For the past few weeks, I have had the privilege of leading a small group Bible study on Wednesdays at noon on the letter of Paul to the Galatians. Together, our group has walked verse by verse through this extraordinary treatise, unpacking its meaning in light of this day and time.
We’ve talked about Paul’s motivation, reminding ourselves of his emphatic desire to make clear to the followers of Jesus in Galatia that the salvific work Jesus Christ did made obsolete the need to be circumcised into the Jewish faith. That was the hot button issue of the time, for some other missionaries had claimed otherwise. In order to be a full Christian, they said, any follower of Jesus must become fully Jewish as he was, which for men meant submitting to the long-standing covenant of circumcision.
Throughout the letter, Paul writes about themes of justification and righteousness, about individual faith and the work of Christ, about his authority as a messenger and the purpose of the law. In yesterday’s gathering, we approached the centerpoint of the letter: Paul’s bold claim of oneness in Galatians 3:28, which says: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
Around the table together, we noted the three dualities (Jew/Greek, slave/free, male/female) used by Paul here, and all the differences they represent. For in naming ‘Jews or Greeks,’ Paul was speaking to a diversity of nation, race, and culture. In naming ‘slave or free,’ Paul called forth the variety of social class and economic status. In naming ‘male and female,’ Paul recalled the words of Genesis, ones that remind us that the breadth of gender — male and female (‘and’ not ‘or’!) — expresses the image of God. We recalled the truth within these words: that oneness does not demand sameness, that the God who became particular in Jesus of Nazareth celebrates our own particularities, and even in them, draws us into oneness in Jesus Christ. We closed with a word on this passage from the great African-American pastor Rev. Dr. Brad Braxton: “what Paul asserts is not the obliteration of difference but the obliteration of dominance.”
The images that flooded my mind as we shared together were wistful and longing. Would that we live into such oneness, such diversity, such equality of personhood! For if we did, there would be no sexual violence against women, for women would be celebrated in their fullness in Christ. There would be no racism or oppression against our black and brown brothers and sisters, for no one of any nationality would need to assert power over another based on the color of their skin. There would be no strong urge towards divisiveness within communities of faith, for we would lean into our membership in the body of Christ, where each plays a different role. There would be people of all types and talents, all opinions and convictions, all races and nations and abilities and orientations who are clothed with Christ, and that is the sole garment which holds the eternal capacity to shape its wearer. In the words of Paul: “for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” Would that such a vision come to life! May it be so in this day and time for the sake of the world.
Together in the work of Love,