Whilst an heir is a child, he does not differ at all from a slave, although he is to be owner of everything, 2 but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by the father. 3 So we too, when we were children were held in bondage under the elementary principles of the world. 4 But when the fullness of the time came, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under law, 5 so that He might redeem those who were under law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. 6 Because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying out, “Abba! Father!” 7 Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.8 However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are not gods. 9 But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles, to which you want to be enslaved all over again? 10 You meticulously observe days and months and seasons and years. 11 I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain [Gal4:1-11]
The illustration Paul uses in the opening verses concerning a child being under guardians and managers suggest he has a wealthy Roman rather than Jewish family in mind. Until the father deemed his son ready to be formally adopted as his heir, the latter would have been under the guardianship of a non-family member such as a senior slave or servant. That had been the meaning of παιδαγωγὸς in the previous chapter (v24) regarding the role of the Mosaic Law acting as a guardian up to the coming of Christ. But, writes Paul in this passage, when the time was right God sent His Son to redeem “those under law” which he also describes as “the elementary principles of the world”. To whom is the apostle referring? God’s elect? – certainly it will include those, but the context here is surely broader. For in his opening statement Paul writes simply that Jesus had been sent to redeem those under law. Only Jews and proselytes were “under the Law” as such, whereas the whole human race was under “the elementary principles of the world”. That is until in the fulness of time God sent His Son so that all in due course might come to be adopted as God’s children. I say “all in due course” for Paul elsewhere and slightly less cryptically than here in Galatians indicates that God intends that all true humanity (1Jn3:12) shall one day enjoy the liberty and privileges of the children of God. I have two passages in mind, the first is in Romans:
19For creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. 20For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. 23 And not only they, but also we who have received the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, i.e. the redemption of our body (Rom8:19-23).
The highlighted text is surely indicative of a broader salvific strategy. For God’s elect will have already been delivered from “slavery to corruption”, not so the rest of creation (v21). And note verse 23: “not only they, but also we ourselves who have received the first fruits of the Spirit await adoptions as children of God. And the following passage from Ephesians provides insights into the context of God’s elect within such broader benign providence:
“God predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, with which He has endued us in the Beloved… 9 He made known to us the mystery of His will 10 regarding an administration for the fullness of the times, to bring all things together in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. 11 In Him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things in accordance with the plan of His will, 12 to the end that we being those who trusted in advance in Christ would be to the praise of His glory.” [Eph1:5-12]
Paul describes God’s elect as those who have trusted or hoped in advance of Christ’s coming [“προηλπικότας”] . They will be specially favoured when He does come having been suitably prepared. For even whilst in mortal flesh they have become God’s children, possessing the Spirit by which they cry “Abba, Father”. That is why Paul is flabbergasted that some Galatian Christians were now turning back to the “weak and beggarly elements” of the world. In their case it pertained to Torah or the “deeds of the Law” – being circumcised and “meticulously observing days, months, seasons and years” (v10). As Paul will go on to explain in the next chapter, those who chose to be circumcised obligated themselves to keeping the whole Jewish Law whereas “in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love” (v6).
That profound utterance concerning the nature and outworking of faith together with related statements in the same passage (ch5 vv5-24) will continue to affirm that Paul’s teaching on grace, law and gospel is not the doctrinal outlier that Luther and the Reformers took it to be. It is in line with every other contributor to the New Testament. And surely that has to be so, especially in Jesus’ case. For the risen Lord’s commission to His disciples had been to “Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I (Jesus) commanded you (Mt28:18-20). If we understand the 13th apostle to have turned Jesus’ teaching regarding faith, works, law and judgement on its head then Paul would be an apostate – a false apostle. But contrary to the unwitting assertions of many, he did nothing of the sort as I shall continue to demonstrate.
The LITTLE BOOK OF PROVIDENCE: a seven-part synopsis of the bible: Download a free PDF of e-book suitable for desktop computers HERE[updated September 2023] Large-print version for mobiles HERE [565 pages]
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Related post: children of promise