Insights from Man and Woman, One in Christ: Part 2

As mentioned, I am reading Philip B. Payne‘s Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul’s Letters.

Chapter 4 entitled “Galatians 3:28: Man and Woman: One in Christ” is a solid defense of equality for men and women in the Church. Payne begins:

The classic statement repudiating ethno-religious, socioeconomic, and gender discrimination in the church is Gal 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Ethno-religious background (Jew/Greek), socieoeconomic status (slave/free), and gender (male/female) have no bearing on one’s standing in Christ and in his body, the church.

Practically every complementarian would agree that these distinctions are removed entirely for “one’s standing in Christ,” but all complementarians would disagree that it has no bearing “in his body, the church.” In other words, the spiritual status of male and female in Christ is the same, but the practical consequences in the church are quite different for male and female. The entire chapter takes on this challenge and shows “‘You all’ includes all members of the Galatian churches. ‘Are one’ implies a social unit and so should not be limited to the spiritual state of individuals before God.”

Payne first shows the verbal and syntactical parallels between Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11, and 1 Corinthians 12:13 noting that the principal of equality over traditional barriers is removed and should be applied to all the churches. Later, Payne notes that in 1 Cor 7:17-27 Paul follows the same order of Jew/Gentile (=circumcised/uncircumcised), slave/free, and male/female (=married/unmarried) pairs admonishing all to be content with their status because in Christ these distinctions as barriers to relationships have no practical import.

Payne writes:

Each of these pairs identifies a social division. To say that they do not apply to the social realm is to miss their most apparent application. Consequently, Paul’s denial of their existence in Christ must apply at least to social status. These three pairs were universally viewed as antagonistic; their very nature demands that Gal 3:28 deny their relevance for social status in Christ. The negation of these distinctions implies that discrimination based on these social distinctions is also rejected. Since the natural meaning of Paul’s words carries its full weight for the first two contrasted pairs, the same must be true of the third pair, that there is “neither male nor female,” especially since it is conjoined with the other two pairs by the affirmation, “for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

The next two sections of the chapter highlight the cultural and ethnic backgrounds Paul was contending and indicates Gal 3:28 “almost certainly intended it to reject such stratification and to grant equal status and privilege to Gentiles, slaves, and women in the church.”

What really piqued my interests here is Payne’s insistence that “Paul acknowledges the biological reality of male and female and repeatedly stresses the mutual obligations of husbands and wives (e.g., 1 Cor 7). Clearly, then, he is not denying or ignoring the reality of these distinctions.” This is a solid response to some who suggest biblical egalitarians seek to remove all distinctions of gender. Payne could not be clearer when he writes:

The irrelevance of the social distinctions listed in Gal 3:28 for standing in Christ does not mean that the church should simply ignore these distinctions…In the world and in the church, biological, racial, social, economic, and ethnic differences have not ceased to exist, but form fundamental structures within which humans relate to each other. Standards of decency must be upheld and stumbling blocks avoided (1 Cor 8:9-13; cf. 11:2-16). Acknowledgment of these realities, however, must not become an excuse to deny any group privileges or status in the church or to exclude any group from church offices based on ethno-religious background (Jew/Greek), socioeconomic factors (slave/free), or gender (male/female).

After a thorough exegesis of every word in Gal 3:28, as well as showing more parallels from Gal 5:6 and 6:16, Payne essentially argues that unless equality is realized in the practices of the church, there can be no unity. The latter presupposes the former. This is a powerful thought and has much to teach us in the body of Christ.

Moreover, “in light of the theme of freedom in Galatians, any interpretation of Gal 3:28 is dubious that explains it as though it were compatible with restrictions on the freedom of Gentiles, slaves, or women in the life and ministry of the church.”

Finally, Payne beautifully captures the spirit of Paul to the Galatians when he says:

It is not the absence of diversity but the presence of harmony in the midst of diversity that distinguishes the body. Individuals do not lose their personalities or gifts. They use their individual gifts for the good of the body. There is no “corporate personality” in the sense that all Christians look and act alike or that their individual personalities and gifts are suppressed. Here in Gal 3:28, the focus on the absence of barriers in Christ implies an equality of opportunity to become part of the body and to participate in it unimpeded by ethnic, economic, or gender discrimination.”

More blurbs from this excellent text will be added soon.

8 thoughts on “Insights from Man and Woman, One in Christ: Part 2”

  1. Paul,
    It’s a small, small world. I grew up around Phil Payne. His older brother, John was in grade, jr. high, and the first year of high school with me. Their father was a much respected Wheaton College professor. Phil took after him more than John did.
    Bill Luck

  2. Hey Bill…What a surprise! J. Barton Payne is well known and so too is Philip, but I was not aware of John. Thanks for sharing.

  3. I’m curious. Galatians 3 speaks heavily (and it seems primarily) of “the promise” as being related to Abraham and Christ (then all believers in Christ regardless of who or what they are). Since I’ve not read Payne’s book, can you comment on what primary contextual emphasis he give to “the promise,” and “law vs grace,” and “flesh vs spirit” that then seemingly gives him the freedom and ability to extend Gal 3:26-29 to equality between men and women in all things? I sense a leap. Thanks brother.

  4. Good question Carl. Payne does not exclude in his discussion the themes you mention, viz. “law vs grace or “flesh vs spirit”. In fact he sees these competing dualities as interwoven into the theme of equality in Christ. He says “the new Israel of God (Gal 6:16) … gives no privileged status to Jews over Gentiles, to free persons over slaves, or to men over women. They are all one in Christ Jesus, redeemed from sin and the law by Christ and welcomed into the family of God. All now live in Christ, freed from control by the principles of the world and heirs of God’s promises to Abraham. No one is second-class citizen or excluded by ethnic-religious background, economic status, or gender from any position or privilege in the church” (p. 104). He goes on to show the manifestations of the Spirit do not discriminate and that all members of Christ’s body participate equally in the Spirit’s fruit. Though his work is not a full-blown theology of Galatians, it seems he would gladly see the promise made to “the Israel of God” as including all.

  5. Thanks Paul. Appreciate the reply. I guess I don’t see the leap from “In Christ” to “In The Church” in Galatians in the way Payne extends it. God’s best to you.

  6. What could be true of those “in Christ” that is not true of the body of Christ? I would heartedly recommend reading Payne. Snippets here cannot do it justice. Sadly, many complementarians will stear clear of him and all other egalitarian authors.

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