In Paul’s letter to the Galatians the apostle builds an argument that former barriers to the blessing have been knocked down — everyone comes into the family of God by faith. And then Paul gives what my colleague, Klyne Snodgrass, calls the “most socially explosive statement in the NT” — and he says folks have four options when reading Gal 3:28:
Here’s the verse:
“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
An ethnic mandate, a socio-economic mandate, and a gender mandate.
Here are the options:
1. Paul did not really means these words: maybe he got carried away.
2. Paul meant this only in part: all have access to salvation on the same basis.
3. Paulâs theology developed after this â away from it — 1 Cor 14 and 1 Tim 2 show that Paul changed his mind.
4. Paul meant exactly this â and his theology grew toward it — mutuality, unity, and giftedness are the same for all three groups.
Many things can be said, have been said, and will be said about this verse. It both carries far too much weight for some and scares the traditions of others. I offer only a few observations:
1. To distinguish between soteriology (access to God) and ecclesiology (what one can do in church) cannot be sustained by this verse. For Paul, ethnic, socio-economic (class), and gender divisions are broken down because what Paul is claiming here fulfills OT expectations.
2. The theme of the immediate verses is not about soteriology but about unity — that each of these groups is brought into a new family — hence, the fundamental orientation is about ecclesiology and not simply soteriology.
3. Identity changes in Christ: one’s identity is no longer simply ethnic, socio-economic or gender but what one is in the new family in Christ. This does not obliterate any of these realities — Paul sustains ethnic difference in 1 Cor 7 etc. It eliminates these realities as boundaries between people and with God.
4. The most significant OT background to this text is not Genesis 1:27 (male and female) but New Creation themes found in Isa 2:1-5; 25:6-8; 51:4; 66:19-21; Mic 4:2-5; Zech 14:16 and Joel 2:28-32; 3:1-5.
These themes are developed by Paul in 2 Cor 5:14-17 and also at Ga. 6:15.
I suggest the following ideas feed into Gal 3:28:
a. The eschatological gathering of all to worship the one true God together.
b. God will gift all people — ethnic, socio-economic, and gender — with God’s Spirit so that all will be gifted to ministry. Notice Joel 2:28-29 as background to Gal 3:28:
Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.
29 Even on the male and female slaves,
in those days, I will pour out my spirit.