Does Galatians 3:28 Erase All Gender Distinctions?
By J.R. Ensey
“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.”
Let’s go right to the heart of the matter: Does this verse establish an extreme theological view of individual equality that erases all gender distinctions and functions for Christian males and females? Generally, egalitarians generally say yes 1; complementarians say no. 2 Who is right?
Until a few decades ago, this verse did not seem to evoke such widespread ideological division. Commentators and Greek grammarians over the years broke it down for readers and pointed out its harmony with other scriptural passages. .
Enter the women’s liberation movements of the 1960s and 1970s. A rebellion, actually a revolution, occurred that turned Western culture on its ear. Women began to insist on full access to the workplaces traditionally staffed by men. Lesbian-led marches filled the streets while feminist articles filled the magazines. Their demands were soon heard in Congress and affirmed in the courts. Emboldened by the unqualified support of the media and academia, they saw the opportunity to emasculate males and overturn what they viewed as a patriarchal society. The process would divide and re-shape much of American Christianity into a radical egalitarian movement. A minority of men got on the bandwagon with them right away. Others drew back when they saw the insurmountable problems that would ensue. The majority seemed to opt for silence and took a wait and see attitude. They got trampled in the melee.
Homelife deteriorated as women assumed masculine roles and attire while Hollywood and the media promoted the epicene Mr. Mom caricature. He was depicted in the kitchen wearing an apron, holding a vacuum cleaner in one hand and a diaper-clad baby in the other. In that scenario, the wife is seen walking out the door in a suit and tie carrying a briefcase. 3 One was made to wonder if the goal was equality or a total reversal of roles. The divorce rate rose exponentially. Households with single moms multiplied.
Confusion resulted. We sowed the wind and today we are reaping the whirlwind. Some teens now do not know whether they are male or female, perhaps even multi-gendered. They are presented with many choices by the change agents serving as editors in social media contexts. Homosexuality is rampant. Transgenderism is promoted in our schools with special protections from the courts. Ads across virtually all social media platforms feature feminine attire for men and masculine duds for women. The Bible is cast as an outdated patriarchal document written by and for an ancient generation, and badly in need of reinterpretation. Magazine and news editors, as well as school teachers, are warned to use the proper personal pronouns for individuals they reference. 4 Patronization has reached the level of pure nonsense. Churches are urged to “catch up” with the culture and one denomination after the other has fallen in line with the terms of the feminist manifesto. To raise one’s voice against this foolishness today earns a hate label. All of this in less than my own lifetime.
In the face of these facts, do we remain silent and retreat into a shell of self-preservation or stand up and be counted as Christians who will resist the imposition of anti-God and anti-Bible values on our children and grandchildren? Hard choices seem to be the only choices.
The purpose of this analysis
The primary focus of this article is to question the use of Galatians 3:28 to promote the current egalitarian agenda. It will not be a painless, angst-free endeavor, for I have deeply committed, knowledgeable friends who prefer to take another approach. This will be an honest “as I see it” understanding of Paul’s statement.
“Progressive” Christian feminists who seem to be offended by Paul’s compelling and clear references supporting a complementarian view of the family and church expand it to comply with their predilections. Some appear to be annoyed with God Himself for including verses in the Bible that do not affirm their chosen perspective. Others argue that this verse should be a “‘window’ text through which to adjudicate other Pauline texts.” 6 In other words, all other biblical texts by Paul should bow to the egalitarian interpretation of this one, basically encouraging us to ignore those texts. Is that reasonable?
