Saturday, December 10, 2011

What Galatians 3:28 Cannot Mean

(NOTE: I'm going to write today in terms of blunt logic. If I come across as harsh or "unwomanly," please remember that it was Aristotle, and not Christ, who denied logic to women. Nothing I say is to be construed as an attack on anyone. I am merely taking a certain reading of a certain portion of Scripture to its inherent conclusions, to see if it makes sense.
- KR Wordgazer)
Galatians 3:28 reads: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is not male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Many Christians read this verse in a very limited sense, saying that in order to reconcile it with such “clear” restrictive passages as 1 Timothy 2:11-15 and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, we have to understand the above verse as applying only to our standing before God in salvation. We are all the same at the foot of the cross, the saying goes, but in the church and in the home, God has set forth male authority.

Galatians 3:28 cannot mean that gender is not important to what men and women can do in the church. So they say.
A man involved in a conversation on a blog I was reading put it this way: being “in Christ” is one thing, but in our everyday living, in our homes and church congregations, male and female roles are defined by God as separate. Only men may lead the congregation. Only men may lead their homes. Women may teach other women or children, but they may not lead or teach men. And yet, he assured me, these “separate roles” are still “equal.” Men are not superior to women, and women are not inferior. They are equal. They only have different “roles.” Somehow it escaped him that the “roles” are completely, irrevocably and unchangingly unequal, and that being permanent and tied to one’s personhood at birth, they are not really “roles” at all. They are castes.

I keep asking myself this question: why do Christians who believe like this have to keep insisting that they do not believe men are superior and women are inferior? Is it not because everything they teach and practice contradicts this idea? Men are not superior– but they are leaders and in authority by divine right. Women are not inferior– but they are to be subordinate to men without escape. Where is the equality, then? In name only. It’s a word to make us all feel better, and nothing more.
Did Paul really mean that in Christ there is not male and female, but in the church male authority and female subordination is to be carefully observed? So does that mean the church is in Christ? Or not? Does being in Christ only happen when we get to heaven?

What, then, do we do with verses like this one?

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Eph. 2:10; Emphasis added.)
The “good works” must be spiritual, heavenly works only, and we are exempted from such earthly good works as feeding the poor or visiting the sick. If being “in Christ” when it comes to “there is not male and female” has no practical bearing on what males and females can or can't do every day in their churches, then how can being “in Christ” have any practical bearing on what Christians do in any part of their lives?

And if this earthly-heavenly split applies to male and female, does it not also apply to Jew and Greek and to slave and free? Paul mentions them all in the same passage. Was Paul saying, “In Christ there are no racial distinctions, but in the church we’d better make sure the races stay properly separated”? Was Paul saying, “In Christ there is neither slave nor free, but in the church we’d better keep class distinctions intact and make sure everyone knows their proper place”? If this is what Paul really meant, then earlier in Galatians 2:11, why did he rebuke Peter for not eating with the Gentiles? Peter was only observing the distinctions he had learned, in a gathering of the church.

But if this is not what Paul meant, then how could he have meant the opposite when it comes to race and economic status, from what he meant when it comes to gender? No racial distinctions in the church, and no economic distinctions either– but we must keep the gender distinctions as long as we live on earth!

Does that make any sense?

Unless that makes sense-- then that is what Galatians 3:28 cannot mean.

26 comments:

Shirley Taylor said...

You would think that men who stand up and preach the gospel of Christ, would actually want to be like Christ when it comes to including women. I cannot imagine why educated pastors don't realize that what they are saying doesn't make sense. I cannot imagine why men who profess to love their wives, want to believe that just they are male, God has given them favor over all women. I cannot understand why women buy into this and do not speak out.

Thank you for speaking out so eloquently.

Hannah said...

You have some excellent points!

Could you imagine them telling people just because you are born this color - or a slave - doesn't mean you are 'less than' we are equal but have different roles!

Mike aka MonolithTMA said...

Some people have interpreted scripture to benefit them, to give them power, some have just grown up in this tradition. It's difficult to read the Bible and shake off what we have been taught about it.

I heard a report yesterday that said Michelle Bachman would have a larger following if she were Michael Bachman. I actually heard a woman say that she didn't think a woman should lead in any capacity. Just awful.

Anonymous said...

Madam.....you are a genius!

