THE ROLE OF WOMEN IN THE CHURCH #5
by the late Dr.Samuele Bacchiocchi
ORDER OF REDEMPTION
A victorious proclamation rings through the New Testament
like a clarion call: "If any one is in Christ, he is a new
creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come" (2
Cor 5:17). What are the implications of the "new creation"
inaugurated by Christ's coming for the role relationship between
men and women? Does the order of redemption abrogate the role
distinctions of the order of creation, thus making it possible
for women to function as head in the home and in the church?
Much of the current debate on the role of women in the
church revolves around these questions. The perception on the
part of many is that creation and redemption stand in antithesis
as far as the role distinctions between men and women are
concerned. The order of creation is seen as establishing the
subordination of women to men and consequently their exclusion
from the headship role of priest/pastor/ elder. The order of
redemption is seen as inaugurating equality and mutuality and
consequently the inclusion of women in this headship role.
Richard Longenecker aptly states this prevailing perception:
At the heart of the problem as it exists in the church is
the question of how we correlate the theological categories
of creation and redemption. When the former is stressed,
subordination and submission are usually emphasized ...
where the latter is stressed, freedom, mutuality and
equality are usually emphasized. 1
The aim of this chapter is to examine the relationship
between the order of creation and redemption as far as the role
distinctions of men and women are concerned. Specifically, we
shall ask: Does the "new creation" inaugurated by Christ change
or abrogate the original creational relationship between men and
To find an answer to this question, first we shall review
briefly the teachings of Jesus, already examined in chapter 2,
and then we shall consider the teachings of Paul, especially the
implications of Galatians 3:28. The study of the Galatian text
will be the central focus of this chapter, since this text is
viewed by many as the great "breakthrough" which paved the way
for the abolition of national (Jew/Greek), social (slave/free),
and sexual (male/female) barriers, and ultimately for the
inclusion of women to the appointive function of priest/pastor/
elder in the church.
JESUS AND THE ROLE OF MEN AND WOMEN
A striking fact about Jesus' teaching in the Gospels is its
limited treatment of the role relation of men and women in the
new kingdom of God. We noted in chapter 2 that much coverage is
given in the Gospels to the attitude of Jesus toward women, which
we have found to be revolutionary in many ways. He rejected the
prevailing prejudices by treating women as human persons of equal
worth to men, by appreciating their intellectual and spiritual
capacities and by admitting them into the inner circle of His
Was Jesus equally revolutionary in calling into question the
Old Testament pattern of roles for men and women? The few
passages on sex, marriage, and divorce which are relevant to this
question offer no support to this prevailing contention. Rather,
these passages show that Christ's concern was to expose the
perversion which had taken place in the creational design for the
relation of men and women.
Regarding adultery (Matt 5:27-30) "Jesus condemned the
iniquity and resolved the inequity." 2 The iniquity resulted from
the violation of the "one-flesh" creation principle. Jesus went
to the root of the problem by denouncing not only the act but
also the lustful attitude of predatory men who looked at women as
playthings rather than persons, as objects for sexual
gratification rather than subjects to be respected.
The inequity consisted in the double standard which condoned
men committing adultery while mercilessly condemning women found
guilty of it. Jesus cut across human perversion and casuistry by
requiring a radical change of heart that will make it possible
for men to treat women as God intended at creation: not as
disposable playthings but as worthy partners. Such a radical
change of mentality may be as demanding as plucking out an eye or
cutting off a hand (Matt 5:29-30).
By focusing on the thoughts of men rather than on the
seductive presence of women, Jesus differed from the rabbinic
thought of His time. While the rabbis taught their disciples to
avoid women, Jesus taught His followers to discipline their
thoughts. This attitude of Jesus "made possible the free
participation of women in the apostolic church, a participation
which would have been unthinkable in Judaism." 3
Marriage and Divorce.
Christ's concern to restore the relation of men and women to
the creational design is evident especially in His teaching on
marriage and divorce (Matt 19:3-12; 5:31-32). In an attempt to
discredit the authority of Jesus, some Pharisees posed Him this
testing question: "Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any
cause?" (Matt 19:3). The question suggests that the Pharisees
looked at marriage from the perspective of the Fall. Since man
was seen as the ruler (Gen 3:16), he had the right to determine
not only who should be his wife but also whether and why to
In His answer Jesus removes the discussion from the level of
the destruction of marriage which resulted from the Fall to that
of God's original order of creation:
Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning
made them male and female; and said, "For this reason a man
shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife,
and the two shall become one flesh"? So they are no longer
two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together,
let not man put asunder (Matt 19:4-6).
In this answer Jesus bases His definition of marriage
squarely in the "one flesh" creation ideal (Gen 2:24). His
opponents sought to challenge this ideal by arguing that, after
all, Moses did "command one to give a certificate of divorce, and
to put her away" (Matt 19:7). Jesus responded by simply pointing
out that Moses did not command divorce, but permitted it "for
your hardness of heart ... but from the beginning it was not so"
(Matt 19:8). This implies that divorce is not only a rebellious
act but it is also an act against the creational design.
