Baptism, gender, and Galatians 3

waterA post about gender differences in the church doesn’t really have a place in a series on baptism. Just as a talk about gender and the church doesn’t really fit a Bible lectureship about baptism and the Lord’s Supper. That’s how I see it. But not everyone shares my opinion.

The recent Pepperdine lectures were built around themes from John Mark Hick’s new book on baptism and the Lord’s Supper. I’ve read previous works by John Mark on these subjects, so I imagine this one should be excellent. Jarrod Robinson was invited to speak on Galatians 3:26-28 and titled his talk “Our Baptismal Vows.” He gave a talk that has garnered much attention, emphasizing his beliefs that there are no differences between what men and women can do in the church.

Personally I feel that Jarrod was set up to fail. Not that he didn’t give a very good talk. But his verse assignment pushed verse 28 to the forefront of the discussion. You either focus on the verse that discusses baptism or you expand your focus to include the whole paragraph. It’s either 3:26-27 or it’s 3:26-29. Otherwise, you’re turning what should be an exposition of Scripture into an agenda-driven talk. Which was what we got from Jarrod.

Not to say he didn’t do a good job. It was an effective talk. But it wasn’t Galatians 3.

(I should note that I raised these concerns in a group that John Mark Hicks is a part of. In response, he wrote a blog post on the subject. I think he’s reaching a bit to find a parallel between Joel and Galatians 3. It’s also hard to connect this reasoning with the topic under discussion in Galatians. But you can read his article and decide for yourself.)

The original hearers of the book of Galatians wouldn’t have heard the letter read and come away talking about 3:28. It’s a minor point in the letter. If anything, they would have discussed it in relation to their situation and the topic Paul was discussing… which was not about gender roles in the church (and was about whether or not believers had to be circumcised to be a part of the community of faith. Merely reading the verse with that in mind steers you in the proper direction)

Toward the end of his talk, Jarrod kept repeating the phrase: “We’re baptized believers. We’re better than this,” while discussing the limiting of the role of women in the church. An effective rhetorical device, but not one that leads to good examination of a text. I could say, “Let’s not just follow the whims of culture. We’re baptized believers. We’re better than this.” Good rhetorical device; less than helpful for improving understanding.

If you’d like to listen to Jarrod’s talk, you can see it on YouTube. Or search for it on iTunes.

I want to spend some time discussing this passage further before moving on to other passages on baptism (which is what we’ve been studying the last few weeks). I look forward to your comments, as always.

66 thoughts on “Baptism, gender, and Galatians 3

  1. Matt Dabbs


    No where does it say any ethnic group must be silent in worship. That is why we have conversations like these because it does in one place tell women to keep silent. We are all honestly striving to find out what exactly that means in its context and in light of the whole of the biblical witness. So your analogy with race substituted doesn’t really fit.


    Thanks for sharing your thoughts…same to Shanna. I appreciate the fact that some ladies weighed in on this. That is very, very important. I don’t think “gender justice” is a bullying word. It is, however, a way to frame the conversation that from the very start puts one group in a negative light before the conversation even begins. That is my only reservation with the terms is not whether or not it is accurate but whether or not it is helpful in advancing the conversation.

    In all of this I probably sound like I am ultra-conservative on this but I am not. I am studying this issue very hard for myself at this time and trying to wrestle through all of this to make sure my views honor God and His church. I am not going to go into all of my views on this at this time. My arguments so far have been with the egalitarians on this post…not so much because I disagree with their stance but because I am disagreeing with some of the ways they are getting to their conclusions. Hope that makes sense.

  2. Shanna

    I’m from the south and have known plenty of people to use scripture to justify racism. Before that, they used the Bible to justify slavery. Just because you can find a scripture to justify a traditional practice doesn’t mean you are correctly interpreting scripture.

  3. Tim Archer Post author


    That comment (the one you responded to at 4:56) was poorly thought out and should never have been posted. I deleted it and apologize for having posted it in the first place.

  4. nick gill

    Just because you can find a scripture to justify a traditional practice doesn’t mean you are correctly interpreting scripture.

    Amen to that.
    Likewise, attaching a pejorative label to an opposing position, and/or a favorable one to one’s own, does not ensure that one’s position accurately reflects the Scriptures or the will of God. I don’t know that my position does that, and I don’t know that yours does.

