July 23, 2012
We’re going to take a week to focus on these verses because they raise challenging questions about the role of women and baptism.
Of course, in one week, we can hardly do justice to these topics. But we can at least try to fairly assess what these key verses say on the topic — recognizing that there are other passages that must be considered.
In other words, this is not the end of the study, but the beginning. But there’s no better place to begin than Galatians.
(Gal 3:25-28 ESV) 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
The classic question raised by Galatians and Romans regarding baptism is how to reconcile baptism with Paul’s insistence that we’re saved by faith, not by works. Some argue that baptism is a work and therefore not connected with our salvation. Others argue that baptism is absolutely essential but not a “work.” Others argue that baptism is absolutely essential and a “work,” but just not a work of the Law of Moses.
Galatians 2:27 thus gives us the opportunity to understand our baptism much more deeply — and hopefully to get away from merely asserting positions back and forth. Perhaps there are some answers here.
1. Verse 26 says that we are sons of God “through faith.” Verse 27 says that those who’ve been baptized have put on Christ. Is this a contradiction? Why or why not?
Of course, it’s no contradiction. Paul is no idiot. If it seems like a contradiction to us, then the fault is ours.
We’ll consider why there’s no contradiction as we work through the rest of the questions.
2. Since baptism is a physical act — often argued to be even an act of obedience — how is it not a work? And if it’s work, how can it be essential to salvation? And yet, Paul certainly has no problem tying baptism to salvation in v. 27. How can that be true?
Baptism certainly is a physical act. It is not properly defined as part of “faith.” Many try to make that equation work, but it violates every definition of “faith” in the Bible and common sense. It’s associated with faith, of course, but “faith” does not include “baptism.” We have to find a different solution.
Does that make it a work? Well, what’s a “work”? It’s not just everything other than “faith.” Chewing gum is not faith either, and it’s not a work. But it would be if we tried to chew our way into heaven. That is, if we thought that — outside of grace — we could somehow merit salvation by chewing gum!
A “work” is anything that we do that we perceive to earn or merit heaven (or earn our way one step closer to heaven). Of course, by that definition, baptism could be work. Or not. It depends on how we look at it.
If we see baptism as what we do to earn heaven by being smarter and more capable Bible students than all others, we risk making it into a work. Maybe there’s a way to think of baptism that isn’t about our merit! You see, if we follow Paul at all, we should really be thinking in terms of Jesus’ merit, right?
July 18, 2012
3. Beasley-Murray (in his excellent Baptism in the New Testament) seeks to reconcile the seeming conflict between verses 26 and 27 as follows:
If Paul were pressed to define the relationship of the two statements in vv. 26-27, I cannot see how he could preserve the force of both sentences apart from affirming that baptism is the moment of faith in which the adoption is realized — in the dual sense of effected by God and grasped by man — which is the same as saying that in baptism faith receives the Christ in whom the adoption is effected.
And although Beasley-Murray is a Baptist, here he sounds very much like a member of the Churches of Christ. But why is it okay for baptism to be the moment when salvation is effected and not okay for circumcision to be that moment? Paul isn’t saying, “The Jews got it wrong — God made a rule and the rule is baptism, not circumcision.” No, Paul repeatedly argues that circumcision can’t be essential because it’s not faith. But neither is baptism, is it?
No, it can’t be merely that baptism is the correct rite and circumcision isn’t the correct rite. Paul argues very, very differently. He’s not arguing for the right rite! He’s arguing for the sufficiency of faith — and yet he sees baptism as confirming his conclusion.
We have to be careful not to throw away all of Galatians 1 – 3 up to this point just to preserve a certain attitude toward baptism. We must be true to the text if we claim to be “New Testament Christians”! No, there’s a better way to look at this.
4. Would it be consistent with Paul’s argument in Galatians to say that baptism is an “act of faith” or the “obedience of faith” and so not objectionable as a “work” but circumcision cannot be an act or obedience of faith?
Not even close. Paul’s point is that circumcision fails because it’s not faith. More precisely, circumcision does not merit salvation and is not essential to salvation because it’s not faith. Faith is the only thing the Christian brings to salvation, otherwise Paul’s entire argument against circumcision fails.