The bottom line of the whole exchange between Jesus, the
Pharisees, and the disciples is that in the age of redemption the
relations between men and women are to be restored to their
creational pattern. Thus, any attempt to interpret the teachings
of Jesus as representing an abolition of the role relationships
established at creation is negated by the very fact that Jesus
appealed to the creational design to define such relationships.
Signs for the New Age.
Some interpret the actions and teachings of Jesus about
women as the signs for the new age in which the church was to
ordain women to the priesthood. One wonders, which "new age"? The
"new age" of the New Testament or the "new age" of the
contemporary Women's Liberation movement? All the Gospels tell us
is that Jesus greatly respected women and restored to them human
dignity and worth. However, there is no indication in the Gospels
that this had theological implication for the ordination of women
as pastors of the flock.
If the actions and teachings of Jesus are to be regarded as
"signs" for the attitude the church today must adopt toward the
ordination of women, why is not Christ's exclusive choice of men
to be apostles to be equally regarded as a "sign" for the church
today? A responsible interpretation of Christ's actions and
teachings cannot be based on the selective principle of choosing
only what is supportive of one's predetermined convictions.
Respect for Jewish Culture.
Some argue that Jesus would have liked to do away with the
role distinctions for men and women, but He chose to keep silent
out of respect for Jewish culture. If this were true, then He
certainly would have been less confrontational in his teaching
about Sabbathkeeping, ritual purity, tax-collectors, and the
hypocrisy of the Scribes and Pharisees. There is no indication
that Jesus restrained His convictions out of respect for the
prevailing cultural values of the Jewish people.
The fact that Jesus was revolutionary in His attitude toward
women, treating them as full-fledged citizens of God's kingdom,
suggests that He would not have hesitated to condemn the role
differentiation between men and women, if He had viewed such a
differentiation as a perversion of God's creational design.
Christ came not to abolish the law but to restore its rightful
understanding and one aspect of that restoration was the change
in the role of women from second class citizens in Israel to
first class in the kingdom of God. Though Jesus was revolutionary
in advocating the equal spiritual status of men and women in His
kingdom, He was not revolutionary with regard to the roles of men
and women. His revolution lay rather in the area of what
constituted true righteousness.
The consequence of Jesus' teaching was a significant change
in the spiritual and social status of women--a change that made
it possible for women to be treated with the same "brotherly
love" as men and to participate actively in the life and mission
of the church. There is no indication, however, that Jesus'
proclamation of the spiritual and moral equality of men and women
in the kingdom of God was intended to be understood as a
theological justification for the ordination of women. Those who
argue for the latter, do so on the basis of a selective
principle, settled in advance but seldom expressed.
PART II PAUL AND THE ROLE OF MEN AND WOMEN
1. A Comparison between Jesus and Paul
Contrasting Attitudes toward Women? Some find the attitude
of Paul toward women to be in stark contrast to that of Jesus.
recent author expresses the contrast in this way: "Actually,
Jesus' attitude toward women was completely unlike Paul's." 4
While Jesus was "woman's best friend" who treated women as
"persons" of equal worth to men, 5 Paul was an anti-feminist who
viewed women as inferior to men and thus excluded them from
leadership roles within the church. This view is based primarily
on the fact that most of the scriptural passages which enjoin the
subordination of woman to man in marriage and their exclusion
from the "pastoral" teaching role in the church are found in
This contemporary prejudice against Paul cannot be supported
legitimately supported from his writings. First, Paul
categorically affirms the equality in Christ of men and women in
the now well-known statement: "there is neither male nor female;
for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:28). Second, Paul's
appreciation for women is similar to that of Jesus. We noticed in
chapter 2 that Paul commends a significant number of women for
working hard with him in the missionary enterprise of the church.
Third, Paul appears to have worked more actively with women than
did Jesus. While there are no indications that Jesus used women
in His preaching in the way He made use of the twelve or of the
seventy, there are ample indications that Paul used women as
"fellow-workers" and "deaconesses" in his missionary outreach
(Rom 16:1-3, 6,12,13.15; Phil 4:2-3). Indications such as these
suffice to show howunfounded is the popular prejudice against
Paul. Both Jesus and Paul loved and respected women.
Two Different Environments.
The key difference between Jesus and Paul lies in the fact
that while Paul explicitly explains the distinction between the
roles of men and women in the home and in the church, Jesus does
not. The explanation for this difference lies in the two
different social environments in which Jesus and Paul were called
Jesus lived and taught in the social and cultural
environment of Palestinian Judaism. In such an environment it was
not necessary for Jesus to teach that adultery and homosexuality
are sinful practices or that women should be subordinate to men
in the home and in the church. Such teachings were well-accepted
norms. The father was the undisputed head of the family and women
held no position of leardership in the synagogue.
