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Paul’s View of the Law: Galatians (Chaps. 3-4, Argument 4)

Section 4: Galatians 4:1-11

The fourth argument of the probatio (chaps 3-4) in Galatians is an illustration of slavery vs. sonship. It picks up where the third argument leaves off (3:29), identifying believers in Christ as heirs (“ones receiving the lot”, klhrono/moi)—the offspring (“seed”) of Abraham, inheriting the promise(s) God made to him.

Galatians 4:1-2—In these verses Paul establishes the basic illustration regarding the son (and heir):

“And I relate (to you that) upon as (much) time as the one receiving the lot [i.e. heir] is an infant [nh/pio$], he carries through [i.e. differs] nothing (from) a slave, (despite) being lord of all (thing)s…”

The origin of the Greek word nh/pio$ is not entirely clear, with various derivations fundamentally indicating “without speech = infant, infans [i.e. unable to speak]”, “without sense/understanding”, and “weak, without power”. The basic connotation would seem to be “young and/or immature”, and can specifically refer to a young child (here, a minor). The principal idea is that, until the child (a son) reaches the age of maturity, his status is practically (and functionally) similar to that of a slave, as explained in verse 2. Paul draws on the example of a son in a well-to-do family, a modification of the example given already in 3:23-25 (see my prior note on these verses). The final qualifying phrase of 4:1 is interesting—the point Paul makes is that the heir legally is (or will be) the lord of the household, but, even so, until becoming an adult, he is very much like a slave. This could be understood in a “gnostic” sense—i.e., believers in Christ, even before coming to faith, are, by nature, already sons of God (cf. v. 6a), just without realizing it. The same construct could, however, just as easily be read in an ‘orthodox’ sense, according to the doctrine of Election (or something akin to it). Paul clarifies the point in verse 2:

“…but is under managers and house-administrators until the (time) set before(hand) by the father”

In 3:24-25, the image is of the child who is led out of the house (to school and back), being guarded, instructed and disciplined. Here a different household picture is offered, that of basic government within the house. An e)pi/tropo$ is essentially a person to whom someone/something has been “turned over”—in this domestic context, a legal trustee or guardian, someone to whom the child is given over for care and tutelage (a tutor). An oi)kono/mo$ indicates a “household-administrator” and general supervisor. The child is “under” (u(po\) these servants just as he is “under” (u(po\) the paidagogos (3:24-25), both parallel, and largely synonymous, with being “under the Law” [u(po\ no/mon] and “under sin” [u(po\ a(marti/an]. The central point Paul makes is that this term of ‘enslavement’ (guardianship) lasts only until the time of the child’s maturity, indicated as being set by the father. This detail does not accord with general Roman practice, but it very much is appropriate to Paul’s illustration, whereby God (the Father) has established the time when enslavement under the Law (and sin) comes to an end.

Galatians 4:3-5—Here Paul applies the illustration to human beings (believers) on the religious-spiritual level. In verse 3, the term of infancy/immaturity (o%te h@men nh/pioi, “when we were infants/children”) is specifically identified with slavery (h&meqa dedoulwme/noi, “we were ones enslaved”). The metaphor, previously relevant only to Israelites/Jews (those of/under the Torah), is here extended to Gentiles as well, with the expression “the stoicheia of the world” (to be discussed with verse 8, below). Jews and Gentiles are both “under” (u(po\) the stoicheia (parallel to being “under the Law”).

The term of infancy/enslavement ends with the coming of Christ (v. 4): “but when the fullness of time came, God set out from him his son…”—which he qualifies with two participial phrases:

  • “coming to be [gego/menon] out of a woman”
  • “coming to be [gego/menon] under the Law”

The first phrase summarizes the human birth of Jesus (I discussed this in an earlier Christmas season note); the second summarizes the human condition of Jesus. While a sensitive matter, perhaps, with regard to orthodox Christology, Paul clearly places Jesus in the same situation as the rest of humanity, in several respects:

  • As a Jew, Jesus was obligated to observe the Torah (cf. Lk 2:22-24, 39; Matt 5:17-20)
  • With the rest of humanity, he came to be under the “curse” of the Law (Gal 3:10-14)
  • As such, he also came to be “under sin” (Rom 8:3, but note the careful phrasing)

For a similar statement regarding the incarnation of Christ, see Philippians 2:7f.

