Heirs in Jesus
In his Letter to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul portrays the Mosaic Law as the “pedagogue” that supervised Israel “until the seed came,” and that “seed” is Jesus. In Greco-Roman society, the “pedagogue” was the slave with custodial and disciplinary authority over an underage child until he reached maturity, even though the custodian was often himself a slave. The child’s minority status and the custodian’s authority were temporary.
Previously, all things were confined under sin, just as the Jews were kept under the Law until the faith was revealed in Jesus. The Law guarded Israel until the “faith came.” Its purpose was to make them aware of transgressions.
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Likewise, the supervisory role of the Law would only last until the “faith was revealed… the promise from the faith of Jesus given to those who believe.” But with the coming of the promised “Seed,” we are no longer under the custodianship of the Law.
- (Galatians 3:23-25) – “Before the coming of the faith, however, we were kept in ward under the law, being shut up until the faith which should afterward be revealed. So that, the law has proved our custodian, training us for Christ, in order that, from faith, we might be declared righteous. But the faith having come, no longer are we under a custodian.”
The analogy of custodianship emphasizes the temporal aspect of the Law. Since the Torah is compared to a “custodian,” to say the heir is no longer under the custodian is to say the believer is no longer under the jurisdiction of the Mosaic legislation. If the Law was unable to acquit anyone before God, and if it was added after the “promise,” which it could not modify, what was the purpose of the legislation given at Mount Sinai?
Paul addresses this very question (“Why, then, the law?”). It was given to teach Israel that sin constitutes transgression of the expressed will of God. The Law was the “custodian” assigned to guard Israel until the promised "Seed" arrived. However, the custodial function was always temporary and provisional.
In Paul’s larger argument, the temporal aspect of the Law comes to the fore. It was given as an interim stage in God’s larger redemptive program. But with the arrival of the “Seed,” it reached its termination point and no longer had jurisdiction over who was in the covenant community and who was not. Paul then draws out the social implications of this change:
- (Galatians 3:26-29): “For you all are sons of God through the faith in Christ Jesus; For you, as many as into Christ have been baptized, have put on Christ. There cannot be Jew or Greek, there cannot be slave or free, there cannot be male and female, for all are one in Christ Jesus: Now, if you are of Christ, by consequence, you are Abraham’s seed, according to promise, heirs.”
To return to the custodianship of the Law is a regression to an earlier stage in the Divine plan of Redemption, one that was characterized by division between Jews and Gentiles, a barrier now eliminated by the death of Jesus.
This paragraph is pivotal to the Letter since it stresses the oneness of God's people. The old social distinctions are wholly inappropriate now that the “promised seed” has arrived. To pressure other believers to pursue a Torah-observant lifestyle would rebuild the old and outdated barriers.
One function of the Law was to keep Israelites distinct from Gentiles, and this was by design. The arrival of Jesus meant there was a new basis for defining and delimiting the people of God.
Previously, uncircumcised Gentiles were outside the Abrahamic Covenant, and therefore, NOT “sons of God.” They could only become members of the covenant community by undergoing circumcision and otherwise adopting a Torah-observant lifestyle. Effectively, they ceased to be Gentiles and became Jews.
But the Law also distinguished between slaves and freemen, male and female. Women could not fulfill certain requirements of the Law or participate fully in corporate worship in the Temple because of periodic uncleanness from menstruation. Women were restricted to the Court of Women at a further distance from the presence of Yahweh. Religiously speaking, they were second-class citizens. To now embrace a Torah-observant lifestyle would reinstitute this inequity.
The clause, “you are all,” refers to Gentile and Jewish believers (“That the promise should be given to those who believe”). Before the coming of the “Seed,” all things were under confinement, both Jews and Gentiles. Now, both groups are no longer confined under sin or the Law, and both have become sons of God “through the faith of Christ Jesus.”
Several times in the Letter Paul emphasizes the word “all.” Both believing Jews and Gentiles have been made “sons of God” through their faith in Jesus. It is “in Christ” that believers become the true “sons of God” and “Abraham's seed, heirs according to promise.”
This does not mean that ethnicity and gender no matter in the daily lives of believers, but such distinctions are irrelevant to anyone’s standing before God or membership in His covenant community.