Christianity soon moved beyond the Palestinian Jewish
environment into regions that were predominantly pagan. In the
pagan environment the sexual ethics and the role distinctions of
men and women were different from those of Palestinian Judaism.
Priestesses officiated at pagan temples. Women were occupying new
roles in the Greco-Roman society, different from those held by
women in Palestinian Judaism or in the earlier Greco-Roman
Paul had to face the influence of the pagan culture within
the Christian communities he had founded, especially in the areas
of sexual immorality and the roles of men and women. Thus, Paul's
teachings on the latter arise from the challenge that Christian
churches were facing in a new pagan environment where Biblical
values were disputed.
Significance of Paul's Teachings.
Paul's teaching on the role of women in the church is, then,
most significant because it represents the explanation of
Christian standards to new converts who, because of
their pagan background, were not familiar with the Biblical
principles. To these believers Paul had to teach many things
which Jesus did not have to teach, not because Paul was
developing new teachings, but because many of these converts came
from a radically different religious and social environment. As
Stephen B. Clark rightly observes:
Had Jesus preached and taught in the same environment as
Paul, he undoubtedly would have had to say many of the same
things. The fact that the New Testament teaching on roles is
Pauline and not explicitly from Jesus is no reason to call
into question its authentic Christianity. One could just as
logically reconsider the circumcision question because only
Paul left explicit teaching on the subject. 7
In view of the fact that Paul developed his teaching on the
role of women in the church in response to the problems that
arose in the context of his mission to the Gentiles and the Jews
who lived among them, the relevance of his teaching, as in the
case of circumcision, extends beyond the cultural setting of his
Our immediate concern in this chapter is not to examine
those Pauline texts which speak explicitly about the role of
women in the church (1 Tim 2:11-15; 1 Cor 11:5; 14:34-36).
Rather, we shall direct our attention to Galatians 3:28 because
many "have found this text to be a rallying cry in the movement
for women's rights and the recovery of the New Testament practice
of women in ministry." 8 Moreover, this passage does provide an
important background to the other texts to be examined in the
following chapters. It also gives us an opportunity to reflect
upon the impact of redemption on the role distinction between men
2. The Context and Significance of Galations 3:28
The overall issue addressed by Paul in Galatians is the
tension between salvation based primarily upon human works and
salvation by grace. In the immediate context of Galatians 3:26-28
Paul argues that faith, and not works, provides the basis of
salvation. Any person irrespective of race, social status, and
sex, can be saved only by faith and consequently all persons
stand on an equal footing before God. In this context Paul makes
the memorable statement:
for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.
For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on
Christ. 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 (Gal 3:26-28).
The specific issue that provoked this statement is the role
of circumcision and of the law in the salvation of the
Paul's opponents ("the circumcision party"--Gal 2:12) argued
that Gentiles should be circumcised and keep the law in order to
enter into the Abrahamc covenant with its attendant blessings
(Gal 2:3,7-9; 5:2-3,6,11-12; 6:12-13,15). In other words, they
wanted the Gentile Christians to become full Jewish proselytes by
Paul opposes vehemently this false teaching, by asserting
that baptism provides the same benefits as circumcision in one's
relationship with God. Baptized Gentiles, as long as they are in
Christ, "are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise"
(Gal 3:29), that is, they receive all the blessings that a
circumcised Israelite is entitled to.
In the light of this context, the phrase "neither
male nor female" takes on special significance because women
could not be circumcised. Women participated in the covenant of
Israel through the circumcised male Israelites. Paul emphasizes
that through baptism into Christ a new value system begins in
which religious (Jews/Greek), social (slave/free), and sexual
(male/female) differences play no part in one's status before
God. The woman comes into a covenant relation with God's people,
not through circumcised men, but through her own faith and
Galatians 3:26-28 centers on the new status of "one in
Christ" offered to all believers by faith. Paul's key statements
are contained in the sentences: "for in Christ Jesus you are all
sons of God, through faith ... for you are all one in Christ
Restoration of Creation Order.
The notion of becoming one person in Christ is possibly a
reference to the original creation of humanity in the image of
God. This is suggested especially by the phrase "male and female"
which in Greek (arsen kai thelu) is identical to the phrase used
in the Septuagint to translate Genesis 1:27 ("male and female he
created them"). 9 In other words, as there was no distinction of
status between "male and female" in God's original creation
because they were both created in the same image of God, so there
is no distinction between "male and female" in God's redemption
because both of them are re-created in the image of Christ.
This interpretation is supported especially by the parallel
passage of Colossians 3:9-11. After exhorting the Colossians to
put away sinful practices, Paul says that they, "have put on the
new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image
of its creator. Here there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcised
and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free man, but
Christ is all, and in all" (cf. 1 Cor 12:12,13).