I can't tell you how many times I've tried to explain this concept, this gut instinct of WHY "separate but equal" feels untrue. I am usually an articulate person, but words fail me when I'm trying to explain something which is just so dang obvious to me. It's like trying to convince someone that the sky is blue instead of red. What can you do except point to it and say "But red doesn't make sense with what I'm seeing!"

When I was 12, and I was first given a good dose of complementarian thought in a Sunday School lesson, I came home from church crying because I now believed that God didn't love me as much as he loved men. Our Sunday School teachers had gone out of their way to assure us that God's love was equal, but there was just no way that my little 12-yhear-old heart was buying it when I had just been told that God wanted (no, demanded) me to be subservient to all men, for all time.

The problem with the separate but equal line, is that it's the same line whites in this country tried to use in the 60s to keep black people down. You can give "equality" all the lip service you want, but the truth is, you are promoting a concept that simply is not truth, and there's no way around that.

Thanks for an insightful post.

RED

Another Believer said...

The concepts of "value" and "responsibilities" are getting intertwined here and are creating confusion. Children of God have equal value and different responsibilities.

Men cannot bear and nurse babies. Women can and have that responsibility. Does that make men less valuable because God designed life that way?

The Bible says Jesus, the Father, and the Holy Spirit are all equally God, yet the Bible says that Jesus submitted to the Father's will. Does this make Jesus inferior or less valuable than the Father or the Holy Spirit?

Of course not.

Value and assigned responsibilities are linked in the secular world, not in the Biblical realm. The problem is that people have chosen the secular world's means for defining value rather than God's.

Bottom line, if God commands us to do or not do something, who are we (the lumps of clay) to tell the potter how things should be. This is especially true when the potter is the perfect God of the Bible.

Kristen said...

Red,

Thanks! Yes, I know exactly how you feel!

Another Believer, you said, "if God commands us to do something, who are we (the lumps of clay) to tell the potter how things should be."

The problem is that you have not shown that the Bible says that merely because women can bear and nurse babies, God has commanded that women be subordinate to men. All you have done is repeat the complementarian position-- but I have just shown, by careful, logical reading of Galatians 3:28, that what you say the Bible says is exactly what it cannot be saying. Passages like Eph 5:22 and 1 Tim 2:15 are about practical Christian living and church conduct. As such, they need to be interpreted in light of statements about the nature of the New Covenant kingdom, like Gal. 3:28. Instead, the church wants to do it backwards-- twist Gal. 3:28 to suit their understanding of Eph 5:22 and 1 Tim 2:15. But I have just shown that Gal 3:28 cannot be made to mean what they insist it means. Therefore, Eph 5:22 and 1 Tim 2:15 must be being misunderstood.

Your "different responsibilities" is really a euphemism for "men get to be in charge of women." But Galatians 3:28 categorically denies this-- it says that in the New Covenant Kingdom of God, we are not to make such distinctions between male and female, any more than we are to make distinctions between Jews and Gentiles.

As for Jesus' submission to the Father-- Philippians 2 says that Jesus laid down His equality with God in order to be made human. He submitted to the Father as an example for us, while He walked on earth. The Bible does not support the eternal subordination of the Son-- this doctrine has developed as a tool in the complementarian toolbox, to facilate women's acceptance of their own subordination.

Logically, you cannot make permanent subordination based on one's nature, mean equality. The Son is not permanently subordinated to the Father based on His nature. If He were, He would have had no "equality with God" to lay down. But Philippians 2 says He was equal and He did lay it down.

So, since you haven't shown that the Bible says what you say it says, I have no reason to believe that what you're saying is really a commandment of God and not just the traditions of men.

Another Believer said...

Kristen,

See my response in brackets to your response that I have pasted below:

-----------------------

Another Believer, you said, "if God commands us to do something, who are we (the lumps of clay) to tell the potter how things should be."

The problem is that you have not shown that the Bible says that merely because women can bear and nurse babies, God has commanded that women be subordinate to men.

[First, let me a prefacing statement. if God is the designer and source of all creation, then his creation of men and women with their biological differences should be considered a result of his command for them to be created that way. This means that God commanded that men and women to have at least some different roles. Secondly, you missed the point of my analogy. With my analogy, I tried to say that men are not less valuable or are inferior just because God didn't give them the ability and responsibility to bear and nurse babies. And I'm not sure how you came to the conclusion that I said the Bible commanded women to be subordinate to men because they can bear babies.]

