The final paragraph of Chapter 3 in his Letter to the Galatians is pivotal to Paul’s argument. It stresses the oneness of God’s people. In the covenant community, the old social divisions that existed under the Mosaic legislation are inappropriate since the promised “Seed of Abraham” has arrived, namely, Jesus of Nazareth. In the covenant community, “there can be neither Jew nor Greek.”
Among other things, the Torah was designed to keep Israel distinct from the surrounding Gentile nations. If the Galatian congregation embraced the requirements and rituals of the Torah, it would rebuild the “middle wall of partition” between Jewish and Gentile believers that was removed previously and at great cost by Jesus – (Ephesians 2:11-22).
|[Prayer Photo by Pedro Lima on Unsplash]|
However, in Galatians, Paul presents an alternative to the Law for defining and demarcating the people of God, namely, the “faith of Jesus Christ.”
Under the Mosaic Law, any male who was uncircumcised, whether Jew or Gentile, was by default outside the Abrahamic covenant, and therefore, NOT a “son of God.” Moreover, he could only become a member of the community by undergoing circumcision otherwise adopting a Torah-observant lifestyle.
- (Galatians 3:26-29) - “For all of you are sons of God through the faith in Christ Jesus. For you, as many as into Christ have been baptized have put Christ on, there cannot be Jew or Greek, there cannot be bond 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.”
Moreover, the Law also distinguished between slaves and freemen, and males and females. Women could not fulfill certain requirements because of their periodic uncleanness due to menstruation, and they could not fully participate in the worship rites of the Temple, being restricted to the Court of Women located at some distance from the Sanctuary and thus the presence of Yahweh.
Under the Law, women became second-class citizens of the nation of Israel, and if the Assembly in Galatia placed its members under the Mosaic legislation, it would restore that inequity for its female members.
The term “all” in verse 25 refers to Gentile AND Jewish believers. The Scripture declared that all members of the faith community were under confinement under the Law, both Jews and Gentiles, before the coming of the “Seed.” However, since the arrival of the “Seed,” Jesus, neither group remains under confinement. Both are now sons of God “through the faith of Christ Jesus.”
If adoption into the family of Abraham is through the “faith of Jesus,” then logically, believers do not qualify for it through the deeds and ceremonies required by the Torah, including the rite of circumcision.
Paul stresses the word “ALL.” Both Jewish and Gentile believers are “sons of God” through their relationship with Jesus. It is “in Christ” that they became “Abraham's seed, heirs according to promise.”
This does not mean that ethnicity, gender and the like no longer play roles in the daily lives of disciples. However, such distinctions are no longer relevant to anyone’s standing before God or membership in His Assembly.
The Apostle Paul presents the analogy of the Law as the custodian and steward of a minor child until the time assigned by the child’s father. In Greco-Roman society, a minor did not enjoy full liberty and civil rights until he came of age. Though by right destined to be the master of the household, until the child reached his majority, effectively, he was no freer than any household slave - (Galatians 4:1-7).
“Custodians and stewards” performed two different functions. First, they took charge of the heir; and second, they managed his estate. This condition continued until the “time appointed by his father,” and in Paul’s analogy, this corresponds to the “fullness of time” when God sent Jesus as described in Chapter 4 of Galatians.
- “But I say that so long as the heir is a child, he differs nothing from a bondservant though he is lord of all but is under guardians and stewards until the day appointed of the father. So we also, when we were children, were held in bondage under the rudiments of the world, but when the fulness of the time came, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, that he might redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because you are sons, God sent forth the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, Abba, Father. So that no longer are you a bondservant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God. Howbeit at that time, not knowing God, you were in bondage to them that by nature are no gods. However, now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how turn you back again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto you desire to be in bondage over again? Ye observe days, and months, and seasons, and years” - (Galatians 4:1-10).
The term “elemental principles” translates the Greek noun stoicheion (Strong’s - #G4747). It referred to the basic components that comprised a larger whole. Thus, the idea of “element, first principal, rudiments.” Often, it referred to the elemental principles of an art, science, or discipline. From this comes the idea of “elemental principles.”
To adopt circumcision now that Jesus, the “Seed of Abraham,” has come would mean regressing to something rudimentary, a return to an earlier and more rudimentary stage in God’s redemptive plan.
This is comparable to an adult who chooses to return to the custodianship of his former guardian, and thus, to his previous minority status. In this context, the term “elemental principles” has in view the regulations of the Torah, and this is borne out by Paul’s usage of stoicheion in verses 9-10 with its list of Jewish calendrical observances.
The phrase, “having come to be from woman,” points to the genuine humanity of Jesus. “Having come to be under the law” stresses his birth as a Jew who was under the covenant obligations of the Torah; that is, until the fullness of time came. As in Chapter 3, Paul applies temporal limits to the jurisdiction of the Law.
CHILDREN OF GOD
Jesus came to redeem those who were under the Law, so that, now, they may receive the adoption as children. This refers, firstly, to Jews, especially to Jewish believers in Jesus. The need to redeem or ransom implies that being “under the Law” was a form of bondage. Paul’s previous statement is conceptually parallel:
- “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us; for it is written: Cursed is every one that hangs on a tree, that upon the Gentiles might come the blessing of Abraham in Christ Jesus; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” - (Galatians 3:13-14).
The result of redemption is “adoption.” Men and women are not God’s “children” through physical birth, but instead, by adoption. All humans are His creatures but not all are His children. The implication is that Jews, likewise, become His sons by adoption. Adoption into His family is based on grace, faith, and the work of Jesus, not DNA or the deeds required by the Torah - (Romans 8:15, 8:23, 9:4, Ephesians 1:5).
Because the Galatians are now “children,” He has sent the “Spirit of his Son into your hearts”. This reference rounds off the long argument that began in Galatians 3:1 where Paul reminded believers that they received the Spirit from a hearing of faith, and not from the “deeds of the Law.”
The term “spirit of his Son” refers to the work of the Holy Spirit to conform believers to the Son’s image, the same Spirit that prompts them to cry out, “Abba, Father!” What greater proof of their acceptance into the covenant community could the Galatians have than the Gift of the Spirit?
Paul concludes his argument with the statement: “So that you are no longer a bondservant but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.” Jews and Gentiles who are “in Christ” become “heirs.” Since they are “sons,” filled with the Spirit and heirs of Abraham, why attempt to seek what the Law could never deliver by subjecting themselves to the requirements of the Mosaic legislation?
Adopting the requirements of the Law would mean division in the Body of Christ between Jewish and Gentile believers. However, since the promised “Seed” has arrived, the jurisdiction of and necessity for the “Custodian” have ceased; therefore, the old social divisions are wholly inappropriate in the Assembly. All men and women are justified before God from the “faith of Jesus.” Moreover, “in Christ Jesus,” all his true disciples are “children of God” and “heirs of Abraham” regardless of their ethnicity.