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An Exegetical Study of Galatians 3:26 - 4:7

By Andrew Packer

Textual Comments1

26. The term Pa,ntej is put first here for emphasis. Paul has been using a lot of “we” language in his

argument in chapter three.2 By placing Pa,ntej first he emphasizes that what he is about to say is true of

all of them. The conjunction ga.r ties this to the pericope immediately before it, explaining verse 25 and

showing where they received faith and why they are no longer under a guardian.3

The root word for “sons”, ui`o,j, has only been used one other time so far in this epistle to refer to

believers in Christ as sons of God (3:7).4 This term is critical to his argument throughout this pericope as

he focuses on the son as one who is an heir, free, crying to God as Father.5 Paul bases the sonship of

believers on Christ’s sonship and on His life, death, and resurrection. This is contrary to the idea of

being a son of Abraham through the Law. It is because believers are evn Cristw/| that this is able to take

place.6

27. Baptism in Christ results in being evnedu,sasqe with Christ. “Putting on Christ” here means nothing

else than being clothed with Christ’s righteousness - that is to be justified by Christ. While there is may

be a connection with the baptismal liturgy, the purpose for that rite of being clothed in white after

baptism is the focus here.

28. The word e;ni from e;nesti means “to be or exist in a certain context”7 or “to exist, with respect to

particular circumstances”.8 It is used only four other times in the New Testament.9 This word appears to

1
The textual comments are meant to explore some important words (including their theological significance) and grammar
up front so that the exegesis section could be pared down.
2
In fact in 3:6-25 Paul has not used “you”.
3
The conjunctions in 3:26-29 are very important to Paul’s argument, note how they develop ga.r... ga.r… ga.r… a;ra.
4
Cf. 4:4, 4:6, 4:7. All concordance work was done using BibleWorks 7 powerful search engine.
5
The same idea is used three more times in this epistle, all in this pericope.
6
TDNT VIII:391-392. J. Louis Martyn in Galatians. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997), 375 makes the argument that
this “sons of God” is from the baptismal liturgy. However this assertion (along with others concerning the baptismal
liturgical formula in this section) appears to speculative since it cannot be proven one way or another.
7
BDAG, 336.
8
Louw-Nida Lexicon Bibleworks 7.
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be used in specialized contexts and should not merely be seen as a synonym of evstin.10 That Paul chose

a word used so infrequently in such a critical juncture in his argument should not be overlooked.

It should also be noted here that the terms a;rsen kai. qh/lu are somewhat rare in the New Testament and

that the terms are used to express “emphatic sexual differentiation”.11

29. The phrase VAbraa.m spe,rma is another theologically rich phrase that Paul has packed into this

pericope.12 Paul has already driven home the point in 3:16 that it is Christ who is the true seed, so that

one must be in Christ to truly be Abraham’s seed. It is not through the law that one becomes Abraham’s

seed, but only by being in THE seed, which is Christ.13

The phrase katV evpaggeli,an klhrono,moi is also a significant phrase in this pericope. The word

evpaggeli,a, promise, occurs ten times in Galatians, eight of these occurring in chapter three. The word is

significant as Paul develops his argument of faith vs. works and Law vs. promise.14 The significant word

klhrono,moj, heir, occurs only three times in Galatians, all in this pericope. The fullest treatment of this

term/concept in the New Testament is in Mark 12:1-12 where Christ is the heir. 15 This is in essence

what Paul says in 3:16. Believers are heirs because they are in Christ and to Him the Father has given

all things.

4:1. A nh,pio,j is “one who is not yet of legal age, a minor”16 Paul uses the word only eleven times in his

writings, two here in Galatians chapter four, and five times in 1 Cor. 13:11.17 Here it is used to

9
Luke 11:41, I Cor. 6:5, Col. 3:11, James 1:17
10
Walden, Wayne. "Galatians 3:28 Grammatical Observations." Restoration Quarterly 51, no. 1 (2009), 3. The emphasis in
this passage being “in Christ” or “belonging to Christ” (3:29).
11
TDNT I:362. These terms are found in the LXX in Genesis 1:27.
12
This exact phrase only occurs five times in the entire New Testament. John 8:33, 37; Rom. 9:7; 2 Cor. 11:22; and Gal.
3:29.
13
Cf. TDNT III:784-785. Two important Old Testament passages that help illuminate this are Psalm 105:6 an Isaiah 41:8 and
their immediate contexts.
14
Cf. TDNT II:582ff.
15
For a fuller discussion see TDNT III:782ff.
16
BDAG 671, 2. The other definition of infant, young child complements this definition well even here in this context.
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emphasize the status of the heir, who has not yet reached the age to receive the inheritance from his

father.

