You Senseless Complementarians!
With only a change of name, this is how the apostle Paul starts off what we call chapter three of his letter to the Galatians. I’m sure they didn’t appreciate a statement like that any more than so-called complementarians do today. I say “so-called”, because true complementation involves the cooperation of equals, such as the left and right hands. But this term of mutuality has been co-opted by male supremacists, who know that if they used a more accurate name such as patriarchalists it wouldn’t make anybody rich or influential.
As egalitarians (the real complementarians) know, Gal. 3:28 is a verse that clearly supports their view, while “comps” insist that it only speaks of the equal availability of salvation to all. Who is right? Let’s look at the context.
The whole letter is all about Paul’s exasperation with the congregation in Galatia for their quick and all-too-easy about-face from freedom back to bondage. From start to finish he builds a case against legalism and confronts the agitators that have ulterior motives for turning people away from Paul’s message of freedom and toward their control. This still happens today, with many who view Paul as a fake and a traitor to “real” Christianity-- which to them is just Judaism with Jesus on top.
Chapter three is no exception and cannot be excised from the flow of Paul’s argument. He is still talking about the Law and the Promise, two separate kinds of contracts. The Law, as Paul explains, involved two parties and angelic witnesses, while the Promise was unilateral and ratified by faith alone. The purpose and scope of the Law was to bring the Jews to “maturity”, just as a nanny, parent, or custodian would raise a child. Jesus came when the “child”, Israel, had “come of age” and was no longer in need of supervision.
Of course, Israel preferred to stay with the custodian, but the Promise was fulfilled nonetheless. Jesus not only satisfied the demands of the Law on behalf of the Jews but also activated the “will and testament” of the Promise. And as anyone familiar with estate law knows, a Will is not in effect until the testator has died (I explain more about that in my book Reconciled). People only think of Jesus dying for sin, but He also died to free Jews from the Law and enact the Promise to Abraham. This crucial point is what Paul is trying to get across to the Galatians.
So when we come to vs. 28, why would we think that Paul decided to switch topics for one sentence fragment? Has he been even touching on how people become saved now, or has he been on-topic the whole time, discussing what the Promise means to those who are already in Christ? Look at the sequence of points in verses 27 through 29:
- whoever is immersed in Christ is clothed with Him
- in Him there is no Jew/Gentile, slave/free, male/female
- for you are all one and thus heirs of the promise
To make vs. 28 about everyone having the same means of salvation is to miss the point of the whole letter, which is written to stop people from turning back to either Judaism or paganism. Instead of “if you are in Christ you are all heirs without distinction”, it becomes “how various groups of people can be saved”. This letter is all about the saved lapsing from freedom into bondage, not how to be saved in the first place.
This is why it’s so important to know whole books of the Bible instead of bits and pieces. The addition of verse numbers did a great disservice to sound hermeneutics, because it chopped up the scriptures into snippets that took on meanings of their own, much the way one might take one of Nostradamus’ quatrains and put it under a microscope to see how many ways it can be taken. Even punctuation can significantly alter the meaning of a text, and surprise surprise, it tends to happen to the “woman” passages with alarming frequency (see Eph. 5:18-22 for example).
Cut-and-paste is no match for common sense and good reading comprehension.