There is neither Jew nor Greek - All are on a level; all are saved in the same way; all are entitled to the same privileges. There is no favoritism on account of birth, beauty, or blood. All confess that they are sinners; all are saved by the merits of the same Saviour; all are admitted to the same privileges as children of God. The word “Greek” here is used to denote the Gentiles generally; since the whole world was divided by the Jews into “Jews and Greeks” - the Greeks being the foreign nation best known to them. The Syriac renders it here “Aramean,” using the word to denote the Gentiles generally. The meaning is, that whatever was the birth, or rank, or nation, or color, or complexion, all under the gospel were on a level. They were admitted to the same privileges, and endowed with the same hopes of eternal life. This does not mean that all the civil distinctions among people are to be disregarded.
It does not mean that no respect is to be shown to those in office, or to people in elevated rank. It does not mean that all are on a level in regard to talents, comforts, or wealth; but it means only that all people are on a level “in regard to religion.” This is the sole point under discussion; and the interpretation should be limited to this. It is not a fact that people are on a level in all things, nor is it a fact that the gospel designs to break down all the distinctions of society. Paul means to teach that no man has any preference or advantage in the kingdom of God because he is a rich man, or because he is of elevated rank; no one is under any disadvantage because he is poor, or because he is ignorant, or a slave. All at the foot of the cross are sinners; all at the communion table are saved by the same grace; all who enter into heaven, will enter clothed in the same robes of salvation, and arranged, not as princes and nobles, and rich men and poor men, in separate orders and ranks, but mingling together as redeemed by the same blood, and arranged in ranks according to their eminence in holiness; compare my notes at Isa 56:8.
There is neither bond nor free - The condition of a free man does not give him any special claims or advantages in regard to religion; and the condition of a slave does not exclude him from the hope of heaven, or from being regarded as a child of God, on the same terms, and entitled to the same privileges as his master. In regard to religion, they are on the same level. They are alike sinners, and are alike saved by grace. They sit down at the same communion table; and they look forward to the same heaven. Christianity does not admit the one to favor because he is free, or exclude the other because he is a slave. Nor, when they are admitted to favor, does it give the one a right to lord it over the other, or to feel that he is of any more value in the eye of the Redeemer, or any nearer to his heart. The essential idea is, that they are on a level, and that they are admitted to the favor of God without respect to their external condition in society. I do not see any evidence in this passage that the Christian religion designed to abolish slavery, any more than I do in the following phrase, “there is neither male nor female,” that it was intended to abolish the distinction of the sexes; nor do I see in this passage any evidence that there should not be proper respect shown by the servant to his master, though both of them are Christians, any more than there is in the following phrase, that suitable respect should not be shown in the contact with the sexes; compare 1Ti 6:1-5. But the proof is explicit, that masters and slaves may alike become Christians on the same terms, and are, in regard to their religious privileges and hopes, on a level. No special favor is shown to the one, in the matter of salvation, because he is free, nor is the other excluded because he is a slave. And from this it follows:
(1) That they should sit down to the same communion table. There should be no invidious and odious distinctions there.
(2) They should be regarded alike as Christian brethren in the house of God, and should be addressed and treated accordingly.
(3) The slave should excite the interest, and receive the watchful care of the pastor, as well as his master. Indeed, he may need it more; and from his ignorance, and the fewness of his opportunities, it may be proper that special attention should be bestowed on him.
In regard to this doctrine of Christianity, that there is neither “bond nor free” among those who are saved, or that all are on a level in regard to salvation, we may remark further:
(1) That it is unique to Christianity. All other systems of religion and philosophy make different ranks, and endeavor to promote the distinctions of caste among people. They teach that certain people are the favorites of heaven, in virtue of their birth or their rank in life, or that they have special facilities for salvation. Thus, in India the Brahmin is regarded as, by his birth, the favorite of heaven, and all others are supposed to be of a degraded rank. The great effort of people, in their systems of religion and philosophy, has been to show that there are favored ranks and classes, and to make permanent distinctions on account of birth and blood. Christianity regards all people as made of one blood to dwell on all the face of the earth (see the note at Act 17:26), and esteems them all to be equal in the matter of salvation; and whatever notions of equality prevail in the world are to be traced to the influence of the Christian religion.
