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In Context: Neither Male nor Female

by Connie J. Wright

The following article appeared in the May, 1995 issue of Pillar & Foundation.

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"There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor freeman; there is neither male nor female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:28). These words are often quoted in support of a female priesthood. If there is no difference between male and female in Christ, it is argued, how can women be excluded from leadership in the Church? We shall see that in context Galatians 3:28 does not address gender roles.

Galatians was written in response to the false teachings of Jewish Christians known as "Judaizers". They insisted that Gentiles must obey the Law of Moses in order to be saved. Paul makes it clear that the ceremonial aspects of the law do not effect salvation through Christ.

Paul begins by summarizing his relationship with the other apostles. None of those who knew Jesus while He was on earth ever insisted that Paul circumcise his Gentile converts (Gal 2:3, 7-10). He then explains God's promise to Abraham: "Through you shall all the nations be blessed" (Gal3:8). The law taught that all believers must become Jews. The promise, however, came before the law and takes precedence over it (3:17-18). Gentiles are to share in the promised blessing as fully as Jews. Jesus is Abraham's descendant, who inherits the promise (3:16). By faith in Christ,both Jews and Gentiles are blessed with salvation.

Inheritance Under the Law

In the final section of Chapter 3, Paul continues to expound upon the difference between the law and the promise. This difference is centered around the concept of inheritance. "For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all you who have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ. . . And if you are Christ's, then you are offspring of Abraham, heirs according to promise" (3:26-27, 29). Incorporated into Christ at baptism, every Christian is identified with Christ as Abraham's descendant, including those who would have been disqualified under the law.

Those who use Galatians 3:28 as a support for a female priesthood see the verse as an assertion of the equality of groups who were looked down upon. That is not Paul's point. He is concerned with the requirements for inheriting salvation.

The distinction between "slave" and "freeman" leads Paul to his next metaphor on salvation through Christ. This illustration brings to light the full meaning of Galatians 3:28. Under the law, the Jews were like young children who had not yet received their inheritance. They were really no different from slaves connected with Abraham's house (4:1-3). Both slave and child enjoyed the fruits of Abraham's household, yet neither was his own master, nor possessed property.

Only free, male, adult Jews could participate fully in worship and inheritance. If a Gentile wished to join fully in the worship of God, he had to be circumcised and follow the law--in other words, he had to become a Jew. Even a circumcised slave could unite himself with God's people in this way (Ex 12:44). But neither a slave nor a free convert could inherit property in Israel, unless he were adopted by a Jew. In a sense, then, slaves and converts were excluded from the blessing promised to Abraham, since blessings, like property, were inherited.

The Law and Women

Under Moses, women could participate in religious feasts, including eating what had been sacrificed to God (Lev 22:13). They could not inherit property, however, unless their father died "without leaving a son" (Num 27:8). The sons of the family were always the heirs. If a man had a son, the only way his daughters could inherit was if the son died before the father. This is what occurred with Christ, who was God's only Son. His death opened the way for women to become heirs of God.

All three groups then--Greeks, slaves, and women--could only inherit in special circumstances under Moses. It seems that this was not the case before the law. Job's daughters inherited property along with his sons (Job 42:15). Abraham had planned to make his slave Eliezer his heir, before God promised Abraham a son (Gen 15:2). Abraham himself was uncircumcised when he received the promise (Rom 4:10).

But if even the circumcised sons of Jews were only young children until Christ, as Paul says (Gal 4:1-3), everyone was in the same situation. No one had inherited the promise. Through Christ, everyone becomes an heir. Jesus was "born under the law" (4:4), the heir of both Abraham and God. Through incorporation into Christ, Jews and Gentiles, slaves and freemen, men and women all become God's adopted sons. By this sonship, they can inherit eternal life.

If God has many natural sons, then according to the law, His daughters have little hope of inheriting the blessing. But if God has one Son, Jesus, who died and now lives to incorporate all believers into Himself, then nothing can prohibit women from inheriting the blessing.

To use Galatians 3:28 as a support for a female priesthood is not only to rip the verse out of context, but to distort a beautiful picture of how much God has done for us in Christ. The issue is much more fundamental than women's place in the Church--it is a question of whether they are saved at all. Despite recent claims that women were ordained in the early Church, there is no biblical support for such a practice.

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Copyright ©1996. Created by Connie J. Wright. Revised 7/23/96.