To support the increasingly popular changes mentioned above, some overlay the Bible with a feminist hermeneutic, using Galatians 3:28 as a linchpin. There is a tendency to strip away the context, allowing the verse to become a stand alone theology apart from the remainder of Scripture. Comprehension and clarity are clouded when it is removed from its context (chapters 3 and 4), inviting misunderstanding. 7
What is the apostle really saying in this verse? Isn’t he urging the Galatians to ignore the Judaizers who want them to continue certain practices of the law in order to be saved (Galatians 2:4,5)? Isn’t the apostle making it clear to the new Christians in Galatia, particularly targeting the Jewish converts, that in Christ there are no value distinctions between believers, that no one is either superior or inferior because of his or her station in life, that when determining whether one is a child of Abraham by faith gender, race and social class are irrelevant? The ground is level at the foot of the cross. Positionally in Christ we are all equals having identical worth, dignity and value, regardless of age, race, gender, ethnicity, skin color, whether free or in bondage. This position in the body of Christ is made clear in the preceding verses (26,27). This attacked any effort by the Judaizers’ 8 to marginalize women or any other social group. Functionally in the home and the body of Christ, however, we are still obligated to the guidelines that Scripture provides for us as individuals and families (Ephesians 5:22-30; I Peter 3:1-8; Titus 2:1-9; I Timothy 2:1-15; 3:1-13; et al). 9
In Romans 4:25-5:2 Paul again describes the Christian’s position in Christ: “[Jesus] was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification. Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” The universality of this position for all Christians is also laid out in the verses preceding and following Galatians 3:28. Many other passages describe our position is Christ, yet not overlooking the varying functions with qualifications in the practice of both home and church life (Ephesians 5:22-25; I Timothy 2:9-15; I Corinthians 11:2-16;14:34,35; I Peter 3:1-7; et al).
According to author S. Lewis Johnson, “There is no reason to claim that Galatians 3:28 supports an egalitarianism of function in the church. It does plainly teach an egalitarianism of privilege in the covenantal union of believers in Christ.” 10v (Italics mine) James B. Hurley agrees: “Our study of the context of Galatians 3:28 has shown that Paul was not reflecting upon relations within the body of Christ when he had the text penned. He was thinking about the basis of membership in the body of Christ. This means that it is an error to say that ‘all one’ in Christ means that there are no distinctions within the body.” 11
Believers are not neutered by the facts stated in Galatians 3:28. Although one is “in Christ” after conversion, the apostle states that wives still have to submit to their husbands and husbands have to love their wives as Christ loved the church. Men are still men and women are still women. Christianity has not created a sexless, androgynous society, changing all patterns of home and public life in place since the reckoning of time. Also, if believers were slaves when they were converted, Paul wasn’t saying they are now free to walk away but are still bound to their owners/masters. In fact, slaves were given instructions elsewhere for their appropriate behavior (Ephesians 6:5-9; I Peter 2:18-25). Children were still to obey their parents (Ephesians 6:1-3). Neither Christ nor Paul expressed a purpose to overturn all universal laws and practices arising out of biblical principles.
Galatians 3:28 was not a release from all obligations having to do with gender distinctions or stations in life. Paul did not negate the creation model to which he repeatedly appealed to establish practices and behaviors. Again, former positions and dissimilarities were still in place after commitment to Christ—slaves were still slaves, children didn’t become self-disciplining adults via conversion, and wives still have to yield ultimate authority to their husbands who are mandated to love them as Christ loves the church. There is no place in Scripture that cancels those conditions.
The context of Galatians 3:28 makes abundantly clear the sense in
which men and women are equal in Christ: they are “equally justified by faith (v. 24), equally free from the bondage of legalism (v. 25), equally children of God (v. 26), equally clothed with Christ (v. 27), equally possessed by Christ (v. 29), and equally heirs of the promises to Abraham (v. 29). …Galatians 3:28 does not abolish gender-based roles established by God.” 12
If total social equality at all levels was Paul’s aim here, would that not evoke confusing questions about the meaning and application of passages like Romans 1:21-32; I Corinthians 7, 11:1-15, 14:34,35; I Timothy 2:8-16; and Titus 1:5-7; 2:1-10; I Peter 3:1-7? Paul affirms the oneness of males and females in Christ, but he does not claim that maleness and femaleness are irrelevant in every respect.
By expanding a text to conformity to current political correctness, we could end up in the same quagmire as our Christless culture. Nuancing and dissecting this verse to support an agenda generated extra-biblically could lead to divisions and misunderstandings in virtually every human relationship.
