Galatians 3:28 has been styled the “magna carta of humanity” (Paul Jewett, Man as Male, 142) by some egalitarians. They say “this verse shows that the church has, in past generations, maintained unbiblical support of a paternalistic church and family order. This has kept Christian women from rising to their God-ordained place of equality of position and authority alongside men in the leadership of the church and in the family." Scholar Steven Clark has commented, “Nowadays many assume that Gal 3:28 is the place in which we find the heart of the scriptural teaching about the roles of men and women. Moreover, many interpret Gal. 3:28 to mean that ideally in Christ there are no role differences between men and women.”
The late Dr. Gerhard Hasel stated that “it is alleged by pro ordinationists that if Gal. 3:28 is taken at face value, the whole question concerning the role of women is settled.” He went on to say, “Gal. 3:28 seems to have been turned into the one and only proof text for the ordination of women!” Finally, he noted, “there is unanimity of opinion that the passage of Gal. 3:28 . . . presents the locus classicus of all Biblical texts for those who believe that, ultimately, Scripture does not discriminate between male and female and that it is therefore wrong for the Church to perpetuate such discrimination in its ordination practice” (Biblical Authority and Women, 19).
The general context of the book of Galatians is Paul’s remonstrance with the church’s abandonment of justification by faith alone (Gal. 2:16, 17, 21; 3:6,11, 22, etc.) and Spirit-filled freedom (Gal. 5:1) the believer has in Christ. “The larger context in which Gal. 3 is incorporated . . . involves Paul’s exposition of justification by faith and union with Christ," Hasel said (19). David Wenham also asserted “the general context of Paul’s remarks is a discussion of salvation in Christ” (Ordination of Women 312). Justification by faith alone is made manifest in good works to fellow believers (Gal. 2:19, 20) and unbelievers (Gal. 5:14). Dr. S. Lewis Johnson noted “two dominant themes: (1) the justification of the believer in the Lord Jesus Christ apart from legal works, and (2) the ministry of the Holy Spirit . . . [and] the spiritual life in Christ” (Role Distinctions in the Church 150).
Certain Jews had come from Jerusalem, and were teaching the ceremonial (Gal. 4:10; Acts of Apostles, E. G. White, 383) and moral law (Gal. 3:1-3) were necessary to justify a believer. E. G. White confirmed “the law in Galatians” referred to both the moral and ceremonial laws (1SM 233). Paul accosted Peter (Gal. 2) for retaining false Jewish traditions, refusing to have “table fellowship” with the Gentiles. Peter’s influence was having a negative influence on the church, threatening to cause a division between Jewish and Gentile believers. Paul stressed that the justified believer lives a life without discrimination, showing kindness and charity to all (Ellen White, Trials to Triumph, 105). Therefore in Galatians we see the vertical dimension of salvation (justification) and the horizontal Christian love (sanctification) towards others.
Dr. Hasel noted in the immediate context, “the sentence preceding vs. 28, ‘For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ’ (Gal. 3:27), is expressing a spiritual reality. Thus, the immediate context of Gal. 3:28 is the spiritual clothing of oneself ‘with Christ’ in the act of being baptized and becoming a spiritual offspring of Abraham, a spiritual heir according to Christ.” He also stated, “the sentence that follows Gal. 3:28 refers to ‘Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.’ Here the context has a spiritual offspring in mind” (20).
Bible expositor Gorden Wenham echoes this, “The context of vs. 28 shows that Paul is dealing with eligibility for baptism, not ministry . . . Paul is not talking about the roles of the sexes here. Therefore this passage is quite irrelevant to our discussion and in no way contradicts what he has to say in 1 Cor. or 1 Tim.” (G. Wenham, The Ordination of Women, 20). Ben Witherington stated, “baptism is one of the immediate contextual indicators. As such it is the symbol of salvation, available to all, regardless of race, status, or sexual differentiation. Both men and women are received as full members in the community of believers by baptism” (Rite and Rights for Women, 600). Therefore, in the immediate “context Paul argues for complete equality between Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female as far as salvation and church membership are concerned. Men and women are equal as far as salvation is concerned coram Deo (in the eyes of God)” (Hasel 21).
Male and Female
“Those who support women’s ordination are convinced that the word-pairs ‘Jew/Greek’ and ‘slave/free’ involve the removal of all social distinctions. . . [as well as] ‘male/female'” (Wenham 75). “It is correctly emphasized that Paul does not remove the distinctions between these groupings. Jews remain Jews, Greeks remain Greeks and so on” (Witherington 598). “Being in Christ does not change a Jew into a Gentile; rather, it changed the way Jews and Gentiles relate to each other” (K. Snodgrass, Galatians 3:28, 176) in areas of Christian fellowship and love.
