Blessings of Identity and Galatians 3:28
For two thousand years, every morning, many devout Jewish men have said the following prayer or a similar version of it.
Blessed are you God of the universe who has not made me a Gentile, who has not made me a slave, who has not made me a woman.
This prayer is not just indicative of the theological views of the person who is praying, it is also indicative of the sociological views of the person who is praying. In particular, it expresses the person’s identity within his worldview. Prayers like this one have been termed “blessings of identity” by modern scholars.
Compare this prayer with what another Jewish man, the apostle Paul, wrote in Galatians 3:28-29.
There is no longer Jew nor Greek, there is no longer slave nor free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.
Paul may well have been familiar with the Jewish “blessing of identity,” and chose to use the same three categories of humanity, in the same order, to highlight that these social distinctions are irrelevant if we are in Christ. Whatever our gender and whatever our race, we are all sons of God and we are all Abraham’s offspring and heirs (Gal. 3:26, 29). This is our true identity, and this truth should inform our worldview.
Our Identity in the New Creation
Our identity in Christ should have a direct influence on our relationships within the society, or community, of believers—the church. The main reasons given for preserving gender distinctions in the first-century church seem to have been for the sake of outsiders and for evangelism. But Paul tells us that among the community of believers we are not to regard each other according to the flesh (2 Cor. 5:16 cf. 2 Clement 12).
If we are in Christ we are part of the New Creation and part of a community where old social paradigms and caste systems have no place (2 Cor. 5:17). If we have been “clothed with Christ” (NIV), or have “put on Christ” (KJV), this will affect our identity and status right now as well as in the future (Gal. 3:27).
Our identity and status as New Creation followers of Jesus is more than just “our theological standing as far as salvation is concerned” as some have suggested. Our identity must also affect our society within Christian communities. This is probably one of the reasons Paul mentioned three categories of society in Galatians 3:28: (1) race: Jews or non-Jews, (2) status: slaves or non-slaves, (3) sex: male and female. These categories potentially included all first-century humanity.
Furthermore, as David deSilva has pointed out, “These pairs represent not merely alternative states of being but power relations and evaluations. They are categories not merely of self-identification but also of other-identification…” These pairs with their unequal power dynamics were the lived experience of people in the first century. But Paul was saying that in Christ, and in the Christian community, things should be different. The various identifications of people in broader society have no significance in the church because the identification of being baptised and clothed in Christ, and of being heirs of Abraham, overrides other identities.
“Male and Female” at Creation
The “male and female” phrase in Galatians 3:28 harks back to the Creation. In Genesis 1:27 we read that male and female humans were both made in the image and likeness of God. We are his representatives on earth. God authorised both women and men to be the co-regents of his created world and have authority over the animals. But nowhere in Genesis 1 or 2 does it say that God has given some humans authority over other humans. Moreover, God blessed both women and men (Gen. 1:28). And in response women, as well as men, could truly bless God for the way he had made them—for their identity.
Sin marred the unity, equality and affinity between men and women, resulting in disunity and a gender hierarchy where women were unilaterally subordinated to men (Gen. 3:16). But because of Jesus’ redemptive act, there is again the real possibility of equality, affinity and harmony between the sexes. In Galatians 3:28, and similar passages, we are given “a redemptive vision for community life.”
There was no gender hierarchy at creation—men and women were given the same status, the same authority, the same responsibilities, and the same purpose (Gen. 1:26-28). And in the New Creation, there is no gender hierarchy as we are all sons of God, led by the Spirit of God (Rom. 8:14-17; Gal. 3:26).
Galatians 3:28 is more than just a wonderful theological statement. It is also a powerful sociological statement. The equality and unity expressed in Galatians 3:28 is what the church should aspire to. This is what I aspire to. This is my blessing of identity: “Blessed are you God of the universe who has made me a woman and a son of God.”
 “Tosefta Berakhot 6:18 [6:23] teaches in the name of Rabbi Yehuda ben Ilai (mid-2nd CE) that every (Jewish) man is obligated to recite three blessings daily. These express gratitude for one’s station in life through the negative statements: thank God that I am not a gentile, a woman, or a slave (or in earlier formulations, a boor). This language echoes Greek prayers preserved first by Plato. Especially because this text also appears as a legal dictum in the Babylonian Talmud, Menahot 43b[.17], these blessings, which modern scholars call the “blessings of identity,” gradually became part of the preliminary prayers to the daily morning service.” (Source)
Note that this prayer borrowed elements from the Greek philosopher Plato. Greek philosophy has adversely influenced both Jewish and Christian thinking.
 Even though the prayer was written down well after the first century (see endnote 1) it is likely that it was passed on orally before this time and was in use in Paul’s day.
 Our ethnicity or race, our level of social freedom, and our gender, etc, doesn’t change when we become Christians, but these things should not be a cause for discrimination within the church. The apostles do give instructions to slaves to be obedient to their own masters and wives to be submissive to their own husbands, but often the reason given for these instructions is to aid evangelism by not giving the church a bad name in a society where slaves and women were seen as lesser people than non-slaves and men (e.g., Titus 2:9-10; 1 Tim. 5:14; 1 Peter 3:1; 1 Cor. 11:10). [More on submission in marriage here. More on 1 Cor. 11:10 here. More on the New Testament household codes here.]
 David A. de Silva, The Letter to the Galatians (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2018), 338. deSilva also states (on p. 337), “Those learned lines that divide humanity and that protect systems of inequality no longer have force in the Christian assemblies.”
