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Galatians 3:28 and the Harmful Effects of Misinterpretation

Screen Shot 2015-08-02 at 5.31.24 PMI’ve been reading an excellent book recently by Richard Twiss Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys: A Native American Expression of the Jesus Way. At one point in the book Twiss recalls a moment when as a very young Christian he was wrestling with how his Native identity related to being a Christian. He sought out the counsel of pastor who quoted to him Galatians 3:28 where Paul said, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”. What the Christian leader said after that, Twiss reports:

After reading it he commented how cultures should all blend together for us as Christians, and then concluded by saying, “So, Richard, don’t worry about being Indian anymore–just be like us.”

Then Twiss reflects:

Though he was unaware of it, essentially what he as saying was, “Forget you Indian-ness and embrace our white culture as the only Christian culture”. Being young and naive as well as deeply grateful for Creator’s love in setting me free from drug and alcohol abuse, and sincerely committed to becoming a wholehearted follower of Jesus, I believed that church leader. I really had no choice, being a new Christian, and he, being in a position of spiritual power/authority, gave an answer from the Bible about cultures. So for the next twelve years I lived the Christian life as it was culturally modeled for me by non-Native friends and Christian brethren–something I later found to be less than I am, and much less than the Lord Jesus wants me to be! (104).

This story burdens me greatly! While not every evangelical would interpret the passage this way, Twiss’s story accurately represents what many Christian’s think the verse means: following Jesus means the end of ethnicity. The reasons for this are multiplex, but one of the major factors is the traditional reading of Paul, and especially of his letter to the Galatians. In my commentary on Galatians I will show that Paul’s argument centers on the importance of ethnic distinction. What’s more, Paul’s theology promotes the theological necessity of ethnic difference within the ecclesia – this is his “truth of the gospel” (2:5, 14). This thesis is novel for our contemporary moment, but it is rooted in its first-century world in which the letter was written.

What the church did to Jewish Jesus believers in the second-fifth centuries – ruling it was impossible to be both a Jew and a Christian, it has done to most other marginalized people groups: force them to assimilate into the dominate culture, which had been theologized, rather than seeking to foster the unique cultural expressions of Jesus followership.

I have to say, the struggle of Messianic Jews in the last 30 years, which I’ve had the privilege of learning about, has interesting and significant parallels with the struggle of Native American Jesus believers. It seems that is all starts with a misunderstanding of Paul’s letter to the Galatians.

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