Galatians 4

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Verse 1: What I am saying is that as long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. (NIV)

  • ”What I am saying” points back to the previous chapter and that Paul really thought it needed more explanation and elaboration (Matera 148).
  • ”child” here is more literally “one who does not speak” (Wuest 113), and is here referring to not only the immaturity of the heir physically, but also to how a young person was restrained from speaking for themselves.
  • Today there are a great many rights for children, regardless of their ages. Even a new born has rights. But then, only the head of the household and his representatives could speak for the family and decide matters. Until the father decided it was time, the heir could do nothing without the father’s approval.
  • ”different” here probably means “to differ to one’s advantage” (Arndt 190), ie not that there are no differences at all between a slave and the heir, but that those differences are not positive for the heir. He is not worth any more than the slave.
  • It should be noted that this verse does not promote equality among all people. This is not an anti-slavery verse. It is an analogy to explain Christ’s coming. The analogy only works on the original assumption that when he reaches inheritance, the heir will be worth a lot more than the slave is, definitely not an equal picture (however we might want it to be).
  • There is a purposefully juxtaposition between “slave” and “master” here. In Greek the two terms (“Lord” here being translated as “owns the estate”) are back to back, drawing attention to the contrast between possibility and actuality.
  • ”Estate” is not found in the Greek, simply that he “is Lord of all,” a term we usually reserve for God. Most versions clarify this and make the implied limits of this statement, that the heir is only lord over what his father owns, more explicit to avoid confusion.


Verse 2: He is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. (NIV)

  • ”Subject” is literally “under” and goes well with the value statements of the previous verse.
  • Under Roman law, a minor needed a tutor until he was 14 and a curator until he was 25, but this is probably not about the law as the child has both at once (Matera 148).
  • The titles for those people who are over the child are those people who if he was in his birthright he would be commanding.
    • ”Governor” can refer to a governor like we think of in the USA, the important head of a large group of people or an area. However, it basically means a guardian or manager (Arndt 303). Anyone who has been put in charge of something, basically. In this case, probably the manager over his father’s business is implied, though it could also be nannies for the son himself as the same word applies to both situations.
    • ”Trustee” is more literally “housekeeper” or the administer of a household (Liddell 546).
  • While maturing is envisioned with children becoming adults, the ultimate decision of when it was time is left to the father and only the father. There is no abstract of arbitrary growth that we did to bring Jesus. It was God’s plan and God’s timing. The term used here is a legal term like a time limit set in a will.
  • Some commentators (Nicoll 174) see this as being about an absentee father who left his child in the care of people he trusted and set a date for when his son


Verse 3: So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world. (NIV)

  • ”Children” in Greek isn’t a specific term, like “under 18” but a general term for young people.
  • The word translated here as “basic principles” has caused no end of problems for translators and theologians.
    • This word originally meant belonging to a series, ranking things like the alphabet or ranks in the military (TDNT 7, 666). So the most basic things in this sense would be the simplest things in an order, like letters that need to be formed into words. Another side tangent of this would be the most basic elements of knowledge (Liddell 474).
    • However, this word can also refer to the elements people thought the world was made of, ie the most basic things in the world. These elements were often anthropomorphized into elemental and spiritual beings fundamentally in control of the world (Arndt 769).
    • There is no clear indication what meaning Paul was intending with this statement. Various commentators take different paths and there are not many clues in the text itself. ***One side says that as this passage is dealing with childlikeness and simple things it is probable that Paul was referring to “basic things” in general, and that we could not get away from them and into anything “higher” anymore than a toddler can start writing fluently. We are trapped until we grow up.
      • Another view points out that the text says that they were “under” these elements and enslaved to them. This points towards being the more spiritual forces of a world instead of anything that is dead or inanimate.
      • Finally, others point to verse 5, where Paul makes the case that Christ came to free us from being “under” the law. The presents the “elements” as being the basic form of spiritually (the guardians and trustees or verse 1), the law, and God came to bring us to a fuller understanding. The vague phrasing is simply to allow Gentiles to also fit inside this discussion.


Verse 4: But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, (NIV)

  • There has been a lot of questioning about how far the metaphor can legitimately stretch at this point. The point is clearly made that it is God’s timing and plan, so any question of maturity might be stretching Paul’s metaphor of a young child too far.
  • ”Send away” carries with it not just connotations of leaving, being sent on a particular mission somewhere else (Arndt 273). Paul is emphasizing the purpose behind Christ’s coming.


Verse 5: to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. (NIV)

  • And here is the purpose of Christ being sent that was implied in the previous verse. He was sent to redeem in order for us to be able to become full rights as sons.
  • ”Redeem” is subjunctive aorist. That means a verb of possibility, not actuality. It is a one time act that is finished, but redemption itself might or might not happen depending on our actions. Christ brought a single redemption that enabled the possibility of redemption for all.
  • ”Redeem” is the word used to talk about buying slaves from the slave market (Wuest 115), which makes sense given the idea in this passage of an heir living as a slave.
  • By making the law what we are redeemed from, Paul makes the argument that the law is less than what Christ brings, that we naturally grow out of it when God chooses.
  • ”Receive the full rights of sons” comes from two Greek words and when put together means something along the lines of “receive everything that a son should receive.” This isn’t about becoming the father, but gaining full access to what is ours.


Verse 6: Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” (NIV)

  • ”Of his son” is missing in many manuscripts, and appears only here in the Bible (Matera 151). It implies a hierarchy within the trinity that the Western Church picked up on and the Eastern Church rejected. Either way, it says that to experience the Spirit is to experience Jesus.
  • ”Abba” is literally “father” in Hebrew/Aramaic. It is vocative, or the form of direct address. This isn’t really an intimate title, but it is what you would use when talking to the person directly, and not about them. So the novelty is that we can talk to God directly, call God our father face to face. That is where the intimacy is found, not in the name itself.
  • ”Calls out” is more literally “cries out” and is a term not for just mild speaking but lour announcements and yelling to get someone’s attention, a passionate cry out. The idea here, however, is not volume but intensity (Wuest 117), extreme intensity.
  • The additional Greek “father” is not something that anyone would have said in discourse “dad dad” is just redundant even in two different languages. Instead, Paul is offering a translation of “abba” for those who only spoke Greek. “Abba: that is, father.”


Verse 7: So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir (NIV)

  • After using direct address in the last verse, Paul makes it personal here by making “sons” of previous verses just “son” in this verse. This is for each person individually.
  • Here is where the metaphor comes to its fruition and breaks down at once. An young son can rightly assume that eventually he will be his dad’s heir. But we had no such assurance. God did not have to make us his sons, it wasn’t a given. A son can naturally grow to be worthy of his father’s possessions, we never would have without Christ.
  • Literally, you have been made a son “through God” which is odd because it makes God the mediator and that is normally Christ’s role (Matera 151). This phrasing emphasizes God’s role in planning and initiating our redemption as opposed to Jesus’ role in bringing that plan to fruition.


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