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)

The Role of Women – 2 Corinthians 5:16-17

Thus far on my series on the role of women in both the church and the home, I have posted up six articles.

  1. Introduction article to the discussion.
  2. Resources – listing some introductory resources to both sides of the coin.
  3. Genesis 1:26-28 – looking at the initial creation account of male and female.
  4. Genesis 2:18-22 – looking at this debated passage and what it teaches about women.
  5. Genesis 2:18-22 (Part 2) – sharing some more thoughts, specifically connecting it all with vs24 and the two becoming one flesh.
  6. Genesis 3:16 – sharing an alternative translation of the verse, but ultimately challenging us to not make this verse a cornerstone passage because of Christ and the new creation.

So, to this point, I spent a lot of time on what I would identify as ‘creation passages’. But now it is time to move on to two very important ‘new creation passages’. The first being 2 Corinthians 5:16-17 and the second being Galatians 3:27-29.

The well-know theologian, Gordon Fee, makes this interesting comment in his consideration of gender roles:

‘Perhaps the worst thing the evangelical tradition has done on gender matters is to isolate them from the bigger picture of biblical theology. Indeed, I think we are destined for continual trouble if we do not start where Paul does: not with isolated statements addressed to contingent situations, but with Paul’s theology of the new creation, the coming of God’s eschatological rule inaugurated by Christ – especially through his death and resurrection – and the gift of the Spirit.’ (Listening to the Spirit in the Text, p57)

Though I am convinced that the creation account (Genesis 1-3) never inherently sets one gender as superior to the other, or one gender to have leadership-headship over the other, I think what makes this even clearer is the reality of the New Testament’s teaching on the new creation that we now taste of in Christ and the kingdom of God. This is the gospel: that Jesus Christ came with the kingdom of God, announcing that it was breaking into our world and making a completely new one. We still await the final consummation of this at His parousia. But we, who are in Christ, have entered this new covenant creation even now.

Therefore, Fee’s words leave a resounding impact on me, and hopefully you as well. Our understanding of gender roles, or any other theological concept, must be grounded in the reality that the new creation has already come in Christ.

So, with regards to moving into the discussion on the impact of the new creation on gender roles, let’s start off with 2 Corinthians 5:16-17. Verse 17 is, no doubt, a well-known verse, but vs16 also gives relevant revelation into the discussion.

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.

Here we see Paul laying out an important theological concept. First of all, in vs16, he says we now regard no one according to the flesh. Why? Because we no longer make such distinctions in regards to Christ either. One could identify Christ as male, Jewish, free, and add on a whole other list of characteristics that would seem to put a person in God’s favour. But Paul makes it clear that none of those things matter in the economy of God. Gender, race, age, social status, etc, do not bring one into God’s favour.

Then what does?

This is expounded on in vs17. What matters most is that of the new creation! For those who are in Christ, joined to Him through a faith relationship, the old order of things has passed away and, behold, that person has joined a completely new order. This is the new creation of which we get to taste of even now in this age!

Paul would state something similar in the latter parts of his letter to the Galatians:

For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. (Galatians 6:15)

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 measures. 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. This is the glory of the new creation!

Yes, I know, we still have passages like 1 Timothy 2:8-15 or 1 Corinthians 14:33-35 or Ephesians 5:22-24. But, as Gordon Fee reminds us above, we cannot approach these texts, not any specific text, as an isolated statement apart from the new creation theology of Christ and His kingdom. This will lead to dubious understandings devoid of the bigger picture of what Christ has done and is doing.

Stay tuned for next week as I will pick this up more in my next article on Galatians 3:27-29.