“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” (Galatians 3:28, ESV). This translation, along with the NASB, KJV, and NKJV, uses the phrase “Jew nor Greek.” The NIV translates it less literally as “Jew nor Gentile.” Either way, this verse relates a wonderful message concerning the unity we have in Christ.
In New Testament times, Greek culture was dominant in the Roman Empire of which Israel was a part, so there was a basic distinction made between Jews and Greeks. (Greeks could refer to those who lived according to the practices of Greek culture, whether they were ethnically Greek or not. Today there are many non-Jews who are not Greeks and who do not follow Greek culture, so the word Gentile may give a better sense of what the passage is saying.) The Jews were the people of God, and the Greeks/Gentiles were not.
In addition to Jew and Greek, Galatians 3:28 lists two other contrasting pairs: male and female, and slave or free. When Paul says that “there is neither Jew or Greek,” male or female, or slave and free, we know that he is not speaking literally, for all of these types of people existed in Paul’s day as well as in our day (modern gender-bending notwithstanding). Paul is not saying that the differences do not exist but that, in Christ, they do not matter. Again, this is not an absolute statement that the differences have been completely abolished, as some interpret it, because the New Testament spends a good bit of time telling how men and women should act in their unique roles as men or women and of the proper behavior of slaves and masters, even Christian slaves and Christian masters (see Ephesians 5:21—6:9 and Colossians 3:18—4:1, for example). But within the context of the discussion of Galatians 3, these differences do not matter. When these differences are taken outside the context of Galatians 3, they might matter a great deal. Galatians 3:28 cannot be quoted in isolation to “prove” that there are or should be no differences.
For example, if a family is attending an amusement park, they may encounter different prices for different people: kids, teenagers, adults, teachers, students, senior citizens, military veterans, etc. However, on Tuesday everyone is admitted for the same low price. So, if the family approaches the ticket window on a Tuesday, and Grandma says to the ticket agent, “Don’t forget, I am a senior citizen,” the ticket agent might respond, “It doesn’t matter.” He is not attempting to be rude or say that all of the life experience that Grandma has accumulated is worthless. Nor is he saying that the aches and pains of age will not affect her today. What he is saying is that, within the context of the issue at hand—ticket prices—the fact that she is a senior citizen (or that Dad is a veteran or that Junior is a college student) does not matter; that is, those facts, as important as they may be in other contexts, simply do not affect the ticket prices on Tuesday. The distinctions do not matter.
Galatians 3:26–29 gives the fuller context: “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
The specific consideration is the identity of Abraham’s offspring, those who are children of God and eligible to inherit the promises God made to Abraham. It would be normal to think that Jews were Abraham’s descendants and thus the only ones eligible to receive the promises God, but Paul says that, in Christ, Greeks or Gentiles can also be Abraham’s children and heirs. It would be normal to think of men as heirs, because in that culture women generally did not inherit property. It would be normal to think that only free people could be heirs, because slaves did not inherit—they were given as an inheritance. However, Paul says that in Christ slaves, women, and Greeks can all be heirs to the promises of God.
In Christ, it doesn’t matter about your ethnic identity, your gender, or your station in life. If you are in Christ, you are one of God’s chosen people and you stand to inherit all that God has promised. It is only through Christ that anyone can inherit God’s kingdom (John 14:6). While there may still be ethnic, gender, and social distinctions that carry weight in other contexts, those distinctions do not affect one’s standing as a child of God by faith in Christ.