Galatians 3:28 is often quoted by Christians who favor the elimination of a distinction between the roles of men and women in the home and in the Church. The apostle Paul is normally quoted in a negative way by those who consider male leadership to be a Church tradition which has become obsolete and old fashioned. Well, what about it? Does Galatians 3:28 erase the differences between females and males as to their roles in the home and in the Church? Do Christians who maintain a role distinction between male and female have clear biblical foundation, or are they blindly following Church tradition? Have the "role eliminators" forced Galatians 3:28 into a presuppositional mold of their own making, or have they correctly moved from a traditional view to a 20th century model for men and women?To properly determine the meaning of this verse we must carefully examine the immediate context of the verse, as well as the thrust of the book of Galatians in particular and of Scripture in general.
The basic answer to correctly interpreting this verse lies in the argument of the book of Galatians. Ordinarily we use the word "argument" to describe a heated discussion or debate. However, in reference to a book of Scripture the word is used (just as it is used in a court of law) to mean the overall "line of reasoning" of the author. Knowing the argument of a book always helps to remove misunderstandings of what God is teaching in that book.A number of books of the Bible have "arguments," particularly certain New Testament epistles in which the author is seeking to establish or defend a major point of doctrine. The letter to the Galatians certainly falls into this category. In this book the apostle Paul--in no uncertain terms--defends and "argues" for the doctrine of salvation apart from the works of the Law of Moses. His argument runs throughout the book. Before we look further at the argument of Galatians, however, let's consider a few other points that should be kept in mind for careful and proper interpretation of this controversial text of scripture.
A Contradiction in Scripture?
At first glance it might seem that the apostle Paul was advocating the removal of former role distinctions between men and women when he penned the words, "There is neither male nor female." However, a closer analysis reveals many inconsistencies with such an interpretation. First of all, other Scriptures indicate that the statement "there is neither male nor female" cannot be construed as a blurring or removal of differing roles for women and men in the home and in the church. Let's consider just a few passages written by the same author, the apostle Paul. Certainly a God-inspired writer can not and will not contradict himself or any other biblical author!In 1 Corinthians 11:3 we read, "Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ." What is the context of this verse? In 1 Corinthians 11 the apostle was addressing the structure of authority within the church. If Galatians 3:28 was meant to remove the differences between men and women in the church, then we're faced with a major contradiction in the Bible!
God's Plan for Structure
When we harmonize the two Scriptures above, we are led to the conclusion that although there is complete equality between men and women when it comes to their intrinsic essence, there are differences in their functions in the Church. "Ontological equality with functional subordination" would be a formal way of expressing the teaching of 1 Corinthians 11. Women, although complete equals with men in essence, and equally created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), are to willingly accept and follow the leadership structure which God has planned for the Church.An excellent illustration of this truth is given right in the same verse: "God is the head of Christ." We know that the "ontological equality" (equality as to being or essence) between God the Father and God the Son was maintained at all times. While the Lord Jesus Christ was on earth, however, He was "functionally subordinate" to God the Father. Many growing Christians find this doctrine difficult to grasp, but many passages in the New Testament bear out this truth. Jesus Christ, God the Son become Man, willingly accepted and followed the divine plan that He would subordinate Himself to the leadership of God the Father while He was here on earth. In this passage we see our Lord Jesus Christ presented as the model for Christian women: willing and obedient acceptance of God's plan for function and structure in the church.
Ephesians 5:22-25 indicates that distinctions between men and women are to be maintained in the home as well as in the church. "Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself up for her."This passage teaches God's plan for the home. Again, although women and men are completely equal in their intrinsic essence, husbands are appointed to lovingly and sacrificially care for their wives, and wives are appointed to follow this loving leadership in the home. In this passage we see our Lord Jesus Christ presented as the model for Christian husbands: willing and obedient acceptance of God's plan for loving, caring structure in the home.
Some Christians have advanced the idea that the word "head" as used by Paul does not involve "functional subordination," but this view is not borne out by unbiased word studies. Moreover, 1 Corinthians 11:9 and 1 Timothy 2:13 indicate that "functional subordination" was God's intention for men and women on earth--even before the Fall. It should be pointed out that Scripture gives no indication that functional subordination will continue in Heaven. It is a creation ordinance given by God for mankind's time on this earth.The many abuses of functional "headship" in the home and church bring serious dishonor to Christ and are gross and sinful distortions of the divine plan. Abuses and disobedience, however, do not justify ignoring Scripture or reinterpreting the word "head" to fit what is culturally popular.
"My Thoughts Are Not Your Thoughts"
To go off on a small tangent--why did God ordain this particular arrangement for function and structure in the home and church? We don't know! Whatever we may think or feel about the subject, God planned it this way. He knows best, even if His plans don't always "make sense" to fallen humanity! He always works in the ways which best accomplish His purposes and best portray His truth and grace. "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways," declared the Lord in Isaiah 55:8.However, abusive authoritarianism was never in God's plan! In fact, His Word teaches that mutual respect, humility and love are the keys to harmonious relationships in the home and church. This is clearly taught in Philippians 2:1-4, and once again the illustration upheld (v5-11) is the self-sacrificial humility and love of our Lord Jesus Christ! In 1 Peter 3:1-12, the apostle Peter also writes that husband/wife and male/female relationships are to be characterized by respect, honor, consideration, harmony, sympathy and humility.
