Written by Margaret Mowczko.
Margaret Mowczko is vice president of CBE-Sydney. She has a theology degree and is currently studying for a master’s degree with Macquarie University, specialising in early Christian and Jewish studies. Margaret writes on the subject of biblical equality for her website newlife.id.au. Her work has appeared in several publications of CBE-International, and one of her articles recently won an award in the 2014 Evangelical Press Association Awards held in Anaheim, California. Margaret is a leader of her church on the Central Coast where she regularly preaches.
Blessings of Identity
For two thousand years, every morning, many devout Jewish men have said the following prayer, or a similar form of it:
“Blessed are you God of the universe who has not made me a Gentile, who has not made me a slave, who has not made me a woman.”
This prayer is not just indicative of the theological views of the person who is praying, it is also indicative of the sociological views of the person who is praying. In particular, it expresses the person’s identity within his worldview. Prayers like this one have been termed “blessings of identity” by modern scholars.
Compare this prayer with what another Jewish man, the Apostle Paul, wrote in Galatians 3:28-29:
“There is no longer Jew nor Greek, there is no longer slave nor free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.”
Paul may well have been familiar with the Jewish “blessing of identity”, and chose to use the same three categories of humanity, in the same order, to highlight that these social distinctions are irrelevant if we are in Christ. Whatever our gender and whatever our race, we are all sons of God and we are all Abraham’s offspring (Gal. 3:26, 29). This is our true identity, and this truth should inform our worldview.
Our Identity at Creation and in the New Creation
Our identity in Christ should have a direct influence on our relationships within the society, or community, of believers – the church. In New Testament churches, gender does not seem to have been an important distinction among believers. The only reason given for preserving gender distinctions in the church, in some situations, was for the sake of outsiders and for evangelism. But within the community of believers Paul tells us that we are not to regard each other according to the flesh (2 Cor. 5:16 cf 2 Clement 12).
If we are in Christ we are part of the New Creation and part of a community where old social paradigms and caste systems have no place (2 Cor. 5:17). If we have been “clothed with Christ” (NIV), or “put on Christ” (KJV), this will affect our identity and status right now, as well as in the future (Gal. 3:27).
Our identity and status as New Creation followers of Jesus is more than just “our theological standing as far as salvation is concerned” as some have suggested. Our identity must also affect our society within Christian communities. This is probably one of the reasons Paul mentioned three categories of society in Galatians 3:28: (1) Jews or non-Jews, (2) slaves or non-slaves, (3) male and female. These categories potentially include all of humanity.
The “male and female” phrase in Galatians 3:28 harks back to the Creation. In Genesis 1:27 we read that male and female humans were both made in the image and likeness of God. We are his representatives on earth. God authorised both women and men to be the co-regents of his created world and have authority over the animals. But nowhere in Genesis 1 or 2 does it say that God has given some humans authority over other humans. Moreover, God blessed both women and men (Gen. 1:28). And in response women, as well as men, could truly bless God for the way he had made them – for their identity.
Sin marred the unity, equality and affinity between men and women, resulting in disunity and a gender hierarchy where women were unilaterally subordinated to men (Gen. 3:16). Because of Jesus’ redemptive act, however, there is again the real possibility of equality, affinity and harmony between the sexes. In Galatians 3:28, and similar passages, we are given “a redemptive vision for community life.” Tim Peck (Source: The Junia Project)
At Creation there was no gender hierarchy, and in the New Creation there is no gender hierarchy as we are all sons of God, led by the Spirit of God (Rom. 8:14-17; Gal. 3:26).
Galatians 3:28 is more than just a wonderful theological statement. It is also a powerful sociological statement. The equality and unity of Galatians 3:28 is what the church should aspire to. This is what I aspire to. This is my blessing of identity: “Blessed are you God of the universe who has made me a woman and a son of God.”
 “Tosefta Berakhot 6:18 teaches in the name of Rabbi Yehuda ben Ilai (mid-2nd c. CE) that every (Jewish) man is obligated to recite three blessings daily. These express gratitude for one’s station in life through the negative statements: thank God that I am not a gentile, a woman, or a slave (or in earlier formulations, a boor). This language echoes Greek prayers preserved first by Plato. Especially because this text also appears as a legal dictum in the Babylonian Talmud, Menahot 43b, these blessings, which modern scholars call the “blessings of identity,” gradually became part of the preliminary prayers to the daily morning service.” (Source)
Note that this prayer borrows elements from the Greek philosopher Plato. Greek philosophy has adversely influenced both Jewish and Christian thinking.
 Even though the prayer was written down in the 2nd century AD (see endnote 1) it is likely that it was passed on orally before this time and was in use in Paul’s day.
 Our ethnicity, our level of social freedom, and our gender, etc, doesn’t change when we become Christians, but these things should not be a cause for discrimination within the church. The apostles do give instructions to slaves to be obedient to their own masters and women to be submissive to their own husbands, but often the reason given for these instructions is to aid evangelism and avoid giving the church a bad name in a society where slaves and women were seen as lesser people than non-slaves and men (e.g. Titus 2:9-10; 1 Tim. 5:14; 1 Peter 3:1; 1 Cor. 11:10). [More on submission in marriage here. More on 1 Cor. 11:10 here, esp. endnote 14.]
 The reduction in the importance of gender distinctions will reach its fulfilment at the resurrection when our transformed, resurrected bodies will be genderless (Mark 12:25; Matt. 22:30 cf Phil. 3:21).
 “In the Greek text arsen kai thelu (“male and female”) is more of an interruption than English translations would indicate. These words are the technical terms from Genesis 1:27 “male and female created he them,” and their technical character is clear as they are not the ordinary words for “man” and “woman” but actually “male and female.” The conjunction “and” also interrupts the “neither/nor” series. We therefore have good reason to put “male and female” in quotation marks. Paul shows that the Law has been transcended in Christ at the following points: (1) the boundary line between Jews and Greeks has been abolished, the wall of partition which God himself had risen through the Law. (2) The boundary line between slave and free, which also is well attested in the Law, is overcome. (3) And, finally, the most primary division of God’s creation is overcome, that between male and female – the terminology points directly back to Genesis 1:27 and in the direction of man as the image of God, beyond the division into male and female.” Steve Harmon, A Biblical Primer On Women in Ministry, Part 2. (Source)
© 12th of December 2013, Margaret Mowczko
Image Credit: Blessed © Kirsten Blackstock (Source: CreationSwap)
This article was first published at newlife.id.au here.