Here Paul emphasizes the same point as in Galatians 3:28,
namely, that all Christians share equally in the restoration of
the image of God in and through Christ, despite national,
religious and social status. The human race is restored through
Christ to "the image of its creator" and thus to the relationship
it had with God when it was first created. This means that the
order of redemption does not abolish the order of creation. On
the contrary, redemption is intended to restore the creational
order of the human race, that is, the oneness of men and women
with God and among themselves.
Klyne R. Snodgrass expresses the same conviction in his
perceptive article on Galatians 3:28. He writes: "I do not see an
intended contrast between the order of creation and the order of
redemption. Paul does not set the one against the other anywhere
else; rather, redemption includes creation within its scope.
Paul's poiint is not that gender distinctions are obliterated."
Parallels to Galatians 3:28.
One intriguing aspect of Galatians 3:28 is the number of
texts in the ancient world which are similar, yet different, to
it. The most pertinent of these is a male thanksgiving that is
found both in Hellenistic and Jewish literature. The Hellenistic
parallel is variously attributed to Socrates, Plato and Thales.
In this the speaker gives thanks "that I was born a human being
and not an animal, that I was born a man and not a women, and
that I was born a Greek and not a barbarian." 11
The Jewish version of this thanksgiving is found in a Jewish
prayer attributed to Rabbi Jehuda, which may go back to Paul's
Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who
hast not made me a Gentile (heathen) Blessed art thou, O
Lord our God, King of the universe, who hast not made me a
slave Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the
universe, who hast not made me a woman. 12
The significance of this prayer for the understanding of
Galatians 3:28, is shown in a comment from the Tosefta by a rabbi
who lived in the second century A.D.:
Blessed be God that he had not made me a Gentile:
"because all Gentiles are nothing before him" (Jer 40:17).
Blessed be God that he has not made me a woman:
because woman is not obligated to fulfill the commandments.
Blessed be God that he has not made me a boor:
because a boor is not ashamed to sin. 13
This comment indicates that the issue for all the three
pairs was one of religious status. The law, as interpreted by the
rabbis, made distinctions in the status before God in all three
categories. As StrackBillerbeck explains:
This thought (Gal 3:28) could not be realized in the
synagogue, because it was precisely those natural
differences which significantly determined the
relationship of the individual to the law: the born Jew had
a different relationship to the law than the proselyte, the
man a different relationship than the woman, the free man a
different relationship than the slave. 14
Against this background Galatians 3:28 gains added
What Paul is saying is that the distinctions that the law
made, especially as interpreted by the rabbis, no longer applied
among Christians. Through faith in Christ, all the differences in
religious status between Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and
female, disappear. All become "Abraham's offspring, heirs
according to promise" (Gal 3:29).
3. Galatians 3:28 and Social Roles
How then does the message of Galatians 3:28 relate to the
roles of men and women in the home and in the church? Does Paul
intend by this message to eliminate all role distinctions and
thus to open the way for women to function as pastors/elders in
the church? Or is he referring only to the spiritual relationship
of men and women to God, thus leaving untouched their, social
Three major interpretations have been given and each of them
will now be briefly considered.
Abolition of All Differences?
Many interpreters view Galatians 3:28 as the great
breakthrough, designed to abolish all role differences between
men and women, thus opening the way for women to be ordained as
pastors/elders. Virginia Mollenkott, for example, believes that
this text expresses Paul's vision "of a classless, non-racist,
non-sexist society." 15
According to this view, Galatians 3:28 is incompatible with
those New Testament texts which enjoin the subordination of woman
to man. This contradiction is explained in various ways. Some,
like Paul K. Jewett, argue that Paul is merely inconsistent.
Galatians 3:28 reflects Paul's best thought, while texts such as
1 Timothy 2:12-15 and 1 Corinthians 14:33-36 hark back to his
rabbinic training which prevented him from seeing the full
implications of redemption. 16
Other scholars such as Richard Longenecker, Krister Stendahl
and Scott Bartchy regard Galatians 3:28 as the normative text,
while the other texts they see as descriptive or conditioned by
the problem sof his time. 17 Thus all the texts dealing with the
role of men and women in the church must be interpreted in the
light of Galatians 3:28.
The argument for cultural conditioning and rabbinic
reasoning has no support in the texts themselves where Paul
appeals not to sociological but to theological reasons. Moreover,
such argumention fails to recognize that it is the interpretation
of the texts rather than the texts themselves that is culturally
conditioned, if the interpreter evaluates the text in the light
of twentieth century social patterns. The underlying belief that
the modern social pattern of role interchangeability is more true
than the ancient Biblical pattern of role distinctions is a
gratuitous assumption. In matters of faith and morals what is new
is not necessarily better than what is old.
