A "culturally sensitive" translative fix: taking the impact of sonship away from our sisters in Christ (Galatians 3:27-29).
I am turning to chapter 4 in our sermon series in the Book of Judges, a rather disconcerting text for our male-centered Christian systems and attitudes; namely, this chapter's episode spins against the status cultural qua by focusing on Judge Deborah and the minor character and heroine, Jael, who slays the enemy's army commander. My work in the text lead me to an intra-biblical trajectory application found in Galatians 3:27–29 (for which I want to comment).
While many (if not most) commentary attempts to explain away the role of Deborah as a judge of Israel (you know, if only a man would have stepped up, which isn't in the text, not even hinted at), the text does focus on the significant role two women play in the plot of God's redemption (his salvation) of Israel in this episode of the Book of Judges. Thus, a gospel-turn to Galatians 3 seemed fair.
I am not sure that we fathom how radically deconstructing these words would have been for the Greek and Roman male, especially male head of households, many of which, in more affluent families, were also masters of household slaves . . . nor can we (but we should) grasp the radical reconstructing and liberating these same exact words would have been to the Greek and Roman women and slaves and free (emancipated) slaves . . . interestingly we forget that Paul just mentioned sonship (“you are all sons of God, through faith,” v. 26) and will talk soon, again, about sonship and heirs (Gal 4:1-7), that is, being sons of God.
I know we like to be modern, freeing, hip, trendy and relevant and say “sons and daughters of God,” attempting to get past the ancient gender-bias; but this is both unwarranted and does injustice to the text in its culture—depriving the Christian (in any age), especially the female Christian, of its impact. “Sons” were everything in the Greek and Roman world. They got everything. They held far more respect than women (and slaves, but we're focusing in the "female" here). The men got citizenship, status before the law courts, and able, as Roman citizens, to get married. And, if you were the first born male, you were heir to family wealth, possessions, land, and legacy. The goal of marriage to the Greek and Roman was to produce a legitimate male heir citizen for the Empire; females on the other hand didn't have legal status before the courts and were the property of the wealthy and husbands. So, to deprive the female Christian direct title “son,” with all of its rights and privileges (as it would have meant to the ancient world reader), is an applicable disservice to the gospel and to our sisters in Christ.
The impact of such sonship on the Jew, the Greek, the slave or emancipated slave is left with no contemporary translative spin—as it should be; yet, our cultural sensitivity (although sincere and well-meaning in most cases) to gender-bias, we have robbed the sister in Christ of the applicable impact on her status as a “son of God.” And, for sure, this simple slight of hand, turning “sons” into “sons and daughters” makes us (you know I mean the brothers) feel as if we’ve solved the gender-bias within Christianity and the church with its male-dominated religious systems, habits, and attitudes with one easy up-to-date “translation” fix. In some since, this translative adaption helps to lesson the power of this text to deconstruct our male-centeredness and robs the church from allowing the contemporary female's spot in history and the church itself to be reconstructed into the place of a “son of God.”
Chip M. Anderson, advocate for biblical social action; pastor of an urban church plant in the Hill neighborhood of New Haven, CT; husband, father, author, former Greek & NT professor; and, 19 years involved with social action.