Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy. A Book Discussion. (Index here)
Part II: Looking to Scripture (The Biblical Texts)
Chapter 10 – Male and Female in the New Creation: Galatians 3:26-29. By Gordon D. Fee.
The topic of Dr. Fee’s essay is Galatians 3:26-29:
26 You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. (NIV)
Dr. Fee writes:
At issue in the debate about gender equality in this passage is the scope of the unexpected elaboration in Galatains 3:28 of the “all of you” in Galatians 3:27. I the equality, or oneness, of the three pairs – Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female – to be limited to the justifying work of Christ alone, or does it include other aspects of life in the believing community as well? Or is it possible that putting the question this way already exhibits prejudice toward the text one way or the other, since this question does not seem to rise immediately out of the text of Galatians itself?
But a key exegetical question, seldom noted, does beg to be answered: Why does Paul add the second and third pair at all in an argument that otherwise has to do only with Jew and Gentile? And especially, why the addition of the third pair – with its formulation “male and female,” not “man and woman” (which could mean “husband and wife”) – since in similar moments elsewhere (1 Cor 12:13 [cf. 7:17-24]; Col 3:10) this pairing is not included?
The pursuit of this basic exegetical question should give us some insight into the nature and scope of the “newness” Paul sees as available in the new creation. But to get there, we must first examine the argument of Galatians as a whole and of Galatians 3:1-4:7 in particular. (172-173)
Dr. Fee points out that the crisis Paul is responding to in his letter to the Galatians is the presence of Jewish Christian agitators insisting that the men be circumcised. While many try to reduce verses 26-29 to merely a statement about salvation Fee points out that there is much more at work here:
But in fact Paul says more than this [soteriology], and it is the “more than” that should catch our attention; for what is at stake is not simply the soteriological question of how people are saved, whether it is by faith or by works of law. The final clause in Galatians 3:28 makes that clear. Paul’s explanatory “for” does not elaborate that all are equally justified in God’s sight through faith in Christ Jesus but rather that all constitute one people (form one body) by their equal standing in Christ. After all, those involved in the struggle in Galatia are already “saved.” What is at stake is ecclesiology: who constitutes the people of God under the new covenant of Christ and the Spirit, and on what grounds are they constituted? Paul’s answer: (1) Jew and Gentile together form the one people of God, (2) on the grounds of their common trust in Christ and reception of the Spirit.
…For these three pairs represent the primary ways people were divided/separated from each other in structures of the present age that was now passing away (1 Cor 7:31; cf. 1 Cor 2:6): on the basis of race, social standing and gender. But “in Christ Jesus,” Paul asserts, these categories have lost their structural significance and relevance; that is, these very things that keep people distanced from or at odds with each other in a fallen world have been relativized in the body of Christ, where not only Jew and Greek, but masters and slaves, men and women, all form that one body together. (176-177)
Fee claims that what Paul has in mind here the “…conviction that Christ and the Spirit have ushered in God’s promised “new creation,” which is now awaiting its final eschatological consummation (Gal 6:15).” (177) He lists two important implications of the “new creation” theology:
1. One must begin by taking Paul seriously with regard to ethnicity, status and gender no longer being relevant for constituting value and social identity in the new creation – especially in light of his three-repeated “neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value” (Gal 5:6; 6:15; cf. 1 Cor 7:19). … But in the new creation none of this counts in terms of significance or value; so even though they continue to live in old age sociological contexts, they do so under a new set of rules. (179)
2. But precisely because Paul Still lived eschatologically in a world in which honor and shame were the primary values, he also reflects a degree of ambivalence toward cultural structures and norms. … To follow Christ and thus experience cultural shame [for worshiping a crucified leader] and isolation were not negotiables for Paul… Paul was quite ready to yield on certain cultural matters so as not to predicate the shame on lesser things. Thus, one should hardly expect him to tinker with roles and structures in a world that is on its way out.” (180-181)
Latter Fee writes:
The household codes in Colossians 3 and Ephesians 5 assume the structural norm (of the privileged few who had large households), where the husband, father and master are the same person – the patron (hopefully benevolent) of his wife, children and slaves. But Paul radicalizes this norm in a countercultural way by insisting that he believing husband love his wife- which had very little to do with marriage in that culture. Not only so, he further insists that he love her “as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph 5:25) putting the significance attached to the structures into jeopardy. In the new order husband and wife are first of all brother and sister in Christ, thus racially altering the perspective, so that she is not simply a member of his household but is in relationship to him; they are members together of “one body.” As such, either my prophesy or teach (1 Cor 14:26) – which are matters of Spirit gifting, not gender – as long as some cultural norms that distinguish male and female are maintained (1 Cor 11-2-16). (183-184)
Fee procedes from here to point out that the church itself is God’s household and how this thinking encompasses all the relationships in the body.
Personally, I find this chapter very rich. I think Fee really helps us get into Paul’s mind and get a grip on the both the strategy and tactics Paul is using to lead people into being the Kingdom of God. Galatians is central to bringing all the pieces togther.
Gordon D. Fee received his M.A. from Seattle Pacific University and Ph.D from the University of Southern California. He is professor emeritus of New Testament studies at Regent College as well as an ordained minister in the Assemblies of God. His publications include How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth; How to Read the Bible Book by Book; New Testament Exegesis: A Handbook; God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul; Listening to the Spirit in the Text; and commentaries on 1 Corinthians and Philippians (NICNT) and the Pastoral Epistles (NIBC). He and his wife, Maudline, have four married children and twelve grandchildren.
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