5. Martin Luther resolves the apparent conflict by suggesting that baptism should be seen as a gift given to those with faith, rather than a work done by the convert. In effect, he sees baptism as what God does for the convert, through the church, rather than what the convert does for himself.
Still Baptism is itself a work, and you say works are of no avail for salvation; what then, becomes of faith? Answer: Yes, our works, indeed, avail nothing for salvation; Baptism, however, is not our work, but God’s (for, as was stated, you must put Christ-baptism far away from a bath-keeper’s baptism). God’s works, however, are saving and necessary for salvation, and do not exclude, but demand, faith; for without faith they could not be apprehended. For by suffering the water to be poured upon you, you have not yet received Baptism in such a manner that it benefits you anything; but it becomes beneficial to you if you have yourself baptized with the thought that this is according to God’s command and ordinance, and besides in God’s name, in order that you may receive in the water the promised salvation. Now, this the fist cannot do, nor the body; but the heart must believe it.
Thus you see plainly that there is here no work done by us, but a treasure which He gives us, and which faith apprehends; just as the Lord Jesus Christ upon the cross is not a work, but a treasure comprehended in the Word, and offered to us and received by faith. Therefore they do us violence by exclaiming against us as though we preach against faith; while we alone insist upon it as being of such necessity that without it nothing can be received nor enjoyed.
Does Luther make sense?
Luther was disputing with Calvin and Zwingli, who argued that baptism accomplishes nothing toward salvation, as faith does it all. They argued (as Baptists argue today) that if baptism is necessary to be saved, it’s a work. Therefore, they saw Galatians as proving that baptism is merely a response of obedience to salvation.
Luther reads the text more literally, seeing that salvation is often pictured as happening at the moment of salvation. Indeed, Galatians 3:28 ties baptism very closely to our salvation.
He resolves the paradox by arguing that baptism is not something done by the convert but something received by the convert! It’s a gift from God!
In support of this, we should notice that baptism is always in the passive voice: “be baptized” not “baptize yourself.” The person doing the baptizing is never the convert but someone else.
In fact, one of the subtle but important changes brought about by Christianity is that the Jews washed themselves to become clean. It was not passive but self-cleaning.
In Christianity, though, the washing is always by a Christian, acting on behalf of Jesus, baptizing the convert.
(Act 2:38 ESV) 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Rarely noted is that “in the name of Jesus Christ” is the formula for agency or authority — “be baptized by someone else as agent for Jesus or by the authority granted by Jesus” (e.g., Luk 9:49; 21:8). (“In” translates en, meaning in, not eis, meaning into. There are other verses that speak of being baptized into the name of Jesus, which is not the same thought.)
Therefore, baptism is not a work because it’s a gift received from Jesus himself, acting through the members of his church.
July 19, 2012
6. Recall that normally the Spirit is received at the same time as water baptism. Both events are referred to as “baptism” — baptism of the Spirit and water baptism — occurring at once and so properly referred to together as “baptism.”
The receipt of the Spirit is a gift from God. Is it a “work”?
No, of course, not. It’s a gift.
7. Is water baptism a gift from God? Or is it a work done by the person being baptized?
Just like it’s parallel, Spirit baptism, water baptism is a gift.
8. Why does Paul say that baptism “clothes” us (NIV; equals “put on” in ESV) with Christ Jesus? (Isa 61:10; Zec 3:4)
The two Old Testament passages are beautiful images of God’s work to cleanse his people.
(Isa 61:10 ESV) I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
“He has clothed me” is a reference to God giving a wonderful gift to his child.
(Zec 3:4 ESV) And the angel said to those who were standing before him, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” And to him he said, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.”
Again, the clothing is done by God as a gift.
If we get this gift idea squarely situated in our minds, then Galatians 3:28 makes perfect sense in context. You see, Paul’s saying that our baptism demonstrates that we’ve been saved.