2. An evpitro,pouj is a “guardian in the sense of being a tutor.”18 And an oivkono,mouj is a “steward from

among the slaves, who is over the whole household and sometimes the whole property of his master.”19

It was often the case that the oivkono,mouj was also the evpitro,pouj in the household.20 Under Roman law

the boy would be under a tutor until the age of fourteen when the boy would receive the toga virilis as a

sign that he had reached the age of majority.21 Paul is not stressing these points on slavery though, but

using them for illustrative purposes. The hearers would have understood the main point - that the Law

functioned in much the same way for them.

3. The phrase u`po. ta. stoicei/a tou/ ko,smou has long been debated.22 Paul appears to use this phrase in

parallel to u`po. no,mon, but by using this phrase Paul indicts specifically the elements of religion before

Christ that concerned regulations regarding material, earthly things - whether pagans or Jews.23

4. evxape,steilen means here to “send someone off on a mission.”24 Though some have tried to suggest the

word itself implies something about Christ’s preexistent nature, the word itself does not imply that, the

word in this context gets its theological meaning and substance from the context within which it is

used.25

17
Rom. 2:20; I Cor. 3:1; 13:11; Gal. 4:3; Eph. 4:14 and I Thes. 2:7. Paul often uses this term when discussing childlikeness in
ethical terms - something that must be grown out of, versus the theological concept of sonship. TDNT IV:918. Also see the
textual comments on 3:26 above.
18
BDAG, 385.
19
TDNT V:150.
20
It may be in this passage that the use of oivkono,mouj is helping to elucidate the meaning of evpitro,pouj.
21
Ibid., and class discussion in Pauline Epistles 1/8/2010.
22
Space does not permit to give a full treatment of this phrase. See Martyn, 393ff. and TDNT VII:683ff.
23
Cf. Col. 2:20ff. and Lenski, 190. Gal. 4:8,9 shows that these things are tied with paganism as well as Judaism. Martyn’s
treatment of this issue has a lot of interesting material, but his conclusions regarding the end of pairs of opposites (405)
goes too and has some serious ramifications be discussed below.
24
BDAG, 345-6.
25
TDNT 1:406.
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5. evxagora,sh is another theologically rich term in this section. It means “to secure deliverance of,

deliver, liberate.”26 Paul appears to use the term rather than avgora,zw because avgora,zw deals with being

bought and becoming the possession of another, Christ or God, whereas evxagora,sh focuses on being

released to freedom.27 “To this extent, the idea corresponds to the contemporary practice of sacral

manumission.”28 Paul uses this term in Galatians because the focus is on the freedom from the Law that

Christ’s death has brought about.

The term ui`oqesi,an is the technical term for adoption, but in Paul “only in a transferred sense of a

transcendent filial relationship between God and humans.”29

6. The participle kra/zon is in the neuter case because its subject is to. pneu/ma. It is the Spirit within

believers that enables them to cry out to God as Father.30

Overview

Paul’s letter reaches its climax with this pericope - it is only in Christ that the Galatians are sons

and heirs of the promise. This has happened in their baptism which they all received, and in which they

were clothed with Christ’s righteousness by faith alone apart from the works of the law. Everything in

chapters 1 - 3 preceding this have been building up to this and everything after this is going to flow out

