Some musings on Paul's Christmas text (Gal 4:4) and why it isn't "Sons & Daughters of God" but all are "Sons of God"
Some sermon prep thoughts . . . the fuller text is Galatians 3:23-4:7 . . . and yes, this is a Christmas Season Sermon text . . . See Galatians 4:4. The part I am reflecting on is the well known Galatians 3:27-39:
“For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:27-29).
I am not sure that we fathom how radically deconstructing these words would have been for the Greek, Roman, and Jewish man, especially male head of households, who were also masters of household slaves . . . nor can we (but we should) grasp the radical reconstruction and liberation these same exact words would have been to the Greek, Roman, and Jewish women and slaves and free (emancipated) slaves, who had no home or legal status whatsoever . . . 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 and relevant and say “sons and daughters of God,” attempting to get past the so-called ancient gender-bias; but this is both unwarranted and does injustice to the text in its culture—depriving the Christian, especially the female Christian, of its impact. “Sons” were everything in the Greek, Roman, and Jewish world. They got everything. They had far more respect. They got citizenship. And if you were the first born male, an 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. 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) would be simply not right, unfair, unbiblical . . . it is not Christian.
The impact of such sonship on the Jew, the Greek, slave or emancipated slave is left with no contemporary translative spin—as it should be. Yet, our cultural sensitivity (although sincere and well-meaning at times) toward the gender-bias we have robs 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, us brothers) feel as if we’ve (they’ve) solved all the gender-bias (male-dominating, male-centrism) within Christianity and its religious systems, habits, and attitudes with one easy “translation” fix. In some since, this translative adaption helps to lessen the power of this text to deconstruct our male-centeredness and robs the church from allowing the place of the female to be reconstructed into the place of a “son of God.”
It is no wonder the early church grew as it did . . . and it is no wonder why women were especially attracted to the fulness of time when God sent his son, “born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal 4:4).
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.