of God’s offer to mankind. Any other interpretation would cause major problems! There can’t literally be no more male or female (as in no difference between the two), or no more Jew and Greek. God doesn’t say ‘you don’t have a nationality’ or ‘you don’t have a gender’! Not at all!

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