Self Defense from a Fundamentalist Attack
12 Scriptures No Fundamentalist Believes
(Part 7 “Neither Jew nor Greek”)
St. Paul is viewed by many as a sexist and as a religious bully, but look at these words:
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28)
It is important to remember that when Paul taught, the New Testament was not compiled, neither were the creeds. So the church’s very real history of sexism and intolerance should not necessarily be projected onto Paul. It is also important to remember that not all the books that bear Paul’s name are thought to be by Paul himself. The passages telling women to shut up in church and for slaves to obey their masters do not fall into the texts most scholars can agree come from the hand of Paul himself
In my opinion, when Paul worked to spread the early faith, he wasn’t calling people to what the church has become. Instead, he was calling people to something much more profound than sectarian Christianity. It was a new vision for humankind.
To say, “in Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor fee, male nor female” makes impossible the fundamentalist claim that there are certain roles for women, or that Jews are going to hell, or that any person was born to serve another.
Let’s look at each phrase:
“Neither Jew nor Greek” One profound way to understand this phrase is that Paul is calling us to a viewpoint beyond any nation or religion. Emerson once said that truth is not the possession of any one religion, but a certain depth in all of them. It is possible to understand the early church as a calling people to a unified humanity. If this is true, when Paul talks about being “in Christ,” he is not asking us to join an exclusive club called “Christianity,” but to be baptized into a fundamental solidarity with humankind.
“Neither slave nor free” Could this mean that this new hope for humankind would not be built on a power hierarchy? For many traditional Christians, the words of Paul are treated as a call into a Christian caste system where everyone has a role to play, and everyone should know their place. But “slave” and “free” were the ultimate class distinctions in the ancient world. Paul is saying in the new vision for humankind such distinctions would no longer apply.
“Neither male nor female” Finally, Paul says, in this new vision for humankind, there is “neither male nor female,” which means the new religion will not ascribe rigid gender roles. Women are not just vessels for men to make babies with. They are complete and autonomous persons. And it should have gone without saying that if “in Christ there is no male or female,” then “in Christ” there can be no such thing as hetero or homosexual either.
Christianity was once a religion of radical human rights. Yes it was more than that, but we have made it less. The early church got in trouble for educating women, freeing slaves, refusing to serve any army and rejecting hoarded wealth. Jesus touched people with conditions that scripture said were “unclean.” Peter takes a Eunuch (who would have identical status with a homosexual in Leviticus) into the early church. Why? It wasn’t that Peter didn’t care about scripture, it was that he no longer saw people though the eyes of judgmental religion. To be “in Christ” means to stop evaluating people by their human condition and to start seeing them as they really are, your human family.
Thanks, Jim. I especially like your insight into Paul’s neither male nor female. That does eliminate gender roles and heterosexism.
Thanks, Jim. I especially like your insight that Paul’s neither male nore female, eliminates heterosexism and anti gay policies. Great job.
Perhaps Paul’s most breathtaking revelation. Even discounting the rampant sexism of the deutero-Paulines, Paul does seem to have gender trouble of his own. He also sends Onesimus back to slavery and supports the institution. And he forces Timothy to be circumcised against the counsel of the Jerusalem council. It seems that he could not live up to or into the gospel he is proclaiming here. It was and is that radical. Hard, but not impossible. And so we work at it and hope to do better than he did.