Monday, May 14, 2012

On Galatians 3:28

In light of a few posts I wrote last week (this and this), I'd like to briefly discuss Galatians 3:28.

"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." (Galatians 3:28)

Galatians 3:28 is a verse that is frequently yanked out of context for a variety of purposes. Like most other verses, when the context is ignored, this verse can be forced to mean a wide variety of different things. In order to understand what Paul is truly saying, we must remember the broader context in which 3:28 falls.

Paul is writing to Christians in modern-day Turkey. His audience is likely those in the churches Paul founded on his first missionary journey. Paul is aghast that these relatively new believers have, to one degree or another, turned from the gospel of grace to a message of works. Paul writes these strong words at the outset of the epistle in 1:6-9, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel - not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”

Most of the letter carries the theme of salvation by God’s grace through faith. It is designed to contradict the false teachings of Judaizers who were proclaiming a works-based gospel of law following. The context of the vast majority of this letter is one of salvation. Specifically, 1:1-5:12 focuses on salvation. It is not until 5:13 that Paul transitions to a focus on sanctification, saying, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”

We see, then, that 3:28 falls in the middle of a fairly long treatise by Paul on the topic of faith-based salvation. In chapter three, Paul writes about Abraham as the man of faith. Abraham was justified by faith, not law. After Christ came, both Jews and Gentiles of faith are counted as sons of Abraham. Paul concludes chapter three by writing this in verses 25-29, “But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 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. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.”

Everyone in Christ, regardless of race, societal status, or gender, is an heir to the promise of salvation. In this great salvation, we are all the same in Christ. We all have the same value and receive the same gift.

The entire focus of 3:28 is salvation in Christ.

Please notice that 3:28 says absolutely nothing about the role that any Christ-follower is to play in the family, in broader society, and/or in the church. This is because the context of 3:28 is salvation as opposed to sanctification. There are plenty of other verses in the NT that speak to the roles God expects us to play.

Galatians 3:28 is frequently used by some to say that men and women have the exact same roles to play in the family and in the church. The problem with this is that it requires the text to be torn out of its context in order to make it say this. Simply put, it’s not what Paul meant.

The bible differentiates between worth/value and role. Some verses deal with one while others deal with the other. Galatians 3:28 is a wonderful verse that we should all cherish, but we must also be faithful to scripture’s intent. While Paul intended for 3:28 to be read for understanding of salvation, he had no plans for this to impact the way we think about the roles we play.

Let’s all remember that each verse belongs in a broader context. It is from this context that meaning comes. In order to know what God means in the bible, we must stay in context.


Arthur Sido said...

Excellent treatment of one of the most misused and abused passages in Scripture.

Jonathan said...

Good post. Seems the egalitarian/complimentarian apologists both foist this text about as being applicable to their arguments. I am now hearing it being utilized as a tool in the 'gay marriage' debate. Amazing and incredibly sad.

Aussie John said...


I'm glad to see someone taking notice of the importance of context; which reminds me of my younger student days and the differences of understanding of the matter by four of our professors. The students often had a good chuckle about "the four contexts" which were apparently decided by the subject bias.

"Everyone in Christ, regardless of race, societal status, or gender, is an heir to the promise of salvation. In this great salvation, we are all the same in Christ. We all have the same value and receive the same gift.

The entire focus of 3:28 is salvation in Christ."

That fact, alone, prevents the limiting of function, by "race, societal status, or gender" for roles within "society, and/or the church" of one in the Body of Christ.

The "broader context" of which you speak is, of course, the whole N.T., with passages such as 1 Cor.12 in the forefront

The great difference between O.C. mindsets and N.C. is the fact that, regardless of "race, societal status, or gender" there is only one description of a member of the Body, and that is "in Christ", as Paul recognized in the passage you mention.

I'm not too sure how the context shows that Paul "....had no plans for this to impact the way we think about the roles we play."

Eric said...


Thanks. We've probably all heard it abused in a wide variety of ways. The biggest problem seems to be the way some folks use it as a sort of trump card to beat other texts into submission.

Eric said...


Thanks for commenting. I agree completely.

Gal. 3:28 truly is a wonderful verse. Sad it is that it is abused for various purposes.

Eric said...


I'm just trying to point out that this verse is describing salvation. There are plenty of other verses that deal much more specifically with role in body life and in the family. The danger, at least in this country, is the way many egalitarians use this one verse as a bully toward numerous other passages.

Aussie John said...


I wasn't arguing against what you wrote, but simply making the point that Scripture often raises principles, which don't deny the the context, but are important in themselves.

Your reference to "egalitarians" caused a smile because I have read both egalitarians and complementarians using this text to ‘prove’ their point.

The one that Gal.3:28 shows that all gender-based distinctions are removed in salvation and role, and is the interpreting factor for other verses.

The other,that Gal. 3:28 states that race,status and gender do not provide any barriers to salvation,and has no bearing on what other Scripture says.

It seems to me that the Holy Spirit doesn't always stick to our rules of interpretation, even our most scholarly ones.

Eric said...


That's interesting. I've almost always heard Gal. 3:28 used as a bully-club for those determined to do away with gender-based differences in the church and family. If you read through some of the comments on my post about a good reason for women to speak, you will see the wording repeated over and over. The reason for this post was that I wanted to give a response to that particular line of thought.