This post is a part of the series comparing the teaching on various gender passages in the Bible. Read more about the series here.
Galatians 3:26-28 says,
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 no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (ESV)
Summary of Disagreements
What could be problematic about this verse you may wonder? Its scope. All Christians agree that salvation is for everyone, regardless of race, gender or social status. But how does that practically translate to the present life on earth? Will God use men and women in the same way?
Complementarians emphasize the broad context of Galatians, which is Paul’s defense of justification by faith alone and not by keeping the law (end of chapter 2). They conclude this verse has no bearing on the gender roles they believe were established at creation. Men were created to be leaders, and women should never lead men.
Egalitarians focus on the context of chapter 3, which is living by the same Spirit which birthed your salvation. They conclude that since both male and female are called “sons,” this inheritence is applicable right now on earth. There should be no distinction in gender roles in the church. The Holy Spirit will gift either men or women with leadership abilities or teaching in the church. Gifting is the qualifying factor, not gender.
Does this verse erase all differences here and now? Nobody argues that men and women are identical. Both sides of the argument agree there are inherent biological differences between men and women. The context of this verse is “in Christ.”
To an egalitarian, this verse is trump. Galatians 3:28, and the truths taught in the entire book, are the filter by which Egals sift the other gender “problem” passages. Egals question any interpretation of a passage that limits the “sonship of God” for any believer.
Egals believe Galatians 3:28 is the great equalizer. Not only do all humans have equal access to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, they continue to live in the same manner by which they were saved (Galatians 3:3,11); through faith and not by the flesh (good behavior). Egalitarians believe Galatians 3:28 applies to a Christian’s living faith – sanctification – as well as salvation.
Paul spoke these words to a culture in which one’s class, gender, and ethnicity determined one’s value, status, and sphere of influence. Some insist that Galatians 3:28 speaks only of access to Christ, or salvation. But remember, Paul sent these words to a believing church that was divided over whether Christians should observe Jewish law (Gal. 2:11&ff). This passage concerns church life and practice, to be lived by kingdom values, not cultural prejudices. –Mimi Haddad, What Counts is the New Creation.
Egals believe there is no need to look back to the Old Covenant for God’s instruction on gender roles because the New Covenant does not follow the order of the Old One. In the words of Paul, “What counts is the new creation.”(Galatians 6:15) Egals reject the Complementarian belief that God’s creation order establishes a precedent that rules His Spirit’s generosity in Christ’s Church.
Egalitarians also use Galatians 3:28 to prop Jesus’ words in the gospels that flatten hierarchy and authoritarian structures. They believe in the equality of servanthood and the plain sense understanding of Jesus’ words on worldly superiority.
“Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” -Matthew18:1-3
“But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. But the greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.” -Matthew 23:8-12
And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater,one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.” -Luke 22:25-27
The Spirit of God is given without measure. His gifts have no litmus test of gender. In living the life of the Spirit, the egalitarian asks…why are we so concerned with things of the flesh?
It is a rare Complementarian that would not agree all Christians are equal, BUT…
…this passage does not abolish the gender-based roles established by God and redeemed by Christ. ~John Piper and Wayne Grudem. Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. 71-72.
To a comp, Galatians 3:28 must be limited to a heavenly inheritance because of two core beliefs:
- They believe God established gender roles at creation. This means the roles of men and women are inherent as part of God’s design. This “creation order” is how a Comp understands the entire Bible, even the New Covenant.
- They believe God works through authoritarian structures, or hierarchy.
Elizabeth Elliot says,
Acceptance of the divinely ordered hierarchy means acceptance of authority – first of all, God’s authority and then those lesser authorities which He has ordained. A husband and wife are both under God, but their positions are not the same. A wife is to submit herself to her husband. The husband’s “rank” is given to him by God,as the angel’s and animals’ ranks are assigned, not chosen or earned. – Let Me Be Woman.
Complementarians bolster these core beliefs by arguing that Peter commands wifely submission in 1 Peter 3:1-7, as well as recognizing the spouses’ joint inheritance of grace. They argue gender distinctions and co-inheritance are not exclusive with each other.
Because God created men to lead and women to help, Galatians 3:28 will not change God’s gender design. Hence, Comps believe it must be limited to justification, or our eternal salvation. Galatians 3:28 does not negate God’s commands elsewhere that women should not take postitions of authority over men.