of the reality of it.31

26
BDAG, 343. Paul is the only one in the New Testament to use this word and he only does so four times. Twice in Galatians
(here and in 3:13) and the other two times he uses it to refer to “redeeming the time” (Eph. 5:16, Col. 4:5).
27
TDNT I:126.
28
Ibid.
29
BDAG, 1024. This term only occurs in Paul’s letters in the New Testament, and Paul himself only uses this term four other
times. Cf. Romans 8:15, 23; 9:4; and Eph. 1:5. The Romans 9:4 passage applies the term to Old Testament Israel. Paul’s use
of this term focuses on the believer’s change in status from one who is in slavery to the law and sin and the believer
becomes a son not naturally, but solely by God’s act of making them a son (TDNT VIII:399).
30
The same idea is expressed by Paul in I Corinthians 12:3, “Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the
Spirit of God ever says "Jesus is accursed!" and no one can say "Jesus is Lord" except in the Holy Spirit.” cf. Rom. 8:26, Luke
18:1-8.
31
For an excellent summary of Paul’s argument to this point see Judith M. Gundry-Volf, "Christ and Gender: A Study of
Difference and Equality in Gal. 3:28." In Jesus Christus Als Die Mitte Der Schrift, (New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1997), 452ff.
Also cf. Hove, chapter 1.
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This exegetical paper will seek to unpack the beauty of Paul’s argument in this section giving

special attention to 3:28 since it has become THE proof text for everything from women’s ordination to

declaring homosexuality as acceptable for Christians.32 Understanding the place of 3:28 in Paul’s

argument here in this pericope, as well as the overall argument of Galatians has become the burning

issue of this paper.

First the pivotal role of 3:26-29 as a whole will be looked, and then an excursus on 3:28 will

follow. Next, it will be shown how Paul’s argument in 4:1-7 further strengthens and amplifies the

argument in 3:26-29. Then finally the conclusion will seek to draw all of this together and the

implications it has for the Church at large and for the LCMS in particular.

Baptism, Promise, and Sonship

The argument in 3:26-29 is the turning point in Paul’s argument as he moves from discussing the

promises made to Abraham (3:15-25) and those that are made to believers in Christ (4:1-7).33 Paul first

explained the role of the Law versus the role of the promise and how those are related to Christ and the

faith of believers. Now in this section Paul set down the way in which God has made the Galatians

righteous (and by implication all believers). The focus throughout this section is that the Galatians are

made righteous by faith alone apart from works of the law. This takes place through their baptism in

Christ. Because they are in Christ, the seed of Abraham, then they are the true heirs and sons. This is

argument is devastating to the argument of the Teachers in Galatians who are insisting that Gentile

Christians be circumcised and follow other laws of Moses to truly be God’s sons and the seed of

Abraham.

A structural diagram of 3:26-29 is extremely helpful in understanding Paul’s argument in this

section:

32
Because of this focus the exegesis of some of the other sections will not be fully developed, but unpacked enough to give
3:28 its proper context and force. The textual notes were written in such a way that the exegesis below could be more
succinct.
33
Hove, 52.
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26
Pa,ntej ga.r ui`oi. qeou/ evste
dia. th/j pi,stewj evn Cristw/| VIhsou/\
27
o[soi ga.r eivj Cristo.n evbapti,sqhte(
Cristo.n evnedu,sasqeÅ
28
ouvk e;ni VIoudai/oj ouvde. {Ellhn(
ouvk e;ni dou/loj ouvde. evleu,qeroj(
ouvk e;ni a;rsen kai. qh/lu\
pa,ntej ga.r u`mei/j ei-j evste
evn Cristw/| VIhsou/Å
29
eiv de. u`mei/j Cristou/(
a;ra tou/ VAbraa.m spe,rma evste,(
katV evpaggeli,an klhrono,moiÅ34

Diagramming the structure in this way shows that these verses from their own internal argument.

Verses 26 and 29 frame the argument, and verses 27 and 28 form the center of it.35 As noted above the

argument builds with the use of the conjunctions ga.r... ga.r… ga.r… a;ra. The argument builds to a

crescendo as shows exactly how one is in Christ and therefore the true seed of Abraham and true heir of

the promise.36

Paul’s focus is on being evn Cristw/| VIhsou. This happens dia. th/j pi,stewj and the Galatians

should know this because in their baptism in Christ they were all clothed with Christ’s righteousness (v.

