Is Galatians about Cultural Elitism?

Some modern Bible teachers have been teaching that certain passages of the New Testament are rebukes of racism or classism. The text in question is not the instruction of James 2, which is a direct rebuke of showing favoritism to the rich. Nor are they referring to the statements in Paul’s letters like Colossians 3:11, “Where there is neither Jew, nor Gree, circumcision, uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bond, nor free: but Christ is all and in all.” These words are a clear statement that racial, national and social differences are eliminated in Christ. All believers are united together a one in Jesus. These truths are clear and are powerful opponents of racism and favoritism in the church.

However, some teachers have turned to other texts to decry elitism. Some have pointed to Galatians and Paul’s rebuke of Peter as a rebuke of promoting Jewish culture to the exclusion of Gentile culture. Paul is confronting Peter’s gospel error, not Peter’s cultural errors. Paul told Peter he was not acting according to the gospel. The climax of Paul’s argument comes when he says, “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ.” Peter’s actions compromised the clarity of salvation by faith alone. Peter’s refusal to eat with Gentiles was not just a cultural thing, it was a gospel issue. Peter was forgetting that they Gentiles were saved by faith in Christ, just like the Jews. He was forgetting the Gentiles had received the Holy Spirit, just like the Jews. Paul rebuked Peter because his actions in refusing to eat with the Gentiles indicated that the Gentiles were not full members of Christianity, that Christ was not sufficient to save them, that they had to keep the law and become Jews to really be Christians. Paul’s rebuke of Peter is a gospel rebuke. It has cultural issues as the background, but Paul is not fighting for cultural differences to be set aside. Paul is fighting for the clarity of the gospel.

In a March 2021 Christianity Today article, Michael Rhodes taught that Paul’s rebuke of the Corinthian church was a rebuke of elitism and classism. He said, “The way they came to the Lord’s Supper reinforced socioeconomic divisions among them.” In 1 Corinthians 11 Paul confronted misuse of the meal associated with the Lord’s Supper. Apparently, the church in Corinth shared a meal together before taking the Lord’s supper. The Bible doesn’t tell us why they had the meal, only that some were going hungry because others were eating before them. Some had too much and others did not have enough. Rhodes said that the rich were being promoted and were establishing their elite status by going first in line, but Paul says nothing about social class in 1 Corinthians 11. Paul rebuked the Corinthians for their selfishness, not their elitism. He tells the believers to eat at home if they are hungry and to let others eat before them. He speaks of of their selfishness and callousness to the needy, not their promotion of the wealthy. Paul’s words have a direct application to how the church handles social and financial status, but Paul’s focus is teaching about class warfare. He is confronting the selfish, greedy, gluttony that will fill its belly at the expense of others.

The Bible clearly teaches that Christians must reject all forms of status oriented, external driven favoritism. Classism, elitism, racism and nationalism have no place in the church. Since the Bible condemns favoritism, what is the harm in teaching a Biblical truth from a wrong passage? The danger is in thinking we can use any passage of the Bible to prove a point. Every passage of the Bible has a meaning that was intended by the original authors. Any meaning drawn out of that passage today must be in accord with the original meaning. To misuse the Bible for a good purpose is still a misuse of Scripture. We have no need to misapply Galatians or Corinthians to make a good point today. God’s Word speaks clearly against racism, let’s pay attention to those passages.