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Revising Galatians 3:28 After Tom Holland

Tom Holland has worked through some extensive research on the Roman Empire and the Ancient World. The grandeur and drama seduced him, in a sense. However, his attention has turned to Paul and his letters to Christian communities.

According to Holland, these letters act as the foundation to practically everything we hold today as valuable moral and mental social achievements of the West. One passage in particular seems to have caught Tom Holland's interest and imagination - 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.

(See time 17:00)

This one passage felt so out of place with the attitude Holland found in other texts from the time. The Roman lord, for example, could exercise incredible power over anyone in his estate. It was a shared assumption, a part of the culture, that a lord could abuse a servant, use someone for sexual purposes, or decide on the life and death of children. There was little recourse for things like restitution or reconciliation.

But in this one letter from Paul we find this levelling statement. The idea of stating there is no barrier between us and them, between servant and master, between sexes, was revolutionary at the time.

I'm grateful for Holland's work, and for pointing out this passage as so unusual for the time. This was a time before universal human rights, before national constitutions and civil legal codes as we know them today.

But at the same time, my own attention moved over these words of Paul and saw a last holdout of tribal assumptions. Are the last three words needed, really?

It is worth noting the Jesus of Paul is not necessarily the Jesus of the gospels. Does Paul imagine an earthly Jesus, or a spiritual Jesus? This kind of question has puzzled many bible-scholars, and often enough those hardened scholars have come down on the side of their tradition, their denomination, their tribe.

The debate between man-in-the-flesh-historical Jesus and spiritually-that-is-metaphorically Jesus has cut so deep at times, it is no wonder so many people simply don't care if they belong in a religious tribe or Christian tribe anymore.

Perhaps there is another way to imagine Paul's passage and take it one step further than the original author. This isn't meant as a revision of history, or a barbed and cheap act of disrespect. Instead, it's a question - does the beauty and singularity of the passage still stand, giving us words to live by today, if we end the sentence differently?

There is neither Jew nor Gentile,

neither slave nor free,

nor is there male and female,

for you are all one.

Some may not be able to take this step. They suffer from a kind of personal barrier or self-enclosure, unwilling to seek change or process. Only the Christian story and person-like presence of an anointed, authoritative messiah can compel some people to see over the labels. Without God, Christians have worried that everything is permitted. Without their Christ Jesus, being one with everyone is not permitted.

Despite all the grand attempts in the modern world to break the barriers of the past, we cannot generate our own values, we cannot remove the logs in our ancestor's eyes, and we have not achieved an ordered community that doesn't appeal to the authority of the tribal.

But if the notion of unconditional love is to mean anything, and if we are to hold it as supreme, then the next great horizon might require something beyond any person-like transcendence. The next great adaptation might reveal how we are all-at-once-in-the-family. The greatest revolution still to be achieved will take place in the hearts of those struggling and seeking with a way to make us one with everything.

"Faith is the eye of religious love. It is the knowledge that is born of being in love in an unrestricted fashion, and that being in love in an unrestricted fashion is the genuine meaning, the only genuine meaning, of the term ‘religion.’ What Lonergan calls religious conversion, then, is a process that frees one from the self-enclosure that Lonergan calls radical lovelessness. God is love, our scriptures tell us, and whoever abides in love abides in God, whether one acknowledges this or not. This process, more often than not, is mediated by participation in some religious community.

"But profound religious inauthenticity can also be mediated by participation in a religious community. And so religious conversion or religious authenticity is not guaranteed by belonging to a religious community. Religious authenticity is rather the self-transcendence of unqualified loving, and that self-transcendence is possible only because one has been consciously on the receiving end of God’s unqualified love, whether one acknowledges this as coming from God or not. Religious conversion is the twofold process of being loved unconditionally and responding to that radical gift by cooperating in the process whereby one’s own loving becomes unconditional."


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