The conditions of people under Law and faith 3:23-29
"Continuing the perspective of salvation history introduced in vv. 13f. and developed in vv. 15-22, Paul gives further consideration to the place of the law in the divine economy by showing the relation between law and faith as two distinct dispensations." 1
3:23-27 Paul pictured Israel before the advent of Christ as a child. The coming of faith (v. 23) is synonymous with the coming of Christ in Paul's view of salvation history.
In Paul's day it was common for children between age six and puberty to be under the care of a pedagogue (tutor). The pedagogue protected them from evil influences and demanded their obedience.
"No doubt there were many pedagogues who were known for their kindness and held in affection by their wards, but the dominant image was that of a harsh disciplinarian who frequently resorted to physical force and corporal punishment as a way of keeping his children in line." 2
Now all who trust in Christ are adult sons (Gr. huioi), no longer children. It is faith in Christ Jesus that makes one a son of God (v. 25).
"Now the focus shifts from the historical to the personal, from the institutional to the individual. Paul has discussed the inheritance promised to the children of Abraham; now he zooms in on the heir who claimed his bequest." 5
A Promise (Abraham) 3:6-14
B Law (Moses) 3:15-22
C Faith (Christ) 3:23-25
D "You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus." 3:26
C' Faith (Spirit) 3:27—4:7
B' Law (stoicheia tou kosmou) 4:8-11
A' Promise (Sarah) 4:21-31
What unites us to Christ is the baptizing work of the Holy Spirit that takes place at the moment of salvation (1 Cor. 12:13). Paul's original readers may have taken his reference to baptism as being water baptism, but water baptism dramatized what happened to them when the Spirit baptized them. When Roman children reached son status their fathers gave them a special toga that identified their status. Paul compared that toga to Christ (v. 27).
God has dealt with humanity as a father deals with his children. When children are young, having limited information and experience, a good father makes allowances for their immaturity, but when they become mature, he deals with them as adults. The differences in the house rules that Paul spoke of here reflect different dispensations (i.e., economies, Gr. oikonomos, lit. house law). 7
3:28 Another difference is that under faith all believers share the same privilege and position. Paul was not saying that all distinctions between people have ceased. Obviously people are still either Jews or Gentiles, slaves or free, and male or female. His point was that within the body of Christ all have the same relationship to God. All are of equal value. 8
Most of the evangelical feminists regard this verse as the major passage that teaches the abolition of male leadership in Christianity. Paul Jewett, for example, believed that Paul's teaching that woman is subordinate to man, for whose sake God created her, came from rabbinism rather than revelation. 10 Daniel Fuller reflected the same conclusion but for a slightly different reason.
". . . he [Paul] supported, by way of accommodation, a Christianized slavery and patriarchalism, but with regard to both he left sufficient clues for the church to have understood that these teachings no longer applied after the 'neither Jew nor Greek' issue had been settled." 11
Bruce took a more biblically defensible position on this verse.
"The first stipulation here . . . is that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek . . .; the breaking down of the middle wall of partition between these two was fundamental to Paul's gospel (Eph. 2:14f.). By similarly excluding the religious distinction between slaves and the freeborn, and between male and female, Paul makes a threefold affirmation which corresponds to a number of Jewish formulas in which the threefold distinction is maintained, as in the morning prayer in which the male Jew thanks God that he is not a Gentile, a slave or a woman. . . .
"The reason for the threefold thanksgiving was not any disparagement of Gentiles, slaves or women as persons but the fact that they were disqualified from several religious privileges which were open to free Jewish males." 12
Gentiles, slaves, and women did not enjoy the same access to God in Israel's formal worship as did Jews, free men, and males. They could trust God for their personal salvation, however. The priests in Israel had to be Jews, free, and males. Now in the church every Christian is a priest (1 Pet. 2:9-10). Paul's emphasis, however, was on believers' unity in Christ, not their equality with one another.
"Galatians 3:28 says nothing explicitly whatsoever about how male/female relationships should be conducted in daily life. Even the feminists acknowledge that the context of Galatians 3 is theological, not practical. 13 Paul is here making a theological statement about the fundamental equality of both men and women in their standing before God. Thus any ideas about how this truth should work itself out in social relationships cannot be drawn from Galatians 3:28, but must be brought to it from one's broader understanding of the nature of things." 14
The statement does not mean "that all male-female distinctions have been obliterated in Christ, any more than that there is no racial difference between the Christian Jew and the Christian Gentile." 15
3:29 A third change is that those joined to Christ by faith become spiritual descendants of Abraham and beneficiaries of some of God's promises to him. This does not mean Christians become Jews. Christians are Christians; we are in Christ, the Seed of Abraham (cf. v. 16). God promised some things to all the physical descendants of Abraham (e.g., Gen. 12:1-3, 7). He promised other things to the believers within that group (e.g., Rom. 9:6, 8). He promised still other things to the spiritual seed of Abraham who are not Jews (e.g., Gal. 3:6-9). 16 Failure to distinguish these groups and the promises given to each has resulted in much confusion. 17 Note one example of this error.
Why can the amillennialist position represented above not be correct? The reason is that Scripture speaks of the church as a nation distinct from Israel (Eph. 2:11-22). 19 Jews, and Gentiles who had to become Jews to enter Israel, made up Israel. The church consists of Jews and Gentiles who enter it as Jews or Gentiles (Eph. 2:16; cf. 1 Cor. 10:32). Furthermore Paul called Jewish Gentile equality in the church a "mystery," something unique, not previously revealed in Scripture (Eph. 3:5). The church began on the day of Pentecost, not in the Old Testament (Acts 1:5; 11:15-16; 1 Cor. 12:13; Col. 1:18). Believers of all ages are all the people of God. Nevertheless God has dealt with different groups of them and has had different purposes for them as groups in various periods of human history.
Does the church inherit the promises to Abraham? It only inherits some of them. The Jews will inherit those promises given to the physical descendants of Abraham. All believers will inherit those given to the spiritual descendants of Abraham. Saved Jews will inherit those given to the physical descendants who are also spiritual descendants.
14A. Duane Litfin, "Evangelical Feminism: Why Traditionalists Reject It," Bibliotheca Sacra 136:543 (July-September 1979):264. For a good evaluation of the feminists' arguments, see ibid.; and Roger Oldham, "Positional and Functional Equality: An Appraisal of the Major Arguments for the Ordination of Women," Mid-America Theological Journal (Fall 1985):1-29. See also Kenneth Gangel, "Biblical Feminism and Church Leadership," Bibliotheca Sacra 140:557 (January-March 1983):55-63; and H. Wayne House, "'Neither . . . Male nor Female . . . in Christ Jesus'," Bibliotheca Sacra 145:577 (January-March 1988):47-56.