Consistent Biblical theology demands that we understand this verse in order to rightly understand both salvation and the relationship between husbands and wives. Indeed, this verse is the proof text for those that would advocate an equality of the sexes. So, let’s consider this verse:
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 ESV
Well, it’s pretty clear there. There’s no male or female in Christ Jesus, so that means… what exactly?
As always, the first thing that we have to consider when looking at any Bible passage is the context. What does this verse mean in the context of the arguments that Paul is making in the text and what would the original hearers have understood upon hearing or reading this text.
All of chapter three of Galatians is making an argument that’s non-uncommon to the epistles of Paul– an argument of whether believers are under the law or under grace. Paul takes this on in almost every Epistle because, as the Apostle to the Gentiles, he is establishing why the Messiah had come not just to save the Jews but the Gentiles as well. The Jewish believer of the time believed that Yahweh was just for them, and that Gentiles would have to become Jewish to inherit the blessing of Abraham, and Paul goes to extraordinary lengths to make sure that the Gentiles know that this is no longer the case– that salvation has always been about belief in Yahweh and his Messiah, and not about whether or not you were physically born of Abraham.
The verse in question comes at the end of an argument that while the law was around, everyone was under the law, and now that Christ is come we are now under grace. Grace obliterated the idea that some were better than others, or that Christ only came to save certain people of certain classes. Grace doesn’t just apply to Jews, or men, or masters, but grace is available to all. Anywhere in the hierarchy, grace applies.
He immediately goes from this verse to provide the example of the difference between an heir and someone that has the inheritance, telling the readers that the law was a governor of the inheritance until grace– the people came of age.
So this passage has everything to do with the availability of salvation– its efficacy. The only impact it has on structures is to say that it is not limited to any hierarchy that they Jews had operational in their mind at the time.
Given that we understand what the context is, should we believe that there ceased to be differences between Jews and Gentiles in areas other than salvation? No, Paul argues that the Jews have the promises, that they are the ones to whom the law was given and the Gentiles are those outside of the law. Paul does not argue that Gentiles should go into the Temple (something they accused him of when he returned to Jerusalem).
Should we believe that this means there are no differences between masters and slaves? No, Paul does not state that Onesimus is free to Philemon, but states that Onesimus has now become a brother and Christ and entreats Philemon to treat him as a brother and allow him continued ministry to Paul. Coming to Christ did not change Onesimus role in the relationship. Further, Paul will use the household code passages in Ephesians and Colossians to reaffirm that Master and Slave relationship, telling Masters to be kind and Slaves to work for their masters as if they were working for God himself.
This brings us to two problems with male and female and interpreting that to mean equality between the sexes or husband and wife.
The first is that male and female are not the words husband and wife. In some places (like 1 Corinthians 11), the words man and woman are interchangeable with husband and wife depending on context. Here it is the biological dichotomy.
The second is that no one ceases to be male or female when they are saved– no more than they ceased being a Jew, Greek, Master or a slave. They are still those things, they still have those roles, the point is about salvation.
On its face, there’s no support in the passage or in logic to conclude that men and women are the same based on Galatians 3:28. It’s just not there.
- The same opportunity to follow Christ? Certainly.
- Same promise of Heaven and eternal reward? Positively!
- Same join heir with Jesus? Most definitely!
Let’s stop using this as a poor proof text trying to twist the Scripture into saying what it doesn’t say, and glory in the truth that it does.