Saturday, August 9, 2014

In Christ: Galatians 3:28 And the Equality of Women

The main claim to this explosive text is thus: its chief concern is soteriology, not church status.[1] It, thus, has no (or limited) social implications. One needn’t look far into one of the type/anti-types to see how this would be a problem. Take for example slavery. Klyne Snodgrass has shown that such a bifurcation is unwarranted by the context, and that the same (or similar) arguments were made by slave owners when abolitionists appealed to this text.[2] So the issue is not that Christian men and women can be saved. Paul wouldn’t have balked at that, as he already assumed that Greeks could be saved; this was, after all his mission as “apostle to the Gentiles” (Rom. 11:3). The “gar” (for or because) in v26 and v27 show that Paul is giving reasons against excluding Gentiles, slaves and women from life in the church. Indeed, “in Christ” is a key distinction of life (especially in Galatians 1:22) in the body of Christ[3] and of the New Creation (see 2 Cor. 5:17-19). This includes the declaration in 5:6 that “in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumsion has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” This is an explicit statement about life in the church, and what the loopholes were for a Greek to become in the church. Of interest is Michael Gorman's statement in Apostle of the Crucified Lord (pg210) that, "it is certainly within the realm of possibility, for instance, that Paul's opposition to circumcision is at least partially motivated (or confirmed) by its exclusion of women."

The phrase “male and female” is the exact phrasing of the LXX translation of Genesis 1:27, which talks about the creation of male and female in the image of God. What follows in the first creation account is not spiritual authority or church government, but the tending to the garden and the enjoyment of God’s creation. According to F.F. Bruce, "In Christ, Paul believed and affirmed, there was neither Jew nor Greek", whatever distinctions might persist in the world at large. The middle wall of partition between them had been demolished by the work of Christ; Paul would not stand idly by and see it rebuilt, whether as a religious or social barrier.”[4]

Although Bruce has primarily a race relationship in mind here, it isn't difficult to apply the same social difference to slave/free and male/female. Philip Payne argues that there are two reasons why there must not be race/class/ gender-based hierarchy in the church: “One...the identical expression ‘there is no...’ introduces each pair, and second, because each of the three statements is absolute with no qualifications.”[5] The parallelism of each phrase is identical; thus to break the social implications set by Paul[6] here would not only break his argument, but render him inconsistent. What is more powerful is the idea of Law, and the social implications that came with it. Philip Payne lists nearly 50 theological, literary, and cultural reasons why this marvelous text can’t and shouldn’t be divorced from life in the church.[7] I will cite the most potent ones below:[8]
  • Colossians 3:10 describes God creating the new self, in which there is no ranking in practice by ethnicity or economic status.[9]
  • The Holy Spirit works in all believers (Rom. 8:14; 1 Cor. 3:16; 2 Cor. 3:18; Gal. 5:16, 22, 25; Eph. 3:1; 5:18).
  • In Galatians 3:29, “heirs of Abraham according to promise” refers to the Abrahamic blessing to all nations. All seven blessings in Genesis 12:1-3 are about relationships with people.[10]
  • As far as we know, there was no dispute at that time that Gentiles, slaves, or women could become Christians. Rather, Galatians addresses treatment of Gentiles as second-class citizens.
  • Paul typically uses the Greek conjunction between Jew and Greek and slave and free, “oude” to join two elements to convey one idea. Paul did not intend two 
separate ideas, “there is no Jew in Christ and there is no Greek in Christ,” since there are Jews in Christ and there are Greeks in Christ. Each pair makes a single point: in Christ there is no Jew/Greek division and no slave/free division... Nothing in the text limits their application to standing before God.
Many manuscripts include “male and female” in v11 of the Colossians 3 parallel.[11] Another argument to consider is an education one. Contrast again the statements by Rabban Gamaliel: "Before God all are equal: women and slave, poor and rich..." (Midr. Rab. Exod. 14,15). "Whether Israelite or Gentile, man or woman, male or female slave -- according to their works the Holy Spirit dwells also upon him." (Tanna Elialm R. 9). The structures are similar, touching on each group: women, slaves, poor and rich. The second statement is nearly identical:

Tanna Elialim R. 9 [Gamaliel] -- Galatians 3:28 [Paul]

Israelite/ Gentile -- Jew/Greek
Man/Woman -- Slave/Free

Male Slave/Female Slave -- Male/Female[12]

The structure is so similar that it is nearly impossible that Paul wouldn’t be influenced by it, especially given his established background. Three distinct pairs are presented and thus refuted by a claim of unity via the Divine will.
This is a controlling text for Paul as it perfectly reflects the image not only of Gamaliel, but this text comes early on before any "prohibitive" text. Also included is the direct inference from the text from Gamaliel, showing that Paul is indebted to a tradition that has been around before him.[13] Thus unless Paul is of two minds, each text ought to be weighed in light of this text. Galatians 3:28 closely resembles the Jewish prayer "Thank God I am [not]... heathen... bondman...woman," following the same order as: Gentile, slave, woman.[14] This shows that Paul is aware of how his theology of race, class and gender dictates his practice, and how the churches of God ought to behave. To disregard the final clause is not only disruptive of the context, but it categorically denies what Paul and Gamaliel affirmed. "Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each another" (Gal 5:25-26). F.F. Bruce notes, “Paul states the basic principle here [Galatians 3:28]; if restrictions on it are found elsewhere in the Pauline corpus, as in 1 Cor. 14:34f...or 1 Timothy 2:11f., they are to be understood in relation to Gal. 3:28, and not vice versa.”[15]

