Ethnic Identity “in Christ” according to Paul

Examinations of ethnicity in the New Testament often focus on Paul's letters, and for good reason. After all, it is Paul who claims “For there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer male or female, there is no longer slave and free…” (Gal. 3:28), a statement usually taken as a blanket devaluation of various forms of identity, ethnic identity included. Furthermore, it is Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, who appears responsible more than any other for carrying the gospel across ethnic boundaries to the nations. This paper consists of three parts. The first offers a brief overview of the recent study of ethnicity. In light of issues raised by this survey, the paper examines the role of ethnicity in Paul's self-understanding and in what he advocates for the early Christian communities to whom he writes. In particular, the essay examines the relevance for ethnicity of Paul"s understanding of the Lordship of Jesus Christ, Paul"s devaluation of his own ethnicity in Philippians 3, and Paul"s seeming flexibility with his ethnic identity in 1 Corinthians. The paper concludes that ethnic identity, like all collective identities, has been transcended by the cosmic Lordship of Jesus Christ. Yet, ethnic identities remain, even if devalued. As such they may become tools for the gospel, as Paul"s own utilitarian use of his own ethnicity shows.