Biblical history gives ample evidence of moral and social
decline rather than progress. There is no evolutionary process of
moral and spiritual progress. To equate modernity with social
enlightment means to commit the fallacy of attributing to our
modern culture greater authority than to divine revelation. This
does not mean that every social pattern contained in Scripture is
permanent and nonnative for all time. A distinction must be made
between permissive rules regarding, for example, slavery,
divorce, and polygamy, and permanent norms which are grounded in
the creation order and clarified in the redemption order. This
means, for example, that monogamous, heterosexual, and
patriarchal (husband's loving headship) marriages are normative
for Christians, and not merely a matter of social convention. On
the contrary, slavery has no abiding validity because it
represents a distortion of creation structures.
The view that Paul was inconsistent not only negates the
inspiration of all Scriptures, but also assumes that an
intelligent man like Paul was sometimes incoherent. It
makes more sense to assume that Paul saw no tension between
oneness and equality in Christ (Gal 3:28) and functional
subordination of women in the church (1 Tim 2:12-15; 1 Cor
Madeleine Boucher, though an Evangelical Feminist herself.
Then, the ideas of equality before God and inferiority in
the social order are in harmony in the NT. To be precise,
the tension did not exist in century thought, and it is not
present in the texts themselves. The tension arises
from modern man's inability to hold these two ideas
Religious, not Social Issue?
The solution to the apparent incompatibility between
Galatians 3:28 and the other Pauline passages, is to be found in
the recognition of the real thrust of Galatians 3:28. This
passage does not eliminate the different social roles for men and
women established at creation, but does erase the distinctions in
religious status related to the keeping of the law and introduced
after creation during the period of immaturity or hardness of
The phrase "male and female" refers to human beings in their
sexual differentiation and not in their social roles, as the
words "man and woman" would convey. This means that if the
abolition view were correct, Galatians 3:28 would be teaching the
abolition of male-female sexual differences and the realization
of an androgynous person, that is, a person having male and
female characteristics. This interpretation, though upheld by
some scholars, 19 is unwarranted because Paul was passionate in
maintaining the role distinctions of men and women (1 Cor
11:3-15; Eph 5:22), while rejecting any value judgment based on
The real issue in Galatians 3:28 is religious and not social
status, though, as we shall see, the former has profound
implications for the latter. To understand this point it is
essential to see the difference between the concern of Paul's
contemporaries and that of Christians today.
The great concern of first century Jews and Christians was
the religious status, that is, the status of men and women before
God which determined the structure of social life. The concern of
people today, including many Christians, is the social status,
that is, the social equality of men and women. The religious
question is often of little interest, except insofar as it
impacts the social question.
The prevailing perception is that true equality of worth can
only be accomplished by abolishing all role distinctions between
men and women and instituting what sociologists call "role
interchange-ability." 20 Both spouses are supposed to be able to
fulfill the roles of father, mother, breadwinner, housekeeper,
pastor, elder, etc. Role distinctions according to sex are
supposed to disappear.
Perversion of Creational Order.
This view that equality means role-interchangeability,
though popular, is nothing else than a perversion of God's
creational order. In Scripture equality does not mean
role-interchangeability. This fact is clearly recognized by
various evangelical feminist scholars. For example, John
Jefferson Davis writes:
It should be observed, as we examine this concept of
equality, that in the New Testament documents it is not
assumed that equality in the sight of God implies either
role interchangeability among Christians or egalitarian
authority patterns. And as we have already noted, the
religious equality of Christian husbands and wives does not,
in the apostolic teaching, involve egalitarian and
interchangeable authority patterns 21
Klyne R. Snodgrass expresses the same conviction:
Paul obviously did not give up the idea of hierarchy, and I
would argue that equality and hierarchy are not necessarily
antithetical ideas. Nevertheless, what did change for Paul
and must change for every Christian is the understanding of
hierarchy. Christianity redefines hierarchy in terms of
love, servanthood and mutual submission. 22
Summing up, the evidence submitted does not support the view
that Galatians 3:28 abolishes all role distinctions among
Christian people. The text simply asserts the fundamental truth
that in Christ every person, whether Jew or Greek, slave or free,
male or female, enjoys the status of being the son or daughter of
Only Spiritual Relationships?
The second interpretation, known as the traditional
position, views Galations 3:28 as being solely a soteriological
statement (pertaining to salvation) which applies only to
people's spiritual relationship with God (their standing before
God - coram Deum), and does not affect social relationships. 23
What applies in the "religious" sphere does not apply to the
social sphere. James Hurley, for example, concludes that
Galatians 3:28 deals not with "relations within the body of
Christ," but exclusively with the question, "Who may become a son
of God and on what basis?" 24
This view is correct in what it affirms but incorrect in
what it denies. It is correct in emphasizing that Galatians 3:28
deals with the equal religious standing of all people before God,
irrespective of religious, social, and sexual differences, but it
is incorrect in denying the social implications of such a
religious standing. We noted earlier that in Paul's time
religious differences were the basis of social differences.
