Saturday, June 16, 2012

Neither Male nor Female: A study in foolishness

Let's start here.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.
What do you make of this?

It's verse 28 from the third chapter of St Paul's letter to the Galatians. What does it say to you?

We have three mutual antitheses, Jew/Greek, slave/free, male/female, which "are all one in Christ Jesus". Now, what can this "one" be? Does this mean that these antitheses become completely identified in Our Lord Jesus? Is that the same thing as unification? Well, one thing we do know about Our Lord is that He is Himself the union of two antitheses - the Divine and Human natures. Now these natures are one in Christ, but completely different. They remain antitheses, but are completely united. Thus we can understand that being one in Christ does not mean complete identification. Antitheses remain antitheses - they are not made identical or interchangeable by unification.
Now, let us pull back a little bit, because this verse does exist in context.

Chapter three begins with "O foolish Galatians". The Galatians have been bewitched by the Judaizers into believing that obeying the old Jewish Law is the root to Heaven, not by being united in Christ, that in order to be saved it is necessary to be Jewish. The Galatians are being taught by the first heretics that belief in Christ does not include the idea that He is the fulfilment of the law, thus diminishing the significance of the Cross. Indeed, as St Paul tells us in this chapter, if one holds to the Law, then one cannot believe in Christ as the Son of God. Under the Law, Jesus is a cursed criminal, executed upon a cross. Salvation comes through Christ, not through membership of a privileged community based on the Law of the Old Testament. On the contrary, adherence to Jesus as Christ creates a community of those who are redeemed through His blood and who are working out their Salvation with fear and trembling. It is adherence to Christ as King that defines Christianity, not the Jewish Law.

However, being Jewish does not rule out Salvation, but neither does being a Greek, or more properly, Gentiles. Likewise, a slave being subordinate to a master does not lose the potential for Salvation on the grounds of being a slave, similarly, being a master does not rule one out for salvation. There is a caveat to this latter, since St Paul then goes onto say how masters are to treat their slaves that subservience to Christ rules out slavery in favour of mutual service. Finally, the separate rules for men and women do not stop either sex from being part of Christ's community.

Notice that there is no "confusion of the substances" here. Greeks in Christ remain Greeks, Slaves in Christ remain Slaves, Women in Christ remain Women. This is about Salvation - who can be members of Christ's body. There is nothing here, in this third chapter, that says anything about how the Body of Christ is to be arranged. This chapter cannot be used to justify interchangeability of clearly defined entities. God does and has discriminated, though not to set up one group as being any better than another - just different. Slavery in the large has passed away because of the teaching of Christ about the value of individuals, and where slavery still exists, it is regarded by the majority as an evil.

Galatians iii.28 is constantly being trotted out to defend the notions of homosexual marriage or women's "ordination". We can see that the verse has absolutely no significance with regard to these issues. Those who believe it has, are reading into these verses that which is not there and eisegesis is not a good way to understand what a Scripture actually says. One must take context into account and too often the verse is taken out of that context.

Why not read all of the letter to the Galatians so you can see the overarching context for yourselves? That way we can stop ourselves from falling into the same foolishness.

1 comment:

Ben Shelly said...

That verse, as well as most others, suffers from being taken out of context. Others would be advised to study the chapter and indeed the entire Bible as a whole before making an ill-formed conclusion.