SEARCHING THE FORMATIVE TEXTS: FREEDOM
One of the passages in Scripture that receives a great deal of attention in supporting freedom in selecting roles is Galatians 3:26–28, which includes what some have called the pre-Pauline baptismal formula used during baptism: “…for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 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. Galatians was a letter authored by Paul sometime between the late 40s to early 50s to the churches in Galatia. Apparently, sometime after Paul’s evangelism in this area, other Christian missionaries had impacted these churches with the idea “…that people’s access to Christ required that they obey the Mosaic law, or at least some of its major requirements, including circumcision.” Paul’s letter was mainly to assert that “… the life of God’s people is now meant to be Christ-centered and not Torah-centered.” He explains that the law had served its purpose as a disciplinarian (Gal 3:25), which was meant to be temporary, until faith (Jesus Christ) had come (Gal 3:26). Paul then reminds them of their baptism in Galatians 3:27. Catherine Clark Kroeger and Mary J. Evans expand on this by stating that “new believers took off their old clothes when entering the waters of baptism and put on new garments after coming up out of the waters. This symbolized the reality that the believers had cast off their old lives and were now new creations in Christ, alive to a new kind of existence.” Paul continues in Galatians 3:28 by clarifying that all are one in Christ: Jews, Greeks, slave, free, male, and female. Although the verses in Galatians 3:25–27 seem to have alignment between various theologians, who normally might have points of disagreement, Galatians 3:28 has been the subject of various polemics.
One of the major proponents that this verse has implications of equality in women’s roles
is Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza. She states that “the legal-societal and cultural-religious male privileges were no longer valid for Christians…; it allowed not only gentiles and slaves but also women to exercise leadership functions within the missionary movement.” Dale Martin goes a step further by stating that “… it is misleading, from a historical point of view, to read Galatians 3:28 as addressing equality.” He explains that over the centuries, it has had significant shifts in its interpretation. More specifically he states that throughout the ancient church it referred to “…the abolition of the sexes, to ascetic asexuality,…and the overcoming of the division in unity.” Regarding Piper and Gruden, even though they concede on men and women being joint heirs in Jesus Christ, they deny that it should affect social roles. This is in light of 1 Peter 3:1–7 that includes verbiage regarding women submitting to their husbands as well as verbiage including the concept of being joint heirs in Jesus Christ: “In other words, Peter saw no conflict between the ‘neither-male-nor-female’ principle regarding our inheritance and the headship-submission principle regarding our roles. Galatians 3:28 does not abolish gender-based roles established by God and redeemed by Christ.” This interpretation omits the frame of context expressed in 1 Peter 3:1, “Wives, in the same way [as slaves to their masters, and as Christ to his abusers], accept the authority of your husbands, so that, even if some of them do not obey the word, they may be won over without a word by their wives’ conduct,…” Again, a recurring theme was the cause of Christ. The reason for the submissive role or balancing act was due to the male sensitivity to women, especially their wives, behaving in a manner that was counter-cultural for the secular social roles of women of that time.
Gruden, in a separate work, seems to present a more encouraging view of Galatians 3:26–29. In the process, however, he seems to be unaware that the implications of what he is saying is counter to the point that he thinks that he is making, which is to state that these verses should have no impact on women’s social roles. He states that “to say that we are ‘one’ means that we are united, that there should be no factions or divisions among us, and there should be no sense of pride and superiority or jealousy and inferiority between these groups that viewed themselves as so distinct in the ancient world.” What he does not realize is that those kind words as well as pointing to creation order, instead intelligence or ability, do not adequately camouflage a superiority-inferiority dynamic that he states that should not occur. Schüssler Fiorenza would probably refer to this superiority-inferiority dynamic between the two gender roles as a “…a social construct of oppressive power relations.” These would be the same oppressive relations involved in much of the past and present “legitimate” atrocities previously mentioned.
The irony of these polemics seems to be that a passage in Scripture seeming to be about a lesson to the Galatians about liberty from the law and welcomed lack of a hierarchical status in Christ has been countered with references to the law and creation order. Of all the counter strategies used to discourage, these two would seem like the two most obvious to avoid, and, yet, they are still used and somehow deemed reasonable and valid arguments by many.