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31 October 2018

Social Implications of the Law (Galatians 3:26-4:7)

Tables of the law
        This paragraph is pivotal to Paul’s purpose in his letter to the Galatians. It stresses the oneness of God's people. The old social divisions are wholly inappropriate now that the promised “seed” of Abraham has arrived.
  • (Galatians 3:26-29) - “For you are all sons of God through the faith in Christ Jesus; for as many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ; There cannot be Jew or Greek, there cannot be bond or free, there cannot be male and female, for all ye are one in Christ Jesus. Now, if you are of Christ, by consequence you are Abraham’s seed, according to promise, heirs.”

        This paragraph is pivotal to Paul’s purpose in his letter to the Galatians. It stresses the oneness of God's people. The old social divisions are wholly inappropriate now that the promised “seed” of Abraham has arrived.
         To pursue a Torah-observant lifestyle re-erects old social barriers, in particular divisions between Jews and Gentiles. The Law was intended to keep Jews distinct from the Gentile nations. Paul presents an alternative to the Law to define and delimit God’s people.
        By definition, uncircumcised Gentiles are outside the covenant with Israel, not “sons of God.” They may only become members of the covenant people by undergoing circumcision (in the case of males) and otherwise adopting a Torah-observant lifestyle. 
        But the Law also distinguished between slaves and freemen, males and females. Women could not fulfill certain requirements of the Law because of periodic uncleanness due to menstruation. They could not fully participate in Temple worship and were restricted to the Court of Women at a further distance from the presence of Yahweh. Religiously speaking, under the Law women were second-class citizens of God’s people. To embrace a Torah-observant lifestyle restores this inequity. 
         With the addition of “all” in verse 25 “you are all” refers to both Gentile and Jewish believers in Jesus the Messiah (“that the promise should be given to those who believe”). The Scripture declared that before the coming of the “seed” all things were under confinement, both Jew and Gentile. Now both are no longer under confinement to either sin or the Law; both become sons of God “through the faith of Christ Jesus.” If adoption into the family of Abraham is through the faith of Jesus, then believers do not enter this community on the basis of the requirements of Torah
        Paul stresses the word “all.” Both Jewish and Gentile believers have become “sons of God” through their attachment to Jesus. It is now “in Christ” that believers become true sons of God and “Abraham's seed, heirs according to promise.” This does not mean that ethnicity, gender and the like do not play roles in the daily lives of believers, but such distinctions are no longer relevant to right standing before God or membership in God’s covenant people.

Redeemed from under the Law (4:1-7)
  • (Galatians 4:1-7) - “But I say that so long as the heir is a child, he differs nothing from a slave 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 elemental principles of the world. But when the fullness 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 you are no longer a slave but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.”
        Paul compared the Mosaic Law to a supervisor or custodian assigned to guard a minor child and declared believers “heirs” of the promise of Abraham (3:23-29). He now presents a similar analogy: the Law as guardian and steward of a minor child until the time fixed by a father’s will.
        In Greco-Roman society, a minor did not enjoy full liberty and civil rights until he came of proper age. Thus, though by right destined to be master of the household, until the child reached the age of majority he was effectively no freer than a household slave; he was not free to do as he pleased.
        “Guardians and stewards” refers to two different functions: the person in charge of the heir (“guardian”) and another assigned to manage the heir’s estate. This state of affairs continued until the “time appointed by his father,” which corresponds to the “fullness of time” in verse 4.
        "Elemental principles” translates the Greek noun stoicheion, a term that referred to the basic components that comprised something larger, thus “element, first principal, rudiments.” It often referred to the elemental principles of an art, science or discipline (Hebrews 5:12). From this came the idea of “elemental principles.” It commonly was applied to a letter in the alphabet or a part of a word.
        To adopt circumcision was to regress to something rudimentary, to return to an earlier stage in God’s redemptive plan. To do so is comparable to an adult that chooses to return to the custodianship of the Pedagogue and the status of a minor child, though he possesses his inheritance (4:1-2).
       “Elemental principles” in particular have in view the regulations of Torah. This is borne out by Paul’s usage of stoicheion in verse 9-10 with its list of Jewish calendrical observances: “but now that ye have come to know God…how turn you back again to the weak and beggarly elemental principles (stoicheion), to which you desire to be in bondage over again? You observe days, and months, and seasons, and years.”
        “God sent forth his Son, having come to be from woman, having come to be under law.” The New Testament elsewhere states Jesus was sent from God, as well as others such as John the Baptist (Matthew 10:40; Mark 9:37; Luke 4:18; John 1:6; 3:17; 17:3; 17:18). “Having come to be from woman,” points to the genuine humanity of Jesus. “Having come to be under the law” stresses that he was born as a Jew under the covenant obligations of Torah; that is until the fullness of time came. As in chapter 3, Paul applies temporal limits to the Law’s jurisdiction.
        Christ came in order to redeem them who were under the Law so that they could receive the adoption of sons. This refers to in the first place to Jews, especially Jewish Christians. 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 this redemption is “adoption.” Men and women are not “sons” or “children” of God through physical birth but by means of adoption. All humans are God’s creation but not all are His children and heirs. An implication is that Jews likewise become sons by adoption; they do not automatically attain that position because of their Hebrew ancestry (cp. Romans 8:15, 8:23, 9:4, Ephesians 1:5). Adoption into God’s family is based on grace, faith and the work of Jesus Christ, not Hebrew DNA or the requirements of Torah.
        Precisely because the Galatians became God’s sons He sent the “Spirit of his Son into your hearts”. The reference to the Spirit rounds off the long argument begun in Galatians 3:1 where Paul reminded believers that they received the Spirit from a hearing of faith, not on the basis of the “works of the Law.”
        “Spirit of his Son” likely means the work of the Holy Spirit to conform believers to the image of Jesus; the same Spirit that prompted believers to cry out, “Abba, Father!” What greater proof of their acceptance into God’s covenant community could the Galatians have than the presence of His Spirit?
        Paul concludes his entire argument in the statement, “so that you are no longer a bondservant but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.” Believers who are “in Christ” are “heirs.” Since already they are “sons,” filled with the Spirit and heirs of the promise of Abraham, why attempt to seek what the Law could never deliver by subjecting themselves to the requirements of Torah?

Summary Points
        To adopt the requirements of the Mosaic legislation inevitably means disunity between Jewish and Gentile believers in the covenant community, because one purpose of the Law was to keep the Hebrew people distinct from Gentiles.
        It also assigned women and slaves to lesser positions within the nation of Israel, especially in the worship life of the nation. The real issue is whether Gentiles are acceptable members of the covenant community AS GENTILES, or must they become Jewish proselytes.
        The Law’s function as “custodian” was to continue until the promised seed arrived; it was a temporary function for a limited period of time. Since the promised “seed” has arrived the jurisdiction of the “custodian” has come to an end. And because the custodial role is at an end, the old social divisions and inequalities are wholly inappropriate. All stand before God on the basis of faith, not ethnicity, gender or social status; all are now “sons of God” and “heirs of Abraham.”
        Jesus came “in the fullness of time” to redeem those “under the Law,” that they might receive the adoption. “Adoption” occurs after redemption from the Law, which demonstrates the imperfection and temporal jurisdiction of Torah.

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