F.F. Bruce on Galatians 3:28

I’ve always appreciated F.F. Bruce’s comments on Galatians 3:28

W.A. Meeks thinks that Paul is here quoting a ‘baptismal reunification formula’ which envisaged the restoration of a pristine androgynous image. But Paul himself is not concerned with any such fantasy; he is concerned with practical church life in which men and women (like Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free persons) are here and now fellow-members. It is not their distinctiveness, but their inequality of religious role, that is abolished ‘in Christ Jesus.’

Whereas Paul’s ban on discrimination on racial or social grounds has been fairly widely accepted au pied de la lettre, there has been a tendency to restrict the degree to which ‘there is “male and female.”‘ Thus it has been argued that these words relate only to the common access of men and women to baptism, with its introduction to their new existence ‘in Christ.’ True, Paul may have had in mind that circumcision involved a form of discrimination between men and women which was removed when circumcision was demoted from its position as religious law, whereas baptism was open to both sexes indiscriminately. But the denial of discrimination which is sacramentally affirmed in baptism holds good for the new existence ‘in Christ’ in its entirety. No more restriction is implied in Paul’s equalizing of the status of male and female in Christ than in his equalizing of the status of Jew and Gentile, or of slave and free person. If in ordinary life existence in Christ is manifest openly in church fellowship, then if a Gentile may exercise spiritual leadership in church as freely as a Jew, or a slave as freely as a citizen, why not a woman as freely as a man?

In other spheres, in deed, the distinction which ceased to be relevant in the church fellowship might continue to be observed. In Roman law the distinction between slave and free person remained;  in the family the cooperation of husband and wife, or father and mother, depend (as it still does) on the distinction between them. But superiority and inferiority of status or esteem could have no place ithe society whose Founder laid it down that among his followers ‘whoever would be first … must be slave of all’ (Mk. 10:44).

How Paul allowed the principle of ‘no “male and female”‘ to operate in practice may be seen, for example, in his appreciation of the Philippian women who ‘labored side by side’ with him in the gospel (Phil 4:3) or his recognition of the right of women to pray and prophesy in church–the veil being the symbol of their authority… Paul states the basic principle here; if restrictions on it are found elsewhere in the Pauline corpus, as in 1 Cor 14:34f or 1 Tim 2:11f., they are to be understood in relation to Gal. 3:28, and not vice versa. Attempts to find canon law in Paul, or base canon law on Paul, should be forestalled by a consideration of Paul’s probable reaction to the very idea of canon law.

NIGTC, 1982: 189-90.

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