The Role of Women – Galatians 3:27-29

In the last post on the role of women, I moved into looking at the reality of the new creation and the importance of such in the discussion on women’s roles. The first passage I looked at was 2 Corinthians 5:16-17. It’s important to read both verses, not just the well-known vs17.

16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

Because the new creation has already come in Christ and His resurrection, there is no room for determining our roles in the kingdom of God due to gender, or any other issue at that matter like age, economic status, social status, nationality, race, etc. The roles and ministries of God’s people are not to be determined by fleshly (or physical) standards. Paul makes it clear that is how those of the old covenant measured things. But we are part of a new covenant kingdom and a new creation in which our roles and ministries are determined through our union with Christ and our calling in Christ.

But now I want to move on looking at another well-known passage in regards to gender roles:

27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 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. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:27-29)

Along with 2 Corinthians 5:16-17, this passage comes to remind us that there are to be no dividers for God’s people. Vs28 mentions those ‘flesh’ dividers – Jew/Greek, slave/free, male/female. But, as I pointed out in 2 Corinthians 5:16-17, these outward observations were part of the old order but we are now part of the new.

Some will be quick to object to this passage as proof that both genders have equal footing in regards to ministry roles. In their objection, they point out that this passage in Galatians 3 is a soteriological text, meaning it speaks about our equal standing in regards to salvation in Christ. Yet, nowhere does the text say anything in regards to the roles of men and women, especially in the church.

But, to suggest that this passage only has a soteriological context and affects nothing else fails to see the wider reaching reality of Christ’s salvation in our lives. Gordon Fee makes this very important statement about the passage in Galatians:

It has often been argued against this point of view [specifically the old distinctions between male and female being broken down in Christ] that [Galatians 3:26-29] is a soteriological text, having to do with people from all of these categories coming to Christ on the equal ground of faith. So it is, but to divorce soteriology from ecclesiology in Paul is theologically disastrous. Salvation in Paul’s view has not to do with God’s populating heaven with countless individuals, but with creating a people for his name through Christ and the Spirit…Thus, the present text is ecclesiological by the very fact that it is soteriological. (Listening to the Spirit in the Text, p59, footnote 5)

I believe those words are quite telling about the wider importance of the passage in Galatians 3:27-29. Though those of the old covenant were always making distinguishing factors between Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free, Paul rises up to remind us that we are all one in Christ. In Him, we have been restored to God’s design and as originally designed in the beginning in Genesis. Again, this is the powerful truth of the new creation.

Consider these words on the passage from Galatians:

The word “one” evokes God’s oneness and God’s design for oneness among his created beings. What is Paul claiming here? He is – and notice this carefully – contending that in Christ we return to Eden’s mutuality. He is contending that life in Christ creates unity, equality, and oneness. (Scot McKnight, The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible, p166)

As I have noted before, it’s not that these ‘fleshly’ distinctions cease to exist in this present age. There are still differentiations between men and women, as well as physical Jews and Gentiles, and free people and slaves. We all fit into these three categories in one way or another (and other categories). But it is the significance and divisiveness of these categories that have been destroyed. We still maintain our differences. But these differences are irrelevant in regards to our callings in Christ.

Here I believe we find a good summary statement after considering the two texts of 2 Corinthians 5:16-17 and Galatians 3:27-29:

The new creation, therefore, must be our starting point regarding gender issues, because this is theologically where Paul lived. Everything else he says comes out of this worldview of what has happened in the coming of Christ in the Spirit. (Fee, Listening to the Spirit in the Text, p61)

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39 thoughts on “The Role of Women – Galatians 3:27-29

  1. Some will be quick to object to this passage as proof that both genders have equal footing in regards to ministry roles. In their objection, they point out that this passage in Galatians 3 is a soteriological text, meaning it speaks about our equal standing in regards to salvation in Christ. Yet, nowhere does the text say anything in regards to the roles of men and women, especially in the church.

    And rightfully so! Are we to cast authorial intent aside for some other view we’re seeking justification for? The role of women in ministry is not the issue here. Next text. 😉

    • The role of women is just the same as the role of men: to emulate Christ (and this *is* “authorial intent” seeing as so much of Galatians is telling us that our independent and “old covenant” life is dead in Christ, and we have been adopted into God’s family in him, with new life and status).

    • TC –

      I’d love your interaction with the Fee quote.

      And what were we brought into salvation for? Is it just my personal salvation, or something bigger?

