In Christ Jesus, all believers are sons of God and heirs to the promises which God made to Abraham. In Christ Jesus, there is no distinction between the chosen nation and other nations or races: We are all equal.
Some Jewish Christians of Paul’s day demanded that Gentile Christians be circumcised. Circumcision was the sign of the Jewish nation. The thinking of these Jewish Christians was the notion in Judaism that Israel is God’s special people on earth and that, through circumcision, Gentile Christians become part of the chosen nation.
Paul responded and wrote, “there is neither Jew nor Greek.” He, thereby, indicated that ethnic Israel is no longer God’s chosen nation or superior to the other nations, from God’s perspective. Circumcision of Gentiles would be to acknowledge the erroneous notion of Israel’s superiority. For that reason, there remains no need to circumcise Gentile Christians into the chosen nation.
God gave both the promises and circumcision to Abraham. Paul set physical circumcision aside but interpreted the promises spiritually and still valid. But he taught that ALL Christians, including uncircumcised Gentile Christians, are heirs of the promises made to Abraham, while NONE of the non-believing Jews are heirs to the promises.
Since circumcision has been annulled, and since non-believing Jews no longer are regarded as Abraham’s descendants, ethnic Israel no longer has a special role in God’s plan.
3:26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 3:27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 3:28
– There is neither Jew nor Greek,
– there is neither slave nor free man,
– there is neither male nor female;
– for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
3:29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.
IN CHRIST, BELIEVERS ARE SONS OF GOD.
The phrase “in Christ” appears in both verses 26 and 28. Verse 26 reads, “through faith in Christ Jesus.” This is often understood as to believe in Jesus. However, in verse 28, and in many other places (e.g. 2:14), the phrase “in Christ” appears without a reference to faith. As explained in the article In Christ, the phrase “in Christ” has a special meaning. It indicates a mysterious unity between Christ and the believer. The current verses reflect this unity as follows:
- Baptized into Christ
- Clothed with Christ;
- In Christ; and
- Belong to Christ
Since the phrase “in Christ” means to be united with Christ, the phrase “through faith in Christ Jesus” can be understood as consisting of two parts:
- Through faith (in God) we become united with Christ.
- In Christ, since He is the Son of God, we are sons of God (v26). And since He is the true seed of Abraham, “if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise” (Verse 29).
ISRAEL IS NO LONGER THE CHOSEN NATION.
The main purpose of the current verses is to say that, in Christ, all believers are equal. Differences, such as “Jew … Greek… slave … free man … male … female” (3:28), no longer exist. Obviously, physical differences remain. They are different but equal. To understand this, we need to appreciate the context:
Judaism made a sharp distinction between Jew and Gentile. It thought of Israel as God’s special people (Romans 11:1) and regarded Gentiles as “sinners” (Gal. 2:15). Jews were not even allowed to associate with the uncircumcised. Judaism allowed Gentiles to join Judaism, but only if they are circumcised and observe the Jewish customs. However, even then the converted Gentiles were regarded as second-class citizens of God’s kingdom.
Jewish Christians argued, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1; Gal. 2:3; 6:13, 12). They, therefore, maintained a distinction between the circumcised Christians and uncircumcised Christians. By implication, these Jewish Christians attempted to maintain the notions of Israel as God’s chosen nation and they demanded that other people must submit to circumcision to share in the privileges of the chosen nation.
In this context, Paul stated that all believers are equal. Paul’s purpose in writing the letter to the Galatians was to resist the pressure on Gentile Christians to be circumcised, but on a deeper level, what Paul effectively was saying is that ethnic Israel is no longer the chosen nation. For that reason, there remains no need to circumcise Gentile Christians.
HEIRS ACCORDING TO THE PROMISE
God gave to Abraham both the promises and circumcision (Gen 17:10). God called circumcision “the sign of the covenant between Me and you (Abraham)” (Gen.17:11). By calling it nothing (6:15), Paul set physical circumcision aside. But he did not set the promises aside. He interpreted them spiritually (3:8) and still valid (3:29). However, to the discomfort of many Jewish Christians, he taught that only people who belong to Christ are now regarded as “Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise” (3:29; 14). This excludes non-believing Jews (Rom. 2:28) but includes believing Gentiles, even without circumcision. As stated by Ephesians:
“My insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known … that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Eph. 3:4-6).
Large church groups today maintain a future special but separate role for ethnic Israel in God’s plan. This view is opposed by articles on Romans 9 and 11 on this website. Galatians confirms as follows that literal Israel no longer exists as a separate entity in God’s plan:
Circumcision is “the sign of the covenant between Me and you (Abraham)” (Gen.17:11), but Paul stated, “neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision” (6:15; 5:6). Since circumcision has been annulled, physical Israel, as a separate entity in God’s plan, has expired.
Christian Gentiles are now also “Abraham’s descendants” (3:29), while non-believing Jews are not (3:16, 29).