All you have done is repeat the complementarian position-- but I have just shown, by careful, logical reading of Galatians 3:28, that what you say the Bible says is exactly what it cannot be saying. Passages like Eph 5:22 and 1 Tim 2:15 are about practical Christian living and church conduct. As such, they need to be interpreted in light of statements about the nature of the New Covenant kingdom, like Gal. 3:28. Instead, the church wants to do it backwards-- twist Gal. 3:28 to suit their understanding of Eph 5:22 and 1 Tim 2:15. [I am not sure what you base this conclusion on. Could you explain this more?] But I have just shown that Gal 3:28 cannot be made to mean what they insist it means. [Who is "they" and what do they insist it means?] Therefore, Eph 5:22 and 1 Tim 2:15 must be being misunderstood.

Your "different responsibilities" is really a euphemism for "men get to be in charge of women." [It is not. In fact it would be more accurate to say men HAVE to be in charge of the areas God has assigned to men. The problem is that men don't want to step up to these responsibilities in the manner in which God commands.] But Galatians 3:28 categorically denies this-- it says that in the New Covenant Kingdom of God, we are not to make such distinctions between male and female, any more than we are to make distinctions between Jews and Gentiles. [As I said in my first response, you are using secular parameters to define a person's value. Those parameters tie a person's value to their job or status - their role. Gal 3:26-28 is telling us God values us equally irregardless of our assigned roles/responsibilities, statuses,etc..]


(end of part 1)

Another Believer said...

(Part 2)

As for Jesus' submission to the Father-- Philippians 2 says that Jesus laid down His equality with God in order to be made human. He submitted to the Father as an example for us, while He walked on earth. The Bible does not support the eternal subordination of the Son-- this doctrine has developed as a tool in the complementarian toolbox, to facilate women's acceptance of their own subordination. [Neither do I nor any main stream complementarian believe in the eternal subordination of the Son or women. As you pointed out, the Son had his role with its responsibilities while he was on Earth. The same is true of men and women. Their roles on Earth are not for eternity.]

Logically, you cannot make permanent subordination based on one's nature, mean equality. [I don't - see my previous comment] The Son is not permanently subordinated to the Father based on His nature. [I did not say or imply that the Son is subordinate based on his nature. He chose to live out the subordinate role by his own choosing to follow the will/commands of God the Father. Additionally, you missed my point in this area. My point was that God the Son was no less valuable because he accepted a role that was submissive to the will of God the Father. His value was not tied to his role.] If He were, He would have had no "equality with God" to lay down. But Philippians 2 says He was equal and He did lay it down.

So, since you haven't shown that the Bible says what you say it says, I have no reason to believe that what you're saying is really a commandment of God and not just the traditions of men. [I believe the Bible does speak to the command for women to submit to their own husbands. Referencing the scriptures you have referenced, Eph 5:22 says, {Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.} I ask you to ponder this question. How should a woman submit herself to the Lord? This verse says this is the way a woman should submit herself to her husband.

Also, if Gal 3:28 is the umbrella under which you place the other scriptures you have referenced, why does Paul in 1 Tim 2:8-10 give different restraining instructions to women than to men? And why in 1 Tim 2:11-12 does he say, {A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.}? If God wants women to be carry out all the same roles and responsibilities men do and to not be in submission to the leadership of their husbands, then why did God inspire Paul to include these verses? These verses only serve to confuse his supposed message of equality in everything.

There is only one conclusion that I believe allows for these Ephesian, Galatian, and 1 Timothy scriptures to not be in conflict with each other. Roles, with their assigned responsibilities, are not tied to our value. We are valuable simply because God said we are.

Kristen said...

Another Believer, this blog has an in-depth exegesis of both Eph. 5:22 and 1 Tim 2:15. I would suggest that you read them, to answer your questions about how I reconcile my reading of Gal 3:28 with these passages, according to my hermeneutic, which focuses on authorial intent and narrative theology. You will find these posts in the lists of posts for October and November.

I do need to excuse myself from a long conversation about these topics in the comments section at this time. I have two children, a husband and a host of relatives-- and it is less than a week before Christmas. I'm sure you will understand. If you disagree with my position on these passages, we will have to just agree to disagree.

Kristen said...

PS. I am glad you don't believe in the eternal subordination of the Son or of women. But I do not believe the Bible teaches "gender roles" as you understand them. You will need to explore my earlier posts to understand why.

Another Believer said...

My family is also busy over the next two weeks. I'll try to review your posts soon and get back to you in the new year.

Single and Sane said...