    The difference is that I’m not so convinced of my rightness that I feel free to call my opponents dehumanizing and oppressive.

    My wife and I can’t have children (or haven’t been able to for the fifteen years we’ve been married). That means that, in our tradition, barring a windfall from heaven that allows us to upgrade our living situation and adopt, I cannot be a deacon or an elder. My social status and infertility bar me from the power titles in my congregation. I don’t get to sit in on the decision-making processes. I’m obviously not silenced enough, though, to fit into your oppressed class. My genetics block me from that, too.

  5. Matt Dabbs

    Shanna, I am also from the south…from the buckle on the Bible belt. I know it well. I was just trying to point out that you changing gender for race doesn’t help one interpret the scriptures any more accurately in this situation. It might help someone empathize on this but empathy is not a guarantee for accuracy of interpretation.

  6. JRBProf

    Nick Gill, wherever you are, the textualism, the fundamentalism, the legalism that would keep you (and your wife) from leadership and ministry in the church because of you cannot have children is unjust. It is a cruel, capricious policy without love. It does not sound in scripture and is not like Christ. The church loses your voice and silences you for no godly reason. Your loss is the church’s loss and all of our loss. Peace and grace to you. It is an oppression, and it is along the very same spectrum. God does not will us to live with these arbitrary boundaries.

  7. JRBProf

    As for the Levites, two points, one, I don’t think Jesus was condemning the priesthood in the parable, but he had harsh criticism of what it had become. He did prophesy about destroying the Temple (and did, spiritually, if we believe that the Passion and Resurrection fulfilled the Law).

    Second, and this has been nagging me all day, do you mean to be saying that the Levitical priesthood is the model for the church? I don’t even know Jews who believe that. Whom in the church are you analogizing to the Levites? Elders? Preachers? I see none of that in the NT, and it’s a new argument in the CoC by my lights.

    Now, if all you’re really saying is that the designation of one group doesn’t really subjugate another (rather than arguing that the Levitical priesthood is a model for the church), then you ought to apologize to Shannah for rejecting her parallel to racism.

  8. Matt Dabbs


    Thank you for clarifying what you were saying. I am saying that God designating things to be a certain way doesn’t make one group more human than another. I am not saying that is what God is doing with gender roles. I am making the point that he has done it in the past without dehumanizing people in order to disarm your point that if women cannot fully participate in every way shape and form that they are somehow less than human. That just cannot be supported from a biblical perspective…otherwise, like I said the 11 tribes and Levite women were less than human in the OT and no one is willing to say that. Being a leader doesn’t make you more or less human than someone who doesn’t lead.

    I was disagreeing with Shannan because she was using something that had no biblical basis to make a point about something that is discussed in the Bible. If I see a need to apologize about my point I am more than willing to do so but I do see where I got that one wrong or misconstrued what she was saying.

  9. Matt Dabbs

    last sentence should read, “If I see a need to apologize about my point I am more than willing to do so but I do **not** see where I got that one wrong or misconstrued what she was saying.”

  10. JRBProf

    In the Bible, though, we do see a radical, consistent and constant demolition of those barriers, even the previously Biblical barriers, barriers to inclusion, to calling and even leadership.

    As Keith asks above, why would we readily accept that there is no boundary for Gentiles, Greeks, barbarians, slaves or free, then confine the liberty of women?

    The Bible is not a constitution; it never claims to be. The NT epistles do not claim in their own texts to be perpetual models for the church. The Bible is a story, a meta-collection of stories and songs, describing the way of God in the world. It sets out some strong themes, and among the strongest is the constant movement toward reconciling all things and people divided by sin. Love does not tolerate favoritism, injustice and oppression. Love erodes the boundaries between the privileged and the marginalized.

    The call (and model) of the gospel in scripture is the full inclusion and empowerment of all people according to their gifts. To deny it is indeed to make someone less human, because they are kept from being the human God prepared them to be.

  11. Cheryl Russell

    I am trying to picture sitting with my non-Christian friends and saying things like:

    “Women can’t preach because…….”


    “My friend Nick can’t be a deacon because he and his wife can’t have kids and the Bible says…….”

