Gal 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. “ 

In 1st century Judaism there were 3 categories of people who believed in YHWH. There were Jews, who were Jewish by ethnicity as well as by faith. There were proselytes; those who were not ethnically Jewish, but had undergone full conversion, including circumcision and living by the Torah. And then there were God-fearers; Gentiles who believed in YHWH, but had not undergone circumcision and Torah-keeping. So they remained Gentiles rather than being considered Jewish.

When Christianity first began to spread, it was a Jewish movement. Jesus was Jewish, and his early followers were Jewish. But in the story of Jesus there is an invitation to see that God is not only interested in one particular group of people, but in all people. So some non-Jewish people (i.e. Gentiles) start being converted to Christianity and the early church leaders have a bit of an argument about what to do with these people? Should they have to convert like the proselytes, or is that unnecessary?

After some discussion they decide that Gentile followers of Jesus do not have to become circumcised and follow Torah. In other words, they do not have to become Jewish to be Christian. This is a pretty radical idea at the time, but the Apostle Paul in particular makes this argument quite strongly. His argument is that your belonging to this Jesus story is not dependent on being circumcised and following the Torah, rather your inclusion is by the Spirit and by grace.

So this brings us to the church in Galatia, who are predominantly Gentile believers, who have not been circumcised and aren’t following the Torah – but are following Jesus. While Paul has been away, some people have come to Galatia to visit the church and have told them the opposite. That in fact they do have to get circumcised and follow the Torah if they want to follow Jesus.

It seems that people in the church are getting swayed by this particular argument and getting confused about what to do. So Paul writes them this letter… and he’s really worked up. Throughout the letter he keeps pushing back against this idea that circumcision and Torah is required to follow Jesus. In Gal 5 Paul says that the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. In fact, at this point he becomes so irate that he says that those who are demanding circumcision should just go the whole way and castrate themselves!

So you might find yourself thinking, what does this have to do with us? We’re not really arguing about circumcision and Torah in the present day… so what’s the meaning for us and what does this have to do with solidarity?

Which brings us back to this verse:

Gal 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. “

Here, what we see is that for Paul the Torah/circumcision discussion is just one example of a much bigger issue. And the bigger issue is all of the ways that we separate and divide ourselves from one another. In this verse, he targets three of the big divisions that people were using to create separation and status – race, class and gender.

Paul claims that are all found in Christ, and if we’re all found in Christ, then all of the things that we use to separate ourselves from one another, the way we create status and hierarchy and division and separation, these things should be overcome by this realisation that we’re all one. 

There are still things that separate us from one another, and that make it challenging for us to develop a sense of solidarity in community. Whether it’s within the church community, or within a wider sense of community, we still find ourselves as human creatures divided by race, by gender, by culture, by socio-economic class, by all sorts of things that get in the way of us being for each other. You can see this happening all around the world at the moment. People looking for ways to blame others for their problems, looking for ways to turn this into an us vs them kind of game.

And so this idea of all being one, is not just a nice philosophical idea; the hope is that it changes the way we see and treat one another. The call into connectedness, into breaking down status and division, this becomes a call into the ways of justice in the world. It challenges me with the question, how do I relate to and treat those around me? Do I see some people as less than me because of my status, or relative wealth, or privilege? Or can I recognise that we belong to each other, and that we all, together, are found ‘in Christ’, the one in whom all things hold together and in whom all of creation finds a sense of common belonging?

SolidarityClint Gibson