“The word-pair ‘male/female’ has a different setting . . . Almost all major translations render the Greek (ouk eni arssen kai thely) with ‘neither male nor female’ (KJV, ASV, NEB, RSV, NIV, NASB). Paul actually wrote, ‘There is not male and female,’ ‘marking out this third pair as different from the other two and making an allusion to the words of Genesis 1:27'” (Snodgrass, 176). “The use of the conjunction ‘and’ (kai), is of importance in setting this word-pair apart from the other ones (‘slave or free,’ ‘Jew or Greek’)” (Snodgrass, 176). “The employment of these terms by Paul made it possible to maintain the creation order of ontological (positional) equality before God with its role (functional) differentiation between ‘male’ and ‘female.’ His allusion to Gen. 1:27 makes this clear” (Hasel, 23).
E. G. White’s use of Galatians 3:28
E. G. White uses Gal. 3:28 in the context of loving service and compassion: “Christians . . . will act as did this Samaritan. They will live his life of service. Christ has made all one. In him there is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free. . . . [we are] to manifest the same tender compassion that Christ manifested” (White, Review & Herald, 10-17-99). She also wrote: “No distinction on account of nationality, race, or caste, is recognized by God . . . every soul may have free access to God. . . . In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free. All are brought nigh by his precious blood” (White, RH, 12-24-08). Other statements could be cited, but E.G. White affirmed that Galatians 3:28 extends to the believer's sanctified life and interactions with humanity.
One in Christ
The New Testament phrase “one in Christ” does not mean all distinctions in role based on gender are necessarily abolished. As one scholar noted, “to say that we are ‘one’ means that we are united, that there should be no factions or divisions among us, and there should be no sense of pride and superiority or jealousy and inferiority between these groups that viewed themselves as so distinct in the ancient world” (Wayne Grudem, Countering the claims of Evangelical Feminism, 110). As author Richard Hove has shown, when the Bible says things are “one,” it never joins things that are exactly the same. Rather, it says that things that are different, things that are diverse, share some kind of unity [for example Rom. 12:4,5]” (Does Galatians 3:28 negate gender-specific roles? 105). Paul stated this in another way with his analogy of the body. He does not say that all members of the body are the same, but that they have different functions and roles.
Salvation: Justification and Sanctification
Does Galatians 3:28 refer to salvation only? Yes, if one understands that salvation includes both justification (vertical--saved from the penalty of sin) and sanctification (horizontal--saved from the power of sin). Just as Abraham believed God, and it was “counted to him for righteousness” (justification, Rom. 4:2-5), he validated his belief with works (Sanctification, Heb. 11:8, 9, 12). Our sanctified life impacts the way we live, including how we choose and select members for church office, but, and this is the key question, does equity and gender impartiality extend to all church offices and the marriage union? Is Galatians 3:28 the “golden thread” or the “Magna Carta” that breaks down gender barriers in all church ministries and ideal family leadership? Does Gal. 3:28 have complete jurisdiction over, and does it cancel out qualifications Paul gives in other passages that command gender specificity in ministry or family relations? According to Paul, the answer is no (we will look at these passages in the future). Interestingly, many egalitarians believe the husband is the head of the home, and therefore don’t accredit Galatians 3:28 full authority over all interpersonal relationships.
In summary, 1) The general context of Galatians is a clarion call for justification by faith alone, leading to Spirit-filled works without prejudice towards all mankind. We see the equal standing of male and female before God (coram Deo) as regards to salvation--redemption (Hasel 23); 2) The immediate context points to baptism and oneness in Christ (23); 3) The phrase “In Christ” can refer to either justification or sanctification (depending on the context). Those who are “in Christ” have equality without inferiority or superiority . . . [yet] without obliterating role distinctions (24); 4) The word-pair ‘male and female’ has a linkage to Gen. 1:27, indicating positional equality but role differentiation (24). Roger S. Oldham stated that to “dogmatically say that Galatians 3:28 is the locus classicus on the role of women is to suppose a context that is not there” (The Ordination of Women 105-106). Galatians 3:28 encourages believers who are in Christ, to live a Spirit-filled life of compassion and love, overcoming gender and social biases in most areas of life. Galatians 3:28 is not the Litmus test or the Magna Carta for church offices that are gender-specific, and for ideal family leadership. Finally, there is nothing in the context suggesting priority should be given to this verse over other Pauline passages that have gender-specific qualifications for church offices or family relations.
“We need to realize that this is not the only text in the Bible on men and women. It is a . . . wonderful text, but it is not the only text, and we should not make it say more than it does. To determine the ways men and women should relate to each other in marriage and the church, and the roles men and women should fill in marriage and the church, we need the teaching of other texts” (Grudem 112). “Galatians 3:28 does not spell out what roles and functions will look like where ‘there is no male and female” (Klyne Snodgrass, Galatians 3:28: Conundrum or Solution? 179).