Paul concludes his sentence here in verse 5, with a pair of i%na/purpose-clauses:

  • “(so) that [i%na] he might purchase out [e)cagora/sh|] the (one)s under the Law”
  • “(so) that [i%na] we might receive from [a)pola/bwmen] (the Father) placement as sons [ui(oqesi/an]”

The word ui(oqesi/a is typically translated as “adoption” in conventional English parlance, but it literally refers to being placed as a son (u(io$), and it is important to preserve this etymological connection. Jesus first is (and becomes) a son (cf. 1:16; 2:20), even as he becomes the “curse” in 3:13. A comparison with Gal 3:13ff is most useful:

Gal 3:10-14

  • “of/from the Law” and “under a curse” [u(po\ kata/ran], v. 10
  • Jesus “comes to be” [geno/meno$] a curse (under the Law), v. 13
  • he “purchases out” [e)chgo/rasen] those who are under the curse of the Law, v. 13
  • so that [i%na] the blessing might come to those who trust in Christ, v. 14

Gal 4:1-5

  • “enslaved, serving as slaves” [dedoulwme/noi] (under the Law), v. 3-4
  • Jesus (the Son) “comes to be” [geno/menon] under the Law, v. 4
  • that he might “purchase out” [e)cagora/sh|] those under the Law, v. 5a
  • so that [i%na] we might receive sonship from God, v. 5b

Galatians 4:6-7—Verse 6 describes the adoption (being placed as sons)—note that there are two aspects to this:

  • What we (already) are, in God’s eyes—”but (in) that [i.e. since/because] you are [e)ste] sons…”
  • What we become, through the Spirit—”…God set forth out of him the Spirit of his Son into our hearts…”

Though not specified here, Paul certainly would say that it is through trust/faith in Christ that we truly are God’s sons (or children), as he states clearly in 3:26. There is a subtle, but definite Christ/Spirit parallel presented in these verses:

  • “God set forth out of (him) [e)cape/steilen] his Son” (v. 4)
    • “so that we might receive from (him) placement as sons” (v. 5b)
  • “God set forth out of (him) [e)cape/steilen] the Spirit of his Son” (v. 6a)
    • “into our hearts, crying ‘Abba, Father!'” (v. 6b) {we are sons [v. 6a]}

It may not be entirely clear in context, but certainly “the Spirit of his Son” is synonymous with “the (Holy) Spirit”, especially as representing the abiding presence of Christ in (and with) the believer. We do not find precise Trinitarian terminology in Paul’s letters (nor in the New Testament as a whole); there is a good deal of ambiguity which later theologians and commentators sought to clarify.

Verse 7 reaffirms the distinction between son/heir and slave:

“So then [w%ste] no longer [ou)ke/ti] are you a slave, but (rather) a son; and if a son, (then) also one receiving the lot [i.e. an heir] through God”

This declaration effectively combines two prior summarizing statements, in 3:24-25 and 29. In Gal 3:24-25 Paul uses a similar w%steou)ke/ti (“so then… no longer”) construction to state decisively that, with trust/faith in Christ, we are no longer under a paidagogos (that is, no longer under the Law); a declaration follows in v. 26: “for you all are sons of God through trust…” (cp. 4:6a). Gal 3:29 extends this essential statement:

  • No longer under a slave-guide (paidagogos, the Law)
  • Sons (of God) through trust in Christ
  • If of Christ, then heirs according to (God’s) promise (to Abraham)

This is almost precisely what we find in 4:7:

  • No longer a slave
  • A son (of God)
  • An heir through God (i.e. by and according to His promise)

A connection based on the theme of promise is certain, if somewhat subtle—in Gal 3:14, Paul uses the expression “the promise [e)paggeli/a] of the Spirit”; for other references to the Spirit as the promise of God, cf. Lk 24:49; Acts 1:4; 2:33, also Acts 2:39; 7:17; 13:32.

Galatians 4:8-11—Paul proceeds, in these verses, to offer a description of the nature of the slavery which believers were under (along with the rest of humanity) prior to faith in Christ. Whereas throughout most of Galatians, he has been focusing on the Jewish side (those under the Torah), here Paul moves to include non-Jews (Gentiles) within a larger viewpoint. This switch was already indicated in verse 3 with the introduction of the expression “under the stoicheia of the world”, which is clearly parallel to “under the Law”. One might be inclined to take these as indicating Gentiles and Jews, respectively; however, I believe it is more accurate to see the “stoicheia of the world” as the larger expression, encompassing both Jews and Gentiles.

I would divide this section into two portions:

  • Vv. 8-9—a me/nde\ construction (i.e. “on the one hand… on the other…”), contrasting the believers’ condition before faith in Christ with that after faith (in terms of “not knowing / knowing”)
  • Vv. 10-11—a statement of concern/disappointment by Paul concerning the Galatians current behavior (or choice)

These two pieces are joined together by the question (real and rhetorical) Paul asks in v. 9b: “again as above [i.e. as before] do you wish to be slaves?”

Each of these sentences (vv. 8-9 and 10-11), with the joining question, will be discussed in more detail in separate daily notes.

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