 Steve Harmon writes,
In the Greek text, arsen kai thelu (“male and female”) is more of an interruption than English translations would indicate. These words are the technical terms from Genesis 1:27 “male and female created he them,” and their technical character is clear as they are not the ordinary words for “man” and “woman” but actually “male and female.” The conjunction “and” also interrupts the “neither/nor” series. We therefore have good reason to put “male and female” in quotation marks.
Paul shows that the Law has been transcended in Christ at the following points:
(1) the boundary line between Jews and Greeks has been abolished, the wall of partition which God himself had risen through the Law.
(2) The boundary line between slave and free, which also is well attested in the Law, is overcome.
(3) And, finally, the most primary division of God’s creation is overcome, that between male and female – the terminology points directly back to Genesis 1:27 and in the direction of man as the image of God, beyond the division into male and female.
Harmon, A Biblical Primer On Women in Ministry, Part 2. (Source)
 Tim Peck (Source: The Junia Project)
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In this postscript, I quote what respected evangelical New Testament scholars have said about Galatians 3:28 and the church. I’ll add to these quotations occasionally.
Cynthia Long Westfall on Galatians 3:28
I like what Cynthia Westfall says about Paul’s statement in Galatians 3:28.
When this statement is read in the context of the entire Galatian discourse and the gentile-Jew debate to which it belongs, it shows how Paul saw that the implication of the radical change he initiated stretched across gender lines as well as social lines. It is highly unlikely that Paul would see no ramifications beyond women’s eschatological [salvation] position in Christ, since a major part of his life was dedicated to working out the practical implications of the Jew-gentile debate. The priorities and the hermeneutics that Paul applied to the Jew-gentile debate can and should be extended to the gender issue.
Westfall, Paul and Gender: Reclaiming the Apostle’s Vision for Men and Women in Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016), 185.
Gordon D. Fee on Galatians 3:28
Here is some of what Gordon D. Fee has written about this verse.
“neither slave nor free, neither male nor female.” These pairs are not inherent in an argument about “justification by faith,” but they are crucial to Paul’s understanding of the people of God as being newly constituted by Christ and the Spirit. For these three pairs represent the primary ways people were divided/ separated from each other in the structure of the present age that was now passing away (1 Cor 7:31; cf. 1 Cor 2:6): on the basis of race, social standing and gender. But “in Christ Jesus,” Paul asserts, these categories have lost their structural significance and relevance; that is, these very things that keep people distance from or at odds with each other in a fallen world have been relativized in the body of Christ, were not only Jew and Greek but also masters and slaves, men and women, all form that one body together.
Fee, “Male and Female in the New Creation: Galatians 3:28,” in Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity without Hierarchy, Ronald W. Pierce and Rebecca Merrill Groothuis (eds) (Leicester: Intervarsity Press, 2004), 176-177.
Scot McKnight on Galatians 3:28
Scot McKnight makes the following observations.
1. To distinguish between soteriology (access to God) and ecclesiology (what one can do in church) cannot be sustained by this verse. For Paul, ethnic, socio-economic (class), and gender divisions are broken down because what Paul is claiming here fulfills OT expectations.
2. The theme of the immediate verses is not about soteriology but about unity—that each of these groups is brought into a new family—hence, the fundamental orientation is about ecclesiology and not simply soteriology.
3. Identity changes in Christ: one’s identity is no longer simply ethnic, socio-economic or gender but what one is in the new family in Christ. This does not obliterate any of these realities—Paul sustains ethnic difference in 1 Cor 7 etc. It eliminates these realities as boundaries between people and with God.
4. The most significant OT background to this text is not Genesis 1:27 (male and female) but New Creation themes found in Isa. 2:1–5; 25:6–8; 51:4; 66:19–21; Mic. 4:2–5; Zech. 14:16; and Joel 2:28–32; 3:1–5.
These themes are developed by Paul in 2 Cor. 5:14–17 and also at Gal. 6:15. (Source: Jesus Creed)
David A. deSilva on Galatians 3:28
I’ve quoted David deSilva above in the article. Here’s more.
Once ‘covered’ by Christ, former distinctions ceased to hold any value or significance. What they (ought to) see now when they look at each other is Christ in them, over them, surrounding them. As a result of being submerged into Christ, they form an essential unity. What they share as “new creation” is exponentially more important than what had distinguished—and thereby divided—them while they belonged to the old creation. Those learned lines that divide humanity and that protect systems of inequality no longer have force in the Christian assemblies, where all are “one in Christ Jesus”: thus, “there is no ‘Jew’ or ‘Greek’; there is no ‘slave’ or ‘free’; there is no ‘male and female.’”
de Silva, The Letter to the Galatians (NICNT; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2018), 337.
John Stott on the Church
John Stott has made this general comment about the nature of the church.
The church is supposed to be God’s new society, the living embodiment of the gospel, a sign of the kingdom of God, a demonstration of what human community looks like when it comes under his gracious rule.
Stott, The Contemporary Christian: Applying God’s Word to Today’s World (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1992), 253.
Blessed © Kirsten Blackstock (Source: CreationSwap)
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The Biblical Basis of Egalitarianism in 500 Words
The Status of Christian Women (We are all Sons of God)
Partnering Together: Paul’s Female Coworkers
Extra Honour for Underdogs (1 Corinthians 12:12-31)
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