  2. So it is, but to divorce soteriology from ecclesiology in Paul is theologically disastrous.

    Scott L,

    You want me to interact with Fee. But Fee keeps making these backdoor arguments, if you will for his egalitarian drive.

    My reply to Fee would be thus: let Paul be the one to work out how he links soteriology to ecclesiology.

    Fee’s approach is what is “disastrous.”

  3. TC –

    I cannot see how allowing new creation theology to inform our theology of salvation and/or church could be disastrous. Can you elaborate? The new creation says that, in Christ, the divisions are gone. Not just that we all ‘get to go to heaven’, but that we can all be equally called into varying ministries and gifts. Our does the new creation only affect our ‘end point’ and not the journey there? What will the full new creation look like? Can we not taste of it now in this age?

    Do Jews get first dibs over Gentiles in calling and ministries? Do freemen get first debs over slaved? Do blacks get first dibs over whites? Do Brits get first dibs over Belgians? Do men get first dibs over women?

  4. “Are we to cast authorial intent aside for some other view we’re seeking justification for? The role of women in ministry is not the issue here.”

    T.C.R.

    It seems that you have missed Scott’s point, that authorial intent is to diminish the social divisions brought about by this world’s systems. In Scripture there is no “role of women in ministry” or even a “role of women” that is different than the spiritual roles of men. We are to all be IN Christ. IN Christ we are united and seek the same goals as we are individually called and equipped by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not divided into pink and blue aspects, but only spiritual aspects.

  5. Can we not taste of it now in this age?

    Scott L,

    Of course we’re experiencing a foretaste, but that is what it is, a foretaste, not the full reality.

    Not just that we all ‘get to go to heaven’, but that we can all be equally called into varying ministries and gifts…

    Do Jews get first dibs over Gentiles in calling and ministries? Do freemen get first debs over slaved? Do blacks get first dibs over whites? Do Brits get first dibs over Belgians? Do men get first dibs over women?

    But call to ministry is not what Paul has in mind at Gal. 3:27-29. We have to smuggle this sort of a read in.

    TL,

    But it is the same Spirit who assigns varying gifts as he wills (1 Cor. 12:4-11). We’re not all called to function identically.

    • TC –

      Of course we’re experiencing a foretaste, but that is what it is, a foretaste, not the full reality.

      I know we’ve had this discussion before, but shall we try and bring a foretaste in all areas BUT with regards to gender roles? I’m really confused.

      But call to ministry is not what Paul has in mind at Gal. 3:27-29. We have to smuggle this sort of a read in.

      Please share how this passage does not deal with all areas across life and ministry and giftings. We cannot say that, because it speaks of salvation in Christ that it does not touch into gender roles, for salvation is more than going to haven, right?


  6. 26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 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. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

    Here is my take on this….

    Just as in John’s revelations he says that we are all the bride of Christ, which is alluded to by Paul as well, here Paul calls us all sons of God. This is because sons were full inheritors. Sons were full inheritors while Greeks were not, slaves were not, and women were not. But in Christ these divisions do not matter and all who believe and have faith become full inheritors of all the treasury of God’s gifts to us through the Holy Spirit.

  7. “But it is the same Spirit who assigns varying gifts as he wills (1 Cor. 12:4-11). We’re not all called to function identically.”

    T.C.R.

    while this is true that we are not all called to function in the manifestations and ministries of the Holy Spirit in the same way, it is also true that the gifts are not divided into classes of Jew and Greek, slave and free, and male and female. God disperses His gifts and callings individually, not collectively.

  8. while this is true that we are not all called to function in the manifestations and ministries of the Holy Spirit in the same way, it is also true that the gifts are not divided into classes of Jew and Greek, slave and free, and male and female. God disperses His gifts and callings individually, not collectively.

    TL,

    Then your argument fits better with 1 Corinthians 12 than it does with Gal. 3:27ff.

  9. TL –

    Then your argument fits better with 1 Corinthians 12 than it does with Gal. 3:27ff.

    As I’ve said above, I think you are reducing what it means for us to be in Christ. If we are in Christ, then every single area of life, ministry, every single thing is touched and rearranged.

  10. T.C.R.

    Actually, it totally fits with Gal. 3 BECAUSE Paul says we are heirs according to the promise. As Scott says the promise covers all our lives, not just the moment we make our first step of faith into the Kingdom.

  11. I know we’ve had this discussion before, but shall we try and bring a foretaste in all areas BUT with regards to gender roles? I’m really confused.