V. 28 begins with “for,” not “because.”
(Gal 3:25-27 ESV) 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
Notice the repeating use of “for.” In Greek, “for” (gar) either gives the reason for what precedes or else illustrates what precedes. Thayer’s Greek Dictionary advises –
When in successive statements gar is repeated twice or thrice, or even four or five times, either a. one and the same thought is confirmed by as many arguments, each having its own force, as there are repetitions of the particle … or b. every succeeding statement contains the reason for its immediate predecessor, so that the statements are subordinate one to another:
Thayer points out that “for” can offer the reason for what precedes or illustrate what precedes. Should we interpret v. 27 as giving the reason that v. 26 is true or does it illustrate v. 26? The first possibility seems unlikely. After all, “in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith” is as basic as it gets. Baptism does not give the reason that faith in Jesus saves. Faith is the reason baptism saves. But baptism could, however, be seen as illustrating our salvation. Thayer’s explains –
[Gar] serves to explain, make clear, illustrate, a preceding thought or word: for equivalent to that is, namely; a. so that it begins an exposition of the thing just announced … . b. so that the explanation is intercalated into the discourse, or even added by way of appendix:
Does baptism illustrate our salvation by faith? Yes, it does.
Baptism is not merely an illustration, but it is an illustration. We see our sins being cleansed in a flood of water — and water symbolizes the Spirit in the Prophets! (Isa 44:3; 32:15).
Thus, Paul’s argument is that you know you’ve been saved by your faith because you know you’ve been baptized. Your baptism illustrates and demonstrates the receipt of the Spirit and your confession of your faith in Jesus. All that happened, matters, and is certain.
Because your salvation is assured by your faith, which is demonstrated and illustrated by your baptism, you should not be looking to earn your salvation again by circumcision and other such things. Faith is enough because faith was enough for you to be received by Jesus himself for baptism.
Does that mean we’re saved before or at the time of baptism? Well, that’s not the question Paul is answering. But Paul’s letters generally assume that the Spirit is received at the same time as water baptism. He sees the two baptism as two sides of the same saving moment.
Then again, Acts routinely presents events where water and Spirit baptism do not occur at the same time. Therefore, they don’t have to happen at the same time. But they normally do — and should. And our practices and teaching should be based on the rule, not exceptions to the rule.
July 20, 2012
1. There are several passages that parallel v. 28 —
(Col 3:11 ESV) 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.
(1Co 12:13 ESV) 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
— but Gal 3:28 is the only similar passage that says “no male and female.” What about the context in Galatians makes “male and female” particularly relevant to Paul’s presentation?
Circumcision was a rite given only to men. Only the men carried the mark of the covenant.
Surely many Jewish men assumed (falsely) that this put them into closer covenant relationship with God, since to wear his mark made them closer to him.
While there’s a certain logic to that, there’s also the fact that it was the men God was concerned to keep away from temple prostitution by marking their genitals with his seal!
2. Many translations, such as the NASB miss it, but Paul’s pairing of “male and female” differs from his pairing of “neither Jew nor Greek” and “neither slave nor free.” Compare —
(Gal 3:28 KJV) There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.
— with —
(Gal 3:28 ESV) here is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
The ESV translation is in fact what the Greek says. Where else in the Bible do we find the phrase “male and female”?
3. In fact, the language is word-for-word, letter-for-letter the same as in the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament used by Paul and his readers) as —
(Gal 3:28 BGT) ἄρσεν καὶ θῆλυ
(Gen 1:27 BGT) ἄρσεν καὶ θῆλυ
Given that Paul was a Jewish rabbi, trained by Gamaliel, considered one of the greatest Jewish rabbis ever, and surely had memorized Genesis 1, could this be a coincidence?
Commentators differ, but those who think this doesn’t matter can’t explain why Paul broke his pattern and borrowed this language from Genesis. It means something …
4. Why do you suppose Paul varied from his earlier “neither … nor” pattern to copy the language from Genesis 1:27? (It’s just as obvious in the Greek as in the ESV. The third pair is not parallel with the first two pairs.)
