Friday, October 29, 2010

Does Galatians 3:28 do away with gender roles?

I mentioned on Sunday that those who espouse an egalitarian view of gender roles have a difficult time supporting their position biblically.  That doesn’t stop them from trying, though. (As a reminder, egalitarianism holds that there are no meaningful distinctions between the two genders in terms of role and authority in marriage and the church.

Practically speaking, egalitarians argue that women should not be expected to submit to their husbands and should be afforded the role of pastor/elder in the church.) One of the most common tactics is to cite Galatians 3:28, which reads, 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. It is argued by some evangelical feminists that Paul intends for us to understand that because “there is no male or female,” there should be no gender-specific leadership roles in marriage and the church. This interpretation of Galatians 3:28 is incredible for at least two reasons.

First, using Galatians 3:28 to support an egalitarian view of gender roles divorces the verse from its context.  Context is king.  It’s been said that the three most important factors in creating a successful retail business are location, location, location.  Similarly, it could be said that the three most important factors in arriving at an accurate interpretation of any text of Scripture are context, context, context. In the case of Galatians 3:28, even a cursory observation of the verse in its context is devastating to the egalitarian interpretation.

Paul wrote the book of Galatians to combat a false gospel.  This is clear from 1:6-9:

6 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-- 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 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. 9 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.

Chapter 2 reveals that this false gospel sought to require uncircumcised believers to become circumcised, or more generically, to keep the law of Moses (2:3-5, 11-14).  Paul immediately proclaims the truth that “a person is not justified by the works of the law but through faith in Christ Jesus” (2:15-16).

In Chapter 3 Paul makes the case that even Abraham was saved by faith alone (3:1-8).  Those who rely on the works of the law to save them are under a curse, but Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law “so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles” (3:10-14). 

The natural question, anticipated by Paul, is found in 3:19a: “Why then the law?”  In other words, what purpose did the law serve?  Paul gives a summary answer in 3:24: “Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.”  The law showed us our inability to keep it and therefore our need for a Savior.  The point of the argument up to this point is that all people are saved by faith alone, not by the works of the law.

And now let’s look at v28 within its immediate context:

  25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.  26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.  27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's descendants, heirs according to promise.

What follows in chapters 4-6 is the practical outworking of this truth.  Galatians does not deal with gender roles.  I assure you, I have not made any convenient omissions in my portrayal of the context, but don’t just take my word for it; please take the time to read the whole book.

If you do, you will find that this book is intended to defend the gospel of salvation by faith alone in Jesus Christ.  The point that 3:28 makes in its context is that ALL people – Jews, Greeks, slaves, freemen, males, females – are saved by faith and are one in Christ.  There is no distinction between these groups in terms of how they are saved.  There is no hint of the issue of gender roles at all.  To use 3:28 as a blanket statement that dissolves all gender roles in the family and the church is a blatant abuse of the verse in its context.

Second, using Galatians 3:28 to support the egalitarian view of gender roles fails to take into account those passages that do deal with that issue.  Scripture does not contradict Scripture.  So anytime we arrive at a tentative interpretation of a passage of Scripture, we should then take that interpretation and measure it against other biblical teaching on that issue.  If that interpretation is found to contradict the clear teaching of the Word, we must reject it and go back to the beginning.  If we do that kind of Scriptural comparison with Galatians 3:28, we find that the egalitarian use of this verse is completely inconsistent with other relevant passages.

Consider these New Testament texts:

Eph 5:22-24 – Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

1 Peter 3:1-7 – Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct.  Do not let your adorning be external--the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear-- but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious.  For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.  Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.

1 Timothy 2:11-14 – Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness.  I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.  For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.

Colossians 3:18-19 – Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.  Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.

1 Corinthians 11:3-9 – But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.  Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven.  For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head.  For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man.  Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.

Unlike the egalitarian use of Galatians 3:28, if you look at the contexts of each of the passages just quoted, you will find that all of them come from sections of Scripture dealing explicitly with the issue of gender roles.  If it is our conviction that Scripture cannot contradict itself, we must come to the conclusion that either our understanding of the above texts is flawed or the egalitarian understanding of Galatians 3:28 is flawed.  Since our understanding of the passages above is supported by the contexts in which those passages are found, and since the egalitarian understanding of Galatians 3:28 disregards its context, we must conclude that Galatians 3:28 does not teach gender-neutral roles in the family and the church.

But this proper reasoning is lost on the egalitarian community.  At least on this issue, they seem to be content with contradiction.  There seems to be no desire to find an interpretation of Galatians 3:28 that is faithful to the context and harmonizes with the rest of Scripture.  Instead, the egalitarian argument seeks to simply cancel out the passages above, as if the object was to find a way to balance the theological scales, placing their understanding of Galatians 3:28 on one side and the conflicting passages on the other.  It is truly frightening to me how commonplace this form of biblical reasoning has become.  Professing believers who disagree on certain issues allow the conversation on such matters to devolve into a kind of proof-texting food fight, where each side throws their pet verses at the other to see who runs out of ammo first.

God’s Word deserves to be treated with care and precision.  It should inform and shape our hearts rather than our hearts informing and shaping it.  Faithful biblical interpretation seeks to understand a passage in its own context and in relation to the rest of the biblical material related to the subject matter of that text.  The egalitarian interpretation of Galatians 3:28 fails on both accounts.

Posted by Greg Birdwell

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