    I put the brace down where the NT writers do. Until the fullness at the eschaton, we have to live with the partial, the foretaste as outlined by the NT writers, not egalitarians. 😉

    Please share how this passage does not deal with all areas across life and ministry and giftings. We cannot say that, because it speaks of salvation in Christ that it does not touch into gender roles, for salvation is more than going to haven, right?

    Simple. Because according to Paul, it’s how salvation extends to all the groups that are mentioned, equally.

    As I’ve said above, I think you are reducing what it means for us to be in Christ. If we are in Christ, then every single area of life, ministry, every single thing is touched and rearranged.

    I’m simply trying to be exegetically faithful to the text.

    You’re making homilectical points rather than exegetical ones. There’s a difference. Let the text inform your conclusions, not the reverse. 😉

    Actually, it totally fits with Gal. 3 BECAUSE Paul says we are heirs according to the promise. As Scott says the promise covers all our lives, not just the moment we make our first step of faith into the Kingdom.

    Now we are force to ask Paul, “What promise are we heir to?”

    • Yeah, yeah, yeah, heard it all before.

      The only relevance of Gal 3 to us is that a few more names have been added to the will. Christ’s life and death has achieved nothing in the here and now.

  12. TC –

    I do understand your desire to be faithful to the text of Gal 3:26-29. And, just those words in and of themselves, we could argue that it only speaks of salvation and being united to Christ. So I do appreciate that and you point out something important to remember.

    Still, in the wider context of what salvation is, knowing the greater purpose of what a community of believers being united to Christ is all about, and noting the reality of what the new creation here and now has affected, I think these words ring greater and wider across all things in the ekklesia. Paul would never want us to think that being united to Christ was just about that moment or a future moment. Paul would never want us to simply think that this means we can now all meet together on a Sunday because we are united in Christ. I think he would want us to remember the far-reaching affects of the body being united to Christ.

    That would be my emphasis and why this passage in Gal 3 is a very helpful launching point. That is why I thought Fee’s words were good. Soteriology affects ecclesiology.

  13. TC –

    One other thing that came to me today. Both 2 Cor 5:16-17 and Gal 3:26-29 are about being in Christ. And, of course we would expect this from Paul, since such wording or similar wording comes up some 164 times in Paul’s writings. And the point is that being in Christ is all about the new creation now, which truly breaks down the significance of every divide now. Is it not?

    I suppose you would agree, but then note that:

    1) With 2 Cor 5, the new creation is true for everything but gender roles
    2) Gal 3 specifically speaks of salvation

    But my point with bringing up the reality of being in Christ is to show how Gal 3 is more than just about salvation, in the narrower sense. Being in Christ is about being in the new creation already now. You cannot think about being in Christ without also think about the new creation. They are parallel to one another.

    And I must say that, at least from my perspective, to argue that the new creation affects everything but gender roles, it just sounds too contradictory. It just seems a little bit off. You are convinced there is no significance or division of gender roles in the fulness of the new age. But we should not live this out now with regards to gender roles. Instead, we wait until He returns and completes all things. That seems quite awkward and not fully walking out what one believes is true and has come. We, as believers, are called to participate in all things of the new creation now.

    We steward the earth now to point to it’s full recreation one day. We do not divide over race or ethnicity to point to the full new creation one day. We receive the down payment of the Spirit of God now, though we will know the fulness of His presence one day. Etc, etc. I just cannot even entertain why we should do it for all things except with regards to gender. I know you would say Scripture teaches that we should continue the gender distinction with regards to ministry, giftings, and the home. But I suppose the typical passages that a complementarian would point to – 1 Tim 2; 1 Cor 11; Eph 5 – should be viewed through the greater perspective of the new creation in Christ. It just seems to want to eat our cake and have it too if we say all….but.

  14. Scott,

    “It just seems to want to eat our cake and have it too if we say all….but.”

    And that is yet another point. There is no benefit for the women, but only for the men. There is no benefit in Christ for women to be silenced from ministry and the full manifestations of the HS. In reality, everyone loses also because they lose the perspective of God speaking through the women.

  15. Still, in the wider context of what salvation is, knowing the greater purpose of what a community of believers being united to Christ is all about, and noting the reality of what the new creation here and now has affected, I think these words ring greater and wider across all things in the ekklesia.

    Scott L,

    That’s why I have a problem with organized church that limits so many from using their giftedness in community. Point taken.

