I have encountered a number of Christians who hold the belief that there are no significant gender differences in Christ. They therefore believe that men and women have the same function, and that we should not distinguish between the genders when it comes to the church or daily life.
Their evidence comes from Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Taken by itself, this verse certainly looks pretty definitive. It says right there that there is neither male nor female, all are one in Christ Jesus! The problem is we cannot just read individual verses. This verse is not meant to be read by itself, but in context with the rest of the chapter, and the letter of Galatians as a whole.
Context of Galatians
There is a problem Paul is addressing in the Galatian church, namely, the issue of works righteousness vs. righteousness through faith. In the opening of Galatians Paul states that he is “amazed” that they have so quickly deserted the gospel that he taught them for a different and false “gospel.” In the first two chapters, Paul explains the gospel he taught them came straight from God, and that they should not listen to any other “gospel”. Next, he begins explaining just why the false teaching is false.
Context of Galatians chapter 3
Moving into chapter 3, Paul explains that it is Faith which saves, not following the Law (works).
“But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” – Galatians 3:23-27
It is within this context that Paul states, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Why would Paul randomly state that gender distinctions have been done away with when he is talking about Faith over works? When we take the context into account, we see Paul is not saying men and women are identical in their Earthly functions, but that salvation—through faith—is equally available to both genders.
Within the same verse, we see Paul is saying the same thing in regard to Jews, Gentiles, slave and free. Everyone has equal value in Christ, which was a ground-breaking assertion in those days. When we look at the non-canonical “Gospel of Thomas,” we see that others had different ideas.
“Simon Peter said to them, ‘Make Mary leave us, for females don’t deserve life.’
Jesus said, “Look, I will guide her to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every female who makes herself male will enter the kingdom of Heaven.” – Saying 114
According to this false gospel, women don’t have equal access to the Kingdom of God because they are female. Paul refutes this idea in Galatians by stating that we are all one in Christ.
Paul Contradicts Himself?
If Paul really was saying that there is no distinction between men and women as far as their Earthly functions are concerned, then he must be contradict himself later on when he sates in 1 Timothy 2:12 that, “But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.”
Additionally, he must also be contradicting himself when he says that slaves should obey their masters in Colossians 3:22.
Of course, it is more likely that Paul is not contradicting himself, but that what he says later on fits in accordance with Galatians, especially considering the context. Paul isn’t telling us to live as if we are androgynous, but that we all stand on equal ground in Christ.