    I can’t picture it. It’s so far from the Grace-centered Good News that I believe in, see in Scripture, and that they are seeking or at least curious about. Please consider the impact that these exclusive beliefs have on the mission to announce Good News in a world that often seems dangerously close to losing touch with THE story. I believe mission is the mother of theology, this is why the constraints of circumcision were cast off and Gentiles were fully included despite tons of scriptural proof that demonstrated the opposite. Mission in the world and *with* Gentiles revealed the Spirit was at work and age-old beliefs and practices changed. This shows the powerful and boundary-breaking work of the Spirit and the far-reaching implications of the mission of God through Christ.

    Brother Nick Gill, when I read that someone can’t serve as a deacon because they can’t have kids, that strikes me as place where the Spirit of God has been restricted or at least where eyes and hearts are not open wide enough or are too hard. That is not Good News and is a travesty for the mission of God. We may not come to the same place on these issues, but I want to urge you to (continue to) spend time with and actively be in relationship with people who believe differently, both believers and non-believers. God is always up to something and it is very often out of the norm of what HAS always been.

    Tim, thanks for posting Jarrod’s sermon. I loved it and am encouraged to increasingly hear messages about the countless ways that Grace is re-ordering the Kingdom and transforming the world, and the church, and PBL!

  12. JTB

    Since I am the one that suggested that gender justice language reframes the discussion in terms of identity and theological anthropology, I feel like it’s time to give JRBProf a break and jump in to say a word about it myself.

    I speak as a theologian. What I see at work in our discussions on gender in our churches, and implicit in our practices of exclusion and silencing, is that while we preach that all human beings are created in the image of God, and that all Christians are baptized into Christ without distinction (including these distinctions explicitly named by Paul in the passage which occasions this blog post), our practices do not reflect this. Some people have opportunities to serve the church that others do not, because of a personal characteristic that is not logically connected to that service–moreover, even when people without that personal characteristic have the ability and desire to serve in these ways, they are denied that opportunity…not just denied it, but often told that they are sinful in having the desire to serve the church they love.

    I understand the rebuttal offered that not being in leadership does not equal not being fully human. Yes. But that is not actually the correct comparison. Not being a mechanic does not make me not fully human. Not being an opera singer does not make me not fully human. But there is nothing to arbitrarily prevent me from being either one of those things–no authority or structure or group of people who say to me, “no, because of who you are, you simply are not allowed to aspire to that.” If I am not a mechanic or an opera singer it’s because I don’t have the talent and training and desire for those things.

    I do, unfortunately, have the talent and training and occasional desire to preach, but there is an obstacle placed before me and others like me that I cannot overcome, because of who I am–and who I am in Christ Jesus is, apparently, not enough to overcome that obstacle in the eyes of some.

    (Read that sentence again to savor its full absurdity. Who I am in Christ Jesus is not enough to overcome? Are we not more than conquerors?! What powers and principalities are sufficient to negate my baptismal identity in Christ?!)

    But even this falls short of getting to the heart of the problem, because the church is supposed to be something more and other than a human institution (even as, at the same time, it remains very much a human institution). The church is supposed to be different from the world precisely at those points where the identity of Christ transforms us–those points where we “no longer regard anyone from a human point of view,” where the distinctions that used to define and separate us one from another become irrelevant, because we are clothed with Christ, joint heirs with Christ and brothers and sisters in Christ. If the church truly is the proleptic expression of God’s will in the world, a foretaste of the eschaton even in its human imperfection, a community that embodies the love of God for all, a community which is in some real the body of Christ in which each member is gifted according to the Spirit for the good of all–if we truly believe this, how can we delay the realization of our baptismal identity on the basis of a “spiritual equality” that does not disrupt practices of exclusion and silence? How is that justice? And if our practices are unjust, how (to Cheryl’s point above), how can we say to people, you will know we are Christians by our love? This is good news? This is freedom from sin?

    One thing that never fails to amuse me in its irony is the way that Paul wasn’t addressing these issues as “social justice” issues in the larger sense–he wasn’t trying to reform society at large, so he didn’t challenge the institution of slavery, for instance–but he was NOT having it in the church. Our situation today is the reverse–we’re (by and large) fine with a woman CEO out there in the secular world, but in the church, by God, there are things that she simply cannot do, because she’s a woman. I’m not sure Paul would be so amused. Actually, I’m not sure I’m really that amused. I guess it’s a laugh or cry thing.