How the Church acts upon spiritual admonitions will always trickle down to the pulpit, to the children’s ministry, and to those who volunteer to serve coffee. In other words, spiritual commands are always practically motivated and demand action within the Church. Paul is not giving wayward nor abstract principles; he is concerned with the dust, grime and blood that keep the Church alive. Race, gender and status presuppose personal relationships and any barrier that inhibits these relationships is done away with in the command to become one "in Christ."

NQ

[1] Wayne A. Meeks argues against both views, saying that Paul envisions a type of androgyny here. This has becomes a mildly popular view in more mainline scholarship, but it bears several problems: for one, it is likely that Paul wouldn’t erase distinctions (especially in light of spiritual gifts and the application therein) on the basis of gender. Also, given Paul’s preoccupation with unity and the diversity of the body of Christ, it seems at odds with his generally conservative view of human sexuality. Finally, Paul’s other writings (Eph 5:21-33) do suggest distinctions based on ontology, but the issue isn’t about the subordination of women, but the genuine mutual complementarity of the sexes. It is about what enhances, not what is beneath.
[2] Klyne R. Snodgrass, “Galatians 3:28: Conundrum or Solution?” Women, Authority & The Bible, 162- 165.

[3] This is just a sampling from Romans: 6:23; 8:1; 8:39; 12:5; 15:7 and especially 16:3 and 16:7, where Paul mentions fellow “co-workers” and “apostles” in Christ. See also 1 Cor. 1:30; 10:16; 15:22. 2 Cor. 1:20-21. Eph. 1:1-13 includes spiritual blessings to the holy people, as well as hope and the Holy Spirit. We are also created “in Christ” to do good works in 2:10.
[4] F.F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, 178.
[5] Philip B. Payne, Man and Woman, One in Christ, 97.
[6] Who elsewhere talks about the two becoming one in Ephesians 2:13-14, and what is more problematic for those who exclude women is Paul’s own confrontation with Peter in Galatians 2:11-14? Peter did discriminate on the basis of race, and Paul said he was acting contrary to the Gospel. Would Paul, based on his own theo-logic, be mistaken to act in the same way as Peter? I think the answer is more than obvious.
[7] Another factor to consider is that the reference to baptism in 3:27 indicates not just a spiritual standing, but more prominently that Greek, slaves and woman are now inaugurated into the new community of God.
[8] These applications may be found in “Galatians 3:28’s Application of Paul’s New Creation Teaching to the Status of Women in Church” in Priscilla Papers special edition 2012, 11-16.
[9] My note: this is a direct parallel passage to Galatians 3:38, as is 1 Corinthians 12:21. This suggests a baptismal formula within the early Jewish-Christian communities, as Galatians 3:27 infers baptism.
[10] Even if this were only in salvific terms (which I think is false), it still presupposes the interaction among believers in the body of Christ. Thus, even if a complementarian wants to suggest that Gal. 3:28 is merely about soteriology, the very nature of soteriology presupposes the reconciliation between not only God and 
humanity, but humanity within itself. We are to work out our faith in the context of the Christian community, and with fear and trembling.
[11] The Vulgate, Hilary (d. 367), Ambrose (d. 397), D*, F G 629. See n.40 for Philip Payne’s masterful article.

[12] Interestingly, Gamaliel distinguishes between genders in regards to slaves. Though the ordering is different, the principles are clear and explicit: there is no division within the Christian communities.
[13] There is evidence of women leaders of synagogues. See Belleville, Women Leaders and the Church, 28- 29. These references are before, during, and after the time of Paul.

[14] Philip B. Payne, Man and Woman, One in Christ, cites variations on the prayer, 84 n.7.

[15] F.F. Bruce, Galatians, 190.

5 comments:

  1. Standing up and clapping for the great message!!

    ReplyDelete
  2. "it is certainly within the realm of possibility, for instance, that Paul's opposition to circumcision is at least partially motivated (or confirmed) by its exclusion of women."

    I think this is preposterous, but I'm curious, Nick, do you agree with this quote?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glenn, its an interesting quote. I don't see it as either preposterous or certain.

      NQ

      Delete
  3. Well done! I wish, however, that footnote #10 would have been fleshed out in the body, as I think this is a strong apologetic. "Even if this were only in salvific terms (which I think is false), it still presupposes the interaction among believers in the body of Christ. Thus, even if a complementarian wants to suggest that Gal. 3:28 is merely about soteriology, the very nature of soteriology presupposes the reconciliation between not only God and 
humanity, but humanity within itself. We are to work out our faith in the context of the Christian community, and with fear and trembling."

    ReplyDelete