Galatians 3:27-28

Let’s be a little bit controversial…

I don’t think Galatians 3:28 has any bearing on the debate over women’s ordination (or their ministry for that matter) and I want to try and spell out why. After you’ve read what I’ve written, please feel free to come back at me and discuss the substance of the exegesis I am presenting here. Iron sharpens iron after all…

I will be making use of a Bible quotes plugin during this post, so references can be read simply by putting your cursor over the bible verses which appear linked. I am using the ESV.

Arguments that use Gal 3:28 as a vehicle for supporting women’s ordination can only be made by taking that verse completely out of context of its surrounding chapter. Paul’s argument at the beginning of chapter 3 is one of the futility of attempting to be saved by keeping to the law. He sets up constant contrasts between law and grace (and faith), for example Gal 3:2, Gal 3:3, Gal 3:5. He then shows how Abraham was deemed righteous because of his faith, not his actions (Gal 3:10-14) and then turns to a contemporary illustration.

He teaches that the promise to Abraham’s seed (who in Gal 3:15-16 is explicitly named as Christ) was not set aside when the Law was revealed to Moses. The idea of a salvation through a promise was not set aside just because the Law was made known (Gal 3:18), rather, the Law simply indicates clearly the necessity for a promise of redemption, as it helps clarify in our lives that we are in need of a redeemer, a redeemer who had not yet come (Gal 3:19). The Law isn’t opposed to the promises of God to redeem by faith, rather it makes us aware of our need to be redeemed by faith (Gal 3:21:22). However, because the Jews focussed on the Law and not the earlier promise to Abraham, they become bound by the Law rather than the Law achieving its purpose of showing them the need for the promise of redemption by faith (Gal 3:23). They (the Jews) became locked into trying to keep the Law because the had not yet seen the fulfilment of the promise, who is Jesus (Gal 3:24-25).

So now we move into the verses that are often quoted in support of equality of ministry. So far though, the passage has been entirely a discussion about redemption and how man achieves it. There has been absolutely no mention of ministry and this is key to interpreting the next few verses correctly.

Paul now delivers the good news of the result of Jesus’ coming (Gal 3:26) – we are all children of God. How is that sonship (and I use the term sonship to link into the idea of legal adoption of an heir that Paul uses in Romans 8) achieved? Simply by having faith in Jesus. Gal 3:27 then clarifies this for us by saying that all who have been “baptised” into Christ have taken on his nature.

We just need to pause for a moment here, because we have to be careful how we handle this word “baptised”. The root in the Greek, Baptizo, is used to indicate both baptism in a sacramental or spiritual sense and also washing in a general sense (eg Luke 11:38). When used in a spritual sense it can indicate water baptism but also baptism in the Spirit (for example Acts 1:5). It is therefore invalid to assume that at this point Paul is referring specifically to water baptism. He might also be referring to Baptism in the Holy Spirit, and he might even be simply be saying “washed in Christ” (though arguably that phrase appears only here and in Romans 6:3) as a euphemism. Even if we reject this last possiblity (“washed in Christ”) we can still make a good case here that he is talking about the Baptism in the Spirit.

Let’s move on. We now come to Gal 3:28 and we see very clearly that when Paul says there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, he does so in the context of us all being “clothed with Christ”, which is a statement about redemption, not ministry. This “clothed with Christ” would probably be better expressed “put on Christ” (see for example Matt 27:31 – lit. “put on himself own clothes” and Rom 13:14 where the same word down to the precise grammar as Gal 3:27  is translated “put on”) indicating that our faith in Christ makes us ones who “put on” the promise that is found in him, an idea clearly articulated in Gal 3:29.

So we see without any doubt that the whole thrust of Galatians 3 is about soteriology, not ministry. Being equal in Christ, as verse 28 teaches, is about the equality amongst us of the promise of salvation in Christ, a promise which is not restricted by sex, economic status or race. To then jump from here to using the passage to talk about specific callings is to misuse the text, for Gal 3:28 is a statement of soteriology, not ministry. Indeed, the logical extension of the argument that this (Gal 3:28) means there is no bar to a  woman presiding at the Eucharistic table is to argue that absolutely anybody, ordained or unordained, who is “put in Christ” should be able to preside at the Eucharistic table, and that it would automatically be a valid sacrament. I don’t think this is what the proponents of women’s ordination have in mind and therefore by their restricting of the presidency at the Eucharist to those who are ordained (or at least authorised) they admit openly that Gal 3:28 is not itself an open invitation to allow sacramental presidency to all the “baptised”, which de facto means that neither women, nor men, have any right via baptism to such a position.

As I said above, I would welcome responses on the theology presented here, but please restrict yourselves to engaging with the exegesis as laid out. Other comments in this thread not discussing Galatians 3 (or passages that might help interpret the specific meaning of sections and words in Gal 3) will be treated as spam. This is not the place to tell anybody that they’re either misogynist or not following the Scriptures.

3 Comments on “Galatians 3:27-28

  1. Peter,

    Another excellent post! Thank you.

    A further angle might be that this passage should also be read in relation to the apparent controversy over circumcision among the members of the church in Galatia. Circumcision, according to God’s covenant with Abraham (Genesis 17.9-14), is to be carried out on all Jewish males and on the slaves bought with their money; it is not carried out on sojourners in the land, women, or free-men working in the household. Baptism, however, as a right of initiation into the body of Christ, encompasses everyone, Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female. So what we are dealing with is the right of initiation (and by extension salvation) and not roles within the community of believers. Membership of Christ’s body is open to all, but distinctions are still maintained in terms of gifts and ministry and sex, as Paul makes quite clear elsewhere.

  2. Peter,

    just quickly – seems to me the snag with your argument is the way you apply it. Sarah said in a comment on the other thread (the Maltby, women bishops etc one) that soteriology must impact on anthropology (not an exact quote I admit) – to make your argument above stick it seems to me you’d need to show why they can be so sharply compartmentalised.
    Hope that didn’t sound too condescending…
    And, that said, I think you’re right in your penultimate paragraph when you say that using Gal 3:28 by itself to argue for women’s ordination would mean that any baptised person could preside (although, slightly at a tangent, I understand that the Diocese of Sydney is pro lay presidency at the Eucharist; do you know if they’d argue their case this way?). But it seems to me (from a position of not much knowledge) that a good case can be made for ordaining women, in which Gal 3:28 would have a place but wouldn’t be the only component…

    in friendship, Blair

    • Hi Blair,

      You get to the nub of two issues.

      Firstly, yes Gal 3:28 might be part of an argument to allow women to be ordained, in that it doesn’t in and of itself disbar them from such a position. It could be used further, but simply not in a manner that assumes permitted function from a soteriological basis.

      Secondly, you are absolutely right that Sydney Diocese is in favour of lay presidency, though I don’t know whether they would argue such from Gal 3:28. I think they have instead gone for a pinickity reading of the rubric which, IMHO, is a bit of a foul ball. I was also considering just this morning that by allowing Deacons to preside at Communion (which is their first proposal) they are de facto going to permit women to preside. Not sure that’s what they wanted to achieve….

      I think I’d want you to unpack Sarah’s argument a bit more and give me an example to work with before I comment on your first para.

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