All one in Christ Jesus

J. Wesley Ferguson, Antrim, N. Ireland [SEE PROFILE BELOW]

‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus’, Gal. 3. 28

The coming of faith and the purpose of law - a background

In the Galatian epistle Paul is arguing against the idea, held by some Judaizers, that Gentiles who were saved needed to be circumcized to be acceptable to God.

In chapter 3 verse 22 he declares that ‘the scripture hath concluded all under sin’. David, godly man though he was, pleaded in Psalm 143 verse 2, ‘And enter not into judgment with thy servant; for in thy sight shall no man living be justified’. The message of the law is that God is absolutely holy and we can have no confidence of reaching the standard of perfect righteousness. Yet this is the only standard that God can conceivably set. At the end of verse 22 Paul shows that the law was not, and could not be, the last word from God, for He had in mind His promise of blessing through Jesus Christ, by faith and not legal perfection. So there is hope for us, though we know ourselves to be condemned by God’s law. But it was not the law that provided this hope.

Now Christ has come, and with His coming the appeal is to respond in faith. Those who were under the law before His coming had no liberty before God, but rather they were held fast in the law’s power being constantly reminded by it of their shortcomings. God never intended that this condition should continue indefinitely. In His purpose they were held ‘pending the revelation of faith’, as one version renders the last clause in verse 23 - literally ‘unto the faith about to be revealed’. Not just ‘until’, but ‘in expectation of and until’.

So, verse 24 brings into focus this event for which they waited; one may paraphrase the verse thus, ‘so that the law has turned out to be our guardian in view of the coming of Christ, so that we might be justified by faith’. Now this requires some explanation.

Understanding who the ‘schoolmaster’ is, v. 24
The person whom the Authorised Version in verse 24 calls ‘our schoolmaster’ is not a teacher who educates pupils. The reference is to the common practice among the wealthy, of entrusting the supervision of their son’s behaviour to a trusted slave. He taught the boy good manners, kept him out of bad company, steered him clear of danger, escorted him to school and punished him with a rod if necessary. The Greek word to describe this slave was paidagogos. He played an important part in the family, but his role was temporary. When his owner’s son became more responsible and mature the boy underwent a kind of ‘coming-out’ ceremony, in which he was acknowledged as his father’s grown-up son. From then onward he wore different clothing from what he had worn as a little boy. He was technically an adult.

And what a change this transition made to his relationship to the slave who had ruled over him. He had been treated as if he had been a slave, to be beaten when he did wrong - beaten even by a slave! Now he was not ‘under the paidagogos’, he was his father’s grown-up son, free to live as a responsible adult, to uphold the family honour without the encouragement of the rod wielded by a slave.

We now need to see how Paul applies this metaphor to us as Christians
Now let us apply this metaphor as Paul does in verses 27-29. All new believers were baptized, whatever their previous religion or race or social standing had been. All were now received on the basis of their standing in Christ, expressed in their baptism.

But surely, some might say, Paul cannot mean that all Christians are accepted by God on equal terms and therefore at the same time by other Christians. Precisely that. It was assumed in Roman society that slaves were essentially unreliable. Even if they were called upon to give evidence in court they were likely to be tortured to make sure that they were telling the truth. Yet, in Christ they must be accepted as free sons of God! Women, who were often viewed as unacceptable witnesses in court - could they be accepted on equal terms with men in Christ? Yes, indeed.

So, all of these new converts, regardless of their pre-conversion state or standing, were now free as God’s children. The subject is their individual freedom before God and their acceptance by Him. They could follow their conscience, taught by God’s word, under God’s Spirit. This is spelt out in the early verses of chapter 4.

A common error is to relate this verse to the conduct of a local assembly
The subject is not the corporate life of the church, or the functioning of the body of Christ. That is dealt with in the letters of 1st Corinthians and Ephesians. The subject here in Galatians is the freedom of the individual believer to live before God, on the basis of faith in Christ and through the Spirit’s indwelling and power.

This is why we should take the last clause of chapter 4 verse 5 to refer to all believers, whether Jew or Gentile, ‘that we might receive the adoption of sons’. Gentiles who trust Christ are not received onto Jewish ground, to enter into Jewish blessing. Now, in Christ, all new believers are accepted onto Christian ground, set free to know the will of God and do it. Before conversion, all were in bondage of one kind or another. Those under law were in legal bondage. Those without law were under bondage to sin and superstition. Now, as Christians, all are free, ‘under law to Christ’.

This passage should not be used to teach that all believers exercise the same ministry or fulfil the same roles in the life of the local assembly. The passage does not teach that, and scriptures such as 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy are there to make this clear.

AUTHOR PROFILE: Wesley Ferguson is in the assembly in Antrim in N. Ireland. He ministers the word throughout the Province and the UK and is the author of numerous magazine articles, and recently authored ‘Genesis’ in the Ritchie series ‘What the Bible Teaches'.