“And there are no more distinctions between Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, but all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
It was quoted with an emphasis on the equality of all the baptised, with a view to implying that if all are equal, then all roles in the Church should be open to all people, including priesthood.
The equality of all persons before God is not in dispute, but the deduction that this means equality of roles is.
Firstly we need to remember that St Paul is writing this letter to the Galatians, someone who has studied the Old Testament with particular diligence and who is very familiar with the worship conducted in the Temple at Jerusalem.
Therefore when he talks about distinctions between Jew and Greek, male and female, he expects his audience to bring to mind that in the Temple at Jerusalem there was a court of the Gentiles which excluded those of gentile birth from entering the inner court. Also in that Temple is a court of the women which excluded them from the inner court too.
Slave and free likely refers to the freedom a non-slave possesses to travel to the Temple at any time. A slave however can only go to the Temple when the person who owns him/her permits it.
In Christ Jesus then, everyone has equal access to God the Father, everyone may approach Him in the inner court.
These distinctions with regard to Temple worship are man-made. Therefore they can be changed, and in Christ Jesus they are.
It is noteworthy that St Paul did not add ‘priest and non-priest’ to that list.
A priest has access to the Holy of Holies, and only a priest, by the eternal decree of God about the sons of Aaron, recorded in the Old Testament. That’s unchangeable.
During the history of Israel, God underlined the seriousness of that eternal degree several times.
The sons of Aaron were under strict obedience to fulfill what God had decreed. In Leviticus 10:1 we find that when two of Aaron’s sons took a shortcut and filled their censers with ordinary fire instead of the fire from the altar, they died immediately.
In 2 Sam 6:6-7 we see a Levite, who as a Levite had permission to handle and carry the holy things in prescribed manner, reach out with his hand to touch the ark of the covenant when it seemed unsteady. He died immediately because he had not touched the ark in the prescribed manner.
But the really big story is in Numbers 16. Here we have a group of Levites and a few non-Levites complaining that since the whole community is consecrated to God why do Moses and Aaron have extra special roles and not others? This is exactly the same argument those working towards a pathway to the priestly ordination of women were using at the Plenary Council.
The complainers in Numbers 16 asked, ‘The whole community and all its members are consecrated, and the Lord God lives among them. Why set yourselves higher than the community of the Lord God?’
Moses answered them, ‘the Lord God will reveal who is His, who is the consecrated man that He will allow to come near Him. The one He allows to come near is the one He has chosen.’
In effect, this is God’s choice, not ours, and this depends on God’s permission, not ours.
As the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us in Heb 5:4, ‘No one takes this honour on himself, but each one is called by God, as Aaron was.’.
As emphasis, fire came down from heaven to consume the complainers who wanted to assume the priesthood, and the earth opened up and swallowed their tents and families alive.
No one in Israel tried that argument again!
You may retort, but the 12 apostles of Jesus weren’t priests or levites. Shocking isn’t it?! Theirs is a priesthood according to the order of Melchizedek not according to the order of Aaron. Melchizedek was chosen directly by God, around the time of Abraham, and in this different non-temple order of priesthood Melchizedek offered to God bread and wine. Even more shocking, the order of Melchizedek isn’t a hereditary priesthood.
This is God’s direct choice, His calling, which needs to be both responded to and discerned.
Remember, this about God’s own decrees, not about the kind of human laws that can change from time to time.
When the Church confirms that she has no authority to ordain women, that’s what the Church means, ie. that this particular authority is reserved to God alone, with Whom there is no such thing as alteration, no shadow of a change. James 1:17
It’s one of those things that you can accept, or reject, but which you can’t change.
So although each of us has equal dignity before God, and everyone has access to His Heart, we do have different roles given by Him.
As a cautionary tale, lest anyone think those roles are interchangeable, have a look at 1 Maccabees 5. The desecrated Temple has finally been cleaned and purified, and the temple sacrifices have resumed. Much effort, much prayer and many battles made that possible. Now the threats to Israel have multiplied. Because there are threats in both Galilee and Gilead the warriors in Israel form into two groups to go and meet those challenges. But the Temple they have all fought so hard for, it needs protecting too. So a priest and a community leader were placed in charge of the remnant in Jerusalem, of the people, levites and of the remaining warriors left behind. These were placed under obedience to guard the temple and to not go and fight the enemy until the other two groups of warriors returned. However the desire for military glory tempted them, they left their post at the temple, went out against the enemy, and got completely slaughtered.
The role of warrior was important. The role of guarding the temple was important. Both were needed. When those with the role of guard wanted to take on the role of warrior, disaster followed.
Heed this, please! It is God’s choice alone who is to undertake the role of priest. If that is not the role God has given to you, then do not set your heart upon it. Only disaster will result if you insist on a role that God has not given to you.
If we were not so scripturally illiterate and not so lacking in reverence towards the Lord God, we would see how groundless the push for the priestly ordination of women really is.
May God help us in His mercy, lest we perish at the frown of His face. Amen.