(2) If people are regarded as equal before God, and as entitled to the same privileges of salvation; if there is in the great work of redemption “neither bond nor free,” and those who are in the Church are on a level, then such a view will induce a master to treat his slave with kindness, when that relation exists. The master who has any right feelings, will regard his servant as a Christian brother, redeemed by the same blood as himself, and destined to the same heaven. He will esteem him not as “a chattel” or “a thing,” or as a piece “of property,” but he will regard him as an immortal being, destined with himself to the same heaven, and about to sit down with him in the realms of glory. How can he treat such a brother with unkindness or severity? How can he rise from the same communion table with him, and give way to violent feelings against him, and regard him and treat him as if he were a brute? And Christianity, by the same principle that “the slave is a brother in the Lord,” will do more to mitigate the horrors of slavery, than all the enactments that people can make, and all the other views and doctrines which can be made to prevail in society; see Phm 1:16.
(3) This doctrine would lead to universal emancipation. All are on a level before God. In the kingdom of Jesus there is neither bond nor free. One is as much an object of favor as another. With this feeling, how can a Christian hold his fellow Christian in bondage? How can he regard as “a chattel” or “a thing,” one who, like himself, is an heir of glory? How can he sell him on whom the blood of Jesus has been sprinkled? Let him feel that his slave is his equal in the sight of God; that with himself he is an heir of glory; that together they are soon to stand on Mount Zion above; that the slave is an immortal being, and has been redeemed by the blood of Calvary, and how can he hold such a being in bondage, and how can he transfer him from place to place and from hand to hand for gold? If all masters and all slaves were to become Christians, slavery would at once cease; and the prevalence of the single principle before us would put an end to all the ways in which man oppresses his fellow-man. Accordingly, it is well known that in about three centuries the influence of Christianity banished slavery from the Roman empire.
There is neither male nor female - Neither the male nor the female have any special advantages for salvation. There are no favors shown on account of sex. Both sexes are, in this respect, on a level. This does not mean, of course, that the sexes are to be regarded as in all respects equal; nor can it mean that the two sexes may not have special duties and privileges in other respects. It does not prove that one of the sexes may not perform important offices in the church, which would not be proper for the other. It does not prove that the duties of the ministry are to be performed by the female sex, nor that the various duties of domestic life, nor the various offices of society, should be performed without any reference to the distinction of sex. The interpretation should be confined to the matter under consideration; and the passage proves only that in regard to salvation they are on a level.
One sex is not to be regarded as the special favorite of heaven, and the other to be excluded. Christianity thus elevates the female sex to an equality with the male, on the most important of all interests; and it has in this way made most important changes in the world wherever it has prevailed. Everywhere but in connection with the Christian religion, woman has been degraded. She has been kept in ignorance. She has been treated as an inferior in all respects. She has been doomed to unpitied drudgery, and ignorance, and toil. So she was among the ancient Greeks and Romans; so she is among the savages of America; so she is in China, and India, and in the islands of the sea; so she is regarded in the Koran, and in all Muslim countries. It is Christianity alone which has elevated her; and nowhere on earth does man regard the mother of his children as an intelligent companion and friend, except where the influence of the Christian religion has been felt. At the communion table, at the foot of the cross, and in the hopes of heaven, she is on a level with man; and this fact diffuses a mild, and purifying, and elevating influence over all the relations of life. Woman has been raised from deep degradation by the influence of Christianity; and, let me add, she has everywhere acknowledged the debt of gratitude, and devoted herself, as under a deep sense of obligation, to lessening the burdens of humanity, and to the work of elevating the degraded, instructing the ignorant, and comforting the afflicted, all over the world. Never has a debt been better repaid, or the advantages of elevating one portion of the race been more apparent.
For ye are all one in Christ Jesus - You are all equally accepted through the Lord Jesus Christ; or you are all on the same level, and entitled to the same privileges in your Christian profession. Bond and free, male and female, Jew and Greek, are admitted to equal privileges, and are equally acceptable before God. And the church of God, no matter what may be the complexion, the country, the habits, or the rank of its members, is one. Every man, on whom is the image and the blood of Christ, is a brother to every other one who bears that image, and should be treated accordingly. What an influence would be excited in the breaking up of the distinctions of rank and caste among people; what an effect in abolishing the prejudice on account of color and country, if this were universally believed and felt!