Women in Ministry: Galatians 3:28

This is part nine on the dissertation ‘Women in Ministry.’
For part eight, click here: Women in Ministry: 1 Corinthians 14:33-35

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Galatians: Intro and Background:
It is difficult to discern where Galatians fits into NT chronology. Galatians describes two visits to Jerusalem, whereas Acts describes three.  More than that, there is debate as to whether the letter was written to the North or South of Asia minor. Regardless of the all the Chronologic and geographical problems, the message is clear: the Judaizers have bewitched the church and they must return to the freedom of the true Gospel.

John Pohill’s thematic approach places Galatians three under the second section, “Appeal for the Galatians to return to Freedom,”[1] or under what Hanz Deiter Betz’ rhetorical approach calls probato,[2] or proofs supporting the argument. R. Alan Cole calls it an argument from theology.[3]

As Paul’s argument builds in chapter three, he says that the law was a type of guardian-Jailer for us until the advent of Christ; but now that we have faith, we exist under a different system. Thus far, Paul had been speaking in the first person plural, describing the plight of all Jews, but in verse twenty-six, his language changes from inclusive to universal with the use of pantes.

In Christ, he argues, there is an identity change. We move from being prisoners of the guardian-jailer (the law) to being sons of God (by faith). This identity change, however, is not just for Jews, but for everyone who has been baptized into, and has put on, Christ. It is in this context that he makes our statement of study.

Galatians: Translation of 3:28

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.[4]

Galatians: Exegesis 3:28
The debate surrounding Galatians 3:28 is one of standing or function. The egalitarians will argue that Paul is describing equality of function, while the complementarians will argue that he describing equality of standing. An advanced breakdown of the language is not necessary here, because there is simply no way to determine from Paul’s statement whether he meant equality of standing or function. Certainly there are observable nuances, such as Paul’s triple negation, followed by an explanatory affirmation, or whether or not one accepts Herman Ridderbos’ interpretation that ouvk e;ni can mean “not the fact only, but the possibility.” [5] Even if the statement is taken as Ernest DeWitt Burton (quoted by Payne) suggests, that it is distributive rather than inclusive, such a stance does not affect the debate.[6]  These are important to normal exegesis, but are irrelevant to the debate because Paul’s statement is vague and was not intended to be a statement on whether or not a female could hold the position of elder or overseer. The typical exegetical acrobatics do not apply.

Philip Payne argues for the equality of function by stating that Paul could not have meant an equality of standing because no one believed that Greeks, slaves, and women could not be saved. In fact he says, “no one held the view that Greeks, slave, and women could not be saved.”[7] This is simply not true. Why the surprise when God granted salvation to the gentiles (Acts 11:18)? Why did the Pharisees at the Jerusalem council demanded that new believers be circumcised (Acts 15:3)? There were likely many Christians, especially earlier in the first century, that believed a gentile could not be saved. In this context Galatians 3:28 makes perfect sense.

Furthermore, Payne’s argument is an oversimplification. It is as if he believes there were no other issues other than salvation. One can believe that gentiles can be saved, but still treat them with contempt. This was true in early America where a person may have reluctantly admitted that African slaves could be saved, but still treated them as chattel. We find this kind of racism at play in the previous chapter of Galatians, where the Jews and Gentiles were not even eating with each other (Gal 2:12). People did indeed believe that Gentiles could not be saved, and many undoubtedly treated Gentiles, slaves, and women with disdain. Given the context, an argument for equality of value, dignity, and salvation from the Lord is consistent.

