In the comment section yesterday, Mike Cope, who directs the Pepperdine Lectures, responded to my post from Monday. He offered both clarifications and criticism. Both deserve to be heard. You can read Mike’s comments here and here.
Mike took exception to my calling Jarrod Robinson’s lecture “an agenda-driven talk.” Mike said that he chose both title and text, basing his decisions on scholarly writings, particularly those of Richard Hays. The choice was made for scholarly reasons, not in an effort to promote a certain agenda.
Mike also felt that I was saying that “if someone knew a little more about Galatians, they’d know how irrelevant it is to discussions of gender roles.” That’s not something I said nor intended, but it may have come across that way. Mike refuted that by referring to quite a number of scholars who feel that Galatians 3:28 does in fact reflect Paul’s egalitarian view of gender. Mike quoted both from Hays and from Gordon Fee in his comments.
I will note that Fee’s writings have generated quite a bit of pushback. I’m not as familiar with Hays’ writings. Either way, I recognize that many scholars hold the view Mike described. My study has led me to a different conclusion, one that I feel is biblical. As people say in Spanish, I don’t consider myself to be “the owner of the truth,” but I do feel that my beliefs line up with the larger themes we see in Scripture.
So let’s keep looking at this passage. Actually, I’d like to start by looking at two others, alongside Galatians 3:28:
“Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.” (Colossians 3:11)
“For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” (1 Corinthians 12:13)
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)
One thing that I learned from Dr. Tom Olbricht is the importance of noting what is repeated in Scripture. Things that are repeated often represent concepts that were consistently taught among God’s people. They are less likely to be localized teachings and more likely to be important points with a broader application. Such is the case with the unity of God’s people, a unity that overcomes divisions among people.
When dealing with similar passages, it’s also important to note differences. One thing that jumps as we compare these three statements from Paul is the inclusion of male/female in Galatians 3:28. That bears investigation. Why does Paul include that particular grouping in the letter to the Galatians and not the other two letters?
One possibility is that the Galatian church had a particular problem with gender relations. That’s a possibility, but there’s really nothing else in the letter that would support that.
A better understanding, in my view, is one proposed by Troy W. Martin in his article “The Covenant of Circumcision (Genesis 17:9-14) and the Situational Antitheses in Galatians 3:28” from the Journal of Biblical Literature, Spring 2003. Martin notes the parallels between what the Law said about circumcision and the three pairs mentioned by Paul in Galatians 3:28. Briefly, the idea is that male Jews were to be circumcised, along with any slaves that they owned. Jews. Slaves. Males. The same three groups that Paul addresses, when talking to a church that was wrestling with the issue of circumcision.
Why does Paul mention women in Galatians 3:28? Circumcision. Those who sought to impose circumcision on the Galatians were imposing it on the males, not the females. They were saying that one group came to Jesus one way, the other a different way.
Paul says no. We are all baptized into Christ. In that same way, we all become children of God, descendants of Abraham, and heirs of the promise. There is no difference. We are all one.
Note: that interpretation alone doesn’t answer the question of whether or not this verse has a broader application or whether it is meant to redefine all roles within the church. But it does make sense as to why women were mentioned in Galatians 3:28 and not in the other unity formulas written by Paul.
But we need to note a couple of things:
- This is not a main part of Paul’s argument
- This does not seem to have been something that Paul emphasized in other places; other unity formulas don’t include male/female
- It’s dangerous to take a minor point in a single text and make it the basis for interpreting other texts. Many egalitarians accuse others of doing that with texts from 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy, then do the same thing with Galatians 3:28