One in Christ
The “oneness” of which Paul speaks in this verse is the foundation of his position. The whole is highlighted in contrast to its several parts. He made similar observations in his letters to the churches at Corinth (I Corinthians 12:13) and Colosse (Colossians 3:11). He identifies six different groups he says are “one in Christ”: Jews, Greeks, slaves, free, males, and females. How can all of this diversity—slaves and masters, males and females, parents and children, circumcised and uncircumcised, Sythian and barbarian, bond or free—achieve a oneness? It occurs when they come “into Christ” (Galatians 3:27; Romans 6:3) and are joined together with those of “like precious faith” (II Peter 1:1). All are “one in Christ” and have taken His name, but that does not change a Jew into a Greek, a circumcised male into one uncircumcised, or a slave into a freedman, or a female into a male, automatically altering human associations and particular responsibilities. Former relationships, as Paul points out in many places, are still in order. All Christian converts are placed into “one body” (I Corinthians 12:12) but the body has members with different functions. God and Christ are “one” (John 10:30), yet the Father (the “one Spirit” of Deity; Ephesians 4:4) and the Son (read “flesh”; Hebrews 5:7) perform different functions and roles.
Being one in Christ does not mean that everyone has the same authority, exercises the same responsibilities, performs the same functions, or possesses the same giftings for service. There is no suggestion of interchangeability of roles and responsibilities in v. 28. Paul’s affirmation of oneness in Christ is not a call for total irrelevance of gender in every sense of the word. 13 It does not follow that equality in some respects entails equality in all respects. The topic is less broad than many egalitarians are willing to concede.
The apostle adds this in Romans 12:5: “For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us….” All Christian converts are placed into “one body” having different members (I Corinthians 12:12) that are assigned varying responsibilities and functions—that seems to be the background and application of the Galatians 3:28 principle.
The source of Paul’s writings
Egalitarians appeal to the concept that Paul was stuck in a patriarchal Jewish mindset that was in vogue then, creating an attitude that resulted in his complementarian statements elsewhere in the New Testament, which have no relevance to today’s Christians. That was then; this is now, and his way is not applicable today. Such an approach suggests that we toss the Bible—or at least reinterpret it—giving ear to the culture for guidance in matters pertaining to home and church.
Paul’s writing transcended cultural or legal mandates. He clearly stated where he got his material: “If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord” (I Corinthians 14:37). 14 Committed Christians are guided by God’s decrees and not by cultural philosophies and edicts.
The other apostles did not correct Paul or add a new dimension to his teaching to accommodate present or future emerging social philosophies. Agreement among NT writers on this issue is evident. Early Protestant leaders did not attempt to reform the civil governments or the Roman Catholic Church over slavery, children’s rights, or the function of women in the church and the home. The KJV translators also saw it Paul’s way. The vast majority of the well-known ministers, Bible commentators, authors and Christian leaders of the last 300 years subscribed to these apostolic tenets. While that in itself doesn’t authenticate a particular view, it does suggest that the egalitarian cloak thrown over this verse is relatively new and is not generally considered to be in line with the thrust of this or other passages dealing with the topic. Although some Bible translators have surrendered to feminist pressure, many of the major contemporary translations give little ground beyond turning “brethren” into “brothers and sisters” in places. Scriptural interpretation should be based on that old golden rule of hermeneutics: “When the sense of the Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense, lest it result in nonsense.”
We see an abundance of nonsense in the current political scene. Some radical feminists (both male and female) are suing public servants for using traditional pronouns when referring to others. The “he” one is addressing might prefer the pronoun “she” or one of fifty other designations. The leading female candidate for president of the USA has gone to great lengths to court LGBTQ support. She has, for example, emphasized the need to allow inmates to be held in prison based on their chosen gender identity rather than their biological sex. She promises to name women and non-binary individuals to at least half of her cabinet positions. Also, she has found a transgender child, Jacob Lemay, age 9, whom she says must personally approve of her choice as Secretary of Education. 15 There seems to be no stopping place when one pitches his or her tent toward Sodom.
Having some truth does not necessarily mean that one has all truth. There may be some mutual ground for complementarians and egalitarians. For example, both believe in equality, but the scriptural dimensions of that equality need discussion and agreement. Pressures in the current culture have expanded those dimensions until agreement may be difficult but not unachievable. We must always go back to the Bible with a goal of objectivity to find a position closest to the truth. Conformity to apostolic doctrines and less diversity in practice will generate more conversions to absolute truth. Accommodation to political correctness is not the path to real and lasting revival—it is the road to compromise and spiritual declension.