The abolition of differences in the religious status within the
Christian community affected the social relations. Jewish and
Gentile Christians could now eat together at community meals (Gal
2:11-14; Acts 10:9-29). Women were baptized like men, became
direct members of God's people, equally received the gifts of the
Spirit, and played significant roles in both private and public
worship. The equal standing before God emphasized in Galatians
3:28 had important social consequences as religious (Jew and
Greek), social (slave and free) and sexual (male and female)
relationships were transformed through the presence of genuine
Both Spiritual and Social Relationships.
This leads us to consider the third interpretation. This
views Galatians 3:28 as being a soteriological statement which
affects both spiritual and social relationships, without
abolishing the creational role distinctions of men and women? 25
To deny the social implication of Galatians 3:28 means to fail to
recognize that in the Christian faith nothing can be labelled as
exclusively religious or spiritual ("merely coram Deum--in the
eyes of God").
The social implications of Galatians 3:28 are evident in the
New Testament. An example is the active roles that women
exercised within the church. They exercised the spiritual gifts
for the benefit of the whole church, they engaged as
fellow-workers in pioneer evangelism and took full responsibility
for their own spiritual development. In short, the oneness in
Christ of every person proclaimed in Galatians 3:28 changed the
role of women from mere spectators in the synagogue to active
participants in the church.
Another example can be seen in 1 Corinthians 7, where Paul
ten times carefully balances his statements so that what he says
about one sex is repeated explicitly of the other. He says, for
example, that both husband and wife must honor the conjugal
rights of the other (v.3) and that each of them must view the
other as the ruler of his or her body (v.4). The statement that
"the husband does not rule over his own body, but the wife does"
(v.4) is startling, especially in the light of the contemporary
view of the prerogatives of the male.
Example of Slavery.
Slavery provides another example of how Paul envisions the
social implications of the oneness in Christ of slaves and
masters. In Ephesians 6:5-9 Paul gives the following instruction
to both slaves and masters:
Slaves, be obedient to those who are your earthly masters,
with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as to
Christ; ... knowing that whatever good anyone does, he will
receive the same again from the Lord, whether he is a slave
or free. Masters, do the same to them, and forbear
threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and
yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with
The same ideas are expressed by Paul in 1 Timothy 6:1-2 and
in Philemon. All these passages illustrate the transformation in
social relationships brought about by the new life and oneness in
Christ. This transformation consists not in the abrogation of the
distinctions between Jew and Greek, slave and free and male and
female, but in a new attitude of brotherly love toward one
Abolition of Slavery.
Some argue that if the message expressed in Galatians 3:28
eventually led to the abolition of Jew-Gentile and slave/free
differences, the same truth should lead to the elimination of the
man-woman differences, and thus, to the ordination of women. The
initial plausibility of this view is discredited by four
First, Paul compares the relationships among Jew-Greek,
slave-free and male-female only in one common area: the status
distinction these created in one's relationship with God.
Second, in other areas Paul recognizes that the distinctions
among the three relationships still exist. Being in Christ did
not change a Jew into a Gentile, a slave into a freeman and a man
into a woman; rather it changed the way each of these related to
the other. Paul still took pride in being a Jew and acknowledged
the advantages of being Jew, but he did not grant Jews any
special standing before God (Rom 2:25-3:9; Phil 3:4-11).
Third, there is an important difference between Paul's view
of the man-woman relationship and of the slave-freeman
relationship. For Paul the subordination involved in the
man-woman relationship is based on the order of creation and it
represents God's purpose for human beings after the redemption in
Christ which restores humanity to the original creational intent.
Paul, however, never teaches that slavery is a divine
institution, part of God's order of creation, and thus to be
perpetuated. On the contrary, he encourages the slave offered the
opportunity of manumission to take advantage of it (1 Cor 7:21),
and classifies slavekidnappers among the "unholy and profane" (1
Tim 1:9-10). He admonishes slaves to obey their masters, not
because slavery is part of God's purpose, but because they are
now freed men in Christ (1 Cor 7:22; cf. 1 Pet 2:16).
Abolition of Sexual Differentiations?
Fourth, the possible influence of Galatians 3:28 on the
abolition of slavery cannot serve as a model for the elimination
of role distinctions of men and women, because, as noted earlier,
the text speaks of sexual differentiation ("male and female") and
not of social roles as would be implied by the words "man and
woman." While slavery is a temporary human institution resulting
from the Fall, male-female differences are unchangeable
biological features originating at creation.
Evangelical feminists recognize that Galatians 3:28 does not
intend to remove biological distinctions between male and female.