    This is why the language of justice is important. I promise, sincerely, I don’t use it to piss y’all off. I use it because it’s the only way to point to the theological connection between identity in Christ, gender, and the disconnect between our doctrine and our practices. I learned who I am in Christ from the Churches of Christ. The church taught me rightly. But the church’s practices do not recognize the full implications of its own right teaching. And I will continue, because I love the church, to say so.

  13. Matt Dabbs

    Let me put out there the main point I have been trying to emphasize without directly saying it.

    We have to figure this one out based on the merits of scripture. We don’t base decisions on what our non-Christians friends think about the practice. We don’t base it on empathy. Those two things should drive us to study the scriptures even harder! We base it on scripture where scripture has addressed the issue and, we believe, the principle at work would still be applicable today.

    To bring in the opinions of friends, the feelings of various people and women who have been hurt is a powerful reminder that these are VERY important issues that have massive repercussions for the church and Christianity as a whole but we cannot use that as rhetoric to leverage our way right past scripture without taking into account what the Bible actually says, what that means and how much (if any) of it applies to us today.

    I wish you could hear my heart in what I just said. I am wrestling hard with this by a thorough study of scriptures and by reading countless books from both sides of the argument in order to come to my own conclusions of what I think is going on in those verses and what that means for us today. If this issue is important to you, I hope you will do the same. I would be glad to recommend some books from both perspectives as I am sure others commenting here would as well.

  14. JRBProf

    Matt, I honor and appreciate very much what you just said and the spirit in which you said it. I do not doubt your good faith and faithful attempts to read scripture with authority.

    Holding that in mind, I respectfully ask you to consider a reply to your statement, “We don’t base it on empathy.”

    As a matter of textual, Biblical hermeneutic, empathy actually does play a real, organizing role in our interpretation. Jesus says that all the law and the prophets (that is, the text, the scripture) hangs on two commands, to love God, to love our neighbors as ourselves. That’s agape, and in the Sermon on the Mount he frames it using the language of Leviticus, to do unto others as we’d have done to ourselves (the Golden Rule). Paul carries the point further when he writes that if we pray and prophesy without love, if we speak in tongues without love, then we are nothing buy clanging cymbals.

    Love, agape, the Golden Rule, is the operative, organizing rule of Biblical interpretation. This is a Biblical, scriptural claim. The reflexive nature of the Golden Rule and of other admonitions, like judge not lest ye be judged or like the measure you use will be the measure used for you, call us exactly to empathy as an interpretative matter. The Biblical text, the very words of the gospel and the epistles, call us to measure our interpretation, our beliefs, our praxis and ecclesiology against love, agape, the Golden Rule. In a word, if we are not empathetic, we have not yet interpreted the scriptures well.

    If you somehow come out on the other side of the interpretative exercise, but the conclusion does not square with love, then it is not the right conclusion. In the spirit of neighbor-love, the Golden Rule, if the conclusion is not one you would inflict on yourself, then it is not in love. The only way to reckon the effect of an interpretative conclusion is to see it in the light of the neighbors whom it would affect. The only way to reckon the righteousness of a practice, especially from a perspective of privilege, is to listen to the stories of those affected by the teaching. The Golden Rule, the second Greatest Command, require empathy as a matter of interpretation. The Bible requires it of us.

    Listen and hear the stories of people. If the Church is the body of Christ, then the stories, the wisdom, the lived experience of the people are essential to our hermeneutic; this is nothing less than the effect of the incarnation. Christ does not treat us as abstractions or theories but all of us as children of God bearing the imago dei.

  15. Cheryl Russell

    Brother Matt, we have a good examples in Scripture that lead me to different place about church practice coming down to the merits of Scripture. I assert that we base this all on the work of the Spirit, and again, we have scriptural precedence here as that is exactly what happened with the Gentile inclusion. The Spirit was working in surprising ways, and things changed. As to empathy, I think empathy is a good thing, but I think this is about *mercy* and I think mercy should drive our theology and practice. Mercy is why the woman caught in adultery was not stoned, despite Scripture. Mercy is why disciples could eat heads of grain on the Sabbath, despite Scripture. Mercy is why people were healed on the Sabbath, despite Scripture. Mercy is why Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners. Mercy is weightier than the tithing of dill, mint, and oil. So, sure, I totally understand the desire to base our decisions on Scripture, I don’t believe we should neglect that, but, the work of the Spirit and mercy are a driving force with merits of their own, merits that led to surprising outcomes in the story set out for us in Scripture.

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