If Galatians 3:28 removed the distinction of function between men and women, then (to be logical and consistent) it also removed the distinction of race between Jew and non-Jew, and the distinctions in Roman society between slave and free person! Here again Paul went to great lengths to show that while everyone is equal in God's sight, and no one has a corner on God's grace, yet there was a divinely recognized distinction between Jew and Gentile and between slave and master in race and society on this earth.In reference to our salvation and inheritance in Christ, there are no inherent advantages: no racial advantages (Jew over gentile), or societal advantages (free person over slave), or gender advantages (male over female), or vice versa. Yet a divinely-recognized distinction existed between Jew and non-Jew and between slave and master in race and society on this earth. In Romans 11 Paul belabored the fact that the racial distinction and earthly place of privilege, and God's prophetic future for the Jewish people, was not erased with the coming of Christianity. "In Christ," however, there is no difference in essence between Jew and Gentile, as Ephesians 2:11-22, Colossians 3:11, and Romans 10:12 clearly show. Similarly, in Ephesians 6:5-9 and Colossians 3:22-4:1, Paul taught that the social structure of master and slave in 1st century Roman culture (reflected today in the employer/employee relationship) was to be respected by Christians, even though "in Christ" there was no difference in essence between slaves and free persons. Consider just the Colossian 3 passages mentioned above: "For there is no distinction between...slave and freeman" (v11) and "Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth" (v22). Is it logical or conceivable that Paul would "change his mind" so completely between verses 11 and 22?
Another idea put forward by some "role eliminators," proposes that until the time that Paul wrote Galatians 3:28 his "theology" was "in process." This view holds that, after wrestling through the shortsightedness of his early views, Paul finally emerged with clarity of insight, and declared that "there is neither male nor female." It's obvious that this proposition dead-ends at an immovable obstacle, namely, the doctrine of the divine inspiration of Scripture! Another obvious shortcoming of this proposition is that Galatians was written before Paul's supposed "theological wrestling"--not after!Some people have turned this proposition around, and claim that Paul had his "theological act together" early in his Christian career, but then went "downhill" because he got snagged by certain legalistic and pharisaical hang-ups. This idea meets with equal obstacles, including again the divine authorship of Scripture. Moreover, in his prison epistles, written later in his ministry, it is clear that Paul was not "hung up" with the legalistic "Judaizers" in any way. The Judaizers were opposed to "Paul's gospel" because it didn't include the necessity of works as a part of salvation. They dogged the steps of the apostle and sought to undermine his clear teaching that the gospel of God's grace was free from the Jewish Law. But in spite of the pressure, never, at any point in his ministry, did Paul back down or give an inch to the false teaching of the Judaizers. In Philippians 3:2, for example, Paul showed no mercy to the legalistic false teachers, referring to them as "dogs" and "evil workers." It's quite obvious that Paul was not hung up with their heretical views on the Christian faith!
The Argument of Galatians
Now let's turn to the argument (the overall line of reasoning) of Galatians. This is the key to the proper interpretation of Galatians 3:28. In the first section of chapter 1, it's impossible to miss the fact that Paul was very upset with the Galatian believers, who had settled for a distorted gospel of Christ. Because of the false teaching of the Judaizers, they had accepted a watered-down doctrine of justification which included the works of the Law along with the Work of Christ! They had swallowed the false teaching that a person cannot possibly be saved by faith alone!So Paul's letter to them systematically attacked this false teaching, and argued for the doctrine of justification by faith alone. In chapters 1 and 2, Paul showed that his apostolic authority was God-given, and that Jesus Christ Himself had revealed to Paul that the gospel of salvation is by faith alone. The main part of his argument about justification is in chapters 3 and 4, and has nothing whatsoever to do with the question of role distinction of men and women in the home or in the church. In chapters 5 and 6, the argument of the Galatian letter concluded by teaching that if believers would "walk after the Spirit and not after the flesh," their freedom from the Law, and liberty in Christ would not result in license for the flesh, and there would thus be no abuse of the doctrine of justification by faith alone.
In chapter 3, following his main argument, Paul proceeded through several logical steps to show that there was no foundation for the Galatians' idea that justification included the works of the Law. First he reminded the Galatian believers that they had not experienced the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives by keeping the Law of Moses (v1-5). Next he pointed out that those who come to faith in Christ are really a fulfillment of the promise that God made to Abraham--and Abraham was long before the Law of Moses (v6-9).Beginning in verse 10, and leading up to verse 26, Paul elaborated on the fact that the Law and grace don't mix. In fact, God never intended the works of the Law to be a means of salvation! God gave the Law as a standard for holy living, and a "schoolmaster" to direct us to faith in Christ. Now, through faith in Christ (v26), all believers, equally, are baptized by the Holy Spirit into Christ (v27), all believers, equally, are clothed with the righteousness of Christ (v27), all believers, equally, have the position of being in Christ (v28), and all believers, equally, belong to Christ (v29).
The Argument is the Answer
Now, having seen argument of the book and the context of the verse, we see how verse 28 fits and can correctly interpret its meaning. "In Christ" earthly distinctions lose their significance. There is no spiritual superiority or privilege because of race or culture ("neither Jew not Greek"), social status ("neither slave nor free"), or gender ("neither male nor female"), when it comes to salvation and spiritual position "in Christ." There are no differences! There is no functional subordination in salvation! We are "all one in Christ Jesus"! As Romans 3:21-22 says, "Now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction."
So, from the argument of the epistle to the Galatians, we see that the statement "there is neither male nor female" should not be used as a manifesto to abolish the distinctions of male and female roles in the home and church--in fact, it has nothing whatever to do with the different functions of women and men in the home and in the church. The "neither male nor female" of Galatians 3:28 speaks of the wonderful position all Christians have in Christ, apart from any works of the Law! Have you had questions about the meaning of Galatians 3:28? You will find that your basic answer is in the argument of the book.