    I suppose you would agree, but then note that:

    1) With 2 Cor 5, the new creation is true for everything but gender roles
    2) Gal 3 specifically speaks of salvation

    Regarding 2 Cor. 5:17, it is contrasted with verse 16, which says nothing of gender role. In fact, the whole context, ranging from chapter 2, has to do with new covenant missions, animated by the Holy Spirit, the sure sign of the Holy Spirit.

    I don’t see why we need to frustrate the genius of Paul in this section with gender roles.

    TL,

    I’ll put it this way: a woman is not an older, wiser male.

  16. “I’ll put it this way: a woman is not an older, wiser male.”

    TCR,
    I’m not sure what you mean by that. But there are plenty of older wiser women as well as men.

    🙂

  17. T.C.R.

    “I have the eldership in mind”

    Still not getting for certain what you are hinting at. Are you suggesting that women shouldn’t be elders because they aren’t older and wiser than men???

    This could get into a discussion about elders. Paul says that anyone who aspires to the work of overseeing is desiring a good work. This ‘anyone’ is tis, which includes men and women.

  18. “I’ll put it this way: a woman is not an older, wiser male.” ….
    “I was/am simply echoing Paul at 1 Tim. 3:1ff.”

    “1 What I say is true: Anyone wanting to become an overseer desires a good work.” NCV

    Pistos ho logos ei tis episkopEs orgatai kalou ergou epithumei— a faithful saying if any (anyone) desires/craves supervision/on noting/ overseer is desiring ideal work.

    Seems you were not echoing Paul.

  19. TL,

    Regarding anyone, Paul narrows it down to a male in verse 2, more specifically a husband – “one-woman-man.”

    It’s like me walking into a room full of men and saying, if “anyone…” Well, they are already men, but I’m not singling out but being sort of general…

  20. ”Regarding anyone, Paul narrows it down to a male in verse 2, more specifically a husband – “one-woman-man.”
    It’s like me walking into a room full of men and saying, if “anyone…” Well, they are already men, but I’m not singling out but being sort of general…”

    So, you’re suggesting that Paul shifted from speaking to everyone where the letter would be read, and somehow now was addressing only men, without saying he was addressing only men? Mmmm don’t think that works. One does not shift from general to specific without following through in speaking to the specific. There is nothing in the list of characteristics that is something only men could do or be. They are all characteristics (not physical qualifications) of a person who is seeking to be holy and spirit led. There is nothing elsewhere in chapter 3 that could be construed as speaking to only men.

    As for ‘one woman man’, that is an idiom. We even use it today. When we are praising someone’s fidelity, we say they are a one woman man or a one man woman. In English we tweek it a bit. In Greek, when addressing an unknown person or to both genders it shifts to the masculine ‘one woman man’, just as it does further down when addressing male and female diakonos (deacons). Only when the addressed persons are concluded to be only female is the reverse , ‘one man woman’, used as it is used in 1 Tim. 5:9. The term ‘one woman man’ is a reference to moral fidelity in marriage. It is not a requirement to be married, but a requirement to be faithful if married. This is similar to the call to tend to one’s household and children. It is not a requirement to have children but to faithfully tend to what you do have.

    Paul is a very precise person. There is no place in his writings where Paul specifically limited women from serving in any ministry. If he had wanted to do so, he would have done so with a clear statement and reasons. All of this inferring and assuming is not good exegesis.

  21. 2 thoughts:

    Galatians 3:27-29 says itself that it is not just about salvation, but about UNITY. “For you are all ONE in Christ Jesus.” The issue then, is not just that all these different groups get to be saved by Christ. They also get to be ONE in Christ. Earlier in the same letter Paul rebuked Peter for acting as if the Gentiles were different, by refusing to eat with them. If the only point were whether Gentiles could also be saved, would it have been so wrong for Peter to refuse to eat with them? After all, they still get to go to heaven, so it doesn’t matter whether or not they get to eat with Jews here and now, does it?

    Paul most vehemently thought it did. Paul most vehemently thought that Peter should not restrict Gentile from full church participation because of their Gentile-ness.

    Paul’s point is about unity, not just salvation. And unity means a church doesn’t get to have one rule for one type of person and another rule for another. Unity doesn’t mean one group gets restricted roles and the other gets full freedom.

    Secondly– if “husband of one wife” means “you must be male,” then Phoebe was a man. She is described as a deacon, and the text says that deacons also must be “husbands of one wife.” So either Phoebe was male, or “husband of one wife” is gender-inclusive. I think the latter is much more likely.