A warning must be sounded, however, against the unisex trend of
our society. Susan Foh correctly observes:
There are trends in society moving in the direction of
unisex. The visibility of homosexuals and their campaign to
legitimize homosexuality is one step toward removing
biological differences (by removing the significance of
biological differences) between male and female. This trend
is contrary to the plain command of Scripture (1 Cor 6:9-10;
1 Tim 1:9-11; Jude 5,7; Rom 1:2427). We should also note
that some gays use the biblical feminists' hermeneutic and
claim that Paul was culturally conditioned when he
prohibited homosexuality. 26
It is noteworthy that some of the denominations which
decided years ago to ordain women have now set up study-groups to
explore the feasibility of ordaining homosexuals. 27 It should
come as no surprise to anyone if in the near future some of these
churches will approve the ordination of homosexuals, by
explaining away as time-bound and culturally conditioned the
Biblical condemnation of homosexuality. This trend to reinterpret
Scripture in the light of contemporary humanistic/secularistic
cultural values should concern every Bible-believing Christian.
If allowed to prevail, this trend will ultimately destroy both
the normative authority of Scripture and the moral fabric of
This chapter has shown that the order of redemption
inaugurated by Christ's coming has greatly affected the social
relationship of men and women, but has not changed or eliminated
Jesus was revolutionary in advocating the equal spiritual
status of men and women in His kingdom, but He was not
revolutionary in abrogating the role distinctions of men and
women. The consequence of Jesus' teachings was a significant
change in the social status of women. This change made it
possible for women to be treated with the same "brotherly love"
as men and to participate actively in the life and mission of the
church. There is no indication, however, that Jesus' proclamation
of the human dignity and worth of women was ever intended to pave
the way for their ordination as pastors of the flock. Christ's
exclusive choice of men as apostles shows His respect for the
role differences between men and women established at creation.
Paul, like Jesus, was revolutionary in proclaiming the oneness
and equality in Christ of all believers (Gal 3:28; Col 3:9-11; 1
Cor 12:1213). Our study of Galatians 3:28 has shown that the
message of this text has significant social implications, but
does not abolish role differences. The passage envisions one body
into which all believers through baptism have been incorporated
as living members. This is the body of Christ in which racial,
social, and sexual distinctions have no validity.
However, we have found that the oneness of male and female
in Christ does not eliminate the role differences established at
creation. Galatians 3:28 does not teach that the individual
characteristics of believers are abolished by the order of
redemption. Being one in Christ does not change a Jew into a
Gentile, a slave into a freeman, a man into a woman, rather it
changes the way each of these relate to each other. Equality
before God does not imply role-interchangeability. Galatians 3:28
speaks of the equality of all believers before God, but it does
not speak to issues pertaining to order in the church and to the
specific roles of women in the congregation. These issues are
addressed by Paul in other passages which will be examined in the
The analysis of the order of creation and redemption
conducted in the last two chapters lead us to the formulation of
the following principle: In Scripture men and women are equal
before God by virtue of creation and redemption. Yet God assigned
both distinctive and complementary roles to men and women in
their relation to each other. These roles are not nullified, but
clarified by Christ's redemption and thus they should be
reflected in the church.
NOTES ON CHAPTER IV
l. Richard N. Longenecker, New Testament Social Ethics for Today
(Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1984), p 92. For a brief but perceptive
presentation of how the orders of creation and redemption
determine respectively the stance pro or con the ordination of
women, see Roberta Hestenes, "Women in Leadership: Finding Ways
to Serve the Church," Christianity Today (October 3, 1986): 4-1
2. Gilbert Bilezikian, Beyond Sex Roles: A Guide for the Study
of Female Roles in the Bible (Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1985), p.
3. James B. Hurley, Man and Woman in Biblical Perspective (Grand
Rapids, Michigan, 1981), p.110.
4. Arlene Swidler, Woman in a Man's Church (New York, 1972), p.
5. Letha Scanzoni and Nancy Hardesty, All We're Meant to Be. A
Biblical Approach to Women's Liberation (Waco, Texas, 1975), p.
6. For information on the status of women in ancient Greece and
Rome, see Mary Lefkowitz and Maureen Fant, Women in Greece and
Rome (Toronto, 1977); J. P. V. D. Balsdon, Roman Women (London,
1962); Sarah B. Pomeroy, Goddesses, Whores, Wifes and Slaves (New
York, 1975); Charles Seltmann, Women in Antiquity (London, 1956).
For a brief treatment see Elisabeth Meier Tetlow, Women and
Ministry in the New Testament: Called to Serve (Lanham, Maryland,
7. Stephen B. Clark, Man and Woman in Christ (Ann Arbor,
Michigan, 1980), p.254.
8. Susie C. Stanley, "Response to Klyne R. Snodgrass 'Galatians
3:28: Conundrum or Solution?'" in Women, Authority and the Bible,
ed. Alvera Mickelsen (Downers Grove, Illinois, 1986), p.187.
