Galatians 3:28: Neither Jew nor Gentile

For the Apostle Paul, the believer’s the status as “in Christ” makes all the previous social distinctions meaningless, including ethnic and social distinctions.After arguing the Gentile who has come to Christ in faith is not under the Law, he states they are all children of God and are “clothed in Christ” (Gal 3:26-27).  He then makes the stunning proclamation that “all are one in Christ,” so there are no Jew or Gentile, no slave not free, no male nor female. Karin Neutel examined these three pairs in detail and concludes Paul is describing “ideal ways to live and to organize society” (16).

The first of the three pairs of relationships Paul mentions is ethnic (Jew nor Gentile), but most appropriate for the main theme of Galatians. If one is “in Christ,” it does not matter if one is born a Jew or a Gentile.

The reason these social distinctions no longer matter is that the one who is “in Christ” by faith is now the offspring Abraham. We are the same family, therefore ethnic and social distinctions no longer matter.  The idea of family is important in both Jewish and Greco-Roman cultures.  The bonds between brothers were more important than the bonds of marriage – family always came first.

This means there is no point to conversion to Judaism, since there is no difference in Christ. This is potentially the most radical thing Paul has said so far in Galatians. For the agitators, and probably for James, the Gentiles are becoming part of Israel, so they are Jews, no longer Gentiles. Paul claims here that when one has “put on Christ” ethnic distinctions no longer matter. There is no longer an advantage to being Jewish, or a disadvantage to being Gentile (or, form a Gentile’s perspective, no disadvantage to being a Jew or advantage being a Roman). The only status which is significant in the age of the Spirit is being “in Christ.”

The second pair (slave nor free) breaks down one of the most important social distinctions in the ancient word, the distinction between between a free person and a slave. Sociologically, there would be no way a person who a free citizen of Rome (like Paul) would recognize a slave as an equal. In fact, a Roman who had a high status would not recognize a lowly servant at all. Yet here Paul declares that all who are “in Christ” are equal. This means at a shared meal, a free person would share food with their slave as equals. This should be extended by analogy to “rich and poor” (as it is in James), or Roman citizen or non-citizen. Whatever a society considers to be elite or utterly untouchable are now equal in the Body of Christ.

The third pair is perhaps the more surprising since virtually every culture would have made a distinction between male and female. It is possible women were considered second class in the Body of Christ since they could not fully keep the Law (the could not submit to circumcision as a sign of he covenant). Ben Witherington suggested the Galatian agitators may have required that a woman be married to a man who was properly keeping the Law in order to be considered a Christian (Witherington, Galatians, 279). Imagine a shared meal where a young gentile slave woman sat at the same table as a Roman freedman slave owner and shared food. These two people on the opposite ends of the social ladder are equal because their status of “in Christ” trumps any earthly status.

Like Jesus before him, Paul is creating a new family which transcends human family. The members of the churches at Galatia are part of a family now, the family of Abraham, and that new relationship in Christ is more important that earthly family distinction. That the body of Christ is a family is foundation for the argument Paul is making here. If we are in Christ we are a new creation, but we are also part of a new family, adopted by God and therefore responsible to that new family.  The old family is left behind and only the new matters.

This is perhaps one of the most applicable passages in Galatians since so much of the American church is separated into social and racial groups.There are not many multi-racial churches, this is a oft-observed problem.  But there are not very many churches which mix the wealthy and the poor either.  Part of the problem is that wealthy Christians tend to build big churches where they live, not where the poor live.  Perhaps the poor would be welcome, but we are not going out of our way to welcome them!

What are other implications for Paul’s vision of equality in the Body of Christ? Does this have something to say about who leads the church? Is this statement a “cosmopolitan ideal” (to use Neutel’s phrase) intended to reform all of society, or is it limited to the church itself?

 

Bibliography: Karin B. Neutel, A Cosmopolitan Ideal: Paul’s Declaration “Neither Jew nor Greek, Neither Slave nor Free, nor Male and Female” in the Context of First-Century Thought (LNTS 513; London; Bloomsbury, 2015), 16.

3 thoughts on “Galatians 3:28: Neither Jew nor Gentile

  1. Paul utilizes chapter three of his letter to the Galatians, more specifically verses 26-28, to drive home the significance of one’s spiritual status over their earthly status. Essentially, Paul diminishes one’s earthly status. In this passage to the Galatians, Paul touches on three common earthly statuses of the Bible times in which he wrote this letter; those three statuses are Jewish vs. Gentile, slave vs. free, and male vs. female. For example, Roman society was conflicted with slavery, and it impacted the society drastically. The discussion of Jew vs. Gentile was a huge debate and discussion during the time of the letter to the Galatians, and the agitators in Galatia were very focused on the importance of upholding the Law and turning from Gentile to Jew. Circumcision was one of the main issues of the agitators. Obviously, as expressed throughout the letter to the Galatians, Paul does not hold this same sentiment in regards to upholding the Law. Moreover, male vs. female roles were much more drastic and labeled during Bible times than they are in today’s society. Therefore, the point that I am trying to make is that the fact that Paul is willing to dismiss each of these meaningful, significant status labels with his statement in Gal. 3:28 shows that he truly does not care about earthly status, but he is solely focuses on emphasizing how important it is for humans and Galatians to be “in Christ.”