27). This was despite any differences in things that are adiaphora.37 The differences between Jews and

Greeks, slaves and free, male and female make no difference when it comes to being righteous in

Christ.38 None of these differences matter and none of these differences make one a part of the people

of God, nor do they exclude one from the people of God. This is the very heart of Paul’s point here.

This is clearly contrary to the Teachers heresy. Here Paul states emphatically that when it comes to

34
Taken from Hove, 52.
35
It should be noted here at the outset that ouvk e;ni a;rsen kai. qh/lu comes in the middle of an argument and cannot be
divorced from the complete context and argument of 3:26-29. The phrase cannot, nor was it intended to, stand alone.
36
Cf. Romans 4
37
Adiaphora is used in this paper for differences among all three pairs of verse 28 that may exist -this is following Gundry-
Volf. These differences are truly “indifferent” regarding salvation.
38
See Gundry-Volf, 456.
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salvation these differences - whether ethnically, socially, or in regards to gender- are adiaphora. To

make them a matter of salvation in any sense (whether by the keeping or not keeping of them) is to

preach another Gospel (1:8-9). To paraphrase Gundry-Volf, Greekness or Jewishness, freeness or

slaveness, maleness or femaleness, do not matter one whit when it comes to being incorporated into

God’s people - that is when it comes to salvation.39

This is exactly how Paul explains these things in Romans. In 3:21-23 and 10:11-13. This is also

very similar to what was prophesied in the prophets Jeremiah 31:33-34 and Joel 2:28-29.40 Although

these passages are not exactly the same wording as the pericope here, but the core idea that these

differences do not matter in regards to salvation is present and central to each passage.

It may be helpful here to note briefly how this differs with Martyn’s understanding of these pairs

and this pericope as a whole. Martyn obviously has a different take on the pairs as he sees Paul

pronouncing the nonexistence of the pairs with what appears to be an over realized eschatology.41 He

says there are the three “major” options for understanding these pairs - and as pairs taken from a

baptismal formula which as noted above is merely speculation.42 He also assumes in all three options

that the erasure of differences is what is at the heart of Paul’s argument in this pericope.43 However he

has this exactly wrong. As Gundry-Volf so succinctly put it, “indeed adiaphorization positively entails

the nonerasure of difference.”44 To erase the differences is to contradict exactly what Paul is trying to

convey.45 Growing out of this misunderstanding Martyn also has an incorrect view of our resurrected

39
457-458. Troy Martin in his "The Covenant of Circumcision (Gen. 17:9-14) and The Situational Antitheses in Galatians
3:28." Journal of Biblical Literature 122, no. 1 (2003): 111-125, argues that all of the pairs should be seen in light of
circumcision laws for Israel. The first one in each pair had to be circumcised, while the second did not have to be and so he
connects the pairs with Genesis 17. While there is much that I like about his argument I am not fully convinced that Paul
had only circumcision in mind here.
40
Unfortunately space restrictions do not allow me to quote these four passages.
41
Martyn, 376.
42
Ibid., 379. Martyn commits the fallacy of false alternatives here. He never gives any valid support for showing those are
the three major options, nor does he discuss how speculative it is to say it is from a baptismal liturgy. This is why he can’t
really explain why the “male and female” pair is left out of every other usage of this formula in Paul.
43
Ibid., 381.
44
456. She also points out that much of this need to see an erasure of differences stems from the presupposition that this is
necessary to have equality (447). This though is another error in logic and in reading the text.
45
Cf. I Cor. 7:18-19; Galatians 5:6; 6:15 and Gundry-Volf, 456.
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bodies, and by implication Christ’s, that they are androgynous bodies that are no longer clearly male or

female.46 This has some radical implications that will be explored further in the next section and in the

conclusion.

“No male and female”

Now that the main argument of Paul’s argument is understood it should be clear that the phrase

ouvk e;ni a;rsen kai. qh/lu cannot mean that the differences between male and female are completely

erased, or that males and females should now be viewed as some sort of androgynous beings for whom

gender differences do not mean anything in this life, or that males and females can practice

homosexuality freely, or that by implication women must be allowed to be pastors.47

Many of these errors spring up from various exegetes on this passage because they start with this

presupposition that the erasure of differences is essential to have any real kind of equality.48 If this is

one’s starting point then certainly this is what will be read into Paul’s argument in this text, and

especially if one rips “no male and female” from its broader context. It has already been shown above

how Paul is not arguing for an erasure of differences, but that the differences don’t matter in regard to

salvation. If however such views as Martyn, for instance, are not countered then the things errors listed

will all logically follow.49 This includes all the various understandings of androgyny which are so in

vogue today.