9. For a helpful discussion on the connection between Galatians
3:28 and the creation narrative, see Krister Stendahl, The Bible
and the Role of Women (Philadelphia, 1966), p.32; and David
Daube, The New Testament and Rabbinic Judaism (New York, 1973),
10. Klyne R. Snodgrass, "Galatians 3:28: Conundrum or Solution?"
in Women, Authority and the Bible, ed. Alvera Mickelsen (Downers
Grove, Illinois, 1986), p.177.
11. Diogenes Laertius 1, 33; also in Lactanctius, The Divine
Institutes 3, 19; Plutarch, Lives, Caius Marius 46. 1, but
without the thanksgiving for having been born a man and not a
woman. For a brief survey and discussion of parallel texts, see
Klyne R. Snodgrass (n. 10), p.171.
12. Quoted in S. Singer, Authorized Daily Prayer Book (London,
13. Quoted in Stephen B. Clark (n. 7), p.146.
14. Quoted in Stephen B. Clark (n. 7), p.147.
15. Virginia Mollenkott, "Women and the Bible," Sojourners 5
(1976): 23; among those holding a similar view are Krister
Stendahl (n. 9), pp.32-37; Paul K. Jewett, Man as Male and
Female (Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1975), p.112; C. Parvey, "The
Theology and Leadership of Women in the New Testament," in
Religion and Sexism, ed. R. R. Ruether (New York, 1974), pp.
132-134; Letha Scanzoni and Nancy Hardesty (n. 5), p.18; Ralph
Langley, "The Role of Women in the Church," Southwestern Journal
of Theology 19 (1977): 69; David and Vera Mace, "Women and the
Family in the Bible," in Christian Freedom for Women and Other
Human Beings (Nashville, 1975), p.18.
16. Paul K. Jewett (n. 15), p.112; cf. R. Scroggs, "Woman in the
N.T.," The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, Supplementary
Volume (Nashville, 1976), p.967.
17. Richard N. Longenecker (n. 1), pp.84-86; Krister Stendahl
(n. 9), pp.3435; Scott Bartchy, "Power, Submission, and Sexual
Identity among the Early Christians," in Essays on New Testament
Christianity, ed. C. Robert Wetzel (Cincinnati, 1978), pp.58-59;
Thomas R. W. Longstaff, "The Ordination of Women: A Biblical
Perspective," Anglican Theological Review 57 (1975): 322327; F.
F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Galatians (Grand Rapids, Michigan,
18. Madeleine Boucher, "Some Unexplored Parallels to 1
Corinthians 11:1112 and Galatians 3:28: The NT on the Role of
Women," The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 31 (January 1969): 57.
19. Bernard Hungerford Brinsmead, Galatians--Dialogical Response
to Opponents (Chico, California, 1982), pp.150-151; Hans Dieter
Betz, Galatians (Philadelphia, 1979), p.195-200; Wayne A. Meeks,
"The Image of the Androgyne: Some Uses of a Symbol in Earliest
Christiantiy," History of Religions 13 (19731974): 185-186;
Robert Jewett, "The Sexual Liberation of the Apostle Paul,"
Journal of the American Academy of Religion (suppl. 1979): 65-69.
20. Letha Scanzoni and Nancy Hardesty (n. 5), p.110.
21. John Jefferson Davis, "Some Reflections on Galatians 3:28,
Sexual Roles, and Biblical Hermeneutics," Journal of the
Evangelical Theological Society 19, 3 (Summer 1976): 203.
22. Klyne R. Snodgrass (n. 10), p.175.
23. See, for example, Fritz Zerbst, The Office of Woman in the
Church, trans. Albert G. Merkens (St. Louis, 1955), p.35;
Madeleine Boucher (n. 18), pp.57-58; Susan T. Foh, Women and the
Word of God (Phillipsburg, New Jersey, 1979), pp.140-141.
24. James B. Hurley (n. 3), pp.126-127.
25. Stephen B. Clark (n. 7), pp.151-155; John Jefferson Davis
(n. 21), pp.202-203; Hans C. Cavallin, "Demythologizing the
Liberal Illusion," in Why Not? Priesthood and the Ministry of
Women, eds. Michael Bruce and G. E. Duffield (Appleford, England,
26. Susan T. Foh (n. 23), p.141.
27. John Hogman, "Homosexuality, Sexual Ethics and Ordination,"
Touchstone 3 (May 1985): 4-14; Leslie K. Tarr, "United Church of
Canada Task Force Recommends Ordaining Gays," Christianity Today
28 (May 18, 1984): 100; Jean Caffey Lyles, "Pain and the
Presbyterians," Christian Century 99 (October 6, 1982): 988-993;
John Maust, "The Episcopalians' Great Debate on Ordination of
Homosexuals," Christianity Today 23 (October 19, 1979): 38-40;
David A. Scott, "Ordaining a Homosexual Person: a Policy
Proposal," St. Luke's Journal of Theology 22 (June 1979):
To be continued