    After reading Galatians and Longenecker and Still’s chapter on the letter, it is non-debatable to me that this is the most radical thing that Paul says in Galatians. Because he is willing to dismiss the earthly status labels that dominated this time and essentially determined the importance of a person and what they can and cannot do, I do not think anything in the rest of the letter can be compared in terms of levels of radical. I simply cannot find anything in the letter that is near as radical. That being said, I love what Paul has to say in this passage of chapter 3. I wish that society today could embrace this sentiment that earthly status does not matter in the slightest, when compared to spiritual status. In today’s society, some earthly statuses that dominate conversation and importance seem to be male vs. female, majority race vs. minority race, heterosexual vs. homosexual, Christian vs. non-Christian, rich vs. poor, etc. It seems as if the significance of the spiritual status of whether not a person is “in Christ” has been diminished in the eyes of the public, and the significance has turned to the earthly statuses that are listed above. Today’s society needs to drive home Paul’s sentiment here. Christians need to bring back the significance of earthly status by beginning to avoid focusing on the earthly status of their neighbors.

    Lastly, when reading this post, it made me think of some Christian’s belief that woman should not be in leadership roles in the church. Though I am not here to answer that question or entertain that debate right now, it makes me wonder if this passage speaks against that notion. Obviously, one must consider the context of a passage before applying it to concepts in other areas of Scripture, so I do not want to do that carelessly here. That being said, Paul seems to diminish the significance of earthly status here, so should earthly status be considered in leadership roles in churches today? Food for thought.

    Ultimately, Paul is saying that those who are “in Christ” have become adopted into the family of God. Paul speaks on adoption throughout his works, and this is another instance of that. Longenecker and Still (2014) say “Those within the family of God are drawn from all parts of humanity, regardless of their sub identities” (p. 101). This correlates with Paul’s thoughts.

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  2. One of the issues that arose during Paul’s ministry was the conflict between Jews and Gentiles, in regards to being in the presence of both groups of people. As stated by Longenecker, “Those who belonged to Christ are themselves are incorporated into Abraham’s seed, to whom the spirit had promised” (Longenecker, p. 102). In essence, it is transparent that Paul does not want the conflict between the two groups of people to get in between them remembering where their true identity lies. At the same time, it is clear that Paul does not want the differences between the Jews pertaining to legalism, to hinder their ability to be saved. Furthermore, according to Dr. Phil Long, one of the main themes is the issue of the Gentiles and the Law (Long, 2019). When it comes down to it, this is an issue that Paul had to face when discussing matter in the book of Galatians. Ultimately, though, as stated in Galatians 3:28, he wants to remind the people that legalism of Judiazers is preventing them from the true meaning of what it means to be saved. At the end of the day, Paul’s biggest fear he faced was making sure that the Gentiles and Jews can exist, while also helping maintain order in the Church.

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  3. Paul makes it very clear that a person’s gender, economic, racial, etc. status is no longer relevant or important to the body of Christ (Gal. 3:28). The only thing that matters is whether or not a person is “in Christ.” While some of the status’ that were important in Paul’s day are different than important status’ today, many Americans value certain races, economic levels, appearances and genders over other ones. This is an issue present in our country as a whole, the church, and smaller communities. For example, even at Grace, there has been the debate about the separation between worship arts / bible majors and the student athletes. In my opinion, people are going to naturally congregate towards people who are similar because they share more interests, opinions. worldviews, and activities. Though my business classes I have been taught, based on a famous quote by motivational speaker Jim Rohn, that your finances and income is the average of your 5 closest friend’s income. I don’t believe that spending more time with people similar to you is wrong, until it becomes either exclusive or unwelcoming. If differences in a persons characteristics is causing you to exclude them from your circle, then a problem is developing. In addition, it can be crucial to welcome people with different backgrounds and status’ to gain new perspective, learn from them, and broaden and refine your own worldview based on more circumstances than simply your own. While we are all equal, people still have different roles and we can see that through even the different gender roles that men and women are given (Gen 2-3; Eph 5:22-33).

    While diving further into what Paul says about gender roles, we can turn to 1 Corinthians. The way Paul deals with the issue in chapter 8 gives us a lot of clarity as to how we ought to handle the present (and past [1 Cor. 11]) issue of who is preaching in the churches. There can be actions a person takes that is not blatantly sinful to God, yet as Christians we should refrain because it could cause other believers to stumble (Longenecker 125). We are “all one in Christ Jesus” and therefore it shouldn’t matter who is teaching or preaching in the church as long as they are submissive and obedient to God. Yet, if a congregation is struggling with a woman preaching and they doubt the authenticity of your church based on passages talking about submissiveness, it may be wise to limit the exposure a woman has to teaching and preaching.

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