25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise.
4:1 My point is this: heirs, as long as they are minors, are no better than slaves, though they are the owners of all the property; 2 but they remain under guardians and trustees until the date set by the father. 3 So with us; while we were minors, we were enslaved to the elemental spirits of the world. 4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. 6 And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" 7 So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God. (NRSV)
This passage parallels the previous passage we looked at in Romans 8. There is the idea of the children of God, adoption, inheritance, and “Abba! Father!” But this passage seems to be particularly concerned with implications for our status with regard to each other here and now.
Many have tried to make Galatians 3:28 purely about soteriology or salvation. It is about much more as even the verse taken in isolation makes clear: “…for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” There is a reordering of the relationships between members of the community. This is about ecclesiology.
We saw earlier that Jesus demanded that the fictive family of the Kingdom of God receive allegiance above the biological family and all other worldly ties. Here Paul articulates this into some other human arenas as well. First, ethnic family heritage, “Jew and Gentile,” no longer have primary allegiance. Second, socio-economic status is erased. As we saw earlier in this series, slavery was not just an economic position but a status. The Roman slaves were believed to have a physical nature and demeanor that evidenced them as slaves. Third, there is the statement about “male and female,” instead of “male or female.” This surely is a reference back to the Genesis 1:27 where it is recorded:
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
We can see that “Jew and Gentile” was not a division that God intended nor was “free and slave.” But “male and female” are part of the created order God pronounced good. So why does God see a need to undo what he pronounced good?
Kenneth Bailey (Women in the New Testament: A Middle Eastern Cultural View) suggests that this had to do with the rabbinic teaching that had grown up around the creation stories. We saw how the rabbis had twisted Isaiah’s vision of uniting all people at the Great Banquet into a vision where the Gentiles show up only to be destroyed. Here Bailey suggests a whole theology had emerged about women’s inferiority. Women, like Eve, are susceptible to deception and are a threat to seduce men into error. Sin came into the world through Eve and women must therefore be subject to men. None of this is there in the text, any more than the destruction of the Gentiles was there in the text about the Great Banquet. “Male and Female” was a euphemism for this body of rabbinic teaching that had built up over the centuries. Paul was dismissing the status differential that had built up because of this false teaching.
Furthermore, we have evidence that Jewish men by Jesus' time had likely borrowed a formula from Greek philosophers where they expressed thanks they had not been created a barbarian, a fool (slave), or a woman and made it into a prayer where they thanked God he had not made them a Gentile, a slave, or a woman. It is also important to keep in mind that in the Temple only the men could enter to worship. Women were relegated to looking on from the balconies. The Gentiles were relegated to the outer courts.
It is important to note that Paul was not saying there will no longer be Jews, Gentiles, free people, slaves, men, and women. It was about the status between members of this diverse community. Status differentials were erased in a society where life was all about status. It was not only about escape from being slaves “to the elemental spirits of this world.” It was about entrance into the household of God as a child of God with all the obligations and benefits that entails, including behaving as sibling with other siblings.