Friday, July 11, 2008

Gal 3.28 - Negation, Inclusion, or Transformation?

Galatians 3:28-29 reads: "here 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. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring,1 heirs according to the promise." (NRSV).

For a while I had thought that Paul in Gal. 3.28, Paul was negating these distinctions within the body of Christ. For me this was implied by the ouk ... oude series that seemed to deliberately cancel out certain ethnic and gender distinctions within the church (though in practice this could never be absolute). That is not to say that we no longer had a distinct skin colour, gender, or ethnicity, but only that in the sphere of salvation and in the church, these things no longer have any determinative value or become a means to status. In other words, in Christ such distinctions do not ideally exist! But I am beginning to rethink that in light of a number of studies that emphasize inclusion rather than negation as the main point of the passage. Consider the following:

Pamela Eisenbaum writes: "In sum, I do not believe the dictum in Gal. 3:28 as used by Paul was meant to articulate the destruction of human categories of existence so that people might share the same human essence. Rather, he articulated the construction of new human social relations based on the model of family. Gal. 3:28 encapsulates the message that people who are different can, if they so choose, come to understand themselves as meaningfully related to each other, committed to their well being, and part of a shared world." [1]

Mark Seifrid writes: "The entrance of Gentiles into salvation does not, however, result in an indiscriminate, and therefore bland, universalism in which all cultural distinctions are leveled. Rather, it represents a dramatic joining of highly fissile peoples, Jew and Gentile, who are held together solely by the risen Messiah. ...Had their cultural differences been leveled out and their earthly identities done away with, there would have been no cause to celebrate their union in Messiah ... We must not fail to see that when Paul enjoins Jews and Gentiles in the Roman house-churches to be of one mind, to accept one another, and to worship God with one voice, he presupposes that each will retain their ethnic identities. God is glorified not in the homogenization of the believing community, but precisely in our recognition that our unity is found solely in the risen Messiah in whom we all believe--in him and nowhere else. Such unity is the work of God, not the work of human beings. Only in this way can the common worship of Jews and Gentiles be a sign of hope for Israel and the world. Paul offers no formula by which to negotiate the form this worship is to take, or what sort of cultural imprint it is to bear. Indeed, in some sense worship may be countercultural to both Gentile and Jews." [2]

It seems to me that the emphasis in Gal. 3.28-29 is not the negation of identity (ouk ... oude), but the inclusion of multiple identities (i.e. pantes ... heis) under a single meta-identity (i.e. en Christō). But that can only be true if the existing identities, which are a means of distinction and status, are themselves negated in value and lessened in their ability to cause differentiation, and are thereby transformed and subsumed beneath a shared meta-identity that can sustain an array of diverse entities within it. So I am a man but an in-Christ-man. I am a gentile but an in-Christ-gentile. The distinctions of male, gentile, Jew, female, Barbarian are enveloped by and subordinated to the designation and function of being en Christō which sustains within its horizon a network of identities co-existing together under a shared meta-identity.

1. Pamela Eisenbaum, "Is Paul the Father of Misogyny and Antisemitism?" Cross Currents (Winter 2000-01).
2. Mark Seifrid, "For the Jew first: Paul's Nota Bene for his Gentile Readers" in To the Jew First: The Case for Jewish Evangelism in Scripture and History (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2008), 26-27, 37. HT: Matt Montonini.

3 comments:

adam_couturier said...

Michael,

Great post! I love the following statement, “So I am a man but an in-Christ-man. I am a gentile but an in-Christ-gentile. The distinctions of male, gentile, Jew, female, Barbarian are enveloped by and subordinated to the designation and function of being en Christō which sustains within its horizon a network of identities co-existing together under a shared meta-identity.” Brilliant!

Regarding your post’s title, I wonder if all three: negation, inclusion, and transformation are interrelated and present at the same time in Galatians 3.28. The negation aspect of the passage is a call to drop the influencers/agitators self-perceived notions of identity as having a most favored status within the church, thus fostering a since of inclusion by means of the transformative work of being in Christ. The negation aspect then would serve as a chastisement for those who have elevated their identity over others. It seems to me, that the influencer’s self-preferential identity needs to be exposed by showing that all are equal in Christ. So that then those in Christ can assume their new “meta-identity”.

bishop said...

I think I'm more surprised that Christian theology is taking this long to catch up with Christian academia. Theissen, for one, has been saying very similar thoughts for quite some time. Admittedly, he puts it under a more universalist approach that blurs the lines between the oppositions (and takes studying it to understand why it's not really a universalist approach), but it boils down to a specific type of collective identity that transcends the particular identities of the individual. This type of collective identity can be seen in various places as nationalism but with religion it becomes an identity that goes beyond individual nationality, gender, ethnicity, social status, etc—though apparently not beyond individual sexuality.

Marc said...

Hi what Paul is meaning that access to salvation is equal.

Did God erase the distinction between male and female?

Marc