I ended the last post with the point that the New Creation Rule should not just change our standing before God, but also before God’s people. Sarah Sumner, author of “Men and Women in the Church,” constantly hits this nail on the head in her book. Sumner argues that it is not enough that “before God,” everyone is the same—but in the eyes of God’s people, women have a different spiritual standing than men.
Gordon Fee gives us more insight into the impact of Paul’s New Creation Theology. It’s impact becomes evident when we assess the culture of Paul’s day:
“…the culture of the Westernized world is equally foreign to that of these early believers at fundamental points. For them position and status prevailed in every way, identifying and circumscribing their existence, giving advantage to some over others WITH LITTLE CHANCE THAT THE DISADVANTAGED MIGHT CHANGE THEIR STATUS. Thus Gentiles had all the advantages over Jews, so Jews took refuge in their relationship with God, which they believed advantaged them before God over the Gentiles…likewise, masters and slaves were consigned to roles where power and authority went to masters. The same was true for men and women, especially in the household, where women were subordinated IN EVERY WAY to their husbands as ‘master of the household.’ A typical marriage was established by contract, not based on love, and was usually between a man of about thirty and a teenage girl who went straight from her father’s household to his and therefore came under his protection and instruction” (“Discovering Biblical Equality, page 180).
All the unprivileged groups—Gentiles (in terms of access to God), slaves, and women—were taken advantage of by those in power. And what about the girl who married as a teenager? Her husband wasn’t a husband to her—he was a dictatorial father who basically told her what to do all the time. It gets even worse for the teenage girl:
“A householder’s wife existed primarily for two purposes: providing a legitimate heir and managing certain aspects of the household. So UNENVIABLE was her station (and therefore her person) that according to Diogenes Laertius, Socrates used to say every day that ‘there were three blessings for which he was grateful to Fortune: first, that I was born a HUMAN BEING, and not one of the BRUTES; next that I was born a MAN and not a WOMAN; thirdly, a GREEK and not a BARBARIAN.’ This obviously influenced the famous rabbinical prayer ‘Blessed are you, O God…that I’m not a brute creature, nor a Gentile, nor a woman” (“Discovering Biblical Equality,” page 181).
Notice that in Socrates’ blessings, he considers his “fortune” to be in that, of the two groups for every blessing, he is in the “most fortunate” group.
The world just presented to you was the world of the first-century church. Because of the hierarchy of groups in society, the situation of the first century (and the implications of what Paul meant in Galatians 3:28) seem too far away to comprehend:
"It is difficult for us to imagine the effect of Paul’s words in Galatians 3:28 in a culture WHERE POSITION AND STATUS PRESERVED ORDER THROUGH BASICALLY UNCROSSABLE BOUNDARIES, and where attempting to cross those boundaries brought shame instead of honor (the one core value of the culture)” (180).
So to attempt to make a statement like Paul made (for instance, that the master was no better than his slave) would not have been received well. Yet, it is Paul’s boldness (given to him by the Holy Spirit) that helps him proclaim an “Emancipation Proclamation” for all who believe in Christ:
“Paul asserts that in the fellowship of Christ Jesus SIGNIFICANCE AND STATUS NO LONGER LIE WITH BEING JEW OR GREEK, SLAVE OR FREE, MALE OR FEMALE. THE ALL-EMBRACING NATURE OF THIS AFFIRMATION, ITS COUNTERCULTURAL SIGNIFICANCE, THE FACT THAT IT EQUALLY DISADVANTAGES ALL BY EQUALLY ADVANTAGING ALL—these stab at the very heart of a culture sustained by people’s maintaining the right position and status. BUT IN CHRIST JESUS, THE ONE WHOSE DEATH AND RESURRECTION INAUGURATED THE NEW CREATION, ALL THINGS HAVE BECOME NEW; THE NEW ERA HAS DAWNED” (Fee, 180).
Galatians 3:28 catches us by surprise because it runs counter to the culture of Paul’s day. However, Paul’s understanding of “new creation” was that it liberated man from the “power” attached to societal structures and roles. I wanted to show the reader how unique Paul’s words to the Galatians were in the first century. In future posts, however, I plan to tackle Paul’s words regarding the old societal structures in light of his new creation rule.