Monday, July 27, 2009

Galatians 4:1-7

V1-7 – 1What 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. 2He is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. 3So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world. 4But when the time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under law, 5to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. 6Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’ 7So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.

Once again, Paul comes to a summary place (“What I am saying is…”). Vincent Cheung says, “As we proceed to 4:1, we must keep in mind that Paul is making his case from the perspective of salvation history. This is important for a proper understanding of the rest of the passage. He says that although an heir would inherit the entire estate, he appears no better than a slave before he comes of age. His activities are dictated by guardians and trustees, and he could make no decision regarding the estate that he would one day inherit. And it was the case under certain ancient laws and customs that the father was the one who determined the official time when the child would be considered an adult.” Calvin agrees, saying, “The fathers under the Old Testament, being the sons of God, were free; but they were not in possession of freedom, while the law held the place of their tutor, and kept them under its yoke. That slavery of the law lasted as long as it pleased God, who put an end to it at the coming of Christ… The elect, though they are the children of God from the womb, yet, until by faith they come to the possession of freedom, remain like slaves under the law; but, from the time that they have known Christ, they no longer require this kind of tutelage.”

Legalism often subjected people to “basic principles of the world” (v3), and most commentators see these as calendar rites, seasonal feasts determined by the alignment of the heavenly bodies (Colossians 2:8,20-22). But Calvin concludes, “The obligation to keep the law did not hinder Moses and Daniel, all the pious kings, priests, and prophets, and the whole company of believers, from being free in spirit. They bore the yoke of the law upon their shoulders, but with a free spirit they worshipped God. More particularly, having been instructed concerning the free pardon of sin, their consciences were delivered from the tyranny of sin and death. Hence we ought to conclude that they held the same doctrine, were joined with us in the true unity of faith, placed reliance on the one Mediator, called on God as their Father, and were led by the same Spirit. All this leads to the conclusion, that the difference between us and the ancient fathers lies in accidents [outward appearance], not in substance [inward reality]. In all the leading characters of the Testament or Covenant we agree: the ceremonies and form of government, in which we differ, are mere additions. Besides, that period was the infancy of the church; but now that Christ is come, the church has arrived at the estate of manhood [as a whole and not particular to individuals].” I also appreciate Kim Riddlebarger’s thoughts on this:

The Greek term underlying the NIV’s phrase, ‘principles of the world,’ is stoicheia which probably means something along the lines of the ‘rudimentary principles of morality and religion, more specifically the requirements of legalism by which people lived before Christ.’ A number of commentators have tried to argue that this word refers to “angelic powers” or cosmic forces. But as one commentator notes, the direct connection of this with immaturity, as well as the fact that the law is an instrument of bondage, would support the argument that the reference is more likely referring to… elementary imperfect teaching. …To accept the Jewish law or some equivalent system is to come under slavery to some imperfect doctrine. But if stoicheia denotes elemental spirits, then it has to be explained how submitting to the regulations of the Jewish law is tantamount to being enslaved by these spirits. Thus the ‘basic principles’ of the world (or even better, ‘this present evil age’ – cf. Galatians 1:4) is the notion that we can be declared righteous before God based upon merit or rewards earned through obedience to the law. As understood by modern Americans, the stoicheia would be something along the lines of ‘good people go to heaven and bad people go to hell.’ Since Americans believe that people are basically good, it is common to believe that everybody goes to heaven, notorious evil doers excepted. But Paul’s doctrine, on the contrary, is that all people are sinful and under God’s condemnation. Only those in Christ are given eternal life and the forgiveness of sins. This goes totally against the grain of modern egalitarianism.”
While it is true and good that the law has a preparatory role for growing us to be adopted as sons and to receive our inheritance, it is more noteworthy that at the right time (v4), which the Father ordained (v2), “God sent His Son.” This is the “fulfillment of the ages” (1 Corinthians 10:11) or the marking of the beginning of the last days. Now, when God sent His Son, He was “born of woman” (implying the importance of the two natures of Christ – God and man) and “born under law.” He was obligated to fulfill the law and identify with the sinners He was sent to save. His redeeming role (v5), was one of setting the captives free from slavery. We are redeemed by the Father (who gave His Son – 1 Peter 1:17-18) and by the Son (who gave His life as a ransom for many – Matthew 20:28). God’s people are under the law as rebellious children (Exodus 4:23; Isaiah 1:2) but are sealed in adoption through the Holy Spirit maturing them (Romans 8:9-17).

Vincent Cheung says, “V6 hearkens back to 3:2 and the other references to the Spirit as the fulfillment of the blessing of Abraham. We are the sons of God, so the Spirit enables us to know and address Him as ‘Abba, Father.’ In connection with this, we seem to have too much patience with the common misconception that ‘Abba’ is the equivalent of ‘Daddy’ in English – it is not.” “Abba” is Aramaic for “Father,” and just as Jesus called His Father “Abba” on account of their eternal “natural” relationship, we can call God “Abba,” or “Father,” as well, since we – by adoption through the Spirit – are sons of God like Jesus and have the same Spirit He had while on earth (Ephesians 2:12-13). And finally, note in v7 that a son is an heir, one who takes possession of the inheritance. Elsewhere we read that Jesus is not ashamed to call us brothers (Hebrews 2:11) and that we are co-heirs with Christ of all things (Romans 8:17). Praise God!

So to conclude, Vincent Cheung says, "Paul has argued for his gospel of justification by faith on the basis of his personal history, the Galatians' conversion history, and Scripture's salvation history. His formal arguments are almost complete - one may consider 4:21-31 the actual conclusion. And now he turns to make a direct and personal appeal to his readers to come to their senses regarding this matter."

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