“So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:26-28, TNIV).
The Apostle Paul had, what many in the early church believed to be, radical ideas about how believers might best embody Jesus’ teachings in their own culture. Paul came to promote these “radical” ideas not only because they were based on the teaching of Jesus, but also because they came by revelation he received from Christ. He writes: “I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any human source, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:12, TNIV).
Paul’s encounter with Jesus and his subsequent teachings placed Jesus Christ as his central focus. This meant that believers had a new unifying focus in Christ and thus, Paul saw how Christ’s teaching could be reflected in the community. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul wants to demonstrate how brothers and sisters in Christ should relate to one another in light of Christ’s teachings. His emphasis is on Christ as the foundation for Christian belief and practice, not Jewish law, kinship, or nationality—an idea that was utterly offensive to his culture and brought much conflict. While leaders like James, Peter, and John welcomed his ideas (Gal. 2:6-10), others did not (Gal. 2:4; Gal. 2:12). Moreover, change did not occur all at once, even among those who agreed with Paul’s revelation. At one point Paul had to confront Peter for refusing to eat with Gentiles for fear of offending Jews (Gal. 2:11-13). “We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles know that a person is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ” (Gal. 2:15-16a, TNIV). Peter was wrestling with whether Christ is the basis for Christian life in community or if cultural expectations should take precedence. Yet for Paul, unity is centered on Christ who redeems and unites all people—Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free, men and women.
Paul summarizes this vision of unity in Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (TNIV). In his article “Galatians 3:28: Conundrum or Solution?”, Klyne R. Snodgrass suggests, “Paul meant what he said.” Paul’s call for unity within the body of Christ extended beyond the established social, cultural, and religious norms of his day. His reprimand of Peter for allowing social rules to dictate his behavior with the Gentiles (Gal. 2) is a primary example. Moreover, regarding issues of gender, Paul throughout his ministry partnered with women. He accepted women in the same way he wished for the Jews to accept the Gentiles. Snodgrass notes: “Priscilla, Phoebe and Lydia are only a sampling of the litany of women who labored with Paul as protectors, teachers, deacons, and apostles.” The ultimate vision for Paul is that everyone should be viewed as one in Christ. In her book, Liberating Tradition, Kristina LaCelle-Peterson rightly states, “Jesus became human in order to redeem humanity: women and men, Jews and Gentiles, slave and free. We are all equally redeemed through Jesus’ death and resurrection because he shared our humanity.” Through Christ, we have a new vision of unity. A vision we, as followers of Christ, are still living into today.