No longer Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male and female

Galatians 3:13-29  One in Christ

The Adult Bible Class of Home Moravian Church, originally broadcast May 3, 2009

Craig Atwood

Introduction:            Good morning and welcome to this weekly broadcast of the Adult Bible Class of Home Moravian Church. I hope it was a good week for you and those you love most dearly. It was a quiet week at the church. We had to shut the buildings down for three days because there was no electricity. That was all part of putting in the new heating and air conditioning system. Classes ended on Wednesday at Wake Forest and we are now in exams. For some reason, students don’t seem sympathetic to the plight of professors having to grade all of these papers and exams. Now that classes are over, I’ve been able to give some attention to deferred maintenance on our house. I’ve also started packing up my books so I can move them over to my office at Wake. Sometimes I wonder what I’ve done with my money and then I start packing books and remember. Each one of them seemed worth it at the time. I try to tell myself that there is a reason we have a library on campus.            

Curse:                        We ran out of time last week before I got to the end of the lesson, and so I’ll begin where I left off. We were talking about Paul’s assertion that it is our faith in Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives that allows us to become righteous and just. To press home his point that it is Christ who leads us into a new way of life, Paul says “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” Paul quotes from Deuteronomy to indicate that those who died by hanging on a tree were cursed. There is evidence that in Paul’s day this verse was applied to crucifixion, which was not a Jewish form of punishment. It is possible that the opponents of Christianity used this verse to condemn those who believed in Jesus as the Messiah. They could have claimed that Jesus was cursed and abandoned by God. Paul uses this verse to shock the Galatians back to their senses. If they are going to embrace the law of Moses, then they will have to follow the whole law. They will have to view Jesus as having been cursed because of his crucifixion.

Paul uses the scandal of the cross to shock us into looking at things in a new lights. Jesus voluntarily took on the curse of the law to redeem us from the law’s curse. Paul is not rejecting the Scriptures, but is radically reinterpreting them in light of Christ’s death and resurrection. Paul viewed Jesus as the suffering servant in Isaiah 53 whose suffering and death made possible the messianic vision of the peaceable kingdom also given by Isaiah. The messianic kingdom leads through the cross.

Read 3:15-29 We continue with verse 15 of chapter 3.

Abraham’s Seed:            I have to agree with commentators who point out that this is not one of Paul’s better passages. It appears that Paul himself was a bit uncomfortable with the analogy he draws between the law and a person’s last will and testament because he states that he is going to speak in a human manner, meaning that he is talking for himself not for God. Translations obscure this by paraphrasing what Paul says. He is actually admitting that he is using an imperfect analogy to make a point, something preachers do all the time without always acknowledging the limits of their analogies. Paul says that God made a promise to Abraham and his offspring.  We call such a promise a “will” or “testament.” Paul is using a pun that works in Greek because the Greek version of the Old Testament calls the covenant a testament. This is why Christians call the Hebrew scriptures the Old Testament, by the way. First testament or original covenant would be appropriate names as well.

Paul claims that the original covenant included a promise to Abraham’s offspring, and like any will, it is still valid. Paul points out that the law of Moses was not given for another 430 years, and he insists that the law did not annul the original promise, which was based on Abraham’s trust in God. It is not a very strong argument, and Paul does not use it in Romans when he discusses Abraham and the covenant.

The second part of Paul’s argument sounds very strange to modern readers. He points out that the promise was to Abraham and his “seed” or offspring. The Greek word “spermata” is singular, as Paul says, but spermata is a collective noun, as is offspring. We might not be persuaded by Paul’s point here, but he is using a type of interpretation employed by ancient rabbis. Before the time of Paul, rabbis had connected the idea of Abraham’s seed to the promise that David’s seed would rule in Israel, and they argued that a single descendent of Abraham and David would be the Messiah. Paul simply takes the rabbinical argument to claim that the promised seed of Abraham was Jesus. Thus, Jesus, not the law, was the fulfillment of God’s covenant with Abraham.

The Law as Custodian:            This leads into the question of why God gave the law to Moses at all if the inheritance was to be granted through faith. Paul claims that the law was given to Israel because they had become sinners. You may remember that the Israelites trusted in God enough to escape slavery in Egypt. They crossed through the waters to freedom, but then they turned to idolatry. Paul implies that this was why the law was needed. The Israelites could no longer be faithful without a written law. His second point is that this law was given through intermediaries rather than directly by God. Moses was a prophet and spokesman for God, but he was not God. For centuries, rabbis had pointed to the presence of angels on Mt. Sinai as a way to elevate the majesty and awe of the giving of the law, but Paul claims that it was the angels rather than God who gave the law to Moses. In other words, the law came through several intermediaries rather than being given directly by God. It is not a very strong argument, but it can be strengthened through modern biblical study, which indicates that the law evolved over many centuries.