Kristen -

I loved your comment on roles on Wade Burleson's blog and was pleased to find a post that went into more detail. You've made some great points here. I like the ending and the answer is "No, that makes NO sense."

Margaret

Kristen said...

Thank you for your kind words, Margaret.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kristen,

I wanted to thank you for your blog and this post in particular. There are nasty implications to the limiting of female ministry, and to dismissing Galatians 3:28 equality in everyday life. Thank you for pointing them out, for your well-reasoned arguments. Please continue!

Kristen said...

Thank you. I intend to!

Anonymous said...

Somewhere, in one his Narnia books, C.S. Lewis has this wonderful line -
"Don't they teach logic anymore??"
John

Morgan Hyde said...

(I don't believe in the bible but...)

I loved this post. Adored it. The logic is beautiful and awesome and exactly the sort of thing that is missing in so many "christian" arguments.

You made sense, and didn't claim that you didn't have to because it was religion. I've read some of your other posts, and they all seem to share that sensible nature.

Congrats on being am ambassador to those of us who are often tempted to believe that organized religion is a bad thing for the world.

Anonymous said...

The problem with your analysis is that Paul validates the institution of slavery. If Paul literally meant that there is neither slave nor free in Christ, he would have advocated for abolition. Christian sexists are interpreting that passage correctly, because Paul himself was sexist. Is sexism in the Church a real problem? Absolutely. But whitewashing the Bible and Christian history will not help your cause.

Kristen said...

Annonymous 1-- thanks!

Annonymous 2-- yes! I believe it's in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The Professor asks the question.

Morgan-- thank you for the wonderful comment. You made my day!

Annonymous 3-- we will have to disagree. I don't believe Paul was validating the institution of slavery. Paul was trying to help an infant religious movement survive without being destroyed by Rome. Advocating abolition would hae been foolish under the circumstances. Also, Paul's purpose was not to change existing social structures, but to teach Christians how to live within those structures, in such a way as to effect gradual change from within, not revolution from without.

I understand that you think all of Christianity should simply be jettisoned. But that's not what this blog is about. This blog is about fixing the problems in the faith. If that's not what you want to talk about, there are plenty of blogs where you can trash Christianity, and religion in general, to your heart's content. Please do not do so here.

AMGallegos said...

I am so glad this isn't even a discussion in my church.

Gerald Ford said...

Wonderful article... Yes, if our hermeneutic does not bring both the "inclusive" passages, and the so-called "excluding" passages into true clarity, then it is not a complete hermeneutic.

Amanda B, said...

Clicked over here from the #mutuality2012 links. Excellent article. I have always wondered the same thing about Galatians 3:28, especially regarding the issue of race.

By way of example, a case could be made for the superiority of the Jewish race to all others. After all, they were the nation God explicitly chose through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In many places throughout the OT, God prophesies concerning them that they should be a leader among the nations, and that the Gentiles would come to them to learn about God and to worship Him. Paul speaks about salvation being "first to the Jew", and Jesus Himself said "salvation is of the Jews". When Jesus returns to earth, He will rule from Jerusalem. And Jesus Himself is a man in a resurrected Jewish body! Really, if you wanted to, you could make a much stronger case for Jewish-Gentile hierarchy than you could for male-female, with many more supporting proof texts.

Yet somehow I don't see many churches today clamoring to make sure they have a Jewish person in charge of the congregation, or refusing a potential pastoral candidate on the basis of being a Gentile.

Funny how that works.

Anonymous said...

Does this make sense? You aren't very certain are you. In one word. No

Kristen said...

Amanda B., that is a very good point about Jews v. Gentiles! I appreciate your comment here; if you are the blogger at Cheese-Wearing Theology, I enjoy your blog very much.

Anonymous, I don't permit troll-type comments here, so unless you have something substantive to say, be warned that comments like this will be deleted in the future.

Amanda B. said...

Kristen, I am not that Amanda, but I have read some of her posts and enjoyed them very much. My own blog is lying under a thick layer of dust at the moment, I'm afraid. :)

Anonymous said...

Exactly! I have always asked comps. what eactly being in Christ means. That passage is stated in the present tense. There IS neither Jew nor Greek. There IS neither male or female.... yet to a comp it refers to Heaven, or some other sort of non practical way.

You made some very good points about races getting to be in Christ, here and now, in the church, yet somehow genders don't fall under the same rules, even when they are listed in the same phrase?


Very good points!