If Paul’s main point is the erasure of differences because in the new creation those differences

are destroyed then there is no Scriptural or hermeneutical ground left to stand on. How can anyone

possibly argue against women or homosexual pastors if they have allowed for a reading of the text

46
Martyn, 381.
47
Space does not permit giving extensive treatment to every erroneous reading of this passage, and while there are
differences among those who use this text to teach a variety of unbiblical teachings this section will generalize and lump
them all in together ignoring differences in how they arrive at their final conclusions.
48
Gundry-Volf, 447.
49
Martyn is being singled out since his commentary is so widely used. For whatever reason Martyn does not just come out
and argue for women’s pastors (though he comes close), but F.F. Bruce writing a decade earlier follows the same
apocalyptic line of thinking and just flat out asks why women cannot serve the same as men in the church. Bruce, F.F. The
Epistle to the Galatians. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1982), 189-190.
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which says all such differences no longer truly exist in the new creation? For even an appeal to vocation

must first be grounded in the fact that Christians still exist in and live out their lives in this fallen world

as part of the old creation. Just because the terms a;rsen kai. qh/lu occur in Genesis 1:27, does not need

to imply that the passage is focused on these in terms of a new creation that destroys their differences. A

far better way to understand the use of those terms is that the differences that have existed since creation

(and continue to exist) do not inhibit or earn one salvation.

Still there are some key words and phrases that were not directly addressed above which could

be used against this paper’s arguments. The phrase pa,ntej ga.r u`mei/j ei-j evste evn Cristw/| VIhsou which

contains the little word ei-j is a phrase that is grossly abused in the current debates. The little word ei-j

though, coupled with what was said in the previous section should be enough to topple such lofty

opinions.

Hove shows conclusively in his work that the word ei-j never and indeed cannot mean equal.50

Here in Galatians 3:28 it emphasizes the whole in contrast to the parts.51 So all three of the couplets in

this verse are to be seen as a whole “ei-j” in contrast to their parts, but what is this “ei-j”? Quite frankly,

there is a great deal of disagreement over what the “one” refers to and this paper will not seek to solve

that issue. The larger issue is in which way are these things “ei-j”? Hove did some invaluable research

searching three centuries of Greek literature (including the New Testament) for the phrase u`mei/j ei-j

evste.52 The results are not only fascinating, but also eye opening. In each instance it is different people

or objects that are ei-j, the differences are not erased when the things are ei-j.53 These different people

and objects do have something in common - those who are different are unified based on something they

have in common. How these objects or things are to relate to one another in that ei-j is not present within

50
This section will rely heavily on Hove, 70 - 76.
51
BDAG, 291.
52
Hove, 72-75. The findings are laid out as well.
53
This fits in well with the textual comments on e;ni as well.
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the word itself.54 Understanding this little word then further supports and affirms the exegesis of is paper

and it also shows that there is still one more important issue to deal with.

Even though ei-j cannot mean equal the issue of equality still has to be dealt with because the text

itself argues for equality in some sense. 55 The question that remains then is: in which sense are these

things equal? Hove asks the question “Does a cup of sugar equal a cup of flour?”56 The answer is yes

and no! They are equal in volume, but not in content. Any time someone says “x is equal to y” they

really mean “x and y are equal in some defined respect.”57 To say that two things are equal there must

be at least “i) two distinct entities, ii) a means of measurement, and iii) a common standard.”58 This is

crucial in the current debates on this passage. Only after understanding the full context of the phrase ouvk

e;ni a;rsen kai. qh/lu can one rightly understand in which way the two things are equal. It has already

been shown that the defined relationship in the context of Galatians 3:26-29 is one’s standing before

God in regards to salvation. This means that no word or phrase of 3:28 can be ripped from its context in

order to make assertions and applications beyond the bounds of Paul’s argument.