Clearly, Paul is not arguing against the distinction between males and females in marriage. He is not arguing for homosexuality. You’d have to totally ignore many, many other passages to reach such an absurd conclusion.
Paul is speaking in context about a Christian’s relationship with God — not just becoming saved but the transformational work of the Spirit in the Christian’s life. He’s speaking of the place of converts in the Kingdom.
And by referring all the way back to Genesis 1:27, which refers to the Edenic ideal, he is saying that the differences between men and women we find in the Garden, which is good and holy (he often argues from Genesis 1 and 2 elsewhere), does not justify a distinction for purposes of his present argument.
Circumcision is a rite that applied only to men. Therefore, because it discriminates in a way that the gospel does not, it cannot be necessary for salvation. But, of course, for the same reason, circumcision can’t be required as a condition to using someone’s God-given talent anywhere in the church. After all, that would just as plainly violate the gospel, which saves all by faith, not gender, and gives the Spirit to all with faith, regardless of gender.
And who receives what gifts of the Spirit is determined by the Spirit himself, which is sufficient justification for using those gifts in God’s service.
July 21, 2012
5. Consider —
(Gal 3:26 ESV) 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.
Why say “sons” and not “children” or “offspring” as in several other verses? Consider Numbers 36, which shows that normally only sons inherit under the Law of Moses.
Paul has been speaking of inheritance — that is, the eternal life we’ll together enjoy with God. Thus, both male and female converts are “sons” because they’re clothed with Christ — the Son of God — and so all inherit.
The ancient distinction that allowed only men to inherit does not prevent a woman from inheriting her place in the Kingdom.
Now, this plainly speaks, not to her initial salvation, but the ultimate goal of her salvation.
Thus, we see Paul repeatedly arguing that the terms on which we’re saved define our relationships afterward — even to the point of entering the arms of Jesus after death. This is not just about getting saved.
6. A classic argument, made by many people, is that Paul’s argument in Galatians 3:28 speaks only to eligibility to be justified, the idea being that men and women have equal access to salvation (which no one disputes today) but that does not mean they were in any sense entitled to the same roles after being saved.
Do Paul’s arguments in Galatians 3 really relate solely to entry into salvation? Or does he also speak about life as a Christian after salvation?
We could discuss this at great length, but we’ve hit on it several times. Paul’s reasoning is that the gospel defines not only the terms of our initial salvation but the terms of the rest of our lives with Jesus.
It’s not gospel followed by some very different set of rules. It’s just gospel.
(Rom 1:17 NIV) For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed–a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
7. Why does Paul say “neither Jew nor Greek”? What conclusions does he expect us to draw about their relationship within the church? Is he speaking solely to eligibility to become saved?
This is, of course, the climax of Paul’s argument. The point of Galatians is that Gentiles don’t have to become Jews in order to become Christians because faith is sufficient.
But Paul is not speaking merely of how to become saved. His arguments extend all the way to the Second Coming and our inheritance of the earth. And he is clearly teaching that Jews and Gentiles are treated equally throughout their Christian walk.
If this were not so, then he’d have left the Judaizing teachers the argument that circumcision may not be required to be saved but it’s required to be a full-fledged member of the church.
Paul refutes exactly this assertion in–
(Gal 4:7 ESV) 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.
Since we’re all sons, because we’re clothed with Christ, the Son, we inherit as a son, that is, we have the rights of son — whether we’re Jew, Greek, slave, free, male, or female.
But, of course, the argument loses its force if Paul is engaged in special pleading, that is, if the argument applies only to circumcision and nothing else.
On the other hand, the argument is limited, because Jews and Greeks are still quite different under Roman law. Paul is speaking of the internal affairs of the church. Discrimination against Jews by non-Christian Gentiles is not ended. They are still different races in the eyes of men.
8. Why does Paul say “neither slave nor free”? What conclusions does he expect us to draw about their relationship within the church? Is he speaking solely to eligibility to become saved?
It’s hard to imagine a reason for “neither slave nor free” related to circumcision, as the Jews circumcised slaves and free alike (Gen 17:12-13). Why do you suppose Paul brought up that pairing at this place in the discussion?