It is intriguing that in verse 22, Paul uses the word “scripture” instead of “law” when he claims that the written code imprisons all things in sin. You may have noticed that biblical literalists do not hold this verse up at sporting events or preach it from the airwaves. Paul recognized that the Bible be twisted to harm and harass people. The old Moravians often pointed out that even inquisitors and crusaders quoted from the Bible. Paul is not condemning Scripture or the law; he is pointing out that the Scripture shows us that all humans are subject to sin. The law reveals to us just how imperfect and flawed we really are. The law is not opposed to the promises given to Abraham, but the law could not fulfill the promise. Even though the law appears to offer a way to righteousness, we find that it highlights just how far from God we truly are.  

We like to divide the world into the righteous and the sinful, but Paul shatters that illusion. He says that the Law of Moses reveals to us the reality that we are all sinners. We are all in bondage to the laws of death and corruption. None of us can fulfill the law’s demands.

Paul offers another way of viewing the law. It functioned like a paidagogos, which is not quite the same as a pedagogue. The paidagogos was a slave who took the master’s children to school and made sure they obeyed. Once the children came of age, they were freed from the watchful eye of the paidagogos. In other words, he was like a custodian of the children and served as their disciplinarian. These are the functions the law had in Paul’s thinking. The law was given by God to preserve the children of Abraham and to keep them in line until the proper time. In other words, the Law of Moses was relative rather than absolute. It was provided for a particular time and place. Pauline Christians today should keep this argument in mind when quoting from Leviticus or Joshua. The old law served its purpose until Christ came, but the law worked by punishment and threat. Christ brings freedom.

Paul tells the Galatians that they are no longer until the curse of the old law; they have been set free by the faithfulness of Jesus. Paul implies that the world has come of age, and the old is passing away. We should read Paul’s words as a call for maturity and self-control, not as a license for bad behavior. We no longer have a disciplinary because we have come of age. We can be freed by the fears that plagued the ancient world as well as the fears that keep us imprisoned today. To live in Christ is to live as free and responsible moral agents who have internalized the fundamental principles of God’s intention for the world. Gone are the days when we need teachers to rap our knuckles or paddle our behinds. Gone is the controlling force of the law. Banish the voices that tell you that everything you do is wrong. If we are in Christ, we are free to live.

Sons and Daughters:            This brings us to one of the most important things that Paul ever wrote. Galatians 3:28 is the culmination of Paul’s whole argument thus far. He tells his audience that they are all sons of God through Christ. Today we would says sons and daughters since Paul clearly includes both males and females in this statement. You are sons and daughters of God through faith in Christ. The pious people in Paul’s day believed that God was a distant deity who had decreed laws and would preside on judgment day. Islam teaches that God has no sons. God is God and humans are humans. In contrast, Jesus claimed God as his father, and the church proclaimed Jesus as the unique Son of God. Paul goes much further and makes the provocative claim that those who place their faith in Christ also become the sons and daughters of God. You are sons and daughters of the Most High and are loved with the infinite love of God. All who believe in Christ are members of the household of God. Paul claims that the barrier between God and sinful humanity has been torn away by Jesus.

It is because we are sons and daughters of God through faith in Christ that all other barriers are torn down, too. Some scholars think that Paul may have been quoting a baptismal creed in verses 27-28. If so, it would have been the creed that he used when he baptized people in Galatia. He reminded them that they had all been baptized in Christ and clothed in Christ. He makes an allusion to the ancient practice of baptizing people nude and then clothing them in a white robe symbolizing their new life. Moravians do not baptize this way, but the pastor wears a white robe. Zinzendorf took this metaphor of being clothed in Christ and combined with Jesus’ parable of the wedding banquet to produce his beautiful hymn: The Savior’s Blood and Righteousness, my beauty is, my glorious dress.

Since President Truman integrated the Armed Forces after World War II, there has been a saying that there is only one color in the Army: green. 1900 years before that saying was invented, Paul was telling the Galatians that there is one name for the sons and daughters of God: Christ. All who have faith in Christ and are baptized in Christ are clothed in Christ. Because of this, Paul can make the bold claim that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male and female.