Nothing has been shown thus far regarding what the passage says about the way in which these

three pairs are to relate to each other. This is because this pericope does not address that issue. Paul

does not take up that topic here, but he does in a several other places.59 Those places would need to be

treated on their own to give an accurate picture. It can be said that there is absolutely nothing in

Galatians 3:26-29 that supports any kind of egalitarian reading of the text.

54
Hove, 75-76.
55
A misunderstanding of this issue even mars the rather fine essay by Gundry-Volf, 476.
56
110. He also gives a variety of other examples to drive this point home.
57
Ibid.
58
Ibid., 113.
59
For example Eph. 5:22ff. and Col. 3:18ff.
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Slaves or Sons and Heirs

Paul made the point in 3:26-29 that salvation is not dependent on any adiaphora, in any way. In

4:1-7 he will begin to show that what is at issue when one does not understand 3:26-29. Paul begins the

next section with Le,gw de, which is most often translated along the lines of “Now I say” or “And I

mean.” Either way, the phrase connects chapter four and chapter 3. Paul is in essence restating much

what he said in chapter 3 and especially in 3:15ff., but now by way of an analogy that all his readers

would be readily familiar with. Paul had stated in 3:25 that the Galatians were no longer under a

guardian.60 Paul returns to that imagery here but extends the metaphor to drive home the point. In the

same way that a child is under guardians and managers until he reaches the age of majority, they were

also all under the u`po. ta. stoicei/a tou/ ko,smou until Christ came. 61 Paul wants to make it abundantly

clear that to return to these u`po. ta. stoicei/a tou/ ko,smou in any way that becomes binding on them or

others is to return to a state of slavery. Paul makes this clear in the next few verses.

As Paul’s argument develops in 4:4-7 it is God who carries the action of all the verbs: God sent

His Son to redeem them, God sent the Spirit into their hearts so that they may call Him Father, the

Galatians are heirs through God’s work. In 3:26-29 Paul emphatically stated that the Galatians were all

sons and heirs because of their baptisms in Christ. Now he shows how all of this was God’s work and

His work alone. The Son was sent under the law. He has already fulfilled the Law for them and done

away with the curse and elementary principles of the Law in His death on the cross.62 To revert back to

the Law would is to deny that Christ has redeemed them and made them sons. In essence, it is to deny

their baptism and what it means for their standing before God. It denies the work of God and replaces it

with the works of men. Why would a son and heir ever want to return to a state of slavery or infancy?

Paul’s argument is written in such a way as to show the utter foolishness and danger of returning to life

60
It’s almost as if Paul comes back to this issue because now after 3:26-29 there is no way they should be able to miss the
point of his argument.
61
See textual comments above.
62
Cf. 3:13
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under the Law. At the same time it shows the glorious freedom and sonship that is present for all those

in Christ.

Conclusion

It cannot be underestimated how important rightly understanding this pericope is for the Church

today. Whether it is making differences pivotal to inclusion in God’s people or an erasure of differences

it is important that the Church speaks with a clear voice. Any time any kind of adiaphora becomes

binding it must be stated clearly and without equivocation what is at stake. There is so much

misunderstanding surrounding this pericope that it is vitally important that our exegesis be solid and

faithful. If we fail to do this in our own Synod it will have devastating consequences and will allow all

sorts of errors into our church - everything from misunderstanding justification by faith alone, to women

pastors, and even a denial that homosexuality is a sin. The temptation is to be lured in by what is

intentionally 'new', 'popular', or even seemingly 'scholarly'. However, those desiring to remain faithful to

the simplicity and truthfulness of Paul's teaching in these verses must resist, or be mislead. One only

needs to look at the church bodies around us and their exegesis of this pericope to see that this is not

something that is mere fear mongering, but a very clear and present danger.

For freedom Christ has set us free. Let us not return again to any form of slavery. May we stand

steadfast in the faith that was handed down to us, trusting in the promise given to us in our baptisms - we

are forgiven, we are free, we are sons, we are heirs of the promise. May God strengthen and keep us

firm in His Word and faith until we die. Amen.


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