It has often been said that slaves did not inherit under the Law of Moses, but this claim does not stand up under close inspection. See J. Burke, “Slavery in the Bible,” Bible Apologetics. http://bibleapologetics.wordpress.com/slavery-in-the-bible-25/
Chattel slavery did not exist under the Law of Moses. There was no form of servitude under the Law of Moses which placed them in the legal position of chattel slaves. Legislation maintained kinship rights (Exodus 21:3, 9, Leviticus 25:41, 47-49, 54, providing for Hebrew indentured servants), marriage rights (Exodus 21:4, 10-11, providing for a Hebrew daughter contracted into a marriage), personal legal rights relating to physical protection and protection from breach of contract (Exodus 21:8, providing for a Hebrew daughter contracted into a marriage, Exodus 21:20-21, 26-27, providing for Hebrew or foreign servants of any kind, and Leviticus 25:39-41, providing for Hebrew indentured servants), freedom of movement, and access to liberty (Exodus 21:8, 11, providing for a Hebrew daughter contracted into a marriage, Leviticus 25:40-45, 48, 54, providing for Hebrew indentured servants, and Deuteronomy 15:1, 12; 23:15, providing for Hebrew or foreign servants of any kind).
Though several forms of servitude existed under the Law of Moses, in every case all rights were maintained unless voluntarily relinquished (Exodus 21:5-6, Deuteronomy 15:16-17).
The Law of Moses commanded that servants, of whatever origin (Gentile or Hebrew), were to be treated as human beings who were part of the family and community.
Generally, a Jew could only be enslaved for six years, unless the slave asked to be kept a slave after that term. But nothing prevented that slave from inheriting from his Jewish kinsmen. Slaves didn’t inherit from their masters, but neither did free servants inherit from their masters. But both inherited from their own fathers!
Therefore, the argument that Paul mentions Gentiles, slaves, and women solely because they are given inheritance rights by becoming sons of God doesn’t stand up. Of course, a non-Jewish slave wouldn’t inherit, but that would have been because he was not a Jew.
Assuming Paul understood this far better than most recent commentators, that can’t be Paul’s point. Rather, he is addressing the theme of slavery.
(Gal 2:4 ESV) 4 Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in–who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery–
(Gal 4:7 ESV) 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.
(Gal 4:9 ESV) 9 But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?
In other words, Paul is making the point that, in Christ, even slaves are freed from the slavery of the Law. Why on earth, having been freed, would we want to submit to slavery again!
Freed from what? Well, from rules like circumcision. Rules that don’t bring us closer to God but separate us from God. The goal of God’s work in Jesus, after all, is to draw us nearer — not to set up a new system like the Law of Moses but different. No, it’s to bring us close to God — like a child is drawn to his father — so that we become like God as revealed in Jesus by the power of the Spirit.
9. Why “no male and female”?
The Babylonian Talmud (the “oral law”) says in 5 Tract Avot, regarding Job 1:1:
Adam the first man also came forth circumcised, as it is written: “And God created man in his image.”
The Jews evidently considered circumcision as a mark of the image of God. Because the woman was not circumcised, she was not in God’s image — not to the same degree as the male. It seems likely that Paul is refuting this error and declaring that, in Christ, the female is just as much in God’s image as the male.
Circumcision is a gender specific rite. Only men were circumcised. But in Christ, we’re all sons of God and therefore have all the rights of sons — including inheritance of the New Heavens and New Earth, but not just that. Inheritance is part of our salvation but not all.
Because we’re all sons, we are all in Abba-relationship with God. We’re all adopted by God. We’re all freed from the “elementary principles” — the idea that we please God by obeying arbitrary rules that manipulate him into being pleased with us. Most importantly, we’re all saved by God’s grace through our faith in Jesus the Messiah!
Because we’re all saved, we all receive the Spirit, and because we all receive the Spirit, we all receive whatever giftings the Spirit wishes for us to have. And those gifts are therefore from God himself, to be used in his service. We are freed to serve as we’ve been gifted and empowered by the hand of God.