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Moreover, by examining sociology, biology, and the rest of scripture, it will be clear that Paul must be describing an equality of standing, not function. From a sociological perspective, a great many roles are determined by gender and demographics. Some parents might be uncomfortable dropping their kids off at a church’s nursery in the care of a male. Is that unfair? Some might say so, but there is much unspoken discrimination that we overlook. It is generally frowned upon for a male to be a labor and delivery nurse because they frequently check dilation. Role distinctions based upon gender are common and intuitive, but there is an unrealistic and utopian idea in the post-modern West that there should be no gender distinctions. In fact, Bellville’s view of this is shocking:

I believe it is plausible to think that the Corinthians took “there is neither male nor female in Christ” (Gal.3:28) to mean they should do away with gender distinctions.[8]

If Paul truly meant that there ought to be no distinction in role, then Christians must not look down upon single males leading youth groups, male nursery workers, males taking care of children in breast-feeding rooms, or married male and female staff spending time alone together. In fact, the church ought to follow California’s lead in its creation of AB 1266, also known as the California Bathroom Bill. This went into law January of 2014. It states:

A pupil shall be permitted to participate in sex-segregated school programs, activities, and facilities, including athletic teams and competitions, consistent with his or her gender identity, irrespective of the gender listed on the pupil’s records[9]

In other words, any gender can use any bathroom or play on any gender related team, so long as they identify with that gender.

Tongue-in-cheeks arguments aside, biology plays a major role in function. Men are on average larger, faster, stronger, and more aggressive than women. On overage they have the physical capacity for hard labor that women to do not. Men also do not have the biological capacity to care for a child the same way a woman can. Formula cannot replace breast milk. The evidence for the health benefits of breastfeeding babies is overwhelming. Men simply cannot fulfill this function.

I am not arguing that biology disqualifies a woman from the pastorate. By no means! I am simply saying that the argument that Galatians 3:28 negates any equality of function cannot be true. Galatians 3:28 can create equality of function between slave or free or Jew or Gentile, because they are the same biologically and socially.

Finally, if there is no difference in function, why the constant demographic commands for each gender? Why not command everyone to dress modestly (1 Tim 2:9) instead of just the women? Why are men told to love their wives, but women are told to respect their husbands (Eph 5:33)? Why are widowers excluded from the official support list (1 Tim 5:9)? The reasons are obvious and intuitive: men and women are different and need care, correction, and boundaries in different ways.

Galatians: Conclusions from 3:28
Galatians 3:28 is far too vague to have any implications on the totality of the debate. If there was sufficient evidence that prostatis meant president (Romans 16:2), or that Junia was a female who held the office of Apostle (Rom. 16:7) or that only deceived Ephesians women could not teach or have authority over a man (1 Tim 2:12), then we could read these truth into our interpretation of Galatians 3:28. Blomberg says it this way, “to conclude from this one programmatic statement that Paul could not have consistently imagined any role differentiation between the genders in church or home…simply violates the standards of logic.”[10] All that can be argued is that, based upon sociology, biology, and the perpetual demographic commands in scripture, Paul could not have meant equality of function.

Women in Ministry: Intro
Women in Ministry: Genesis 3:16
Women in Ministry: 1 Timothy 3:1-13
Women in Ministry: 1 Timothy 2:11-15
Women in Ministry: Romans 16:1-2
Women in Ministry: Romans 16:7
Women in Ministry: 1 Corinthians 11:2-16
Women in Ministry: 1 Corinthians 14:33-35
Women in Ministry: Galatians 3:28
Women in Ministry: Current practice & belief of the SBC
Women in Ministry: Personal practice & belief
Women in Ministry: Epilogue

Footnotes:
[1] John B. Pohill, Paul & His Letters (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1999), 144.
[2] Ibid., 144.
[3] R. Allen Cole, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: Galatians (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 2000), 61.
[4] Galatians 3:28 (CSB).
[5] Payne, Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul’s Letters, 86.
[6] Ibid, 95.
[7] Ibid., 79.
[8] James R. Beck, ed., Two Views on Women in Ministry, 200.
[9] Nathan C. Morales, “California Bathroom Bill,” accessed December 12th, 2013, http://gospelgeeks.net/gender-california-bathroom-bill/.
[10] James R. Beck, ed., Two Views on Women in Ministry, 154.

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  1. […] This is part ten on the dissertation ‘Women in Ministry.’ For part nine, click here: Women in Ministry: Galatians 3:28 […]

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