  22. Kristen –

    Thanks for the comment.

    Secondly– if “husband of one wife” means “you must be male,” then Phoebe was a man. She is described as a deacon, and the text says that deacons also must be “husbands of one wife.” So either Phoebe was male, or “husband of one wife” is gender-inclusive. I think the latter is much more likely.

    I do plan, myself, to look at the whole idea of eldership and women in a few weeks time.

  23. Pingback: The Role of Women Revisited, Again | Near Emmaus

  24. Hi everyone,
    I hate to jump in late in the game here, but I wanted to share my thoughts into the oblivion of the blogosphere.

    A friend of mine summarized the position I take much more eloquently than I ever could: I am complementarian in my theology, but egalitarian in my practice.

    My ties to complementarianism are rather unaffected by the majority of Scott’s arguments. My ties to egalitarian are primarily because I find much of our current church leadership structure highly indefensible, so I don’t quabble over the gender of people filling roles Paul never imagined. I don’t know of many churches where the elders elder like how Paul taught or where we even got this idea of having a senior super pastor that does everything.

    So, if a young woman stewarding her gifts of music and ministry gain the notice of the congregation, I wouldn’t prohibit her. I phrased this strategically. Power plays for ministry positions are out of line regardless of gender. The New Testament doesn’t say much about music ministry (hence the Church of Christ’s position. Unfortunately for them, an argument from silence is not a particularly strong argument), so I don’t sweat it. There’s no way we can accurately and constantly (establish reliability and validity) quantify to what extent a female worship leader leads people into the presence of God before they end up accidentally teaching a male.

    I didn’t find the new creation perspective particularly helpful for my egalitarian leanings, but I do think it encourages thoughtful reflection on whether God is up in heaven determining whether he’ll anoint a female worship leader provided that she doesn’t accidentally teach. I’d like to think God isn’t so petty. Though, complementarian bretheren, please forgive me if I have spoken past you.

    Talking past one another is one of the hallmarks of this particular debate. I was taught not to derive an ought from an is, so I am truly sorry if I’ve participated in this nasty tradition.

  25. Rob –

    In the past, I would have more ferociously argued against creating positions and titles and leadership roles in our churches today that are not specifically what Paul and the NT imagined. Hence, my loathing of such titles like senior pastor, associate pastor, executive pastor, worship pastor, etc. I also would look to show that elders and bishops are actually synonymous (and I still think they are from a simple comparison of NT texts). And there are other things I would focus in on.

    But I was challenged one day when someone challenged my thoughts on ‘worship leader’. Now, I actually think it is somewhat of a weird title, and I definitely want to guard against making our ‘worship leaders’ into Levitical priests that are responsible for administering God’s presence to the masses. But I personally found no real problem with having someone there leading musicians and helping facilitate a time of worship in song for the gathered congregation (or small group, etc). Music and songs are important and some people are able to help administrate this (I think the gift of administration has much more connection with leading than secretarial skills).

    So, I am not so bothered any more that, in history, bishops became distinct from elders (though this is not a biggie). In the early days, there was only one church in the city. But in subsequent centuries, there were multiple churches spread abroad a city-area. And so the elders were focused in on a local congregation, the bishops began overseeing multiple congregations. I have no problem if people want to call their leaders pastors rather than elders. I don’t think you have to be so tight as to appoint deacons (though we have done so), and those deacons might function differently in different congregations.

    I don’t want to go crazy appointing all these titles and positions. It won’t work because it will confuse and bring us more to task management than ministry-service. And I believe we need to begin with Scripture and build from there. But I suppose Paul didn’t imagine a time for announcements in a church gathering (maybe they did). Yet to have such is not ‘unbiblical’.

    So I do find a tension in my own heart. I would have usually been a little more passionate to argue for a more simple-biblical model (whatever that means). And I still do lean that way. But we can call these people pastors or elders or gooters. The ultimate goal is that these people are leading and shepherding. And I believe that goes with each role within the church. I know people who have prophetic and apostolic giftings, but don’t use that words. But they get on with those ministries. I think that is the ultimate goal.

  26. Most of these comments are on the verse 28 and little or nothing on the context. The context is salvation by grace and not that of the law.Ver. 1 maintains this theme and concludes it on ver. 28, in that acceptance is open to everyone who believes. Roles for men and females are given elsewhere.

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