Galatians 3:28 — Prooftext or Context? -- By: Peter R. Schemm, Jr.

Journal: Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood
Volume: JBMW 08:1 (Spring 2003)
Article: Galatians 3:28 — Prooftext or Context?
Author: Peter R. Schemm, Jr.

Galatians 3:28 — Prooftext or Context?

Peter R. Schemm, Jr.

Assistant Professor of Theology,
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
Wake Forest, North Carolina

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28

No single verse of Scripture has attracted as much attention during the modern gender role debate as Galatians 3:28.1 The declaration by the Apostle Paul that “there is neither … male nor female … in Christ,” though not directly addressing the role of women in the home and in the church, nevertheless, has played a critical role in the development of the issue.2 Egalitarian and complementarian scholars claim to be in general agreement about the main point of this verse—all believers are united in Christ. The question concerns what else this verse might entail. Clearly salvation does not eliminate all of our human differences. As Christians we retain racial, social, and gender distinctions. In what sense, then, is it true that in Christ there is neither male nor female? Does Gal 3:28 negate gender specific roles?

Egalitarians answer the latter question affirmatively, seeing the text as “the foundation for a new social order in the church.”3 The result of this new social order is that there are no longer gender-based ministry distinctions in the home or the church. Complementarians, however, do not find such a proof text for eliminating gender roles here in the midst of Paul’s argument for justification by faith alone (Gal 3–4). As S. Lewis Johnson has put it,

Never could the Apostle Paul have envisioned the place of Galatians 3:28 in contemporary evangelical literature…. While traditionally commentators have discussed Paul’s words in the context of the Biblical doctrine of justification by faith, that has become a secondary matter. One can understand this to some extent, since the vigorous debate over sex roles has, in effect, lifted it from its exegetical underpinnings and set it as a lonely text, a kind of proof text, in the midst of a swirling theological debate. This is not without justification, but it also is not without peril. I am referring to the human tendency to forget sound hermeneutics and find things that are not really in the text.

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