Slave and Free:            I wonder how much this statement shocked the original hearers. Paul has been building a case to prove to them that the division between Jew and Gentile is no longer valid in the church, but he pushes his argument further. Not only are Jews and Gentiles united through baptism as the sons and daughters of God, so are slaves and free people. Slavery was one of the harsh realities of the ancient world, and servitude marked a fundamental division in the social order. Owning slaves was a sign of power, wealth, and status. Being a slave was a sign that you were a lesser creature. Slavery defined your identity. You were unworthy of respect and you had no dignity. You were not a man or woman like other men and women. We know that there were slaves and masters in the early church, and it is clear that Paul did not simply condemn slavery as unchristian. He did something more revolutionary. He declared that in Christ there is neither slave nor free. All who are baptized in Christ have the same status as sons and daughters of God.

No matter what the world said; no matter what the law said; no matter what the powers and principalities said; no matter what the emperor said; Christ made slaves and free equal. One of the most shocking aspects of early Christianity was that slaves and masters ate together and talked together. This is why the emperor wanted to destroy this subversive religion. Though the church often ignored Paul and lost sight of this vision, his words have repeatedly shocked Christians back into faithful devotion to Christ. These words inspired Leonard Dober to offer his life to the slaves in St. Thomas. These words inspired William Wilberforce and John Woolman and David Walker and Sojourner Truth to bring down the slave system in the 19th century. These words continue to inspire Christians to recognize each other as brothers and sisters in Christ.

Male and Female:            It can be scary to shake the foundations of the world by declaring radical freedom and equality in Christ, but Paul wanted to make sure the Galatians got the point. Not only is there no division between Jew and Gentile, slave and free, there is no division between men and women. It is possible that the Galatians had been baptized with these words that Paul uses: In Christ  you are all one; there is no longer male and female. With a few exceptions, such as the radical Pietists, Christians over the centuries haven’t grasped the full import of Paul’s words here. Churches love to quote other parts of the NT that subordinate women rather than taking Galatians 3:28 seriously. It is interesting that the same churches that embrace Paul’s arguments against circumcision and preach that the just shall live by faith lose their courage when it comes to 3:28. Rather than recognizing this as the climax of Paul’s argument in Galatians, they jump right over it to other letters they like better. In doing so they miss the whole point of Galatians. They become just like those people was warning the Galatians about. They reject the freedom of Christ and want to go back to the old ways.

Paul is telling the Galatians and us that the followers of Christ are living in a new world. We have one foot in the kingdom of God even though we are living in a corrupt and sinful society. Those who are in Christ are equal in Christ. Although even Paul made compromises with the world in which he lived, he recognized that Christ changed everything. Even the most basic division between human beings, even the oldest form of oppression, has been atoned for by Jesus. We are no longer under the curse of the law or under the curse of racism, nationalism, or sexism. Who would have thought that Paul would write such a thing?

I know what some of you are thinking. Why should we take this verse more seriously than those verses in Timothy and Ephesians that subordinate women to men? Why should this verse be our guiding principle, our touchstone, and our rule of faith? Part of the reason is that this verse is not just an isolated statement that Paul throws in. It sums up his whole argument about being justified in Christ. Galatians 3:28 describes the new reality of being clothed in Christ. It even makes sense as to why Paul was so reluctant to reintroduce a ritual that marked only men as part of the covenant. Baptism is for men and women.

Galatians 3:28 also makes sense as a summary of the atonement because Paul himself writes about the women who shared his ministry: some were the heads of churches, some were prophets and apostles. It makes sense that we highlight this verse above others because Jesus welcomed a Samaritan woman into the household of God and let Mary sit at his feet. It makes sense that we live by this verse because the first ones to proclaim the good news of Easter were women. Paul tells us that Christians are called to live according to the spirit of God that unites us rather than focus on the flesh that divides us. Gal. 3:28 makes sense because we are no longer under the curse of the law that subordinated women and enslaved the poor. It makes sense because whenever the church has rejected this message, it lost sight of Christ and turns to violence and oppression rather than love and liberation.

Conclusion:                        We’ve come to the end of our time on the radio this morning, and I thank you for listening. Next week we’ll continue our study of Galatians and examine what Paul has to say about slavery and freedom.

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  • Tim Adams  On January 20, 2012 at 6:19 pm

    In this article you state that women were head of churches and apostles, could you please list the scriptures to approve this saying?

    • theflamingheretic  On January 23, 2012 at 7:00 pm

      Romans 16:3, Romans 16:7, I Cor. 1:11, I Cor. 16:19, 2 Tim. 14:19, Luke 10:40-42, Luke 24:10, John 19, John 4:29.

  • Amy Elizabeth Behnke  On May 30, 2012 at 9:05 am

    “Paul tells the Galatians that they are no longer until the curse of the old law; they have been set free by the faithfulness of Jesus.”

    “until” should be “under” — yes?

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