Equality in Christ? Galatians 3:28 and the Gender Dispute

By Richard Hove
Wheaton, IL : Crossway (1999). 160 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. James Rosscup
12.2 (Fall 2001) : 260-261

This work uses thorough exegetical data from wide research to determine the meaning of 3:28 on its own right and Paul’s flow of argument in Galatians 3–4. Wayne Grudem on the back cover says, “It may well be the definitive work on this passage for decades to come.”

The book has introductory and concluding chapters and four chapters in between. The introduction discusses views on 3:28 and the importance of the text to the debate over men’s and women’s roles. The conclusion argues for “clarity and charity” in the passage and related issues. A bibliography of five and a half pages lists top works on the debate—commentaries, theologies, journal literature, and other scholarly writings. General and Scripture indexes follow. The work grew from a master’s thesis that D. A. Carson and Grant Osborne supervised, and was published through encouragement of these two and Wayne Grudem.

The point Hove sees in the Galatians 3 context is that by faith people become one in salvation, whatever their racial, social, or gender orientation. God fully includes Gentiles into His people by faith, as Gen 12:3 anticipates spiritual descendants (46-47). All in Christ are members of God’s household, as all in Abraham, as Israelites, shared in promises through him (57). Hove marshals evidence that the third couplet in Gal 3:28 (male and female) is rooted in Gen 1:27. The words “there is no” do not deny any sense of a distinction in believers just because they all have benefits in Christ; oneness in this sense does not imply equality in all ways (107). Lexically, “one” never means “equal,” and it did not mean “equal” in the three hundred years surrounding the NT (108). Rather, “one” highlights an element shared in common, not sameness. Hove cites examples (1 Cor 3:8, even where two have different roles and rewards; John 10:30, where Father and Son share the same kind of nature, but differ in person and role). A cup of sugar equals a cup of flour in granular volume, but they are quite different in another sense, that sugar cannot be used in a recipe in place of flour (11 1). For real distinctions Hove cites evidence in Scripture, Philo and rabbinics (112-13). The issue in Gal 3:28, then, is in what sense men and women are compared. Does it concern value, abilities, roles, callings, inheritance, or what?

The author argues that all have the inheritance in common, and offers three reasons that the verse does not primarily address the issue of sexual roles, such as interchangeable ministries (116-17). These three are Paul’s flow of argument (2:15–3:29), the logic in 3:26-29, and the implications of “you are all one.”

Hove’s reasoning is clear as he brings evidence to bear. His work has value due to its breadth and depth of research, insistence on keeping to textual evidence, the clarity of logic, reasons articulated, and fairness to those of egalitarian persuasion. It is a book that all who are involved in church ministry ought to read, whatever view they favor.