1. Douglas J. Moo states, “It is easy to quote the saying in this verse as a slogan that proclaims the erasure of any distinctions within the Christian community” in Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Galatians (Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing Group, 2013), p. 254. This statement is based on the written record, including the following references: Paul King Jewett, known as a “biblical” feminist, calls Galatians 3:28 the “Magna Carta of Humanity” in Man As Male and Female: A Study in Sexual Relationships from a Theological Point of View (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1975), p. 142; Klyne Snodgrass calls it “the most socially explosive statement in the New Testament” in “Galatians 3:28: Conundrum or Solution?” in Men, Women, Authority and the Bible, ed. Alvera Mickelsen (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986), p. 161. Ronald and Beverly Allen call it “the feminist credo of equality” in Liberated Traditionalism: Men and Women in Balance (Portland, OR: Multnomah Press, 1985), p. 134; Mary Hayter refers to it as “a crux” and ‘the locus classicus’ for biblical feminists” in The New Eve in Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), p. 134.
2. Complementarianism is a theological view that men and women have different but complementary roles and responsibilities in marriage, family life, and religious leadership. (Wikipedia) Complementarians would include authors like Wayne House, Wayne Grudem, Abigail Dodds, Denny Burk, John Piper, to name a few, some of whom will be referenced in this paper.
3. Some questioned the wisdom of the UPCI for taking a stand against movies and television (recommendations to avoid are still in the Manual), but it was easy to see the negative influence they were having on family life. They recognized that these media outlets promoted, and still do, everything the Bible opposes as sin and ungodliness, including biblical family life. Nations, as well as individuals and families, reap what they sow.
4. Even God is undergoing a sex change in some women’s groups, or is at least taking hormone treatments. Feminists have begun using “her” as the pronoun for God as part of the process being called the feminzation of God. Taking God’s “feminine side” as an example, men are encouraged to “get in touch with their feminine side.”
5. In addition to many other authors and commentators, some of whom are quoted herein.
6. David M. Scholer, “Galatians 3:28 and the Ministry of Women in the Church,” in Theology,
News and Notes (Pasadena, Calif.: Fuller Theological Seminary, June 1998), 20.
7. As is often said, “A text without a context is a pretext.”
8. Ancient Jewish morning prayers for men included thanks to God for not being “a Gentile, a slave, or a woman.”
Someone put it this way: “It’s important to note that this teaching is not based on the current climate of the culture. It is not liberal, conservative, or po
9. litical. It is the direct result of the gospel. It is not a statement about the various roles any Christian may be called to fill in this life or the honor we may or may not be given on this side of eternity. It is a statement about our equal value in the eyes of God, and how we should learn to view each other. Since all Christians are in Christ, all of us are one.” www.bibleref.com/Galatians/3/Galatians-3-28.html#verse.
10. S. Lewis Johnson, “Role Distinctions in the Church,” in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, eds. John Piper and Wayne Grudem (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 1991), 164. James B. Hurley, Man and Woman in Biblical Perspective (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1981), 127, italics his.
11.James B. Hurley, Man and Woman in Biblical Perspective (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1981), 127.
12. John Piper and Wayne Grudem, “An Overview of Central Concerns: Questions and Answers,”
in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, 71-72.
13. “If one were to draw such a conclusion, then Paul would not object to homosexuality, but it is clear that he thinks homosexuality is sinful (Rom 1:26 – 27; 1 Cor 6:9; 1 Tim 1:10). In the same way, the equality of men and women in Christ does not cancel out, in Paul’s mind, the distinct roles of men and women in marriage (Eph 5:22–33; Col 3:18–19; Titus 2:4–5) or in ministry contexts (1 Cor. 11:2–16; 14:33–36; 1 Tim 2:9–15).” (Thomas Schreiner, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary; Galatians)
14. Once, when he digressed from that source regarding some interpersonal relationships and slavery, he acknowledged that it was his personal judgment and not the Lord’s commandment (I Corinthians 7:6, 25). Otherwise his writings were God’s requirements.
15. https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2020/jan/30/elizabeth-warren-vows-transgender-child-must-appro/. Is this what our country is becoming—a nation led by women and children?